Swedish expert, Karl Erik Nylund’s report on MISA and Gregorian Bivolaru
The report was one of the main defense evidence in the extradition trial ruled on by the Supreme Court in Stockholm on October 11th – 12th 2005. The final and irreversible decision of the High Court from Stockholm was to decline the extradition request submitted by the Romanian state against Gregorian Bivolaru.
Karl-Erik Nylund is a doctor in theology, a priest and maybe Sweden’s greatest expert with regard to sects. His most recent work is “Att leka med elden – sekternas värld” – “Playing with fire – world of sects” (2004). For more than 30 years, he has been helping people who are the victims of various sects, and also their families. His expert opinion is often asked for concerning these issues and he is often quoted by the media, being well known for his critical attitude towards dangerous sects. For this reason, Karl-Erik Nylund is entitled to assess whether or not the Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA) displays features resembling the dangerous sects. During his research work for writing this report and during the interviews, Nylund cooperated with sociology doctor Örjan Hultåker, founder and head of SKOP-Research, Skandinavisk Opinion AB Institute.
A series of specialty materials, mentioned in the bibliography list, were studied for writing this report. Also there were three interviews with Gregorian Bivolaru during the police custody in Malmö, the interviews with Mihai Stoian and six MISA yoga practitioners. Three of them are from Romania. Moreover, we even contacted other Romanians living in exile who are not members of this yoga school.
1.2 Founding the yoga school
The Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute Association was founded by Gregorian Bivolaru in January 1990. The Association initially consisting in 22 founding members, started the yoga school that now comprises more than 37.000 practitioners in several countries among which Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The name of the yoga foundation is “Esoteric Orient Yoga” in Sweden and “Natha”, in the other two countries. Movements such as MISA often appear within environments featuring a spiritual vacuum where religious ideas not in accordance with the official religion are persecuted. Such facts regularly occur in the communist or former communist countries. Free thinking and movements consisting in a large number of members are not regarded with benevolence.
The Romanian orthodox church is not thrilled with this yogi movement whose ideas originate in the Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, in Jung’s ideas and so on. The movements based upon ideas belonging to several religious and philosophical paths are called syncretic. Most religions and religious movements are syncretic. The phenomenon is rather a rule than an exception. In a very simplified manner, as a social phenomenon, religion is a system of meaningful believes and legitimate roles. People who grow up within a religious community have certain explanatory patterns and ways of acting they use personally. They learn the dogmas and the rites granting identity to the human being.
1.2.1 Difficulties faced by the spiritual movements
The interactions of the society with the spiritual movements, such as MISA, permanently undergo difficult moments. Such instances that can have an effect on belief systems and role patterns may also emerge under various life circumstances people are confronted with, or even inside the individual’s personality structure. Sometimes even faith crises might appear. Such crises are natural in a pluralistic society. Spiritual movements resort to activities that aim at helping people confronted with such crises, in order to regain their faith.
1.2.2 MISA activities
Originating in India, Yoga is considered extraneous and dangerous in many Christian countries, especially in powerfully orthodox countries such as Romania for instance. Yoga represents a danger for the adept recruitment process permanently carried out by the Church as well as for the fact that the followers might by be attracted by this foreign “religion”, as the church sees Yoga. For this reason they feel compelled to fight against Yoga and often even present it as demonic.
Yoga has been practiced for more than 4000 years. It is an old self-discipline Hindu system of techniques meant to harmonize and unify the body, the mind and the soul through physical exercises, breath control and meditation. The word “yoga” comes from Sanskrit and it signifies “union”, “tuning in with”. Such union actually is the tuning in of the individual’s soul with the universe through spiritual techniques and a process of self-perfection.
There are various forms of yoga. One of the forms of yoga practiced at the MISA school is karma yoga. In our language, this form of yoga would be called: voluntary work. The purpose of a Hindu’s life is moksha – the spiritual liberation. Moksha means being free from the cycle of reincarnations. However moksha, spiritual liberation, is also attained by the one who becomes free from ignorance. There are several paths towards this ultimate purpose: Jnana (the way of knowledge), Bhakti (the way of devotion) and karma (the way of action). There is no such thing as a unique path and a sole savior; there are several opinions, leaders, guru and deities that contribute for helping those who ask for it, in order to walk the spiritual way.
Briefly, we can say that for those who practice yoga at MISA, one of the ways of pursuing self-realization is karma yoga. By all means, this is not about human trafficking; it is a voluntarily chosen path for attaining one’s spiritual purpose with the help of a spiritual guide. Within MISA, each practitioner is under the guidance of a teacher helping him on the spiritual way or tempering him down, if the case may be. The practitioners do not isolate themselves from their families or society.
ashram is a place for living a simple life an being able to practice meditation more. Even the yoga practice is a form of meditation. An ashram aims at facilitating a better health condition and a spiritual life for the practitioner. As a matter of fact, any home may be called an ashram. Within MISA, ashrams are a form of living in common, similar to student dormitories. Each dormitory follows certain rules for the life in common to work. The MISA ashrams abide by the following rules:
1. No meat, alcohol or coffee. No smoking. These rules are both for the inhabitants of the ashram, and for visitors.
2. It is recommended to practice yoga daily for two hours, besides the yoga classes.
3. All people take part at the household activities from the ashram, such as cleaning, house and garden maintenance, house shopping, for instance.
4. Everyone must attend the ashram house meetings (similar to the house meetings of the people living in the same building).
5. Everyone cleans the place on his own when he makes any mess.
6. Silence hours after 23.
7. Previous notification regarding overnight guests ashram, except for constant visitors.
8. Everyone is asked to let the others know when leave on a holiday or a vacation.
This life resembles the life in a student dormitory. There is a person in charge with the dormitory management. It is normal for a person who damages anything to replace that object. This is not a punishment but something natural in a community where one spoils something of the common use utilities. Each group has its own norms expressing the common moral values and each individual is expected to abide by them.
These activities: karma yoga, meditations and the practice of physical exercises help all individuals become fulfilled and complete human beings. The MISA yoga practitioners also believe in the possibility of curing themselves and this is called therapy. Yoga is not a mere spiritual, self-realization training – it is a body and mind therapy.
2. Leader’s part
MISA is a coherent group, namely a group whit a powerful “us” feeling inducing the sensations of belonging to the group. The opposite of such a group is the so-called extraneous group, such as it often happens with religious groups. Most people stay away from such extraneous groups because they are strong expressions of negativity. Communist and terrorist groups, the adepts of hedonist religious movements and the sexually perverted groups fall under this category. The information on the Internet (such as the Romanian journal websites for instance) clearly indicates that for Gregorian Bivolaru, certain politicians are part of such an extraneous group. He also mentions other groups in his declarations and writings. For this reason, it is obvious that because of his allegations, highly critical to certain Romanian politicians, Bivolaru made powerful enemies. People express their opinion against such “extraneous groups” through peaceful street demonstrations in Bucharest.
2.1. Gregorian Bivolaru’s guiding role
Various roles inside a group do not hold the same exact value. The founder of the group often rejoices a special kind of respect. This aspect is also valid in the case of religious groups.
One of the most important aspects in life is the spontaneous tendency to follow the conduct of the majority or of the group leader. This silently occurs inside all groups. The beginner, the newcomer or the one from a lower rank does not even notice the quickness of his attempt to adapt to the group norms. Powerful leaders can make the group members follow the group moral norms and values. The one with authority holds control over people though various means, such as rewards and punishments for instance (such as isolation, fines, etc.) During my study regarding MISA I noticed no such behavior or punishment.
The radical religious groups, such as the Guyana movement from the 70’s, the Heaven’s Gate movement from 90’s or David Koresh from WacoUSA, are examples of groups that imposed a strict discipline to their members. The leader’s word represented the law for the others till death. The MISAYogaSchoolIS NOT such a group.
Also MISA cannot be called a rigid spiritual movement.
Such a movement would not allow criticism. Within MISA, everyone is free to criticize the aspects related to its activity or even the teachers. Also, every person is free to leave the yoga school without fear of retaliation.
Retaliation is a feature of manipulative sects, namely: “such religious or any other kind of movements inside which crises concerning faith are actively repressed, denied or punished. A manipulative sect consciously aims at erasing self-identity and replacing it with a pseudo-identity guided by an ideologue or by an ideology.”
According to this description of the manipulative sects, it is clear that MISA is not a manipulative sect.
For a movement to be a manipulative sect, it also has to comply with three of the four A-s.
– punishment of the members criticizing the leader or the movement.
– criticism and persecution of the people outside the group such as parents for instance.
– closed circuit inside the sect, as a geographical or ideological group. The sect becomes the new family.
During my conversations with the MISA practitioners and teachers, I found nothing of the first two A-s (Aggression and Aversion). With regard to the ashram life, only a part of the persons live there and the activities are not the closed circuit type. The courses are accessible to anyone from the outside. Anyone may attend the courses. Therefore we ARE NOT talking about alienation. Some of those who are more dedicated might have a minimum contact with the outside world, however leaders actively seek to oppose this form of alienation, by encouraging them to return to their work and family. Gregorian Bivolaru DOES NOT claim to be in undeniable possession of the absolute truth. Together with other people, he is a spiritual guide and is convinced he is a man with a mission in the society. On the other hand he displayed and still displays no political claims. If people will transform through the lacto-vegetarian diet and through meditation, this will occur gradually. Bivolaru’s power resides in his very humbleness. Therefore in the MISA case, we can find none of the criteria defining manipulative sects.
Bivolaru went on a retreat in order to meditate and write books. The school was taken over by a managing board and is formally and democratically managed by this board. Each yoga school from the other countries has one leader, regularly one of the senior MISA members and is registered as a non-profit foundation, with a democrat board of management. I could call Bivolaru an “honorific member”, who due to his modesty, rejoices at a lot of respect.
2.2 Charges against Gregorian Bivolaru
The interviews I conducted with Gregorian Bivolaru, one of them attended by only the two of us, made me seriously question the pedophilia charge brought against him. Within the movement, the relations among people are very close, even between teachers and students. However the girl involved was not Bivolaru’s student. Personally, I would be extremely surprised at the existence of a relationship between Gregorian Bivolaru and Mădălina Dumitru.
The other charge brought against him while he was under arrest in Malmö, namely human trafficking, simply is a misunderstanding of what karma yoga means. See the text regarding karma yoga above. The issue at stake here is that of voluntary work, as a manner of self-perfection and attainment of the truth. Many of the people living in an ashram do not have the money to pay for their stay and through karma yoga they have the opportunity to attend the ashram activities. The MISA followers state that karma yoga is a form of meditation that elevates the one practicing it out of doubts and alienation and this can turn the world we live in into a better place.
2.3 Spiritual camps
Every year, in Romania, 10-12.000 people gather in order to attend the international yoga symposiums organized by MISA. Worldwide practitioners come here and practically fill up and entire holiday village. Among other things, they also practice heliotherapy. The participants at this symposium are accepted based on an ID card for which they have to send photos, sometimes in a bathing suit, to the MISA leader. This happens in order to “read” the aura of those who wish to attend and see whether there are any health disorders. According to MISA – everything is alive – people, animals, plants – and surrounded by an energetic field called an “aura”. The ability to see auras can be developed through training. The aura of the people at a high level of their spiritual evolution is white and can be seen from miles away. There are seven vibratory levels of the aura, associated to the seven chakra-s or centers of force. For a healthy human being, these energetic focal points are clear and distinct. In the case of a sick person, the aura is fuzzy and its colors dark.
During the selection of the camp participants at these international symposiums, among which there are many young persons, a large number of photos are received. Such photos were seized by the Romanian authorities and classified as pornographic pictures because they obviously do not at want to see the content of the photos (namely one person in a bathing suit) and their purpose.
3. What is MISA actually?
If MISA is not a manipulative and dangerous sect then what is it? I could say about MISA that it is a movement supporting a different way of life, alternative therapies, displaying strong Gnostic sincretism features. The basic ideas are reincarnation and self-transformation (the ability to transform one’s self). A cult is a movement often emerging in a psychic deprivation environment, when people gather around a leader. MISA is a yogi movement where the participants aim at self-perfecting and improving their state of health and harmony through a lacto-vegetarian diet and yoga techniques.
Following the interviews I conducted with several Romanians from the Diaspora, I have strong doubts with regard to the fact that Gregorian Bivolaru could be allowed a fair trial in his own country. As I could see by myself, the charges against him are obviously untruthful and this is why they are the very evidence of the persecutions he is subjected to. Also, I do not believe that Gregorian Bivolaru would stand any chance for survival in a Romanian prison.
-Mihai Stoian (head of the Natha yoga center)
-Three Danish yoga practitioners and three Romanian yoga practitioners visiting Denmark (I will not reveal their names out of safety reasons)
-Ulla M Sandbaek, former EU Parliament member
Nylund , Karl-Erik Att leka med elden – om livets på sektens villkor . Sellin 1998
Nylund, Karl-Erik Att leka med elden – sekternas värld . Sellin 2004
Hammer, Olav På spaning efter helheten New Age en ny folktro .Wahsltröm &Widstrand 1997
Holm, Nils. G Religionspsykologins grunder, Åbo Akademi 1993
Holm, Nils G. (Ed.) Encounter with India, Åbo Akademi 1990
Haglund, Gunilla Credo guiden Uppslagsbok för sökare, Sellin 1997
Harper´s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. Castle Books, Edison 1991
Mc Guire, Meredith B Religion. The Social Context IVth edition . Wadsworth Publ.House 1997
Mr. Gregorian Bivolaru’s writings