It really does seem that the sexual scandals in the yoga world just get worse and worse. I have been one all along to ask, “Why are we surprised by this?” And yet, truthfully I am a little surprised this time too. It’s as if to say, “Okay, you are not yet horrified, look at this. This one will get you.”
The latest revelations go right to the heart of one of the most internationally respected traditions. This time children are involved. Painful. And yet, once again, “Why do we continue to be surprised?” I think it’s because we are innately so hopeful and loving inside. We really want our elders and our teachers to be wise and have the answers that we ourselves are looking for. Of course we do. We are still immature in our personal development. That’s not a negative assessment of the situation at all. We are evolving humans and as humans grow they look to their elders and spiritual teachers for guidance. It’s natural, and good teachers do help us to put one foot in front of the other and wend our way through what can be a treacherous, but hopefully an ultimately rewarding journey.
There are good people in the world. There are yogis who sincerely practice the yamas and the niyamas and are more successful in their efforts than many of the famous gurus who have fallen so hard. You, the reader are likely sincere and devoted. But please, let’s stop stop equating having some degree of insight into the nature of reality with being a good person. It would be great if they automatically went together – Insight and Goodness – but clearly they don’t.
The ways that people have been seriously victimized by these unscrupulous teachers is horrible. The latest horror, involving children! may finally be enough for us to be forced to look very deeply into this problem and pull out its roots…within ourselves. Because, yes, you did not abuse anyone. But you do have qualities and feelings and very difficult thoughts sometimes.
These very sad events have had devastating effects on the victims. As responsible members of the yoga community we need to inquire into who we all are. We can help ourselves to grow from this and we can help shed light on the situation so that it doesn’t have to continue to happen.
When we raise our teachers onto a pedestal we project way too much on them. We give them too much power, and much worse, they ACCEPT the power. We see this over and over again; power – especially when we imbue it with imagined spirituality – is extremely dangerous. Even those of us who consider ourselves to be pretty savvy about all this continue to have little twinges of surprise when the next big guru falls. Come on, you do too…
What we need to do is realize that having cravings, qualities that are less than comfortable, thoughts that make us feel uneasy, desires that feel unwholesome is all part of being a human being and that every human being has these waves within. As long as we think another human being may be free from this – being human thing – we will be willing to think that we are less than he or she. This is how we give them too much power.
There is great personal responsibility in this. This isn’t the easy path. It can be difficult for you to fully admit all that you are, and still call yourself a yogi. But not only are you a yogi but your honesty is part of the depth of your awareness. You are a human-yogi. Perfect. Rise Up! Take Action! Take personal responsibility!
(See: Idealization, Yoga, and the Guru Problem and Yoga Teachers – Time to Take Off Your Masks)
One thought on “Yoga, Ethics, and Abuse—Who are We in This?”
Hey Patty, thank you for your thoughts.
I am working on a “yoga and consent” presentation for my 200hr YTT class, and I am looking for specific examples of scandals and teachers. I do notice that your article speaks indirectly of these scandals, but does not link to any information. As a newer practitioner, this doesn’t actually provide me any helpful information. Could you please incorporate naming the harm, naming the institutions or teachers, in your ahimsa practice? Respectfully, I find that speaking in generalities on topics of abuse rarely helps potential victims, and only protects the author and the perpetrators of violence.