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October 6, 2021

Sex, Power & “The Spiritual Leader.”

Well Goddamn! Here we go again!

Another “spiritual leader” has been accused of preying upon a vulnerable young woman. I can’t name guru-in-question in this article because it is just an allegation at this point, and we must be careful we are not being libelous.

So let me try to talk in generalities.

I don’t mean to appear cynical, but I’ll be the first to bet that now that the story about guru-in-question has surfaced, the floodgates will open and other women will come forward.

Anyone else notice that this is getting to be the norm in the spiritual, yoga, wellness circles?

There is a huge patriarchal spiritual bypass of ethical boundaries by male teachers. Responsibility and integrity have been replaced by a heady power high that inflates the ego and discards any accountability for the trauma this behavior leaves in its wake.

Let me just tick off a few others who have been accused of being sexual predators: Bikram Choudhury, Kausthub Desikachar, Amrit Desai, K. Pattabhi Jois, John Friend, and Yogi Bhajan.

Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, faced lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, assault, racism, and homophobia, and in 2016, was ordered to pay $6.5 million in damages. Up until 2019, he was still conducting teacher trainings in Spain and Mexico!

Desikachar, grandson of the great Krishnamacharya, stepped down from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and the Krishnamacharya Healing and Yoga Foundation in light of accusations of “sexual, mental, and emotional abuse,” according to an email announcement sent by the foundation.

Amrit Desai, founder of Kripalu Yoga Center was forced to resign his position as Spiritual Director of Kripalu after it was revealed and admitted that he had had sexual contact with at least three female resident disciples. This is key because an important part of his spiritual commitment was celibacy.

Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, died in 2009, at age 94. After his death, several former students came forward to accuse Jois of sexually assaulting them in his yoga studio in Mysore, India, and during workshops while he was on tour in the United States. Their allegations include that he rubbed his genitals against their pelvises while they were in extreme backbends, laid on top of them while they were prostrate on the floor, and inserted his fingers into their vaginas.

R. Sharath Jois, grandson of Pattabhi Jois, became the director of the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute. “It brings me immense pain that I also witnessed him giving improper adjustments,” Sharath said. “I am sorry it caused pain for any of his students. After all these years I still feel pain from my grandfather’s actions.”

In 2012, John Friend—the creator of the wildly popular Anusara Yoga—was left estranged from much of the yoga world amid rumors of sex scandals, financial mismanagement, and inappropriate relationships with students. He is one of the rare accused men who admitted his misconduct but quickly reinvented himself and moved on to teach yet another hybrid form of yoga.

Yogi Bhajan is the man who brought Kundalini Yoga to the West. He died in 2004 at age 75. He now posthumously faces allegations of sexual and spiritual abuse, cult-like control of the spiritual community, but also documented reports of drug smuggling, money laundering, and fraud. Allegations against Yogi Bhajan are likely true, according to a report released August 13, 2020, by An Olive Branch, an organization formed in 2011 to respond to ethical misconduct in spiritual communities.

Philip Deslippe, a yoga historian who has written extensively about Yogi Bhajan, wonders if Bhajan’s reputation can survive the onslaught. “I think the scandals that are coming out will leave his name and his legacy as toxic,” says Deslippe. “He will be remembered like a Harvey Weinstein or a Jerry Sandusky of yoga, and I believe his teachings will be tainted in a way that will make it very hard to rebrand or salvage them.”

These are just some of the stories we know about. I would bet there are many others that still live in the dark recesses of spiritual communities.

I’m sure there are countless women out there who have kept their stories silent because of the shame and blame produced by the patriarchal grip that causes us all to disregard women’s experiences. Are we a society so entrenched in patriarchy that we are unable to believe the truth when it speaks out? It appears we are.

Instead of supporting women who come forward, we often gaslight them and continue to perpetuate this type of narcissistic abuse.

I wonder if we’ve had any forward momentum since the #metoo movement. It seems as though we haven’t really. Whether we’re talking about spiritual communities, yoga kulas, the workplace, the government, or even in our homes, there is no significant example of prominent men owning their transgressions publicly.

There is a term that comes from the Tantrik tradition called devalokamoha—“god-realm delusion.”

Christopher Wallis, a renowned teacher of that tradition defines it in this way:

“This is the belief that you are somehow more special than others, you have a more important mission and a stronger connection to the divine than others can have, and therefore the usual moral code doesn’t apply to you.”

Many of these “fallen gurus” seem entrenched in god-realm delusional beliefs about themselves, believing they are untouchable, no matter the crimes they have perpetrated upon their female followers.

God-realm delusion, a Messiah complex, run-of-the-mill delusional thinking—it’s hard to know what’s in play with these men but one thing is certain, they are preying on impressionable women who have put their trust in the teacher and the teaching. When the teachers fail this phenomenally, the teachings become suspect as well.

It’s a shame that so many rich traditions have been taken down by a man who gets too heady about his own power and privilege.

But then again, what’s new?



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