Eyewitness report of the Psychic Yoga Challenge

This report of a follow up of the Psychic Yoga Challenge reported here on Nirmukta.

May 31st 2009, Bangalore: For those who do not have the time or inclination to go through the details, here’s a one line summary. The challenge did not happen — Narendra Nayak was ready with his envelopes but no one from Dhyan foundation took up the challenge.

It was disappointing. I had invited my friends (both believers and non-believers) to witness something that had the potential of conclusively proving me wrong and shut my trap forever.

Coming to the details, around five or six representatives from Dhyan foundation came to the venue.  All of them were relatively modern and educated young folks — maybe in their 20s and 30s; three or four men and two women. They came across as a pretty agreeable group, the kind I can connect with and easily hang out comfortably at a middle class bar in Bangalore. I’ve exchanged phone numbers with them and will be visiting Dhyan foundation in Bangalore. Maybe, they can convert me to a believer. So far I have not seen evidence of supernatural powers, maybe this will be it.

It appeared to me that the challenge was completely secondary to them.  They were talking more about the article on Nirmukta than the challenge itself.  They were deeply upset about how someone could be so blasphemous as to call Ashwini a conman, and accuse the Dhyan foundation of ‘peddling superstition’, when Dhyan foundation is a non-commercial venture and they do a lot of charitable activities and is all for improvement of mankind and “spiritual evolution” (they do provide you a ‘Donation Opportunity’ on their website).

From their arguments, I gathered that Ashwini (and his disciples who have reached the level of the said prediction powers) are pretty busy folks and don’t have to prove themselves to every Tom, Dick and Harrry who challenges them.  Apparently, they have proved themselves in the past to several distinguished people (I think they mentioned Laloo Prasad Yadav as one of them).  However, Ashwini and his disciple (Ms. Aarti, if my memory serves right) were kind enough to do the challenge over postal mail.  I tried to communicate to them that doing it remotely is not the same as doing real time in front of TV cameras, but they were not convinced.  However, they were OK with someone going to Delhi and trying the real-time challenge with Ashwini there.  Maybe there is a small chance of this challenge happening in the future.

Unfortunately, none of the six members of the Dhyan foundatation had still acquired the powers of prediction, so they could not take up the challenge today.  As one of them put it, they were mere first graders compared to graduates.

They did not seem to be aware that the challenge was initiated by Ashwini himself.  Maybe it was their emotions running high as someone had called names to their “Yogiji”, but their anger did not seem commensurate with the peaceful, mankind-loving, charitable organization they were representing.  It’s odd how peace-loving religious leaders (even those as high as the Pope and Ayatollah Khomeni) are insecure about their religions that they cannot ignore barking dogs like Dan Brown and Salman Rushdie.  My prediction (ha, ha!) is that the Dhyan foundation will launch a fatwa against Nirmukta.

What was most depressing to me was the bitterness in the air.  The folks from Dhyan foundation who came today seemed very respectable law-abiding citizens with intentions of improving the state of mankind and doing their bit for charity. Where we differ is probably only with respect to belief in the para-normal.  While we might consider them deluded to believe in the spiritual powers, they might consider us irrational for dismissing their beliefs without having gone through their experiences.  I hope this can be resolved by non-violent debates.

But my main reason for going to the venue today is still unanswered — is Ashwini a con-man? Or a well-meaning human being, but deluded that he has special powers? Or one who really has special super-natural powers, but was not in position to demonstrate his powers today?

About the author

Pankaj Kulkarni


  • Thanks for the report, Pankaj. Now for some analysis.

    It is obvious why the representatives of this gang were more concerned with the accusations against their beloved leader and less concerned about the challenge itself. This is the nature of cults. These organizations make use of the need for authoritarian leaders in some types of people. These people can then be led to defend the leader and their group without turning the lens of scrutiny on themselves. There is no doubt that their intentions are honorable, but they are compromised.

    In many comments they keep claiming that we are not real rationalists because we refuse to experience their mumbo-jumbo, and that without experiencing it we cannot claim it is a scam. But the thing this organization is peddling (yes, peddling) is supernatural powers. As a common adage in science goes, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Experience is NOT a requirement in science. The entire purpose of science is to replace the subjective vulnerabilities of our mental states with an objective perspective. Not one supernatural event has ever been confirmed in controlled settings. This is because these claims rely on the subjective intuitions of the deluded. Thus, acceptance of any supernatural claim requires extraordinary evidence, establishing that supernatural phenomena exist. Until this can be established, the skeptical, rational and reasonable position is that anecdotes of such “experiences” is delusion. We presented these people with an opportunity to present an objective case, but they failed. Such a proof would have been vastly more convincing than all the individual experiences I could have. They keep insisting on compromising the objective test conditions we were willing to provide, but then claim that I am the one not willing to find out if this thing really works.

    “I tried to communicate to them that doing it remotely is not the same as doing real time in front of TV cameras, but they were not convinced”

    They are not convinced because of one of three reasons. 1. They are so taken up by their leader’s BS that their reasoning ability is compromised. 2. They are in on the scam. 3. They are just not bright enough to understand the difference between a controlled experiment and a biased one.

    Who cares if they convinced Laloo. They could convince the president, for all I care, that says nothing. This form of argument is a logical fallacy called “The Argument from Authority”. In science authority means squat. The only authority is reason. They could even convince the entire scientific establishment, but if they don’t have a controlled and verifiable test to prove it, the rational perspective is skepticism. There is no allegience to people, in science, only to testable ideas. Most of these people who defend this kind of thing are followers who are themselves easily swayed by such authoritative personalities. It is the result of years of conditioning, combined with a non-questioning spirit that is developed throughout life.

    Most cults recruit their members using well-meaning agendas. The entire purpose of the cult could be well-intentioned. But what makes it a cult is their exhibition of this kind of mindless allegiance to their in-group and to their leader. They seem to disregard the simple fact that most religious groups are not commercial. Yet we know they are profitable. It is obvious reading the over 20 comments received that someone has given them talking points. The only thing that was said in the previous article was that what they do is profitable. It’s obvious from the comments that many of them did not even read the article. Of course its profitable to do what they do. People do things because they are profitable. In their cult-like fervor, they are repeating their leader’s points, saying that they are non-commercial. Conning people out of hundreds of thousands of rupees through donations is highly profitable. And this is the worst type of profit making. If it was an openly commercial organization I’d have more respect for it.

    There are thousands of ways to do social service, without being part of a cult. I ask that these well-intentioned people turn their critical thinking on the claims of their organization. Try to understand what a controlled scientific experiment constitutes. Design controlled tests and systematically analyze the claims made by your leaders. If you can establish, using statistically verifiable experiments that other scientists can repeat, that these supernatural claims are indeed true, then not just me but the entire world will take notice. Until then you are just sheep blindly following your leader without applying your brains.

    I am sure it is possible that the young people who were present at the meeting are honorable and well-meaning people, with love and respect towards humanity. But, like in thousands of cases around the world, such well-intentioned people are the easiest to con. We are all looking for something larger than ourselves, and misguided youth can easily be brainwashed into idolizing these charlatans who parade about talking in soft monotones, wearing an air of humble superiority around them that attracts submissive types.

    They can call me irrational all they want. The methods of rationalism and science are clear. One need not experience a bullet in the head to know what that will accomplish. There is sufficient objective and replicable evidence to believe that it will, more likely than not, kill you. Similarly, one need not experience years of conditioning before analyzing the validity of such psychic claims. One well controlled and replicable test will suffice. That is how science works. I ask these young believers in untested claims to understand the methods of scientific testing before they dismiss skeptics as irrational.

  • After trying to convince Subba Rao and Pankaj, some higher up of the dhyan foundation from Delhi had threatened us with legal action. At that point of time we had to cut our interactions short.
    We are eagerly awaiting the “legal action”.

  • wow this is hilarious, well done Prof Nayak and Ajitha for publishing this here. People like Prof Nayak are doing real service to society. Unfortunately there is a larger market for fools and these so called charitable organizations are a cover for fooling people. Money is surely being made by these charlatans. More power to you Prof Nayak, well done !

    • Let me use this opportunity, Ajit, to make it clear that they claim not to charge any money. The people they con “donate” money to their foundation, just like in most religious cults. I know you know this as well, but I wanted to spell it out because I know we’ll get a hundred emails from the sheeple who don’t understand how brainwashing works, falsely claiming that they are a non-commercial organization and that we are off the mark in claiming that they make money.

  • Narendra Nayak – you have asked a big challange from Yogi Ji .

    I too agree about your observation about short temprament of Yogi ji and team.

    Please get mote detail about Yogi JI – their history etc and share with us

  • Please continue the crusade!The religious blind faith must be countered! The brahministic shackles on the Sindhu Samaj must be broken. The great lie must be exposed. Sudra and panchama varna and the women in general must foster unit, get rid of oppression and steer the country to progress in rapid strides!

  • Please continue the crusade!The religious blind faith must be countered! The brahministic shackles on the Sindhu Samaj must be broken. The great lie must be exposed. Sudra and panchama varna and the women in general must foster unity, get rid of oppression and steer the country to progress in rapid strides!

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