Given the recent happenings in Paris, where my spiritual teacher, Gregorian Bivolaru, was arrested after appearing on Europol’s most wanted list (due to an insanely crazy set up by the Romanian authorities), I decided to share some of my experiences of knowing Gregorian Bivolaru (Grieg) and being part of the spiritual movement he inspired – MISA (The Movement for Integration into the Spiritual Absolute) and other international yoga schools that use his yoga course as a foundation for their teachings.
Grieg is currently in police custody in France and is standing trial today, Wednesday 23rd March. Simply put, the reason for his arrest is a desperate attempt by the Romanian authorities to capture him for crimes he did not commit, and even though he has been living in Sweden as a political refugee since 2005 when he received political asylum due to the religious persecution he faces in his home country. If you’re not familiar with the case, you can read a more in-depth analysis about it on the website of Soteria International, the human rights organisation following the story: http://www.soteriainternational.org/human-rights-inside-eu-romanian-religious-refugee-protected-in-sweden-now-arrested-in-france
How I came to meet Gregorian Bivolaru
When I was young I felt something was missing; that there was something more to life but I hadn’t found it yet. I was smart, outgoing, full of life with an adventurous spirit. I apparently had everything I needed, but was still not completely satisfied with all that life had given me – wasn’t there more to it than this? Undoubtedly this search for something more is what led my heart across the world and eventually to cross paths with this system, and implicity, to meet Gregorian Bivolaru.
I first met Grieg in the summer of 2002 at a Romanian yoga camp in a small seaside village. I had been to about 4 yoga classes in Tara Yoga Centre – a UK school that adopted Grieg’s yoga course curriculum – and had no notion of what a Spiritual Guide was and was pretty much completely spiritually ignorant. Everything was new for me. I was raised in an almost aetheistic, medical-scientific environment with a healthy dose of scepticism and analytical thinking that did not include spiritual education per se. I was not consciously looking for a spiritual path, but when I happened upon it, through an inner need, it all made perfect sense, even to my well-educated WASP-ish mind. In fact it clicked perfectly with everything I’d known until then. It felt like the final pieces of the puzzle of life were now falling into place. There was nothing wishy-washy or la-di-da about it. This was common sense in its purest, rarest form. And everything taught was measureable. Here science met spirit in an integrated whole. Everything and everyone mattered and there was no elitist mentality or secretive society.
I was impressed by Grieg’s simplicity and humbleness. In fact he’s one of the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met and has a great sense of humour to boot. The problem is that he’s not ‘normal’. He’s so far from today’s norm that people gravely misunderstand him. He’s a man who lives on another level of intensity from what most of us know. From my experience I can say that being in his presence is something completely extraordinary. And simply watching him and seeing how he lives his life is an insight into another, more powerful way of living. He’s a great role model for me in this respect, and has really shown me what is possible for a human being to attain and the intensity with which a human life is meant to be lived.
Practice makes perfect
From my almost 14 years of yogic experience, which has taken me from yoga schools in London to Romania and Scandinavia, I have observed some advanced practitioners and have had the chance to witness some extraordinary acts, exceeding the usual or accepted level of human limits. I’m not talking about fancy, sensational paranormal powers that the mind wants to see for ‘proof’, (if this is what you’re after then you will be bitterly disappointed), but about those really valuable super-human qualities such as endless patience, constant self-sacrifice and tireless altruism. Qualities which will not necessarily entertain the crowd and for the large part go unnoticed, but without which the spiritual life is impoverished.
For me the value of the system can be seen in its product – in the lives of those who practice what it offers. If you want to understand what it is, simply study the life of one who is living the teachings. Not everyone is a serious yoga and meditation practitioner, but some are, and it is those who reveal the value of the teachings through the results they achieve by practicing. As the great yogi Swami Shivananda put it: ‘An ounce of practice is better than a ton of theory’. This fits perfectly with the yoga teachings as even if you know everything theoretically, if you don’t practice then it will have nowhere near the same impact and your understanding will still be limited.
Personally, I have had my ups and downs in my practice and have learnt the hard way, through years of trial and error, that nothing beats good, solid practice. A seasoned yoga practitioner, teacher and my good friend, Advaita Stoian, is one of the best examples I’ve seen of what you can achieve through applying the knowledge. Having had the chance to work closely with him for some years, I’ve witnessed first hand the miracle of spiritual aspiration and intensive yoga and meditation practice. As such he’s a great inspiration to many and one of the closest people to Grieg. He’s heavily involved in the case and here you can read an article he recently posted about it: http://www.advaitastoian.com/gregorian-bivolaru-has-been-arrested-again-the-abuse-against-him-takes-on-strange-grotesque-shapes/
I have felt and seen the effects – physical, mental, emotional and subtle – of practicing almost daily, and it is clear for me and others, (I know my parents would agree), that I am a better person for having done so. However, my peak moment of understanding the effects of practice were experienced during and after a 49 day retreat I kept last year. This retreat, which involved many hours every day of practicing the yoga and meditation techniques taught in this system, brought me to states of consciousness which I had only dreamed of. I was able to achieve, through my own perseverance and hard work, (it was really tough in some moments!), a state of happiness which is not conditioned by anything in the exterior, but completely me and so overwhelmingly real and natural. The intense, overwhelming ecstasy that it gradually became is hard to describe so I won’t even try, anyway it’s not the subject of this post, so suffice it to say that practice is the way! If you don’t practice the teachings then I don’t think you are in any position to be able to comment and pass judgement on what these schools and their mentor represent. As we all know, ‘practice makes perfect’, and MISA and the others schools working within the Atman Federation are great examples of this simple truth. (Click here to learn more about the Atman Federation: http://www.atmanyogafederation.org/ )
I believe in the goodness of human nature and its possibility to be perfected through proper understanding and application. I believe all of humanity’s problems could be solved if people would look more in this direction.
Non-violence is one of the cornerstones of the yogic path
It would almost make me laugh if it wasn’t for the gravity of the situation in Romania, that along the way Gregorian Bivolaru and members of MISA have been accused of weapons dealing, drug dealing and human trafficking, in a desperate attempt to find any possible reason to justify violent police actions and nasty media campaigns against them.
For heaven’s sake, the man’s a vegetarian, he wouldn’t hurt a flea. I know you can find some staunch, militant raw vegan vegetarian activist types out there who make you fear for your life if you touch an animal product let alone tuck into a juicy steak, but for those integrating vegetarianism in their spiritual practice it’s an holistic approach.
It is a well-known fact these days that when ingesting meat you take on the energies contained within that substance at the time of slaughter including the terrified emotions of the creature and the energy of the violent act, besides the fact that in order to get the meat you need to kill which means you are contributing to death and violence on the planet. So apart from the health reasons for not eating meat, there is also the conscious choice to practice the ancient yogic moral of non-violence through consciously choosing to be vegetarian. The clear reasons for vegetarianism are described in detail in the Atman Federation’s yoga courses and are based on the teachings from Grieg.
How then can a man who teaches non-violence on every level of existence, down to the very acts of speaking and thinking – a true practitioner of non-violence or Ahimsa (as it is known in Sanskrit) will even practice non-violence in his thoughts and speech and actions – be involved in crimes that only bring more violence into the world. He would have to be the world’s biggest hypocrite if anything the authorities try to convict him of is actually true. In reality, he is the one teaching us to correct hypocrisy in our lives, pointing out that such behaviour is more or less the norm these days and is something that is even encouraged in our society by politicians and those in positions of power. Of course they don’t like this and they try to keep him quiet and work to remove him from any position of authority so they can collapse the system he’s built.
Such an attack as this however is not unprecedented. A similar example can be seen in the life of the great Paramahansa Yogananda. Much loved and revered by both Easterners and Westerners alike, Yogananda singlehandedly brought yoga to the West in the early 20th Century when he moved from his homeland of India to teach in the US. He has become one of the most famous role models for serious yoga practitioners and it is even purported that acclaimed entrepreneur and modern-day hero, Steve Jobs, always kept a copy of his bestseller, ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ on him, in fact it was apparently the only book he kept on him. Yogananda has undeniably had a great influence on the lives of people from all walks of life due to the fact that his teachings are highly effective, easy to apply and deeply transforming. However, he too did not escape the threats and injustice that come with a position of spiritual power in our upside-down world today. Yogananda was warned to stop his work otherwise there would be consequences. And what were the allegations against him? Sexual misconduct of course – one the authorities’ favourite ways to frame a person of spiritual authority. I like very much the way Matt Damon describes this topsy-turvy state of the world we are living in today:
Notice how he mentions, “the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail”.
Where’s all the wild sex??
MISA Yoga School and the other schools that have adopted the teachings of Gregorian Bivolaru are a far cry from the scandalous debauchery the media would have everyone believe they’re about. According to the press, everyone is engaging in orgies and living very sexually promiscuous lives, basically sexually obsessed and pseudo-spiritual. Orthodox Romania has a hard time accepting that spirituality can exist outside of the tight traditional Christian frame and frowns on yogic practices so they’ve tried to do what it takes to quell the rising tide of yoga adepts in Romania.
However, there is nothing tawdry about it. My friends and I always say that when people come to the Tantra Intensive Course, which is inspired by Grieg’s teachings, expecting some exciting sexual experiences, eagerly hoping to fulfill their sexual needs, then they’re in for a surprise. The Tantra course is comprised of a rich curriculum of ancient Tantric knowledge combined with the latest scientific discoveries. It addresses life on every level in the form of theory and practical techniques such as meditation and yoga. If you want to practice some profound erotic Tantric practices then that’s done at home with your partner.
As Tantra is an holistic practice which takes into consideration every aspect of life, sexuality is therefore also part of the equation. But it’s just as much a part as our needs on other levels of existence, such as health, happiness, success, material comfort and stability, social skills, sleep needs, and spiritual practice. I’m in the 8th year of the Tantra Course and in my time I’ve never experienced any strange practices or questionable teachings, on the contrary this course has been one of the best things I’ve ever come across and enriched my life beyond anything I’d ever thought previously possible. Now my love relationship is better than I ever could have imagined and I’m able to experience love and intimacy in a much more profound, soul-fulfilling way.
Empowering women, not exploiting them
I heard that in the Romanian media some angry ex-members of MISA, well one angry ex-member in particular who is not worth mentioning but who’s the main campaigner in the bid to bring down the school, and apparently it’s even been proven that she’s paid by the secret service to do this, claims that women in these schools are exploited. That coming from a woman who’s paid to tell lies – who’s the one being exploited?? Used for others’ gains?? In actual fact things couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the most amazing aspects about this system is that it teaches you to revere woman and even put her on a pedestal. I have still not yet come across a place where women are more empowered than in these teachings, where they are taught how to do this for themselves, and men and women alike are taught how to support her and admire her for all her amazing qualities. In Natha Yoga Centre, Denmark, which is working within the system of the Atman Federation, the Tantra for Women courses are flourishing and its masculine counterpart has become highly sought-after. As a woman, I can say that I am much more confident and happy about being a woman since I’ve been following these teachings.
Sect or Not? Why this system is not sectarian
I’ve noticed that being part of a yoga system about which I am deeply passionate and dedicated to, triggers some strong reactions in people. More often than not, notions about being in a sect or a cult come up and are projected onto the schools involved, even if people have no information to go by! There is such a strong conditioning in our society about this that it’s sadly more the rule than the exception. Of course we’ve all heard the crazy stories about adherents following psychotic leaders and ending up all the worse for wear, filling the minds of people and the collective subconscious with a deep-seated fear of the all-dominating, inescapable cult, but how that filters down to the point of being superimposed on the image of a group of peace-loving, non-violence practicing yogis whose aspiration to perfection motivates their life’s purpose, is beyond me. Perhaps this upside-down perspective is a case of the very skillful use of manipulation techniques to twist minds, unbeknownst to all.
To settle the score once and for all, a sect expert was called upon to give his professional opinion about Gregorian Bivolaru and Romanian yoga school MISA. Karl Erik Nylund is Sweden’s foremost expert on sects and when Grieg was being tried in the Swedish Supreme Court in 2005, Nylund gave an extremely important testimony. Nylund is well-known for his critical attitude towards dangerous sects, making him the perfect person to reveal the truth about MISA Yoga School. Here are a few of the statements he made in his report:
“Powerful leaders can make the group members follow the group moral norms and values. The one with authority holds control over people though various means, such as rewards and punishments for instance (such as isolation, fines, etc.) During my study regarding MISA I noticed no such behavior or punishment.
The radical religious groups, such as the Guyana movement from the 70’s, the Heaven’s Gate movement from 90’s or David Koresh from Waco USA, are examples of groups that imposed a strict discipline to their members. The leader’s word represented the law for the others till death. The MISA Yoga School IS NOT such a group.
Gregorian Bivolaru DOES NOT claim to be in undeniable possession of the absolute truth. Together with other people, he is a spiritual guide and is convinced he is a man with a mission in the society. On the other hand he displayed and still displays no political claims. If people will transform through the lacto-vegetarian diet and through meditation, this will occur gradually. Bivolaru’s power resides in his very humbleness. Therefore in the MISA case, we can find none of the criteria defining manipulative sects.”
Click here to read Karl Erik Nylund’s report in full:
Grieg himself spoke out on the sect issue, and said the following:
“I am personally against sects. The main feature of a sect is that the human beings are not encouraged to practice techniques that allow their spiritual evolution, but they are simply inoculated and impregnated with ideas that have nothing to do with their own personal experience. These ideas are then circulated and can be considered sectarian prejudices. These ideas are ossified dogmas.” Paris, February, 2004.
In my heartfelt opinion, this system teaches its students to awaken the virtuous qualities of humbleness, kindness, goodness, love, altruism, self-discipline, generosity, sacrifice, courage, compassion, and self-giving.. to name just a few. It offers tools to awaken creativity, genius intellect, to strengthen willpower, understand your personality and become successful in all domains of life, including family and career. It can empower you and help you become the master of your own destiny. Gregorian Bivolaru, as the man responsible for the formation of its curricula, is a man as virtuous as what he inspires others to become through his example and the teachings he’s compiled.
For me, observing the calibre of people he has brought together has also been proof of the intention behind his teachings. Even now, in the midst of the flurry of activity happening right now in Natha Yoga Centre here in Copenhagen, in the face of this potentially damaging situation, people are more united than ever. I can also feel this between us and all our friends in the international community. The way people have jumped in and have been working tirelessly for his freedom is again testimony to the character of the man who gave us the chance to learn this precious knowledge.