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. matthew says:

    These are great points. And they beg the question: how many self-identified yoga practitioners in the world today are interested in the "traditional, Guru-disciple relationship"? In my experience, very few are. Which means that the pedagogical model must be changing to reflect the rest of our culture, as it attunes towards the intersubjective, and away from the hierarchical.

  2. greateacher says:

    I am very glad to see some well-written responses.

  3. Gus says:

    "I don’t think we have a lot of time before the entirety of yoga culture becomes a pop-culture punch-line."…..ugh, I think your'e right, breaks my heart.

  4. Etienne says:

    Dale, this makes no sense to me whatsoever.Your tone implies that you are offended that anyone would associate yoga with predation? Get over it. If predation is a human problem, and yoga is human, then we must undertake, bravely, and without vanity, the problems of predation in yoga culture. Whether religious traditions are Catholic or yogic, predation is equally serious. The fact that predation is a human problem not limited to yoga means only that when it manifests in the cultures and teachings of yoga we must be equally vigilant, skeptical, and insistent about justice.
    Beyond that? Local doesn’t have to mean provincial. Yes, cross-pollination & cross-training. But the down-to-earth daily lived companionship of yoga in community is EQUALLY important. Not so much, anymore, no many fly-over big-tent conferences, festivals, and “workshops” that “serve” hundreds of people at a time. THAT junket enables yoga rock-star bs, which is a big part of the problem.
    No more of this! No more. No more of these disgusting weenie sickos who take advantage of stardom. All too sleazy.

  5. greateacher says:

    lol, mf badass literacy

  6. mahadev108 says:

    Yoga as sadhana never been very popular among common people, even in India. Most of scriptures claim to keep yoga secret:-) For healthy examples of Guru-disciple relationship we could read an Autobiography of Yogi by Yogananda or Living with Himalayan Yogis by Swami Rama.
    Hierarhy in such relationship is the same like hierarhy in relashionship, for example of airplane driving instructor and student. If student will not obey instructions the process could finish not in best way:-) Guru is person who experienced result of yogic sadhana and thats why could guide student and create some rules. Of course its not subject of boss/slave kind of relationship. Why to take only negative samples? Yogananda or Ramana Maharshi – were they Gurus or just yoga-teachers? Hierarhy could be natural, like respekting your father or grandfather, if he is wise and experienced person.
    The problem is, from my point of view, that many westerners with their capitalist culture always want to choose and buy something according to their needs, like in supermarket (and re-sell it as soon as possible) including yogic knowledge. But very few have motovation of Atma-gyana. And thats why they attract fake Gurus, who are egoistic and selfish, as they called in India – "bakshish baba" 🙂 As i know from my experience, serious yoga practicioners doesnt make business from yoga teachings and very rare traveling somethere to teach, because busy with their own sadhana. Guru gives you not what you want, but what you are really need for self-development, and it could be not the same things:-) But shure people should be careful and watch Gurus behavior "out of stage" before chosing them as guides, wathch how Guru treat other people, how selfish he is or not… Because its not difficult to tell sweet words about sattva and spiritual tradition and secretly live with opposite lifestyle, as we know from many examples.

  7. Marian says:

    A great, well-written and thought out essay, which resonated very strongly with me, being one of those you describe as feeling polluted and defrauded (my own description to date being brainwashed and defrauded) – to the extent I have resigned as a khyf teacher and (for the time being at least) quit teaching. I feel ashamed I was part of this credit-card-air-miles-driven culture and was taken in by it.
    Everything you say makes perfect sense and I wholeheartedly agree we should try to do something for those who were abused.

  8. matthew says:

    Dear Marian — that's a hard story. I'm glad you're taking a break to re-assess, and I hope that you're able to at some point turn the past into really good compost. Your future students will appreciate your eyes, wide open.

  9. matthew says:

    Mahadev — I appreciate the simplicity of the image you draw. One change that I would draw attention to as we compare guru-shishya relationships to familial hierarchies is that most postmodern people understand their parents as people, not as authorities: people with wounds and flaws and traumas to resolve. I'm trying to suggest in this article that the Desikachars may be transitioning towards this understanding before our eyes, and it would be good if their students recognize it as it is happening. Indian family structure may be generally slower to evolve towards this — I'm not sure — but when and if it does this last and strongest analogy for guru-shishya — the parent-child relationship — will be undone by the popular acceptance of basic psychoanalytic theory. In my opinion, this will be a very good thing.

  10. Pankaj Seth says:

    Best of luck on your upcoming book, you have highlighted a very important point above and brought out two marvellous sources for your readers. There is obviously a huge variety of Dharmic literature and hopefully more of it is found by interested individuals. I have recommended the SUNY Press translation of the Yoga Vasistha to many, and continue to find Zimmer's 'Philosophies of India' excellent as he contextualizes the entire Dharmic corpus as to its utility vis a vis the 4 aims of life. Its hard to miss the big picture with Zimmer as a guide.

  11. hanna says:

    If you still have axes to grind from another writer’s post, I suggest you take care of those on your own. They are no one else’s problem but your own. If you feel that the readers and commenters here are whiners, certainly go elsewhere. Beyond that, it might be a good idea to refrain from insulting the readers of and commenters on some one else’s article. Whether in long sentences or text-speak, your attitude sucks.

  12. hanna says:

    Maha,
    India its is quite definitely now in many ways a profoundly profit-driven nation. Confusions about the teacher-student relationship are not limited to “western capitalism.” Come on. India has its own ways of making the guru-student relationship confusing — always has. Let’s not once again re-ify “the East.”

  13. Jenifer says:

    I recommend that yoga teachers also become less personally isolated so that their own "stuff" colors what they are teaching — often unintentionally.

    I believe that if these men had an effective supervisor as well as effective peer supervision, they likely would not have had such an explosion of their shadow sides because this forces you to look at and work on not spreading your shadow into the transmission of yoga.

    I have been in supervision for the last 8-10 months (I don't really have a clear concept of time, so it might be only 8). I've been going to individual supervision once a month and I'm about to increase that to twice a month because I keenly feel the need for it.

    What happens in supervision?

    Well, I go in and I talk about what "upset" me in my work that past month. Triggers that happened in yoga class. Things that I got upset about in terms of my staffing and those relationships. Things that frustrated me about myself and my work in general.

    The supervisor then reflects on this information and asks me specific questions, to uncover what is behind that trigger. . . to start to work at the underlying ideas (potentially false notions that I'm carrying), and then I gain a new perspective of the process. We discuss this.

    At the end, the supervisor then provides suggestions on training that I might consider (ie, if I was struggling with a certain work issue around my accounting, perhaps take an accounting course), but also suggests that I look at some specific questions and observe how those ideas/thoughts are affecting my work-related decision making.

    This makes it possible for me to — when teaching yoga — just focus on teaching yoga. . . not transmit my frustration with family, friends, or coworkers, or any of my own garbage into the class.

    It also keeps me from getting into deep transference relationships with students and coworkers. I just got myself out of one (with a coworker) that I wasn't fully aware of. It was really hard to go through it, but it only lasted a short time because the supervisor identified it very quickly, pointed it out, and started to ask me pointed questions about it. In the past — without supervision — I would get myself into these messes and it would be months before I got out and it was always painful.

    And it wasn't yoga.

    And it was all completely "kosher" stuff — no sexual misconduct, no abuse of any kind, etc. Just poor relating due to transference.

    So part of this is not just about students being democratic, acting locally, getting out of certain mind-sets. I believe that,as teachers, we need to have a process by which someone is holding us accountable.

    I have supervision to help me with this. It's currently $80/mo and will go up to $160/mo for me. But by god, it's worth it.

  14. Michele says:

    Resonating with Matthew's reply and and restating the following important point in the article:
    "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"

  15. Ellen says:

    Hi, I agree with your comments, but I just have to object to 'fat ass'. What does his physical appearance have to do with this discussion?? It cheapens your otherwise strong arguments.

  16. Heather says:

    They’ve been teaching and learning and serving, largely on their own, mostly unrecognized.

    This is terrific! Many years ago my teacher in India said those whom you really want to learn from are not handing out their business cards or trying to get your business.

    Unfortunately, as the saying goes, "absolute power corrups absolutely".

    Fortunately, I stuck to my teacher, did one conference, figured that out after $3k of expenses, stayed clear of Friend and KYM, whom I felt I just had nothing to learn from. I learned more from my lovely students who told me how they went to see him many years ago in Toronto. He was talking about McDonald's. I had the impression she would have been happier to have stayed behind and taken a class with me…..rather than going away for the week-end.

    Still, we all gotta find our way.

  17. Heather says:

    The only point I would beg to differ with here is that of moving on from teachers.

    What we have now is people shopping around far too much. They try this teacher, that teacher, this thing, that thing….do they ever really go deep?

    I agree, yes, we should move on when the time has come. But that time is not in one month, one week or one day. It may not even be one year or several years.

    People should not stick to teaching that is not working for then…BUT they also should NOT be encouraged to approach their yoga like buying a pair of pants and expecting a refund, because they found out they don't like the colour, the shape or maybe they got fatter since they purchased them.

    People need to understand what it is they are looking for. The largely unrecognized teacher is not always the perfect fit either.

    In the end, really, people don't necessarily stay long enough to find out enough about a teacher/the teachings or themselves.

    Better to advise people to learn all they truly can and then move on.

  18. matthew says:

    Good point. Because each relationship expresses a developmental stage, the trick is to neither cling to nor run from.

  19. Om Shri says:

    The following is typical of sex-segregated and shame-based cultures like India;

    "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."

    Please read this Elephant Journal article to gain further insight into the phenomena;
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/04/dont-copy-india-t...

  20. matthew says:

    While your opening statement is a little too broad for my taste, especially with the accelerating rise of the Indian middle class, thank you for your highlighting, and for the link to Toongi's article, which is fascinating.

  21. matthew says:

    We do have to find our way, indeed. For me, a series of rather violent disillusionments with my own transferences was an essential part of my education.But I was fairly psychologically resilient when I came into contact with the charismatics I knew — Roach and Anderson. Still, you can't wish your own trials on anyone else.

  22. Auki says:

    ~ As long as human beings are willing give away their power to someone else — be it giving away your power to a teacher, a boss, a supervisor, a guru, a priest, a lover, even a parent or a child, or an authority figure of any kind — some predatory person will seize the opportunity to take advantage of you and abuse you in one way or another.

    ~ I don't see "guru culture" or "Yoga culture" as the problem, per say. The problem is wanting some "higher authority", or someone that you want to have "like you", tell you what to do so you don't have to take personal responsibility for your choices. Whenever you give your power to anyone that you think may know better than you do you are just asking for it!

    ~ Let us take personal responsibility for our own choices. That is the key to dismantling this crazy predator / victim pattern that is playing out at every level of our dysfunctional society.

  23. matthew says:

    Auki — thanks for weighing in. I agree that personal responsibility is a part of the equation, but I also believe that structural inequalities must be addressed: patriarchy first among them. Without this attention, we run the risk of blaming the victims of systematic predation.

  24. greateacher says:

    A lot of people do not knowexactly what they ar elooking for and/or how what they thought they would get from a class matches up with their life. You go, you try it out. If someone is way too fast, too wishy washy, too into"thisis how to live" or hurts others, then one moves on. If the traffic and parking and cost are problems and you find another studio closer or with different hurs or a better cost for one busget, then you move on. When you are getting most of what you desire and expect- safety, caring, attentive, intelligence, healthy bodyu workout.. some spiritual with out proselytizing.. then blessings! You stay.

  25. greateacher says:

    wooo hooooo

  26. Heather says:

    Parking? Sorry, but don't follow that one. When you want to learn you do want you can and with fierce determination. But that's me.

    I guess, it all depends on how much you really want to learn with a particular teacher and what you are willing to sacrifice…comfort and convenience being one of them. I used to practice in a room with cement floors and ant infested. They were, however, some of my best experiences in learning and in understanding yoga under my teacher. Most people unfortunately are only looking for the ideal and how to be comfortable.

    Like one of my students said to me, "knowing what you want and a good teacher is often like knowing when a dental hygienist is good or not". Hard to tell until you meet bad ones…and you move on.

  27. greateacher says:

    If I can not park my car somewhere after a few circles I go home. Life is life. Big cities have their hazards. There are a lot of great yoga studios all ove rthe city.. some have schedules which match traffic and neighborhood parking situations and allow space for those who do nto liv ein the neighborhood.

    Practice among tarantulas I dont care. You are not better than someone because you went to cement ant filled studios.

  28. brianborchers says:

    In this whole wonderful piece, I found myself disagreeing with only sentence- "They are just like you, only a little older." You could replace "older" with "more experienced" or "further along the path of self discovery", but please don't equate age with wisdom and experience. I've known lots of 60 year olds who were no more mature than most high schoolers, and a few young people (anyone younger than me is "young", and I'm almost 50) who've had wisdom beyond their years.

  29. matthew says:

    Good point, Brian — I think I overdid the demystification angle with that one a little bit.

  30. Michelle Marchildon says:

    Jai Matthew! I have been trying to write something around this topic, but you said it all. Thank you.

  31. matthew says:

    MM — Well I hope I didn't throw you off the trail… I think we're all only scratching the surface together… best, M

  32. Nikola Ellis says:

    I've done several trainings this year with KYM 'refugees', teachers and students who have walked away from the KYM/KHYF since the wheels started falling off in 2007 (and not without doing their utmost to expose Kausthub's behaviour before their departure, I might add). These are not the 'rockstars'. They are the hardworking, talented and professional teachers who transmit the teachings of yoga, and Krishnamacharya, in a sensible and egalitarian way. No great lineage claims. No promises. No showbiz. No guru-culture. Just yoga teachers teaching yoga. And doing so with simplicity and economical precision.

    Ironically, it was just this approach that drew me to TKV many years ago. But the esoterica and convolution introduced by Kausthub changed all that. I hope those teachers who are now sharing their teachings outside of the KYM/KHYF continue to do so in their own quiet, sincere way. Many of us need their steadying influence.

  33. matthew says:

    Thanks for the input, Nikola. I think the post- or disaffected- demographic wrt former adherents of a particular brand (KYM, Anusara, but even Iyengar, etc.) is larger than we know.

    I do wonder, however, what "doing their utmost to expose Kausthub's behaviour" means, exactly, seeing as they seemed to have failed miserably. Can you elaborate?

  34. Michele says:

    Hi Matthew, some more information in attached links. http://grimmly2007.blogspot.in/2012/10/board-of-thttp://yogasentinel.wordpress.com
    Though you may already be familiar with these.

  35. matthew says:

    Hi Michele — yes I am — both good points of view…

  36. Michele says:

    Actually if had read your article again (have already read it a number of times) would have seen that you were familiar with the 2007 letter, having quoted an extract from it. It is an excellent article putting words to a number of ponderings.

  37. Om Shri says:

    Matthew, I agree with much of your article but am curious here, "ne change that I would draw attention to as we compare guru-shishya relationships to familial hierarchies is that most postmodern people understand their parents as people, not as authorities: people with wounds and flaws and traumas to resolve. I'm trying to suggest in this article that the Desikachars may be transitioning towards this understanding before our eyes, and it would be good if their students recognize it as it is happening. Indian family structure may be generally slower to evolve towards this — I'm not sure — but when and if it does this last and strongest analogy for guru-shishya — the parent-child relationship — will be undone by the popular acceptance of basic psychoanalytic theory. "

    What psychoanalytic theory? Freudian? Why makes you think psychoanalytic theory will ever be popularly accepted in India? It's not popularly accepted in the US. And what is so special about that theory that you think it better than guru-shishya concept?

    "most postmodern people understand their parents as people, not as authorities"

    In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of not seeing parents as authorities? I have my own, but am interested in your's?

    If you could also speak to the irrational fear of the guru concept I see in many of what you call "postmodern people" I'd be interested to learn about that curious phenomena.

    In my observation that demographic "postmodern people" exalt the sexual relationship above all else – parents, siblings, guru, etc. Its interesting for me to observe and analyze the affects of PSRED, Postmodern Sexual Relationship Exaltation Disorder, on Westerners' approach to indigenous Eastern traditions.

  38. matthew says:

    Thank you Om Shri — you've called me out on a hastily-concieved comment, and it will make me clarify thoughts for myself… By "basic psychoanalytic theory" I'm pointing to the, yes, Freudian notion that we are largely governed by unconscious processes (many involving sexual drives and death-fears) of repression and transference, creating a web of psychohistorical patterns in which behaviours and attitudes are habitually repeated instead of chosen. This notion is indeed generally accepted in modern and postmodern culture, and in my view presents an advancement in complexity beyond the relationships of accepted authority conferred by the various etymologies of "guru" (dispeller of darkness, person of gravity, below no other). A postmodern view would posit that a parent or guru brings as much darkness as light to any given relationship. Not recognizing this dehumanizes them, in a way.

    I don't know that there's currently an "irrational fear" of the guru in postmodernity. Mostly it's just incredulity, as in: "Yeah right — that doesn't work as simply as we thought." As a postmodern myself, I don't "fear the guru": I just don't buy into it.

  39. Heather says:

    The pt., which was made very clear is often that people look for convenience and comfort before actually whatever it is they need to learn…or even want to learn.

    Nothing more ….nothing less.

  40. Agni says:

    It's a great writing and story telling, no doubt; but the statement of " I don't think we have a lot of time before the entirety of yoga culture becomes a pop-culture punchline……" will NOT ring true simply because yoga has existed more than 5,000 years and through out history it has survived many of these episodes of sexual improprieties by so called gurus. After all, these so called gurus were or are humans and they have succumbed to their human inadequacies(despite the teaching of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra). See what have happened to them, most of them have been banished and become pariahs and eventually disappeared into the unknown.
    Yoga is much stronger and deeper than that. At the right time, in the dark ages some real guru will come along and bring yoga to a new height; popularize yoga to the common people and subsequently spread it throughout the world (with the help of his proteges); that was T. Krishnamachayra himself only less than a century ago.
    I truly believe that yoga will be here with us because of its depth, tapestry and intrinsic path in leading us to enlightenment if we practice diligently.

  41. matthew says:

    Agni — I appreciate your passion, but I feel that this is precisely the type of orthodox view that in my opinion re-mystifies the yoga tradition, making it somehow more grandiose than the sum of its interpersonal interactions, and promotes an abstract mythology (your oblique reference to kaliyuga) that distracts us from the richness of our present contexts, and moves us too quickly on to the attitude of "this too shall pass".

    The yoga that the vast majority of practitioners today evolve themselves through are not at all 5000 years old. See Mark Singleton's work for more. How we deal with our stuff right now IS the yoga tradition right now: this is why my "storytelling" (reporting and analysis, really) has utility, in my opinion. Beliefs in golden ages and avenging saviours are a distraction from our own responsibility in culture-building.

    I'm sorry to say: your last sentence in particular rings with a kind of irresponsible theism: Yoga is bigger than us, Yoga will take care of us if we are good students, Yoga will lead us to heaven.

    No. Yoga is what we make of it here and now, and that's the way it's been since the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Patanjali, Svatmarama, Sankara. It is nothing except what we find "fallen into our hands" — which is one etymology for Patanjali's name.

  42. Pankaj Seth says:

    Within the Dharmic traditions, the notion of samskara already speaks to the unconscious aspects of human motivations. Also, the notion of Buddhi/Mahat tells that there is more depth than is given in the Freudian concept of id-ego-superego, that we can expect to meet more than samskaras upon approaching our depths.

    I think you are asking that people not be so naive that when they hear the word 'guru' bandied about that they fall into a pattern of obedience. That's good advice, and rightfully it ought to extend to all authority, as you've indicated. This is an aspect of worldly wisdom, where naivety has been overcome. I am reminded of a story from the Panchatantra in the section entitled 'rash actions'… a monkey becomes determined to retrieve a nut lodged in the crack of a log, and tries to pick it out. This is difficult so he straddles the log and after a huge heave-ho manages to dislodge the nut, but unfortunately gets his testicles caught in the crack.

  43. The Eastern Mind says:

    Matthew, as Pankaj points out, there is already a wealth of knowledge in the Dharmic traditions that explain the various levels of consciousness, sub and un included. Perhaps Freud borrowed some of his concepts from there? Beyond that, much of Freud is quackery and culturally biased/gender biased quackery at that. I certainly do not accept him as any sort of authority.

    No doubt he would say the whole of India is suffering from an “oedipal complex” because adult male children do not immediately move out of the parental home upon their 18 birthday, but remain living with their parents for a long time, even after marriage. We have our own culture specific and socio-economic reasons for doing so.

    Freud’s theories are based on his own culturally and gender biased opinions.

    I agree with you that yoga is in the here and now. It is a system of experiential knowledge based on practice, not on stories from long ago and far away. That’s why so many people from all corners of the globe are attracted to it. They want the experience.

    “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.”

    *Every* culture? *Every* family? You have lived in every culture on this planet within the home of every family? Based on what do you form the opinion that *every* culture and *every* family contains “strong evidence of transgenerational cycles of violence and oppression? Where’s the scientific “evidence” of such?

    And wow, what a negative view of cultures and families!

    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”.

    Yes, there is an “irrational fear” of guru-shishya in the West. However that irrational fear does not extend to another potentially problematic relationship, that is the sexual relationship. Despite multiple heartbreaks, divorces, broken homes, confused children, etc, Western people will STILL run after more and more sexual relationships until they find their mythical “soul mate” which they never find because it doesn’t exist.

    But if just ONE guru-shishya relationship goes bad, they throw the entire thing out. Why? Why not throw out sexual relationships? Why not STOP the cycle of marriage-divorce-remarriage? Why can’t you learn from experience?

    Why no fear of sexual relationships but irrational fear of guru-shishya relationship?

    The answer lies in PSRED, Postmodern Sexual Relationship Exaltation Disorder. And it is rampant in Canada and the USA.

    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.

    While we do respect our parents and elders (respect – what an unusual, backwards concept), we do not see them as infallible.

    While we respect the divinity within our parents (all beings), even going so far as sometimes referring to them as “our gods” – such a concept does not preclude love or critical thinking. Remember, we are from a tradition where even the gods and goddesses are allowed to be real humans, sometimes even animals, and make mistakes. We can love, laugh at and fight with our gods – and its all good.

    This concept is probably extremely difficult for the Western, Abrahamic traditional mind to wrap itself around.

  44. Agni says:

    I am sorry to feel your disappointment with yoga. If you look at what you ahve writtern, you are becoming like one of them.

    I respect your point of view about the present state of Western yoga in our North American society which is so called poseture based and not spending much time in studying and understanding the traditional yoga texts and spirituality. In the west, it is very common for us to look for a silver bullet on anything; be it health, relaxation, calmness and so on without going to the real source where all the old texts reveal the truth. Absolutely, traditional yoga is bigger than us if you care to find the right one and not to look for the flashy type.
    I agree with your statment of yoga is what we make of it here and now, that's why we have to be patient, open minded and work hard and study the proper texts.
    Lastly, reflect on what you have learnt and practice to see if the knowledge will fit into your own.

  45. matthew says:

    Dear Eastern Mind. You are absolutely right: the Dharmic traditions are rich in metacognition, and everyone has borrowed from the koshic models, and we are all immeasurably indebted. Freud was one, but to think that psychoanalytic tradition stops with him is like thinking asana ends with the HYP. I'm referring more broadly to the door those who have followed him have walked through, from Klein to Kohut, who have named the thematic structures that neuroscience is now making material.

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

    Far from a negative view, it is clear-eyed, existential, and evolutionary: because it shows us how far we have come. We are as a species definitely doing better with family life than we have in the past. In some regions we're doing better than in others. See Sam Harris and the "The Moral Landscape".

    I'm glad that guru-shishya is functional in your parts. What I see in postmodern sexual relationships (though I'm suspicious of the reasons you're comparing them) is not some devolutionary tragedy of brokenness, but a long and difficult project of people changing their views as to the purpose and nature of the primary love bond. We understand now that it might be briefer, more purpose-driven, or driven by unconscious needs that are satisfied and then change. I for one see people getting way smarter about their inner lives. It's sometimes sloppy, but it beats the broad strokes of earlier cultural hegemonies.

    If this intelligence was applied to our mentorship culture, then we'd really be cooking.

    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?

    I suggest that we spend at least some time figuring out how the model is or isn't functional in our present context before indulging rear-guard arguments about how it always has worked because it's essentially perfect, and if we weren't such contemporary idiots, everything would be fine in heaven and on earth.

  46. matthew says:

    Pankaj — as with my comments to Eastern Mind, I'd like to tell Freud apart from Freudian, and to offer that the "Freudian" offers much more that id-ego-superego in its now-century-old literature and praxis. Samskara and vasana are useful tools, to be sure. I like how psychoanalysis has plotted the childhood experiential narratives in such a way that neuropsychologists have insight into what to look for when they see that "neurons that fire together wire together". To me the benefit of the new language is that it loses the burden of metaphysics.

    That said, I don't think we'd be anywhere today without our extraordinary Iron Age thinkers, who did a masterful job at metacognition, and laid out an internal road map for many of the types of journeys that we now pursue.

  47. Pankaj Seth says:

    Matthew, its news to me that any language has escaped metaphysics. The philosophy of Materialism is not devoid of metaphysical assumptions/beliefs/requirements either. I am happy to have more and more complementary language structures though, and especially happy that the 6 darshanas are there as the grand epistemic structure to frame them in a complementary way.

    Those that teach Yoga prematurely, w/o Samadhi, w/o deep contextualization, particularly epistemic, cause problems. Why the rush do you think that people feel to call themselves "Yoga Teachers", when having little of the above? Is there some Freudian explanation that you would proffer?

  48. matthew says:

    Agni — I don't know who "one of them is", but I hope they're nice if you're going to lump me in with them!

    I'd like to point out that the entire thrust of my article is the precise comparison between lineages that are "flashy" (Anusara) and those that present "traditionalism" (KYM — where study of old texts has been paramount). My argument is that neither flash nor tradition are adequate standards for intimate learning relationship: on this I'm sure we can agree.

  49. matthew says:

    Yes actually! Though it's probably neo-Freudian, really. It makes me think of Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, in which the younger poet is driven to appropriate/overwrite/sacrifice the older poet on the altar of innovation in order to break ground. It is an anxious and alienating affair.

    You're right: language is by nature metaphysical. I should have been clearer: there is language that indulges its metaphysical bias, and language that resists it. To me the latter is more interesting, and useful. Thank you for the dialogue.

  50. Pankaj Seth says:

    Matthew, don't forget "Neti Neti" of the Upanishads. This absolutely warns against metaphysics, as does Buddha of course. I don't see this sort of humility in the modern Anglo-American Analytical school as it pushes forwards its worldview.

    I once had an online conversation with the Materialist physicist Victor Stenger who had said that the philosophy of Materialism is the most parsimonious explanation for self/world. I then reminded him of the consequence of such a view, that this must absolutely indicate a deterministic worldview, and only those who find it parsimonius that they themselves are automatons could ever accept this worldview, not to mention that this view is not evidentiary anyways. He went silent at that.

    In practice, all manner of metaphysics are forwarded w/o enough thought put into them, both Eastern and Western in origin, and there I join you in advising caution. Thanks for the dialogue too… all the best.