Though all his life a fool associates with a wise person,
He does not realize Dharma any more than a spoon the flavor of the soup. —Dhammapada, verse 64
…whatever we feel toward the other is a reflection of ourselves. —Paul Lowe
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees. —William Blake’s Devil
By a fortunate coincidence, I have recently incorporated the word “egregious” into my working vocabulary. That is opportune, because this post is on a particularly egregious subject. Damned egregious, in fact. So egregious it’s not even funny.
Over the years of the writing of this blog I have occasionally mentioned Ammachi, better known as Amma “the Hugging Saint,” as often as not as a good example of a high-profile person alive today who is a saint, as contrasted to a sage. I’ve never been a real devotee, as I’ve never felt a strong affinity or resonance with her, and Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion to a guru, is apparently not my path this time around. But I do know a few of her devotees, and at the urging of one of them I’ve had darshan with her, and have been hugged by her, twice (the second time even being kissed on the forehead by her, which was appreciated, as I was going through a difficult time then).
Largely because of my occasional respectful mentions of her, a person I am familiar with and with whom I correspond, but have never met “on the physical plane,” sent me a book entitled Holy Hell: A Memoir of Faith, Devotion, and Pure Madness by Gail Tredwell (Wattle Tree Press, 2013). Another reason he sent it is because he has relatively recently developed a rather cynical attitude toward spirituality. In the book Ms. Tredwell, formerly known as Gayatri and Swamini Amritaprana, one of Amma’s closest disciples, her first Western female devotee, and her personal attendant for many years, acts as a whistleblower, accusing Amma and her senior swamis of a broad range of egregious activities. Damned egregious.
At the time of writing this I have just finished reading the book. At first I felt that it would be good to read a book with a negative bias, as it would help to counterbalance the literature I had read by devoted followers in the past, which was so fawningly worshipful as to be downright syrupy. But as I progressed through (waded through, struggled through) the book, it became more and more unpleasant. I repeatedly grew disgusted, and sometimes angry—not at Amma or her allegedly criminal swamis, but at the author, and to some degree at the fellow who sent me the book, and even endorsed it. I think I can honestly say that it’s the trashiest piece of work I’ve read in many years. It’s worse than the strange New Age manuscript I discussed in “The Relativity of Madness” a few months ago. I think reading Hitler’s Mein Kampf would be a more positive experience.
But before discussing the attempted character assassination of Amma, justified or unjustified, I suppose I should mention a superficial technicality. The writing style of the author (and possibly of an alleged peculiar collaborating ghost writer who will be discussed later on) is barbarous. Hackneyed clichés and other failed attempts at rhetorical flourishes occur on an average of about one per page. In addition to stuff like “the wee hours of the morning” and “to close my weary eyes,” there are plenty of little English missteps like “I collapsed like a hunk of driftwood” and “all the facets of the rainbow” (a rainbow doesn’t have any damn facets!), and literary attempts like this: “The moon was shining brightly, and its reflection was gleefully dancing beside us like a ballerina in a luminous tutu.” While reading the book I was continually reminded of the affected writing style of readers who sent in personal stories to the British version of Reader’s Digest magazine back in the 1950’s. (I have stayed at a monastery in Burma with a little pile of ancient Reader’s Digests, so I know what I’m talking about here.) But I have been spoiled by good literature, and some of the positive reviews on the Amazon.com website praised the writing. It takes all kinds. I’ll move on to what is much more important.
It is true that good subject matter can compensate for bad writing. And this book Holy Hell, if it had been written differently, not just with regard to style but with regard to its manner and purpose, could have been a major book. Before bashing the content of the book, though, and pretty much necessarily dealing with the messy issue of how the author’s account discredits her own character and reliability as a source of information, I suppose I should give some details on what the book is about.
In short, Ammachi the Hugging Saint is described as a violent, hostile, dishonest, selfish charlatan who regularly indulges in secret sex sessions with her senior swamis. Rather than just tell you what the author says, it may be better to let her tell you herself. Here, as a typical example, is an account of Amma’s reaction upon being told that Gayatri somehow allowed some cooked rice in the kitchen to start fermenting:
Amma entered the room, grabbed hold of the door, and slammed it shut with such thunderous might that the entire brick wall shook. Immediately she rushed over to Vidya and rammed her up against the panel of switches by the door. Then she turned and came charging at me like a raging bull. Grabbing a fist full of my hair, she flung me to the ground and spun me around over the smoothly polished linoleum floor as she kicked me a few times.
“How many times have I told you to check on the kitchen? You lazy, good for nothing bitch, just sitting around in my room like a queen.”
Releasing me from her grip, she turned and charged toward Vidya again. After I stood up and regained my senses, I had to laugh. Instead of standing like a helpless rag doll and meekly accepting another pounding, Vidya had a better idea. She ran for her life up the stairs with Amma hot on her heels….
Running out of steam, Amma turned to me and said, “Piss off. Piss off, the both of you.” Then she stormed back into her room.
This was not an isolated occurrence. According to Ms. Tredwell, this sort of attack/abuse happened again and again. I will point out at this point, though, that, even if the physical details are essentially correct, and Amma really did deliver the beatings, she hardly said what the author says she said, since Amma speaks Malayalam and not English. So at the very least, Ms. Tredwell had the option of translating Amma’s language with whatever bias she saw fit to employ. For example, “Piss off” could simply be a very negative rendering of “Go away.” This may seem like picking nits, but the effects of bias are pervasive in this book. They saturate it. The author is able to put a negative spin on almost anything. It contributes significantly to the overwhelmingly negative tone of the book.
Before moving on to the sex scandal, outrageously egregious as it is, I would like to make a few observations on the traditional Hindu relationship between guru and disciple. In India, one’s guru is considered to be infallible and divine, a manifestation of God—regardless of the guru’s personal character. He may be domineering and obnoxious, and chain smoke cigars and kick puppies besides, but all difficulties met with by the disciple at the hands of the guru are to be seen as divine grace, as tests for the refining of the disciple’s spiritual character. I’m pretty sure that Hindu women are supposed to see their husbands, and even their mothers-in-law, similarly, as manifestations of God. This may be seen as abomination by individualistic Westerners, and some spiritual teachers, notably J. Krishnamurti, have wholeheartedly denounced it as a ridiculous forfeiture of personal rights, and I myself probably wouldn’t go for it unless maybe, just maybe, I considered the guru to be infinitely wiser than me…but still, it is ancient Indian yogic tradition, and it’s not really wrong, it’s just different. It’s easy for Westerners to see it as wrong, however, since as a rule we do not differentiate our culturally derived values from gospel truth.
So a guru may strike or otherwise “abuse” his or her disciples, and the disciple is certainly not supposed to resent it and bitterly bitch and moan about it afterwards. Some of Indian culture seems conducive to a certain amount of abrasiveness anyhow; and one of my favorite spiritual beings of all time, Neem Karoli Baba or Maharajji, is known to have beaten people occasionally, and he roared at them and drove them away pretty frequently. A guru may simply have a rough personality, but sometimes he or she may deliberately provoke a devotee for the sake of bringing up their “stuff,” thereby allowing them to be aware of it and to work it off. Following is one of my favorite stories of a provocative guru, extracted from Miracle of Love: Stories about Neem Karoli Baba, by Ram Dass:
A large number of Westerners were being housed in an empty house belonging to one of the Indian devotees. We filled it with our bodies from wall to wall. Each day we would make our way to Dada’s house where Maharajji was staying; there we visited with him and were lavishly fed with meals, many sweets, and much tea. But then Maharajji stopped seeing us. Each day we would go to Dada’s house and be fed; but without Maharajji’s darshan, it lost the source of the appeal. Although I loved being with him, I didn’t mind so much for myself but there were many Westerners who had just recently arrived, and a number of them had not yet even met Maharajji. Day after day they waited, following us from house to house, but I could see that soon they would tire of this game and leave. However, there was nothing I could do.
Then one day I was called to Maharajji’s room and told, “Ram Dass, commander-in-chief, don’t bring anyone here tomorrow until six at night.” I had my orders, and when we returned to our quarters I announced that we would not go to Maharajji the next day until six. The next evening all the new people and most of the old devotees arrived, as ordered, at six. We found that some of the old devotees had ignored my instructions and arrived at four. These people had been fed; but more important, they had had a long visit with Maharajji. And when we arrived at six, though we were fed, we were not allowed to visit him.
Late that evening I was again called in to see Maharajji. This time he seemed angry with me and said, “Ram Dass, today people came at four. Tomorrow I don’t want anyone to come until six.” Again when we returned to our quarters I made his wishes known, specifically making them clear to those who had ignored me.
The next day it was worse. Not only did the original miscreants go at four, but now the mutiny was spreading, and other old devotees joined them. At six I arrived with the new devotees, who still assumed that my orders were to be honored, and a few of the old devotees who were sticking with me. And again we were faced with the same situation. The group that went at four got a long darshan with Maharajji and we got none. I was beginning to get angry.
The next day no such instruction was forthcoming, and we all came early but we were kept singing in the living room while Maharajji stayed with the Indian devotees in the kitchen. After some time a message came that Maharajji would see the women, and they all rushed out of the room to have his darshan. After some time, during which we were to continue singing, a message came that half of the men were to come for darshan. Of course, all wanted to go, but the meek and the righteous and some of the newer people remained behind with me, weakly carrying on the singing while we jealously listened to the laughter and talking in the other room.
Then the message came that Maharajji would not see anyone else that evening. And I became furious at this arbitrariness. That some of the new devotees who were kind enough to wait should not have darshan seemed grossly unfair, and I sought out Dada and expressed my perturbation. My anger was not masked, and Dada said, “I think you’d better tell Maharajji yourself.”
“I will,” I said.
Dada went into Maharajji’s room and soon I was called in. There were only the three of us. Maharajji looked at me and asked, “Kya?” [“What?”]
I knew of course that he knew what was in my mind, and I was in no mood for games, so I said, “Maharajji, you know my heart.” But he wouldn’t be deterred from having me explain, and he just reiterated, “Kya?”
I said, “Maharajji, you’re not being fair.” And I proceeded to tell him of these new devotees who couldn’t see him. When I finished my explanation I sat back on my haunches, waiting. I guess I felt I deserved an explanation and was waiting for one. After all, Maharajji wasn’t living up to the rules in my guru guidebook.
He looked at me quizzically, looked at Dada as if he didn’t understand, then he reached forward and gave a yank at my beard and said, “Ah, Ram Dass is angry.” That was all. And then he looked directly into my eyes and we held the gaze.
During those moments I saw clearly my predicament. Maharajji had not acted “rationally” or at any rate “fairly,” and he wasn’t apologizing for it, either. I had a choice. I could get up and walk out of the room and leave him, in which case I would be left with my righteousness—but no guru. Or I could surrender to his irrationality and unfairness, knowing that he knew and I didn’t. I bowed down, touched my head to his feet, and surrendered again.
Such tests may be extraordinarily difficult for an unenlightened egoist to accept. To surrender to the divinity in another being does not come easily for most. I seriously doubt that Ms. Tredwell would have passed Maharajji’s test, or at any rate would not have passed it as gracefully as Ram Dass did. I suppose most people wouldn’t.
So in order to be the disciple of an Indian guru, especially an occasionally fierce one, it is necessary to leave behind one’s personal preferences and prejudices, for example for personal self-esteem; and rather early on while reading Holy Hell it became obvious to me that the author could not or would not let go of her Western opinions about how things ought to be. She was, judging from her own account, a poor excuse for a disciple. She continually disobeyed Amma’s instructions, considering her own judgement to be better, and then would seethe with resentment and rage if she were called to account for it, putting all the blame squarely on the teacher, and none upon herself. Which brings up another Western prejudice that she would not or could not relinquish, what may be called “the Western disease”: the refusal to accept responsibility for one’s own unhappiness, and the blaming of others for it. This acceptance of responsibility is a fundamental teaching of just about any deep spiritual tradition, yet Swamini Amritaprana never “got it.” But more about that later. It’s time to talk about sex.
Ms. Tredwell claims that Ammachi regularly had sexual intercourse with a number of her male swamis, especially one Tredwell calls Balu, better known as Swamiji, Amma’s senior swami. Most of her evidence to that effect, assuming that she is not flat-out lying, is circumstantial: some swami or other coming to her room at night, with the lights turned out while he was in there, a towel in her room smeared with what was apparently semen immediately after one of Balu’s visits, similar towels washed and hung to dry in Amma’s bathroom, etc. Also she claims that during international tours she was required to stay in a closet while Amma entertained Balu, causing people outside the room to believe that Tredwell/Gayatri was acting as chaperone, when she wasn’t. Only once does she claim that she actually saw Amma having sex. But once is enough, I guess.
She also claims that Balu/Swamiji had sex with her, or rather raped her, Gayatri, on numerous occasions. She actually blames Amma for the first of these occasions:
My resolve weakened, and I agreed to meet him early the following morning in his room. I could have run to Amma and shared the recent events, which may have shielded me from him—but I chose not to. I was already so wounded and worn out from her harsh ways that I felt touched and weakened by someone showing he cared for me.
With regard to subsequent occasions she admits to going to Balu’s room on her own volition in order to be “raped,” and of being quietly “raped” on the floor near Amma’s bed while Amma slept. She also admits that she never feared being physically harmed by Swami Balu if she didn’t comply with his base, uncontrolled animal lusts. I am reminded of the ancient Jewish law that if a woman is raped in a populated area and does not cry out for help, she is just as guilty as the rapist. But Gayatri continued to allow herself to be “raped” for the sake of convenience, in order to avoid getting into trouble. That is, assuming that she’s not lying.
As I’ve already mentioned, I have never been a devotee of Amma, and I really have no axe to grind with regard to her personally, either one way or the other. Also, I am a relatively openminded person, I suppose. So at present I am willing to accept the possibility that Ms. Tredwell is telling the truth about Amma’s berserk violence and secret sexcapades, though luridly coloring the truth with hostile bias, and am also willing to accept the possibility that she, Tredwell, is lying, and that Amma really is a saint. I honestly don’t know what Amma is like behind closed doors; and simply taking another person’s or group of persons’ word for it is uncertain. But although I’m relatively unbiased on that account, I am still biased to some degree. Everyone is biased to some degree. And one way in which I am biased is to the extent that I would prefer that there be genuine saints in this world. (I suppose it's a good thing that the most moral people I've ever known have been Theravada Buddhist monks.) I’m biased in favor of the existence of saints, of geniuses of virtue. I tried to be one for many years, and it didn’t work out so well in my case, but I’d still like to believe that someone succeeds. So I am sorry that these accusations have been leveled against Amma, one of the few really famous saints alive today in this world—or, rather, one of the few famous people considered to be a saint. I also have somewhat of a bias against, or antipathy for, foul-tempered women, one of whom the author of the book in question appears to be. (There is one obscure, ironical facet of my mental rainbow that is tickled by reading Tredwell’s book, however: “The Priestess,” formerly my clandestine sweetheart for more than a year, was and still is a devotee of Amma, and she has accused me of harshness many times (although freely admitting recently that she was much harsher than I was in our erstwhile relationship), used to accuse me of dishonesty and lack of “integrity” because of my robes and our romance, and on at least one occasion accused me of exploiting a “power differential” between us—and now her guru Amma is publicly accused of being a hundred times worse than me on all counts! For example, I never once grabbed the Priestess by the hair and flung her to the ground. I’ve chuckled over this more than once. I laughed just now in fact. I just laughed again.)
If I try to stay within the realm of likelihood and plausibility, as far as I see it, then a worst case scenario with regard to Amma would be something like this: She led a very unhappy and dissatisfied life as a poor Indian village girl which, presumably facilitated by some genuine spirituality in her temperament, caused her to be deeply religious in her youth. This same unhappiness then, according to the hypothesis, also facilitated some psychological hysteria; and the two combined, hysteria and religion, produced dissociated states in which she took on the “moods” of Krishna and Kāli. When in a dissociated state one may have qualities, including wisdom, that one lacks in a more normal state, and the simple villagers, and later more sophisticated Hindus of a devotional temperament, were very impressed by her presence, especially when in her “moods.” Her generosity and cheerful openheartedness could be explained by the fact that many third world village women are generous and openhearted, unnaturally so by Western standards, and enough of it came naturally to her for her to appear saintly, at least in public. So a myth was gradually generated that she was a saint, did not menstruate, etc., and for various reasons she went along with it. She does the best she can in her persona, with the help of close disciples (like Gayatri was), and with lots of grooming, much like some Tibetan child tulku who is discovered and committed into the hands of spiritual guides. As far as I can imagine, that would be a worst case scenario that is still within the scope of plausibility.
On the other hand, a best case scenario for Amma would be that she really is what is claimed, a saint and enlightened manifestation of Divinity on earth, and that Gail Tredwell, out of infantile, vindictive, and/or sinister motives is lying her backside off—in which case Ms. Tredwell, almost needless to say, has very seriously messed up, seemingly joining the same club as Devadatta and Judas Iscariot.
But even if most of the egregious accusations are true, and Amma really does slap, kick, and pull hair (mercifully, she wasn’t accused of stabbing or poisoning anyone, or of biting or eye-gauging), as well as screw her male disciples, still, this does not necessarily entail a total loss of credibility. I’ve already mentioned that Maharajji, who is a spiritual Superman as far as I’m concerned, occasionally pounded somebody, and he was very playful with his female devotees, allegedly sometimes fondling them in a quasi-sexual way, and he has been accused of even having a secret wife and children. Also, Paul Lowe, another one of my heroes, could hardly ever be embroiled in a sex scandal, as he has worn his sexuality on his sleeve, and makes no secret of it—while at the same time, it seems to me, enjoying a much higher level of consciousness than the average worldling, to say the least. For that matter, the mythic Lord Krishna, of whom Amma may somehow be an embodiment, was himself quite the divine rascal, on one famous occasion allegedly multiplying himself into 500 Krishnas so he could fornicate with 500 young women simultaneously—and furthermore, he used his divine wisdom to know exactly how each girl liked it best, and really rang the bells of all 500. So even if Amma really does go on berserk rampages at the drop of a hat (etc.), she wouldn’t be a saint exactly, but could still have a kind of transcendent wisdom to which Gail Tredwell, in her limitations, was and is clueless.
But I find it very difficult, pretty much impossible actually, to believe that Ammachi is as overwhelmingly bad as her former attendant would have us believe. In her book she hardly mentions at all the goodness of Amma which attracts thousands of people to her. She scarcely mentions the many humanitarian programs conducted under her direction, such as orphanages, schools, hospitals, and housing for the extremely poor of India’s urban slums. I was informed just recently that one of Amma’s organizations has already built 45,000 houses for people who were previously living in squalor. Nor does Ms. Tredwell spend more than a few words describing Amma’s trademark of hugging thousands of people, regardless of how afflicted or repulsive they may be, often hugging nonstop for 16 hours or more without breaks for rest or even a drink of water. What we see in Holy Hell is essentially a bad, foolish person, with very little praise for her at all, other than some admiration for Amma’s spontaneous girlishness on occasion. Even if Amma behaves in an obviously compassionate, gentle, kind manner Tredwell can twist it around into something vile.
For example, she mentions a time when she was near to an emotional meltdown (evidently not an uncommon occurrence), not long before she finally left the ashram, and…
…as I was standing by my kitchen window, a few women huddled outside on the spiral staircase began waving at me. That was it—I snapped and fell to the floor. I began wailing and lamenting that not only did I have no freedom to move around in the ashram, but I didn’t even have privacy in my so-called room. There was nowhere to escape. In my state of overwhelm, I made a beeline for Amma’s room. Without restraint I told her everything that was on my mind.
“I hate this place. I feel like a caged animal. I can’t even look out my window. I can’t move freely anywhere without getting mobbed. There is nowhere peaceful in this damn place anymore, and I hate the crowds.”
She then continued to tell Amma how she hated the hypocrisy, unfairness, and inequality that she perceived there, as well as Amma’s continual persecutions of her. To this Amma responded, with some apparent (and at this point surprising) compassion, “Oh, my darling daughter Gayatri, I may not always show it but I have so much love in my heart for you.” To this Gayatri’s retaliatory outburst began with the command “Stick it.” Amma then asked, “What do you want? What can I do to make your life easier?” To this Gayatri requested, for starters, a private bedroom, not one that was shared or used for a dual purpose like storage or kitchen work. Whereupon Amma gently informed her that she would order a new room to be provided for her. Then she embraced and kissed her. Here is how the author interprets this seeming kindness:
…it completely slipped my radar that she had dodged my very legitimate concerns about ethics and fairness in the ashram. Instead she cleverly maneuvered the conversation off topic by professing her deep love and by bribing me with a room to make me more personally comfortable—and quiet perhaps?
Amma can do no right. She is bad, bad, bad. I cannot avoid getting a strong impression that Holy Hell is a ruthless and somewhat clumsy attempt at character assassination motivated by resentment, hatred, rage, spite, vindictiveness, paranoia, immaturity, self-pity, a desire to milk as much sympathy as possible out of her readers, and just plain foolishness, regardless of how true or untrue the physical details of the story may be. Using a little Pali Buddhist jargon, the book is quite obviously, to me anyway, a rather extreme case of pisuṇāvāca, the form of wrong speech which includes spiteful character assassinations, truthful or otherwise. I try to be an openminded person, but I have to admit that this book really disgusted me. By midway through the book it had stopped being mainly an issue of Amma’s character, and became for me more an issue of Gayatri’s.
On the Amazon.com website the reviews of Holy Hell are relatively polarized, tending toward five stars (by the anti-Amma cynics and detractors) and the minimum of one star (by the pro-Amma devotees and supporters); and one of the negative one-star reviews which was voted most useful, and which I felt contained some sensitivity and good sense, said, among other things, this: “…missing from the book seemed to be any compelling reason why any spiritual person would spend one day in the company of this irrational, demanding, violent, mean-spirited, hypocritical guru.” Before ever reading the review essentially the same thought had occurred to me. If Amma is no better than Ms. Tredwell says she is, then why would anyone, including Tredwell herself, want to live with her and be her disciple? It would seem that the only plausible reason would be something along the lines of foolish, ignorant stupidity. So it is not to the credit of Gayatri, or the soundness of her judgement, that she would have stayed on as Amma’s “punching bag” for twenty days, let alone twenty years. After reading the book I feel that one of the most serious condemnations of Amma that really sticks, that isn’t just an unsubstantiated accusation, is that Ma Gayatri, a.k.a. Swamini Amritaprana, was one of her closest disciples for twenty years and still has no more mental development than this.
I had been intending to make this much longer, probably a two-parter, but I’ve been having second thoughts. The second part would have started with a consideration of the ethics of the argumentum ad hominem, the procedure of undermining the credibility of a person’s claims by pointing out defects in that person’s character. It is usually considered to be logically invalid, but not always: obviously, a person’s statements will carry less weight if you can demonstrate that they are dishonest and/or mentally unstable. And Gail Tredwell’s book clearly demonstrates, by her own testimony, that she is both. (For example, she freely admits to telling lies on many occasions, generally for the sake of convenience and staying out of trouble.) But even a habitual liar or psychological mess can tell the truth sometimes. So I suppose there would be little point in indulging in more of a character assassination of Ms. Tredwell than I have already written, despite the fact that it would feel good to get it off my chest, sort of. For those interested in this issue of whether it is worthwhile to bash Gail Tredwell as a person, for the sake of determining the truth about Amma, one of the more interesting articles I have come across concerning the “Amma scandal” (or “Ammagate”) can be found here, on that very subject. It is written by an attorney, and seems to be relatively objective and rational, and not blatantly faith-oriented.
Another topic I would have discussed is the seeming lip-smacking relish that some cynical types feel at the public disgrace of saints or other “holy people.” The guy who sent me the book, for example, said that the five-star reviews on Amazon.com “validated” Tredwell, especially since he dismissed the one-star reviewers as being “high on devotion,” and thereby too biased to be reliable. All I will say to that is that the cynics are just as biased, and in a less healthy direction. They don’t like spirituality, for whatever reasons, so they’re biased in favor of the whole thing, or most of it anyway, being bullshit. Or so it seems to me, especially lately.
For a little speech delivered by Ma Gayatri approximately one year before her final break with the ashram, which tells pretty much the opposite side of the story as the book, click this.
The spirit has come upon me, and I am inspired to utter a prophesy: I do hereby prophesy that eventually Ms. Tredwell will publicly retract her accusations with tears of remorse—definitely in tears—claiming that the accusations were not true. This may have no bearing on their actual truth or falsehood, however. But I betcha it’ll happen sooner or later.
Before stopping and looking around for a better book to read (I’m inclining toward Karen Armstrong’s A History of God), there is one last morsel of information that is so gob-smackingly delectable that I can’t bear to leave it out. I found this on the ammascandal.wordpress.com website:
It turns out that Gail Tredwell’s book Holy Hell was edited in part by Jessi Hoffman, a professional ghostwriter and editor, aka Bronte Baxter. As Bronte Baxter, Hoffman has been one of the leading promoters of Gail’s book and Gail’s agenda. But let’s take a look at Hoffman’s agenda. According to her own Splinter in the Mind blog, Hoffman believes that all the gods and goddesses of Hinduism and other religions are actually alien beings, and that Amma is a very powerful demonic entity working with these alien beings and with the United Nations to devour human souls and to take over the world. These bizarre beliefs appear to be what motivates Hoffman’s obsession with trying to destroy Amma’s reputation (she’s also obsessed with fighting the United Nations and avoiding getting a microchip implant.)
I’ve read in other sources the further allegations that Hoffman, being a professional ghostwriter, did not just co-edit Tredwell’s book but helped to write the thing. She allegedly believes not only Amma, but all great spiritual leaders, including Ramana Maharshi, Jesus, and the Buddha to be literal demons. Also, the alien beings with whom the demonic Amma is in league are reptilian in form. (I smack my gob and laugh.) The whole thing seems so Monty Pythonesque that it would seem to be a very clumsy propaganda attempt to make Tredwell look like an absolute loon, but who knows. I suppose it could be checked and substantiated by someone more motivated than me.
In conclusion, I recommend Holy Hell, a 326-page-long raging bitchfest, as worth reading only by serious devotees of Amma who are not easily traumatized emotionally and can take a bit of a beating to their sense of all that is holy, as a kind of spiritual ascetic practice. It is good to expose ourselves to unpleasant stimuli that trigger us, thereby bringing up our “stuff”; and being triggered by reading a book is a relatively safe way of going about it. Feel free to fling the book across the room sometimes to vent steam, or draw a beard and mustache on Gail Tredwell’s picture on the back cover.
Also I would like to suggest that, in a case like this, or in any controversy (like: was Osho enlightened? Was controlled demolition employed in the 9/11 WTC disaster? Is Pah Auk jhāna the same as hypnosis?), that it is good to patiently examine all sides of the controversy, and to be openminded. It is only then that we may be plunged into the morass of confused uncertainty, which is probably the wisest position to adopt—“Only Don’t Know.”
It may not even matter if Gail Tredwell’s Amma is a crook. It may be that each of us creates our own Amma anyway.