The inhumane treatment of yogis in Bucharest ashrams

Roxana’s notes: I was asked to translate this shocking, heartbreaking letter from Romanian into English. Many of the things in it (like hunger, theft, or stupefying rules) speak for themselves. Others, alas, don’t. So I find myself offering a short introduction to who these people are and what context they live in.MISA – the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute – started out in 1990, in Romania, as a ‘yoga school’. In the over 20 years since then, it grew to have thousands or tens of thousands of yogis attending their weekly courses and it spread to many other countries, like the US, the UK, Spain, Argentina, France, Germany, Finland, Hungary, Denmark, Italy, Australia and others. In some places it thrives, in others it merely gets by.
The yogis who wrote this letter are from Romanian ashrams, but MISA also has ashrams in other countries.While supposedly the organization itself has 20-odd members, the rest being volunteer instructors and yogis merely attending classes, the real structure of the school has Gregorian Bivolaru on top as the spiritual master and a number of VIPs, mostly yoga instructors, deciding things on a lower scale.
Bivolaru was involved in a number of trials in Romania, with some of the charges against him being human trafficking and sexual acts with underage girls and he currently has an international arrest warrant on his name for the latter charge. He ran way from Romania after his legal issues started in 2004 and obtained political asylum in Sweden in 2005. However, after that date many female yoga practitioners were invited to visit him for sexual purposes and discovered him to be located in Paris.Female students who were to his liking would receive free vacations in Costinești (a Romanian seaside resort where the international MISA yoga camp is held on a yearly basis), lasting from two weeks to a month, all expenses paid. They would also receive gifts of books, CDs, perfumes or other such. Those who were invited to Paris might also have their trip there paid and would stay for free, receiving gifts of money, perfumes, chocolate and so on.MISA has also been involved in media scandals for getting women involved in sex biz (pole dancing in foreign countries, erotic chat, erotic massage parlors, ‘erotic’ films).

These being said, here is the translation of the letter originally published on Mihai Rapcea’s blog, with his comments.

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There is no spiritual evolution through fear! Concerning the terrible drama lived by yogis in MISA ashrams

I’ve received the text below through e-mail, after I was first being contacted by a group of people living in MISA ashrams in Bucharest, who told me that they would send it. The people involved in this asked me not to let their names be known so they wouldn’t get in trouble with those leading MISA and Romanian ashrams at this time.

According to their claims, the purpose of this text is not to denigrate, but to sensitize and warn those responsible (including Gregorian Bivolaru) about the difficulties and issues that yoga practitioners in Bucharest ashrams are faced with.

Some of them are so exasperated by their problems that they asked me to announce that if, even after this warning text is released, the situation of the average Bucharest ashram dweller fails to improve, they are ready to speak out publicly about everything they know and even to testify in legal inquiries – in the name of all the baseness with which they were treated in the ashram.

The text itself:

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We are a group of MISA yogis who chose to dedicate themselves to spiritual practice and to be integrated in Bucharest ashrams. Many of us reached this decision after it was suggested to us by Grieg [n. Gregorian Bivolaru] very many years ago; we were next to him and our colleagues during many important moments of this yoga school. We have chosen to turn our backs to a world that offered material satisfactions alone, desiring spiritual evolution and wishing to become centers of divine light in a world that sank in the darkness of an era of ignorance and confusion (Kali Yuga).

We have endured in hostile conditions in the establishments of our yoga school, faced with all types of shortages and deprivations, animated only by the promise of exceptional spiritual achievements, which for many of us ceased to appear.

We have built, bare-handed, with shovels and buckets, tens of buildings, yoga halls and establishments, without any demands or thoughts of reward for our dedicated work, filled with aspiration towards God, without realizing that what we built around us was a prison, “spiritually” dominated work camps, governed by draconian rules that grew in number and absurdity.

When we became tired, we were animated by the thought of exceptional achievements, of sudden growth through accumulated effort, of the transformations our yoga school would bring to the entire planet, through the revelations that our spiritual master would make to the world.

All of these fail to appear. All that we have left are the exceptional states and experiences we feel after spiritual exemplifications; and a certain spiritual integration, a certain glow of consciousness specific to the one integrated in the ashram. Paradoxically, however, these positive aspects coexist with some concrete everyday aspects which are truly malefic.

There is theft in the ashram. People swear falsely on the Bible in the ashram. And, especially, people LIE everywhere. Lies have become the supreme Truth, especially for those who lead us. We are given small lies or big lies, according to need or interest and there’s always a reasonable excuse for them when the truth is discovered. Today, the ordinary ashram dweller is used, deceived and robbed by those who lead MISA. The one living in the ashram works for free, without medical insurance, without a right to retirement benefits, without being given the minimal social or medical protection he might need, being fed low quality food in insufficient quantities. The one living in the ashram receives the following as food: – for breakfast, half a pack of butter per week (if the week isn’t complete, the person receives no breakfast, not even the half a pack of butter); for lunch, a small bread as tiny as one’s palm (sometimes moldy!), a plateful of soup (fixed serving!), a ladle of boiled potatoes; for dinner, a tiny pie smaller than small pastries, or a mug of stewed fruit and two crackers with chocolate cream in the middle (fixed servings again!).

The MISA leadership decided that the person who lives in the ashram needs to pay: the taxes for the buildings, maintenance costs (electricity, water, sewage, heat, garbage payments, gas) – which are usually unjustifiably large (especially during the summer – when heating isn’t necessary), and all these while in the majority of ashrams you live worse than during Ceaușescu’s time [n. during the communist regime]: in some ashrams we only have power for 3 hours, and then only during the night (for reasons of saving money – although we supposedly pay gigantic bills). Some people in the ashram must pay 250 lei [n. around 60 euros] per month for maintenance (during the summer!), they must pay their yoga courses (80 lei per month! [n. about 20 euros]) and to buy clothing, food (because what they receive isn’t enough) and medicine, if they’re sick. How are they supposed to get that, if they don’t work outside the ashram, because they don’t have the time? Because you must do your daily karma yoga [n. unpaid labor, done as a gift to the community and to God] (between 6 and 8 hours a day), plus the 15 hours in the printing house – which is still better than those 49 hours that were the norm last year before the Costinești camp. Foreigners are better off, because they have money and usually their norm for karma yoga isn’t over 5 hours per day. In the printing house you work in inhumane conditions (heat, filth), permanently humiliated and treated like a slave by employees, and the hours you didn’t put in are doubled, the sanction being that you’re not allowed to go on vacation. To all of that is added the OBLIGATION (for the ordinary person living in the ashram it comes 3 or 4 times per month, without being allowed to get there later than 20 minutes – which would count as being absent) to participate in pro-MISA meetings, where you are obligated to chant different slogans and to hold all sorts of placards you ceased believing in long ago. Obviously, you don’t get any money for (and nobody cares about it) the bus or subway fare you need to pay to get to the meeting (some people were “advised” to consecrate the trip to God… and to take the bus or tram without paying the fare [n. there’s obviously a chance of getting caught and needing to pay a fine]). At the meeting, you wait 4-5 hours underneath the blazing sun (summer) or in the freezing cold (winter) without the “organizers” giving you a glass of water (summer) or warm tea (winter), or even a pretzel – to have the strength to chant.

You must also participate in weekly ashram meetings, where they make activity lists (street meeting participants) and other activities. In these meetings, which rival the interminable party meetings of the Communist Party, which sometimes last until late at night, you pay policies, those who protest are morally lynched in public (the famous self-critique) and those who have the courage of their own opinion receive punishment. If you’re late or missing, you are punished with extra work hours in the printing house. Lately, in some ashrams and even in yoga halls they’ve (discreetly!) installed surveillance cameras which record everybody there.

Slowly, MISA has become a closed totalitarian system, absurd and impossible, where people are exploited and the only “spiritual” race has remained the one in which you endure all sorts of privations, but also abuse from ashram leaders, who are directly supported by Gregorian Bivolaru and use his authority in front of us.

Hunger and privation have eaten away our colleagues’ consciousness. Food is stolen from the fridge, FROM HUNGER. Leaders and those who keep track of attendance lists are bribed. If you have money (and not a lot!), you do well in the ashram. You can pay your hours of karma yoga and printing house; we won’t have long until we end up paying our colleagues to do our nauli kriya for us (and to consecrate the results of that to us), so we can manage to do our daily yoga practice.

All of these show a life lived in falseness, fear, lies and hypocrisy.

When did those who lead us become so INHUMAN?! What do they want? We are told we’re free to leave whenever we want if we don’t like it, but we can’t leave the ashram at night without a note of permission from Neacşu Cristian (who is in charge of all the ashrams in Bucharest) and we can’t leave Bucharest even for an hour without his permission.

When they’ve planned how you spend all of your time, when and how can you earn money to pay all the expenses imposed on you, where can you find the money to buy clothes, shoes, food, toothpaste, toilet paper, tampons, phonecards or subway fares? Never mind having a lover and wanting to buy a gift!

Moreover, some were thrown out just because they tried to find a job to buy their own food! But they accept it if you work for two dimes for Steaua Divină (6 or 8 hours a day), without papers attesting to it, or with papers saying you worked far less than you really do, for wages of 250 lei a month [n. about 60 euros], which are enough to pay your maintenance expenses!

Sometimes they do accept it if you work, even if you live in the ashram, but only “in exceptional cases”, if it’s a good job; but then you’re obligated to donate half of your salary to MISA, and obviously you spend the other half paying your ashram expenses…

That’s not the case for the women in the ashram. The young and beautiful ones end up (because of poverty, privation and pressure) working either in erotic chat studios, or in strip clubs as pole dancers. ALL the money goes to MISA, because their work is ‘karma yoga’ and they receive only 1% of what they earn. Even so, women no longer want to work for you, and you came up with stories that say good aliens inspired you to create Miss Shakti competitions, which is where you recruit your women.

Lately, it’s not just women who leave. The Mahavira ananda[sic] group has become an entrepreneur of yogi work as of late. They offer jobs outside of Romania for men (construction work) and ensure housing, transport and, partially, food, for 300 euros per month, the rest being… “donations”. The compulsory condition to work for Mahavirananda [sic] is to do hard work for 2 weeks (in construction) for their ashram, FOR FREE, merely for housing and food (partly covered).

Lately, MISA leaders have approved something else; during the Costinești spiritual camp, because those in the ashram are forbidden to light candles (for fear of fire), they (those who have a tapas of light offerings – and there are THOUSANDS OF SUCH PEOPLE!) THAT THEY SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO LIGHT THEIR CANDLES in the ashram called the Little Villa belonging to the Mahavirananda group, FOR MONEY, for 2 lei [n. about half an euro] per person/candle tray.

So there are some who’ve figured out even how to transform the spiritual energy of candlelight into money!

There are many things that come to mind now, all sorts of injustice and abuse. Not from prosecutors and the law system, but from MISA leadership. Grieg [Gregorian Bivolaru], you are the first who does us injustice, when you treat yogis differently. The women who do you sexual favors are buried in money and expensive gifts, you take them to Paris and delight them with fine food, but those who work in ashrams like slaves to keep a yoga school alive – and to maintain your LIFE OF LUXURY AND DEBAUCHERY, for them there’s no money for food, housing, health, electricity or vacations.

It’s our fault, too. It’s our fault that we believed in you. It’s our fault that we were silent, that we accepted your baseness and authority, but one day we’ll finally talk to you face to face, even if you always refuse to meet us or to listen to our problems. We will hold you accountable for all these miserly things and for all our suffering. Despite what MISA says in public, we know your people bribe judges and prosecutors, we know that all the MISA companies (starting with the publishing house!) act illegally, with yogi slaves! But slaves can’t quit. They’re merely bought and sold. Dear Grieg, you sold us to Neacşu Cristian, to Nicu Catrina, to Iulia, to Costică, to Cristi Ion, to Lăcrămioara, Edi Franţi, Monica Dascălu, Teo Pop, Radu Constantin and all the other money leeches you surrounded yourself with. These people continue to EXPLOIT us IN YOUR NAME, even if you no longer live in Romania, where we don’t think you’ll ever return! Despite that, although you and He are already judged for these actions, WITH INCREDIBLE INSOLENCE you dare TO CONTINUE TO DO THESE DISHONEST ACTIONS.

Don’t you fear God?! Then FEAR US, because we have reached the end of our patience.

 

Signed:

A group of people living in the ashram (who are truly outraged!)

[Later edit: I’ve gone through the text again, editing some leftover issues from the first draft translation I initially posted; sorry for the bother.]

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