February 29, 2012

An Open Letter to Anusara, Inc. & the Anusara Community. ~ Douglas Brooks

Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks calls for the dissolution of Anusara, Inc.

This 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 elsewhere. It seems Mark Zuckerberg, and not Yogadork or elephant, is the one breaking all the stories, here. ~ ed.


Common Sense: Thoughts on the
Present State of Affairs

I find myself compelled to write to express to Michal Lichtman a genuine sense of appreciation for her efforts, for her desire to bring healing and value to the many who have been hurt by John Friend’s actions and the long-term consequences these actions will have on the yoga community. Michal means to provide a voice of healing and gracious inclusion and I do not mistake that voice. I have remained over these past weeks a public voice that has meant to bring the discourse into reasonable understandings rather than legitimizing or representing a particular point of view. Today, I find myself brought into the public conversation in ways that require me to reply.

Having been cited liberally in Michal’s letter as she outlines plans for a reorganization of Anusara, Inc., I feel compelled to reveal my own understandings of the situation and to distinguish her genuine intentions from what I understand to be a strategy and a plan from Anusara, Inc., that will certainly only further divide the community and exacerbate a situation that will continue to prove more problematic for all. I offer, as Thomas Paine put it, “nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” But let me not be disingenuous either. Paine fomented a revolution. I am recommending nothing less than that.

Certainly, I understand Michal’s efforts to bring together community and to arrive at a place where those who have devoted lives in time, effort, resources, and love towards the yoga taught within Anusara feel the sense of real value for their accomplishments. All involved for these many years are grateful to John Friend for having brought us into valued relationships and conversations about yoga.

Anyone privy to the conversations of the then-Interim Committee to which I was party before the Miami event will know that I expressed my opinions regarding the situation at the time and for the evolution of Anusara with a certain stridency. All I can add to that memory is that I would offer no opinion to true friends that is without passion, seriousness, and rigor to the argument. These I take to be demonstrations of how deeply one cares. I hope everyone involved in those events knows that I meant then, and mean now, to help my old friend John and to opine in ways that serve the students of Anusara Yoga. I am not expecting these opinions to be followed; I respect disagreements and I never ask my own students (much less my friends) for “alignment” with views, only their most honest criticism.

Regarding events since February 3rd and into the Miami situation, it seems clear to me that none of my advice or input was much heeded by John or those who agreed to his choices. I mean to make clear here that some would not agree with John’s choices (myself included) while others believed these decisions were his to make and so would continue to stand with him, regardless of whether they agreed with his actual decisions. From John’s every public statement, I have found myself beyond credulity with the absence of disclosure, by the insensitivity towards the true victims of this crisis (i.e, the members of the community), and, frankly, what I can only describe as a disingenuous lack of candor on John’s part. I cannot doubt John’s sincerity, which I take to be more alarming for the facts that we already possess.

John’s actions and statements further establish a pattern of behavior that one senior teacher describes as having created “irreparable harm” to the reputation of the community. I believe this to be a fact beyond reasonable dispute. However events in the press portray the situation, the conversation about yoga’s benefits, the history of teaching and teachers, and the study of Indian spiritualities, especially Tantra, has suffered a significant setback due to John’s actions. The Anusara community and the yoga community at large suffers that degradation by association, implication, and public perception.

Let us not fool ourselves, the deep feelings of betrayal and fracture are accompanied by evidence mounting each day to further substantiate the case that John’s actions are continuing to make matters far worse— especially if his wish is to heal fractures, accept the reality of his actions, and understand that the Anusara community can no longer exist with any form of his leadership in any capacity or association. Not only do I see the current efforts at healing and reconciliation from Anusara, Inc., as premature, I believe that for all good intentions involved, that these plans and strategies will reinforce “irreparable harm” to Anusara, the community, and to the cause of learning and practicing yoga.

So long as there is Anusara, Inc., even one organized by teachers or established as a non-profit (the business of which I understand is complex and would involve enormous resources of community effort), there will be direct association with John Friend. Call this a mistaken perception or even a misunderstanding of the “new” Anusara, any such reorganization will further fracture community, harden feelings, and create the tangible impression that John’s actions and choices are supported and being represented. In my opinion, any re-formulation of Anusara as a teacher’s co-operative, a non-profit organization, etc., can only result in these unwanted consequences.

If I may be so bold as just another person with an opinion: There is, as I see it, a common sense solution that will create a situation for the entire Anusara community to come eventually to healing and, perhaps too, for John. I will present this as a series of steps and a rationale for each:

• Announce that Anusara, Inc., in any possible configuration will cease to exist by the end of 2012.

This will forever prevent any possible faction of “us” and “them;” it will relieve doubt and any implied pressures to “rejoin,” and it will assert the integrity of all persons, including those who have been party to re-organization efforts. Everyone will be equal, at last. Everyone will be recognized for good intentions and actions that serve the cause of “uniting.”

The alternative of a “rejoining” a “new” Anusara, as is currently proposed, cannot achieve as much as simply bringing Anusara, Inc. to a natural conclusion, an end.

• Allow all certified teachers to finish their 2012 programs with the intention to use the approval from Anusara, Inc. as a mechanism for establishing their own relationships with accreditation that no longer relies in any way on Anusara, Inc.

Teachers will organize organically in well-wrought relationships with each other (this is already happening, of course); they will find their way without Anusara, Inc., because they have been well-taught and have brought their gifts to bear in the study of yoga. The teachers have the expertise and the community resources to represent themselves as “Anusara” method practitioners. Their credibility will belong to them, not to the organization. In short, simply allow the teachers to teach. If there are financial issues to the administration of pending approvals or hours of credit then find ways not to place that burden on the teachers.

• Ask John Friend to retain the trademarks and properties of Anusara, Inc., so that no one else can reform or reorganize in any formal way. If John leads the revolution to give Anusara to the community then perhaps everyone can see the wisdom in understanding that Anusara belongs to the community. A crucial component here is that John permits any one to teach the method beyond 2012 without any enforcement or claim on the concepts and practices.

The “standards” of Anusara must organically be reformulated without any single organization representing the method. Why? Because then “Anusara” can create a long lasting, community-based legacy that is entirely dissociated from the perceptions of the past and recognizes that irreparable harm cannot be undone. We want to forgive but not in any way if we are being reminded to forget. We can heal when it is time but not before we recognize the real effects of damage done. Don’t worry about Anusara losing its method or its standards: these will continue in new ways led by an already formidable corps of talented persons.

• This final dissolution of Anusara, Inc., will secure the best of its past and create the opportunity for a future that is inclusive and honest. There will be innumerable Anusara classes and people will decide for themselves how a given teacher teaches: the onus belongs to the teacher, where it should. Anusara, Inc. in any form can bring no such credibility.

Why? Because there is no possible configuration of Anusara, Inc. that could in any practical, honest, or realistic way distinguish itself from his leadership or his role as founder-teacher. You cannot undo the realities of history but you can move forward without creating future burdens, perceptions, and fractures.

• John in time may reclaim his role among his peers disavowing any relationship to Anusara as it continues beside him in the work of former students. He will be the revolutionary that created the Anusara method and he will be remembered as the one who gave it to his community and then rejoined the larger yoga community as a gifted teacher. For John to continue in any role of leadership, implied, concealed, or actual is to consign Anusara to the status of another fallen yoga cult. That would be a real shame, unnecessary but, in my opinion, a certainty unless he leads a revolution that changes everything currently being proposed to “re-organize.”

I have not been privy to any recent conversations regarding re-organization and some may suggest that I mean here to exert an undue influence on people within the community. I apologize if I exhaust your good will but I cannot believe that my influence outweighs the common sense of individuals who have the intelligence, good nature, and inner resources to make up their own minds. Further, I cannot for the life of me think of one way I benefit from making public my opinions, especially since they seem to be so at odds with the strategies and on-going plans announced by Anusara’s new CEO. I have not at all, for example, addressed those with a financial stake in Anusara, Inc., and offer no business opinion about licensing agreements, investment, or other related matters. Those issues I leave to others with more expertise.

As I said at the outset, without any personal connection to Michal Lichtman, I sense as others have that she means to offer her very best efforts. Since she seems to have considered so much of my input from previous efforts (I mean, her liberal citation of my written efforts), then perhaps she will regard what I have offered here too as my honest, good faith effort to be a constructive presence within the yoga community. Folks that don’t like my ideas, are upset perhaps by these proposals: to them I say thank you for having considered this an offering that is an effort of heart expressing good intentions. I hope you will see it as that: an invitation to think about the situation in a way that doesn’t solve every problem but comes to the heart of the matter.

Douglas Brooks



 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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