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

Via Walk The Talk Show
on Feb 15, 2012
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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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94 Responses to “Dr. Douglas Brooks: Conversation & Statement re: John Friend & Anusara Yoga.”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. […] 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 . […]

  4. myriamsofialluria says:

    With all due respect, there is only one Douglas Brooks! Of that I am sure!

  5. goddessong says:

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

  6. 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.

  7. Padma Kadag says:


  8. […] 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… […]

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. […] 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… […]

  12. […] 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 […]

  13. Jerome says:

    Interestingly Douglas has not responded to this. Still biting his tongue perhaps? Great question!

  14. Poodle says:

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

  15. Douglas Brooks says:

    Also regarding my conversations to Anusara teachers and students regarding Shiva-Shakti Tantra. I begin by saying that those are confidential. I am entirely confident in the intelligence and critical acumen of the members of the Anusara community: in short, they can make up their own minds about what they think and feel about Shiva-Shakti Tantra. I have tried my best to offer honest opinions but I speak for myself only.

  16. Douglas Brooks says:

    Last, in my own tradition of Rajanaka Tantra there is no suggestion whatsoever that one must somehow follow any teaching or participate in any practice. Our work is an invitation without catechism or any dogma. We teach freedom of speech and respect fully the empowerment of individual conscience and participation. I was expressly forbidden by my teacher to espouse an orthodoxy or to do anything more than invite persons to participate from their own free will to listen and practice together. I make this point so often that folks in the room are surely tired of hearing it. We encourage conversation, dissent, doubt, and open hearted thought and action. As a tradition of Tantra, Rajanaka means to offer a collective and collaborative modeling of practice, learning and teaching in a setting rooted in a simple idea: you are free.

  17. Douglas Brooks says:

    This is now my third effort to reply here. The server of EJ and I are apparently are not communicating well. I hit post and it disappears. I am sure we all know that such amazing technology is still evolving. (Composing now in Word with that ol’paste in to keep a copy…)

    Okay I will be brief because I must meet other professional responsibilities.

    *My book Poised for Grace represents entirely my own work and words. To his credit John Friend and Anusara Yoga permitted me complete freedom to express myself. This was not written as a work of advocacy but information. The sources for my work are from the history of religions and my own views. Anusara Yoga does not influence these efforts.
    *My book is a workbook commentary rather than a translation, just to be clear.
    *Anusara Yoga has published several works comparable to Poised for Grace, including excellent work by William Mahony and Christopher Wallis. I warmly support their work, encourage all rigorous study, and believe that we are scholars attempting to express our commitments to scholarship and to our involvements in our own spiritual paths. There are few such persons in the academy and others I might mention, like Dr Katy Poole, but we are talking here about Anusara publishing our work.

  18. Douglas Brooks says:

    In reply to part two of your question re: Shiva-Shakti Tantra.
    *The only role I may have played in the invention of S/S Tantra is as an educator over these many years but there was no collaboration or input on my part to its invention or expression. In short, AY created S/STantra and takes responsibility for it, to John’s credit.
    *I did not and do not see my role either to advocate or denounce S/S Tantra. I believe in the critical acumen of individuals to draw their own opinions and express them as they please.
    *When asked by AY teachers and students what I thought of the Metaphysical Primer work or S/S Tantra I have replied consistently that I am happy to teach about such influences or concepts that are expressed but not about S/S Tantra. That is AY’s job, not mine.
    *When asked by AY teachers how to teach S/S Tantra, I replied that they should continue their education in yoga and draw their own opinions. People should teach what they know and feel comfortable offering. That is the important point.

    I would be happy to reply further to your questions. This is the gist of the matter as I see it.

  19. Douglas Brooks says:

    Perhaps I am late to reply. My apologies. This one passed by me and I’m pretty busy working on other professional work. It’s been hard to keep up. So I hope my delay is not misconstrued. I hope this reply helps. It is split into bits to insure that it posts without technical problems! That’s the only reason.

    Commenting in public about John’s innovations and efforts in situations that included my Anusara students did not seem to me helpful to those students. Anyone who knows me and any Anusara student or teacher who approached me with concerns about the direction of AY and/or John’s policies or personal behaviors, to them I offered my private counsel. I don’t think I ever declined to reply to any question, no matter the subject. I trust in those conversations I was clear and candid. I think my reputation for having an opinion is well-understood by those who know me. The AY teachers and students were being asked to “align” and that was not my business to influence or direct. I gave each as much counsel as they asked for and have tried to emphasize freedom of choice and the formation of opinion based on personal experiences. I trust they each would make decisions that best reflect their individual conscience. I expressed my feelings and thoughts clearly to John privately whenever we had opportunity. We had our disagreements but we rarely aired them publicly, each I suppose for our own reasons. (Some few may be privy to conversations John and I had over shared meals where discussed his views on my matters. Those conversations are not private to me and anyone is free as I see it to recollect them, as I might. John and I have a relationship where we do not compel one another to agree and have never made any such agreement or “alignment” a contingency of any financial relationship. This is my experience, others will of coruse speak for themselves.)

  20. Douglas Brooks says:

    I have worked closely with AY from its inception and as I explain I have not formally spoken for AY for years except in the role as a guest educator. That is a role I have shared proudly with others, like the redoubtable Sally Kempton and William Mahony, both of whom are dear friends and persons for whom I have the highest regard.

    I will credit the success I may have achieved in the publication of work, in compensation for appearances at events, and for John’s generous introduction and participation in the communities he has set in motion. I would not know most of these wonderful Anusara folks (associated formally or within the larger yoga communities) without my relationship to John Friend. I am deeply grateful to him for that support and encouragement over the years. It is the generosity of AY to publish my work and to the dozens of studio owners and friend of AY, including John of course, to invite me to participate in the conversation that has benefited me personally and financially. My relationship with John is financial insofar as I have received contracted royalties for my published work and for events to which I have been invited. All other input and counsel has been private and uncompensated.

  21. Douglas Brooks says:

    If you ask me if I was then or am now concerned for my financial welfare and so muted my comments in public or restrained them in private for those reasons, I answer emphatically no. I have honest and clear agreements in all of my business relationships, that is always my goal and if anyone has any issue with me on those grounds I would warmly welcome all private conversation. I mean to be open and honest that I am earning a living as an educator and a teacher both inside and outside my experience as a University professor. I’m not the sort of person needs to be constrained by a business relationship because I work in environments that require no such agreements constraining speech. No one has ever asked me to mute my ideas or feelings and I have felt no such compunction for myself. It helps, as Dr. Katy Poole has recognized with real candor, I also achieved my tenure as a University professor in the secular world long ago and my job security there frees me in ways other jobs might constrain. We all know this inside academia. My University requires me only to maintain the parameters of honesty and deceny that our profession demands and I am deeply grateful to my academic employer and honor my profession’s standard regarding freedom of speech.) Does this answer the question satisfactorily?

  22. Douglas Brooks says:

    It is would sadden me and, if you knew me, make me mad as hell (I’d get over it pretty quickly and get on with a better response asap) to suggest that I am seeking to profit from this overall situation or exploit it for personal or financial gain. I have made a point of trying to avoid any such impression because that is my honest feeling and intention. But it’s only human nature to suspect or doubt one another and I welcome that scrutiny because we build trust as much on those grounds as any others. In other words, it’s important to doubt or even be cynical in order to work to understand each other better. I hope we learn to trust one another more deeply through relationships rooted in integrity.

  23. Douglas Brooks says:

    I hope all of us who act in our respective offerings to the yoga community flourish, and that of course means we earn a living. I encourage serious study about yoga with professionally trained scholars and will endorse that study with all of those with whom I have a professional relationship. I believe everyone should be compensated in a fair and clear transactions that are moral and legal. I never submit to a zero-sum game approach to any financial matters regarding my role as a teacher and educator, meaning that I support the notion and hope everyone involved really prospers personally, spiritually, professionally, and financially. As Dr. Kay Poole has again noted with real honesty, our academic profession has not always (I mean and she does too, ever) been supportive of our work as educators with personal relationships to Asian spiritual traditions. But as for myself, my work with AY over the years leaves me with no regrets other than that I wish I could and hope that I will continue to be of help to the community, which I regard as friend, and in my personal relationship with each of you, and with John. The personal relationship between John and I is a matter between brothers. I will not comment further on what transpires between us. I believe our relationship has been financially transparent between us but the basis for any professional relations was not founded nor has it ever been rooted in fiduciary benefit. That’s all I got for now.

  24. 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.

  25. Mark says:

    Thank you for the detailed responses.

  26. Harriet says:

    Maybe you should educate yourself.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. SQR says:

    Perhaps, but Poodle's comment is a reminder that after the storm has past, and everyone has figured how to reconstruct and move on, there will, first and foremost, be people who just like practicing Yoga… I suspect the teachers who remember this will be the most successful in the future.

  30. […] 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 […]

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. […] 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 […]

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

  35. Guest says:

    In attempting to give a thumbs down, I gave a thumbs up, as my tech skills are lacking. So now I must clarify:
    mauromar attempts to simplify yoga describing it as "just a combination of breathing and stretching exercises. Nothing more." I give a thumbs down to this dismissal of yoga. Hatha yoga (which is only one arm, one aspect, of yoga) includes breathing and stretching and much, much, much MUCH more.

    Those who don't know what they are talking about do damage by speaking out without the knowledge to back up their words. I have heard it said, "Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut." That would have been wise advice for mauramar to receive and consider before submitting the above ignorant post.

  36. 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

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

  38. […] John Friend impacted many lives in a negative way. His mistakes and the resulting implosion of Anusara caused loss of income and reputation for those who depended on him and supported him, some for nearly two decades. […]

  39. […] taught us the virtues of non-theism, of finding our wisdom and bliss within, better than anyone else could have in […]

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