NEWS- Yogi flare: Blessed mother raises guru's profile
"Now, within the four columns of the Gazebo, a column of luminous golden light envelops the statue from the ground up. The statue itself has become golden and luminous, and everywhere within it are diamond-like glistening particles of light whose very movement is ecstatic."
This is how "Master" Charles Cannon described the latest appearance of the "Blessed Mother Apparition"– an incorporeal mater who speaks only with him– to a crowd of about 60 at his organization's Nelson County compound one recent weekend.
Regardless of whether Master Charles is creating a forum to spread authentic spiritual beliefs or just desperately seeking donations, there's one thing for sure: the new-agey guru is getting some attention.
Cannon never caused too much local hubbub until he announced shortly after his 60th birthday last year that a divine feminine specter was dispensing inner peace at his compound, and that she has been advising him, unbeknownst to anyone else, for almost six decades.
An ordained Vedic monk formerly known as Swami Vivekananda, Master Charles founded the Synchronicity Foundation for Modern Spirituality in 1983 after leaving the Siddha Yoga organization in India when his mentor, the controversial Swami Muktananda, died. For most of its existence, the non-profit Foundation's primary focus has been the production, use and sale of meditation CDs, but the so-called "Blessed Mother Apparition" has revitalized on-site activity and kicked off a campaign of new construction, retreats, seminars, products and art.
"It was kind of like we had a 100-watt light bulb in a room and then, all of a sudden, it was like a 1000-watt light bulb," says Synchronicity president Alan Scherr.
But not everybody sees– or approves of– the new light.
Synchronicity, Master Charles and the Blessed Mother were the subject of a recent piece on Guruphiliac, a blog dedicated to "revealing self-aggrandizement and superstition" in the guru/yogi world. In late June, Jody Radzik, who operates the blog, described the alleged apparition sightings as a "bald-faced attempt at flimflamming the spiritually ignorant."
More recently, Radzik branded Master Charles' enterprises as "an avalanche of superstitious fancy and mind-clogging, occluding expectations, all having as much to do with any actual spiritual truth as an episode of Debbie Does Dallas.
"Some people who are completely logical in everyday life throw it all out the window for nothing when it comes to spirituality," Radzik laments in a telephone interview.
Synchronicity's Scherr says he was not aware of the Guruphiliac blog, but once pointed to an entry, he dismisses it as casually as Radzik does the Blessed Mother. "He's running a rumor mill," Scherr says.
Apparently Radzik isn't scaring off everybody, since, according to Scherr, the public is responding positively to the retreats that now feature daily meditation at the site where the apparition allegedly appears.
"Tens and dozens of people are showing up where they didn't before," Scherr says. "Now it's becoming a place of pilgrimage." The Blessed Mother statue has been seen on CBS19 and even made the front page of the Daily Progress lifestyles section.
The newest retreats, entitled "It's Time for a New God," the first of which took place July 6-8, feature four-part seminars presented by Master Charles, as well as group meditation at the Blessed Mother Apparition site. Gatherings focused on the feminine spirit meet weekly on Friday nights, but once a month Master Charles himself attends. Synchronicity claims that the Blessed Mother actually issues monthly public statements at these most special occasions, but only through Master Charles (as others aren't spiritually attuned enough to hear her).
To address the slight possibility of blasphemous interpretations of the retreat title, Scherr explains that "the Blessed Mother is not the new god." Rather, he explains that the title represents rejection of the traditional God and of the "fragmented spiritual tradition" of institutionalized western religion. Scherr feels the "It's Time for a New God" retreat is really about "a return to authentic mystical communion" in a modern form.
"Religion became a matter of a parental deity with a bad, naughty offspring," Scherr says. "It's just domination of one belief system over another."
But not everyone separates old religion from new like Scherr or logical from spiritual like Radzik.
"As a nurse," says Jeannie, a Tennessee resident who attended the retreat in July, "I believe in the holistic as well as the strictly scientific." Jeannie, opting not to disclose her last name for personal reasons, interprets the Blessed Mother's message like this: "It's just like we've been taught all our lives in the Bible: we are made in God's image."
Upcoming retreats are scheduled for August 3 and October 5; the weekend-long gatherings cost $395 per person and include two nights accommodations and zone-balanced meals. Scherr says he expects 30 to 40 people to stay at or near the Synchronicity property on each weekend, and another 30 or 40 locals to commute. Week-long quarterly retreats for more "experienced" Synchronicity members have cost as much as $1,400 in the past.
Although only publicly revealed last summer, according to Scherr, the influence of the Blessed Mother has been crucial in the life of Master Charles. "She has been his primary teacher since the age of three," says Scherr, hinting that she might have been the inspiration for Master Charles' travel to India and for Synchronicity's high-tech modern meditation, a technological spiritualism that claims to deliver the same enlightenment eastern mystics have been talking about for centuries, but as a quick hit: a neat little package at a moderate price.
High-tech mediation might sound confusing to a layman, but Master Charles describes the practice as simply using "holodynamic vibrational entrainment technology which balances the brain hemispheres and delivers holistic awareness in accelerated time frames."
In other words, meditation aided by audio discs with new-age music, white noise and, apparently, inaudible frequencies personally developed by the Master that serve a spiritual purpose.
From its website, the Synchronicity Foundation sells these CDs along with everything from books and videos to screen savers, jewelry, and more than a dozen different photographs of Master Charles himself.
What is it about Master Charles and the Blessed Mother Apparition that makes them such polarizing objects of attention? Both supporters and detractors agree that it's about spirituality.
"The old god is killing us," Scherr says, referring to global religious conflict. "The new god is not going to be a separate deity in some far off heaven... it's going to be a god for everyone, the gods we all are ourselves."
Skeptical blogger Radzik insists that religion is about "self truth"; he says people cannot find answers in ghosts or masters. "Spiritual truth," he says, "is non-phenomenal."
Jeannie says she leads somewhat of a conflicted life, but as far as Synchronicity and the Blessed Mother Apparition are concerned, she keeps it simple: "It's more of a feeling experience than an intellectual one."
Perhaps that's something on which everyone can agree.