An actual guru in Mysore.
Westerners have long sought some sort of hippie enlightenment from the Beatles to Steve Jobs to thousands more. Actually, from doubting Thomas to perhaps even Jesus himeself. As yoga and meditation get exposed to money and naked need divorced from culture, however, things can go very bad.
This Details article, uh, details how westerners have gone insane or died in India on spiritual pursuits.
India syndrome may not be an officially recognized disease, but many doctors are convinced it’s real. Kalyan Sachdev, the medical director of Privat Hospital in New Delhi, says that his facility admits about a hundred delusional Westerners a year, many of whom had been practicing yoga around the clock. “There’s the physical side of yoga and the psychic side, and sometimes people get it all out of order,” he says. “Peaceful people can get aggressive even if they haven’t taken any drugs.” His treatment tends to be simple: Send them home as soon as possible. “People come to us with acute psychotic symptoms,” he says. “But you put them on the plane and they are completely all right.” Sunil Mittal, the head of the psychiatric unit at Cosmos Institute for Mental Health & Behavioral Sciences in New Delhi, recently had to send police to retrieve a California woman who’d overstayed her visa and refused to leave an ashram outside Rishikesh. There, Mittal says, she danced erotically in the courtyard each night for the yogis and was often observed in a “trancelike state.” His prescription for her was also a return flight home. (Details)
Can’t blame it on India necessarily. I was in Mysore for a while and there’s some people doing Ashtanga Yoga as a sort of competitive sport, or as a replacement for drug abuse. And paying a lot for the experience. You, supply and demand. That said, there are people earnestly seeking and enough con-men and charlatans trying to lead them astray.
But such is spirituality, also. The Buddha also passed through many teachers before he found, well, himself. Mixing and matching uncritically, however, can drive you insane.