Transparency builds trust and encourages accountability. Those who use secrecy or deception to build trust know very well that if they revealed their workings, very few people would join or even trust them.
If Morningland were transparent, we would have learned about their core beliefs and basic lifestyle as a disciple from day one. Instead, we learned about their tenets slowly over a longer period of time. Many were never disclosed to us. Some tenets were disclosed to us only after sufficient indoctrination when the Gopis believed we would be receptive to that information, or more willing to make favorable choices. Other tenets were woven into the culture and lived on the periphery of our conscious awareness. They were not fully processed until after we left the group. Below are those tenets from a few former members who were disciples in the 2000s (up till 2018). They are listed without the ideological justifications. The list will be updated as needed to better reflect our experience.
THE “GRANDIOSE” HIERARCHY
- The co-founder, Master Donato was seen as a Christ, the Avatar for the Aquarian Age, the second coming of Christ Consciousness, and possibly the last such incarnation, or at least the last one in a very long time (we did not hear the C word until at least after year or so).
- After he died from a heart attack, which they called Maha Samadhi or ascension, his widow Sri Patricia aka Sri Donato claimed to be telepathically connected with him and continued “the divine mission” of gathering the spiritual family. She was also considered enlightened to a high degree – any good deed was magnified, and an unethical behavior was denied or justified.
- Sri Donato trained Kamazi X5 (Terry) to work with and teach men. She also trained Gopi Chokru and Saravati for decades to take her place after her passing. The two Gopis also claim to continue to have telepathic connection with the deceased.
- Sri Donato and the two Gopis trained Gopi Ona-Ali who will likely succeed the leadership. She has also created a new image for herself as a Yoga teacher outside of Morningland, and also goes by Lara Ona.
CORE IDEOLOGY (many tenets below started forming in the 1980s by Sri Patricia)
- The world was seen as a spiritually dark, dangerous place with no future, while Morningland was seen as light, a safe place, heaven on earth, the 5th dimension, the Holy Father’s place, and the future. The Gopis portrayed the world in a very negative light, influencing the disciples’ perceptions and solidifying their own importance.
- The Gopis, and the imagined (deceased) Sri Donato, and Master Donato were seen as the central figures of worship, devotion, loyalty, and obedience and direct links to the higher dimension.
- “Healing” or Shaktipat (key tenet)
- The Gopis placed their hands over our heads and torsos without touching and claimed the following –> that there was energy coming through their hands; that this energy came from the deceased Donato, then Sri Donato, and them. They claimed their hands resulted in our “Samadhi” (alleged union with one’s higher divine self) and “spiritual healing” of pretty much any malady (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc).
- The “healing” was seen as spiritual debt that cannot be repaid (and here goes the psychological trap).
- Anything good happening in our lives was accredited to the “healing” and Sri Donato, anything bad was considered our bad karma or ignorance .
- As disciples, to gain acceptance from the Gopis, we were under strong pressure to identify physical healing.
- During some Sunday services, Gopi Chokru or Saravati raised a loaf of bread in the air facing the altar and offered it to the spiritual hierarchy. The bread was then considered to have divine (magical) properties.
- Small groups of disciples (wearing silver triangle pendant), members (no pendant) and guests (newbies) came to the altar to receive a tiny peace of that bread dipped in wine. This was kind of like the Catholic Sacrament
- Standing on that altar, that Gopi looked into each person’s eyes standing there. and they said in unison, “We are all one” or “We are all one with Donato.” But when only disciples were at the altar, they whispered so that guests and members in the crowd behind them did not hear, “.. with Donato the Christ.”
- “Blessed food”
- Any food the Gopis touched was considered blessed and infused with divine energy. Some disciples (not all) have gone so far as to encourage others to eat spoiled food, claiming it still had “healing” properties!
- Strong pressure in the community to proclaim the superb taste of food from Morningland “Isn’t this the best apple ever!” We felt pressured to comply even if that was not our experience.
- Blessing your own food before you eat was considered to purify it of toxins.
- Kind of like Jesus turning water into wine, in Morningland it is believed that Sri Donato, through the Gopis, multiplied food. As disciples we were told that food multiplied during each meal. It was our responsibility to “catch it” and report it to the leaders. All such actions were considered evidence of our spiritual growth and increased awareness.
- Spiritual belief system
- Eclectic patchwork taken from numerous spiritual sources: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christian mysticism, Native American traditions, Celtic, Lao Tzu, etc., mixed with UFOs, Angels, auras, etc. as it was popular in the 70s and 80s (see Similar Groups).
- Their front seems to match popular trends, which is why they preached UFOs in the 80s and mindfulness after 2010
- They started us with meditations, chants, yoga, things we were familiar with from the popular culture, and in time and slow drips we were able to digest the rest.
- We heard about this tenet in a private setting years later after we began to fully trust the Gopis and Kamazi. Vasectomy was strongly suggested as “the next step” in our spiritual journey.
- More Outlandish beliefs
- The Gopis claimed that Morningland was the center of the world and anything going on in Morningland will have ripple effects in the world (this is extremely self-centered)
- The Gopis claimed that after “healing” we were meta-humans, evolving into something beyond. This rhetoric created a collective narcissism, thinking we were somehow more “evolved” than others; that we had some special access to God . . .
- They claimed that Master Donato stopped the Vietnam war (ugh….I think children have such extreme self-contentedness, imagining they somehow brought upon events outside their control), brought vasectomies to men (eeer they predated him by many decades)
- They claimed Sri Donato’s prophecies were 1000% accurate without providing any evidence (those we read were far from accurate – here).
- Some of us heard Chokru’s story of two peacocks “materializing” on the compound, allegedly from “Heaven.” In reality – two peacocks used to live in the neighborhood for a while and many neighbors saw them as they flew across fences and just – hung out. Gopis should really give up this childish medieval magical thinking.
HOW WE BECAME DISCIPLES (got silver pendants around our necks).
- The requirement for discipleship was not explicitly stated. We became disciples because we accepted their ideology, and lifestyle, proclaimed physical healing, and attended all classes and services without fail.
- This became possible after lots of lovebombing from the Gopis. They made us feel seen, valued, and respected, which helped build trust.
- We demonstrated awe about the Gopis and Morningland in general; loyalty, and promising signs of obedience (doing as we were told – openness to their influence).
- We took our spirituality very seriously and were dedicated to following their instructions and receptive to their influence of “putting the spiritual first.”
- As per their influence, we gradually separated ourselves from former friends and their influence to be more receptive for the Gopis’ without questioning
- We attended most if not all classes and Karma Yoga/Seva (free labor). The requirement was to spend at least 10 hours a week on the compound. Many of us brought new guests, potential recruits.
- How long did it take to become disciples? For some of us it took years, for others just a year, which is the minimum. I believe it depended on several factors, including developing mutual trust, and their internal politics.
THE GURU-DISCIPLE RELATIONSHIP
- The Gopis expected total obedience and loyalty. The disciples’ primary relationship was with the Gopis (not with our spouses, partners, friends, family, etc), who were seen as supremely good and compassionate without a fail. This relationship took years to build starting when we were becoming dedicated members.
- Our identity went from self to the group; from “I” to “we,” focusing on what Morningland needed to grow. “I, me, mine” was looked down upon. They co-opted our insides, our spirit. What we came to see as belonging and safety was in fact psychological entrapment.
- The Gopis claimed Sri Donato was spiritually 1000% correct. Similarly, the Gopis’ opinion of disciples was taken as truth coming from “on-high.” To doubt a Gopi went against the norm and was considered nonspiritual. Doubt and critical thinking were taught to be the enemies of the spiritual (in reality they are the enemies of blind belief and spiritual dogma).
- Deep Influence & emotional attachment:
- We were taught to see the Gopis as the closest link to the Upstairs (divine beings, Holy Mother/Father God) and their faces, along with Sri Donato’s were ingrained in our subconscious mind. They were in our thoughts when we ate food, drank water, took shower, drove cars, talked to people, had sex with our partners. We even had classes where we programmed our subconscious mind and thought of them in our dreams!
- Praising the Gopis
- Every day we had to identify something the Gopis do and think of it as outstanding (i.e., how they walk, talk, think, ideas, anything). Noticing their “superior divine” intelligence and abilities was seen as a sign of our growing intelligence. We learned to shrink ourselves to accommodate their “greatness.” This was the way to social acceptance in Morningland.
- Unhealthy and dependent relationships:
- As disciples we sought the Gopis’ approval for all major life decisions, including obtaining approval for their partner, where to live, what job to have, whether to have children, pointing at the dependent nature of the relationship and strong submission to the leaders.
- The Gopis and Kamazi claimed to have mastered their emotions –
- When a disciple witnessed their display of negative emotions (cursing, or raising voice in irritation), they justified it saying they used emotions purposely to teach disciples; or that they cleared the energy in the room left there by one of the disciples. With these justification anyone can claim to be free from their emotions by simply projecting them onto others.
- We were on the “Need to know” basis. Knowledge of the organization’s full past was limited and suppressed.
- Recruitment was the most important “spiritual job” of a disciple. The Gopis explained this is how disciples say “thank you” to the guru. Classes and services included ongoing pressure to bring more people in, claiming some spiritual urgency. Recruitment was also woven into the ideology of group ascension.
- Besides talking about how amazing the Gopis were, disciples were instructed to look for ways to promote them to the public – to recruit more people.
- Many disciples organized their meditation, yoga, dance, conversation and other groups outside of Morningland to help screen and recruit promising individuals and introduce them to the Morningland leaders.
- Some of us were young recruits who the Gopis took under their wing and received “special” treatment because we had skills they wanted to use to help them recruit others. We spent six days a week on the compound, including after-hours with the Gopis, often late into the night. We were not allowed to mention that to other disciples.
- For a while, we were isolated from the rest of the community as the Gopis wanted to ensure we receive the new brand of Morningland and not be weirded out by others.
- We helped with guest programs, meditation classes, cook, create music, artwork, PR, and work on recruitment. We were heavily bonded with one of the Gopis. Band members were mostly under Saravati’s influence, while others were under Chokru’s.
- Among us were one or two with a skill the leaders needed/wanted on a more permanent basis who stayed after-after hours and were kept much closer than anyone else. No one knew about this arrangement expect that individual and the Gopis. They were discouraged from having a career so that they could spend more time on the compound for an insanely small compensation. The agreement appeared to be voluntary but there was the pressure to comply in the name of the spiritual progress and to have no self interest. How convenient. Today, many consider this to be highly exploitative of those young people.
- Not everyone was influenced the same way. The Gopis saw some disciples with lustrous careers as good recruitment tools (come and join us, our people are very smart and accomplished).
- As young new recruits with no established career, we were encouraged to take minimum wage jobs which ensured flexible hours and greater availability to the Gopis at odd hours, as needed.
- Other disciples influenced our perceptions too – some of us were told that Sri Donato encouraged disciples who worked in mental health business to change their careers. Similarly, the Gopis allegedly encouraged a massage therapist to rethink her job. Some older disciples discouraged us from having higher education as that would take our focus away from Morningland.
- We were trained to think and worry about Morningland’s survival, not our own; that for us, things will somehow magically “fall into place” . . . as long as we keep on recruiting more people.
- The relationship with and loyalty towards a Gopi preceded the relationship and loyalty towards one’s partner. This was the basis of the guru-disciple relationship.
- Both partners had to be into Morningland. Many disciples remained single for years until they found someone who was interested in them & in Morningland, and was also approved by the Gopis. Needless to say, many remained single for years.
- The Gopis said that no one should come between a couple – except them, apparently. They enjoyed full trust from their disciples and have abused it when they manipulated couples, lied to us, and influenced relationships behind our backs.
- There are allegations of Sri Donato’s child abuse (ML in the News – controlling minors in Escondido, separating children from family, grooming in the late 70s, 80s).
- The Gopis (Chokru, Saravati, Ona-Ali) did not appear to follow in Sri’s footsteps and since the 1990s there have been no new allegations of such nature. We did not witness or hear of any child or teen abuse in Morningland (2000s).
- There was strong encouragement in Morningland not to have children as they would take energy and time away from Morningland and spiritual practice. As a result, the only children in Morningland we saw were from couples who had them before they became disciples.
- After years of indoctrination, male disciples were encouraged to have vasectomy, which says a lot about “freedom” to have children in the community or “freedom” to possibly change their mind in the future.
- Many aspects of the culture were implicit, picked up along the way. If all aspects of the culture were verbalized they would not all sound reasonable and may not have been accepted.
- When it came to daily logistics (where to leave food donations, how to correctly clean wood, etc), the Gopis favored short, concise, direct and clear communication.
- When it came to managing others’ behavior, we observed the Gopis using indirect, passive aggressive, and manipulative tactics, including eye rolling (behind someone’s back), looking down in disapproval, walking away mid conversation, triangulating themselves into relationships to influence others, or triangulating another disciple to influence someone else.
- Keeping disciples uncomfortable was a part of their “spiritual” training. Some tools used for that purpose can be considered psychological manipulation or abuse: gaslighting (doubting your own senses and perception when it went against the leaders’) and occasional humiliation to keep the disciples’ egos in sufficient submission. Abusive and manipulative behavior was presented as compassion (let that sink in).
- This often took years due to strong cognitive dissonance (holding two opposing thoughts/feelings). When you invest years into something, and internalize the ideology as your roadmap to God, inner peace, life’s purpose, and sense of security, leaving becomes traumatic – but so does staying. Like any toxic relationship, staying began to erode our psyche. We had to pull the bandaid and leave, reclaim our lives.
- Those who left Morningland were “erased” from the community. Their music, artwork, any footprints were no longer used or viewed and those disciples were no longer spoken of again. It was as if that person was never there. That way Morningland did not have to showcase its skeletons from the past.
- Those who left Morningland were not to be trusted as their words could “pollute” the disciples’ minds and take them away from the guru and God. They were shunned. The disciples’ focus was on protecting their core relationship with the guru or a Gopi, which was their perceived link to the Holy Father/Mother God.
- The person who left was simply thought of as someone who had a grudge, failed spiritually, had psychological or other problems, or some other justification that kept the leaders blameless.
Mantika August 2023