February 1975

Observations on a Sidewalk Ashram

Author Affiliations

From the Mental Health Unit, New York University Health Service; and the Department of Psychiatry, New York University Medical Center.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1975;32(2):166-175. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1975.01760200030002

Meetings between an American guru and his followers were observed and 14 of the devotees were interviewed. Virtually all gave histories of chronic unhappiness and unsatisfactory parental relations. On involvement with the guru and a new "family," they experienced increased well-being and periods of bliss, and their acceptance of mystic Hindu beliefs was solidified. Factors relating to the devotees' psychological "lift" are delineated, including ways that the bond to the leader possibly aided them in dealing with inner conflict.

Earlier experiences with psychedelic drugs appeared to have influenced many of the subjects to Hinduism and the guru. It is postulated that a psychological characteristic of the devotees is a strong underlying wish for union with a powerful object, and that this bore on their susceptibility to the influence of certain regressive psychedelic experiences.