Ex-Morninglanders

OUR STORIES

It has been decades since some of the events written in the stories below took place. These events changed and defined Morningland's face and its underlying culture. Today, Morningland is both, the same and different from its early versions in the 1970s and 80s. For this reason, this brief unofficial history serves as a contextual placeholder for the stories below. The unofficial history is a culmination of published newspaper articles and several former members' personal recollections and opinions. It does not represent the views and opinions of the Morningland Monastery.

THE UNOFFICIAL HISTORY

DANIEL & PATRICIA
(the 1960s)

Daniel M. Sperato (May 16, 1923, NY), and Patricia A. Diable (Jan 13, 1934, NY), moved from New York to Southern California. They got married in July 1964 - this was his third and her second marriage. Before moving to Long Beach, they lived in the area including Laguna Beach. This little artistic town used to be one of the largest hippie and LSD centers. A local Mystic Arts World store sold health books, art, smoking paraphernalia, and a brand of LSD called Orange Sunshine. It was distributed by a group called The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, who owned the store and used it for meditation-tripping groups. There are published articles, books, and documentaries available on this topic! These New Age, mind-altering circles attracted Timothy Leary, the famous Harvard psychology professor who studied LSD and its effects on the mind. It is no wonder that Daniel and Patricia moved to this area. They were not hipies but were deeply interested in religion, the cutting-edge metaphysical movement, and the expansion of consciousness. Interestingly, one of Sperato's former disciples and Patricia's assistant Quota states, “She [Patricia] frequently told us how Donato achieved enlightenment on several hits of Orange Sunshine.” This is the only explanation for his alleged enlightenment in 1971, as we were never told any tales or saw records of him studying under an actual teacher or the method he used to achieve the said state.

MORNINGLAND IN LONG BEACH & ESCONDIDO
(mid 1970s)

Before the grand opening, the couple did spiritual readings from their home and gathered their first disciples. In September 1973, Daniel and Patricia opened a metaphysical center called Morningland in Long Beach, CA. Daniel was called Donato (he did not openly call himself Master or Christ) and claimed a special connection to “Upstairs” and the Ascended Masters (this was very popular in the 70s – a minister is no longer just a human but something more). He kept his day job as an art director of the Boys Club in Long Beach. Patricia no longer sold Tupperware but became a minister called Sri Patricia. Donato was the main leader of the Morningland hierarchy, with 11 Gopis (Sri Patricia, Morningstaar, Pathena, Nasantta, Gyan, Tanene, Aria, Karisibane, Celta, Melikia, Viontri) working as his emissaries. They did energy healing, astrology, tarot, numerology, and rune, gave people their mantra names, acted as spiritual counselors. Morningland had hundreds of people and even opened another center in Escondido (1975) and a retreat lodge in the San Bernardino mountains. On the outside, it was the innocent time of Morningland, with Donato's secrets and cliques among the Gopis and high ranking members beginning to form just under the surface.

THE END OF MORNINGLAND IN ESCONDIDO
(1976-1978)

In 1976, just three years after the grand opening, Donato unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack, presumably from failing to take his heart medication. He was 53. His death created massive confusion and began to expose his secrets.

Without the unifying figure, the existing power struggles and suspicions between the Gopis intensified. Sri Patricia became preoccupied with fears of the dark side taking over the community and decided to wage spiritual war against it. Some former disciples wonder whether that was her own inner grief and battle, externalized. The entire community had to pray and chant for days, which she called The Battle of Kurukshetra, taking the name from the famous battle in Mahabharata, as described in the Hindu bible Bhagavad Gita. Sri Patricia believed she was living the same story, described in the ancient texts, including the Bible. Her former assistant Quota speculates Sri Patricia's visions of evil forces could be due to a bad acid trip she might have had, perhaps trying to walk in Donato's footsteps. During this hypnotic time of the group's nonstop chanting and praying, Sri Patricia elevated Donato's unexpected death and proclaimed spiritual victory. She decided Donato became a Master and a Christ for the New Aquarian Age. The community’s tragedy became victory with hopes of a new beginning - but not for all.

What followed were series of deeply traumatizing excommunications (the big clearing sessions), targeting those Patricia suspected of being influenced by the dark forces - allegedly anyone she did not like, or who disagreed with her. Her self-righteous narrative justified psychological abuse of many former disciples. In 1978 the number of disciples in Long Beach and Escondido went from 1,000 to an estimated 250 to 400. Most were expelled, and in some cases, even physically thrown out by Rainbow Soldiers (their former guard men).

These actions had ripple effects on the community at large. Morningland leadership came at odds with the Escondido residents who accused them of influencing minors, breaking up couples, and claiming medical cures (see published news articles in ML in the News). Claiming medical cures was a big issue as someone with symptoms of an extremely high blood pressure was told he was not ill but spiritually mutating. Then there was a disciple with cancer who died, and her husband filed a $22M lawsuit against Sri Patricia and a few Gopis. They settled for $50,000. The Escondido residents were not happy with them and harassed Morningland members and their children. The unfounded accusations of murder related to the lawsuit prompted police investigation, which led to Morningland's lawsuit against the city of Escondido (eventually they dropped it). It was a big mess.

It was also a big mess internally. Donato's secrets of having sex, drugs, and alcohol with the Gopis were being exposed, threatening his idealized image. The cliques and power struggles among the Gopis, especially Melikia and Patricia intensified. Melikia allegedly, as written by Pathena below, convinced Sri Patricia to excommunicate the remaining original Gopis, which eventually led to the liquidation and the end of Morningland in Escondido. Melikia and her friends allegedly tried to start a group or some project in Arizona.

MORNINGLAND IN LONG BEACH
(1978 - 1980s)

Only a few hundred people loyal to Donato's widow, the charismatic Sri Patricia, remained at their Long Beach location. She renamed herself Sri Donato, and became the head of the Morningland hierarchy. Sri Donato did not empower people like Donato did, but - as written by Quota - took over, co-opted their lives. She took credit for their meditations and anything good in their lives. Perhaps to prevent the formation of subgroups outside of her control, Sri Donato allegedly - as written by several individuals below - continued to keep her disciples on edge with excommunications, encouraging vasectomies, encouraging disciples and her own children to spy on other disciples, controlling sexuality, deciding who gets married to who, and engaging in sexual coercion (two such allegations below by Quota and Frankie who was a minor at that time). She separated couples and families directly and indirectly (many disciples cut contact with their families who did not choose Morningland). Sri Donato did not parent her two teenage children who eventually left Morningland and never saw their mom again.


MORE LEGAL ISSUES

Sri Donato's (Patricia's) issues with authorities continued. As per articles posted in ML in the News, in 1979, she and her lawyer Masry were accused of bribing a certain government official with Morningland's money, which resulted in the government's raid on the compound. Patricia was accused of three felony charges (conspiracy and two on embezzlement). In 1980, she pleaded innocent. However, her lawyer Masry testified against her, which broke the attorney-client confidentiality, and the court dismissed one of the complaints against her. Then there was a jury misconduct, and the court ordered a new trial. By the time it came around to it, it was already 1984 and the statue of limitations had expired, dismissing the charges (details in ML in the News articles). Patricia kept Masry as her lawyer who had additional legal battles related to this suit.

STORIES BELOW

Most of the stories below speak about this time of transition in the late 1970s, and 80s, revealing traumatizing clearing sessions, and excommunications in Escondido and Long Beach. Former members did not find one another until after Al Stone created the original Ex-Morninglanders website (1997). It served as a connecting point for former members to share and process their painful experiences. There are many perspectives and voices. Some are very angry with Patricia, others less so, but disillusioned with Morningland nonetheless. Some continue to believe in Donato as a real spiritual teacher whose mission was ruined by Sri Patricia's power games while others see both as cult leaders with different styles.

THE NEW GOPIS
(80s, 90s, 2000s)

Numerous news articles and the website portrayed an unfavorable image of Sri Donato and Morningland. It appears that once Sri's power and control over a much smaller community of 100 were firmly established, things began to quiet down. The many windows on the 7th street were replaced by thick walls. Morningland was "underground."

Sri Donato kept a low public profile and assigned a job title of a Gopi to two of her most trusted disciples Saravati (Margaret) and Chokru (Mary) who she trained as her successors. These two Gopis did most of the public outreach for her (lots of recruitment on campuses), and helped rebrand Morningland. Sri Donato also trained Kamazi X5 (Terry) to work with men, and Gopi Vajra (Wendy) and Gopi Ona-Ali (Lara Ona) to secure future succession.

In 2003, Sri Donato passed away in in a Long Beach hospital from a heart attack at the age of 69. Gopi Chokru, Saravati, and male sub-leader Kamazi X5 continue Sri's legacy and many aspects of her leadership style (we call it a manipulative style). About a decade after Sri’s passing, Gopi Vajra left, leaving Gopi Ona-Ali as the single (known to us) “next in line” for Morningland’s future leadership. It is possible that she will rebrand and present a very different facade to break the connection with her teachers' past. She strives to align herself with contemporary yogic groups and present herself as an independent teacher outside of Morningland.

CREATING A MYTH
(the 2000s)

When Morningland rebranded, its storyline no longer reflected its past. The past was hidden, it was a taboo. The Gopis portrayed Sri as a saint, continuing the cult of personality. Those of us who never met Sri Donato were told that she was the most compassionate, spiritually a thousand percent correct, peaceful, loving guru, beloved by the Gods. We were instructed to pray to her as our connection to God, and spiritual protection. They also added that she was the most misunderstood, wronged, and rejected guru simply because she was so advanced. What a contrast to the reality of those who worked closely with her and are brave enough to speak up. A major part of our recovery process has been sharing and processing our experiences, putting together the missing pieces, healing from the massive spiritual betrayal, and reclaiming our lives.