India, once the destination for spiritual seekers in the late 1960s and `70s, is again attracting a record number of pilgrims, reports the New York Times (June 7).
After a period of disillusionment with gurus (due to sexual and financial scandals among several Indian spiritual leaders), it appears that the Western interest in seeking spiritual enlightenment has returned, particularly among the :”jet set,” writes Alex Kuczynski. The interest in the spiritual traditions of India has been evident for several years in the U.S., particularly expressed in the popularity of yoga and the teachings of Deepak Chopra. Today the number of “beautiful people” as well as ordinary Americans seeking inspiration direct from India has hit a peak: last year, 244,329 Americans visited India, up about 70 percent from four years ago, according to an Indian tourist official.
The most hard-core visitors — who include entertainers and models such as Meg Ryan and Betty Buckley — gravitate to the ashrams dotting the Indian countryside and cities. The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s commune at Poonah is still popular with Westerners — particularly singles due to its liberal sexual attitudes — despite the controversy surrounding the deceased leader.
Another ashram popular with Americans is one outside Bombay led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, known to her followers as Gurumayi, despite allegations about her fundraising and financial integrity. Americans are overlooking such controversies because they are in a spiritual crisis after attaining wealth. They also have access to “tremendous amounts of information about these things now, so you’re not just stuck with the spiritual traditions of your ancestors,” says writer Anne Cushman.