I heard about Amma in 1986, when I met one of Amma’s tour organizers, who helped invite her to Mt. Shasta on the first world tour. After Amma came a second time in 1988, I went to visit the ashram and ended up staying for the full 6 months of my overseas journey. I had a pivotal and most amazing, transformative experience. Words fail to remotely convey what it was like to have time close with Amma and the dedicated disciples and devotees around her.
Subsequently I ended up living in the ashram and becoming a renunciate until many years later, when a chronic health condition landed me back in America. I remained in the states, visiting Amma on tour and in Amritapuri whenever possible.
“On tours I usually was in the house where Amma stayed which meant that I was also part of that very intimate group of devotees that received lots of exposure and access to Amma. During that time I never saw even a hint of the behavior that Gail either alludes to or directly accuses Amma of in her book.”
I was in my late twenties when I met Gail; she was like my mother superior. Being wary of authority in general and her temperament in particular, it took me a few years to accept her as my boss but eventually I did. I had tremendous respect for her as a spiritual aspirant, my personal translator to Amma, and as an amazing and efficient worker. It seemed she could do the work of many people. Being so close and dedicated to Amma, she had a truly exalted position in my eyes. She also advised me well for all those years. That being said, it is also true that she had a tongue like a whip and I never knew which direction it was going to go.
Compared to now, the ashram was very small during the time I first lived there in 1988. Amma had no real privacy. Although she did have her own room, there were always at least one or two other people there as well. On tours I usually was in the house where Amma stayed which meant that I was also part of that very intimate group of devotees that received lots of exposure and access to Amma. During that time I never saw even a hint of the behavior that Gail either alludes to or directly accuses Amma of in her book.
As time passed, Gail did slowly change. I was younger and I certainly did not understand what I was seeing. Gail chose me to be a roommate in the later years of my stay. She would often rant about Amma, vehemently saying ” I won’t give in! I won’t give in!” — This was very confusing to me as I understood that our spiritual practice was in fact to surrender. Still Gail was “Amma’s right hand” so although it was very odd, I didn’t try to come to any understanding about it. I remember at this time speaking with Lakshmiakka who pointed out to me that Gail was avoiding time around Amma altogether. She was no longer in the room but just in public with Amma. Gail had many complaints about people not being kind to her. However at the same time she was a “monster” to Lakshmiakka, who to my eyes bore it like a loving mother. Gail also had many complaints about most of the Swamis. It seemed as though she perceived the Swamis as rivals, however I only heard praise and respect from her for both Amritaswarupananda Puri Swami (Balu) and Paramatmananda Puri Swami (Nealu).
I remember being dismayed and confused when I heard about Gail’s shaming of the most darling boy, Krishnanunni, as told to me by his mother Radhika, who was upset and disturbed by the incident. The dark side of Gail acted out, but gratefully was never fully unleashed in my direction. I heard a majority of Gail’s complaints when she started talking about leaving the ashram. It seemed bizarre to me when she encouraged two young and promising Brahmacharinis to leave.
“I eventually heard a whole litany of stories from Gail, now some 13 years ago, and I see that there are a lot of recent fabrications. After all, the real story won’t be selling much, but put in the admixture of scandal and it makes for a good story and a very wronged victim.”
I returned to the West in Feb of 1998, almost 2 years before Gail left the ashram. As I was no longer living in the ashram full time, I never really saw the very dark side of Gail that others told me came out during those last few years. What was evident to me was that she was having what I thought to be a nervous breakdown. Although I could not then imagine that she would really and truly leave. I thought it was just emotional venting, and I assumed that if she could no longer take the intensity of serving close to Amma, she would end up running a branch ashram in her home country of Australia after having a break of some sort.
I eventually heard a whole litany of stories from Gail, now some 13 years ago, and I see that there are a lot of recent fabrications. After all, the real story won’t be selling much, but put in the admixture of scandal and it makes for a good story and a very wronged victim. She was at the hub of a universe for so long, a veritable ruler, and being out in the world left to her own devices bereft of attention must have been quite disappointing after a while. That scorpion tongue unleashed its unfortunate tendency that we all knew so well. She uses a story tactic of “ truth, truth, lie” in her slander of Amma and the ashram. The blurb describing her book also follows this pattern. To use an example of typical devotees who visit India and go on tours: Jack and Jill are devotees (true), Jack and Jill like to travel on tour with Amma (true), Jack and Jill go to the ashram in India every other year (true), Jack and Jill import drugs that fund their travels (false). But the premise was true, making a persuasive lie. Using a variation on the theme one could extrapolate to anything dramatic and scandalous.
For those who did not know Gail, I would like to say that Gail was not living a conventional lifestyle, to say the very least. She chose to be in a traditional role serving the Master. This meant getting up before, sleeping after, and anticipating the Master’s needs. To do this there were other devotees serving her so she could serve in this way. Her chosen role was very different from being a devotee or even a disciple who is not in that role. It is extremely challenging and only for those who truly want the guru to transform them. These exceptional individuals must be willing to take the heat, stress and unpredictability that such a journey involves. An example of this can be read in Chasm of Fire by Irena Tweedie, a book which Amma has recommended.
This was the role that Gail had, and indeed fought to make she sure she kept. Anyone even perceived of as potentially coming in between Gail and her role with Amma suffered a real verbal lashing, at the very least. It is true that as many people feared her as admired her for she could make lives miserable if she so chose.
In the early days I remember asking Gail how Amma could countenance the negative behavior of some of the people at the ashram in positions of power? Gail told me that Masters get a lot of mileage in working on people’s ego with these characters; “Many birds with one stone”. At that time, I certainly did not think that Gail might be one of these people.
When I first lived in the ashram, it was small and intimate. Although you would never describe Gail as a happy person, she was fulfilled in her work and content with her life when I first moved to the ashram. As time went on and more people came, both western and Indian, she wielded more power and became like a queen over us all. Those last few years she had fallen in love with a close western devotee. On the one side, she was fully devoted to the task at hand and taking care of all the many arrangements involved. On the other, bitter, abusive and full of complaints of everyone’s bad character around her.
In my early years, Swami Paramatmananda warned me that Gail’s habit of speaking badly of people was her major character flaw, and that it was a very negative quality and her main hurdle to overcome. We were sitting at the time at the end of the temple balcony on the steps that are now part of the Matruvani office. I remembered noting then, that it was very kind of Swamiji to take the time to speak to me like that; now I appreciate his wisdom even more.
During a question and answer session at a retreat in Los Angeles in 2000, I publicly asked a question indirectly pertaining to Gail’s departure. Amma said that “maintaining the same amount of effort on the spiritual path is as rare as winning the lottery”. It seems to me that if after being on the path for so long, and an example for so many, you want to live a different kind of life, it can be very challenging to realize that you are not a great soul. It is much easier to say and imagine that everyone else is just very twisted and evil, and that you are justified and righteous to blame everyone around you. That Gail is still grinding an axe about it makes that more apparent as it has been 13 years now.
Along these lines, Gail’s story starts out wonderfully, and then slowly becomes twisted as she sees the world through her own unfortunate emotional state. It is such a pity, as her sordid tale spinning has the effect of invalidating all the good years we all had together. There is a real feeling of grief for me to see what can happen to someone I loved as a big sister and shared so many amazing experiences with. Despite all of her negativity, when Gail came to have darshan with Amma a few years ago, I observed Amma fully accepting and loving her as she does with all of her “children”. Amma invited her to sit beside her for the rest of the morning program, and has only expressed love and concern for her.
“I suggested to her that as she was now in a secure position, with a place to live, a job and a good car (the ashram gave her $20,000 to get established), that it was time to do some emotional work and take responsibility for her “stuff” as she was no different than all the rest of us. She didn’t like that idea at all! Instead, she was projecting all the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother and brothers, onto Amma and the Swamis, and it was hurting people.”
I was interested to read in her book that Gail’s plan was always to come to Hawaii, where l lived, after leaving the ashram. Perhaps that is the true reason I was never the object of the cruel side of her nature. The last time I had with Gail, I was aware that she was telling stories about Amma and the Swamis in the community, as somehow these stories would invariably make their way back to me. I suggested to her that as she was now in a secure position, with a place to live, a job and a good car (the ashram gave her $20,000 to get established), that it was time to do some emotional work and take responsibility for her “stuff” as she was no different than all the rest of us. She didn’t like that idea at all! Instead, she was projecting all the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother and brothers, onto Amma and the Swamis, and it was hurting people. Well, she was so angry at that suggestion, she could barely speak.
I referred Gail to a very good bodyworker I was going to at the time. Some months later, he asked me “if I knew that Gail was crazy”. I apologized and said that when I referred her I really hadn’t understood the situation, but that I certainly regrettably did know it now.
Normally I would not publicly share what I have written, but people are actually taking what Gail has written as the truth of the matter, so I feel compelled to speak up. I can only guess at Gail’s true modus operandi, but it is a pity she is conducting herself in this way. Although Gail took good care of me for the many years I lived in the ashram and we are no longer friends, I do care about her well-being. It saddens me that there are many who may believe her stories and may lose a rare opportunity to learn from and have their lives transformed for the better, by a great humanitarian and spiritual Master such as Amma.