An Attorney’s Review of “Holy Hell” by Gail Tredwell

jayWe received this book review from Jay Cumming, Senior Research Attorney for the California Supreme Court. 

Holy Hell, Gail Tredwell’s autobiographical account of her near 20 years as the personal attendant of Mata Amritanandamayi (“Amma”), has certainly stirred up the disgruntled backbenchers of the spiritual world, but the book does little to tarnish the reputation of one of the great luminaries of our age.  The self-published memoir is reasonably well written.  Although it contains a few grammatical errors and malapropisms, those flaws are more endearing than they are distracting; they complement the book’s narrative voice, which is that of a simple woman telling her story.  The book’s organization is adequate to guide the reader through that story, and the imagery and metaphors are, at times, quite moving.  The style is chatty and informal.  For those who like gossip, the book does not disappoint.  For those who love India, it captures some of India’s beauty and complexity.

“Substantively, Gayatri’s book is persuasive in some parts, not at all persuasive in other parts, and very selective regarding the events it chooses to relate.  It is, by its own terms, a self-serving book…”

Ms. Tredwell (“Gayatri”) relates the story of her two decades in India.  Her book describes her experiences dwelling among the simple, mostly uneducated folk of India’s southwestern state of Kerala, learning the culture and language of that state, becoming the personal attendant to a fishing village mystic named Sudhamani Idamannel, and witnessing Sudhamani’s transformation into a world-famous spiritual teacher, revered by leading politicians, entertainers, clergy, and scholars.  Some of the book’s chapters are absolutely enchanting, for example the chapters describing young Gayatri’s first years in India, and the chapter describing the simple and ill-equipped hospital where Gayatri had abdominal surgery to remove a large ovarian cyst.  Likewise, no admirer of Amma should miss reading the wonderful chapter in which Gayatri describes a time when she and Amma (and two others) “ran away” in the night from Amma’s busy ashram (spiritual community) and spent a day swimming, frolicking, and meditating in a private park.  These chapters are a delight to read, and they set the stage for the later chapters describing Gayatri’s growing disillusionment with Amma and the ashram, and her decision to leave — sneaking secretly away in the night.

Substantively, Gayatri’s book is persuasive in some parts, not at all persuasive in other parts, and very selective regarding the events it chooses to relate.  It is, by its own terms, a self-serving book; Gayatri states that the writing of the book was an important part of her healing process.  Her book relates her personal story according to how she now chooses to perceive it.  She has reinvented herself.  The story she relates is the story of a strong and wise Western woman named Gail Tredwell, not the story of a demure and self-sacrificing devotee named Gayatri.  According to Western values, a person should have a healthy ego, one neither overblown nor unduly submissive.  Gayatri (now Gail) emerges from her 20-year sojourn in India with her ego intact, and her self-absorbed book allows the reader to consider whether her embrace of Western values represents a return to psychological and spiritual health, or something else.

“She has reinvented herself.”

The reader need not look beyond the pages of the book to form an opinion about Gayatri’s strong personality.  In the book, she comes across as smart, idealistic, proudly rebellious, self-reliant, independent-minded, hard-working, strong-willed, and courageous.  Those are all valued qualities in the West, but many of the same qualities are, according to traditional Hindu values, obstacles that prevent us from knowing our true selves; they are the manifestations of the individual ego that must be overcome through submission to the seemingly whimsical and harsh demands of a guru.

In the book, Gayatri also comes across to the reader as jealous, vengeful, stubborn, calculating, petty, self-concerned, and insecure — a person who too often indulges in self-pity and faultfinding, who frequently compares herself to others, who worries that the world is being unfair to her.  Just one of many examples occurs when Gayatri is donning the ochre cloth of self-sacrifice, renouncing all personal desires to pursue God and God alone.  She readily admits to the reader that, at that profound moment, she was obsessed with petty concerns about whether the alms she had received were as good as the alms the other initiates had received.  The objective reader cannot help but conclude that Gayatri’s jealousy and insecurity color much of what she perceives.

Gayatri admits in her book that she might have conjured up false versions of reality.  She states that she “felt too much pain” upon leaving the ashram “to determine what had been real and what had been projection.”  In another very candid passage, she writes:  “I tucked the memory of these experiences into the dark recesses of my soul. . . .  A few years after leaving the ashram I began seeking intuitive counseling.  One day during a healing session the lady counselor exclaimed, ‘Oh, you have been sexually abused.’ . . .  I repelled the trauma of the memory.  After all, it was buried so deep it could never be found.”  (Emphasis added.)  In other words, until Gayatri received a specific suggestion from her counselor, she had no memory of being sexually abused.  In the “acknowledgments” section of her book, Gayatri thanks a special friend “who held my hand and journeyed with me to the darker realms, places that I was unable to face on my own.”

“Gayatri admits in her book that she might have conjured up false versions of reality.  She states that she “felt too much pain” upon leaving the ashram “to determine what had been real and what had been projection.”

It is unclear what these statements signify, but if any of the recollections recorded in Gayatri’s book are the product of recovered-memory therapy, then there is good reason to question their validity.  (See the links at the end of this review.)  Significantly, a large portion of Gayatri’s book is not objective fact but her subjective and speculative theories about what the objective facts reveal — theories that include serial rape by Amma’s leading swami (Swami Amritaswarupananda) and also a jealous love triangle involving that swami, Gayatri, and Amma.  Here, the book fails to persuade, and therefore it comes across to the objective reader as gossipy and vindictive.

Not only does Gayatri fail to persuade, but the facts she omits from her story suggest that her speculative theories are simply wrong.  For example, she does not relate that just weeks after she left Amma’s ashram in November of 1999, she visited a devotee’s private home and stayed there for a week with several senior people from the ashram, including Swami Amritaswarupananda (“Swamiji”).  During that week, she considered returning to the ashram, but she chose instead to go to Hawaii.  A year later, she prepared a large jar of lemon pickle especially for Swamiji, and she had it sent to him.  The gift was delivered, but Swamiji declined to accept it.

All those facts undermine Gayatri’s description of Swamiji as a serial rapist whom she feared and from whom she had to flee.  They also undermine Gayatri’s story of a harrowing escape from an authoritarian guru-led cult.  On the contrary, just a few weeks after Gayatri’s high-drama escape, she voluntarily stayed in a private home with several of the most senior people from the ashram, she discussed the possibility of returning to the ashram, and, after she chose instead to leave the ashram, the senior leaders of the ashram drove her to the airport to see her off.  When one knows these additional facts and then reads Gayatri’s version of the story, one is unsure what to conclude, but one cannot help wondering if Gayatri fills the role of the scorned woman — deeply in love with Swamiji, intensely jealous of his devotion to Amma, and therefore imagining a base love affair between the two.

“Many of Gayatri’s supporters have been quick to spread unsubstantiated slander about Amma and the ashram, ignoring all that is clearly good that Amma has done, and that she has inspired others to do.  With what glee these people criticize Amma!  It is as if Amma’s impeccable reputation caused them to feel the sting of their own failings all the more, and thus, in the prospect of Amma’s downfall, they are enjoying some relief.  But Gayatri’s memoir will not result in Amma’s downfall.” 

There are many esoteric levels within Hinduism, and there is probably more to Amma’s story than the official hagiographies relate.  But that possibility does not imply scandal, nor does it diminish from all the good that Amma has accomplished through her hard work and kindness.  Amma has a permanent bruise on her cheek from embracing millions of admirers, one at a time, sometimes sitting for 15 or 20 hours without a break, turning no one away.  She maintains a grueling touring schedule, sings nightly before large audiences, gives numerous speeches and public talks, answers millions of individual questions, and administers a huge social service organization, all the time maintaining unwavering concentration.  Her hard work has inspired a worldwide philanthropic movement — an ethos of mercy that has spread to other spiritual groups.

Each of us must decide for himself or herself whether to admire Amma as a role model or to reject her as a fraud.  But in making that decision, we should be honest and fair.  Many of Gayatri’s supporters have been quick to spread unsubstantiated slander about Amma and the ashram, ignoring all that is clearly good that Amma has done, and that she has inspired others to do.  With what glee these people criticize Amma!  It is as if Amma’s impeccable reputation caused them to feel the sting of their own failings all the more, and thus, in the prospect of Amma’s downfall, they are enjoying some relief.  But Gayatri’s memoir will not result in Amma’s downfall.  Rather, Amma will continue her work, and a day may even come when Gayatri rejoins Amma’s global mission.  On that day, Amma will welcome her back with open arms and with complete acceptance and understanding.

Respectfully,
Jay Cumming
Senior Research Attorney, California Supreme Court

Links regarding recovered-memory therapy:
“ ‘Memory’ Therapy Leads to a Lawsuit And Big Settlement”
http://www.nytimes.com/1997/11/06/us/memory-therapy-leads-to-a-lawsuit-and-big-settlement.html

“Pseudoscience, Cross-examination, and Scientific Evidence in the Recovered Memory Controversy”
http://kspope.com/memory/repweb2a.php

“Recovered Memories” (describing how specific therapeutic procedures can lead to false memories)
https://webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/LoftusDavisAnnualReview06.pdf?uniq=-qcmbr3

Canadian Psychological Association’s guidelines for psychologists regarding the use of recovered-memory therapy
http://www.cpa.ca/cpasite/userfiles/Documents/publications/Recovered%20memory.pdf



Categories: Amma Controversy, Amma Lies, Amma Scandal, Amma Truth, Amritanandamayi Lies, Amritanandamayi Scandal, Gail Tredwell, Recent

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14 replies

  1. This is indeed a very objective review. Thanks Jay. David.

  2. Good job.
    Gail has never been nor is introvert. “Empty vessels make much noise”. She seems to have remained hollow throughout. The truth is, she never utilized her time with Amma positively. Now she is repenting for it. This book is the expression of her frustration on this.

  3. Thanks for speaking with clarity and respect….

    The existence of childhood repressed memory is one of the most controversial topics in the field of psychology. In the last decade much research and professional journals have debunked the reliability of repressed memories that are ‘discovered’ in therapy. The pro-repressed childhood memory camp says the younger the subject (prior six years old) and the longer the traumatic event the greater the chance for memory repression.

    But at current time most in the field of psychology have grave doubts about the accuracy of repressed memories, because many researchers have shown they can be readily instilled in the process of therapy through suggestion. Just like the body being susceptible to viruses even more so the mind.

    Gail alleges she was repeatedly sexually victimized as a grown woman. As one that specialized in working with sexual trauma and PTSD i have never heard of a case where an adult woman was raped then recovering that memory from repression. Nor have i been able to recall or locate any professional journals that mentions an adult woman with recovered repressed memories of being repeatedly raped as an adult. Gail’s accusation are clinically highly unusual. The issue with adult trauma is not repressed memories but rather horrific intrusive memories with a pronounced inability to forget.

  4. Thank you for the scientific review on the book. The book is a proof of a female’s frustrations….though it is her thanklessness to Amma and ashram, we feel pity for her…she was very close to success and simply missed it…! like the farmer who killed the golden egg laying goose….!!!!!

    Her love, respect and possessiveness for swamiji is clear in the book….but i wish if it was a bit deeper and true…!!! then success would have been her’s…!!! If she had gone a bit closer to his heart, she could feel and enjoy how Amma fills it…and would have risen spiritually…but she got lost in lust….we cant blame her coz, the culture in which she was brought up cannot differentiate between love and lust….For an indian it is easy coz from childhood we grow up listening to the stories of Radha and krishna & their divine love……swamijis love for Amma is not a sin…it is not a secret…he openly admits it in all his satsangs and that is what makes him special and makes him the most respected disciple of Amma…or we love and respect him not because of his power, appearance or voice…its just coz of his love for Amma…if that love is taken out, …he becomes just an ordinary man like anyone of us…!!!

    But instead of trying to steal anyone from Amma, if she had explored the fascinating windows of divine love…she could have done justice at least to the ochre rope she wore….
    instead she became a slave of devilish thoughts which eventually destroyed her …As in the story of Macbeth we see intense possessiveness and craving for power destroying an individual…. and ultimately taking her down to this immature stage of taking revenge …

    desires ruined the spiritual aspirant in her…and this remains a great lesson for all disciples all over the world…….!!!!!!!

    Gails book reminds of Judas Iscariot…!!!

    hope Amma will forgive her ignorance and bless her…

  5. Jay, you have done a excellent job in reviewing the book.

    From your review I am expressing here my personal opinion:-

    You have mention:-
    “Each of us must decide for himself or herself whether to admire Amma as a role model or to reject her as a fraud.
    But in making that decision, we should be honest and fair.”

    Gayatri is neither honest nor fair. What she has written is not facts but
    only a tale that she weaved out of her imagination.
    Any human can only see Amma as a divine person.
    Only inhuman (without human feelings) can see Amma in any other way.
    ……………………………………
    You have mention:-
    “ but the book does little to tarnish the reputation of one of the great luminaries of our age. “

    It is true that Amma is not tainted in anyway by our deeds. (it is like Gayatri trying to flinging a spear at the Sun) It is we, instead of having these precious time with Amma, have now to spent time treating a defect of our own. (with all these writings) In this process, many others get confused or perplexed.
    …………………………………
    You have mention:-
    “Some of the book’s chapters are absolutely enchanting,”

    the word ‘enchanting’ is not the right word it should be ‘disenchanting’ for chapters are in fact; baffling, deceiving, misleading.
    ……………………………….
    You have mention:-
    “The book’s organization is adequate to guide the reader through that story, and the imagery and metaphors are, at times, quite moving. The style is chatty and informal.
    For those who like gossip, the book does not disappoint.
    For those who love India, it captures some of India’s beauty and complexity.

    I would have to change your passage and put it this way:-

    The book’s organization is adequate to mislead the readers, that, there is actually a story, the imagination and fantasy is quite moving. The style is chatty and absurd. For those who like to gossip (defame), the book does not disappoint. For those who love India should not read such a book.
    ……………………………………………

  6. i briefly looked at the book on amazon preview, it really seems fake and not genuine, apparently she even received money from devotees to get her started on her own i mean years of ashram life and no education can be tough

  7. I am totally relieved after reading this article. Storms, however strong it may be, are not going harm.mountains.

    • All I can say is our family has been seeing Amma for 17 years, we lost our daughter to Cancer and her love and compassion has penetrated our hearts, helping us heal. When you see her hug, hug, hug and hug for hours without breaks, sitting on one spot without eating, without sleeping and still going strong after my eight hours of sleep you know her intentions are good. I know I am not capable of doing this, are you? When one asks her a question, listen to her response, it is always perfect, funny, truthful, insightful, deep and pure knowledge comes through. If you read about all the charities she supports, you will be amazed. Some teens ask her about staying at her Ashram in India, but she supports education, and getting a college education as one of the most important things for the teen age group. She is very updated and open minded in her thinking. I find it difficult to believe these reports written about her. See her yourself this summer and decide what you think…in this day of Spiritual growth and focus, our family feels the connection she exudes as a great living Saint….

  8. In my opinion,all allegations are fictional and one who has the smallest realization of self, cannot write such nonsense. I owe my spiritual progress to Amma. Amma’s community service cannot be valued and it is beyond the capability of any government (State or Central) in India.

    NVP Menon

  9. The immediate thoughts that rose in my mind on reading the book are as follows:
    1.Gail had never been a true and genuine spiritual seeker. She set out for the voyage to India because it was at that time fashionable to do so.
    2.Even after coming to AMMA she had never had any significant spiritual experience. When we compare the experiences the other Swamis had or the experiences which devotees like me had, Gail practically had no experience from Amma which could establish deeply in her mind the true nature of Amma.
    3.The lack of experience from Amma indicates that Gail had not been able to receive much grace from Her. The feelings of devotion, dedication, and surrender are generated in one’s mind by the grace of the Guru. From Gail’s own statements and her scornful attitude towards the devotion of others etc. I find that there was no devotion or surrender on her part.
    4.From her own writing one could easily gather that she was suffering from sexual frustration. She should have left the Ashram long back instead of repressing her sexual desires. It is the repressed sex in her that has now come out in the form of allegations against the swamis whom she might have viewed with envy because of their love and surrender towards the Divine Mother.
    5.There is a reference to Shakti, the astrologer in the book. This Shakthi had, in the year 1997, told me that Amma had predicted the exit of Gayatri. This is what he told me: ” It was in 1989 or so Ramakrishnan Nair who wrote the biography of Amma left the ashram. At that time there was a hue and cry among the inmates and devotees and once everyone was discussing the matter in the hut around Amma. While the discussion was going on Amma muttered that even this Gayatri would leave the Ashram one day and would malign Amma. This was not heard by many. But, Shaktiprasad sitting close to Amma heard it clearly.”

    6.Lastly, Amma has created the situation with the intention of testing the devotion of the devotee, to intensify the devotion and to crush the ego of the devotee.

    • Jay has lend a fine studied and objective review of the book. Many thanks for that. Gail, terribly weak as she was and still is, continues to have a fickle mind that continues to plays between perceived and perceiver and reality is something she doesn’t have the skill to grasp. So much is obvious. The self-assured self that we may find in the book in spurts is just another manifestation of her much therapied psyche mind swimming in the deep ocean of ignorance, despair and utter confusion.

      Good take there, Sureshji. Like you write,she never intended deeply enough to understand Amma or tred her path. Like you say, she just fell into what she thought was a new fad- embracing Hinduism or Amma’s guided path is far from a fad- it’s a life path, a principle and that’s not just difficult but downright tough to follow if we stay true to our conscience. It means “abandoning” our selves and “letting go” of our snake skins at conscious regular intervals and denying its regrowth! But Gail’s possessiveness, jealousy and other manifestations of her ego continued to plague her every second of her existence at the ashram and she just refused to let go of them since somewhere she believed she was the only right one around! Them how would Amma or Swamis or anything to do with the ashram be right in her eyes?!

      Something that a devotee understand while at the ashram is that AMMA is Amma- the Supreme Realized One and everybody else is on their own continuum of spiritual progress, each at their own stage. However if we stray too far, we shall be reprimanded in no unclear terms in public or private by Amma, since the ashram has rules and nobody is above those. Once we realise that, our connect with Amma turns crystal clear with no room for doubt.

      No spiritual aspirant who even subconsciously resists a master’s guidance can reach anywhere. Gail began at ground zero and ended up at negative integer level on the spiritual scale to put it mildly from what we gather of her revelations about herself in the book, simply because she actively resisted every opportunity to improve herself and today she is poised at a point of no-return. She has spiralled herself way down and she alone is responsible for it.

      I agree with you that her own repressed sexual frustrations alone have resulted in her allegations against swamis. If at the last year of her ashram life, she “builds up a fantasy” as she herself says for a man and goes as far as to confess love to him, it just shows her karmic state. She surely felt the same for some swamis whom she could only see as “men” but just couldn’t “confess” to them likewise. She just was not inclined inwardly for a spiritual life, that’s all. Amma knew it as your conversation with Shakti reveals, but Amma being the quintessential mother, would never tell her to give up and return to worldly life- Gail would never understand an advice like that either for that matter. She was far beyond redemption by that point- wrung in her own alternate parallel lives within herself and any advice from Amma would have been taken as an affront to her ego that swerved wildly from inflated to deflated!

      And yes, this is all Amma’s leela. Those who fail her at this step can easily leave and lead life whichever way pleases them. For Amma, all the world’s her children and she shall always pray for each one of us and love us no matter what. But we need to rise up to being atleast an average good son/daughter if not a good one, for the essence of Her path is reaching up to Oneness through the mother-child paradigm that encompasses sacrifice and seamless love at its heart and if we cannot absorb what that is all about, we can travel whichever path we are destined for. I hope and pray all of Amma’s devotees utilize this opportunity to raise their personal spiritual bars and aspire towards the eternal touchstone- AMMA! Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu!

  10. Exceedingly well written review. You have beautifully and convincingly brought the possible psychological complexities behind Gail’s behavior.

  11. There will always be bad people. Gail is one among them. They cannot refrain from doing bad things. The best way is to ignore them.

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