If you are like me, you are sick of reading about all the most recent spiritual scandals in Buddhism and yoga.
You find spiritual teachers sexually exploiting their students, abusing power or stealing money from their communities both disturbing and disillusioning. While a world without spiritual scandals is unrealistic, we increase the chances of lessening the heartache they cause by looking at the ingredients that go into spiritual misconduct.
Take a large spoonful of an overly ambitious spiritual teacher with a lust for power and a belief in his or her own infallibility, a resistance to feedback about his or her behavior and a reluctance to exert control over his or her wishes and desires. Add a group of students who mistrust themselves and follow their teachers blindly, believing that “experts” can tell them how to live. Blend that with a willingness on the part of students and administration alike to turn a blind eye to a teacher’s runaway authority and bad behavior, and to scapegoat anyone who questions it—and voilà! You have cooked up a spiritual scandal.
I’ve had the rare privilege of studying with some wonderful yoga and Buddhist teachers—Joel Kramer and T.K.V. Desikachar, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, Shinzen Young and Lou Mitsunen Nordstrom—and those experiences have given me a taste of some of the crucial ingredients that go into a healthier teacher-student relationship.
Take a spiritual teacher with self-awareness and a dose of humility who knows he or she is “human, all-too-human” and who knows he or she can learn from his or her students. Add the teacher’s recognition that supporting the growth of his or her students is more important than expanding his or her own spiritual kingdom. Better yet, mix in a teacher who thinks that spiritual empires are deadly, and not just for students. Blend that with the teacher’s capacity to study the gaps between his or her spiritual ideals and actual behavior.
Mix the whole thing with students who do not make any teacher—no matter his or her reputation or stature—the final authority on their lives. Finally, combine it with students who are committed to questioning theories or practices that are harmful or exploitative.
Now you have a healthier teacher-student relationship and a recipe to decrease the frequency of spiritual scandals.
The creator of meditative psychotherapy, Dr. Jeffrey Rubin is considered one of the leading integrators of the Eastern meditative and Western psychotherapeutic traditions. The author of the critically acclaimed The Art of Flourishing, Psychotherapy and Buddhism, The Good Life, and A Psychoanalysis for Our Time, he has taught at various universities, psychoanalytic institutes, and Buddhist and yoga centers. You can see more about his work at www.drjeffreyrubin.com. Also, you can read about his work in the NYT Magazine here.
Editor: Jayleigh Lewis