‘Japa Ireland’ and an appalling abuse of trust By Ciaran Tierney

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A journalist, blogger, content writer, and digital storyteller.

Seeking new challenges in the digital age.

‘Japa Ireland’ and an appalling abuse of trust

Here Ciaran Tierney gives a wonderful insight into the process where anyone can lose their right mind under manipulation. Influence is subtle and it is not easily overcome. Here are some clues of how to address it. Now we must wait and see why it look so long for those who had deified Dennis to wake up from a dead coma. The first thing they want to do is to distance themselves, and even make you look like a eijit. Ciaran here has got it right. He became aware 3 years ago this week. Will you take longer?

“Go to India,” they said, over and over again.

“It will change your life.”

With all we heard about the imprisonment of women in Magdalene Laundries, the appalling treatment of women and children in Mother and Baby homes, and the criminal cover-ups of sex abuse by members of the clergy, it was inevitable many members of my generation would turn our backs on the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

And yet there is such a huge spiritual side to our ‘Irishness’, so evident in the traditions and rituals which pre-date the arrival of Christianity to our island,  that many of us have set out in search of new outlets far removed from the Catholic traditions we grew up with.

But is it the case that in some cases we have swapped one group of abusers for another?

And that some people have turned a blind eye when alerted to abuse by colleagues or ‘teachers’, just as the Bishops used to move child rapists from one parish to another without any concern for the welfare of future victims?

This week, I was alerted to sexual abuse which has been going on in a meditation group for at least six years.

As well as being dismayed by reports circulating within the group, that at least 32 women have now come forward with testimonials of sexual abuse, I was struck by how swiftly the Galway ‘teacher’ or ‘teachers’ closed ranks when I alerted them to concerns three years ago.

How many women would have been spared sexual assault if those near the top of Japa Meditation Ireland had at least raised some serious questions about what was going on behind closed doors both in private ‘healings’ in Ireland and organised group trips to India?

Four years ago, I was invited to join a Japa Meditation group in Co Galway. I knew nothing about the group or the form of meditation they practised, which involved Hindu chanting, only that the teacher or leader was a respected psychotherapist who lived a ten minute drive from my home in Galway City.

The teacher gave me a warm welcome to the group, and told me that Japa had transformed her life and those of many people in the little circle of about 14 people. I was a little nervous at first, but they seemed like very nice people.

The timing was strange for me. I was just about to go through a summer of strife at work, leading to voluntary redundancy, and I picked up the MRSA bug at my local public hospital after injuring my shoulder in the Canary Islands.

At first, it was all a bit strange. Everyone in the group wore a scarf over his or her head and the teacher led us through about 30 minutes of chanting in a language I didn’t understand. I enjoyed the camaraderie in the group, the chats over cups of herbal tea afterwards, and the sense of community which built up during the weekly meetings.

Even though I was far more used to meditating in silence, I felt a sense of elation during the communal chanting and would practice alone by watching YouTube videos from India at home at night. My worries about the future, after leaving the job I had held for 22 years, seemed to evaporate for short periods during the meditation sessions.

Some things made me uncomfortable, such as the way my teacher referred to the leaders of Japa Meditation Ireland as her ‘Masters’. She made a big deal about their visit to our humble little weekly gathering, as though it was a massive honour for us just to meet them when they visited one Tuesday night.

The Japa Ireland website suddenly shut down this week

I began to get concerned that my teacher was too much under the influence of her ‘Masters’. She could not let a week go by without telling us how amazing they were, how her life had no meaning before she joined this particular group.

I knew this was simply not true.

By this stage, I had taken voluntary redundancy from my newspaper and was unemployed for the first time in my life, after being in the same job for 22 years. I had to visit a nurse every day for seven months to tend to the wound on my shoulder and I noticed that other members of my group had gone through or were going through tough times as well.

Some were very vulnerable or coping with tough situations in their personal lives. We took solace from confiding in and encouraging each other.

Every week, though, pressure was put on me and the mostly female members of my class to go on an organised group trip to India. They seemed to run at least two trips each year.

“Don’t worry about the money, the money will look after itself,” we were told on an almost weekly basis.

(I have since been told that some people have taken out expensive Credit Union loans, loans they could hardly afford, to undertake four, five or six of these group trips to India in recent years).

Then I was told that a guided ten day trip to India would cost €4,000, plus flights. When I heard that four people sometimes had to share a room in small budget hotels on these trips to meet the Indian ‘guru’, Shashi Dubey, I baulked at the idea of travelling.

Thankfully, my adventurous spirit has seen me travel all over the world, work as a scuba diver in Thailand, and visit countries like Cambodia, Jordan, and Egypt. I knew how far €4,000 could go on a trip to India.

Something did not seem right about these trips and my doubts were compounded when a female member of our group seemed very withdrawn, even upset, after returning home. Suddenly, out of the blue, she stopped coming to our weekly meditation sessions. If you left the group, you were soon forgotten.

Before she left, she described sharing a room with four other women in a budget hotel in the Himalayas. She needed time to ‘process’ the journey and did not want to discuss it further.

The rich Irish spiritual tradition on the hill of Uisneach

Yet, as the months went by, I almost seemed to drift further into the group without even noticing. I was invited to a second weekly session for more regular meditators on Sunday night. I met people from other classes scattered throughout the West of Ireland. We were encouraged to nourish our “community”, to do business and support people within Japa Ireland, and we were told to refer to our teacher as our ‘Master’.

The hero-worshipping of the leaders did leave me cold at times, and I expressed reservations to my own teacher, but I felt I was benefitting from the regular meditation as I went through a tough period of change in my life.

I used to encourage friends of mine to join the group and then the wife of a good friend contacted me out of the blue one Thursday morning to say she had been alerted to a very troubling article by a lady called Freya Watson.

Freya had been to India on one of the group trips and had been shocked when she was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance during a private ‘healing’.

Her article did not specifically name Japa Meditation, but then by complete coincidence Freya met my friend at a wedding a few weeks later and she agreed to talk to me over the phone.

After a long conversation with Freya, I was left in no doubt that the assault had taken place on one of the Japa Ireland trips to India. She told me she had been made aware that a number of other women had undergone similar experiences.

As soon as I ended the call to Freya, I alerted my ‘teacher’ to the contents of her article and asked her whether she was aware of any concerns about the trips to India, or if she had any comment to make.
My teacher completely shut down and refused to engage with me. She sent me a short email with a smiley face.

Eventually, after I raised further concerns and sent her a link to the article, I received a short, brief text message from her.

“I hope you find the confrontation you are looking for,” it said.

Irish people have been looking towards Asia for spirituality

Although I had no direct evidence that abuse had taken place, apart from my lengthy conversation with Freya, I was appalled by the cold and abrupt manner in which she ended our correspondence.
Especially as I knew there were vulnerable women in these groups, who were planning on joining the expensive trips to India.

Shocked by the response, and the way in which the teachers just seemed to close ranks after I raised my concerns, I vowed to leave the group immediately. I had no direct evidence of abuse taking place, but could not believe how swiftly my concerns had been dismissed out of hand.

Thankfully, by complete chance, three female members of our little class were also having misgivings about the group at around the exact same time. One of them called me just three days later, I sent her and the others copies of Freya’s online article, and we all agreed to leave Japa Meditation Ireland immediately.

We agreed to meet up the following weekend for a three hour talk in which we shared our concerns about bullying within the group. One woman, for example, was told she needed to move to a different class – at great inconvenience –  because she was not meditating enough at home!

We laughed, thanked our lucky stars we had gotten out before any damage was done, and then we just got on with our lives.

I joined another meditation group, based on the teachings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which did not have any hero-worshiping of ‘Master’ leaders or put pressure on people to take expensive trips to Asia.

And I almost forgot about Japa Meditation.

Reports within the group suggest more than 30
woman have come forward to say they were abused
(Stock photo)

Until last October, when I was alerted to a report of a High Court case in which a woman in Tipperary had  taken a legal action against her husband after he fell under the influence of Japa Meditation Ireland.

She said that he had removed €300,000 from the company and a company pension fund to the detriment of the employees, owners, and creditors of the company. Members of staff were alarmed by changes he had made since joining the Japa group.

The alarm bells rang, but I read no evidence of sexual abuse in the court report. I did contact the person who wrote the article a former colleague, to tell him about my experiences with Japa Ireland in Galway.

Then I went away to Nicaragua for a month and forgot about Japa again.

Until last Friday, when a man I had not spoken to in three years got in touch out of the blue. I had warned him and his wife about my concerns three years ago, but they felt they were benefitting from the experience and decided to stay. He wanted to tell me that I had been right and that Japa Ireland was imploding.

He showed me an email, circulating widely within the group, in which it was confirmed that 32 women had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour in both Ireland and India.

It now seems that vulnerable women, who were offered private ‘healings’, had been abused in both countries over the past six years.

So why am I writing this blog post now?

Well, before this I had no proof, apart from what I read and heard from Freya.

I guess my desire is to see justice for these women, in the hope that they will have the strength to go to the Gardai and make statements about the abuse they experienced.

There should be no compulsion on victims to make statements if they do not feel strong enough to do so, but they should know that there is support available at their nearest Rape Crisis Centre.

There is support available at the National 24-Hour Helpline on 1800 77 8888.

The HSE has people who can help through the Protection of Vulnerable Adults service. Details are available at: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/publications/corporate/vulnerablepersonsfaq.pdf

Dialogue Ireland, who have been exposing cults in Ireland for four decades, advise that any therapist who was involved in Japa Ireland should immediately withdraw from gathering names or approaching victims.

Boundaries are “completely confused”, especially if they are with people who were deeply involved in the organisation, they say.

Dialogue Ireland has been publishing information about Japa Meditation Ireland since first being alerted to the group via the High Court case in October.

You can find information about the group and efforts to uncover the truth at this link https://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/category/hindu/japa-yoga/

There is also a facility to post comments anonymously on the site if you have been affected by the issues raised.

I have no direct evidence that the leaders of the group had any knowledge of the extent of the sexual abuse which is currently being unravelled at Japa Ireland. But, at the very least, the way in which they ‘stonewalled’ me after I raised concerns in March and April 2015 means that they surely have questions to answer.

If my teacher did not pass on my concerns, why not? And if she did, why did they suddenly close ranks and reply with the briefest of hostile text messages?

How many vulnerable women would have been spared these trips to India if hard questions had been asked, and the truth had been uncovered, three years ago?

And maybe it’s time for Irish people to ask why, in our haste to leave the Catholic Church behind, we can still be so trusting of abusers in the guise of spiritual ‘gurus’.

Find Ciaran Tierney on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia/

4 Responses

  1. Yours is one of the first comments in months. Thanks for the courage of standing up about this. The question I haven’t had answered now that it is now 8 months since this story broke, but not one of those leaders who claimed they were breaking away from Shashi and Denis has stood up and been counted. I believe the control is so strong still I have received no report of a woman who has been to the Gardai. This is a difficult thing to do, but it must be done individually. In fact, some of those who originally contacted us are deeper in denial than early last year. There are some who really believe that those duds can read their minds, so it is dangerous to talk to say Dialogue Ireland or other concerned individuals.

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  2. This story echoes my own to a large extent. I left the group after spending a couple of years in it (Dublin group). I never went on a trip to India with them, despite being repeatedly asked to and told I would (they could ‘see’ I would go…). I did not personally experience inappropriate sexual advances, but I know of two people who did. I lost one of my best friend to this Japa Meditation Ireland group. She was told to cut contact with me and a few other friends by her Masters as we were holding her back (Denis and Shashi). Strangely (or not) that happened after we started questioning things and left the group. She struggled with their request at first but eventually, she did. I miss her every day. I have since learnt of other people who experienced the same, so it appears to be a current practice ; remove anyone that comes in the way of the Masters’ influence. I hope this account will at least allow people still in the group to question things. In my opinion, the group leaders are completely abusing their influence on vulnerable people and betraying the japa teachings. They’re also making a fortune out of it.

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  3. […] dialogueireland on ‘Japa Ireland’ and an appalling abuse of trust By Ciaran Tierney […]

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  4. Some questions for current Japa leaders and those that have left:

    1: I would just ask how much did you know and when? If you claim you did not notice anything, have you any discernment? Everyone I have talked to mention incidents where women come back confused, or acting strange. Were you so involved in handing over your mind to Dennis you were oblivious to what was going on?
    2. Also, those of you who were trained therapists did you in fact put Japa above your professional ethics and subordinate your professional duty to Japa?

    3. What was your role in organising Indian trips with Dennis and Shashi? Did you benefit from these extremely expensive trips (freebies?)

    4. Were you alerted to concerns about inappropriate behaviour in 2015? What was difficult about what Freya Watson wrote in 2015 that did not alert you to abuse at that time? Surely if you could not take her report and smell the coffee, you are really not fit to act as a counsellor? Can you put up your hands and recognise your own vulnerability? It was difficicult to be humble with the ego dynamics of Dennis around? Can you say I allowed myself to be influenced? Join your own students.

    5. What did he do about those concerns? Did you continue to bring vulnerable women to India after being alerted to allegations against Shashi? Why?
    6. Have you gone to the Gardai? Has you raised concerns with Dennis?
    7. Have any of the male therapists themselves being involved with any form of sexual practice in Ireland or India.

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