Any time a book's reviews are largely 5-star or 1-star and not many in between, you know something is going on that's bigger than the book. In this case, Gail Tredwell's expose of her former guru has vindicated some and enraged others. In the book, Gail details her 20+ years of servitude to “Amma”, from her humble beginnings to the global multi-million dollar enterprise she now heads.
For those with a vested interest in the Amma organization, or those interested in guru-disciple relationships, this book will no doubt be very interesting (and salacious at times). I’m not sure the book would be of interest to the casual reader with no connection to the subject matter. My interest in the book comes from having a family member in the Amma organization. I was always slightly uneasy with the worship of one person as “God”. To please my family member, I have attended darshan on the tour several times, and have been discomfited by the dreamy devotees all in white, and the blatant money-making aspect of the tour. The book details what I know all too well, how Amma never gives straight answers to even simple questions, leaving the devotees to try to guess what a look or single word meant. The book does not mention that one of the popular items for sale on the tour is handmade Amma dolls, which devotees are encouraged to buy, sleep with, and talk to as if they are Amma herself. When you see a grown, professional, educated adult who you respect and admire cuddling and talking to a doll, you know something is going on that is not healthy.
The book details Amma’s physical and verbal abuse of Ms. Tredwell and other devotees, always behind closed doors, to preserve the loving image of Amma, The Holy Mother. Ms. Tredwell alleges that Amma had sexual relationships with several of her swamis, while demanding that her followers (even married ones) take a vow of celibacy. One of the most damning revelations in the book is that Amma menstruates just like a normal human woman. Why is this so shocking? In her biography, it is claimed that Amma is “ever pure” and does not menstruate. This claim of course bolsters her self-appointed position as the embodiment of God.
I would have liked to know more about how Ms. Tredwell re-acclimated to life in the outside world, as the story ends with her escape. She was 41 years old and had no money, no clothes, no education, and no job experience. How did she become a part of society after that? Also missing from the book seemed to be any compelling reason why any spiritual person would spend one day in the company of this irrational, demanding, violent, mean-spirited, hypocritical guru.
The smear campaign being waged against Ms. Tredwell reminds me of how Scientologists treat those who have left the organization. All the reviews and review comments being left here with links to Wordpress blogs are one-sided propaganda, backed and encouraged by the Amma organization. They would have us believe that Ms. Tredwell, who spent 2 decades never more than a few steps away from Amma, was actually a terrible person, disliked by all. If that is true, it wouldn’t speak very well of their beloved Amma, would it? Anyone in the organization will insist that it is not a cult. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Quack quack.