India Syndrome

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India Syndrome

Post08 Feb 2013

I have founded this quite interesting:
India Syndrome, by Miguel Perlado; psychologist, psychotherapist and specialist in cults and abusive relationships.

Jonathan Spollen, an Irish 28-year-old was at a crossroads in his life. He had embarked on his career as a foreign correspondent journalist, working first as a reporter at the Daily Star Egypt in Cairo and later as foreign editor at The National in Abu Dhabi. But now he was editor for the International Herald Tribune in Hong Kong and asked himself if he liked his life. In October 2011, after the breakup with his girlfriend, he bought some materials for trekking and booked a flight to Kathmandu (Nepal). From there, Spollen went to India, this time "for spiritual reasons," to spend time with a Yogi named Prahlad Jani, an octogenarian who claims his mastery of the ancient arts has allowed him to live without food for 70 years. Spollen toured the continent for several months, visiting the holy city of Varanasi, the oldest inhabited settlement in India. In early February, Spollen called his mother, Lynda, to say he planned to spend two or three weeks of trekking in the Himalayas, near the pilgrimage site of Rishikesh, the city of yogis in the Ganges, where the Beatles visited Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Since then, his family has not heard from him.

His family decided to send, a forum for Western travelers to the subcontinent, a letter with the details of their child, to see if someone could help them. Today, the post thread Spollen parents has grown to more than 1,700 responses, some say that he is probably is dead, some say still alive and that he has surely became a member of one of the many Hindu sects.

The stories of people going to India in search of "enlightenment" and disappearing are numerous, as recorded by Scot Carney, a researcher at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, who has done work on the so-called "syndrome India "published in Details. Many travelers in search of enlightenment have been misled by false gurus who attract them with a false spirituality and, after emptying their bank accounts and sometimes they end up in prison, as the case of a Slovak woman aged 35 released by Nepalese police who apparently had been held in captivity for two months by the followers of a man claiming to be the "reincarnation of Buddha".

And that is the India which is an emerging superpower although its overall poverty levels are scandalous. Despite this, many still see it as "the birthplace of Yoga and meditation". Westerners have been exploring the spirituality of India since the late nineteenth century, but the trips began after the Beatles visited Rishikesh in 1968 to study with Maharishi. In 2010, it is estimated that about 5.8 million people, including about 930,000 Americans, who have traveled to India for "spiritual reasons."

Some are attracted by the stories of the "powers" of the dedicated yogis, supposedly capable of doing "extraordinary things" such as levitate, breathe for months while buried underground or under giant swaths of snow which melt from the heat their bodies. This desire to develop superhuman abilities, along with the culture shock, emotional isolation, the use of illicit drugs and physical wearing intensive meditations, can lead to Western seekers lose their bearings. Apparently healthy people may wake up one day saying they have discovered the lost continent of Lemuria, had their third eye triggered or come to believe the end of the world is near. Most recover, but others fall into delirium. Some disappear and other even appear to have died.

This psychosis has a name: "India Syndrome". In 2000, the French psychiatrist Régis Airault wrote the definitive book on the phenomenon, "Fous de l'Inde", meaning "Wicked India". It is about his experiences as a staff psychiatrist for the French consulate in Bombay, where he attended dozens of his countrymen whose spiritual journeys had turned tragic.

The background of this syndrome was established in 1817, when the French writer Stendhal described being physically overcome by the experience of seeing Florentine art and, half a century later, the psychiatrist Graziella Magherini coined the term "Stendhal Syndrome" - also called "Florence Syndrome" - after treating patients who had become confused, dizzy or even fainted and hallucinated after their visit to the Italian city.

Neither the Stendhal Syndrome or India Syndrome appears in the diagnostic manuals of mental health professionals, but is one of the 25 "culture-bound syndromes". Another is Qigong psychotic reaction, a psychotic reaction that has been described amongst some practitioners of Qigong breathing and movement, as well as extreme variants as Kundalini Yoga.

Kalyan Sachdev, a medical director of a private hospital in New Delhi, said his hospital treats a hundred delirious Western patients a year, many of whom had been practicing Yoga all day. His treatment is usually simple: get then back home as soon as possible, once the delirium and hallucinations are gone.

But how do intelligent and apparently well ground individuals, end up delirious to the point of wanting to commit suicide? Obviously, all that existing discomfort at being in a strange new place can be exacerbated by intensive silent meditation, for example. The principle behind most forms of meditation is that by focusing on breathing for an extended period of time, a person can quiet your mind and discover hidden experiences. This is generally considered a good thing. These techniques have become so common that most bookstores offer meditation manuals in the self-help section. Many cite the extensive body of research on the benefits of meditation, such as magnetic resonance studies of Tibetan Buddhist monks in trance showing that meditation improves cognition.

But, in general, adverse effects are discussed less. Cases have been reported in which the practitioners believe they see the walls move, change colours or even have paranoid thoughts. According to Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University who studies the effects of meditation on the brain, practitioners can perceive small sounds to be like a cacophony and lose a sense of control over themselves. Britton said that this experience, which some refer to as the "dark night", has given rise to closing certain intensive meditation rooms for the damages that might incur. Especially when you take into account how some Westerners in India usually practice: a little Ashtanga Yoga here, a little Vipassana meditation there ... anything goes.

India Syndrome might not even exist if not for the concerted marketing of Eastern religions to the West thanks to Madame Blavatsky who, in 1875, founded the Theosophical Society of New York and later moved to colonial India using a "quasi-scientific" methodology for the construction of a new school of esotericism which succeeded in packaging ideas and texts of different religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Zoroastrianism.

No doubt many contemporary practitioners of meditation are seeking inner peace. Others may be looking to unlock something like Jedi powers of Luke Skywalker (in fact, many of the fans of Star Wars' Yoda believe he is based on the Dalai Lama). The Yoga Sutras, text over 2,000 years old that can be found in almost all Yoga centers in the world, devotes an entire chapter to cultivate "supernatural abilities". Other books speak not only of the physical feats of yogis, but also of the alleged skills to converse with the dead and the past lives of their students. So too Transcendental Meditation promises that with enough concentration, dedicated practitioners can "levitate". The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield (Iowa), fans have spent nearly 40 years practicing "the art of flying yogi", which involves jumping in the air with his legs crossed in an effort to levitate since the Maharishi once said the art works.

It seems The Beatles did not end very happily with him either ...

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Pink Panther

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Re: India Syndrome

Post14 Feb 2013

For those who did not quite understand why that footage is used with that song in the video:

We Beatle tragics know that John Lennon wrote "Sexy Sadie" specifically about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, i.e. Sexy Sadie IS the maharishi.

After he became disillusioned with him, he realised how the Maharishi basically seduced his followers to keep them hanging on. The disillusionment was completed for John in particular by the guru's reaction to the news of the death of Brian Epstein, who had been the Beatles' manager for years, showing no sympathy or compassion for their obvious sadness at the news, only spouting spiritual platitudes and making light of it to a point of innapropriateness in JL's mind.

The refrain in his song "Across the Universe" - "nothing's gonna change my world" - was also a response to the whole Hindu thing - both a lament that things won't change by retreating inwardly as well as a celebration of the ambiguous victory one has by remaining unaffected through abstract meditations. You can hear it in his intonation. "Jai Guru Deva" indeed!

Back to Maria's post - when I was in Mt Abu one year, there was a chap who was one of those who'd "lost his bearings" - as well as his passport and all his money etc. He had been in India for over 5 years, and at first romanticised this "seeker's" lifestyle. But when we'd met him, he had essentially done his dash, hit rock bottom, and was fishing for enough sympathy to be given money to go home, or just a bit to make life more bearable. When I suggested he contact his family, he said he had become alienated from his family, had no contact for years, and they were unlikely to help anyway (which I doubt), and, even though he could write to them (this is pre-internet days), he had no fixed address to which a reply could be sent.

A few of us accompanied him to the dining area of Pandav Bhavan and made sure he had a decent meal. The gate guards allowed it once, but refused him entry when he returned next day. Depending on your point of view, that's fair enough I suppose.
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Re: India Syndrome

Post15 Feb 2013

Pink Panther wrote:... he realised how the Maharishi basically seduced his followers to keep them hanging on.

I think the connection is rather more literally. It was to do with the Maharishi trying to seduce actress Mia Farrow as he did, or went on to do, many other impressionable hippie chicks.

There are many more stories to link Beatles songs to their time in Rishikesh, and the Beatles certainly opened up and popularised the whole 'India trip thing' (man) to the Western world.

Funnily enough, I just read today that the original ashram is now derelict and returning back to nature. It's probably the best thing to happen and a profound statement in itself. It's possible to argue that it ought to be preserved because of its cultural importance ... but then, on the other hand, one could argue it ended up being ignoble and culturally damaging.

I knew one of the original TM-ers. What I found most interesting was a story he related of the Maharishi admitting to the small inner circle that he was not a Brahmin (a priest or enlightener) but a Kshatriya (a warrior) establishing his empire.

Westerners have been blinded to the exoticism of India for decades and mistake what is 99% just business and caste dynamics for the 1% that might be religion or spirituality.

In many ways, I think Dadi Janki just plays up to the already establish archetype created by individuals such as the Maharish, of what such individuals expect to find as their exotic Indian guru.

When the Maharishi died, he left an estate of over $2,000,000,000 (2 billion dollars) but not world peace.

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