Inner Council and Advisors
ekaṃ jagrāha keśeṣu
Chandra Alexandre is an Inner Council member and the Founder of SHARANYA, serving as the President of the corporation and its Executive Director. She is Rashani (clergy) and a spiritual leader of the community.
A long-time practitioner and Priestess of The Craft, Chandra received her initial initiation into women's mysteries from her grandmother, a lineage carrier in the Old Tradition. A native of New York, Chandra was also a founding member of New Moon-New York and the first Editor of Our Pagan Times. She has built on these beginnings and learnings in the vibrant New York community for her work in SHARANYA.
Chandra received diksha (initiation) on August 2, 1998 into the Shakta tradition (dakshinacara marga) at the Maa Batakali Cultural Mission (a Kali mandir) in Puri (Orissa) from Shyam Sundar Dash, a Priest of Kali and founder of the temple. She first accepted the Sanātana Dharma and was then brought before Maa Kali to make her commitment and receive formal initiation. Chandra continues to work with both East and West in her practice and facilitates community evolution of the syncretism of faith called Sha'can...A Western Shakta Tantra.
Her second diksha and connection to her spiritual ancestors occurred in Assam at Kamakhya Mandir on June 26, 2003 during the festival of the goddess' menstruation, called Ambubachi. There, her initiation was into non-dualistic Tantra (vamacara marga) by an Aghori adept affectionately called "Babaji" (respected father). With these formal initiations, Chandra therefore carries two Tantrick lineages as well as the pre-Christian lineage of her grandmother into her work at SHARANYA.
Chandra is a graduate of the Women's Spirituality Master's Program and a doctorate holder in Philosophy & Religion from The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) with a concentration in Asian & Comparative Studies (Hinduism). She also holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Wisdom University in Oakland, focusing on bringing Spirit to the workplace. In alignment with her commitment to future generations and the importance of spiritual capital, Chandra additionally holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management.
Since 2002, she has taught courses on the Dark Goddess and Divine Female through the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. Chandra is also adjunct faculty at Wisdom University in Oakland (teaching Pathways of the Priestess there this summer), and has offered workshops through the CIIS Lifelong Learning Program in San Francisco. She is also an annual lecturer at The Cultural Integration Fellowship offering talks on the Dasa Mahavidyas (2007) and Yoga Nidra (2009) and has spoken at the United Religions Initiative Gathering of Blessings at the Presidio Interfaith Chapel.
In India, Chandra is an active voice in Women's Sahayog in Kolkata (Calcutta), and since 1998, a yearly visitor to the Indian states of Assam, Orissa and West Bengal, the heartland of Tantra, where she participates in worship, offers lectures and project work, explores the inner landscapes with her teachers, and deepens scholarly research. She is committed to the work of alliance building among spiritual communities, development of Shakta Tantra, the evolution of Sha'can, and education to eradicate erroneous beliefs about South Asia and its religious faiths.
In addition to guiding the community, Chandra conducts spiritual counseling sessions for those interested in furthering their own personal growth and development, with all contributions going directly to SHARANYA's temple fund. She leads annual pilgrimage tours to India and performs rites and other life-event ceremonies for community in the Bay Area. In addition to other publications, lectures, and articles available here, her dissertation from CIIS, titled Through Vulture's Eye-With Peacock's Tail: A Western (Eco)Feminist Engagement with Kali and The Black Madonna as Antinomian Agents of Transformation in a Patriarchal World, may be explored online.
Elena Kelly (Director) is a Hindu pujari, Christian minister, and Wiccan clergy. She founded the Circle of the Feminine Divine in Stockton, California, a worship and study group devoted to exploring the meaning of the "Motherhood of God" and its implications for understanding the world's religions.
She served for two years as President of the Interfaith Council of San Joaquin in Stockton, and is a guest lecturer at the University of the Pacific. Her first book, Combating Inner Terrorism: Strategies of the Goddess from the Devi Mahatmyam, is now available everywhere.
Swiftly and methodically the Remover of Darkness
dissects my negative thoughts so that I might be set free
and bask in the light of Her bliss...
(Combating Inner Terrorism Day 223)
Murray Kucherawy (Secretary) has been a regular Puja attendee since 2007 and has since become a valued volunteer supporting SHARANYA behind the scenes. He provides logistical support (including transportation), photography, and percussion at nearly all of the organization's public activities. A computer software expert by trade, he has been donating his skills and resources to support SHARANYA's online presence, most recently focused on enabling the new online school, Kali Vidya.
Murray is originally from Canada, where he received a degree in mathematics and computer science at the University of Waterloo. It is rumoured that he intends to encourage the establishment of a branch of SHARANYA north of the border. He is also a commercial pilot and enjoys SCUBA diving.
Accompanying us on our last pilgrimage to India, Murray experienced the Ambubachi Mela (festival of the Goddess' menstruation) in Guwahati and visited several other sacred sites devoted to Her and to Shiva. He will be returning again in 2009 to dip his toes in the sacred Kaveri River at Bengaluru.
Nancy Leatzow (Director) - Nancy is a yogini, healer, ceremonialist, ceramic artist and passionate lover of life. She recently moved to the Bay Area and in 2003 was deeply happy to have joined her energies with SHARANYA's Inner Council.
Nancy's connection to the Divine Mother came directly from her love of
the natural world and her feminist convictions. She has traveled to many countries to experience what remains of those ancient cultures that were organized around love of Goddess and the earth. Traveling to Turkey to experience sites of Neolithic Anatolia, Nancy met Chandra Alexandre, SHARANYA's founder, and was immediately drawn to Chandra and her work. She considers it a joy and an honor to be affiliated with SHARANYA and its important mission in the world.
Nancy teaches yoga classes and offers Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in combination with Reike and counseling in Berkeley. She previously had a 13 year practice of Marriage and Family Therapy in Illinois. Nancy brings her professional training and experience to her intuitive healing practice, to her yoga classes and private sessions, and to her volunteer work in her community. Since 1997, Nancy has taken groups of women to sacred sites in Crete each spring, practicing yoga, ritual, and personal transformation along the way. These journeys are carefully planned and paced with time to integrate learning and experience, to enjoy the remarkable fresh, healthy cuisine, to walk the land and meet the people of modern Crete, making links to the Goddess-centered culture of Bronze Age Crete.
Nancy also worked for many years with young children, initiated the Parent Education program at her community college, where she taught Human Development and trained teachers in Early Childhood Education. She coauthored a textbook in her field, developed Early Childhood Curriculum for the State of Illinois, and ran her own experimental alternative school.
For twenty years, Nancy lived deep in Oak-Hickory Forest near a vast
creek. She walked the land year-round, observing the delicate and subtle
changes to the earth. She entered that sacred landscape for support and healing, often experiencing magical encounters with the wild...owls, hawks, deer, fox, as well as the ancient trees and varied plant species and spirits. For many years her large vegetable and herb garden fed the family, as well as friends and clients of the local food pantry. "May all beings find love and purpose. May we all personally, collectively, and planetary find our way to renewal and survival. Jai Ma and Blessed Be."
William Moulton (Vice President) developed his love for the many paths and faces of the goddess beginning with his own awakening inspired by his Grandmother, a devout baptist Christian and pioneer woman who, as a little girl, migrated west traveling in a covered wagon. In his family travels William lived much of his youth in East Africa. Living both in the African jungles and stateside, he developed an intimate appreciation and connection with indigenous peoples, shamanistic practices, the animal kingdom, and deep ecology.
William started formal education in communications, emergent whole systems, cybernetics and psychology, absorbing the wisdom of western pioneers of systems thinking. His instruction includes tutoring with cyberneticists Dr. Gregory Bateson, Dr. Heinz Von Foerster, Dr. Charles Muses and Arthur M. Young. He absorbed the works of Bertalanffy, Laszlo, Ashby, Churchman, Maturana, Weiner, Pask, McCulloch, and Turing, and studied parapsychology as it was being developed in the 60's, 70's and 80's by Tart, Krippner, Lilly, Monroe, and others. William explored the turn-of-the-century works of the theosophists and steeped himself in many branches of the human potential movement, with roots both western and eastern.
His multicultural immersion and background led William to work as a musical instrument designer, multimedia artist, artificial intelligence engineer, web technology inventor, futurist, and open-source intelligence technologist. Recent companies William co-founded include the green energy consultancy Energy Voyager Corp (CTO), a holistic multimedia services company Ursa Minor Arts & Media (Director of Product Development), web search visualization provider Navagent, Inc. (CTO), professional remote viewing consultancy The Aurora Group (Director). William also invented Film Language technology for Tricoast Films and works with The Institute for Global Futures (CIO).
On a beautiful day in 1997, William had the wonderful privilege of meeting Chandra Alexandre in a bookstore. A strong and abiding connection and friendship ensued, and ever since, in his love and respect for Chandra and her connection with Maa, and in his own humble connection with the amazing graces of Maa, William has held the work of SHARANYA in great esteem.
Jim Ryan (Director) is Director of the Asian and Comparative Studies Program at the California Insititute of Integral Studies where he has taught Sanskrit and "Indian religion and philosophy" for 27 years. His primary association with the Goddess is in the Divine Mother (once named Mirra Alfassa), who was the spiritual partner of Sri Aurobindo. In the Integral Yoga tradition it is She who is focused upon as the evolutionary force (shakti) of our era and Who is the center for yogic practice.
Additionally, Jim has done extensive research on the Sri Vidya tradition and on the Sri Cakra which is seen as the subtle form of the Goddess in that tradition. This tradition includes the Sanskrit litany entitled Lalitasahasra Nama which he has made a practice of reading aloud, publicly and privately, over many years. Finally, he has spent many years teaching about the Indian Tantric tradition and reading the Sanskrit texts of that tradition. Jim holds a doctorate from UC Berkeley in South Asian Literature (Tamil).
अयं निजः परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् ।
उदारचरि तानां तु वसुधैव कुतुम्बकम् ॥
ayaṃ nijaḥ paro veti gaṇanā laghucetasām |
udāracaritānāṃ tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam ||
It is the calculation of those of small minds to think that someone
is either 'one of us or one of them.' But for those of generous heart
all the world is their family.
Stuart Sovatsky (Director), also known as Jivanand, a marriage therapist for 30 years, was first choice to codirect Ram Dass's "prison ashram" and first in the US to bring yoga to the homeless mentally-ill in the 1970s. Stuart is Co-president of the Association for Transpersonal Psychology and a 20-year trustee for CIIS. He was initiating co-convener of the 40 country World Congress in Delhi, India where BKS Iyengar, SS Ravi Shankar and Robert Thurman keynoted.
Stuart is the author of Eros Consciousness & Kundalini, Words From the Soul, Your Perfect Lips, and "Euro-Hinduism" in the Columbia Reference on Eastern Religion as well as numerous articles and chapters on psychotherapy and tantra yoga with presentations throughout the US, India, Europe and in Axis Mundi and may also be found here. His BA is from Princeton and his Ph.D. from CIIS.
Shyam Sundar Dash is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. He is the Founder and President, and residing Priest of the Maa Batakali Temple in Puri, Orissa (India). He has spent his life dedicated to the goddess Kali, and also organizes for social change in his hometown under the auspices of the Maa Batakali Cultural Mission-Puri. In conjunction with Chandra, who serves as the Chairman of the Puri Branch, Shyam has developed a Constitution that provides guidance for programs of transformation in a multiplicity of arenas.
Shyam's injunction has always been, "Go...spread Mother Worship!" After learning of SHARANYA's most recent Kali Puja Festival (Fall 2008) and reading the program, Shyam wrote to our community, saying, "On reading the programme, I became very enchanted...I am proud that you are helping to fulfill my desire to spread Mother Worship outside of India and also hope that in the near future it will spread throughout the world. Go ahead, my blessing and the blessing of Mother Kali is with you."
Nyayaratna Chitrika, M.A. is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. Initiated by her parents into Shakta Tantra and the mysteries of Tara Mata, Chitrika has been a dedicated practitioner of the faith from her youth and a beloved child of Maa for as long as she can remember. Today, she leads homa (fire ceremony) rites, puja, and Tantric ritual for community regularly in Kolkata and Tarapith, West Bengal. A jotish (astrologer), she also brings this ancient wisdom to bear on her work with those she advises in the ways of the Divine Mother. "Joi Tara!"
Rashbehari Das is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. He is a temple Panda, or approved facilitator, at Kalighat Mandir in Kolkata, West Bengal. In addition to guiding SHARANYA pilgrims at this famous Shakta Pitha (the sacred site where Maa Kali's big toe is said to have fallen to Earth) for over ten years, Rashbehari is a child of Maa, offering her bhajans (songs) and playing tunes to delight Her on his harmonium.
Rashbehari's love of the Divine Mother is deep and infuses all he does. His graciousness, hospitality, delight in the Mystery, and care for those who seek to know Her is profound and has resulted in a long and deep friendship with the organization. He has also been instrumental in our discovery of the delight of Shyama Krishna, the Black Krishna, as found at Kalighat. "Hai Krishna Karuna Sindhu Dino Bhuntu Jagamapate Gopesha Gopeka Kanta Sri Radha Kanta Namo-stute!"
Milan K. Dinda, Ph.D. is an Advisor to SHARANYA and honorary Director of the corporation. Based in Kolkata (Calcutta), he is a Development Consultant and a researcher providing services to NGO/PVOs, research institutes, government bodies, universities, and donor agencies. He focuses on training, research, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, documentation, planning and budgeting. Further, he is a certified National Trainer and Researcher on HIV/AIDS, with qualifications as an abstract reviewer of different national and international conferences. Milan frequently presents papers at conferences worldwide on different issues of development, such as: the World Bank, sociology, demography, sustainable development and agriculture, women in development, children, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.
Ravi Jain is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. From Kolkata and now based in Toronto, Ontario (Canada), Ravi brings extensive experience to the organization from years of working in the nonprofit sector, both in India and Canada. His ability to work across cultures and translate among them is a gift he shares openly with our community.
Ravi has been a friend to the organization even prior to its official formation, helping guide inquiries and make introductions to people and places throughout the Indian subcontinent since 1998. Over the years, he has gifted our community with his willingness to aid with all manner of support, and has consistently opened both his home and his heart, facilitating understanding, relationship, and the building of bridges to his homeland.
Jeffrey J. Kripal is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. Professionally speaking, Jeff holds the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, where he is also the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies. He has written a number of books on comparative mystical literature, American countercultural translations of Asian religious traditions, and the history of Western esotericism from ancient Gnosticism to the New Age. These include: Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion (Chicago, 2007), The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion (Chicago, 2006), Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom: Eroticism and Reflexivity in the Study of Mysticism (Chicago, 2001), and Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna (Chicago, 1995).
He has also co-edited volumes with Wouter Hanegraaff on eroticism and Western esotericism, Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (University of Amsterdam Press, 2008); Glenn W. Shuck on the history of Esalen and the American counterculture, On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture (Indiana, 2005); with Rachel Fell McDermott on the many cultural incarnations of the Hindu Tantric goddess Kali, Encountering Kali: In the Margins, at the Center, in the West (California, 2003); with G. William Barnard on the ethical critique of mystical traditions, Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism (Seven Bridges, 2002); and with T.G. Vaidyanathan of Bangalore, India, on the dialogue between psychoanalysis and Hinduism, Vishnu on Freud's Desk: A Reader in Psychoanalysis and Hinduism (Oxford, 1999).
Spiritually speaking, Jeff underwent an overwhelming, spontaneous shakti-pat or initiatory experience in Calcutta in 1989 during Kali-Puja, about which, out of which, and toward which he has written, thought, taught, and intuited ever since (the fullest description of this event can be found in Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom), hence his Sanskrit motto on both his letterhead and business card: svapna-siddha, "realized in a dream." Hence also his desire to support spiritual communities like SHARANYA. Pretty much nothing about him that you read on the Internet is true.
Rajib Sharma is an Advisor to SHARANYA and an honorary Director of the corporation. His dedication to Goddess Kali and to Maa Kamakhya has led him to engaged spirituality, Tantrick initiation in the Vamacara system of Tantra Marga practiced in Kamrupa (Kamakhya), and advocacy on behalf of all Her creatures and the planet. From an ancient family of Chandi Pathak, temple readers of the Durga Saptashati at Sri Sri Kamakhya Mandir, Rajib has lived the essence of Maa through scholarship, historical restoration of culture and ritual, the publication of several books, including one on the Mahavidyas (Wisdom Goddesses), the creation of films on Tantra, facilitation of women's rights and education, and a selfless open offering of his heart and mind to those who seek Her.
Rajib is currently Chairman of the Foundation for Development Integration, a non-profit organization operating in Guwahati (Assam), and is the Programme Coordinator at the History and Heritage Research Centre of Sri Kamakhya, which he founded under the Kamakhya Temple Management Authority in 2001. In addition to his research work, Rajib established a library, museum, biodiversity conservation park, field gene bank for horticultural studies, and a website for the temple. Rajib has further initiated a project to conserve and reclaim the biological diversity of the Nilachal Hill and has initiated several horticultural projects to help preserve and document the variety of medicinal and ritual uses of plants. In December 2002, Rajib received the prestigious Krishi Visharad Samman from the Government of India for his contribution in the field of Sustainable Management of Plant Biodiversity and Conservation of Agro-biodiversity (Plant Genetic Resources).
For the past decade, he has worked with SHARANYA to help bring understanding of Her mysteries to Westerners and facilitate spiritual exploration and devotion to Maa at the holy shrine of Sri Sri Maa Kamakhya, the great Shakti Pitha, or Seat of the Goddess, in Assam.
kāmākhyāṃ kāmasampanāṃ kāmesvarīṃ harapriyāṃ |
kāmanāṃ dehi me nityaṃ kāmesvarī namo-stute ||
(Devi Kamakhya Pranam Mantra)
"This sacred land of spiritual upliftment, the abode of Srī Srī Kāmākhyā, is a land offering connection to what resides both here and beyond. When the rest of the world is agog with material pleasure, the life that is present in Her abode seems to be the summum bonum of humanity's yearning; we come to Her abode and drink the pleasure of life to the dregs, taking back with us to ordinary reality the deepest wisdoms."
yā kālī paramā vidyā brahmarupā sanātanī |
kāmākhyā saiba deveśi sarvasiddhivinodinī ||
You, Kali, Ultimate Mother, the one who is the form of the Absolute Eternal;
Kamakhya, Goddess of Desire, in you reside all powers.