It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes on John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on Oct 25, 2012
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Kausthub and T.K.V. Desikachar. Photo: Ascent Magazine

by Matthew Remski

 

1. Structural Flaws Mirror Interpersonal Flaws

When the Anusara scandal broke, I suggested that a structural flaw in mass-market yoga was as much to blame for the community’s implosion as John Friend’s shreenis. Namely: a homeless, credit-card-and-air-miles-dependent “movement” built on a mostly-fictional spirituality will probably incubate many thin, dishonest, celebrity-heavy, mutually-enabling, power-distorted, ungrounded, woo-woo relationships. I argued that Friend created the perfect mirage to cover for his shadows and sins: a transnational brand of universalist sentimentality so thick with the jargon of Shringlish that his top shareholders lost their ability to speak truth to power.

We can judge the personal shadows and sins as we must, and call for justice as we should. But as we consider the larger themes of yoga culture and pedagogy I believe we also have to pay attention to is how these shadows calcify into the social structures that then protect them. I think we can agree: we really want to stop creating yoga schools that purport to teach yoga when their corporate and spiritual bureaucracies force them to do the exact opposite.

We want to stop it in Encinitas, but equally in Chennai. Because now it is even more clear that corrupt yoga community is not simply the specialty of late-capitalist yogis, who have been accused of both appropriation and shameless invention, and who, because they lack “grounding in the tradition” are presumed to be ripe for scandal. Dysfunctional community is also to be found at the acclaimed root of the modern global yoga tree. Recent allegations against Kausthub Desikachar have enveloped the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM) and Kausthub’s affiliated venture, Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation (KHYF), in scandal. It smells like the Anusara situation, notwithstanding the fact that the two organizations run on opposing meme-sets (neo-Tantric , and neo-ascetic) and have built their marketing on differing modes of celebrity (the self-made man, and the genetic heir). To me, both of these corporate yoga models are dysfunctional, and if we look at them clearly, we can envision something more real.

At least five women have accused Kausthub Desikachar of emotional abuse and sexual harassment. The details are out via this letter from KYM insider Sriram, and they are nauseating. I encourage you to read them to appreciate some of the analysis that follows. He stands accused of psychological intimidation, spiritual bullying, humiliating his students sexually in group settings, subjecting female students to bogus “granthi” massages, promising to endow them with special powers through intercourse, and of course demanding silence and secrecy from his victims. Rumours abound that the number of his victims are much higher. Reports have been filed with the police in Austria.

I am sure that other very painful stories will emerge over time. The elements are achingly familiar: systemic sexism, vulnerable students seeking psychological validation, magical thinking, a self-deluded, developmentally stunted and perhaps sociopathic teacher abusing his power in the hotel rooms of his ennui. What we’ll have to dig for is the murkier but critical social story of Kausthub’s enablers, from his associates at KYM and KHYF, to his American and European hosts and champions, all the way up to his father, the venerable T.K.V. Desikachar, son of the late T. Krishnamacharya.

Inquiring into T.K.V.’s possible enabling role at this point will be very uncomfortable. The man is in declining health. As we can see from Sriram’s public letter, his students will now feel compelled to protect his sanctity and legacy, upon which many of their own reputations are surely hinged.

But the question must be asked: is everything in order at the top? It seems that as far back as 2007, key figures in KYM/KHYF were complaining loudly about Kausthub’s predation, and their voices were either unheard or silenced. V. Saraswathi hand-delivered a letter to T.K.V. on July 24th, 2007, detailing Kausthub’s abusiveness and misogyny going back for more than a decade at that point. What is so painful about her appeal is that it is being made to the man who is perhaps his primary enabler:

But there comes a point when the very teachings and practices you have empowered us with have woken us up from a very deep slumber… Many people in this tradition, just like me, have woken up to a very harsh reality – in the form of your prodigal son. This may also be your wake-up call.

A. Ranganathan, a long-term student of T.K.V., writes:

It hurts me that Sri. Desikachar, a stickler for discipline and ethical behaviour among his students and teachers, turned a blind eye to his own son’s unpardonable misdemeanors.

We don’t know if these charges of negligence are true. KYM/KHYM should be responding to them transparently, and quickly. But so far, key players seem to be ducking for cover. The first thing that’s happening is that the non-profit parent organization, KYM, is trying to sever ties with the for-profit “son”, KHYM. Sriram calls, in fact, for a boycott of all KHYM activities, and – presumably – its affiliated teachers. A former student of Kausthub, Scott Rennie, has decried the unfairness of this action, describing how the two organizations have long-term financial ties, and that the programming activities of the Kausthub-led KHYM have recently been a substantial portion of KYM’s income, to the point of having paid in full for their new building in Chennai. Indeed, KHYM lists T.K.V. Desikachar as one of its founders and a head faculty member. And in light of the breaking scandal, T.K.V. and his wife Menaka have resumed proprietorship over KHYM. On November 6th, they are scheduled to preside over an “Evening of Healing”, during which they will offer Vedic chants for the community far and wide. From the outside, it certainly looks like Kausthub has never fallen far from the tree: his organization is being reabsorbed even as he is being isolated. Which calls into question the 10/19 statement of KYM Managing Trustee Dr. Latha Satish, who writes: “The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram has never had and never will have any involvement with any activities of the KHYF.” A key objective of Satish seems clear as he closes his letter, “As always we seek your continued support and patronage.”

I don’t think amputating Kausthub will be easy, nor should it be. As with the Anusara episode, we are seeing at KYM/KHYF a corporate yoga structure that seems to have allowed a terribly wounded and insincere person to hold power for over a decade over those who seek healing and sincerity. As the curtains are drawn back, both scandals raise profound questions about who is given authority in yoga culture, how we form learning relationships, how we project our yearning onto idols, how we nurture intimacy, and where we consider the heart of our practice to lie. It’s becoming clear that neither fly-by-night showmen nor the patriarchs of tradition offer functional and transparent leadership for our new yoga culture. It’s becoming clear that neither the entrepreneurial model of Friend nor the dynastic model of the Desikachar family can form equitable and democratic community. It’s also becoming clear that often when we chase a hyper-spiritual dream, we deepen our evolutionary sleep. We have to find another model. I don’t think we have a lot of time before the entirety of yoga culture becomes a pop-culture punch-line.

 

2. Pain and Confusion as a Community Unravels

I want to be very clear that in my analysis of both situations I am not implying that meaningful connections and lifelong learning can’t or didn’t take place on the kula-bus or over chai in Chennai. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of students have benefited greatly from the tools and networking that both Anusara and KYM/KHYF have offered through the years. This makes the story all the more complex and painful. My critique is aimed at the cultural frameworks of ungrounded celebrity-worship (in John Friend’s case) and corrupt hierarchy (in the case of KYM/KHYF), and how these both squander the true potential of yoga community. I hope to shed light on why we’re attracted to these structures, what we can do to force them to change, and how we can turn our attention elsewhere.

I want to acknowledge that one of the most difficult things that happens when a scandal like this breaks and challenges the integrity of an institution like KYM/KHYF is that many people who enjoyed their learning experience with the organization and benefited from it suddenly feel polluted and defrauded, as though the abuses they were unaware of at the time now somehow invalidate their own personal narratives. For those of you who feel this way – and especially those who are currently enrolled in the now-paused KHYF programmes in Austria, Estonia, and elsewhere – I hope that you can take comfort in the notion that the goodness of your learning experience speaks mostly, if not completely, to the integrity that you brought to it.

I also want to be clear that as I critique KYM/KHYF, I am doing so from an outsider’s perspective, which means that I am analyzing how the organization presents itself to the public, the commonly available documents that expose the scandal, and also presenting insights from conversations I’ve had with those who have been affiliated with KYM/KHYF over the years. I have never met any of the principles involved, and I bear no one ill will on a personal level. This makes this article a political act, aligned with the commonly accepted practice in modern democracies to analyze and critique public figures and institutions from afar.

I’m including this quasi-disclaimer because in my experience so far I’ve found we’re still trying to get comfortable with open critical discourse of our leaders and institutions in modern yoga and mindfulness culture. In response to two instances of my criticism – writing about Anusara and exposing the deadly corruption at the heart of Michael Roach’s neo-Buddhist cult – I have received hundreds of emails from devotees accusing me of interference or malice or jealousy or even blasphemy, because, I believe, they are intensely hurt by the revelations and do not know where to direct their anger.

So where is this “afar” from which my observations come? I’m a community builder in Toronto yoga culture. My practice has been honed in India, the U.S., and Canada. I am a non-denominational practitioner fascinated most by the integrative embodiment strategies that yoga has to offer, and how they intersect with somatic psychotherapy and neuroscience. I care little for yoga metaphysics and less for gurus. I am compelled to write about KYM/KHYF because I am a shareholder in the broader yoga tradition and have a deep interest in how it can become a globally relevant culture. And when something as bad as this happens, I have to act.

On a personal note, I also have to act because my own baby boy was born just this week, and something in me aches for the tangle that T.K.V. and Kausthub are in. I wish them transparency and healing, and I week for father-son relationships worldwide.

Being primarily a North American yogi also means that I cannot speak to the politics of KYM/KHYF from an Indian point of view. Having spent some time in India, I know that KYM/KHYF is embedded within a web of cultural influences that I will never fully understand. I hope that my postmodern and North American critique inspires something equal from an Indian counterpart, who can speak to the meaning and position of KYM/KHY within Indian yoga culture particularly, and Indian culture generally.

 

3. Resorts and Ashrams, Vacations and Pilgrimmages: Where Shall We Find Yoga?

As I described last winter, the Anusara situation presented a kind of systemic vata derangement with regard to relationship, intimacy, and home. Too much air and wind element, too much wandering-lust, too many qualified elders bailing out of the tour bus, too many householders borrowing against their homes for yoga vacays with John, too many DVDs, too many breathless people opening their unboundaried hearts at too many eco-resorts. The violations of Kausthub and the so-far hunkered-down responses by KYM/KHYF, by contrast, seem to have the sticky coating of excess kapha. Entrenchment disguised as stability. Stunted infantile sexuality. Self-satisfaction disguised as authority. Possessiveness over teachings disguised as “lineage purity”.

Constitutional imbalances aside, both organizations project the same distortion: yoga as an exoticism to be purchased in a place more hallowed than your hometown. There are differences, but I believe each system leads us away from our hometowns and existential facts. Friend hawked the pseudo-Tantra of “follow the Shri”, while KYM/KHYF promotes the throwback transcendentalism of Patanjali. Friend was always a little more accessible in the “manifesting abundance” department, offering a liberal distribution network: he vended in conference centers and wellness destinations, and assessed his students by video. The Desikachars, by contrast, have leveraged their exoticism through an opposite, scarcity model: you have to make a pilgrimage to their home to get the goods. In a way, Kausthub has bridged the two models with his travelling training show, but the umbilicus of his authority reaches back to Chennai.

Here’s my main point: between the junkets to Shringri-la and the devotional pilgrimage to the feet of teachers upon which we project our unintegrated wishes, I believe our daily experience, local resources, and workaday lives – which is where our yoga is really found and learned in the end – are vastly undervalued. Our studio newsletters and yoga magazines are filled with advertisements for places that are anywhere-but-here.

Why not just stay home and build grounded communities, rather than corporate satellites for cultures not our own? Is it too plain-Jane? Too every-day? What is this star-dust in our eyes?

 

4. Assessing the Memes and Products of Corporate Yoga

I’ve gleaned certain things from the opposing memes of Anusara and KYM through the years. The pilgrimage to KYM seems heavier in tone and commitment than zipping up to Denver to Blow Your Mind. Those I know who have gone to Chennai speak of their trips in low voices, using few particulars. They use the word “authentic” a lot. They take their time with their words, cloaking what they have learned with caution and humility. This is in stark contrast to the barkers of Shringlish, who couldn’t seem to refrain from bullying everyone with the presumed divinity of everything. They’ve recently gone quiet, thankfully.

The KYM/KHYF product seems to be framed by the journey to KYM/KHYF, a pilgrimage to make contact with the body of the son of the father who lived there once: T.K.V. is the lineage-holder of a kind of cryogenized shaktipat. I imagine he has needed to hold this power close, because he offers no easily-extractable method, as does Friend. You can’t boil yoga therapy down into UPA-style sound-bites, sellable in 20-hour doses in Puerto Vallarta. Yoga therapy demands the touch of a master so intuitive and specialized, it cannot be packaged. You have to sit at his feet for years to learn how to do it. It’s so very complex, you might just have to be his very son to understand it, inherit it, to own it, and to pass it on.

The Anusara product offered a lot of excellent instruction, but seemed to stake out its financial position through a kind of grandiose self-validation scheme, available to everyone who could pay to play. The KYM/KHYF product is subtler and richer, projecting a hushed sanctimony, and available to those willing to devote themselves to months per year in India, and a lifetime in the master’s shadow. On the Anusara side we have a product that shareholders are eager to divorce from its disgraced inventor. They can afford to dispense with Friend, because they can divide his product from his charisma. But on the KYM/KHYF side we see a product that is intrinsic to the master’s DNA. If T.K.V. is found conclusively to have sheltered his son from ethical scrutiny, what would be left of the organization he has built upon his character and his family name? He seems to have delegated relatively little substantial authority, except to his son. Even one of his most prominent Western students, Gary Kraftsow, was forced by some behind-the-curtain intellectual property-rights battle to rebrand his teaching syllabus as “American Viniyoga”. “American”, as in: “parts of it came from somewhere else, but now it’s mostly my own thing.” The message seems to be that real viniyoga remains safe within the Krishnamacharya gene pool, although they no longer even use the word “viniyoga”. The deeper message? Genes trump knowledge? This is sure to backfire when the genes begin to deviate.

 

5. In the Shadow of the Fathers

I’ve thought for a while that the global attraction to a place like KYM/KHYF is in part an attraction to the same paternalism that now factors heavily in its troubles. Perhaps our drive to follow the son of the father of modern yoga, and then the son of the son, reflects our chronic need for a protective “authentic connection” to the “source”. Perhaps KYM/KHYF is a popular self-transformation destination in part because it serves up yoga with a sheen of that paternal certainty for which postmoderns are unconsciously nostalgic. See the tintype portraits in the hallways. Dream of being adopted into this venerable caste. Dream of approval, of being at the centre of things, of the benediction-pat on the head.

from kym.org

But seriously: who believes that father-son dynasties are altogether healthy? I look at those pictures of T.K.V. sweating through asanas under the “eagle eyes” of his father and wonder: Did you really choose this? And your son – did he choose it too? Or are we seeing in you guys a chain of demands, and the anxiety of influence?  I remember the story of Krishnamacharya snapping both of young Bellur Iyengar’s hamstrings to force him into hanumanasana to show off for visiting dignitaries. How imperious might he have been with his own son? It is clear that Mr. Iyengar has gone on to injure some if not many of his own students. Aadil Palkhivala stood in front of a room I was in a decade ago and smiled as he regaled us with the story of how B.K.S. humiliated him by commanding him to perform handstand for an hour in front of the group. “I couldn’t lift my arms for six months afterwards!” he laughed, which is what men do when they don’t know how else to process the absurd violence committed upon them. (They also laugh in deference when they are still scared.)

Elder male/younger male – not to mention father-son – dynamics are complex enough without adding in the spectacle of a public family business built upon spiritual exceptionalism. Anyone with a shred of basic psychoanalysis on board can see that T.K.V. stepped into a long shadow when he donned his father’s dhoti. And I imagine that if we scratch the surface of any of these first families of modern yoga we will see – as we do in every family and every culture – strong evidence of transgenerational cycles of violence and repression. Or do we think it’s somehow all simpler and more benign because it’s Indian?

 

6. Infantile-Aggressive Sexuality

One of the strangest themes in the allegations against Kausthub is his apparent aggressive sexual infantilism: enshrouded in magical thinking, enraged frustration, intense guilt and slut-shaming. These are accounts of a child-man playing sadistic doctor: pressing marma points with enough force to send one woman into convulsions, slapping buttocks and poking breasts, creating public scenes of icky innuendo, and assaulting female students with full-tongue kisses and potty-mouthed epithets. This is not John Friend’s schmaltz of multiple smooth-talking seductions and sophisticated lying that kept women waiting for him in supta baddha konasana in every port-of-call. Although it seems like Friend’s neo-Tantric sexuality couldn’t just be sex either – it had to be “therapy”, involving the very well-known and double-blind-tested procedure of “urethral-pouch massage”, for example. Or it had to “raise energy” for the coming global Shreevolution. It could be anything except intimate.

If the allegations against Kausthub are true, we’re seeing something much darker in Chennai. I’ll read it, hypothetically, through Freud:

Kausthub seems to present a sexuality arrested at a pre-Oedipal stage in which the child-man has been wrenched from the maternal sphere to be disciplined into the patriarchal path, and is now turning to women to beg for attention and validation as he tries to overcome his father’s power. But he unconsciously hates women, projecting onto every one he meets the image of the mother who seemed to abandon him. He digs deep into the misogyny of patriarchy, and runs with it: women are troubled, they are sick and degraded, they are possessed – and the fact that they do not yield to him proves their pathology. He pokes them, prods them, punishes them and slaps them like an overgrown toddler. This is straight-up limbic brain sexuality, murky and aggressing. It fears castration. It’s neither procreative, nor self-confident, nor joy-seeking. It is overwhelmed with a BPD-like terror of abandonment. It attempts to impersonate the power of his patrilineage: he told one woman that having sex with him would heal her, because he would let her hold Krishnamacharya’s ring during intercourse. It is the gross amplification of the sick and fearful tremor that many boys feel on the terrible threshold of autonomy and sexual action, and which he has not been allowed to resolve.

The tremor will deepen to the extent that a boy has been force-fed the psychological splitting of a sex-shaming and body-digusted tradition. Should we really be surprised at the shadow-explosions of a man like Kausthub, given his spiritual heritage? Given that T.V.K. and KYM/KHYF have taken their neo-ascetic reading of Patanjali as their root scripture, which says “By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies” (2.40, translation by Sacchidananda)? Or given that all Krishnamacharya would say about the sexual practices of the 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was that they were “dirty”, and “improper”? Or given that A.G. Mohan, Krishnamacharya’s other senior student beside T.V.K., is still giving Victorian-era tsk-tsk-ing lectures on how “Spirituality and Sexuality are Diametrically Opposed”? What are we to expect, amidst this much repression? A man-child with urges that disgust him throwing himself at women who both disgust him and whom he must objectify, all in the shadow of a father who unconsciously humiliates him with his virtue, fame, and sublimated virility.

 

AG Mohan, fellow long-term student of T. Krishnamacharya with T.K.V. Desikachar, expressing the master’s neo-ascetic view. Mohan posted this video in response to a KHYF course in “Yoga and Sexuality” offered by Kausthub, whose shadow life may have been aggravated by this type of systemic sexual repression.

7. Boycotting Guru Culture

I say: let’s help KYM/KHYF close up shop for a few years and do their family/communal therapy in private. When they re-open, it should be with a revamped Board of Directors in which less than a third of the members are direct students of T.K.V. Desikachar. Administration and devotion shouldn’t mix. When they do, decisions benefit internal delusions more than the common good.

Let us encourage senior KYM/KHYF teachers to make full disclosure of what they knew about Kausthub’s behaviour, when they knew it, what they did to address it, and what they saw others do to enable it. How can they remain qualified as teachers of yoga therapy without this step?

Let’s request that KYM/KHYF refund 100% of the course fees of any current trainings with Kausthub that have been suspended because of the legal action — including for portions of courses that have already been completed. Interim KHYF director Anupama Das has already tried to head off this obviously-ethical move at the pass by declaring that in one current but unfinished programme, “intangible knowledge has already been transferred”, and that discussion of refunding would acknowledge guilt. I would argue that the best-faith gesture KHYF could make would be to refund immediately to show willingness to restore confidence amongst the student body. They should also suspend their tasteless request for membership renewal monies. It is precisely this kind of bureaucratic arrogance that amplifies the interpersonal arrogance of which Kausthub is accused.

Let’s go further, and request that if any former students of Kausthub now feel that their certifications are invalid, that their fees be reimbursed.

Let’s request that KYM/KHYF offer to hire independent, qualified therapists/counselors to meet with anyone who has been in a programme with Kausthub if they apply. These counselors should be fluent in therapeutic languages outside of the language of yoga therapy, which I’m sure has been gutted of integrity for many of these students. The last thing they need is someone “correctly” massaging their granthis or re-tuning their cakras.

These are ethical no-brainers as far as KYM/KHYF is concerned. But the global yoga community can do even better than this, and take this terrible opportunity to show that we can actively take care of our own, while carving out new models of relationship.

Let’s take up a collection – maybe launch a Kickstarter campaign? – to help the victims with their legal costs and to finance those students who desire to complete their training, covering their travel expenses, etc. This recovery-training should take place with another organization, i.e., one that has not lost their trust. Perhaps another yoga therapy institute would consider organizing a special training period for those who wish to continue. Perhaps the students might ask Mr. Kraftsow if he is available. Let us also ask the associate-teachers of KYM/KHYF — especially those who distanced themselves from the organization based on suspicions they were not able to confirm at the time — to provide active support and mentorship for those who are now trying to “exit”.

And in the meantime, the rest of us can stop fetishizing the perfect and the exotic. Sriram’s letter calls for a boycott of Kausthub’s activities in order to sever him from the fathership. I say: let’s boycott guru culture altogether, because it’s not working. While we’re at it, let’s stop being bamboozled by charisma, and let’s give up on the tyranny of the “authentic”, because it should be clear by now that everyone is creating something. Yoga culture is growing because we’re making stuff up, for better or for worse. Adventurous teachers are creating dance-asana hybrids. Hatha and mindfulness are cross-pollinating. The Desikachars have created a family dynasty out of a name and a disparate array of practices. John Friend created Shringri-la. Creativity isn’t the issue. Motivation is. Transparency is. Developmental maturity is. (I don’t care who your guru is — if he hasn’t gone through some kind of psychotherapy because he’s too special or famous, he’s probably got a pile of unexamined shit in his closet, and he’ll look for any opportunity to dump it onto you.)

Things might be simpler if we just ditched the language of lineage altogether. Honestly: there are no real “lineages” in modern yoga. There are movements, art forms, brands, celebrities, and memes. Ideas float, combine, change, and disappear. Irony: Krishnamacharya himself was a syncretist, a bricoleur – sewing together a tapestry of Vedic, Tantric, and Hatha influences, collecting techniques from Lanka to the Himalayas. Who was around in his day to crown him “authentic”? He did then what we’re doing now – weaving together the tools that make sense to us in our own time, regardless of where they come from. He opened a bunch of old boxes and put a bunch of stuff together in a creative way. Assuming he nailed the whole thing down and passed it on completely to his son is like thinking John Lennon mastered music and then mind-melded all his talent into Sean. In what other sphere would we imagine that a son had osmotically absorbed the grace of his father, other than one so rife with magical thinking and totemism?

At the nitty gritty level, boycotting guru culture means looking at the ways in which we’re seduced by an over-determined notion of “teacher”. A regular and useful teacher of yoga is just somebody with good manners and a few good tools for self-inquiry they can show you in an encouraging way. You learn with them until you more or less get what they have to offer. But in the process you’ll make it into your own thing, because what’s worked for them can’t ever completely work for you. When you’re bored you’ll move on to someone who has a different focus. No teacher can give us everything we need: expecting them to is a psychologically immature refusal to accept the always-incomplete nature of the growth process.

 

8. Where the Real Teachers Are

It’s taken me a bunch of years to wipe the star-dust out of my eyes, but now I have a good sense of where the real teaching is. If you live in a city of a million or so, I guarantee you there are at least a dozen teachers who have been instructing asana and breathwork and meditation in relative obscurity for fifteen years or more. They began in the mid-nineties or before, when YTT programmes were few and far between. Maybe they took one, maybe they didn’t. They learned what they could from whomever they met, and did a lot of work at home. They stopped spending their money on the big conferences a decade ago. Some have traveled to India for ashram retreats, and some have road-tripped through the mid-sized towns visiting the older teachers who also work in low-overhead, quiet studios: mentors like Francois Raoult in Rochester, or Kim Schwartz in Albuquerque, Erich Schiffman in Ojai, or Angela Farmer wherever she shows up. They’ve practiced consistently and read and digested many of the key books. They’ve been teaching and learning and serving, largely on their own, mostly unrecognized.

But most importantly, our best not-famous teachers been living their normal lives: giving birth, raising children, paying taxes, voting, getting injured and recovering, working out sexual issues, staying put most of the time, sitting on PTA boards, getting married, getting divorced, celebrating anniversaries, getting foreclosed on, feeling tired, getting cancer, opening something new, undergoing chemo, doubting what they do, going into remission, and loving what they do, relapsing, crying in the dressing room after class. Their yoga is practical and bling-free, it’s not jacked up on power dynamics or heavy paternal pressures. Or if it was, they got over it. They know just enough to show you just enough for you to find your path. They are good-enough. You don’t have to take out a second mortgage or learn Hindi to learn from them. They are just like you, only a little older. You can see into their lives plainly. You’ll never amplify their flaws into social crises, because you reflect each other’s commonness too closely.

O precious teacher!  Precious, precious teacher – humble and good, kind and normal – however shall we find you? I’ll tell you how. It’s dead easy.

Go to any class at any yoga studio. Approach the teacher after rolling up your mat. Ask them “Who are your favourite well-rounded senior teachers in this town?” They will give you three-odd names. If they all work at that same studio, press for two more names. If they’re all under 40, press for two more. Make a commitment to yourself to go to each of the named teacher’s classes in the following months. You will definitely find somebody you resonate with. Someone who is good enough to simply start you on your own path of inquiry, which is all you really need. They won’t be perfect, and they know it, and that’s good. They can’t give you everything. Some day you’ll move on.

Forget heart-openers on the beach in Costa Rica. Forget prostrations in Chennai.

We need to learn from someone like ourselves, right where we stand.

What we need is as close as we are to each other. We’re here to learn together.

Idols stand between us because we prop them up.

Falling, they will become human again, and seek healing and integrity with the rest of us.

 

_______

 

 

Matthew Remski is an author, yoga teacher, ayurvedic therapist and educator, co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto, and a new papa. He is a co-contributor to 21st Century Yoga. His new “remix” translation of Patanjali  — threads of yoga— is going to print right now. Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body:The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, says of the book: “I don’t know of any reading of the yoga sutras as wildly creative, as impassioned and as earnest as this. it engages Patanjali and the reader in an urgent, electrified conversation that weaves philosophy, symbolist poetry, psychoanalysis and cultural history. There’s a kind of delight and freshness in this book that is very rare in writing on yoga, and especially rare in writing on the yoga sutras. This is a Patanjali for postmoderns, less a translation than a startlingly relevant report on our current condition, through the prism of this ancient text.” Please check out Matthew’s site for more writings on Ayurveda and Yoga.

 

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that B.K.S. Iyengar was forced into hanumanasana by T. Krishnamacharya to impress Swami Vivekananda. This was incorrect, and has been amended.


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About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.

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140 Responses to “It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes on John Friend and Kausthub Desikachar”

  1. Vision_Quest2 says:

    The crux of the matter is that yoga is the art and the science of "relationship" … be it relationship to the Self, the teacher-student relationship, the relationship between group and community, the relationship between community and the world … intimate learning relationship being one of the many possible relationships … the standard for intimate learning relationship is reciprocity–growth and development working both ways, all accomplished without trauma ….

  2. agni says:

    I can agree with that. Yoga is the path for us to become universal!

  3. The Eastern Mind says:

    “But I’d like to return to the issue at hand: the vulnerabilities of the guru-shishya model has been amplified in Chennai through the KYM bullhorn. Would you like to speak to that?”

    Sure. Neither John Friend nor Kausthub are “gurus”. Guru does not merely mean “teacher”. You cited “guru means/is heavy” as a negative example of I suppose the authoritarianism that you read into the guru-shishya relationship, but I see that statement, as well as the many other grave statements about guru as one of the troubleshooting mechanisms within the guru-shishya concept itself.

    Guru is a serious thing. Before taking someone as guru, a lot of research has to be done into their background, lifestyle, habits, worldview, relationships, etc. This is why it has been traditionally advised that we live with, observe and test the guru BEFORE accepting him or her as guru.

    The “heavy” statements about guru are to impress the aspirant with the gravity of the matter, not to take just any ol’ Tom, Dick, Harry, John or Kausthub as guru.

    My advise would be to refrain from calling these people gurus. Those who like their teaching styles or whatever, fine. But don’t accept them as gurus. Just take them as teachers or friends at most.

    I would like to ask why you take issue with AG Mohan’s presentation of Sexuality. In the ashram stage system only 1 stage engages with sexuality and that comes during one’s prime reproductive years. Before that there is brahmachari (childhood and youth), after that is grihasta (adult reproductive years). AFTER THAT comes vanaprastha (upper middle age when one begins to withdraw from sexual activity and active family/social life), and finally sannyasa (old age when one withdraws completely and dedicates all of one’s time and energy in sadhana).

    None of the Dharmic systems, whether Yogic, Tantric, Vedic or otherwise, see sexuality has something to be engaged with throughout one’s entire life. No viagra needed! When one’s libido drops it is seen as liberation.

    The concept of Tantra is the West is totally wrong.

  4. matthew says:

    Thank you for the dialogue.

    Whether they are gurus or not in anyone's estimation is immaterial to me. The difficulty is with a pedagogical model that amplifies power differentials whilst playing a zero-sum game with old notions of shraddha. In the instance of Kausthub, we should remember that many students did "live with" the Desikachar family, observing his ascendancy from a young age, etc. They were duped as much by the model as by the man.

    In the end, it's the model that cannot work, unless one deliberately retrogresses to a pre-postmodern socio-politics. Postmodernism is defined by an "incredulity towards metanarratives", a la Lyotard. The metanarrative of the guru is no longer believable. If some still believe it, it is at the expense of isolating themselves from the prevailing global zeitgeist, which has progressed to the point that it sees the sinner in every saint.

    I take issue with AG Mohan's repression not because it is not scripturally accurate, but because it is repressive. As an ayurvedist, I understand the ebb and flow of libido not as the ebb and flow of being "spiritual" or not, but as part of the rich spiritual tapestry of life. Read Mohan's slide carefully. Are you really supporting such a hard dualism?

  5. The Eastern Mind says:

    “My advise would be to refrain from calling these people gurus. Those who like their teaching styles or whatever, fine. But don’t accept them as gurus. Just take them as teachers or friends at most.”

    In addition I’ll add that it may be that genuine gurus are in rare supply. It may be that they keep to themselves and cannot be found on the internet. It may be that most of us will never meet a genuine guru.

    Moreover, every student must directly ask his or her yoga teachers what their ethical standards and parameters are. Those should be clearly articulated to everyone from the get-go. Leave nothing to the imagination. No vague word plays and no “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

  6. matthew says:

    "It may be that most of us will never meet a genuine guru."

    So: not only is the model flawed in terms of its outmoded and objectifying interpersonal dynamics, it's also inaccessible and/or on the edge of extinction. To me this is even more evidence that it's time to let the fetish go, and to turn our attention to understanding our intersubjectivity.

  7. The Eastern Mind says:

    Matthew, I fail to see why you keep pimping “postmodernism” as some kind of panacea to the world’s ills. Its nothing more than one flawed model out of many this culture has to offer up.

    The model of guru/shishya is not flawed, people who misapply it ARE.

    Did Kausthub’s students identify themselves as his disciples? Did he give them diksha? Nowhere in my research have I come across any such statements.

    He was a yoga teacher, and a fat, portly one at that.

    [While John Friend is equally as unattractive, married women nonetheless willingly cheated on their husbands for the oppurtunity to stand next to his fire. Kausthub on the other hand, like many unattractive and socio-sexually awkward Indian guys had to force himself in strange, incredibly awkward ways upon women because even in India dude couldn’t get a date off a calendar. This goes back to a few of the comments above that allude to cultural sexual suppression in addition to him not being eye candy.]

  8. The Eastern Mind says:

    Continued from above…

    For your information there are in fact genuine gurus in India but they are not on the internet. The global yoga scene is not one based at all upon the guru-shishya model, just as the global Tantra scene is not at all based upon tantra but it rather just culturally misappropriates the term because “exotic sells” to postmodern occidentals.

    For the rare occidental who might sincerely be seeking a genuine guru, they can, and DO, search one out. You are nobody to invalidate their experience and they are not going to trash it just because some “neo-philosopher-pimp of postmodernism” on EJ tells them to. Most likely such a rare occidental with a guru has no clue what EJ even is.

    All shastras, from Vedic texts to Yogic texts to Tantrik texts, warn about the distraction that sexual indulgence CAN be for the sadhak. It is from that perspective that AG Mohan speaks. If he himself is a father, or has parents (which he does), then obviously he does not think all sex in all situations is “bad”, nor does he say so. It is situational and merely a matter of context.

    The fact is that sexual attraction does put one in bodily consciousness because during our sexually active years we waste a lot of time (what to speak of money) worrying about what our bodies look like in the eyes of the opposite (or same) sex. Almost every major corporate industry in existence is woven around the this particular insecurity of its consumers. And boy do they pimp that insecurity to the max and we, the sheeple, buy, buy, buy.

  9. The Eastern Mind says:

    Continued from above….

    The entire Dharmic corpus is not built on this model of $exploitation. Rather it is built on the model that all sentient beings gain liberation through the gradual downsizing of wants, desires, even so-called “needs”.

    There is a time for the exploration of sexuality but that time is limited to the period when sex hormones are naturally at their peak.

    The Dharmic corpus does not recommend Viagra for aging men but it does recommend vairagya.

    You, as an enthusiast of a few of the Dharmic traditions, like Yoga and Ayurveda, are obviously aware of this.

    Vairagya of course is not “good for the economy” and hence shunned in your culture which is based on ever increasing consumerism.

    More than that, I don’t understand why dualism leaves such a bad taste in your mouth.

    All things are not the same. We make dualistic distinctions all the time and it is correct to do so.

    For example; you have a certain kind of relationship with your spouse/partner and another kind of relationship with your newborn baby boy. If you, in an effort to be “non-dualistic”, were to attempt the same relationship with your child that you have with your spouse/partner, your ass would get thrown in jail and rightly so.

  10. The Eastern Mind says:

    Continued from above…

    Similarly, sexuality and its engagement over the various phases of the human life cycle will be different. What is beneficial at one phase will not be beneficial at another.

    For someone seeking moksha through the yoga process, sexuality is gradually downsized in concordance with their individual circumstances and in tandem with the general human life cycles.

    I agree with this;

    “To me this is even more evidence that it’s time to let the fetish go”..

    The fetish that needs to be let go is occidentals misappropriating oriental cultures.

    (And if you venture to read any Desi/South Asian blogs, Indians are SICK of it. Especially your post-modern, left leaning, western university educated ones).

    Stop calling your fetish for ever increasing orgasms and middle-aged soulmate seeking “tantra”.

  11. matthew says:

    Postmodernism is not a panacea. It's a condition. And if we're dialoguing instantly across thousands of miles in English, and we're coming from such different viewpoints, and yet we moderately understand each other, it is a condition we share.

    I don't know if K. gave formal diksha. There are statements regarding his esoteric emphasis and highly ritualized teaching styles, and the formation of a formal "sangha" allied with him as a root teacher. He's definitely drawing on the diksha meme, whether or not he knows what he's doing.

  12. matthew says:

    I'm speaking mainly to AG Mohan's juxtaposition of the spiritual against the sexual, which to me is as repressive as similar views throughout Indic thought.

    You have "neo-philosopher-pimp of postmodernism" in quotes, above. Are you quoting yourself? How postmodern of you.

  13. matthew says:

    The hard dualisms I target in all of my writing are the conceptual distinctions between body/mind, spirituality/sexuality, teacher/student that lead to psychological splitting. Deconstructing these does not make one an advocate for the non-dual. There are always distinctions to be made. They're just far less concrete than we think.

    But I must say: now you're not writing about the post at all. I'd suggest you comment on the posts you are complaining about.

  14. matthew says:

    Please read Mark Singleton. It might relieve you of your grievance that yoga has been misappropriated going in either direction. Mutual pollination is the more accurate story: Swami Kaivalyananda's usage of rationalism and early 20th cent science is a good example of the uneasy and unconscious cooperation between the old and the new.

    I would appreciate links to the blogs you mention. Thanks.

  15. The Eastern Mind says:

    “Please read Mark Singleton. It might relieve you of your grievance that yoga has been misappropriated going in either direction.”

    Cross pollination is very different from cultural misappropriation.

    Western so-called “tantra” is gross misappropriation for the sake of extreme hardcore capitalistic profit. As is their silly notion of “shamanism”.

    I guess calling things what they are is just too boring and less likely to provide the excessive income upper-middle class white people need in order to fully transition into the elite class 1% complete with solar powered eco-homes on the island of Maui in which they conduct “retreats”.

    Here’s link to a diasporic blog discussing misappropriation;

    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/0

    Read the comments as well.

  16. Pankaj Seth says:

    The four aims of life indicate an holistic approach… kama and moksha (and dharma and artha) are all there. Next, Brahmin pundits are married, not celibate monks. There is a monastic tradition, but also a householders tradition. There is no requirement to follow AG Mohan's advice, but monasticism is a fine way for many to choose for themselves, and where sexuality is turned away from, along with a myriad of sensory impingements upon an attempt to mentally focus in a singular way. Where is the problem in this?

    By contrast, you know the history of Christianity, with its placement of women as sources of original sin, sex considered dirty… where is the Western Kama Sutra? Since the 60's there has been useful change towards more open sexuality, and India is not keeping away from taking some of that on in its modern iteration. I find that you continue to claim more than you can back up, though you have made some well thought out observations as well.

  17. matthew says:

    I apologize: I didn't mean to imply that AG Mohan's advice was exclusive to Indian thought.

    I have been around Eastern and Western monastics my entire life, and I've seen it work for very very few. Too many shadows, suppressions, splittings.

    And yes: the history of Christianity is a psychological abattoir. (Between your comments and those of Eastern Mind, it feels like I've been positioned as some defender of all things Western, which confuses me: I am no such thing.) As for the Western Kama Sutra, late Renaissance continental literature abounds with "marital manuals". They just haven't benefited from the same Orientalist publishing fame.

  18. matthew says:

    Thanks for the link.

    Just to clarify: you really aren't addressing me or my post any more. Perhaps you should contact Waylon Lewis, owner of Elephant Journal, and ask if you can contribute your own post. You might like that.

  19. J. S. says:

    Matthew Remski makes several excellent points in this article. But his view does contain false assertions and biased assumptions that are neither objective nor rigorously substantiated.

    Point One: “Universal” Freudian Analysis

    It’s interesting to see that the author would place seemingly unquestioned reliance on his Freudian analysis and psychohistory, which is not universally accepted even in the modern psychological community.

    Remski says in the comments, “Yes: every culture, every family has buried cycles of intergenerational violence. Look at Lloyd deMause and the psychohistorians for the evidence, especially "A History of Childhood": "Childhood is a nightmare from which we are just beginning to wake up."

    In contrast, read Martin Seligman, one of the most eminent psychologists of the 20th century, a founder of the increasingly mainstream positive psychology, and former president of the American Psychological Association. In his book, “Learned Optimism,” Seligman says:

    “Freud was a great liberator. In his early work on hysteria—physical losses like paralysis with no physical cause—he dared to examine human sexuality and confront its darker aspects. However, his success in using the underside of sexuality to explain hysteria gave rise to a formula he used for the rest of his life. All mental suffering became a transmutation of some vile part of us, and to Freud the vile parts were us at our most basic and universal. This implausible premise, insulting as it is to human nature, began an epoch in which anything can be said:

    You want to have sex with your mother.

    You want to kill your father.

    You harbor fantasies that your newborn baby might die—because you want him to die.

    You want to spend your days in endless misery.

    Your most loathsome, inner secrets are what is most basic to you. Used in this manner, words lose their connection with reality; they become detached from emotion and from the common, recognized experience of mankind. Try saying any of these things to an armed Sicilian.”

    Seligman, Martin E. (2011-08-10). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Random House, Inc.

    My point is not about who is right, but simply that Remksi’s assertions are not “universal” as he claims. Rather, it is his view that these beliefs are universal. The article is much influenced by this bias. From this bias, Remski builds a narrative. We all like narratives, but narratives are not necessarily facts.

    And while Remski espouses faith in Freudian analysis being universal, he would appear to dismiss the classical views of the Yoga Sutras and their commentaries as being no more valid than his own interpretations—his view seems to be that “yoga is what we make of it” with vague allusions to post-modernism and phrases like “spiritual tapestry of life” thrown in.

  20. J. S. says:

    Point Two: Non-attachment vs. Repression

    It is only the author’s own assumptions that lead him to use the word “repression.” Neither the Yoga Sutras nor A. G. Mohan in the video say that one should not have sex—or repress anything, for that matter. The idea of brahmacharya is that people in worldly life have sexual relations with their partner—with balance and sensible moderation. Complete celibacy is for the monk. Buddhism too echoes the same idea. Read the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 3, Verse 6)—restraining the senses while retaining desire in the mind is futile. Repression is explicitly *not* the goal.

    If one defines or understands “spirituality” as or in the context of “stillness of the mind” (the definition of yoga in the Yoga Sutras), the slide in Mohan’s video makes good sense—even from the perspective of modern psychology.

    The Yoga Sutras is saying that one cannot have uninhibited indulgence for the senses and stillness of the mind as well—unfortunately, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. One cannot reach stillness of the mind through unrestrained sex any more than through unrestrained eating. Hedonism is the path to exciting the senses and thereby the mind—hedonism is not the path to calming the mind.

    As modern psychological research shows, unrestrained hedonic indulgence does not lead to ever-increasing contentment. Instead, “hedonic adaptation” sets in, and increasing stimulation is required to achieve the same satisfaction. Vyasa described this accurately, saying that the senses grow sharper as we feed them. In contrast, by moderation and balance, pleasures remain fresh, and satisfaction greater. This is not very different from eating a balanced and moderate diet, as compared to gorging oneself on chocolate.

    For instance, an interesting study showed that giving participants one piece of chocolate a week is better than giving them a bag of chocolate—the people who ate one piece of chocolate a week reported greater satisfaction with the experience of eating chocolate than those who ate the whole bag. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/…. And a similar effect applies to soda too. (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.1086/425085?uid=3738176&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101327739921)

    As with food, so with sex. This is really not hard to understand from our own experience.

    Eventually, if one so chooses (note the emphasis on choice, which is the foundation of the Yoga Sutras), one progresses from moderate indulgence to calm, dispassionate non-attachment, and this in turn leads to stillness of the mind.

    Non-attachment is not repression; not at all. As Vyasa accurately phrases it (anābhogātmikā heyopādeya-śūnyā vaśīkāra-saṁjñā vairāgyam in Yoga Sutra I.15), it is neither the wish to remove nor the wish to attain, but clear stillness devoid of volition. This is a fundamental concept in the Eastern philosophies of samkhya, yoga, Buddhism, non-dualism, and even the devotional traditions.

    Mohan merely presents the above facts. I don’t see where the author has a valid argument against this, aside from saying that sexual repression is a bad idea, which is a straw man in this context, in that neither the Yoga Sutras, Buddha, nor Mohan in his video have said that.

    And the philosophy of Sankara does not equate non-dualism with hedonism or combining sexual indulgence with spirituality—non-attachment of vairagya is paramount in non-dualism too, and the practice of brahmacharya is essential for the aspirant (the yamas in yoga are equivalent to the śama and dama in Sankara’s view). Remski appears to be at a tangent, viewing the subject through his Freudian lens, without clearly understanding yoga psychology as in the Yoga Sutras or other related classical Eastern texts.

    This is not a new topic—it has been debated in Eastern philosophies for centuries. If the author has a perspective that contradicts these views, he should *substantiate it rationally*, not misleadingly appeal to emotion. We would all like to have our cake and eat it too—but that’s not really possible as even modern psychological research shows—this is where both the Buddha and Samkhya begin tackling the problem, which the Yoga Sutra expands upon.

  21. J. S. says:

    Point Three: Culture vs. Individual Responsibility

    By suggesting that “sexually repressed culture” is a major cause for the scandal above, the author diverts attention from the responsibility of the perpetrators and enablers and paints a billion people with an uninformed brush. There is no doubt that patriarchal, misogynistic culture in India does contribute to the regressive and abusive attitudes toward women even today. But there are many millions of Indians exposed to similar culture, who through education and self-growth, mature into responsible individuals—not sex abusers.

    The issue here is that the players in this unfortunate scandal had ample opportunity to minimize the worst of their culture and embrace the best, to learn to be wiser—the same opportunities for education and repeated exposure to progressive attitudes that millions of others Indians have used for their betterment. But despite having exposure and opportunity, they chose to bring out the worst of their culture.

    Are these not precisely the individuals from whom we expect an enlightened attitude beyond the limitations of regressive cultural mores? Is the greater blame in this instance on the common culture, or the choice of these specific individuals who could and should have known better?

    Point Four: Ayurveda and Spirituality through Sex

    It is unclear where Remski got the impression that Ayurveda says that sexual indulgence is a path to spirituality. Ayurveda merely suggests that repressing sexual urges is unhealthy, which is also consistent with the Yoga Sutras. For example, in Yoga Sutras II.1 Vyasa specifically says that control over the senses should not lead to disturbances of the mind; do not go to extremes.

    One of the pillars of health in ayurveda is balanced restraint of the senses; not too much, not too less. And ayurveda also recommends that one remove the agitation and clouding of the mind (rajas and tamas) and reach calm clarity (satva)—this is the steadiness of mind that the Yoga Sutras speak of.

    Conclusion

    In all, Matthew Remski seems dismissive of classical Indian thought in general, extending to Buddhism, non-dualism as well as classical devotional traditions, placing reliance on Freud above all of them, and makes some sweeping condemnations and prescriptions from there.

    If Remski disagrees with the Yoga Sutras and its commentaries and other “Indic thought,” they at least deserve respect enough that he should attempt to offer a logical explanation on why he does so—not merely dismiss them based on his understanding of Western psychology (which is, as stated above, not as universal as he suggests).

    That said, he has brought up many excellent points about the importance of empowerment in the teacher-student relationship, and deserves appreciation and thanks for raising this discussion.

  22. matthew says:

    Dear J.S. — Thank you for taking the time to illuminate — but also exaggerate — some of my biases.

    With regard to illumination: it is true that I consider the body-denying asceticism of the moksha-stream within the purusarthas (Patanjali providing a prime example) to be psychologically dangerous. In other writings I speculate that it arises out of a kind of trauma-response to the emergence of modern alienated consciousness ("modern"in the Axial Age sense) as described by Julian Jaynes. So when I see the Yoga Sutras at the backbone of an ashram culture that harbours Kausthub, my radar beeps loudly.

    This bias does not make me dismissive of Indian thought: in fact I've dedicated the last three years of my writing life to a revisioning of Patanjali's excellence, stripping it of its Iron Age magical thinking and traumatized hard-dualism. I owe much of my mind and heart to India, but I am also a hybrid, and have imported my own culture and education into my consideration of her wisdom. You are a hybrid as well, if you defend the parts of the tradition I critique through Freud by quoting Seligman! Let's hear it for cross-pollination!

    As for exaggeration — it grounds much of the rest of your lecturing.

    Nowhere do I claim that Freudian analysis is somehow "universal". It's just a lens, like any other. In this case, it certainly stirred the pot. In fact, I make several references to the broader literature that follows him.

    Nowhere do I make vague allusions to postmodernism. I'm very precise: going so far as to quote Lyotard. It's an important condition to understand, because we're standing in it together.

    Nowhere do I say that AG Mohan prescribes celibacy for all. I merely point out the neo-ascetic and false dichotomy he makes between spiritual life and sexual life as context for provoking repressive shadow-activity. Nor do I say that spiritual life and sexual life are somehow the same thing. I just reject their wholesale separation, in the same way that the phenomenologists reject hard distinctions between "body" and "mind". A subtle argument requires subtle reading.

    Nowhere do I suggest that "Ayurveda says that sexual indulgence is a path to spirituality".

    Your exaggerations are marked by a distinct lack of direct quoting. I could accuse you of intellectual dishonesty or massive projection. But what's probably going on is that you are fatigued from refuting western appropriative views of Indian thought, and in your fatigue resort to painting things too broadly.

    I want you to know that there are many stakeholders in the yoga tradition now, from many different cultures and intellectual heritages. They have many diverse and subtle views: if you take a little more time with them I think there is a harvest waiting.

    Healthy exchange will include critique. Critique is useful when it's really clear. Clarity comes from quoting directly. Thank you.

  23. Pankaj Seth says:

    Yes, by the late Renaissance Christianity had begun to be pushed back, so by then things were beginning to change. The Kama Sutra is a much earlier text and speaks of Indic thought and holism, rather than be something which came about due to traditional Indic thought having been pushed back.

    "I have been around Eastern and Western monastics my entire life, and I've seen it work for very very few. Too many shadows, suppressions, splittings."

    Matthew, whatever you have seen in monastics does not prove that it doesn't work for many, in fact many have said the opposite of what you have noted. Its not my cup of tea either, but for others it evidently is. Its not as though that non-monastics are necessarily psychologically healthier. This choice to go in this or that direction is the hallmark of the Indic traditions, diversity. It seems that you intend to create some ideal way for all, like the attempt of Christianity/Catholicism. No such thing will be found that fits everyone at every stage of their process.

  24. matthew says:

    Thank you Pankaj: to my eye, it's a stretch to say Vatsyayana "speaks of holism". I know that the book is said to be heavily encoded with tantric symbolism, but on the surface it reads like any one of a number of guides for young bachelors in the arts of seduction, and the postures seem openly impossible. But that's another discussion.

    No, my anecdotes prove nothing, but a broader reading of the history of monasticism gives me pause: its roots in abandonment parenting, its feudal relationship with surrounding ecology, its oppositional stance to householding life, its rampant sexual abuse in all cultures, arising from celibacy edicts… The monastic choice might work individually, but the monastic system exacts a high social price.

    I'm somewhat partial to the sentiments of whichever one of the Sikh gurus (can't remember) who criticized monasticism sharply, saying: the monastic, the ascetic, the yogi who sets himself apart — they are parasitical to the householding class, which is the pillar of society.

    But you should know that I have a very broad view of householding, as per the shifting mores of contemporary family arrangements. Householding is now a single-person affair, as well as a married one, as well as a same-sex one, as well as a communal one, and marriage is changing as well. I think social health increases as relationship flexibility increases, especially in an age of shifting family structures: the monastic memory resists this.

  25. Pankaj Seth says:

    Matthew, the Kama Sutra being part of a very large and varied corpus speaks of holism, not that this text itself could do so as it touches only one part of being human. The point I am making is that along with asceticism, there are also other attitudes equally lauded in India, including the erotic. The choice is left to the individual, w/o threats of apostasy or blasphemy, for example.

    To me, its extremely important that the 4 aims of life and the 6 Darshanas be understood by people who are engaging Yoga in the West. Without this, many will see a stridency in upholding ascetic views. You also know about the 4 stages of life, the latter half being particularly ripe for more inward stances, but the first half being more worldly. So, the system as a whole is very, very robust in terms of holism, complementarity, individuality. What more could one want?

    With all the innovations in dance, art, singing, cuisine, medicine, epistemology, interiorization methods, festivals etc. etc. etc., how can anyone say that the Indic traditions as a whole promote asceticism and disengagement from the world? Only those who have found a little piece of it called Yoga could possibly hold that view. And this is why a further engagement with the Dharmic corpus beyond the Yoga Sutra is essential if people's opinions on the whole Dharmic approach are to have some value.

    And about your Sikh guru example… You have given yet another anecdote which echoes your views… not good enough. I suggest you look at the entire corpus and see the big picture, as I have tried to indicate above.

  26. matthew says:

    I agree that Shad Darsana and Purusartha give a well-rounded approach, and in fact I gravitated towards their multi-layered embrace happily after prolonged contact with fragmentary and transplanted ascetic views…

    … promulgated by institutions such as KYM, actually, which is the focus of my article. And I would ask you respectfully, as I asked J.S., to quote me directly if you would criticize: I have not ever in any way said that "the Indic traditions as a whole promote asceticism and disengagement from the world". Putting those words in my mouth is either dishonest or the result of exhaustion.

    You need not defend the Motherland against this little mouse who is rearranging one of the flowerbeds.

    As for anecdotes, we're both telling them. We have no evidence other than the experiential. I give you the benefit of the doubt in trusting what you say about yours.

  27. Pankaj Seth says:

    Your first paragraph here is key… I have had discussions with many, many Yoga teachers in person, and have observed many more at discussion boards like this, and almost none of them have been taught about, never mind taught about the overarching importance of the 4 aims… the 6 views are are not even on the map, at all, yet. Epistemology… zip, nada, nothing. Inner experience…. exceedingly vague or non-existent. So, its a long way to go yet…

    The fragmentary approach is perhaps an inevitable, natural, early stage within the expected evolution towards a greater knowledge of the Dharmic corpus in the West. Until then, confusion, misinformation will reign. People will see the Dharmic traditions as focusing on aseticism. Recall that Buddhist monks were at first called 'catatonics', such was the lack of knowledge of the orientation of the monks themselves, from their own pov.

    I did't quote you, but asked a question… I think fueled by reading this morning, Julian Walker's thoughts about the Indian civilization… " Julian decries a fundamentalist interpretation of The Yoga Sutras in contemporary teachings when he reveals that author Patanjali was the product of a culture that was sexist, ascetic and classist."

    BTW, have you read "Karma Cola"? I think we're a little further along since then… LOL… all the best, Matthew.

  28. The Eastern Mind says:

    Matthew, I DID address the issue of the article by stating that Kausthub and John Friend are not gurus so your critique of the guru-shishya model in this circumstance are irrelevant.

    You suggest throwing out that traditional model based on Kausthub and John. They have nothing to do with that traditional model. Its apples and oranges.

    Ironically though you do not suggest throwing out parenthood altogether, despite the fact that there are countless examples of abusive parents. Since parenthood is deemed so problematic by you and the authors you qoute in that regard, why don't we all just sterilize ourselves? But you yourself are a new father, aren't you? So you obviously see nothing wrong in parenthood inherently but rather the abuses that SOME parents mete out on their children.

    In addition, the assertion that EVERY culture and EVERY family has been wrought with mutli-generational familial violence is pseudo, nay, ANTI-scientific jibberish since there is absolutely no way such a fantastical assertion could be quantified. A realistic, less ego-based statement would read, "SOME families" and "SOME culures".

    Surely the baddha jiva behind that statement (who is covered with ignorance and the tendency to make mistakes, like ALL of us), is not so pompous as to claim omniscience is he? Surely he is not the shakshi (inner witness) or paramatma that dwells inside all sentient beings is he?

    Besides these points I agree with the general thrust of the article which calls for transparency and accountability. I am all for that. I also appreciate your focus on hearth, home, and simplicity. I am also all for that.

    I visited your website and I found myself agreeing with much of it. I did notice that you spoke at a Sexuality and Spirituality Symposium that also advertised as hosting someone speaking about "Peruvian Shamanism". There. Is. No. Such. Thing.

    I, like you, wish for Western people to drop their upper-middle class new age pretense of "authenticity" and actually STUDY traditions as they are (and the first step to that is calling things what they, not what they are not) – and contribute their own insights to them, WITHOUT misappropriating cultures and mixing up 2 or more traditions into a gobbledygook of burnt kitchri that makes them a global laughing stock, especially in the eyes of the people from the indigenous cultures they are misappropriating.

    This new age mish mash is reaching a tipping point now that the internet and other technologies have allowed indigenous people to actually see for themselves how post-modern people are making mucho dollars from misleading other naive and culture-starving post-modern folk via the gross cultural misappropriation of their traditional practices.
    [See motivational speaker James Arthur Ray as an example of such].

    Let's see what happens over the course of the next decade. My hunch is there will be a stand-off and it might get ugly.

  29. matthew says:

    Guru-shishya is a cultural system. Parenthood is a biological fact, as neutral as plant growth.

    The thing is: our species just hasn't done it very well until about the last century or so. Worldwide, infanticidal behaviours (particularly the exposure of infant girls) are in historical evidence until the end of the 19th century.

    The symposium invited me to do a presentation on vajikarana theory in Ayurveda. I presented from Caraka, spoke of dhatu sara leading to ojas, libidinal expression and moderation, and libidinal styles as per dosha, and matchmaking ideas put forward by Vatsyayana. Then I left, so I don't know what happened with the Peruvian!

    Appropriation and distortion for profit are a huge problem that obscure the earnest work that many new interlocutors with the Indian traditions they love are trying to do.

  30. andreja says:

    wow,you surly expressed yourself,there is a lot of that unsolved issues in your head,but for 'heaven's sake' ! do not speak in hurting tone of voice about those whom you never met,never studied with,never heard them teaching and specially not about yoga masters that are beyond what you will ever be able to comprehend…sorry, I hope you will have an opportunity in your life to express your appoligies to those you hurt in your 'speach' above.

  31. matthew says:

    Andreja — I'm criticizing public figures and public organizations using undisputed public documents and direct quotes from eyewitnesses. It is a mixture of reporting, analysis, and opinion.

    A "teacher" stands accused of abusing many students, and his father and his father's organization appear to have enabled him. I'm sorry if you don't like my "tone" in exposing the story. I would suggest you direct your anger to its real target: your falling idols.

  32. The Eastern Mind says:

    Matthew, I am suprised that you would suggest the altogether doing away of lineage and guru-shishya parampara considering that your chosen fields of knowledge are yoga and ayurveda, two knowledge systems that have been preserved and made it all the way down to today, to reach you and me, precisely due to the mechanism of lineage and guru-shishya parampara. Without such a mechanism this knowledge would be lost to you, me and the world at large.

    Let's not throw the baby out with the dirty bath water. Let's, as you also suggest, come clean with transparency and accountability.

  33. […] we walk a middle path: a Middle Way—between mean-ness and sycophancy. When, as with the Michael Roach, or John Friend controversies, we break news, we try and do so responsibly, thinking about mission […]

  34. […] community rooted in local concerns and resources. As I’ve argued elsewhere about Anusara and the Desikachar scandal, there is a structural problem with charismatic, corporate, transnational marketing movements that […]

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  36. Tyler Zambori says:

    @Om shri: Postmodern Sexual Relationship Exaltation Disorder sounds like something you made up, and it's incredibly arrogant. If Hindus are so much better and holier than Westerners, then why are these incidents of gang rape in India being reported in the international news? Why are young Indian women having to band together in vigilante groups to protect themselves?

    @The Eastern Mind: To quote: “If your country, Canada, is an example of this egalitarian model of parent-child relationship then quite frankly, y'all can do with a bit more respect and a bit less, "its all about me, me, me". “ Boy you really do hate Westerners, don't you? OK then, I wish y'all had kept your yoga guru missionaries at home in India and not tried to spread your religion around. Everyone would have been better off.

    “The guru-shishya model is a functional one that has built within it the necessary mechanisms to reform any breaches. The Dharmic traditions are rich with the basic knowledge (and stories of examples) that humans are not infallible and give checks and balances for that. “

    If that's the case, why are there so many reports of guru abuses coming out of India as well?? You know it's true. Or are you all too good to have any of that? Right….

    What is your concern about cultural misappropriation really about? Are you really concerned about other people's spiritual development, or are you just engaging in worshiping your own culture?

    Once again you said: “The fetish that needs to be let go is occidentals misappropriating oriental cultures. “

    No, what is really needed is good instruction by people who can communicate that instruction clearly.
    It has been my observation that Hindus cannot do it because they have allowed their worship of their own culture stand in the way. I am not just talking about instruction on yoga asanas for the masses here either; now anybody can go buy a used yoga video cheaply.

    “(And if you venture to read any Desi/South Asian blogs, Indians are SICK of it. Especially your post-modern, left leaning, western university educated ones). “

    They should take their culture and go home!

    “I guess calling things what they are is just too boring and less likely to provide the excessive income upper-middle class white people need in order to fully transition into the elite class 1% complete with solar powered eco-homes on the island of Maui in which they conduct "retreats". “

    Wow, snarkville. I am not the 1 percent; I am not even upper middle class, and I gave your Yoga a good shot, and found it wanting. It withered on the vine because of “superiority complex.” Which you are exhibiting quite well here!

    Guess what, I consider Hinduism and yoga to be about as rife with hypocrisy as the Catholic Church.
    I say: before even getting to worrying about individual abusive gurus, y'all have to fix that first. It isn't going to happen. Because you're too stuck in your culture.

  37. Tyler Zambori says:

    @The Eastern Mind again:

    “Here's link to a diasporic blog discussing misappropriation;
    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/0…. “

    I read it. Wow! More evidence of my assertions. More: “Oh our culture is so much more spiritually advanced than yours, we are the ones who really know, you'd better listen to us.” I call BS.

    I fond Kirti Kamboj's views to be shallow, but I probably do agree with this one: “Yet even with this, I was too naive to grasp just how diabolically clever and patient Brahmins are, that they could conceive of, and so flawlessly carry through, a plot such as this for thousands upon thousands of years. Luckily, though, I didn't have to, because experts such as Reeve were wise enough and brave enough to see and speak truth to such nefarious powers. And now the whole world can behold the misogynist plots of Brahmins such as Patanjali, more devious and secretive than gray aliens and Voldemort and the Illuminati combined. “

    See, once again we have a Hindu complaining about misappropriation of culture. She takes it as far as expressing fear that it means the white people mean to take over. OK: India won their freedom from British rule. And they are not likely to re-take it.

    The Native Americans were over-run long before any new-age types wanted to learn about native American practices, so I don't think her complaint has any basis in reality there either.

    Where is the concern for people's spiritual well being? You don't have it because you are thinking about your culture all day. And all night too.

    ________
    “Matthew, I DID address the issue of the article by stating that Kausthub and John Friend are not gurus so your critique of the guru-shishya model in this circumstance are irrelevant.

    You suggest throwing out that traditional model based on Kausthub and John. They have nothing to do with that traditional model. Its apples and oranges. “
    _______-

    If Kausthub and Friend people were mere asana teachers, then I agree.

    “I, like you, wish for Western people to drop their upper-middle class new age pretense of "authenticity" and actually STUDY traditions as they are (and the first step to that is calling things what they, not what they are not) – and contribute their own insights to them, WITHOUT misappropriating cultures and mixing up 2 or more traditions into a gobbledygook of burnt kitchri that makes them a global laughing stock, especially in the eyes of the people from the indigenous cultures they are misappropriating. “

    I, unlike you, wish that the Hindus could give some clear and useful teaching. I never thought it was even possible, until I found another Eastern religion that did have it – one that never arose out of India.
    Here is one westerner who will not give you cause to be worried that I will be mixing any traditions. I have no use for Hindu culture.

    “Matthew, I am surprised that you would suggest the altogether doing away of lineage and guru-shishya parampara considering that your chosen fields of knowledge are yoga and ayurveda, two knowledge systems that have been preserved and made it all the way down to today, to reach you and me, precisely due to the mechanism of lineage and guru-shishya parampara. Without such a mechanism this knowledge would be lost to you, me and the world at large.

    The guru-shishya paradigm sure could do with a breath of fresh air! Yep. A huge breath of it.
    Maybe the Hindu gurus should stay home and recruit only field workers who don't have much intellect
    to bother their teachers with? That is about what works with that authoritarian model.

  38. […] It’s Time for Yogis to Develop Transparent and Democratic Community in Their Hometowns: some notes… […]

  39. Keiko M. says:

    Thanks Matthew for this great article. I agree with your criteria of where to find good teachers wholeheartedly. I believe we can apply the same rules with how not to stay away from so-called "spiritual teachers/leaders" in our current McSpirituality marketplace in the West.
    In the past, I was too naive to be lulled into their "teachings" and had a bad taste. Now that enough lesson learned, I'm much pickier from whom to learn, whether it's yoga or sacred knowledge.

    Here's what I have come to believe after 15+ years' "teacher shopping", both in yoga, and in spirituality:
    The greatest of the teachers might be currently enjoying fame, simply out of luck. Or, as you described, they might be totally nameless and living an ordinary life just like us.
    Either way, they're not afraid of going back to "invisible" or remaining so to the general public, if that's what is required of them. They continue to strive for the better, and never cease to learn new things each and every day.

    Thankfully, I think I know a couple of such teachers in my life. And I'm grateful for that.

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