Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yoga Teachers and Power

I read the news this morning with surprise. John Friend admitted having consenting sexual relationships with his staff and students, some of who were married, in addition to some other allegations.

It brings me right back to October 1994 when I was sitting in the Main Chapel at Kripalu listening to my guru admit to similar offences. It was offensive for sure. We knew he was human, but how much of a dog he'd been came to a surprise to many of us. Had he admitted it earlier, had he worked with us to deal with it, if, if, if - well then maybe it wouldn't have been so bad. But that's not what happened.

A couple of weeks ago in the teacher training program I'm a part of, we talked about how so many of the popular teachers (gurus) fall. They do really bad stuff. Not just small infidelities or thefts, but big-deal, heart-breaking, life-altering actions that bring them down and take the confidence and trust of their followers with them.

It's of course a good reminder to not put people up on pedestals. It seems like the air up there is too thin and their minds go crazy so they behave horribly. Power corrupts. It just does. On a plus side, it gives people a chance to really let go of their teacher in case they weren't doing that on their own. The true teacher is inside - even the power-drunk teachers tell us that - and there's nothing quite like the lies of your beloved teacher to set you spinning off on your own. That doesn't take away the sting of being lied to, however. Someone who's supposed to be practising ahimsa and satya even before they start their asanas - someone who should definitely know better - that kind of betrayal is worse.

John Friend says he hopes his behaviour doesn't take away from the teachings of Anusara Yoga. That's where I have trouble. When I listen to Swami Rama videos, or read Swami Shyam's stuff, it turns me off. If the teachings are true, then why didn't they work on the teachers sharing them? Can't a teacher only take you as far as they've gone themselves? It's a hurdle I always have to cross over when reviewing the teachers who in retrospect were doing really awful things - remembering what these people did doesn't open my heart but the teachings are asking me to. That doesn't feel safe to me. A few summers ago at a meditation retreat at Omega, one of the teachers said that when you're looking for a surgeon to work on your body, you don't really care if he cheated on his wife, but with our spiritual teachers, how they live their personal lives does matter.

I'm not settled either way. I appreciate the teachings, I appreciate these teachers' humanity, I appreciate my own and my friends' humanity as well. However, like having someone working for you who's stealing from you, these guys and what they're offering really may have to go.


gael said...

I feel the same conflict, not so much as a yoga practitioner, but as a Buddhist practitioner. I have been faced with the same situations: masters who fall when they were supposed to be examples.

For lack of a satisfying explanation, I keep practicing and it seems efficient for me, I guess it should be good enough. It's too bad for those who quit after being disappointed by their teacher, though.

Thanks for sharing honestly and not hiding your doubts :)

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