Here is a gent who seems to be a lot like Nxivm’s Keith Raniere. He has a Nancy Salzman-type assistant, developed a process similar to NXIVM’s “Exploration of Meaning,” and had a number of women devoted to him, who had sex with him, who later turned against him.
Russell Kruckman, 78, better known as Swami Shankarananda, heads an ashram in Melbourne, Australia, where he teaches “Kashmir Shaivism,” or Shiva Yoga, a mixture of meditative practices, yoga, concentration on sound, mantra repetition, chanting, breathing exercises and, for some of his female disciples, tantric sex.
The ultimate goal, Kruckman teaches, is for the individual to realize oneness with the universe.
“God dwells within you as you,” Kruckman says, “see God in each other.”
About 40 disciples live at his ashram permanently, up to 100 people stay there for temporary retreats, and hundreds come weekly for yoga and meditation classes and other courses.
Kruckman is assisted by Valerie Angell, also known as Devi Ma, who was an experienced Gestalt therapist before her involvement with Kruckman.
[NXIVM similarity: Nancy Salzman was an experienced Neuro-linguistic Programing practitioner before cofounding NXIVM with Raniere.]
Those who live in the ashram are assigned a schedule, occupying them from morning to evening. Besides spiritual practices prescribed by Kruckman, voluntary work to help maintain the ashram consumes a large part of the day.
Guru Is God
“God, guru and Self are one,” Kruckman teaches. “Using these three complementary aspects of the divine as navigational indicators, the seeker arrives at the goal.”
To realize the goal, the student is told he or she must master the mind, control the vital energy, subdue the senses, conquer sleep, overcome anger and agitation, and, the quickest path to this is to love, surrender, obey, and worship the guru as if he were non-different than God Himself.
Disciples give Kruckman, who they affectionately call Swamiji, authority to decide where they live, what they do for work, what they can and can’t do sexually; their diet, hobbies and what they study. His disciples believe he has psychic powers and knows the future.
To support his work and show devotion, people work at the ashram without compensation and some pay money to stay there and work for free. His disciples read his correspondence and take dictation from him typing his replies, clean his room and bathroom, wash his clothes, do his ironing, make his bed, prepare his meals, clean his dishes, wash his car, help him organize lectures, and report back to him about other students and potential recruits, providing important information to help him help them.
“If you see the guru as perfect, you will attain enlightenment. If you see him as a demon, you will attain hell,” explains Kruckman. “Pleasing the guru is the source of all attainments.”
Kruckman warns that failure to see the guru as perfect is fraught with danger. There are frightening, demonic entities, ghouls and ghostly presences seeking a human body who lie in wait to possess a faithless person and destroy their connection to God. A person is ripe for demonic possession if that person thinks or speaks negatively about their guru, says Kruckman.
“Everything the guru does is ordained by God,” said one disciple, a sentiment shared by all of his disciples.
To aid his disciples, Kruckman developed a technique called “Shiva Process” [SP].
Practiced in small groups or one-on-one with an experienced SP practitioner, members look to their inner world for deficiencies and then report what they find to the SP practitioner. Confessions of a personal nature are encouraged to help eliminate blockages preventing the divine flow of cosmic life force. SP practitioners encourage members to realize that inner deficiencies disappear once they realize the guru is God.
Kruckman has been accused of using personal information confessed during SP to his advantage by speaking to students as if he can read their minds, when in reality SP practitioners [his disciples] told him what students said in therapy sessions.
His supporters maintain that he knows the past, present and future and does not need such help. He has the power to not only read minds but raise the consciousness of an individual to higher realms of thought and awareness.
Despite his best efforts to help, some of his disciples have left. In fact quite a few in recent years.
Journalist Dan Oakes did an in-depth story last month on Kruckman, for ABC Australia, interviewing more than 20 former followers.
In his ABC story, Oakes introduces readers to a number of women and a few men who are disillusioned.
For instance, a woman who we’ll refer to as Anna (not her real name) was Kruckman’s disciple for 16 years, and living at the ashram, when, one day, after serving her guru lunch, she went to collect the tray.
“He pulled my arm and just started kissing me,” Anna told ABC Australia. “He used to love raw red onion, and all I can remember was the acrid taste of the red onion in my mouth. And I just kind of stood frozen there, just not understanding what had happened. Then he kind of released me and after a certain amount of time, he said ‘interesting’.”
Kruckman instructed Anna to come to his room that night.
“He text messaged me at 10:30 and said, ‘The coast is clear, you can come down,’ and I went down. I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Anna said. “And when I got there, he ushered me into his room, being very clever at making sure no one was around, no one could hear us, and he just started kissing me and told me to take my clothes off.”
Anna obeyed and had sex with Kruckman, she said.
“I’ve never experienced anything so repulsive in my whole life. He was an old, fat, bald man, and I was a young woman. And I just couldn’t understand what was happening. And after that night, I realized that that was something that he was wanting from me and expected from me,” she said. “He said, ‘You know, this is a secret between you and me. You can’t tell anybody. That’s the way Tantra works. It’s a secret.'”
[Raniere employed the same kind of insistence on secrecy for women he had sex with.]
[Kruckman had esoteric explanations as to why he was having sex with women. Calling it tantric yoga, he said that it was to assist them in the awakening of the “kundalini,” a powerful life force that is encouraged to flow in an upward manner from the base of the spine to the brain. When it is fully awakened, the human is transformed into the divine — as Kruckman claimed himself to be. Another reason for the tantric sex was to encourage guru-love, or God love, by seeing God as one’s lover, which quickens the spiritual realization of the devotee by making God not a distant, awesome, fearsome entity that one propitiates, but an intimate, loving partner, whom one can know well, and can please and be pleased by.]
Rather than leave the ashram, where she lived for years, Anna stayed, continuing to seek guidance from her guru, though she said she sought to avoid tantric sex as far as possible.
“I did everything I could to avoid getting into that situation with him, from pretending I had a headache to saying I had my period to saying I’d just taken a sleeping tablet to saying there’s people there,” she said. “Sometimes, in the end, I just knew that I had to go and see him and let him do what he wanted and do just to get it over with, and those were the worst nights of my life.
“I would go to him, desperate for him to give me a teaching that would help me to kind of get to the source of my [childhood] trauma. There’s something I’m not doing right. There’s some teaching that I don’t understand,” she said. “I kept seeing it as a shortcoming in me, and I would beg him.”
Kruckman offered a tantric method he said would help Anna.
“He’d unzip his pants and make me give him a head job,” she said. “That was his answer to my issues of insomnia and my suffering and my pain.”
[She performed what outsiders call fellatio and what her guru called tantric yoga, to overcome her childhood trauma and anxiety issues which caused insomnia. While she is not quoted as saying it directly, one can infer that the tantric technique did not work. Whether the failure was caused by a lack of faith in the guru, or because it was merely a bogus teachings of a selfish, lecherous old man who desired sex with a young woman, is not known. I suspect, most would assume the latter.]
Tanya-Lee Davies was another disciple who is disenchanted. Her idea of the guru is that he is “a direct conduit to God.”
“You trust them, you allow yourself to be vulnerable. You love them in a different way…. you believe that this person has your best interests at heart and that they want to help you become the best person you can become,” she told ABC.
On the 12th anniversary of meeting her guru – a significant day in the Shaivite tradition, she went to see Kruckman.
“I went to hug him, which was pretty normal, and he kissed me on the lips. And I got a real surprise because it was so unusual,” she said. She said she told him she could not have that kind of relationship with him.
He replied, “Think of it as an initiation.”
[An initiation is a formal, ritualistic event between guru and disciple, where the guru takes on certain obligations for his disciple and the disciple accepts a deeper commitment to the path her guru is leading her.]
“All my safety was immediately just gone, it evaporated, you know,” Tanya-Lee said. Yet she stayed nine more years with him as Kruckman continued to teach and guide her life, and he included this new method of teaching.
“It would range from him wanting to kiss me to… kissing [my] neck and putting his tongue in [my] ear,” Tanya-Lee said.
Tanya-Lee kept this a secret from everyone, except one woman at the ashram, who claims Kruckman sexually assaulted her in 2013.
ABC also reported that other woman alleged indecent assault and predatory, manipulative sexual practices, dating back 15 years.
One of them made a police statement claiming she had gone to Kruckman’s bedroom to refill his cookie jar when he pushed her onto the bed and sexually assaulted her.
Was He Cucked?
Another disciple, Simon Hart, spent five years as Kruckman’s disciple.
“I thought he was a kindly old grandfather figure. I really loved him,” Hart said. What Hart did not know was that his guru was employing secret tantric practices with his girlfriend, who was also his disciple.
Hart did not worry that Kruckman taught his girlfriend at night, then dropped her off at Hart’s house. No one knew about the tantric practices except the women who were receiving the teachings.
One night, after his guru dropped his girlfriend off, Hart sensed something was wrong in his relationship. The following day, he went to his guru for advice.
“I went to him to say, ‘I think there’s something wrong with my relationship, and I don’t know what it is,'” Hart said.
Sometime later he found out he was being cucked by his own guru.
Hart said, “He’d abuse her and then drop her off at my house…. [Kruckman] was sexually abusing my partner, and then the next day offering me relationship advice.”
Just as NXIVM’s Raniere had his scandal when his secret sorority, DOS, was revealed by this writer – and hundreds left, Russell Kruckman, otherwise known as Swami Shankarananda, Swamiji, or Guruji, had his fateful day.
Though Kruckman never publicly said he was celibate, many followers assumed he was. He called himself a Swami, which in the Hindu tradition is a monk who takes vows of celibacy and poverty.
[Kruckman was not poor. He inherited enough money to have purchased the expensive, spacious property in suburban Melbourne to convert into his ashram.]
In 2014, at the annual Christmas gathering, one of the biggest events of the year, many devotees come, most of whom were born into the Christian faith, but who saw a higher teaching in Kruckman – and in him they saw the living Christ. At this gathering, in front of his devotees, a number of his followers accused Kruckman, then 70, of having sex with his young, female disciples.
Kruckman admitted he taught a small number of women certain “tantric practices” and that it was fully consensual.
The scandal magnified. Followers split into camps, some remaining loyal and others vilifying the guru. Many did not know what to think.
The management committee of the ashram released an open letter admitting Kruckman had “secret sexual relations” with a few women.
Rather than insist that, as the guru, he was infallible, Kruckman and his executive committee took a route that was different than Nxivm’s Raniere.
Raniere, when faced with a similar scandal in 2009, [which he navigated successfully] and again in 2017, [which he navigated unsuccessfully and which led to his arrest] blamed others, including his executive committee, denied the allegations, told his followers to shun the accusers, and went after some of the women with heavy handed lawsuits and false criminal complaints.
Kruckman, on the other hand, admitted he made a mistake and apologized. His board wrote that he was “sincerely apologetic and deeply regretful if his practices have caused hurt or confusion.”
The guru himself wrote, “I know people are disappointed and upset. I apologise to them and ask their forgiveness. I want to meet you all and make appropriate amends if you will let me. I am open to talking about a way through, back to love.”
By the time the dust settled, more than 70 former devotees left the ashram. Half a dozen women sued Kruckman for sexual abuse. Several women, including some of those suing him, made sexual assault complaints to the police.
The lawsuit was settled. Whether money changed hands or not is unknown.
As for the criminal sexual assault complaints, Kruckman was arrested and questioned, but not criminally charged.
Brainwashing Not Coercion
In Australia, brainwashing or mind control cannot be used as a defense of a crime or as evidence of being a victim of a crime.
A police investigation resulted in concluding that the women who had sex with Kruckman were over the age of consent and mentally competent to consent.
Despite their unhappiness with the tantric practice, women returned to his room to engage in it, some of them coming back for years.
Some are convinced the women were victims and should be treated as such. There are others who say that the women wanted something in return from Kruckman and believed he could provide it — such as enlightenment, salvation, freedom from fear, and perhaps higher status in their community. They vied for his attention, telling him they were prepared to do anything. By pleasing the guru they thought they would attain their goals.
They made this pact with him and when he told them to engage in certain practices that have a sexual element, they agreed, even though they did not enjoy the sexual component. Later, after they became disenchanted, and with the realization that he could not provide the things they thought he could, they wanted to withdraw consent for the purported spiritual teachings that were sexual in nature and wanted him arrested for sex crimes.
Unlike Raniere, who collected blackmail-worthy “collateral” on his female “slaves,” Kruckman did not have, as far as is known, nude pictures or signed confessions to crimes to coerce female disciples into obedience.
Raniere offered the stick – the threat of “collateral” being released where it would do the most damage. Kruckman offered the carrot — salvation. The stick is illegal [Raniere got 120 years]. The carrot apparently is not.
Aftermath for Kruckman
Although dozens followers left Kruckman, after his tantric sex teachings became public, his loyal followers remain, and new students continue to come to the ashram.
After Kruckman apologized, claiming he had not considered the ramifications of his sexual ‘tantric’ practices, the fallout caused the organization to go into liquidation temporarily. Kruckman resigned as director but remains in charge as the spiritual head.
He also owns the ashram property, so in a sense nothing really changed except the optics. The property is now called The Ashram Mount Eliza, and Kruckman continues to run it, conducting regular programs for residents and the public.
The loyalists have been known to tell newcomers that the women who complained were under the influence of demonic entities that caused them to lie, and that they will suffer grave consequences in the spirit world.
Like Raniere and his lieutenant, Nancy Salzman, did in Nxivm, telling followers not to read the Frank Report, the disciples of Kruckman are told not to read anything negative about Kruckman or speak to ex-members, or risk losing their internal representation of their guru, which would put them at risk of “spiritual suicide.”
[Nancy Salzman told doubters about Raniere that if they read the Frank Report, they would lose their internal representation of Raniere and would not be able to get it back, which would prevent them from ultimately being “unified”, the highest state of consciousness.]
Meantime, while Raniere is in prison, Kruckman’s ashram continues to thrive. Those who ask questions about the old “sex scandal” are told about persecution, about haters, hungry for power, who lied about Kruckman.
The allegations were “a publicity stunt from those that would bring him down,” said disciple Rhonda Reukers, adding that one of Kruckman’s former disciples was “trying to destroy his credibility because he wants to be a guru himself.”
Kruckman came to realize that, despite promoting his own worship among disciples, he may have been stupid to think that he could teach women tantric sex and it would not come back to bite him.
“I don’t know how I could have been this stupid,” he wrote to his students, “…but I was. I beg your forgiveness.”
Perhaps if Raniere had taken that approach — apologizing, even if not sincerely — he might be in Clifton Park right now, walking with one of his female devotees while other female devotees vie to do his ironing, make his bed, prepare his meals and make his clothes magically appear while he made theirs magically disappear.
His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.
His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.
Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” In addition, he was credited in the Starz docuseries 'Seduced' for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.
Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.
Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premieres on May 22, 2022.
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