Ex-Morninglanders

Transparency – Life in Morningland in the 2000s

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, their full history would not be a taboo but would be fully accessible to anyone inquiring. Their entire belief system and lifestyle would be clearly explained and available from day one. Instead, any information about Morningland was carefully selected by the Gopis and Kamazi, and shared over a longer period of time to ensure proper receptivity. Older disciples were strongly discouraged from sharing any information with us. We learned more about Morningland’s full history outside of Morningland than we ever did in the long years we were there. Morningland has a major taboo culture related to anything about Morningland.

The same goes for their ways, their internal culture. Many tenets lived on the periphery of our conscious awareness and were never fully processed – until we left. Below are some key tenets from a few former members who were disciples in the 2000s (up till 2018). They are based on our memory and opinion without Morningland’s ideological justifications. The list below will continue to be updated as needed to better reflect our experience.

THE HIERARCHY

TOP of the pyramid . . . Daniel Sperato aka Master Donato (see more here and here) is considered the only healer and guru in Morningland. After his passing in 1976, his wife Sri Patricia, later Sri Donato (more here and here) claimed to be his representative and direct link. She took over the leadership until her passing in 2003.

Gopi Saravati, and Gopi Chokru stated they are Sri Donato’s representatives/ links and that she works through them from “the Upstairs.” They heavily promoted Sri Donato, and emulated her leadership style, teaching, behavior, etc. Just like Sri Donato, Saravati and Chokru claimed celibacy and were the central figures of devotion, loyalty, and obedience. Chips off the old block, huh?

Gopi Saravati is Morningland’s CEO. Her departments of function are music, food, and security. She is the one who has asked x to get information for her on y. She likes to talk about the apocalypse, UFOs, dreams, music, and politics. Saravati runs the in-house band and, based on past actions, can seek to control a female singer and live vicariously through her. And by some accounts, she is just following in the old block’s footsteps.

Gopi Chokru was considered the main teacher in Morningland. Her interest in Buddhism reflects in Morningland’s interior design. She works with new recruits and follows Sri Donato’s instructions to the “t.” Her alleged attempts to mimic Sri Donato go pretty far, including the long, deep eye gazes and loving smiles that disarmed and charmed us when we were young new recruits. Today we would call that lovebombing (an attempt to influence another person with over-the-top displays of attention and affection).

Gopi Ona-Ali (also Lara Ona) assists the two senior Gopis and is the future of Morningland leadership. She teaches from a Hindu perspective, is a great public speaker, and works to establish herself as a Yoga teacher outside of Morningland. Sri Donato’s and the Gopis’ training was very visible in how she treated us. It appeared to us that being aloof and sometimes contemptuous was a virtue in Morningland.

Kamazi X5 is subordinate to the Gopis and works with men, teaching construction, and talks about yoga.

CORE IDEOLOGY

Many tenets below started forming in the 1980s by Sri Patricia with a full fruition in the 1990s and 2000s.

  • Fear & Safety
    • 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, a source of and future.
  • “Healing” or Shaktipat (key tenet) to get the credit for our wellbeing
    • 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). Essentially, anything good our lives was accredited to the “healing” and Sri Donato, which was reinforced over and over. Anything bad was considered our bad karma or ignorance.
  • “Communion”
    • 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” and the Partyline
    • 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! Blessing our own food before eating was considered to purify it of toxins.
    • 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.
  • “Manifestations” and confirmation bias
    • 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 spiritual awareness. Confirmation bias was on the menu daily!
  • Spiritual belief system, second hand
    • 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.
  • Vasectomies
    • 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 and presented in person (this is one of the most extreme influences of young men and couples)
  • More Grandiose 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 (major self-centered view)
    • The Gopis claimed that after “healing” we were meta-humans, evolving into something beyond. This rhetoric created collective narcissism, thinking we were somehow more “evolved” and had some special access to God.
    • They claimed that Donato stopped the Vietnam war (ugh….I think children have such extreme self-contentedness, imagining they somehow brought upon events outside their control).
    • They claimed Sri Donato’s prophecies were 1000% accurate without providing any evidence (those we read were far from accurate – here. . . they sound a lot like typical opinions anyone may have about all kinds of things in the future – opinions we all say daily. However, when you are a cult leader, your words become “a prophecy”).
    • 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.

HOW WE BECAME DISCIPLES (got silver pendants around our necks).

The requirement for discipleship was not explicitly stated. They always said “Just follow the Gopis’ guidance” It was all very vague. Vagueness kept us from figuring things out and allowed the Gopis to change the rules as they saw fit without anyone else knowing any of it.

Looking back, we most likely became disciples because we accepted their ideology, and lifestyle, and proclaimed physical healing. We demonstrated awe about the Gops and Morningland, loyalty, and promising signs of obedience (doing as we were told – openness to their influence aka “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), adjusted work schedules to fit theirs, and prioritized them over everything. 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. We didn’t come up with this view on our own – we were taught by the Gopis and other disciples daily to see them as such.

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 more like psychological entrapment.

  • Obedience
    • The Gopis claimed Sri Donato was spiritually 1000% correct. Similarly, the Gopis’ opinion 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.
  • Walking commercials
    • When new members came to ML, we had to engage their minds with relevant topics focused on the Gopis and how well their technique has worked for us. We had to become commercials. No personal or irrelevant topics were allowed.
  • Dependent relationships:
    • As disciples we sought the Gopis’ approval for all major life decisions, including obtaining approval for our partners, 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.
  • Mind control aka thought correction
    • In ML there were a correct and incorrect ways of thinking. As students, and disciples, we learned to control our own minds and strive to think like the Gopis. If we strayed and thought outside of their parameters, we were corrected. The Gopis and Kamazi did thought correction constantly, daily. Oh, and their thoughts were always acceptable, while ours weren’t.
  • 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.

“THE PLAN” AND FUTURE FAKING

The Gopis frequently talked about the elusive “divine Plan” for Morningland. They never stated what that might be but they spoke of it as the real thing. Chokru was really good at creating great expectations about the future and each disciple’s life purpose in the group, while keeping it vague and elusive. Future faking means just that – the future one talks about never comes and it is typically used to keep people passionate about Morningland in the present. The Gopis linked the great futuristic expectations to “we just need more people, more minds to realize the Plan” Of course it all led to the recruitment.

RECRUITMENT

Recruitment was the most important “spiritual job” of a disciple. EVERY SERVICE ended with calls for recruitment! 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 constantly talking about how amazing the Gopis were, disciples were instructed to look for ways to promote them to the public – to recruit more people. We had to know the popular culture and it trends and incorporate that into our message to attract new people. Many disciples organized their meditation, yoga, dance, conversation and other groups outside of Morningland to help screen promising individuals and introduce them to Morningland leaders.

EXCLUSIVITY

When asked directly about the elitist behavior among some disciples, the Gopis denied having anything to do with it, claiming it is just people’s behavior. However, this is not entirely true. Their words did not always match the reality (more about that here) as they created and/or controlled certain subgroups. In Morningland’s past, groups and subgroups in various inner circles had clear labels and all disciples knew them. This was no longer so in our time in Morningland. This vague approach allows fluidity to create frequent promotions or demotions of disciples, with only the Gopis seeing and knowing the whole picture.

Some of us were young recruits who the Gopis took under their wing and received “special” treatment likely because we had skills they wanted to use to help them recruit others. We were also very flexible and willing, as 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. I believe that those more senior disciples had fully developed cult persona, which tends to be at odds with the mainstream culture that we came from. After a few years of programing they slowly “released” us into the community.

Under the Gopis’ wings, 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!

SPIRITUAL TRAINING

The Gopis explained to us that in the beginning, new recruits need lots of care and teaching – but as soon as we became disciples, we were ready for the spiritual training. They added “trust us, as you did in the beginning.” Sadly, we did. Once we got to believe that our meditations, prayers, and life in general was working well because of their spiritual brand, we were open and blind to their often subtle manipulations.

What was not fully processed was the Gopis’ unpredictable behavior – keeping disciples uncomfortable was a part of their “spiritual” training. Some tools used for that purpose can be considered psychological manipulation: gaslighting (doubting our own senses and perception when it went against the leaders’) and occasional public humiliation to keep the disciples’ egos in sufficient submission (reprimanding us in front of others, making examples of us). Manipulative and potentially abusive behavior was presented as compassion (let that sink in).

CAREERS

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 careers 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 professions 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. It is hard to say whether any of that came from the Gopis to influence someone indirectly, using a third person.

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.

COUPLES

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 relationship with and loyalty towards a Gopi preceded the relationship and loyalty towards one’s partner. Each partner had to put the Gopis’s words, influence, interest, instructions before their partner’s! This was the basis of the guru-disciple relationship. This kind of power given to the Gopis is extreme and it gives them unlimited influence over disciples’ lives!

The Gopis told us over and over that they see couples as “one” and will always speak to both regarding matters affecting them. Well, that was not true! The Gopis took that power we gave them and abused it when they decided to separate some couples. Oh, their influence is not direct and obvious. They have used a manipulative divide and conquer strategy, telling one partner lies about the other, influencing their feelings, and coming across as a concerned and caring friend. Very snake-like. Gopi Saravati has done that to at least one or two couples (if not more), surely inspired by her teacher Sri Donato.

CHILDREN

The Gopis (Chokru, Saravati, Ona-Ali) did not appear to follow in Sri’s footsteps and since the 1990s there have not been any allegations of child abuse. In the 2000s, those of us reporting did not witness or hear of any child abuse in Morningland. If there was something we missed, we hope that person will come forward and shine light on their experience.

There was strong encouragement in Morningland not to have children. 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. The only children in Morningland we saw were from couples who had them before they became disciples.

The Gopis said that children would take energy and time away from Morningland and spiritual practice. This strategy was set up by Sri Patricia in the ’80s and by some accounts, it had nothing to do with people’s benefit but Patricia’s control of her disciples. Having a family would change disciples’ priorities and loyalties from focusing on what the guru and Morningland need to what the family needs. A controlling leader would not want that kind of unstable loyalty. A guru wants disciples all to herself. Guru can’t survive without disciples.

CULTURE

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.

LEAVING MORNINGLAND

Leaving was a long, painful process that took years to unfold 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 have its toll. Most of us who left experienced some kind of a betrayal of trust (or an unhealthy attempt at increased personal control) from the Gopis that made leaving seem like the only path left.

In the long years we were there, we witnessed many disciples leave, including the Gopis’ manipulative “damage control” that followed. 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.

I read a quote somewhere online “When a narcissist can no longer control you, they will instead try to control how others see you.” Fitting. 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. Like the Gopis, the disciples took pride in their ability to detach from a former friend. Such is the nature of being in a culty group.

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