Bad Vibrations - the implosion of a New Age cult
Steve Kilgallon and Tony Wall
Followers of a woman living in suburban Auckland believe she is the reincarnation of an Indian deity, who can tune into people’s souls through special frequencies. But two former volunteers for her group, Kosmic Fusion, have described a frightening experience where they were subjected to gruelling “confession” sessions. Steve Kilgallon and Tony Wall report on the implosion of a New Age cult.
She’s short, for a living God.
something she calls the Quantum Vortex Scalar Wave Proton Pulse
Despite being, literally, five foot nothing, Kaveeta Bhavsaar is a far more imposing presence than her much taller, quieter husband, Sunil Kumar Porumamilla.
But then he can’t cure your ailments with a high-frequency light wave.
In their rented Mission Bay villa, which combines views of Rangitoto with water stains on the ceiling, smells of incense waft through the house as Bhavsaar explains how Kosmic Fusion, a spiritual movement she started seven years ago, was sabotaged from within by “malignant narcissist snakes”.
The couple’s front room is devoted to an intricate shrine to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, a 19th century Hindu religious leader whose followers believed was a living incarnation of the God Krishna.
Bhavsaar, 47, believes she channels the long-dead Swaminarayan, and controls something she calls the Quantum Vortex Scalar Wave Proton Pulse - or QVSWPP - the “mother of all frequencies, energies and vibrations”.
Believers pay money to attend workshops where Bhavsaar supposedly uses the energy force to upgrade them to a “fifth dimensional grid” where they are cleared of electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones, computers and wifi, leaving them cleansed and healed of various ailments.
People who have been through this process are called Pulsars.
Bhavsaar has, says her adoring husband, “more knowledge than 1,000 people put together. That’s her gift.”
The couple have adopted the holy names Sree Maa and Shri Ji. Devotees are asked to refer to them as a single entity - Sree Maa Shri Ji - and believe they are the male and female reincarnations of Swaminarayan.
Bhavsaar rejects any suggestion she and Porumamilla are holding themselves up as Gods.
“I’m a non-doer, I’m the guardian,” she explains. “Guardian doesn’t mean I own it, it means I’m safekeeping it.”
it all crumbled last year
In 2011, Bhavsaar started Kosmic Fusion, which at its peak had some 400 followers worldwide, and later attracted a core of mostly female devotees to live in an ashram at a luxury home in St John's, east Auckland.
That was, until it all crumbled last year with the exile of two key lieutenants.
Legal letters have flown back and forth with accusations of sabotage, theft of intellectual property and defamation.
The two exiles say Kosmic Fusion is a dangerous cult.
what went on amounts to psychological abuse
Experts agree, saying some of what went on amounts to psychological abuse.
The gurus say no-one was forced to do anything against their will and the women are making false allegations because they wanted to replace the leaders and take over the group.
It seems the implosion of a spiritual movement can be just as ugly as any relationship breakdown.
"She was very charismatic. There was something about her, she had a presence. Some people might call it arrogant, but she knew who she was, and she knew a lot.”
German-born professional dancer and instructor Iphigenie Amoutsias was immediately impressed by Bhavsaar when they first met.
Bhavsaar had arrived at her Auckland dance studio in 2012 looking for lessons, but Amoutsias soon became the pupil, not the teacher.
Amoutsias had long practised Buddhism, but no longer felt it was working for her. “Something was missing,” she says. “I had this deep sadness inside me.”
She began solo “healing” classes with Bhavsaar. “She removed that sadness inside…. afterwards, I really felt something was lifted off me.”
Taiwan-born Joy Kuo found Kosmic Fusion online, then met the couple when they ran a stall at a mind, body and spirit exhibition in her hometown of Sydney in late 2012.
She signed up for a workshop, believing it would help her spiritual growth.
“It resonated with me. I was drawn to their work,” she says.
Joy Kuo spent five years of her life with Kosmic Fusion.
Kuo, Amoutsias and other former Kosmic Fusion followers say Bhavsaar had an instant effect on their sense of wellbeing and they wanted to learn more.
When we meet, Bhavsaar explains that she teaches people how to use the energy wave - after that, they are on their own.
Massey University professor of physics Bill Williams
Her explanation of the process is long and confusing and seems to borrow from quantum physics. We asked Massey University professor of physics Bill Williams for his opinion.
He says it’s “bollocks”. While Bhavsaar uses terms such as photons and particle wave duality, Williams says, “this misappropriation of physics language isn't really helpful, in my opinion.”
But Kosmic Fusion followers are convinced.
Former volunteer Renu Ryder, an Auckland marketing manager who says Kosmic Fusion has kept her sober after a long battle with alcoholism, describes it as “an energy that you feel that just kicks in. Some people get clarity, some people get their physical ailments improved, some people feel very calm.”
While Kosmic Fusion claimed devotees in places such as Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia and the Netherlands, who would tune into meditation sessions online, the core of the movement was a group of around 12 mostly Auckland-based people who were called Facilitators-in-Training (or FiTs).
Kuo and Amoutsias were in this inner cadre, with the idea that they would eventually be able to run their own sessions using their guru’s teachings.
Intriguingly, the trainees were allowed to organise sessions where Bhavsaar wasn’t physically present, or even linked online to the room, but could supposedly channel the energy wave remotely.
Trainees would pay for one-on-one sessions, or “discourses”, with Bhavsaar and attend a series of residential courses, costing hundreds of dollars, to improve their understanding.
Many were given Hindu names chosen by Bhavsaar; Amoutsias was known as Meera and Kuo as Komal.
As they became more devoted, some of them proposed forming an ashram - basically a shared house - with the gurus.
Bhavsaar and Porumamilla are adamant the ashram was not their idea, but in early 2016 they happily moved into the luxurious rented home, complete with swimming pool and triple garage.
hair, beauty and massage appointments
Porumamilla would leave each day for his job as an IT contractor and Bhavsaar would stay home, giving discourses.
According to Kuo and Amoutsias, the guru would be ferried to hair, beauty and massage appointments, often paid for by the trainees.
Documents written by other members show they were expected to cook and clean at Bhavsaar's direction.
With hours of daily instruction and worship, life in the ashram could be hard, says Amoutsias. She would often get just four or five hours' sleep.
Then, at a retreat in Taupō in June 2016 came a major development. For weeks, says Amoutsias, Bhavsaar had been hinting that she would reveal her true identity.
She and Kuo say their guru left the meeting room in which everyone was gathered, then returned and announced she was the reincarnation of Swaminarayan, himself an avatar (or reincarnation) of a God.
Bhavsaar says this event has been misinterpreted: she was simply “introducing" herself as the guardian of Swaminarayan's power: “Introducing yourself is not saying 'I am God'.”
But Amoutsias felt uncomfortable. She'd been assured when she first met Bhavsaar that this was not a religious movement.
“I was in shock. This is not what I signed up for - what did I get myself into?
“The others were emotional but they all seemed fine with it, some of them were crying. I felt the odd one out.”
trusting what they were teaching us was on the right path
Kuo reacted differently. She says she was told to gaze at photos of the couple and worship them as the male and female aspects of Swaminarayan.
“I just took it - I didn't think too much,” she says. “I was trusting what they were teaching us was on the right path.”
Ritu Bhargava, who owns a hair extension salon in Remuera and remains devoted to the gurus, was at the retreat and understood that the couple were reincarnations of Swaminarayan.
“That completely made sense to me,” she says. “I had a feeling, because Sree Maa Shri Ji is not a normal person.”
Renu Ryder says: “They are who they say they are. They are an incarnation of the Absolute, I know for a non-believer it might be hard to believe. But I know it to be true.”
Mark Vrankovich, the executive director of cult monitoring organisation Cultwatch, says all such groups adopt the tactic of the slow reveal of their true nature.
It starts with a “PR front that seems normal”, then once the recruit is heavily invested they show their hand.
“How would you feel if I told you I was a God? So it is hidden, and a secret that's revealed and the reason is that you would run - until they've got their hooks into you.”
For up to ten hours, they would confess
One key element of life inside the ashram, say Kuo and Amoutsias, was the use of confessional, or “coming clean” sessions.
For up to ten hours, they would confess their sins, and.. would be berated by Bhavsaar in front of a live audience of fellow facilitators in training and others watching online. They would be recorded - one of Amoutsias’ confessions has been posted on the Kosmic Fusion website.
At first, Amoutsias says she thought the sessions were revealing character flaws she couldn’t see. “But they were mental torture, really,” she says.
In one, she says, Bhavsaar predicted she would one day commit suicide - a claim Bhavsaar strongly denies.
One loyal Kosmic Fusion member admits in a document given to us by Porumamilla that she felt sorry for Amoutsias after these sessions because she looked “frail and drained”.
Most of those confessing appear to have been diagnosed as "covert narcissists" and the sessions were an opportunity to “cleanse” themselves.
Amoutsias says the person in the spotlight would have to kneel or stand while they were criticised, and some were spat on or struck on the face.
produced statements by several volunteers
Bhavsaar and Porumamilla strongly deny this, and produced statements by several volunteers who denied anyone was ever abused or assaulted.
One writes: “Quite frankly, have never seen such ridiculous claims in my entire life. I am very sorry Sree Maa Shri Ji have to even read such questions.”
Another, Niranjana, answers the question about spitting by writing: “I only recall one incident where I sat next to Sree Maa Shri Ji ... and a drop of saliva from Sree Maa Shri Ji’s mouth fell on me while answering a question I asked ... Sree Maa Shri Ji had apologized to me when I should have been the one apologizing for asking questions while Sree Maa Shri Ji was having lunch.”
One of the first to undergo the confessional sessions was Bhargava, the hair salon owner.
She says it helped her realise she is a “full-blown covert narcissist” and that she had falsely accused her ex-partner of abuse.
“Sree Maa Sree Ji were the only ones who showed me what is right - I was telling a story from a damsel in distress, a victim, they helped me to see where I was lying.
“I am ashamed for what I’ve done, but not ashamed to come out as what I am. I acted as a victim because I needed the attention ... I am a full-blown narcissist.”
Bhargava claims the exiled members are “malignant narcissists” who wanted to destroy Kosmic Fusion.
Simply by writing this story, she says, we are “flying monkeys” - a pop psychology term meaning someone who is used by a narcissist to achieve their ends.
Kuo says her experience of the confessionals began with the interrogations of Bhargava.
“We were told ... it was to help her come clean: you need to reveal your darkness so you can get rid of it and the rest of the students are helping her in that process.”
She says Bhargava was the focus for two months, before they moved on to someone else.
Mid-way through 2017, Kuo was invited to come to Auckland from Sydney to stay in the ashram, and somehow became the new target.
threats of police and legal action
She was shocked: she felt she’d always been highly regarded in the organisation.
Instead, she faced threats of police and legal action for her supposed transgressions, including keeping copies of Kosmic Fusion materials.
“They took away my mobile, my passport, my laptop.”
Over three days, she says she had to kneel, without food, while she was questioned by her guru. She says her hair was pulled and she was slapped and hit. She was petrified.
Bhavsaar says these allegations are untrue but Kuo insists Bhavsaar compared herself to an immigration officer.
“You need her stamp to go to Akshardham - like heaven.
“She says she can send me to hell, or make me reincarnated as an animal. I was so scared, because at the time I still believed she had this ability to do something on me - to [decide] my destiny.
“I had become the lowest of the low. Basically everyone can spit on you after the [sessions].”
Sydney-based former member Sheree McRae says she witnessed some confessionals, which were based on members voluntarily writing letters about their faults.
She didn’t want to take part, and says she wasn’t pressured to.
Some were an opportunity for people to get things off their chest, she says, others were “full on… a bit awkward”.
Renu Ryder says the sessions were about sharing with the group and shedding the ego. “It can be uncomfortable - but so can anything worthwhile, like going to the gym … peeling back the layers can sometimes be pretty painful.”
Bhavsaar describes the sessions as “reflections” rather than confessions.
“You think it’s not my right to ask someone [if they are sabotaging the ashram]?”
Asked why the sessions lasted so long, she says: “When someone is wasting your time and not even coming clean, whose time is getting wasted, mine or theirs?”
She compares the process to a criminal trial. “And a person can come clean, like in a court.”
Peter Lineham, professor of religious history at Massey University, says the confessional is an established technique developed in the 1920s by the Oxford Group cult.
A public confession - often even of invented sins - maintains loyalty and undermines any sense of privacy. “It makes it, therefore, a very powerful tool in reshaping personality.”
Cult experts say one technique used by such groups to strengthen their leaders’ power is to encourage members to inform on each other.
It’s clear that fellow Kosmic Fusion trainees were encouraged to write long, scathing assessments of whoever was on trial.
One 13-page “observation” of Kuo, by a trainee called Jeeya, criticises her for such high crimes as using too many paper towels, buying expensive brands of peanut butter and stretching her neck in a way that copied Sree Maa so she could feel “special”.
The document ends with Jeeya saying she hoped Kuo “will wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late for her soul to be saved”.
Another Australian-based former member says she received emails from the couple criticising Kuo after she left Kosmic Fusion.
“I couldn’t read it by the end, because I know Joy, and I know she is an honest person and wanted to spread the technique: she was a million per cent devoted.
I can’t believe they’re doing that to her
“Joy was wonderful, she gave her time, she gave her money, I saw all of that. She motivated me.
“I can’t believe they’re doing that to her. I can’t believe they want to trash her.”
Amoutsias also fielded lengthy written criticisms describing her as a vicious, malignant, domineering infiltrator intent on seizing control of the group.
Kuo was still an insider then, and even she weighed in: “Your countless disgraceful behaviours in the ashram are absolutely crazy and disgusting and only demonstrate how cheap and what a lowly person you are!”
According to the women, the ashram worked as a physical representation of your standing in the organisation.
If you were favoured, you got a bedroom. Amoutsias and Kuo both had one, but were later moved out.
Kuo got the choice of a sofa, or a blanket on the floor of the games room. Amoutsias was dispatched to a bed in an open garage space. The couple say everyone who stayed at the ashram had suitable accommodation.
Despite all this, Amoutsias stayed, because she wanted to “get rid of my dark ego ... to clear that selfish part of me” - right up to the point that she was given three days’ notice to leave and take all her belongings.
to improve her spiritual standing
She says she had given all her money to the group (and spent up on her credit cards). One text message shown to us by Porumamilla shows Bhavsaar suggesting Amoutsias donate a month’s salary to the ashram to improve her spiritual standing.
So with no money and nowhere to go, she slept that first night in the car park of the McDonald’s in Greenlane.
The group then loaned her $300 to rent a room at the YMCA hostel in the city before slowly putting her life back together.
“The next few weeks I thought ‘I’ve done something wrong and lost the chance to liberate my soul’.”
Documents handed to us by Porumamilla include pages of diatribes attacking Amoutsias and saying she shouldn’t be readmitted to the group.
One writes: “I didn’t have this capacity to spot this traitor sitting amongst us and pretending to be a sheep in the wolf’s clothing. It is only SreeMaaShriJi's Supreme Grace and Love that protected us from Dallia [Amoutsias].”
said I was into emotional drama
Kuo says she had a breakdown because of the pressure-cooker environment of the ashram. “There was a period of time I was totally shut down, I couldn’t function. At the end of the [confession] session I was extremely stressed and anxious.
“I said ‘I want to die’ and they said I was into emotional drama.”
“I didn’t know what to do, it was really driving me mad. I didn't know what was right or wrong because they twisted everything so much I couldn’t even recognise if that was me anymore.”
The process of leaving a cult can be difficult, says Lineham.
“Often people in very powerful groups like these really struggle to reintegrate their lives and there is a strong pattern of suicides.”
Of course, both women were free to leave at any time. But any successful cult movement, says Lineham, persuades members to completely subjugate their will to that of the leader.
A classic and extreme example was the Heavensgate cult, where the 39 members freely agreed to take poison so they could follow leader Marshall Applewhite into outer space.
Vrankovich has studied how cults operate and the techniques they use on members. He says many appear in Kosmic Fusion’s structure, particularly around control of followers.
Kosmic Fusion appeared to have a heavy influence on their followers, he says, including their diet, lots of scheduled group activities, extensive rules, sleep deprivation and supervision of group communications.
For example, Kuo says Bhavsaar would “scan” their body energy every day to monitor them and know what they were doing, a kind of surveillance.
As if to prove this, Porumamilla provides us with extensive logs of WhatsApp chats between Kuo and Amoutsias, as well as Facebook postings by Kuo and pages of trainees criticising the pair.
One former member, Katie, (not her real name) says she's now certain Kosmic Fusion is a cult. “And a dangerous one at that.”
Lineham agrees. “I know the word ‘cult’ is thrown around far too regularly, and people have the right to believe whatever crazy thing they want to, but they don't have a right to abuse others in so doing.”
absolutely a cult
They are absolutely a cult, says Vrankovich. “You can read their beliefs with a lot of interest, but the reality is what really makes them a cult is how they manipulate and control their members.
“If what they’ve [Kuo and Amoutsias] said is true, I don’t think that anyone would say what has happened is okay.”
Theirs is an unusual love story. Bhavsaar grew up in a wealthy family in the teeming city of Mumbai. Porumamilla was from Hyderabad, some 700 km to the south-east.
They had never met, but he claims he would dream of her and draw sketches of her face. He even knew her name, he says, and had it tattooed on his body.
Then one day in 2003, they crossed paths in a florist’s shop in Mumbai. Porumamilla touched her on the shoulder and said: “I’m supposed to meet you here today at this time.”
Bhavsaar, who says she always knew she had a special connection to the spiritual realm, says: “This was a stranger to me. Of course I knew energetically, there was a time I was told when this would happen to me.”
She had trained as a fashion designer and ran her own boutiques, but left that behind when she, Porumamilla and her daughter from an earlier relationship migrated first to the UK, then Singapore, before settling in New Zealand in 2010.
A year later, Kosmic Fusion began, offering free meditation centres in community halls and running stalls at spirituality expos in Wellington, Auckland and around Australia.
Those who signed up were initially invited to one-hour classes, then three-day residential retreats, with each phase taking them slowly up the hierarchy.
Payments for this were often called 'energy exchanges' and were up to $800.
Bhavsaar describes herself as a teacher. But what is apparent from reading hundreds of pages of WhatsApp chat logs with her followers is how demanding she was.
In one posting, she gives a “strict warning to not even for one second think that any decisions will be made by anyone other than the Guardians”.
Trainees are warned that one lapsed member is to be “quarantined” to “stop any contamination”.
Former member Katie says: “They tell you what to say, and what to think, and cut you down so badly if you question anything.”
Katie says they were warned not to have sexual relationships with outsiders who had not completed a course because they would have the “wrong energy” and some former members said they felt cut off from outside family and friends.
The couple provided email statements from several former trainees who deny they were warned about sex with outsiders.
Katie left because she felt she couldn’t trust Bhavsaar and because she says course fees were beginning to be demanded in cash, in US dollars (testimonies from other followers say some payments were in USD, but others were by paypal, NZ dollars or on payment plans).
worse and worse and more controlling
“In the beginning, I do think she had good intentions but I think her ego got the better of her and she got worse and worse and more controlling… she would say I am a divine being so I never go grey or age - then I realised she dyed her hair - and I thought if you’re lying to me about stupid little things like that what else are you lying to me about?”
But there are still plenty of believers.
Sheree McRae, who used to run Kosmic Fusion's social media, describes Bhavsaar as “an extremely special person who obviously has a gift to offer people. She’s an extremely selfless person.”
McRae says she stepped away because she became irritated by other members jockeying for status. She says Kosmic Fusion is “so far from a cult … I hope a few bad eggs don't ruin their reputation”.
Renu Ryder, formerly a close friend of Amoutsias, claims she was “manipulated” by her in an “unhealthy friendship”.
“She admitted to being a malignant narcissist and treated a number of us poorly.”
Yes, Amoutsias admits, she was a bully, and was encouraged to be. She regrets it.
A “blacklist” notice
To Bhavsaar, Kuo and Amoutsias are “snakes”.
She believes they wanted to steal her intellectual property and use the teachings of Kosmic Fusion for their own financial gain. (Both women deny this and say they were simply helping take Bhavsaar’s teachings to a wider audience).
A “blacklist” notice on the Kosmic Fusion website - and 10 affiliated sites - delivers a lengthy excoriation of the pair.
Kuo is accused of printing out fliers and brochures describing herself as a “master practitioner” of the QVSWPP without permission.
“The materials all glorify herself rather than honour and pay homage to Sree Maa Shri Ji, without whom no-one can receive the All-Knowing and most benevolent Quantum Vortex Scalar Wave Photon Pulse,” the notice says.
Blacklist notices have appeared on Kosmic Fusion websites.
Both women have received legal letters, with Porumamilla threatening to sue for $750,000.
In an email he sends after we meet, Porumamilla says Amoutsias and Kuo feel “rejected” by the group and we are “enabling individuals with NPD [narcissistic personality disorder] in their revenge. They have no conscience and will go to any length to play the victim card”.
Neither is “the brightest spark”, he says.
According to Lineham, all this is not unusual. Expelling former senior figures is often a key strategy to promote loyalty among other members.
“In every movement,” he says, “there is always a Judas. And no step is too serious to take against the traitor.”
Kuo estimates that Kosmic Fusion cost her $100,000 in time, money and the loss of income from quitting her job as a university librarian to volunteer full-time.
Bhavsaar and Porumamilla laugh at that and say they are the ones who’ve lost out. They’ve cancelled all their online healing sessions, stopped recruiting and say membership is down to just two. It will take them three years to rebuild the movement, they estimate.
They deny Kosmic Fusion is a cult
They deny Kosmic Fusion is a cult. “If it is a cult I was running, then it has to be an absolutely unsuccessful and a horrendous one - because the only victim in this cult is me,” Bhavsaar says.
She suggests she was too kind, too generous, too empathetic, and has paid the price. “I can look into your eyes, and tell you the only victim is me.”
Amoutsias and Kuo would dispute that. “I want to believe they started with the best intentions,” reflects Amoutsias. “But something went wrong. I really hope they can find their way back, and have the courage to look at what they are doing.”
For Kuo, the final straw was when she was back in Sydney and a Kosmic Fusion representative visited her home to tell her husband the “truth” about her and her supposed transgressions.
“I said you're intruding on my family life, that’s it. If I go to hell, I go to hell, I don't care now.”
so free after I left
She left Kosmic Fusion and has seen a healer to help her deal with the experience.
“I felt so free after I left - I felt I could be myself.”
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