Oom the Omnipotent: Nyack's Risque Past

The start of a series of blogs about one of the most mysterious men ever to live in the Nyack area

Shortly after the end of World War I, as Upper Nyack started to return to a more docile and unassuming life, new neighbors moved into the old Nyack Country Club on Broadway. The Brae Burn Club renovated the closed mansion and soon placed a
sign over the entrance that read: “Here a philosopher may dance and the fool wear a thinking cap.”

The club was well-connected and supported by wealthy followers and socialites. Their practice of hatha yoga was quite novel to the longtime residents, and rumors, criticism and scandal mongering quickly began to spread through the Nyack community.

There was an inner-circle of the club called “The Secret Order of Tantriks,” with a number of very wealthy people as members. Their guru, Pierre A. Bernard, was known as “Oom the Omnipotent.”  His initiates would chant their version of the Tibetan prayer wheel mantra—Oom ma na padma oom… Oom ma na padma oom—while Bernard lectured on the abstruse Hinda Vedanta and yoga teachings in a crisp, simple language. The chanting sounded like the beat of a drum and, if kept up long enough, would often induce a state of ecstasy.

Bernard, affectionately known as PA to his students, called himself a “Shastri,” the equivalent in our world of a Doctor of Divinity and a Medical Doctor combined. He would explain to his neighbors that the tantric sides of his yoga activities were confined to a sensible scheme of sex education allied with psycho-physical health.  He only wanted to teach men and women to love, and make women feel like queens, he said. But

Bernard taught his followers a great deal more. He taught them Tantriks worshipped the beautiful and the sublime. Sometimes, he would select as an object of concentration a beautiful girl of about fifteen years and deck her out with the finest jewels and clothes. Tantriks also performed their daily services in private chapels, and often placed before them an unclad woman. His apt students learned sex worship is a religion and constitutes the basis of all that is sacred, holy and beautiful.

Oom, as a true Tantrik, was a practitioner of Tantra, a ritualistic system in certain religions of the Orient. The rites of Tantra are grossly shameless and often invoke Sakti, the Hindu Goddess of female energy. Allegedly, men and women with a yen for one another invoke her name as a couple and are able to make love hour after hour without any reduction of male potency or female desire.

Bernard’s enlightened work in body building and character training attracted the interests of Dr. Charles Francis Potter, a liberal New York City minister and founder of “Humanism.” Potter wrote that Bernard had all the earmarks of genius, and combined knowledge of age-old Indian methods of curing disease of mind and body with the best of Western methods, plus a refreshing amount of common sense.” Quite naturally, many well-know and talented people visited the club and became members.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Almost too good to be true. As I read and think more about it, I begin to wonder who was “Oom the Omnipotent?” Was he what he claimed to be?

More to follow.

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Helen September 15, 2011 at 02:27 PM
Jim, love reading your blog about the past days of Nyack, especially because I live in the house that you grew up in, your column is the first I turn to when I receive the Nyack Villager.
James F. Leiner September 15, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Thank you Helen. we still have to make a "date" to get together and chat about the house and the neighorhood..Looke forward to sitting on the front porch once more
John Gromada September 16, 2011 at 12:16 AM
I'm not sure 'throwing under the bus' is the right metaphor - that's a little harsh; maybe "stealing your thunder' is more like it. Sorry- didn't mean to.
Richard September 16, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Jim, I am the "resident manager" of the Oom the Omnipotent website. I think we met maybe 10 years ago when my wife and I were in Nyack doing research on Bernard? Yes, The Great Oom is a fantastic book and is definitive. Bob Love did an amazing job, but there is always more to know about Bernard. Please keep posting. Yours, Rick Stringer-Hye, Nashville.
johnnyangel10 September 19, 2011 at 11:09 PM


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