Dr. Douglas Brooks: Conversation & Statement re: John Friend & Anusara Yoga.

Via on Feb 15, 2012

Douglas Brooks, talking about his own teacher:

I wanted to make him a hero.

He would have none of it, no singular guru.

I said, Appa, how many gods are there?

He replied, “There are 330 million, and they are all you.”

Are all the gods really One or is there One God?

Appa said, “There’s not one of anything.”

~

Waylon Lewis: First of all, thanks, Dr. Brooks, for [the below] letter and further context into what’s been going on and where we’re going [re: John Friend and Anusara Yoga].

I’m so glad you talked at length about the notion of guru. To me, having grown up in a wonderful Buddhist tradition that nevertheless had two major scandals, and knowing other communities and teachers who’ve been through similar difficulties, the root cause that keeps causing these painful episodes is theism—our human tendency to fall for charisma and power. In the student’s case, we worship fame, charm and wisdom, and in the teacher’s case, too often, they get drunk off the power of community and the teachings.

Why did your guru say he didn’t want to be worshipped?

Douglas Brooks: My teacher saw “god” or the gods as reflections and refractions of our human experience: the process of “worship” is yet another way to experience ourselves, nature, culture, the universe through the lens of human experience. We mean to become more human—that was divine enough for him. When he invited me to live in his house I am certain that it was because he wanted me to see his humanity; his flaws and doubts, his trials and joys, the whole of our experience. That was the point he was always trying to make: that to delve more deeply into our humanity is the divine.

Waylon Lewis: That’s great. Trungpa Rinpoche talked a lot about “kitchen sink dharma.” He always tried to undermine his students’ projections of what spirituality looked like, and talked constantly about the notion of “non-theism”—how this path isn’t about worship or faith but rather that we’re all fundamentally decent and have dignity and we don’t need to be rock star groupies—that groupie-ism is in some way a dangerous, unhealthy and unnecessary entertainment.

So it seems like you’re the man for this hour.

We put folks up on pedestals and of course they’re never perfect. And if they think they’re perfect, then quickly like Icarus they burn themselves up and, in this case, burn others as they do so. So how can we in yoga or spiritual communities stop falling into hero worship?

Douglas Brooks: We all need community, because to realize our potential as human beings we need the love, the support, and the evolution of valuable conversation. As yogis we mean to engage deeply, to yoke ourselves. To what? To each other, to the things we understand to be of worth and value, to the possibilities a universe so vast offers. But to create deeper engagement we must nurture a conversation of peers. We must learn the difference between deference and submission. We defer to allow others to do their job well, express their gifts, and make an offering to the community—but we don’t submit, we don’t abdicate the responsibility to conscience. We become better, greater when we realize that we can accomplish more together, far more, than we could ever achieve alone. Enlightenment is a collective experience.

Waylon Lewis: Beautiful. So if we are vigilant, all of us reading this, from now on, about never abdicating our critical intelligence as Trungpa called it or “the responsibility to conscience,” as you say, then we can help to prevent future such sad, painful episodes? Because otherwise it seems like all we’re doing is dealing with this situation—which is vital.

But we’ll keep repeating history if we don’t learn from this. It’s important, for all of us in positions of responsibility and leadership in our own lives and jobs, to listen to criticism from those who offer it with love.

Douglas Brooks: We need more than the vigilant efforts of good conscience. We need models of collective authority, communities that work to create models of shared power. My teacher always said, the guru is the kula, the community. We acknowledge the importance of credentials, achievement, talent, experience, and great heart but we must delegate the seat of authority, the seat of the teacher, each to their gifts and for the benefit of the community. No one would want me teaching a hatha yoga class! But you might want me around for other things. It’s a sometimes messy business, but when power is decentralized from a single authority, then we have a chance. In the past week we saw a community rally to conversation and collective support. When some learned that an “elite” group was in conversation they wanted to be included, that’s natural, or questioned the group’s membership. I urged folks to rally their own friends and colleagues and start conversations of their own, trust in processes of collaboration, know that we take care of each other when we are transparent and accountable.

Waylon Lewis: Fantastic. This sounds a little like a debate about monarchy vs. communism!

So, on the other hand, how can we keep such episodes from making us all too fear-based—making up rules that don’t even really work except to stifle the magic of practice and community? Seems to me many such liberal communities, having been through scandal, become incredibly rigid and humorless and uptight…understandably trying to prevent future inappropriate behavior. But the PC-ness becomes another sort of problem.

For instance, at Naropa University, which “Crazy Wisdom” Trungpa Rinpoche founded, they’re now so afraid of controversy that they have a rule against serving alcohol at faculty parties. How can we walk the Middle Way here?

Douglas Brooks: We need to learn how to affirm the fullness of our human experience.

Fear can be a constructive experience when we learn not to deny or repress, and understand its role in empowering experience. There is no courage without some important element of fear to empower the heroic act. My teacher called this process “radical affirmation.” When we create inclusive conversation about every human possibility, then community can understand that everything we humans were born with can become an asset to our understanding.

Buddhists create the strategy of the Middle Way, while in our south Indian Tantra we talk about how we learn to expand with boundaries, but not exceed them.

The community needs to begin with the notion that we are already free beings: what lies before us is how we yoke ourselves. What’s valuable enough that you would yoke yourself, commit yourself so that there is more at stake than merely your own narrow interests? When we have clear boundaries, then we have no limits.

Waylon Lewis: But not boundaries based on fear alone. Fear yes is a good and necessary instinct or constructive force as you say if we understand its role in allowing us to live life fully.

One last question: I know you and John have been close for many years, but clearly you regard your friendship not as blind support but as caring enough to be kindly but clearly critical. How should we all regard John, right now? Clearly there is a lot of understandable anger. He is human and obviously flawed, but just as clearly has great gifts.

Will he take a meaningful retreat to work on himself? If he does so, can we welcome him back within clear boundaries, as you say?

Douglas Brooks: We all acknowledge and respect John’s great gifts as a hatha yoga teacher. I hope he pursues the challenges ahead for him to create a healthier and richer self-understanding. However we, his friends and community, choose to express our support for his process, it is up to him to step into new possibilities.

I love John as a brother and want him to know that I will always offer him my friendship, compassion, and counsel anytime he reaches out to me.

As for his relationship to the Anusara community, he will need to rebuild the trust that yokes words to actions…and the rest will evolve.

Waylon Lewis: Thank you, Dr. Brooks! Great to reconnect. You’re my favorite Tantra Godfather. Respect!

~ Statement from Douglas Brooks ~

My relationship to Anusara Yoga began on the day John Friend and I collaborated to create the name.  We’d met a few years before that when we had each been invited without conditions to offer our work in the context of Siddha Yoga.

I like to joke that I am Anusara’s godfather, though we all know that I know next to nothing about teaching methods of contemporary hatha yoga.  I write today to comment on my role in the recent disclosures and the controversy that continues to unfold.

Let me begin by saying how my heart is heavy and that I am truly sad for the community of Anusara…so, so many friends and folks who might call me “teacher” or “scholar,” and for my old friend, John who I know is suffering.  I feel compassion for him, but I chose not to stand beside him during the current Anusara event in Miami.  I wanted to support the Anusara community who gathered from around the world. And my colleague, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. William K. Mahony, I know did everything he could to bring dignity, honesty, and beauty to the subject under discussion. I was personally invited to teach in Miami, but declined. Allow me to explain why.

Last week I was involved in hours upon hours of conversation in which my counsel was requested.  I presented vigorous and sometimes blunt argument and commentary.  I never intended to be incendiary, indulge in vitriol, or create an agenda.  I have no desire or intention to bring down John Friend. Quite the contrary, I attempted to offer a beginning to the remodeling of Anusara in a dramatic, perhaps drastic way—one that would allow John to be re-admitted into the conversation of his peers as a teacher, perhaps even as a leader.

I argue with passion, as anyone who knows me knows, and I tried and will continue to make my points with transparent revelation of any personal interest.  I love my friends.  My friends asked me for my help.  I am sure not everyone in that circle of deep conversation either knows me or appreciates my style.  Some may suspect my motives, so all I can do is let the record of words speak as the best evidence of my honest intentions.

To be clear, John called me with real pain in his voice to ask me with humility if I would “stand with him” because he felt the need to speak at the Miami event.  He wanted me as a teacher of yoga students to teach in some capacity with him and others, to share the stage.  But it was primarily because my advice was so contrary to the notion that John should sit in the seat of the teacher and that my primary suggestion involved creating an entirely new model of leadership that I declined to participate.

(Bill Mahony was spared this long week of private conversation and entered the room in Miami without any ties to the current situation.  Bill acted out of pure generosity, integrity, and decency. We spoke very little before he made his decision due to our mutual obligations, and since the invitation to him came at the 11th hour, such as it was.  I am not going to presume to speak for Bill except to offer my unqualified support for his great effort and admiration for his scholarship and his amazing heart.)

John—during the period after these serious allegations were made—argued for his participation in the seat of the teacher.  That, I believe, was a mistake, because as a practical matter I believed a number of teachers would take umbrage at this decision.  It is impossible to say if the alternative(s) proposed–and I don’t mean only “mine” but rather that I only speak for myself here by saying that it begins with John choosing not to teach—would have produced a better result than the current situation.

Let me summarize my practical counsel, for which I take complete responsibility, which was not in agreement with other views.  I presented an argument in the way an academic or a counselor would, and I believe that the august members of this circle are each perfectly capable of making up their own minds.  To suggest that I persuaded them or in any way cajoled them, I believe, would insult their great gifts.  These are all smart, dedicated, and good people, many of whom have been true friends to me and, I am privileged to say, have studied with me as a teacher.  I have only admiration for all involved in the conversations and honestly respect those who supported John’s conclusion that he should teach as their own good sense of what was best for all.

My arguments cut deeply into the history of yoga traditions, the transmission and invention of contemporary hatha yoga, and my understandings gathered from personal experience and from the wisdom of my teacher.  (In a word: my own teacher was by any measure an authentic proponent of a particular tradition of south Indian Tantra, whose views I readily acknowledge are in some variance–often with dramatic differences—from so-called “traditional” or we might say “purist” views.  There are as many “Tantras” as there are authentic proponents and I make it clear when I am representing my teacher’s tradition or that of the academic study of religions.  The latter attempts a fair and deeply empathetic effort to explain all views with honesty and clarity.  Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but as a scholar-practitioner I see no basic conflict between these projects.  In fact, I see academic and spiritual studies as entirely complementary.)

Last week, I argued there was another way to Occupy Anusara, to provide the space to bring John the help he needs for his eventual re-admission to his community gracefully as a peer among his students.

My premise was simple: if John did not assume the seat of the teacher in any respect for a decisive period of transformation, then Anusara Yoga stood a better chance of preventing fracture and confusion in the community.

Here’s my take on larger matters.  The allegations of misconduct directed at John are matters the gravity of which cannot be diminished. Whether he is guilty of any criminal behavior is entirely beyond the purview of this conversation. What we must consider are community standards and expectations of leadership within a model of authority created by Anusara’s sole proprietorship and the model that involves the de facto recognition of a guru, the teacher of extraordinary gifts and value.

I believe a fundamental issue here involves the relationship of authority and power within the history of yoga, even the history of contemporary hatha yoga.  In sum, I oppose in principle the notion that any one voice can claim authority to speak for others and represent them without mechanisms of accountability to those represented.  In sum, I oppose tyranny of any kind, any model in which one person is the superior over all other “equals.”

In practical terms, another way to describe this despotism is through the model of the “guru,” by which I mean nothing more than only one person in community, the Kula, possessing an authority of inordinate determinative powers, worldly and spiritual.

In my own tradition, which my teacher called Rajanaka Tantra, no single human being could maintain the seat of the guru.  The guru is a plural, never a singular.  When I advised John years ago—when he chose not to associate with my teacher’s tradition—that was the right thing for him to do. He wanted to be a “big tent” and to permit individuals to create their own spiritual identities under a “Tantric-inspired” teaching.  I told him that was great, that I would be happy to explain different traditions as an educator.  No one need subscribe, “align,” or agree with the advocacy of my own tradition, which would be presented alongside all others as a peer.  Further, I advised him not to attempt to create any “new” Tantra of his own. In 2005 or so, which is when these conversations occurred, he agreed that Anusara Yoga was a style of hatha yoga, and to his credit he has always maintained that he is not a guru much less an “enlightened being.” Without engaging in any further discourse here about the lofty and sublime notions of the guru, the guru-principle, etc., my concerns were practical as well as ideological.  Any guru situation that implies or manifests a position of spiritual superiority is, as I see it, deeply vulnerable to corruption.

This points to our next conversation.

I argued in 2005 that with me or without me: John must define Anusara by gathering an increasing number of “senior” teachers, acknowledge their gifts and the authority they possess, and so create a growing circle of peers in which he sees himself as only another peer. He would then be held accountable, diffuse power from himself, effectively dissolve the innately corrupt model of the one guru that claims equality for all but actually vests power in only one person. Again, I am not interested here in a lofty examination of the “guru-principle.” I am instead explaining how my own teacher taught that the “one guru” model is an inadequate model for human organization.  We, as human beings, may claim divine or spiritual experiences of all sorts but we always answer to each other, we never relinquish our human responsibilities to anything less than collaborative authorities.

John refused my suggestion, claiming that all of his teachers were equal and that my idea was “hierarchy” and his “equality.”  Rather, I explained that my idea, which was my own teacher’s understanding of the guru, was an acknowledgment of deference to those who have earned their credentials under critical scrutiny in a model that means only to increase the number of peers, insists on inclusion in all decision-making, works the messy business of authority by making sure that no one person holds the reins. Rather, the “seat of the teacher” moves with all the members of the Kula, the community.  Many have heard me lecture about this concept: we in Rajanaka Tantra do not believe in the oneness of authority.  We believe that the divine is only discovered as and through our vulnerable, flawed, and human nature.  If this means that “God” is just as incomplete, unfinished, and uncertain as we humans are, then so be it.  The difficult and sometimes flawed business of using our minds and hearts to the best of our abilities together is the Rajanaka notion of a spiritual life of community.

Anusara as John created it, in my opinion, created “equality” among his students but averred implicitly to the notion that the sole proprietor (in this case, John) is the singular source of all authority.  John need not consult or he might consult, but Anusara is his business and in the most mundane and utterly practical way this not only a Western business model—but also another example of a guru model.  And if it is not really a presentation of the guru, it is the perception of gurus as authorities that is too real to ignore.

I am not rejecting the concept of a great teacher to which one defers with commitment, devotion, and love. Rather, I am insisting that gurus are accountable to their students for the entirety of their actions. No one gets a pass.  This understanding may be considered anathema to some traditions of the guru that speak to the abilities of a human being to become “Shiva in human flesh” or whomever is the manifest form of perfection (whatever might be meant by that).  Now, in our society, the sole proprietor of a business has total control, which means one must submit to the control of the given product (in this case, “Anusara”) to that principal.

The worst justification of despotic rule invariably comes from a model that vests too much power in one person, because these are the makings of a “cult.”  My teacher taught me that as we learn together, truth is a collective and collaborative experience that must include the possibilities of doubt and error.  To hold the seat of teacher is also to give it up and share it, that our jobs followed the old adage: “to surpass the master is to repay the debt” in such a way that no one individual would ever be regarded as the one in power.

Now to the present. Last week I argued that Anusara could begin with a revolution that displaces this practical model of the de facto guru who has singular control over the teachings and identity of the organization. Occupy Anusara could have been “led” by John if he declined to take the seat of the teacher, realizing that he had violated the community’s trust (no matter the truth of allegations) and that his style and form of leadership had made Anusara yet another cliché of the fallen guru cult that so easily identifies yoga and/or of the powerful man who has fallen and asks for forgiveness.  I argued to spare John any public humiliation but demonstrate through his actions rather than words that he is serious about his personal issues and that Anusara belongs to the community he has fostered.  It neither meant to protect nor spare him a comeuppance, because he will face his own issues as time unfolds.

From the outside, Anusara may look like another guru cult, like it or not, even if that is a “false” understanding. Let’s keep it real. The idea was to give John a better option by removing himself entirely from the teacher’s seat, to change the model of what it means to practice Yoga. My argument maintained that Anusara could actually revolutionize the narrative of yoga itself if the styles of contemporary hatha yoga are to be spared the cultic accusations that are naturally leveled against “fallen gurus.”

It matters not whether John claimed to be a guru; it matters not whether this perception is a misunderstanding of the guru-principle. What does matter is that human communities need to organize with accountability that creates mechanisms and standards of behavior that apply to all.  Further, it could be that Anusara Yoga becomes an example rather than the cliché or the cult.

The details of how such a new model of shared authority and credible voice were not further pursued, because John insisted that he present at his Miami event.

The Miami event was long planned and his self-disqualification would have all sorts of practical and business consequences.  My idea may have been too idealistic or impractical.  But somehow if John were to disqualify himself from teaching and make sure not to allow this event to become a premature foray into forgiveness and redemption, he could at some time in the future be re-admitted to the community as a teacher of stature. I argued last week that John had, at least temporarily, lost authority to speak for his community and to teach in his community. The damage to Anusara would be made worse, I suggested, if he took the seat of the teacher because some would surely take an ethical stand to dissociate from the organization because he had not sufficiently separated the man from the message. I thought this the better strategy, and anyone inside our conversations knows I made this argument repeatedly.

Just as importantly, the yoga world needs an example now of a new model of the teacher who leads a large organization.  I suggested that John himself could provide that model by reframing the narrative of the “guru” in truly democratic terms.  The community would rally to John’s healing rather than forgive him before the serious matters of the allegations are better understood.

John argued for his role, for the need to speak, and I argued perhaps too vociferously that he had lost that prerogative to make that decision for the community. As I see it, that’s how it went down.  I’m sure there will be different versions of this understanding, just like there are those who believe John had every right to speak, and needed to.  I respect all of these differences of opinion.  It was not my job, as I see it, to do more than offer an understanding, because I was asked to be involved.

I am deeply sad for all of the yogis and teachers who have suffered and are suffering now in the Anusara community.  I am so very sad for my friend John.  I wish him every good thing, health, and prosperity.  I have not commented here on the substance of the allegations, or any admissions of behavior.  Adults have relationships, all sorts of things happen in life, and these situations are not all the same. Everyone’s private life deserves our respect.

It is our public life to which we are held especially accountable and, as leaders of communities, we must meet the standards of conduct established by community.

Douglas Brooks

Professor of Religion

~

Douglas Brooks is a scholar of Hinduism, south Asian languages, and the comparative study of religions.  He lived in India with his teacher, Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy, studying and practicing Srividya, Auspicious Wisdom, and the modern traditions of goddess-centered Rajanaka Tantra.  A graduate of Harvard University, he has been Professor of Religion at the University of Rochester in New York for the past 25 years.

If you would like to know more about the traditions of Rajanaka Tantra or to engage in studies of yoga philosophy and the history of Indian spiritualities, visit rajanaka.com and srividyalaya.com.

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Comments

94 Responses to “Dr. Douglas Brooks: Conversation & Statement re: John Friend & Anusara Yoga.”

  1. Thank you for that statement Douglas. It casts so much light on the need to evolve the model itself… I love that idea of the teacher increasing the number of peers so all may share authority for the direction of the community. Makes so much sense, and helps me to understand questions I've had about teaching, and having a teacher, for many years. Really appreciate your candour, and rigour.

  2. Vesna Petrovich says:

    Thank you Douglas for helping us understand the broader perspective and the choices that were possible.

  3. TaraFirma says:

    Thank you Douglas, i wanted to hear your side of the story.

    As a student of Anusara, I saw it another way..I decided to go to Miami to see John after the allegations. I knew there was very biased information out there, and wanted to listen to him face to face, tell his side of the story. I wanted to give him a chance to speak before I lay down my judgement of him, before I decided to stand beside him, leave or somewhere in between.

    I was not alone. People were there to hear him teach, people from different cultures who also look at the allegations as none of our business, people who don’t hold him in the guru light, but simply as a damned goog hath a yoga teacher.

    I also knew I was possibly going to get a biased perspective from him, but it was his chance to speak publicly that I thought was serving the greater good, and had he cancelled this week, I would have felt like he was avoiding, choosing the easy road by going into hiding.

    I saw him sit there uncomfortably, I saw him torn between two worlds, and I saw him act out his svadharma, despite what others thought his charms should be.

    The first day, instead of teaching, he gave the class over to other teachers, I’m sure in hopes to satisfy parts of the committee. We were disappointed. I came to see John, to have a very frank conversation about relationships with him, delving into perhaps what he has learned by betraying them…watching him get up after being knocked down.

    I realize there are allegations, business allegations that we did not discuss, things Amy Ippolitti has put forward that offer yet another perspective…different facets of the jewel that is.

    I gratefully respect these different perspectives.

    John has never been my Guru, nd if he ever were, if any of my teachers ever were, I was MySelf that put them so high up there. I own that. If they fall from so high up, they fall on me, we both get hurt. I looked to John as my peer. I respect(ed) his teachings. The Anusara yoga method has spoken to me in a way no other method has. I will always respect and remember him as my teacher, no matter how mich he has ‘messed up’ in his private or business life. That will never go away.

    Because I did not rely on him as a guru, when he fell, he fell as a peer, another human, I’m compelled to walk over to and check pulse, see how I can help, instead of walk away from. I respect that others have different perspectives, again, I’m just one facet.

    I was reading online what I thought were rumor-mongering lies on the Internet, and during my search for more clarity, have laidnjudgement on the blind mudslingers,on those who leave because of the pack mentality, instead of their own clear thoughtful reasons. I am also guilty of questioning people when they publicly announce they are leaving if I don’t feel an adequate answer…no matter that it’s reallly none of my business. Guilty. I’m a sucker for the underdog I guess.

    Yours and Amys articles are the first from the other side that I feel have been succinct and clear enough for me to find MY middle ground…where I choose to stand. Thank you both for that.

    For what it’s worth, I DO see some major business flaws in the business of Anusara and I DO think they need to be seriously addressed before Anusara can heal. I also fully support John being in the community, under line of fire this week in Miami…in public, in the eyes of the kula. By offering my perspective I hope that other senior teachers and committees will see that.

    After that?

    Well change is inevitable. Let’s just say I’m watching. Watching with my heart blown wide open.

    Blessings to all communities at ts time.

  4. Rick Powell says:

    Thanks for presenting this so openly Douglas. I deeply appreciate your clarity and perspective . Thank You

  5. myriamsofialluria says:

    Brilliant, as usual! Thank you Douglas.

  6. Tadasana says:

    “the yoga world needs an example now of a new model of the teacher who leads a large organization.” I do not see why. The only conceivable reason for such a large organization is commercial.

  7. HereNOw says:

    Thank you, Dr. Brooks.

    And I have to echo what “Yogi” stated in an earlier comment: some of these accusations, which no one is denying, are so troubling that Anusara will have a hard time doing more than liming along unless John steps aside, far aside, for a very long time.

  8. Mark says:

    Dr. Brooks…I am not familiar with your south indian tradition but I think that I can assume that it has a fairly long lineage. If I am wrong please correct me. In any discussion of Anusara there is no mention of a Practice Lineage which has shown results other than the notion that some how it is related to Hatha Yoga. You have the blessings of your Guru. Your kula/sangha is the masters of that lineage. Buddhists often misconstrue the meaning of sangha as being the “community” of like-practitioners, this is inaccurate. The actual sangha are the masters and Gurus who reside in the refuge tree. From an outsiders POV Anusara lacks the blessings of realized practitioners who have gone before. There certainly is no mention of them. I am also curious as to why the discussions are so “spiritually” based over such an obvious business as usual issue

  9. […] Dr. Douglas Brooks: Conversation & Statement re: John Friend & Anusara Yoga.. […]

  10. Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

    I have long wondered why someone of Douglas Brooks's stature would lend his credibility to Anusara, Inc.

    As an outsider who only became interested in Anusara in the past year or so, what I discerned corresponded exactly to what Amy Ippoliti listed in her EJ post today: "Self-rationalization of behaviors toward the world; Unresponsive to the world as a whole; Disconnection from society; Required submission to the group versus truly welcoming input; Unquestioning acquiescence: following blindly," etc. etc. etc. It was all pretty obvious to those with eyes to see (which, of course, is easier when you have no vested interests, personal ties, etc. I recognize that things are much, much more complicated when you're on the inside. But that's not my concern here.)

    While I'm relieved to see Mr. Brooks advocating for some much needed rationality, responsibility, and reality-checking in this community, personally I don't think that he goes nearly far enough in this post. Given his exceptional level of credentials and stature in the yoga community, not to mention society at large, I'm going to be harder on him than I would on someone who doesn't have the same level of resources and authority.

    1. It bothers me tremendously that there are still people running around touting their "scholarly" credentials (MAs from Harvard, Berkeley, etc.) who are carrying on the old JF agenda of making up a what's supposedly a new, "authentically traditional" Tantric lineage that leads straight from some thousand year old texts right to JF (and themselves) as the "truest" and "most powerful" incarnations of Hatha yoga. As someone who has academic credentials and experience herself, I know for a fact that this invocation of "scholarly" credentials is 100% misleading – no respected faculty member at a good university would ever in a million years countenance the ad hoc arguments and shallow theorizing represented in these arguments. Mr. Brooks is the only person (as far as I know) in the Anusara world who actually has solid scholarly credentials. Why isn't he calling this out as the fraud that it is? His silence is troubling, particularly in light of not only recent, but ongoing events.

    2. It's great to study Tantra and ancient Indian spirituality. But I think that it's more than obvious that a serious study of psychology is also warranted – not only to better understand the deeper dynamics of the Asusara scandal, but to set up the democratic model that Mr. Brooks speaks of in a way that's grounded in a solid understanding of how and why the personal and interpersonal dynamics at the root of the Anusara problem are so common – not only in yoga and spiritual communities, but in human society in general. Education needs to be deep, yes, but also broad, drawing from the best resources available to address the problems at hand. I don't see Mr. Brooks taking the lead in broadening the education of the Anusara and ex-Anusara community out from its unhealthy, narrow focus on "Tantra."

    I offer these critical comments with respect as on outside observer who cares about the evolution of contemporary North American yoga and believes that the Anusara/ex-Anusara communities have important roles to play in that – whether for good or for ill. This scandal could be a turning point of some sort – but it will be what we all collectively make it. Personally, given his stature as a leader, scholar, and educator, I don't believe that Mr. Brooks has yet gone far enough.

  11. rico says:

    I too am an outsider who has no connection to Anusara except for friends who are Anusara teachers and students. I agree with much of what Mark brings up but while this is indeed fundamentally about business true spirituality is not divorced from everyday life and that includes business as well.

  12. Bob Keaty says:

    In the Hindu canon of mythical storytelling we can find many examples of flawed gods and humans that can help us reflect upon the current situation within the Anusara kula. Your insight, Douglas, is invaluable because, although not prescriptive, it does create room for us to ponder our own role in and relationship to what has taken place – how much personal authority and responsibility for our lives did we surrender to an idea and a guru – and allow us the opportunity to step forward in a fully-informed and awakened state to decide how we want to move forward. This is beyond blame: it starts with the acceptance of life as it is and challenges us not to abdicate our responsibility for our lives and a spiritual consciousness. People, and life, simply do not 'live up' to many of our fantasies and expectations. Our responses now will determine what the kula will become: John Friend is just one of the stories we can tell to let others know how we chose to live our lives.

  13. […] will never be as they once were. With Amy’s elegant articulation of her experience and with Douglas’ thoughtful and transparent arguments I believe I now have the perspective I was longing for. I eat […]

  14. macpanther says:

    Of all of the things that have been written about the situation thus far, this helps me see most clearly what is at stake, and what is the context in which all of this occurs. What Dr. Brooks has taught has infused what I have absorbed and and continue to absorb from my teachers. I am very grateful he as come forward with these carefully chosen words, and I will sit with them.

  15. Dearest Douglas,

    Your clarity and insight into this very complex set of issues and circumstances is especially heartfelt. I also understand the guru prinicple and whether or not John called himself a guru or secretly thought he was or was not a guru is of no significance. The masses of humanity for whatever reason choose to make someone a guru because of their special gifts and talents, and the individuals receiving this admiration become full of this worship and loose sight of the truth and of reality as it currently exists. I am so sorry that again human nature has cause so much termoil, deceiving us and devasting us by inappropriate personal choices. Choices made by a single individual who has lost sight of living in integrity with responsibility to their community and what the consequences of those choices entails. There is so much saddness by so many. Thank you again for your transparency and integrity as a friend to John. I am sorry he chose not to listen to your advice.

  16. Douglas Brooks says:

    Those who have followed events in the past few years know that John and I parted ways philosophically speaking in 2005 when he didn't wish to connect more directly to my spiritual lineage, such as my teacher's understandings of Tantra. Initially I commended John's "big tent" where his work was merely "inspired" by Tantric spiritualities and there was no claim to connect ancient sources to his work. This struck me as a plausible stance with regard to history and traditions. Then he evolved more recently his Shiva-Shakti Tantra without my knowledge or input. If John asked any other scholar about his desire to create, as it were, his own "lineage" or understanding, I am not aware of that. When he mentioned that this project was soon to be published during a brief conversation (I had no idea it was coming) I strongly discouraged him and told him plainly that he didn't have enough grounding in the materials much less a connection to the living traditions. Should I have made that criticism public? Perhaps in retrospect I should have? What I did instead was not talk about "Shiva-Shakti Tantra" but continued, as I have since the beginning of my association with John and others in the community, to educate folks about the array of traditions and to be clear when I was speaking about my own. Whenever an Anusara friend asked me about Shiva-Shakti Tantra I didn't hesitate to say that I had no idea what John was doing with this even as they were being instructed to teach it as their curriculum. I urged each teacher who asked me to teach what she or he knows and to rely upon their education and their personal experience. But when I have spoken to members of the Anusara community in public for these many years I tried to make clear that I was never speaking for Anusara, for John, or about his ideas. Did I criticize John's invention of Shiva-Shakti Tantra? In public, no because this would have put teachers on the spot. When individual teacher's asked, I gave them my counsel and opinions. I hope that makes things clearer.

    I warmly welcome serious studies of psychology and am working with credentialed psychologists in collaboration so that I might learn more about their training, insights, and the subject. I welcome every contribution to advancing the study of spirituality and human endeavor. I hope to continue to learn and draw from these materials, allowing the professionals in psychology to do their job and educate me and the rest of us too. I will try to continue to advance my own understandings and do better as a scholar to represent the history of Indian traditions. I welcome this invitation from Carol and others to enter the conversation with their insights and work. I'm all in. I agree entirely that yoga— in the broadest sense of inclusion— in North America (and elsewhere) will continue to play important roles in people's lives.

    I hope my efforts in education and understanding the variety of yoga traditions can contribute to these on-going conversations and that we will be inclusive of other expertise and insight that will advance our collective efforts. May education be deep and broad, as Carol says. Let us study yoga together, Patanjali tells us. I bet he didn't have this in mind but I think we entirely agree that we need an education both deep and broad. I look forward to learning together, I hope you receive me as an open mind and a willing heart in that process.

  17. TGC says:

    Douglas – Thank you. As alwasy, your letters and comments are beautifully written with such intelligence behind them. Thank you.

    TaraFIrma – I try hard to understand yours and others like yours stance on the subject. Thank you for offering your view point. I know you do not stand alone. My next comments are not necessarily directed at you.
    It does, however, turn my stomach to watch such "love and respect" still outpouring for a man who at worst has committed ciminal acts and at best acted in unethical ways. It just adds to the perception that Anusara yogis are blind followers, brain washed, and still drinking up the "Kula-aid." All those who are "lovingly" standing by Mr. Friend need to move to Colorado City.
    My love and well wishes for healing go out to those women and families affected by his actions. He and his blind faith followers get no pity or flowery yoga languange from me. In fact, they will not get my business either.

    Thanks again Douglas and TeraFirma for offering your view points. Thanks EJ for all the work you do.

  18. mauromar says:

    Put yoga and the white man in a blender and you get…money-money-money!
    Actually, for that matter, put anything in "the blender" mixed with the white man mentality and what you are going to get is, well, a good money-making scheme.
    Someone should make a song about how yoga became a money making channel, a product, called Anusara.
    Anusara by the way is not the only yoga product out there -far from it.
    Money-money-money!
    John Friend is not the first -nor will he be the last- to dissapoint his followers after failing to keep his dirty little secrets in the laundry bag.
    In the end, yoga -no matter what yo call it- is just a combination of breathing and stretching exercises. Nothing more.
    For folks like Friend, and his business Anusara, the notion of practicing a "divine magic" that heals all evils is simply unsustainable. He is far from pure, divine, balanced, or any of the other funky words used to describe Anusara.
    We are all people, just people, living through good days and bad ones too.

  19. Rick Widdifield says:

    Succinct, clear, and profoundly helpful. Thanks Douglas!

  20. Douglas,

    I applaud your responses in the interview and in your letter.

    I am especially moved to comment on the following statement of yours:

    "We need models of collective authority, communities that work to create models of shared power. My teacher always said, the guru is the kula, the community. We acknowledge the importance of credentials, achievement, talent, experience, and great heart but we must delegate the seat of authority, the seat of the teacher, each to their gifts and for the benefit of the community. No one would want me teaching a hatha yoga class! But you might want me around for other things. It’s a sometimes messy business, but when power is decentralized from a single authority, then we have a chance."

    Such a model exists: the sangha! Sadly, within much institutional buddhism, this has been either forgotten or simply ignored. The buddha modeled the sangha upon the republic model he was raised in. At councils, all matters were discussed until consensus was arrived at — and yes, it was at times quite 'messy!'

    In Tibetan buddhism, with its guru-yoga, and in Zen, with it's fabricated "transmission" (from buddha to Kashyapa to your local neighborhood roshi), students have often been trained to abdicate responsibility. I actually heard from a student of a 'guru' in a rather popular Tibetan school that her teacher told her "You have yet to serve me as you must; you must see me as fully enlightened and show me deference." The model there is the guru is out to 'destroy your ego!" I told her to run away!

    Though I teach in a zen tradition, our sangha has organized along the original sangha model. Though I am the 'guiding teacher,' I have and want no 'absolute authority' to make unilateral decisions for the community. This most explicitly includes finances! Our meetings are open, fully transparent, and everyone attending has the right to voice their concerns, thoughts and opinions. Everyone attending can vote on any proposal — though only those who have attended three of the last five meetings can block a decision. Votes can be either "For," "Against, but stand aside" (meaning they are not so strongly opposed that they wish to block) and "Against and blocking." This will either lead to further discussion OR the matter is dropped. Yeah, messy, AND juicy and full of engagement and LIFE!

    The other comment that really resonates with me is this:

    "We must learn the difference between deference and submission. We defer to allow others to do their job well, express their gifts, and make an offering to the community—but we don’t submit, we don’t abdicate the responsibility to conscience. We become better, greater when we realize that we can accomplish more together, far more, than we could ever achieve alone. Enlightenment is a collective experience."

    With this model, deference — and even perhaps some 'reverence' for those with more experience is appropriate. As you say, this is not submission or the relegating of personal responsibility to others. Enlightenment is most certainly a collective experience. Thich Nhat Hanh has often said that the next buddha (maitreya) is not a person but the sangha!

    Thanks!

  21. Mat says:

    Frank/Douglas: Enlightenment is most definitely NOT a "collective experience". It is NOT really an experience at all. "It" is quite simply "meta-recollection" of "a priori sentience". In a post heroic age I can sympathise with TNH sentiment but given the nature of enlightenment a sangha without the authority of conviction aroused through right means can offer only a facsimilie of the spiritual life. Sangha is merely political and it takes individual courage (heroism) to import meaning into any community. Gurus, teachers, community leaders and assorted new age necromancers are all complicit in the ongoing attrition of understanding. We don't need another community, or another Buddha. Enlightenment is really very. very. very.(…) ordinary.

  22. Rustin says:

    Amazing – so well written, so evenly understood.
    It is a shame that John's power is not guided by Douglas' wisdom.

    "We believe that the divine is only discovered as and through our vulnerable, flawed, and human nature. "

    "…gurus are accountable to their students for the entirety of their actions. No one gets a pass"

  23. Scott Newsom says:

    Douglas,

    I imagine you might agree that a community can be just as delusional and misguided as any charismatic leader, and that the power of such groups to influence the members experience can be many times stronger (us psychologists would tell you so anyway). What I have seen in the vast majority of solutions offered so far is a strong bias toward insular, in-group structural changes. While I think many of us would welcome democratic structures for yoga-related groups, we also need to professionalize teaching just as you say so that all teachers will be held to the same standards. This requires a working relationship with an outside agency that can hold members of the profession accountable for their behavior (not their morals or beliefs). Other professions accomplish this by licensure and Yoga should not hold itself above such measures because it will only result in more behavior that falls well below our aspirations.

  24. zoe says:

    I am an avid yoga students and yoga teacher. Back in 2007-2009, I used to practice at Anusara yoga studio close to where I live. When I chose to do yoga teacher traning, I ask myself. Do i want to be Anusar teacher? Do I want to talk Anusara language ? (that is non-sense to me when I heard the Anusara teachers talked….I grew up in the East with Hindu influrence) I am glad that I did not pursue Anusara teacher cerfiticate. At that time, I felt like MacDonald or Sub-way francise yoga to me. Or, some kinds of Cult going on. I did not go back to that studio for a while…. It is like the whol Anusara community is under John Cult. I am glad these scandal happend to the public. It makes our eyes opened.

  25. […] While they’re at it, they’ll probably need to revisit the “tantric lineage” stuff JF has been peddling. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailMoreStumbleUponRedditDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  26. paul says:

    so maybe rebrand it vamacara yoga? haha.

  27. Thank you Douglas. My journey has always been about stepping into my own power. This has sparked an acceleration of merging power with love and infusing each action with truth – not just for me, but for so many.

  28. Kerry Traylor says:

    Douglas – Thank you for your intelligent, nuanced, and scholarly exegesis of this crisis. The Anusara yoga community is so lucky to have you. As a certified teacher who left the Anusara community a number of years ago, because of the increasingly "guru-like" atmosphere that a John Friend gathering engendered, I am so thankful and yes, hopeful, to see the thoughtfulness and care that so many in the kula are using to respond to this situation. This community is capable of so much powerful and elegant change!!

    And to put it ALL in perspective, PLEASE, PLEASE I beg of you in the kula to help us take care of a yoga teacher who is suffering beyond imagining. John's plight is insignificant compared to hers. She is an Anusara-influenced yoga teacher and single mom who has late stage cancer and DESPERATELY needs our help. In the name of all that is fine and true in the kula, let us take care of our own. Go to the home page at yogadelmar.com to help. And please spread the word. Thank you so much!

  29. […] Dr. Douglas Brooks: Conversation & Statement re … – Elephant Journal In the student's case, we worship fame, charm and wisdom, and in the teacher's case, too often, they get drunk off the power of community and the teachings. Why did your guru say he didn't want to be worshipped? Douglas Brooks: My teacher saw “god” or the gods as reflections and refractions of our human experience: the process of “worship” is yet another way to experience ourselves, nature, culture, the universe through the lens of human experience. We mean to . […]

  30. goddessong says:

    Has anyone called up Gurmaye… and asked her to respond to John's antics?

  31. natandilana says:

    Yogis were always considered radical because the concept of yoga is really about the populism of spirituality – that everyone can access the divine, and that spiritual leaders and institutions are not necessary for one to find the path to god, and gurus are only there to help one find their own way on the path. This is very tragic but maybe this will act as a catalyst for great growth and change for the yogis (and therefore the world) – a reminder to always hear the guru in you first and foremost before looking for outside assistance.

    Anyway, as a yogi nomad who sometimes takes Anusara classes, I had no previous experience with you. Dr Brooks, but oh I am convinced and will be seeking out opportunities to learn with you in the future.

  32. […] The plot has only continued to thicken for Anusara yoga since the accusations of wrong-doing against founder John Friend appeared via YogaDork on February 3rd. Senior teachers who stepped up to defend and work with Friend in the immediate aftermath of his admissions became disillusioned with the process of change when it became clear that Friend would not accept their recommendation that he absent himself from a planned weekend workshop in Miami, set to focus, ironically enough, on relationships. Friend did appear and more of his teachers resigned this week. Two long, interesting letters were posted on Elephant Journal today. The first, by former Anusara spiritual advisor Douglas Brooks… […]

  33. Mark says:

    Dr Brooks…You are mentioned as to have collaborated with John Friend in a new translation of the Bhagavad Gita with emphasis on Tantra. Why would you have not denounced to Mr. Friend or even publically his creation of his new Shiva-Shakti Tantra?

  34. As I quickly read these statements regarding the question of owner ,John and the community he built, Anusara I am distracted by the word socialism and visions of the French Revolution demanding my attention.

    What is going on here is an interesting picture of a small community's struggles within a democratic and capitalist society which is also struggling. At an Occupy Wall Street time, at a time when some of this nation is reeling from the wonder and seeming intractability of the few owning the country and others are blindly supporting the aristocracy, so to speak, believing that we are safe in their hands and that money will flow down from their bulging pockets, there is a huge discussion here.

    Socialism works or it doesn't. It sounds to me like the leaders of Anusara are calling for this. I will be curious to see if it succeeds and how. If it does, it would be an interesting template for discussion of politics at large. It is an interesting juxtaposition of politics as we are deep into another political race whose outcome will probably bear more of the same for a suffering country.

  35. […] The plot has only continued to thicken for Anusara yoga since the accusations of wrong-doing against founder John Friend appeared via YogaDork on February 3rd. Senior teachers who stepped up to defend and work with Friend in the immediate aftermath of his admissions became disillusioned with the process of change when it became clear that Friend would not accept their recommendation that he absent himself from a planned weekend workshop in Miami, set to focus, ironically enough, on relationships. Friend did appear and more of his teachers resigned this week. Two long, interesting letters were posted on Elephant Journal today. The first, by former Anusara spiritual advisor Douglas Brooks… […]

  36. […] 14: Scholar and “godfather of Anusara,” Douglas Brooks, calls for Occupy Anusara in a conversation and statement on Elephant Journal. “The allegations of misconduct directed at John are matters the gravity of which cannot be […]

  37. Poodle says:

    I just like practicing Yoga. To me this is all total BS.

  38. Brilliant and cognent discussion Douglas,

    Next on the agenda is John's public visit to Israel.

    They just sentenced a former President of the country to jail for doing less than John has already admitted.

    Let him rehabilitate himself before assuming the mantle of poster child of Anusara again.

  39. Ellen Rennard says:

    My perspective is somewhat different in that I have only studied with John as a student. I’ve never aspired to be a yoga teacher; I’m an English teacher. I have always regarded John as a gifted hatha yoga teacher and only felt some hiccup this past December in Denver when it seemed he was putting on a show which, it turns out, he was, since he was already being “evaluated by his peers,” unbeknownst to those outside the inner circles. I read a little of the flap before I went to Miami (not everything was available to those of us who are not teachers), but I figured if John could not teach, he would cancel the event. As a teacher, that is what I would be expected to do.

    Instead, after we arrived, he told us he was there as a student. That is not what I signed up for. While all of the teachers, including Bill Mahony, are fine, that was not the workshop I paid for. If there was going to be a change, it would only have been fair to notify those who were going to attend that John would not be teaching or that he would be teaching in some other capacity, as a student, although I have no idea how I would teach as a student. That idea seems silly to me. I understand the theory, but in practice, it is just silly. Can you imagine me sitting in front of my seniors (who are very bright) and saying, I’m just one of you today, and a few of the really smart ones are going to teach class instead of me?

    Although I appreciate the spiritual part of yoga and have read some philosophy, when I studied with John it was for asana, pranayama, and meditation practices (primarily the first). I didn’t put him on a pedestal. All of the stuff that was going on in the background did not (in my experience) adversely affect his teaching until he started trying to appease the committee and others who were not happy with the way things were going for reasons that certainly had some validity. But out front, to a student, his teaching was the same as ever (I was in Cincinnati in the fall and the workshop was awesome).

    My point is that those of us who arrived at that intensive in Miami expected John to teach, and I’m wondering if any of the people who said they’d quit if he did realized what that would be like for those of us who spent hard-earned dollars to attend.

    I have never been too keen on the yoga community’s sense of its specialness; I have always thought that there was a sort of holier than thou aspect to it. It still seems that way to me. But I really like the practice, I like reading the Gita, the sutras, etc. just as I liked reading Buddhist texts when I was into zen; I have meditated for a long time; all of it has, I think, made me a better version of myself, warts and all. But this Anusara drama is like a bad soap opera.

    Prof. Brooks, your idea about governance by a small group of “senior” teachers sounds like governance by a few to me, rather like a school board (gack!) and just as hierarchical as governance by one, but with power more spread out among a few, but maybe I’m misunderstanding.

    I appreciate your remarks here. They are thoughtful and interesting.

    As for John, I hope he gets the help he needs as it was obvious in Miami that he is suffering.

  40. Shig Ogyu says:

    Thank you Douglas for what you have offered to us here. As I have had my own thoughts, your argument created a conversation with me weaving many threads. I really appreciate this conversation.

  41. […] interview with Dr. Brooks is underlined here. Read it before you go on as it’s not my intention to analyze this protracted monologue. I […]

  42. I have lived and breathed Yoga (all eight limbs) quietly, without advertising or capitalizing on it for over 30 years. I developed Chai concentrate in 1982- before it would have even sold… Anyone who is skilled in yoga knows that we all have our blinkers- some more, some less. Some in some areas. some others. Many have need to buy into teachers. Few of us see beyond our guru's limitations. This controvery speaks to human frailty- NOT to yogic philosphy, nor to its practice or benefits.
    "Just let go of imaginary things and stand firm in that which you are!" (Kabir)- The trepidation this is causing in the North American Yoga Community is unnecessary- People are people are people- each with their individual limitations- few reach enlightnement- most stop somewhere along the path…. Yoga will survive in the North American population just as it has for almost 5000 years… it is crucial to practice the yamas and niyamas in contemplating and non- reacting to this. Disillusionment is human and stems from human ego- and provides a wonderful message and experience from which to move forward!
    Let us learn, let go, and move on!!!
    Catherine L. Phillips

  43. IJK says:

    I am new to yoga. So please excuse the comments of a relative newcomer who nonetheless cares deeply about what is being discussed — I do feel more fully human since I realized I was yoked to Anusara practice — and I have deep personal experience with the difficult issues and emotions of the current moment. I feel that Douglas Brooks' radical vision for a vital Anusara kula is spot on. But I wonder how clear it is to many readers that it isn't proposed as a policy or system and it won't happen from the top down. Instead it's about us regular folks. My Anusara teacher teaches and treats her students in a way that is consistent with how Douglas describes multi-person guru-ness. It took a year or so but I have learned to recognize what she is doing, and to respond by playing with new mind-heart ways of giving from myself to others during (and before and after) class. (That sounds so goofy, but I can't find better words at the moment.) I feel as if I am living into an ever-expanding understanding/practice of being human together. So this leads me to think that the way we practice Anusara yoga in our daily lives must be the foundation for renewed organization; change happens with us. In practice, do we not try to leave labels and backgrounds and status aside for an hour or so, and bring the people on the mats next to us into the warmth of our diffused regard for the effortful beauty of life itself? if we can be open to compassion in connecting our minds and hearts and our selves and each other through this amazing practice, I believe we incline toward wholeness.

  44. […] rather significant letter from Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks (who I interviewed recently here and who just published this on elephant, here) was posted today on his public Facebook page, and […]

  45. […] subsequently published critical statements and discussions with Bernadette Birney, then Douglas Brooks, Amy Ippoliti, then Emma Magenta, and most recently two “Anusara […]

  46. I savor, cause I found just what I was looking for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

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