Friday, February 27, 2009

Review by Martha Frankel

I have never been involved with Siddha Yoga --- I have never searched for, or found, a guru. I have never lived communally or wanted to. That said, The Guru Looked Good was the best read of the winter. Marta Szabo writes with a searing insight into what would make someone give up their choice to think freely. This is the book people pretend Eat, Pray, Love is, but The Guru Looked Good is the real deal. -- Martha Frankel, author of the memoir Hats and Eyeglasses.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


A piece about what it's like to drive by the South Fallsburg ashram these days. It's called Time After Time and the date of the posting is February 25, 2009... read.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Reader's Review

Marta Szabo’s online memoir, The Guru Looked Good, is now available in paperback and essential reading for anyone once involved in SY, corporate culture, or dysfunction al relationships where they repeatedly betrayed themselves or felt betrayed. So, basically, everyone should read it.

In TGLG, Marta brilliantly lays bare (without ever pointing fingers, attacking anyone’s “experience,” or memories) the dysfunction within SY. Without knowing anything about me personally, Marta clarified most of the questions I had about SY, helped me put together a puzzle I’d resigned to not solve, helped me finally let go and accept SY and GM as a part of my past.

Ironically I bumped into Marta’s blog early last year while searching for GM’s Message for 2008 – I’d heard through the guru-line she’d emerged from seclusion and made a (vocal) appearance at the NY talk. Upon visiting the SY site to see the message (years ago it was always posted there for all to see by Jan. 2nd), I was asked to register and pay $100 and thought with a sigh: Some things about SY never change.

The entrance fee was typical, if outrageous, and I knew that in 2008 someone somewhere would have written something about GM’s talk so made a few free google searches and landed on Marta’s blog.


In a straightforward, here’s-my-story-draw-your-own-conclusions way, Marta’s story helped me look back, trust and accept things I’d always known intuitively. Suspicions and secrets I’d buried as well as SY had buried its own. After I finished her book I felt a combination of great sadness and relief.

I’ve now read TGLG several times, shared it with the person who introduced me to GM in 1989, and the close circle of friends I introduced to GM in the years since. All came away with a similar take.

TGLG inspired me to revisit my personal history with SY (overall positive) as well as the history of SY itself from a sober, absence-of-the -“shakti”-perspective, from where I am now: a parent in my 40s, living in the post- 9/11, internet age, having survived the hell of working for an international corporation, having travelled on three astounding adventures through Asia, having a little more life, growth and experience under my belt (a nd yes, SY was a significant part of that) than I did when I first bowed down before GM at age 23.

Marta’s book also helped me understand why someone would go throw themselves at the feet of a Baba or Gurumayi – a longing that never called me. I was intrigued but could never relate to that kind of devotion. I judged it at a bit extreme, though remained curious about “life on the inside.”

My participation very much took place on the periphery of the devotee fanbase. I loved seeing GM every few years when she glided into town on tour. I chanted, read her books, dreamt about her often . . . but never really did much in the way of seva or time in an Ashram. I did visit SF once for two weeks one summer, just to satisfy my curiosity, and wrote in my journal at the time that “despite all it’s through-the-looking-glass-wonders, there’s something sinister about the place”.

As things began winding down with SY’s active, public presence several years ago, GM gradually fell off my radar. Without my even noticing it, my interest and participation just sort of faded away. It was as if the volume had been turned down to a low, dull hum.

One of the most significant things that became clear to me after I finished TGLG is this:

There was a time when Gurumayi was Malti – and Malti was a young, beautif ul girl living in 1960s India with every aspect of her life dictated to her by her parent s, (and the no doubt suffocating at times for someone with her personality) culture, beliefs, traditions, protocol and religion in which she was raised.

In hindsight, Malti was thrust by her parents at age 13 into the arms of a man she believed or was led to believe was God incarnate. Now, as a parent, the ultimate results of this scenario are heartbreaking to me. Think of Malti at 13; think of her now.

Baba showed her the world, adulation, wealth, fame, and perhaps most significantly A WAY OUT of her oppressive life and the times in which she lived (if only she could hold on . . .).

He also abused her wholly (mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually), abused others, and succeeded in silencing her about that abuse forever, long after his death, long after all his wealth, fame and adulation be came hers. And even, as it turns out, long after she decided she wanted a way out of those things too.

The above conclusions may have been drawn and expressed countless times on countless other blogs over the years – I am posting here for the first time today. They may read as complete speculation but they are truth’s for me that Marta’s book helped me realize I’ve had buried deep in my gut for years, ones I chose to overlook during SY’s heyday in the early 1990s, feelings TGLG inspired me to revisit and accept.

The above conclusions also put together for me the puzzle pieces of GM’s intense rage towards her parents – from everything I can glean she attended neither of their funerals when they both passed away a few years back – her rage against her brother, desire to erase her family from personal history, have control of the organization, all of it.

These are tragic conclusions about a tragic story.

Worst of all perhaps is the epic dysfunction/karma of Gurumayi’s relationship with Baba.

But, sadly, GM’s early years in many ways parallel that of so many of us who were damaged, abused or oppressed as children – and then later sought ways, successful or not, to escape or heal ourselves through our relationships, spiritual seeking, drug use, or our work in the world.

Someone I know who read Marta’s book asked me afterward if I thought GM was a charlatan. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to answer.

Someone else I shared the same question with replied: “She’s not a charlatan, she’s a human.”

I met GM for the first time in 1989 and something big changed in my Life. It was quite a ride. One I don’t regret.

Twenty years later here I am. My understanding feels more complete now. More real.

More Thoughts from the Reviewing Reader Posted Above

February 20, 2009

Dear Marta,

First of all, congratulations. I’ve been hoping since I first read your blog last January that a publisher would find you. As the offspring of two writers I can appreciate, if not exactly relate from direct memoir-writing experience, the sheer will and perseverance it must have taken to compose something of this scope. Clearly you needed to write this story and clearly it needed to be read.

Second, I’ve written and re-written you several times in my head, wished I could call and invite you to coffee and share what your story has meant to me. Haven’t been able to capture what I want to say in writing – it is an ongoing conversation, it evolves – but decided to finally take an initial crack at today so here goes:

After reading your story I went back and wrote my own (though just one chapter!) about my early experiences in SY, circa 1989-1993, and may someday send it your way as a thank you, as proof of how reading about your experience inspired me to look back at my own with sober detachment.

In the past, almost everything I’d ever read about SY that was “critical” (mainly the magazine articles in the 90s) seemed tinged with a nastiness that felt personal and led me to question the motives of the authors.

Your book was the opposite. I suppose had I encountered it, say, ten years ago – when I was that much closer in time to and need of GM, and that much more submerged in the “shakti” – it might have devastated me. But the volume on SY began to slowly turn down several years ago, and your book came at a time when I could really hear it.

Your story (and the comments “heaped upon it” by your other readers) helped me look back and finally reconcile the disparity that was always present between my own personal experience (overwhelmingly positive) and the things about SY the “organization” that continued to gnaw in my gut.

Although for a time a dear friend became one of GM’s personal assistants, I understood, even as someone on the outside, the unspoken rule that information about such a relationship was "sacred"/off limits. Because I never lived in an ashram, never wanted to, and remained far removed from the inner workings – the dark side of SY was something I was chose to overlook as “not part of my experience.” Of course now I can look back and see all the subtle and not so subtle ways I was supported in that choice.

Your book helped me see with such clarity how within dysfunctional relationships there are rationales on both sides for everything; how what you deeply want to beleive, what you hope is true, and what you're too afraid to admit or let go of can keep you enslaved. It's the old "They beat me, but I stay, because this is what I know."

Though I have no regrets about my particpation in SY, and am grateful for what the experience taught me (and since reading your book, is as it turns out, still teaching me) I realize that if I encountered SY today – especially as it was marketed to me in 1989 – I wouldn’t go anywhere near it.

With the above realization came countless others about how much I, the world, even SY have changed.

After finishing your book, I went back and read the New Yorker article again. In 1994, it made me sick to my stomach; this time around it had no charge, even seemed a bit long-winded and dull. So much of what was in there just didn't matter anymore. The revelation for me now was that I could have read something so scalding about SY – and still stayed involved. Wow. No, I never lived in an ashram, never "served" GM, but clearly, in my own way, I was completely committed. If shaktipat had come with a side-effects warning label it might have read: "Caution: Repeated doses may blunt critical thinking."

In hindsight, SY was my salvation at a crisis point in my life where, under different circumstances, I might have just gone to my Dr. and gotten a prescription for Ativan. Ultimately I’m glad I chose the former option but glad I now know I don’t need it, evo lved/am evolving out of it, can’t/won’t use it anymore.

Your book helped make this new direction easier for me.

Baba once said “The practices of Siddha Yoga belong to you” and I always felt that was right – in spite of all the hoopla, insanity, dysfunction and corruption, it has been important for me to remember that things like Om Namah Shivaya predate degrees in marketing, trademarks, PR campaigns, satellite programming, and perhaps, even sexual abuse.

Thankfully, as it turns out, the practices of Siddha Yoga don’t belong to SYDA. Now that truly would have been tragic.

Thank you for inspiring the look back. I doubt I would have ever done it had I not found your book. Thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


We had a really great event this past Sunday at the Woodstock Memoir Festival to present the book. It was alot of fun. People brought food and we had a full house with lots of books for sale in the back. And then Bob Brader (the actor/writer who had performed Spitting in the Face of the Devil, his incredible one-man autobiographical show the night before) joined me up on stage for a back-and-forth conversation about the writing of the book, the story of this blog, for some readings and then some Q&A with the audience. Thank you to all who came and made it the grand celebration that it was. I spotted one agent-from-ashram-headquarters for a moment by the door. I can't remember his name. I don't know how long he was there. Far more exciting was the surprise appearance of a very old, dear friend from ashram times who had made the trip to express his friendship and support.

Buy the book!

Thank you to every reader of this blog. Let's see where we go from here!