JAMAICA, Queens— When Sri Chinmoy—founder of a global spiritual group—died in Jamaica, Queens, in 2007, his devoted followers hoped they could continue his work in peace. But it hasn’t worked out that way, largely because a network of former disciples won’t stop talking about their experiences with his organization.
54 year old Anne Carlton of Willow, New York—a small enclave near Woodstock—told us, “It completely changed the formation of my mind—to join as a young adult.”
Carlton was 19 when she left her hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut in 1981, to stay with the group in Queens. She was there for twenty years, with brief departures when she met a boyfriend.
Carlton told us she worked for a time at the group’s restaurant on 164th Street and eventually got a job with the United Nations, where Sri Chinmoy—who was born in East Bengal—had a lot of connections.
Chinmoy’s real name was Chinmoy Kumar Ghose. He positioned himself as an international peace leader, with centers in sixty countries.
He received many awards, sought to break world records, and met with the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul the Second.
Carlton recalled she was celibate for ten years, at the guru’s urging, but that changed when she was 29, and Chinmoy invited her to a concert on the West Coast that she paid for.
She said that’s when a female disciple handed her a piece of paper and told her, “Guru wants you to go to his room.”
Carlton remembered, “We weren’t allowed to look men in the eye. We weren’t allowed to marry, we weren’t allowed to have children.”
She recalled the guru asking her if she would “surrender” to him. She said she responded, “Yes, I will surrender,” with her hands clasped in prayer.
“I didn’t get it,” Carlton said, and she then quotes the guru saying, “Take off your clothes.”
Carlton told PIX 11 she’s telling her story on television for the first time, although she’s been writing about it on the Internet for years.
We met Carlton, after another, former Sri Chinmoy disciple contacted us a couple of weeks ago.
The former disciple was reacting to a story PIX11 did about a mysterious, female drifter who was moving all over the southeastern United States.
A Facebook group seeking missing persons thought the homeless traveler was very possibly a missing Queens woman who vanished 21 years ago.
Her image was plastered on an 18-wheeler that was driving on I-95 from state to state.
But it turned out the woman’s name is Diane Cardone, a one-time disciple of Sri Chinmoy.
PIX11 wanted to find out more about Diane Cardone’s involvement with the group, so we visited the section of Jamaica Hills, Queens where the guru used to live—and where his followers still run a group of stores on Parsons Boulevard.
We met Saroja Douglas, who was born in Sweden, walking the late guru’s dog on 149th Street, where he died at home.
Douglas told us she’s been with the group for 43 years and is now retired from her job at the United Nations.
Douglas defended the late leader from allegations of improper behavior.
“I know that he absolutely never abused anybody in any way.”
Douglas praised Chinmoy’s healing ways. “He wanted to teach people they have to go deep within and bring out their good qualities.”
Other former disciples were featured in PIX 11’s first report, and the current leadership of Sri Chinmoy was upset we were taking a look at the present-day group.
What follows is a statement from the organization to PIX 11:
- Our founder and teacher, Sri Chinmoy, led a life of the utmost purity and integrity.
- Any statements or suggestions that he acted wrongly or improperly during his lifetime are categorically false and completely baseless.
- We very deeply regret that it appears that some individuals are engaged in defamation of him.
- We stand against any and all such allegations of wrongdoing as absolutely false and without any substance whatsoever.”
The Sri Chinmoy Centre is [a] small global community of several thousand followers which is represented in over 50 countries. We sponsor charity runs, free meditation classes, free concerts and have a humanitarian organization that works in Africa and Asia. Our members all work in the world, many as professionals and artists or running small businesses. The Centre does not have large buildings or valuable assets in its name and does not impose a tithe on its members. We live simply and in plain sight. We must ask why we are being singled out by the media for negative, lurid and false coverage.