There has been a deafening silence from the Ashtanga community about the revelations of sexual assault perpetrated by Pattabhi Jois. I hope it is because people are in shock, not because they are sticking their heads deeper into the sand.
I am sure many people desire to say something but don't know what or how to say it. There are also many who are afraid to speak or question if it is their place to say something. There are, of course, some who are still in deep denial. There are many personal reasons to resist speaking out. But this silence looks like a cover-up, a denial that these events took place.
The victims need to hear your voices! They do not believe you have accepted the truth.
Many probably feel pressure to make an apology. Are we responsible for covering up the harmful nature of his actions? What is our role in promoting his name which simultaneously undermines the credibility of the witness testimony and causes further damage and pain?
It will take time to see how deep the rabbit hole of self-deception has gone. It will take time to see and accept with open eyes what actually happened. Only then will we feel ready to speak about this. Only then will it feel appropriate to say something.
But in the meantime there is something we must all do. Even if we are not ready to apologize, it is necessary for the victims to know that we have heard them, that we have compassion for their suffering and accept their truth.
It is not enough to say: “I never saw anything, I never experienced anything.” If you believe the victims but are trying to pretend that everything is OK – where will that lead? Yoga practice is a movement towards truth – digging your head in the sand just perpetuates your delusion and the pain of the victims.
The first principle of Ashtanga Yoga is ahimsa – not harming – the positive expression of ahimsa is love, compassion, care – has Pattabhi Jois’ himsa become institutionalized? Where is the compassion? Is the only concern self-preservation, maintenance of power and revenue producing structures?
The evidence is out there plain to see. Denial of the truth is himsa – acknowledging the harm caused by Pattabhi Jois is compassion. It will help the victims and it will help us to move towards healing and truth.
I urge all Ashtanga teachers and students of Pattabhi Jois to say something.
The question is: can Sharath make a statement? Until he does, others fear to do so. They fear being struck off the official register of teachers. In the absence of a statement from Sharath, it looks like the official statement of the KPJAYI is denial that anything untoward has happened. He has probably known more about this than anyone for many years and has not said anything about it publicly. On the contrary, he has done everything to cultivate an idea that his grandfather was a great yogi and saint.
He is thus in an impossible position: if he acknowledges abuse then he admits to dishonesty and manipulation of the ashtanga narrative for the purpose of consolidating power. If he says nothing or denies it he is equally seen as dishonest and responsible for causing more harm. He is damned either way. The first way will undermine his authority and power but save his humanity, the second way is to lose his soul and perpetuate a cult of deceit.
Without his guidance I know some elements within his student body are looking for ways to rebut and refute the evidence by undermining the credibility of those who have spoken out, thus causing further harm to the victims. It is therefore his duty to acknowledge the abuse and to apologize on behalf of the official Pattabhi Jois institute and curb the attacks.
We have profited from a system that has caused harm to others. Is that different from buying an item that has been produced by exploitation of labor or the environment? Our profit has come at the cost of others. We did not cause the harm but what gave us good (we have to question how much harm is hidden below the mental platitudes we feed ourselves) also caused others harm.
We cannot get away from this fact – we are not responsible but we are connected. And we have the power to increase their pain and to reduce it.
Acknowledgement does not seem like a big deal but it is huge. It is vitally important, it is our duty.
If yoga has been working for you then you will have the compassion to recognize this and do something. If yoga has not been working for you, then you will continue to follow your own self-interest and profit.