When Jayanti Tamm was born, cult leader Sri Chinmoy declared her the “Chosen One,” a miracle child he had selected to be his most devoted follower. But Tamm eventually broke free from the cult, and has now written a book that details the abuses of the late Chinmoy.
With a succinct and earnest writing style, Tamm delivers a coming-of-age story overflowing with heartbreaking and hilarious moments.
Read his 2007 New York Times obituary, and Sri Chinmoy comes across as a kind-hearted spiritual leader who championed world peace through his art, music and athleticism. His meditation center’s Web site likens him to Jesus Christ, Buddha and Krishna.
Tamm, on the other hand, depicts a charlatan who masqueraded as a god and convinced hundreds of thousands to worship him.
Consuming alcohol, caffeine and meat; dancing; sex and dating; socializing with outsiders; and owning pets were prohibited.
But the guru contradicted himself and made hypocritical decisions.
Tamm’s memoir is the first book to document Chinmoy’s life and expose the insular existence his followers adopted.
Tamm’s parents met in the Manhattan apartment of the guru Sri Chinmoy and quickly married each other at his insistence; when they violated his commandment not to have sex with each other, however, he regrouped by declaring that their daughter, Tamm, would become his greatest disciple.
The cult leader was a skilled manipulator, and Tamm’s descriptions of her internalization of his predation, constantly blaming herself for not feeling worshipful enough, are wrenching. The outward pressures were equally difficult: she was forbidden a college education and sent abroad when she was caught violating the cultwide ban on dating—and the first time she was banished from the group, she begged for readmittance.
Tamm, now in her late 30s and a professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey, is unsparing in her account of the psychological damage Sri Chinmoy inflicted on her and her family, from her parent’s loveless marriage to her half-brother’s gleeful acceptance of the role of the guru’s enforcer.
She reveals the difficulties in shaking off the guru’s influence—under which she had spent literally her entire life before her final expulsion—and though readers might wish to hear more about how she eventually regained her identity, the harrowing details of her story create a sense of emotional devastation that will linger.