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November 19, 2006

A true prince of Wales

Most Brits are wary of the darker recesses of Wales. Here’s why:

Bethesda, a small, isolated town on the edge of the Snowdonia national park in northwest Wales is the sort of place you drive through rather than to. To the west, beyond the town on the A5, lies Bangor and beyond that Anglesey and the ferry to Ireland. Nestling in a sepulchral valley, Bethesda’s rows of grey, stone-clad houses hugging the hillside have seen better days. Several of the shops lie empty, a visual testimony to the area’s struggling economy.
Many passing through might not pay Bethesda a second thought if it wasn’t for the burning flame standing 8ft tall outside a motel on the outskirts of the town. Surrounded by a pool of water and enveloped in a glass box etched with declarations of peace in a multitude of languages, the flame seems incongruous, its ultra-modern casing clashing with the forbidding backdrop of Snowdonia. A sign tells the curious that if they want further information about the flame they should ask at the motel which adjoins the main retreat of an obscure organisation called the Life Foundation.
Here, they will learn about the benefits of Dru Yoga, the foundation’s physical activities programme. There is little mention of the foundation itself, for these days the pacifist organisation, based around Hindu teaching, tends not to trade on its name. Some of the locals have taken against it. Graffiti warning ‘sex cult ahead’ is daubed on the road outside.
… Once inside the foundation, followers enter a world of ceremonies devoted to the Hindu god, Krishna. ‘You just get pulled in,’ says Anne. ‘The spiritual part is really strong. It’s really attactive if you’re searching for something.’
The diet is vegetarian and ex-members claim [that the foundation’s leader, Mansukh ‘Manny’ Patel] advocates [that] followers should choose celibacy while living in the foundation’s headquarters. For this reason Patel recommends husbands and wives should not live together when they join the foundation. Instead they are taught to focus on Patel, their guru.

Patel’s definition of “focus” is not exactly traditional:

[M]any of those who have left the foundation say Mansukh Patel is not the salvation they were led to believe. They claim he is in fact a sexual predator. Far from observing celibacy within the confines of the foundation, ex-followers claim Patel has his own harem of women often comprising the wives and girlfriends of his male followers.
‘My guru and I were alone in a room, I had total trust in him,’ recalls Jenny Underhill, now a Franciscan sister who left the foundation in 1987 after two years as Patel’s PA. ‘He asked me to give him a massage and he stripped naked. He then suggested I become more comfortable by taking off my clothes as well. He told me that I could do anything I wished to him... so I massaged and caressed his face.
‘His next move was to suggest that if I wanted to be his ‘Radha’ I would have to complete the sexual act. At this point I gave in, believing he was doing it for my spiritual progress - after all, he was my guru.’
‘I woke up one night to find him climbing into my sleeping bag,’ another former female follower says. ‘We had sex, I was half asleep. I was confused, I saw him as my guru. I thought, “What’s going on here?” He just said, “Trust me.”‘ She felt this was his stock answer to every-thing. To refuse Patel’s demands risked isolation, a withdrawal of the love and attention which his followers craved.
Sue Turner left in 2003 after learning of Patel’s sexual relationship with other female devotees. Only recently has her daughter, Heather, now a grown woman, confided to her mother that Patel started kissing her when she was around six or seven years old.
Heather says. ‘One time I slept in his bed. He told me he was going to take me to Disney World.’ Although Patel did not have sex with Heather she became angry at the way her parents devoted themselves to him. ‘Dad wouldn’t stop smoking, but as soon as Patel asked him to he did. Then he asked him to become a vegetarian and he did. Whatever he said, they jumped. It was very frustrating as a child because they seemed to think more of this guy than me.’

The entire (lengthy) article is worth reading, as it chronicles the ruined lives of a number of the cult’s members (at least one of whom committed suicide).

Posted by Stephen at 12:12 PM in Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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