This is a “flip side” look at the life of Scot Barbour (Sat Shree). His “official story” can be easily found (he spends a lot of time talking about himself), along with positive testimonials about his teachings and programs. Obviously, those of us creating this record were drawn to New Dharma and stayed engaged for some time before we were “disillusioned” and there are those who have reported good experiences and significant personal growth working with Sat Shree. Others have experienced trauma and manipulation. Our goal here is to provide a discriminating view of Scot Barbour’s spiritual preparation, “enlightenment”, and conduct as a spiritual teacher.
From Nazi to Guru
Scot Barbour was leading an ordinary life. He was not a spiritual seeker and says he felt that he lacked nothing until he had a powerful awakening experience. He describes this experience in his book about the Bhagavad Gita. It began with a grief over failing to find time to connect with visiting family members that became anguish as he remembered what he perceived as his last “past life”.
“I saw myself . . . as a Nazi soldier, intoxicated with power, hurling Jews onto a train bound for a concentration camp. The shame and horror at seeing this capacity for evil and cruelty toward others and my complete indifference to human suffering was so overwhelming that I literally went unconscious, collapsing forward on my drafting board. When I awoke the whole universe revealed itself. I had broken through into a new dimension of being.”
Given his limited spiritual background, after the above-described experience Scot and his wife Janice tried to find a context and explanation for what had happened. They found their way to students of Swami Sri Atmanada, an Indian guru with an ashram in Tiruvannaamalai. Some months later when Atmananda visited Nevada, they both became disciples. Sat Shree says that he saw in Atmananda what his “goal” was. This began a period of withdrawal from his work and life, and after winding things down he began making regular, extended visits to Atmananda’s ashram in India over a period of six years.
His brother George was also in India during this time, and he recounted finding Scot reading a book with a title something like “How to Be a Guru”. When George, somewhat bemused, challenged his brother about his choice of reading material, Scot replied with something along the lines of “That’s the career path around here isn’t it?”
As Atmananda’s disciple he studied the Bhagavad Gita and the Mother Book of Sri Aurobindo. He was involved in the business of the ashram as an active participant. After six years, Atmananda asked “Siddhartha” (the name he had given Scot Barbour) to open a center for him in Sacramento. He did so, but after a few years he decided he was now ready to go it alone and be the guru he had dreamed of being. He tells the story of standing alone one Guru Purnima (an Indian holiday celebrating gurus) and realizing that he had become that, that he was now a guru. He walked away from Sri Atmananda and the center he had opened in Sacramento—without his guru’s blessing or acknowledgment. Other students were warned not to have anything to do with him.
Returning to the States and deciding to live alone far removed from his wife, Scot eventually chose for himself the name Sat Shree, and began teaching. He proclaimed himself to be an enlightened guru, and says in his book about the Bhagavad Gita: “That which I am is an impersonal instrument or channel for the Universe to express itself.” This whole concept is fraught with linguistic ambiguity. What is enlightenment? How does it differ from “Awakening” or “Self-Realization”? The answer to these questions is outside of the scope of this piece, but there is an old adage (regardless of how one defines enlightenment) that someone who claims it probably ain’t!
It’s hard to imagine a soul’s journey that would go from being an enthusiastic Nazi facilitating the execution of Jews directly to an “enlightened guru”. Those horrific tendencies would have to be met and transformed. In recorded public talks he tells of an experience in his early life—this lifetime, as Scot Barbour—where he was beating his dog to death, only to be stopped by a shocked neighbor who was witnessing it.
Addict, Architect, Biker, Flawed Family Man
Sat Shree talks of having been a youthful drug addict before reforming himself and attending architecture school. He worked as an architect, had his own firm, and eventually declared bankruptcy. He calls himself a “community activist”: once he was involved in trying to get a bike lane in his neighborhood. He was divorced, and when he accepted Janice’s proposal of marriage (she was to become the Executive Director of New Dharma and would be called Satyamayi) he told her that his work came first, his model airplanes came second, and she came third, and he used to share that with what seemed a sense of pride. He had a son from whom he was estranged when he died as a young adult. He had spent some time with an organization related to, or descended from, Werner Erhard’s “est”. He was touched by Meher Baba’s books.
Taking on the Role of Teacher/Guru
Sat Shree spent some years in the northwest, speaking in bookstores and gathering a few students. He then returned to his home in Nevada and started his non-profit “public charity”: New Dharma. His following fit nicely around the edges of a small living room when towards the end of 2014 he was interviewed by Rick Archer on Batgap—Buddha at the Gas Pump. (Don’t bother searching for that interview, it was removed years ago when the first knowledge of Sat Shree’s manipulations and financial impropriety became known.)
Many people who saw him on Batgap were drawn to his charisma, his teachings on the Bhagavad Gita, and the opportunity to be a part of a community of sincere seekers. They were often “touched” energetically by Sat Shree’s personal “energetic transmission” which he calls the “Sat Force”. This is seen by many as a power derived from his deflected kundalini rising in Vajra nadi. He can project an intense auric field which can stimulate the subtle bodies of the people around him. Then he tells people that if they can feel it, they can progress spiritually with him, aided by this force. This seductive quality drew scores of people to him from his Batgap appearance, and as he once put it, his big fish in a small pond turned into a minnow in the ocean. He didn’t know how to handle it.
Soliciting Money for his “Mission”
He wanted to grow a community in Washoe Valley, Nevada and then reach out to the world. For this, he needed money. First, he asked an 87 year-old widow to buy a house near his with her $400,000 retirement savings—at their first meeting. She left. Another early arrival after Batgap was Muffy Weaver, whom he was soon to name Meera, after Sri Aurobindo’s partner and “manifester”. Muffy was steward to a significant amount of money, and Sat Shree invited her to collaborate with him and made lots of promises to Muffy about the nature of her participation in the growing organization. She made contributions and served the community for years while he failed to keep his promises. When Muffy insisted that Sat Shree show some integrity and keep his word, he and his wife chose instead to vilify her in a public meeting where Muffy was not present and then banish her from the community.
One key reason that Sat Shree did not keep his word was that he was unable to stand up to his wife, Satyamayi. She was jealous of the accomplished women who had come to New Dharma, and particularly disliked Muffy whom Sat Shree had invited to collaborate with him. Satyamayi controlled New Dharma as its Executive Director and as a force that would have her own way despite the vision or desires of her husband—and guru—Sat Shree.
In light of legal actions that followed Muffy’s banishment, Sat Shree and the New Dharma Board of Directors returned about $700,000 to Muffy and represented that they were going to be much more careful about soliciting money in the future. At Muffy’s suggestion they hired Mariana Caplan to work with Sat Shree, Satyamayi, and the community. Sadly, as we will soon see, whatever excellent advice Mariana might have given was not taken, because during this very time, Sat Shree began his campaign of The Manipulation of a Former Student to recoup his financial losses.
The Pattern of Financial/Psychological Manipulation
A student had been volunteering in the New Dharma community and following Sat Shree for several years when he inherited a substantial sum of money. He didn’t tell Sat Shree about the inheritance. When Sat Shree found out, he called the student into a meeting and used what some have called psychological extortion to pressure him into making an enormous “donation” of $900,000. The student has detailed Sat Shree’s abuse of power, undue influence, and psychological manipulation of him. Basically, Sat Shree told him that the money was energetically dangerous and the only way he could escape peril was to give it to Sat Shree.
The student has now seen and shared widely how he was manipulated and has asked that his money be returned. Sat Shree and the New Dharma Board of Directors have not done so. And, in the face of his grief and anguish over the breach of trust (and the dismay and horror of many others), Sat Shree said in a recorded public meeting about the situation: “Oh, he will get over it.” The New Dharma community has been so shocked that Sat Shree’s summer trip to Denmark and Sweden with months of scheduled satsangs and an in-person retreat were cancelled. Key volunteers have resigned. Many New Dharma participants have moved on. And, former students who left quietly after Muffy’s ill treatment (thinking that Sat Shree had learned his lesson and reformed) have chosen to speak out in hopes of preventing further abuse and manipulation.
Sat Shree has not shown himself to be “an impersonal instrument” for the Universe to express itself. In the eyes of many he is just one more ambitious would-be spiritual leader who prioritizes his own wants and desires for “his mission” over the well-being of those who have given him their trust and faith.