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Part 5: Carlos Santana Becomes Devadip

Carlos Santana follows abusive guru Sri Chinmoy for ten years.

“Guru said he was the only God-realized person currently alive; he was the sole authority on the subject.” That’s a line from the powerful 2009 memoir Cartwheels in a Sari by Jayanti Tamm. The guru she was referring to was Sri Chinmoy. He arrived  in New York in 1964 and her mother discovered him after leaving her husband and going on a spiritual search for a teacher.

She arrived at his center eager and on the first day he instructed her to meditate for several hours. He then told her that if she wanted to “jump into the sea of spirituality,” she would marry the man meditating next to her. He was a “young hippy” with a “sour odor,” says Tamm. It was his first day too. “That, according to my mother, is how she met my father,” she writes.

Chinmoy then pressed his hands over their foreheads and they “felt a river of warmth” run through them, Tamm says. He then chanted in Sanskrit and welcomed them into the “golden boat that will steer them safely through the ignorance-sea to the golden-shore of the Beyond.” The room was hazy with incense smoke, the room was hot, and they had just come out of a several-hour long meditation.

They were now under the control of Chinmoy who soon modified his disciples behavior and limited access to information. They were not allowed “alcohol, caffeine, smoking, drugs, TV, radio, movies, music, newspapers, magazines, books not written by Guru, meat, dancing, and pets,” according to Tamm.

Followers had to remain single aside from a few approved “divine marriages” that he arranged. But even the married couples were to remain celibate. Jayanti Tamm’s parents got pregnant, however and they were scolded by the “Guru.” But Chinmoy prayed to the “Supreme” aka God and his prayers so strong that he was able to flip this “undivine” act into a spiritual gift. After contacting the “highest heaven” he arranged for a “special soul to incarnate as his chosen disciple,” Tamm writes.

“My grateful parents humbly vowed to never again indulge in ‘lower-vital activities,’ and renewed their undying commitment to Guru to never permit the “trappings of family” to deter them from spiritual progress,” she says. “They understood that what held them together was Guru and Guru alone. He served as the foundation of their marriage and lives.”

"SO MUCH OF WHAT WE LEARNED with Sri Chinmoy is so applicable today,” Carlos Santana says in a 2022 podcast. “It’s helping humans crystallizing their experience.”

Santana was speaking with Narada Michael Walden, also a follower of Chinmoy. Santana was a disciple of Chinmoy from 1972-1981 but still speaks highly of him. Chinmoy gave him the spiritual name Devadip which appears on several of Santana’s albums.

“After receiving initiation, Guru instructed Santana to marry his girlfriend, Deborah,” writes Tamm of his introduction to the group. “For nine years as Devadip, Santana devoted himself to Guru's path, receiving special attention from Guru with every visit…” Santana said Chinmoy sat in the “seat of God” and had graduated “many Harvards of consciousness.” "I'm still in kindergarten without a guru,” Santana said. “Without a guru I serve only my own vanity, but with him I can be of service to you and everybody. I am the strings, but [Chinmoy] is the musician.”

The back of the album "Love, Devotion, Surrender" features a photo of Santana and John McClaughlin with their guru Sri Chinmoy

In 2014 Salon reported that Sri Chinmoy asked a disciple named Celia Corona-Doran to “strip and perform lesbian sex with another follower while he watched.” Since total surrender was required of followers she tried to comply by faking it but couldn’t do it so she confronted him. He instructed her to forgive him.

The NYPOST reported in 2004 that Anne Carlton, a former member for 20 years, told them Sri Chinmoy “summoned her for sexual encounters over two extended periods – one in 1991 and another in 1996.”

In 2007 Carlton told a news station that she was summoned to Chinmoy’s room after an event and he instructed her to have sex with him. She elaborated her story online. “After a short interview about my previous sexual experiences Chinmoy said, ‘You should surrender your vital (sexual) energy to me.’” After offering him her energy, he indicated it wasn’t enough. “So then I said, ‘Supreme I bow to thee,’ a few times. He had me embrace him, I hugged him, feeling very warm and loving, but not aroused. Then Chinmoy told me to take my clothes off. I was shocked! However, prior to being in the Center, I had been very open minded, so I was happy and not angry. I took off my clothes, he then removed his and we proceeded to have sex. Afterward, he told me that I must never tell anyone. He said that I was specially chosen and that this was not really sex, but his life breath, which he was giving me.”

She said Chinmoy also told her to immediately get an abortion if she were to get pregnant.

Carlton said there were several sexual trysts over the next months but then he stopped calling.

“Over the next several years I became more and more aware about the many women sexually involved with Chinmoy,” she writes. And Chinmoy paired her up sexually with other women.

Chinmoy claimed to have been celibate his whole life and required the same of his disciples. “We weren’t allowed to look men in the eye. We weren’t allowed to marry, we weren’t allowed to have children,” Carlton said.

He also berated his followers and used guilt to control them. “You cannot and will never know what this Guru has to carry,” Tamm remembers him saying. “So much dead elephant weight. I suffer from carrying your problems. Vital problems, which are emotional problems. Mental problems. But my suffering does not end there. So merciless does Alo torture me. Endless are her attacks on me. Her fierce jealousy and her demands create such problems. You people will never know what type of problems she makes for me in the inner and outer world. She is determined to make me suffer and to make the Supreme's will suffer.”

Chinmoy also staged elaborate spectacles that appeared to show him lifting the weight of an elephant or an airplane to demonstrate his god-like strength. He was also obsessed with running and pressured his disciples to run long ultra marathons. Chinmoy also claimed to only sleep 90 minutes per day.

SANTANA HAD BEEN INSPIRED BY John Coltrane’s spiritual search and had undertaken fasting and praying. He also began exploring Eastern mysticism.

In his memoir Universal Tone, Santana writes that he was introduced to Chinmoy by a photo of him that his friend Larry Coryell had. “We meditated together, and I noticed a photograph he carried with him…It showed a man in the middle of meditating so deeply that the photo was humming!” Santana writes. “I asked Larry who it was. ‘This is a transcendental picture of Sri Chinmoy in a high state.’ A very high state—I could feel the intensity from the man just through the picture. I would come to know that photograph and that face very well—I’d soon be meditating on the photo, just as Larry did and would continue to do so for almost ten years.” Santana went on to say, “That face became the note I would use to get myself in tune with a Christ consciousness, a Buddha consciousness.”

Tamm wrote in her book that followers had to meditate on Chinmoy’s photo. “Our house felt like a Guru museum, replete with photo gallery—pictures of Guru occupied every single free space upon the wall—Guru with his hands folded, Guru laughing, Guru sniffing a gardenia, Guru sipping juice. From the entryway to the gap between the sink and medicine cabinet, we were surrounded by Guru. He was always watching me. He was always, always present.”

According to Santana, Coryell was one of Chinmoy’s earliest disciples. He played with Jimmi Hendrix and Miles Davis and was thought to be one of the best guitarists of all time. In a tribute to his life, Gary Gomes writes that Larry’s single “Sex” was about his desire to have sexual relations with his wife. Chinmoy demanded celibacy of his followers, even those who were married.

Nine months later Santana was told about him again. “Coryell had been the first to tell me about Sri, then John [McLaughlin] started speaking about him with even more intensity, with a consistency of serenity in his persona,” Santana writes in his memoir. “That last week of October, John and Eve took Deborah and me to meet their guru for the first time.”

They met at the Church Center for the United Nations. Santana described Chinmoy as a “short, balding man wearing red robes.” John introduced them and Chinmoy spoke. “Oh, Mahavishnu has told me about you. Good boy. I am so happy that you’re here,” Santana recalls him saying. “I learned later that he greeted all his disciples that way—‘good boy’; ‘good girl.’ He looked at me intently and accepted the flowers. Then he said, ‘I can see your soul wants to be here so bad.’”

Perhaps Chinmoy was psychic and knew or could see his hunger for spiritual answers in his face.

Santana writes that he and his then girlfriend Deborah moved into the Ashram in Queens. To do so he had to cut his hair, however.

“Cut your hair, no drugs, total vegetarian,” Santana told Rolling Stone Magazine of the strict routine Chinmoy demanded for him and his wife. “It was like a West Point approach to spirituality. Five o’clock in the morning mediating, every day.”

The back of Santana’s album Love, Devotion, Surrender has a photo of him with Mclaughlin and Chinmoy. The two disciples are wearing all white with their hands folded together. Mclaughlin is smiling but Santana seems tense with scrunched shoulders. He seems apprehensive, like he’s not sure if he wants to be there. His hair is short for the first time, having gotten it cut per Chinmoy’s rules. Chinmoy is wearing a bright orange sporty jacket with red robes. He has a sinister looking smile, almost like the Joker.

Love, Devotion Surrender: Santana and McClaughlin

On the inside of the album is a long spiritual essay by Chinmoy where he says “surrender is the sweetest.” He’d later say about the record, “surrender is misunderstood. We feel that if we surrender to someone, he will then lord it over us.” Santana’s album Oneness is also filled with spiritual imagery. There are quotes of Chinmoy from his books and the cover has several meditation statues. “Music is the soul bird that flies in the immense heart of the listener,” a Chinmoy quote says. The album cover lists Santana’s spiritual name Devadip, meaning “lamp of God.”

The album was recorded in 1973, just as Santana joined the group. John McLaughlin, who was named Mahavishnu, performed two songs “Meditation” and “The Life Divine” on the album. Santana had first met him in 1970. McLaughlin gave Jimmy Page guitar lessons, played with Miles Davis, was a prominent session musician and was a part of several bands such as Shakti, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Jeff Beck and Pat Metheny have described him as “the greatest guitarist alive.” And he was a devout follower of Sri Chinmoy.

Roberta Flack was also a longtime devotee of Sri Chinmoy. “I used to meditate with Guru Chinmoy in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, read his writings and run with him,” she says. She wrote the famous tuen ″Killing Me Softly with His Song.” Flack’s song called “Running” was inspired by Chinmoy. “And I’ll just keep running/Until my race is done/‘Cause if I just keep running/Then I’ve already won,” the lyrics go.

“Deborah and I were making a life that had two homes, one in Marin County and the other in Queens, at the place we rented on Parsons Boulevard near Sri’s ashram,” Santana writes in his memoir.

Santana performed at many of Sri Chinmoys events to packed audiences, boosting the gurus visibility and credibility worldwide.

“The reason for gurus is that you can’t do it by yourself all the time—definitely not at the beginning,” Santana writes. “You need someone else to hold up the light so you can see where you’re going on your new road. A true guru is someone who brings light and is a dispeller of darkness.”

“If there’s such a thing as discipline in romance, then that’s Sri Chinmoy, because he is a lover of the supreme, and I tend to gravitate to lovers,” Santana says. “When they hug you it’s really close. They’re not going to let go.”

Santana was reading The Urantia Book before meeting Chinmoy and continued to after leaving him. He said he reads from A Course in Miracles daily and enjoys The Book of Knowledge: The Keys of Enoch. His wife Deborah eventually joined Unity Church.

Rolling Stone Magazine reported that Santana has a “card with the word Metatron spelled out in intricately painted picture letters.” Metatron is an angel that Santana claims to be in regular contact with. “Carlos will sit here facing the wall, the candles lit. He has a yellow legal pad at one side, ready for the communications that will come. ‘It’s kind of like a fax machine,’ he says.”


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