BREAKING: Marc Gafni’s Sexual Impropriety Re-emerges—Will Integral Leadership Step Up this Time?

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[NOTE: It’s been many months since I have posted here, and this is not exactly an uplifting topic on which to make my return – but it needs to be said, and as many people as possible need to read it. This originally appeared at Integral Options Cafe.]

There have been two recent developments regarding Marc Gafni, already a controversial, polarizing figure following a very public sex scandal five years ago. While many organizations and teachers would have nothing to do with him, the Integral world did seem to believe his version of events and took him back.

What’s new:

  • Integral life has removed Gafni as a contributor to their website and as MC of the Integral Spiritual Experience 3 Conference.
  • Sounds True has cancelled publication of his upcoming book and severed ties with his Center for World Spirituality.

In an effort to discover what might be behind these developments, I have been in conversation with both Robb Smith, CEO of Integral Life, and Tami Simon, owner and publisher of Sounds True.

Robb and I have not had a chance to speak personally, but Tami kindly sent me the following response (posted with her permission):

When I first started working with Marc a couple of years ago, Marc and I spoke openly about his history and what he claimed were false accusations against him related to alleged sexual improprieties. Several influential people spoke up in his defense and equally several people warned me not to trust Marc. I came to believe that whatever had happened in the past, Marc was beginning a new chapter in his life. Marc explicitly stated to me that he was not going to be involved in sexual relationships with students, that even if he deemed such relationships to be consensual, he did not believe that engaging in relationships with students would support his efforts to be an effective teacher. In considering publishing Marc’s work, the most important thing to me was the actual quality of the written work. When he submitted “Your Unique Self” in its edited form, I appreciated the content and message of the book. The quality of the book combined with the force of his conviction regarding how he would conduct himself as a teacher moving forward convinced me to take a risk on publishing his work.

In the past several weeks, new and incontrovertible information came to light that made me aware that Marc was involved in a sexual relationship with a student and that the relationship was shrouded in secrecy. There was an obvious lack of alignment between Marc’s words to me and his actions. I learned about Marc’s sexual relationship with a student from another woman who was having a sexual relationship with Marc. This woman was also asked by Marc to keep her relationship with him a secret. In talking with this woman, I learned how emotionally damaging this secrecy was for her, how it cut her off from emotional support and connection. I also learned quite a bit about how she felt manipulated by Marc, about how often she witnessed Marc telling lies to cover his tracks, and how upset she was to find herself caught in such a web of lies.

Discovering this new information, it became clear to me that it was not in integrity for me personally or for Sounds True as a company to publish Marc’s books or to support him as a spiritual teacher in the world. I do not trust Marc Gafni. I do not trust what he says, and I do not trust that he acts in the best interests of his students or his professional alliances.

Just to be clear here, Gafni was sleeping with two women, both of whom were in a power differential to Gafni – one was a private student.

However, the other woman was receiving marriage counseling (as was her husband, separately) as her marriage was ending. To my knowledge, Gafni is not licensed to provide counseling in Colorado (Colorado Mental Health Practice Act), and if he is, sleeping with a client is grounds for censure or the removal of his license.Both women wish to remain anonymous for a variety of reasons.

All of this was happening while he was “partnered” with Mariana Caplan, who is the mother of his child, and who risked her own reputation to write a chapter in her book, The Guru Question, arguing for his supposed innocence regarding the Israel incident in 2006; even Publisher’s Weekly questioned that final chapter.

That a very intelligent woman who has written a book on discernment around spiritual teachers was taken in by one is ironic, but it is also testament to Gafni’s ability to seduce otherwise intelligent people. Her fate serves as a stark warning to others who think they are immune from his seduction.

As is his pattern, Gafni has sworn both women to silence (as Tami described above) – and, according to sources in contact with the victims, in this case one of the women came forward and “failed to hold that space.” If you look back through the record of allegations against Gafni (this article contains statements by his early victims), it is always the women who come forward who are to blame for not being able to maintain his bohemian, “post-conventional” lifestyle.

In a long and rambling article responding to the Integrales Forum position paper on Integral Teachers and ethics, Gafni essentially offered a defense of his right as an “enlightened” teacher to have sexual relations with students. This is the defense he is currently offering for his affairs: he was involved in post-conventional relationships and the women failed to hold that space.

I have not had a chance to speak with Robb Smith directly, so the following information is based on reports from various people with access to the inner workings of Integral Life.

As mentioned above, it seems that Gafni has been removed by Integral Life from his usual leadership role of ISE3. Apparently, he will still be a presenter, but he won’t be the MC and won’t be running the event as he has for the previous two events (Jeff Salzman, Diane Hamilton, and Terry Patten will be leading this year’s event).

Robb Smith was very displeased that I implied Gafni’s material (articles, interviews, and so on) had been removed from the Integral Life site in secret. Yet, they removed the content of one of their most visible, most promoted, and most prolific teachers with not a word of explanation and that is “post-conventional governance”?

Robb and I have been playing phone tag since that Facebook conversation at the end of August. I hope he makes a public statement – and if he wants to alleviate suffering, he will join me in proposing and working to ensure that no student ever engages with Marc Gafni in ignorance of his past behavior.

Gafni’s Defenders

When Gafni first emerged from his two-year absence to resume his teaching (in 2008), his principle supporters were Robb Smith, Sally Kempton, Clint Fuhs, and Diane Hamilton. Robb offered an eloquent defense of Gafni and welcomed him back. I wonder if he now regrets those words, which Gafni has used as confirmation of his innocence and the legitimacyof his teaching.

Sally Kempton and Ken Wilber offered a long defense of Gafni and asserted that the women in Israel had lied (the letter was posted in the comments on this blog in response to my questioning of Gafni’s presence at the 2010 Integral conference). Of those mentioned in the letter, Robb Smith, Rocky Anderson, and Diane Hamilton have all moved away from Gafni.

Gafni posted a good deal of defense on his blog when he first returned to teaching. Most of it is questionable at best – especially the psyche evaluations. I documented that in a post last summer – in that same post I offered a bit of a speculative psychological explanation for Gafni’s behavior, which is not to be seen as an excuse.

Gafni has had many opportunities to confront his own patterns and seek help, but he seems unwilling to do so as long as he has supporters like Sally Kempton and Mariana Caplan who enable his behaviors and find ways to rationalize them.

Going Forward – My Personal Views

Robb seems to think – this is the message he has given to the staff at Integral Life in asking them not to speak with me – that I am “on a mission.” Yes, I most certainly am, but not the one he thinks.

My mission is to help prevent any other women from being victimized by Marc Gafni.

It is my hope that this post will offer a place for all of Gafni’s victims (many of whom have never come forward publicly because of the fear of abuse and harassment they are likely to receive from him and his enablers) to tell their stories.

It is also my hope that other leaders, especially in the integral community, will follow the fine example set by Tami Simon and make a public stand against Gafni’s lies and manipulations.

Allowing Gafni back into the Integral community – and defending him – has provided him with a platform to teach and begin his own organization – which has allowed him to bring chaos into the lives of two more women (that we know of – there may be others who are still silent). This need not have happened.

With his own organization now established at The Center for World Spirituality, it will be much tougher to discover or monitor his abuses than it would have been if he had never been allowed back into the integral community in the first place. When he is in charge, who monitors him? Who protects his students and employees?

I hold his enablers partly responsible – they willingly disregarded the experience of the women in Israelthe statements of his third ex-wife (much of what she says has been confirmed to me by other women who have been with him – for example, the “debasing sexuality” has been reported to me by other women who have been involved with him), and the statements of other organizations who had removed him from leadership positions.

However, the women willingly entered into these relationships – but would they have done so if there was a more public record of Integral leadership exposing his abuses?

So far, Tami Simon stands as the only leader willing to take a public stand on Marc Gafni. She should be applauded, but it is a sad testament to Integral post-conventional leadership that no one from that world has done the same.

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anonymous Oct 24, 2011 1:08am

First one of the girls he raped was age 12 in Long Island gfrom his last set of escapades in East Coast.Gafni Winiarz is a con man pure and simple !
Now before he terorizes more innocent women not aware he is a trained con man and he will reinvent his lying self-with a new name and city you must put out the words about this psychotic stalker


anonymous Sep 21, 2011 6:15pm

He didn't manipulate me into anything. I was going to write a whole rebuttal but oh fuck it, so tired of all this crap and the information people think they know, blah blah blah.

anonymous Sep 13, 2011 12:27pm

As I said on Facebook and another forum where this was cross-posted, many thanks to William Harryman for this, and my hope is that Integral Life will stop covering for Gafni in any way, simply admit their failure and attempt to begin to make amends for the part it has played in enabling him.

anonymous Sep 13, 2011 10:38am

Shelli Clemens Wow … it is so very sad when people who are in positions of "power" use that power in very damaging ways. Sending loving thoughts to the women who were (and will continue to be) affected by this …
about an hour ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personLoading…
Dawn Ti They're all in it together.
58 minutes ago · LikeUnlike
Anita M. Burke oh for cryin out loud… so tired of even the rumor of this crap… WOMEN you do have a right to say NO and no means no… there is a tighter line when it comes to spiritual leaders… yes the rules are different… you claim the seat you step into the accountability and a tighter line…

Kasie Mamatat Ray There is no room for victim-blaming: as a spiritual leader he did know and currently knows that it's beyond unethical and is spiritually and physically damaging to do what he's doing. He is an adulterer (having read no evidence that his marriage is open, I'll go with that). He is manipulating students into thinking they have no right to say NO, then outright lying when exposed. This goes against every basic tenet not of Buddhism, but of every other major religion and belief system I have ever seen (excepting Kouresh and a few others.) He is a predator who is manipulating others in the name of spiritual growth and education.

Barbara Marion Krieg-Kitzis No one likes to see this type of article…It doesn't go very well with morning coffee or chai…. But I appreciate your/elephantjournal taking the time to bring this to the publics attention… My modest opinion is that someone such as Marc Gafni who is in the "so called" Limelight, should be exposed for who he truly is….since there seems to be enough evidence to support his follies…

anonymous Sep 13, 2011 9:48am

Judgement = BAD
Transparency = GOOD

Keep posting articles like this; keeps issues in the light where they belong.



    anonymous Sep 13, 2011 10:39am

    Prejudgment = bad. Judgment, if it's accurate, is prajna, discriminating awareness, and just a practical everyday commonsense to do! You know: should I eat this or eat that? That's judgment, nothing wrong with that, actually can be helpful and healthy.

    But I get where you're going, Manny, with thanks. ~ Waylon

anonymous Sep 12, 2011 9:24pm

As editor here, I'd simply say that this episode ought not to be entertainment for anyone…it's sad, whatever's happened. And if anyone on Marc's "side"—or with another perspective or different context feels it might be helpful to offer another pov, here, I'd feel more comfortable hosting this sad story via William, for whom I have a great deal of respect.

May it be of benefit, somehow—may we all learn from this, one way or the other. ~ Waylon

anonymous Sep 12, 2011 5:21pm

Comments via FB:

Duff's intro: This link is primarily relevant to people in the Ken Wilber Integral community, which has enabled this man to continue in his harmful behavior.

Toby Rogers Marc Gafni is also a guest speaker in a meditation class this semester at UC Berkeley.
5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Duff McDuffee Oh geez.
5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Harriet Hawkins I am ssoooo grateful you posted this!!!
5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Vincent Horn Yes, I think this is VERY important information.
4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
David Jon Peckinpaugh For me this is even more disheartening, Duff, considering Mr. Gafni recently fathered a child; and if that doesn't get one more in alignment morally and ethically, then nothing will.

More confirmation that my boycott of all things Kentegral is just and warranted. None of them chaps (Wilber, Cohen, Gafni, Genpo) are going to be receiving any financial support from me. Just as they haven't in the past decade. Time, energy, and resources are better spent elsewhere, in my opinion.
2 hours ago · LikeUnlike
Keith Martin-Smith Holding IL responsible is a bit much, don't you think? Are you going to hold Sounds True responsible too, for agreeing to publish his book?

What counts, to me, is that both Tami and IL responded by cutting Marc loose once the allegations came to light…

It's what happens next that will be far more telling, and interesting.

    anonymous Sep 14, 2011 10:55pm

    I've just read two statements, one from Diane Hamilton and the other from Robb Smith, both distancing themselves and Integral Life and Integral Institute from Marc Gafni. I was impressed with their statements because they are taking personal responsibility for the decisions they made in the past to give Marc Gafni a second chance. That is not a crime. How otherwise do we know if anyone of us has the strength and courage to change. The problem lies with Marc Gafni not the Integral community. William Harryman, it would behove you too to deeply contemplate your own motivations. With deepest respect.

anonymous Sep 12, 2011 7:59pm

I stand in solidarity with William Harryman's mission.

Harryman did not claim criminality, so this reference is a red herring. Harryman also didn't say he was evil, another red herring.

It is our business because harm is being perpetuated in our community.

"Consent" changes when in a power dynamic like student and teacher or psychotherapist and client, and there is lying and cover-up of the facts:

"However, the women willingly entered into these relationships – but would they have done so if there was a more public record of Integral leadership exposing his abuses?"

anonymous Sep 13, 2011 1:48pm

I am not the author of the above article (my name's Duff, the article was written by Bill Harryman).

I see no conflict between personal responsibility and acknowledgement of power dynamics. If anything, Harryman is taking Gafni to task and encouraging him to take personal responsibility for his actions.

I do not agree with any of the assumptions about women you implied about me.

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William Harryman

I am a writer/editor, fitness trainer, integral coach, and a graduate counseling psychology student. I blog at Integral Options Cafe and The Masculine Heart. I am an occasional contributor to Elephant Journal.