Sunday, May 17, 2020

Inconvenient Truth - Conveniently Eclipsed

Only one thing is on our collective mind these days and this has conveniently obscured pretty much every injustice, harm and sorrow prevalent in our society.

Perhaps this is nowhere more the case than in the yoga world, that has been rocked by a continuously unfolding litany of sexual abuses perpetrated by pretty much every Western oriented guru.

Along came coronavirus and, as if overnight, stories of abuse in yoga became old news. What a relief! Such inconvenient revelations in a field that prides itself on healing and spiritual evolution. Let's just get on with our yoga sadhana and gaze at our own navels and hope these awful stories will just go away so that we can re-brand, celebrate and sell our spiritual values and transcend our earthly suffering and poverty.

Even before the coronavirus, the Ashtanga community was feeling relief from the shift of focus to sexual assaults in other traditions. Could this inconvenient truth possibly just evaporate?

I also wondered whether I could now put my energy into writing positively about yoga's spiritual values and leave behind the divisive field of writing about Pattabhi Jois' sexual assaults and the Ashtanga community's denial and gaslighting.

Writing on this topic has not been easy - it has caused pain both to defenders of KPJ and to victims and has made me subject to anger and attack from both sides. It could be so easy to move on from this distressing subject.

But as the anniversary of KPJ's death comes around, and I see some teachers preparing to celebrate his memory, the above quote of Ellie Wiesel, brought me back to an uncomfortable duty.

~

Writing on this subject, makes me think about Arjuna's anguish in the Bhagavad Gita as he sees arrayed before him, the armies comprised of his brothers, cousins, teachers.. about to do battle with each other:

"Then Arjuna saw in both armies fathers, grandfathers, sons, grandsons, fathers of wives, uncles, masters, brothers, companions and friends. When Arjuna thus saw his kinsmen face to face in both lines of battle, he was overcome by grief and despair and thus he spoke with a sinking heart:

'When I see my kinsmen, Krishna, who have come here on the field of battle, life goes from my limbs and they sink, and my mouth is sear and dry; a trembling overcomes my body, and my hair shudders in horror; my great bow Gandiva falls from my hands and the skin of my flesh is burning; I am no longer able to stand because my mind is whirling and wandering.

... Facing us on the field of battle are teachers, fathers....

...... even if they, with minds overcome by greed, see no evil in the destruction of a family, see no sin in the treachery to friends; shall we not, who see the evil of destruction, shall we not refrain from this terrible deed? The destruction of a family destroys its rituals of righteousness, and when righteous rituals are no more, unrighteousness overcomes the whole family."

As is well known, the Gita is an allegory for the conflicts within the mind and those we encounter in life. Everywhere we perceive conflicts of interest. Should we become impassive because we have no choice but to recognize this incompatibility between our various attachments and loyalties and because there is never hope of reconciling these antagonisms? Could detachment and impassivity be the solution? Krishna's answer is: No!

Krishna:

"The follower of this path (yoga) has one thought, and this is the end (goal) of his determination. But many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the man who lacks determination.

There are men who have no vision, and yet they speak many words. They follow the letter of the Vedas, and they say: 'There is nothing but this.'

Their soul is warped with selfish desires, and their heaven is a selfish desire. They have prayers for pleasure and power, the reward of which is earthly rebirth.

Those who love pleasure and power hear and follow their words: they have not the determination ever to be one with the One.

... Set thy heart on thy work, but never on its reward. Work not for reward; but never cease to do thy work.

Do thy work in the peace of yoga and, free from selfish desires, be not moved by success or in failure. Yoga is evenness of mind - peace that is ever the same."

~

On the field of truth, on the field of dharma - the kurukshetra - it is impossible not to cause pain - but whose pain should be honored?

As Ellie Wiesel says: "Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Inaction cannot be the solution.

Those who have been victim to violence need to be supported. Those who suffer pain because the sexually abusive guru is being revealed for what he was - will, in the long run, be served by recognizing the truth.

The culprit is no longer with us, but his enablers continue to spin the Ashtanga salvation story and explain how a tainted guru could have got everything else right even though he sexually assaulted his students.

This spin continues to hurt survivors. Make no mistake, continuing as if nothing happened, causes actual harm and pain. As a practitioner or teacher, you may be able to blind yourself to it in the short run, but every harm that we cause, echos back to us - this is the law of karma.

Because individuals have spent decades associating their own success story with the perpetrator, it is almost impossible to reject him. He has become part of our lives, under our skin, a formative force, such that to reject him is to reject a part of ourselves.

But rejecting a part of ourselves is OK, necessary even, when it is toxic. This will not be the first time. Entering a yoga practice often requires the rejecting of inherited values. Why should it be more difficult now?

I believe that all those who studied with KPJ are victims: some acknowledge the fact - they have been physically, sexually or psychologically assaulted. Others, in their denial, are also still victims, but in a more conflicted and confused way. Those who have studied in the "lineage" are also victims: some of physical, psychological or even sexual assault and others are victims of deception and gaslighting.

Those in denial are simultaneously oppressed and oppressors. Silence and denial is not the solution. Silence, detachment and looking the other way will not cultivate yoga, will not bring peace, healing or evolution - it perpetuates the pain of those who were assaulted.

Honoring him, dishonors those he harmed and deepens their pain. If one needs to honor him, it should be done privately. Although praying to a false guru in private is bound to have negative personal ramifications, honoring him in public has a traumatizing effect on those he assaulted.

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