Friday, September 7, 2012

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students. Hmm. Seems to me by now that this is so obviously wrong in so many ways, but I had forgotten that I didn't always believe it was true.

I remember where I was sitting back in October 1994 when I got the phone call from a friend with the news that our guru, Amrit Desai, had been sleeping with some of his students (disciples) over the years. Even from my office at Omega Institute I heard myself say, "well, he's human. He had sex. Big deal." I'm embarrassed now at my naiveté to think that even for a moment this could have been no big deal. It was a huge deal. And not just because of the sex part...

I had been on a trip earlier that year with Amrit and a bunch of disciples and other students in India. I was there for a 3-month stint taking workshops with Amrit's guru-brother, Rajarshi Muni and his crew. I wasn't senior enough during my stay at Kripalu to have been deep into the inner circles but I absolutely was acquainted with the people who flew in to talk to Gurudev. Rumours were flying. Maybe he would go on a 6-month silent retreat he mentioned. He was trying to dodge the bullets. In the end, he couldn't. There was the sexual stuff and there was the money stuff. He knew how to divide and conquer his people so as I recall, the group that knew about the double books didn't know about the group of sexually abused and vice versa. That has all come to light, but it wasn't until after he basically had a gun to his head that he was willing to admit it.

All along the way he could have been forgiven. (In truth, lots of people have forgiven him and flock to his new yoga place in Florida.) But forgiveness aside, what he did was wrong not just because he had sex with some of his students. If he had been responsible enough to admit it, he could have been dealt with at the time and might still be living next door to Kripalu today, however, that's not what happened. While he was hiding his escapades, he discredited the people who spoke up. In fact, he ruined families by making family members believe the women who came forward were crazy. Everybody wanted to believe him, so they did, and shunned the people who spoke up.

I remember being at a retreat with him when we were all offering full-on, drop-down pranams to the guy, and he said, "if you knew some of what I've done, you wouldn't love me anymore." There was nothing that guy could do that if he admitted it, he wouldn't still be loved for. Except what he did. Lying like an un-remorseful psychopath would be the thing to bring the house down. And it did.

I heard about the transgressions and then the details started coming out about what he had done to cover up his lies. The people he lied to and blamed. The people he put down who were telling the truth so he could keep up his dirty tricks. I was safely housed at Omega in my new job on the core staff there so I only heard about the pictures being pulled off the walls, of the screaming and crying in the halls, from my sad friends who were still there, who had invested more years than I had in serving a community that was based on lies.

I was in the room when Amrit read his resignation letter to the community. I remember people saying, "Gurudev, is there anything else you need to tell us? Anyone else?" And he would just say, "no." Later it was pointed out that there had been one other person and he'd admit it under duress. "Okay. Her too." And another, and that's how that one rolled out. He paid his large fines, moved away, and you can go down and meet him today. Lots and lots more to that story.

That still doesn't answer why you shouldn't have sex with your students as a yoga teacher.

Naturally, there will be an imbalance of power. Presumably the yoga teacher is leading the class. She's the one people are looking at, looking to for answers. In a big drop-in class, maybe this isn't even really a big deal anymore than it would be for a fitness instructor to get involved with her students. Two adults, who cares. It's only awkward for the other students while it's awkward. Maybe awkward for the teacher if that student continues to come to the class once the liaison is over. It's still not usually recommended.

In a traditional classroom setting, it's a rule that the teacher not sleep with the students as there could be favouritism shown; the student would have access to information the other students wouldn't have, giving them an unfair advantage on tests, etc. In workshops I've attended, it's recommended that the leaders wait a certain amount of time after the workshop is over before getting involved with participants due to the emotional connection that's formed artificially when there's someone delivering charged content and the other one participating and opening up.

In addition, in the traditional teachings of yoga, practising celibacy is likely discussed, if not recommended, to allow for the flow of energy, likely energy that Westerners aren't used to restraining. Teachings are given to open the students up emotionally and spiritually. Space is created on purpose to allow yoga students to be open and vulnerable and to feel safe, sometimes for the first time in a long time. Simply put, sleeping with a yoga student, especially during a training is unethical at the very least, especially when it's been declared from the beginning that those boundaries won't be crossed. Even if that relationship was out in the open, it would be unrecommended for these reasons - there's a clear imbalance of power and potential for awkwardness in the group. (A decent move might be for the teacher to step down, at least from teaching the ethics section of the course, or for the couple to leave the group, but that move would take courage.) So what tends to happen, is more the story above with my guru - there are lies told to try and hide the transgression. People are made to seem untrustworthy who speak up as the cheating teacher will be trying to maintain their reputation - what better way than to put down others around them especially as they are the one controlling the secret information?

What happens in that training when one of the teachers is secretly sleeping with one of the students? In some cases things get awkward. There's unnecessary tension. There's underlying drama. Eventually there are people who are in the know and people who don't have a clue what's going on. Peoples' feelings get hurt. Favourites are made and given special attention so they don't make waves. It's not the kind of group I would want to pay thousands of dollars to be sitting in.

Ask questions. Find out what the policies are of the course you're taking. Check references. Even then you can't always be sure as deception can run very deep. That doesn't mean what I learned from my guru wasn't true. It doesn't mean that I didn't get quality teachings. But he should have known better and should have done better, sparing me and thousands of his followers the pain of betrayal that hypocrisy inflicts.

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