The spiritual path Siddha Yoga is essentially based on the philosophy that focus on the inner self can bring one closer to God. It draws heavily from the Kashmir Shaivism and Vedanta Hindu spiritual traditions. Siddha Yoga is presented by its practitioners as an individual spirituality that is often developed in a community of fellow believers. Depending on individual perception of the organization, it is typically referred to as either a new religious movement or a cult.
Siddha Yoga is a combination of daily practice and teachings imparted by a guru. The teachings include instruction on the basic philosophies of self discovery, service to others, and adherence to scriptural traditions of the Hindu religion. Practice includes meditation, chanting, and listening to sacred music. These activities are typically undertaken in meditation centers and on retreats, though some daily activities can also be practiced at home.
A student new to Siddha Yoga will usually be spiritually initiated with a practice known as shaktipat diksha. This is a process by which the guru welcomes a willing student with a symbolic gesture such as a touch, mantra, or sacred word. In this way, the guru is believed to have penetrated and entered the student’s spirit. Some followers of the method have described this process as the guru’s aura enveloping the student.
Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa founded Siddha Yoga in India, under the guidance of his spiritual teacher Bhagawan Nityananda. He eventually opened several meditation centers all over the world. There have been centers in Japan, the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and France, among many other nations. The movement has tended to focus on the largest ashrams in New York and Ganeshpuri, India. Upon Swami Muktananda’s death in 1982, his disciple Gurumavi Chidvilasanada, who was originally known as Malti Shetty, took over spiritual leadership of the Siddha Yoga movement.
There has been controversy a over the actions of some Siddha Yoga gurus and of the movement in general. William Rodarmor in 1983 and Lis Harris in 1994 raised doubts about the practice in several published articles. Since 1996, the website Leaving Siddha Yoga has also maintained a highly critical voice on the movement and its leaders. Allegations against the movement have included sexual abuse, mind control, and disruptive and inappropriate infighting among the gurus and their associates. There have also been primarily positive profiles of the movement in articles in several popular magazines.