Friday, August 31, 2018

Guruji and #Metoo

Dear fellow students of Pattabhi Jois and practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga,

We have been silent for too long. Most of us have witnessed or experienced both physical injury and sexually invasive touch by Guruji. Those who continued to practice with him and promote his teaching found ways to rationalize his behavior. Many of us lived with ambivalence - were his actions intentional or accidental? Today we can be in no doubt that Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulted many of his female students:

If you have not done so already, please take a moment to read Karen Rain’s testimony:

It is not easy to do. If you practice Ashtanga Yoga, if you love Guruji, if you teach Ashtanga - reading this will distress you. It threatens the whole purpose behind your yoga practice, it threatens your business and it undermines a relationship that may be very close to your heart, but it is your duty, not just to the victims of abuse, but also to yourself.

I think by now most of us have come to accept that Pattabhi Jois' adjustments were questionable at times but to recognize that he actively and persistently sexually assaulted some of his students is very difficult to accept and acknowledge for several reasons:

To acknowledge that one has been pursuing a "spiritual practice" with devotion to a sexual abuser with the implicit ramifications for one's own practice would be hugely distressing. The closer a teacher was to Guruji, the more their authority rests on his - if his authority is undermined, so is theirs. To speak out would be to risk alienation from the Jois family and the Ashtanga community. The ramifications are potentially damaging to our financial, social and spiritual wellbeing. 

I believe it is important for all of us to acknowledge the truth. If we deny the victims' testimony, we stand in the way of their healing process: if their words cannot be shared and accepted as true, it is very difficult for them to find release from their pain. But it is also important for us to be honest for our own sake! What is yoga if it is not a path of truth?

One of Pattabhi Jois' most quoted sayings is: "Do your practice and all is coming!" Guruji practiced for decades and what came to him included behavior that caused harm to many people. Can we accept this as yoga? Do Guruji’s imperfections invalidate his teachings? This is a question we are compelled to ask. 


My initial reaction to Karen’s account was to question/doubt her experience: If she was being abused on a daily basis, why did she continue a daily practice with Pattabhi Jois for two years? I wanted to find justification for rejecting her testimony. Then I reflected on my own experience: Guruji had badly injured me several times in my first few months of practice and thereafter and I continued to come back for more: the desired fruits were so attractive that we were prepared to go through a great deal of suffering to grasp at them. 

I wanted to find independent confirmation and so I went back and reviewed old video footage of Jois teaching in Mysore and saw several clear cases of sexual harassment. Then I also spoke to a member of a small inner circle of students who hosted him on his world tours and who confirmed that they had known about a persistent "problem" of sexual assault going back over many years. 

Why has no one with this knowledge spoken out? If a teacher has been knowingly denying Guruji's sexual abuse and promoting his teachings as a spiritual practice then he has participated in cultivating a deception in a most cult-like way. 

By sending students to study with him, he is also open to allegations of "grooming". These failures could be hugely damaging to a teacher's reputation. But being close to the family would make it almost impossible to speak out, considering the pain it would cause them.

It is not surprising that almost no teachers have spoken out yet or acknowledged the truth. Teachers wanted to show how close they were to Guruji, how perfect that relationship was and how perfect their practice was in Mysore. This conferred authority and authenticity. To speak badly would be to undermine the brand and to alienate oneself from the source. But now to acknowledge one has had huge admiration, love, respect and has even represented and promoted a sexual abuser for many years will initiate a severe existential crisis. The truth will be acknowledged by all but it will take some time.


Since his death, Guruji has been elevated to a position of sainthood. Part of this promotion has been due to the book of interviews I collected and published with Eddie Stern as "Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K Pattabhi Jois" which paints a positive picture of his life and avoids exploring the issues of injury and sexual assault. In emphasizing only positive stories it has done more to cement the idea that he was a perfect yogi, which he clearly was not. 

By burnishing his image, we make it unassailable - it makes us doubt the testimony of those he abused. This causes further harm to those whose testimony we deny and to ourselves.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies to all victims who were harmed by Guruji or by his teachings as passed through his students for my part in cultivating this image of perfection that denies the suffering and healing of many. I would also like to apologize for taking so long to write this - it was not easy to do.

I believe it is our duty to ourselves and to all those who were hurt by Guruji and whose words and truth and healing has been ignored and rejected for so long, to listen with open hearts, without judgment, without defensiveness, for to do otherwise is to cause more and more pain for everyone.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Samkhya Yoga, Karma Yoga and Advaita Yoga

The highest yoga according to Sri Krishna in the Bhagvadgita is Jnana yoga (the path of knowledge). Jnana yoga can be transmitted directly to the purified mind of the sattvic student. Through this transmission the student will be able understand and apply the principles of yoga and obtain the desired results easily. The Samadhi Pada of the Yoga Sutra is a teaching in Jnana Yoga.

For those with agitated or dulled minds due to stress, discomfort or dis-ease, there is karma yoga (the path of action). Karma yoga heals the body of disease and purifies the mind, calms the nervous system and vitalizes the whole human organism. Karma yoga constitutes the external limbs of ashtanga yoga. The Sadhana Pada of the Yoga Sutra is the chapter on Karma or Kriya Yoga - the external limbs.

The highest yoga is non-dual. It transcends the concern for mind-body-world. This internal yoga - Advaita Yoga culminates in realization and liberation. This internal yoga is described in Patanjali's third chapter of the Yoga Sutra - the Vibhutti Pada and liberation is the theme of the fourth chapter - the Kaivalya Pada.


In the beginning we are aware of the duality - self and world - or mind and that which is communicated to the mind from "outside". Initially, this is our awareness of duality - "myself" and "the world out there".

As we start to take our awareness inside and try to exclude the external world, we discover that we cannot do this. Our mind is full of impressions from "outside". Outside could mean one's own bodily sensations - since these are reactions to external stimulants - not just vision and sound, but the results of digestion, secretion of hormones etc - these are "external" to consciousness.

Thus we discover that when we close our eyes, the mind is as much full of "stuff" as the world we perceive outside when we open our eyes. 

The rishis recognized this fact and designated this first level of introversion as "dream" state - the internalized rumination on external factors - as having the same quality, from the perspective of yoga, as the first, stimulated "waking" state.

Both of these states represent a projection of the same type of movie on the internal screen of the mind.

The third state - the state of Knowledge (prajna) is a more deeply introverted experience. The yogi appears to be asleep, but is internally awake. The lower functions of mind have ceased, have become withdrawn along with the senses, and has become inert. The yogi is now absorbed through purified (sattvic) intelligence (buddhi) in meditation.

Even though we initially felt that duality was a distinction between mind and body - we become aware that everything we experience through the body - through action or stimulation of the senses is like an external skin to the mind. It is not separate from the mind, they are a unity.

The duality is not between mind and body but mind/body (as a unit) and the one that the mind/body serves, the one who experiences what the mind/body channels - eg the Purusa or Atman. 

This understanding leads us to seek and ultimately find this true Self as distinct from mind - resulting in the fourth state - Turiya (samadhi). In the fourth state, there is no awareness of the mind or the body - these two have been transcended resulting in an experience of pure being beyond mind.


Jnana Yoga is also known as Samkhya Yoga. Samkhya means to enumerate, it means science or scientific way of knowing. Samkhya is the method of discrimination and understanding whose purpose and function is to indicate the distinction between Prakriti and Purusa - between mind/body and Self, and to obtain liberation from suffering associated with the mind/body through this realization.

There are three aspects to Jnana Yoga - the first is to become educated about the truth, the second is to reflect on these teachings and the third is to meditate on insights gained through reflection.

Meditation requires total health and control of body and mind. Any discomfort, pain or preoccupation will not allow for concentration. Sensuality, suffering and ego pervert the minds tendencies and make it very hard to control - thus tainting the reception of knowledge and reflection on it with those tendencies. Therefore before Jnana Yoga becomes possible, the body has to be healed and the mind purified of its extraverted tendencies.

The Yoga of purification is called Karma or Kriya Yoga.

As human beings we are aware that there is an external as well as an internal world (mind). We are thus living in a duality and the first stages of yoga recognize this.

The path of karma yoga thus follows both an external path through physical actions - yama, asana and kriya, and also a more internal path concerning the mastery of mind - niyama, pranayama and pratyahara. 

These preliminary techniques of yoga are directed both towards controlling the sense perceptible and towards the internal world through progressive stages of purification, analysis and absorption. 

When the mind has been purified and the body rid of pain and disease, the student may be ready for the flowering of Samkhya or Jnana Yoga which culminates in Self realization and liberation - Advaita Yoga.


The true nature of reality is evidently not something easy to understand. Or is it?

The word to "realize" is in one sense the same as the word to "understand" although realization is usually used in the sense that "realization unfolds" - a process in time which culminates in full understanding. There is something in the nature of the use of the word "realization" - that gives us the impression, if we could simply understand, we would become Realized, and in fact this is the case.

But this is not intellectual or logical understanding, nor is realization the result of any action but an experience of the fullness of our essential nature. Actions - karmas - can not bring us to realization. Actions can only remove obstacles, impurities etc. and uncover the nature of the Self which otherwise remains obscured. Intellectual or book knowledge and logic can also not take us there, though they can indicate where we should look to gain the insight we seek.

According to yoga and sankhya, there are 24 facets to the screen of the mind. These facets are feelings of temperature, perception of colour, form, language, digestion, physical exertion, ego etc - there are many facets to our experience through mind and body which have been enumerated elsewhere. But there is one facet, an internal screen - the primal screen out of which the others have evolved, known as pradhana or prakriti.

Pradhana (primal mind) is Purusa's initial meeting point with the embodied organism. It is through the effect Purusa has on this primal mind, that all other aspects of mind including, ego and sensation evolve. Pradhana is un-evolved, in other words, without form or motion and extremely subtle, but the effect of Purusa's impression or penetration into Prakriti is to make this primal mind start to undergo metamorphosis into the various aspects of mind we experience. At night, when we fall sleep, these various aspects of mind dissolve one into the other and merge back into pradhana and the various contours of the mind lose their form again.

Once the 23 screens which record or reflect external sensory awareness, mentation and ego-sense have all been "purified" - ie once one has controlled one's desires and aversions and has developed the power to eliminate their activities in meditation, one final screen remains. This most internal screen of the mind, instead of reflecting external experience, reflects the internal experience of Purusa.

The method for eliminating the impact of the 23 screens in meditation are the limbs of yoga, which culminate in the reduction of activity to a single point of concentration in buddhi. Buddhi is the first "evolute" of primal mind (pradhana) caused by the impact of the Purusa and as such comes closest in character to its primal cause. When, through concentration, after all other aspects of experience have been eliminated and the holding of a single idea in Buddhi acts as a stabilizing cause, then Buddhi is said to merge back into pradhana, leaving just one impression in the primal mind: that of Purusa.

At this level of Samadhi, Purusa is not seen directly - its impression in the mind is experienced. Purusa is never seen, it is the Seer. Once this level of samadhi becomes established, it readily leads towards the ultimate samadhi.

In everyday experience, mind is extraverted and scattered, without a central point of attention. Like light which shines from a source, it illuminates what happens to fall under its gaze, however, the yogic use of mind is comparable to that of a laser - the mind becomes totally focused - all light particles are directed in a single direction at the intended target.

This one pointed concentration is the "eye of the needle" through which one has to pass, in order to experience the internal screen of the mind, in which is reflected the face of Purusa.

In this recognition of Purusa's face deeply embedded on the internal screen of the mind, the mind is allowed to relax completely, having found it's source, in this way overcoming the final duality and dissolving into its causal (inert) state.

The Purusa is the source of the mind's consciousness. It is Purusa's impact on Prakriti or Pradhana (primal mind) that causes its condensation into intelligence, self awareness, lower mind and sensation. In the process of yoga these evolutes of mind dissolve back one into the other - like ice melting into water, water evaporating into vapor and vapor dissipating into space.

Mind is said to be like a bird which is tied to a branch of a tree. All day, the bird flutters this way and that trying to escape, but at night, tired, the bird comes back to roost on its branch. The mind is constantly looking for distraction, but eventually finds rest in the Self.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Healthy Attachment

Since the cause for avidya (ignorance) is attachment, how can we practice yoga, live in harmony in society, with family, be happy and gain yogic knowledge?

We have come to where we are today due to our past thoughts and actions. Our karma continues to unfold, often only to be re-enforced, sometimes to be released. We are blind to the workings of karma which provide us with opportunities to overcome our conditioning - otherwise we would avoid these painful encounters. This is an aspect of maya which serves our evolution.

Within the confines of the state our karma generates, how can we live in such a way as to experience yoga?

According to yoga and ayurveda, there are four aims of life: these are dharma, artha, kama and moksha:

Dharma - Originally the word dharma meant living life in such a way as to be in complete harmony with one's prakriti (constitution) and the environment: the condition of perfect health - the result of which is the capacity to experience samadhi in addition to the other three states of consciousness (waking, dreaming and sleep). Today, the word has come to mean "duty" - to perform one's duty according to one's position in life.

If the condition described by the original definition is established, knowledge of what to do and what not to do (one's duty) is clear. Today, fulfilling our dharma is much more difficult, especially in the West - it requires education, analysis, life experience and de-conditioning.

Artha is commercial activity - the way we earn and spend money.

Yoga and Ayurveda suggest that we intelligently adjust our lifestyle, including our profession to be in accordance with our own constitution as well as to work in an environment and field which does not conflict with the yogic view of life.

Most of us do not assess our constitution when choosing a job - many other factors play in to it. According to yoga, if your job matches your constitution, your work itself may become yoga.

Here are some examples - a vatta type person decides to become an accountant - for what ever reason. The vatta type has to move his body, otherwise he will experience stress, he likes to have many diverse thoughts and variety in his work - he is thoroughly unsuited to the sedentary, careful calm work required of the accountant - this work is much better done by the Kapha type.

The Kapha type would not be at home as a stock market trader - he would be too slow, the stress would be too much, he would develop heart trouble but the vatta type would be in his element, making deals left and right.

We seldom take these things into consideration. Most of the time, if a job becomes available which pays more money, this is motive enough.

Then how should we spend our money? The ancient wisdom suggests: 20% to cover the cost of living, 20% for education, 20% for investment/saving, 20% for charitable donations and 20% for pleasure.

As with many ideas which come down from antiquity, we need to make some adaptions: today we may pay something for education, health care and the support of the needy through taxation. For some of us, rent can take up 50% or more of our income, for others, there is no spare cash once basic essentials have been taken care of.

Yoga also teaches that we should not waste. All actions result in some violence, it is inescapable, therefore yoga teaches one should minimize ones actions and cause the least harm possible. Each individual is allotted a span of life, some actions to perform and some specific amount of resources depending on individual karma and constitution.

Taking more than one needs, is a violence to others, but is also a violence to oneself. Since each individual has a limited resource, when that resource is exhausted, that life comes to an end. In other words, greed leads to a premature death.

Kama - pleasure!

Yoga does not teach that pleasure is bad - after all, the purpose of yoga is happiness. Excessive attachment is a problem and leads directly to pain, but there are many pleasures in life which are healthy.

Any one who has undertaken a fast for more than a couple of days has experienced the exquisite pleasure of the first few mouthfuls of food after breaking the fast. We have been told since childhood to chew our food 30 times before swallowing and yet with all the eating we have to do, this has easily been forgotten.

I once heard Osho say: dont eat your food, drink it! Chew it until it becomes liquid - then the process of assimilation starts to happen in the mouth. The first few mouthfuls after a fast do not prompt one to devour food in a greedy binge, but rather to savor each mouthful with mindful and sattvic  pleasure.

Pleasures which come to us easily and which are healthy (as defined by the yama and niyama) need not be avoided. Prakriti is there for both enjoyment/experience and liberation. Only through experience do we gain knowledge. Spiritual teachings can help to guide us, but the raw material of our transformation is our personal experience and the knowledge we gain from it.

According to yoga, the key is not to struggle for pleasure - it should come naturally, then it is healthy. If we work with excess stress to buy the object which we think will give us pleasure, we are not enjoying today! Tomorrow may never come and we will have wasted all our efforts.

"Artha (commercial activity) and Kama (pleasure) are like mischievous cows which give you a kick when you attempt to milk them. Tie up their legs to the pillar of Dharma on the one side and the pillar of Moksha on the other. Thus controlled they yield you Amrita (milk, nectar) in immense measure." - Sri Ranga Mahaguru

Moksha - liberation.

The rishis say - the whole purpose of life is liberation. All desires are nothing but the one desire for moksha, which not finding its target, attaches to objects. These objects never give the desired pleasure which would result from the fulfilled desire for liberation.

If the foregoing three aspects of life are in healthy balance, then liberation is also possible. Being healthily established in one's dharma, one's means of earning and spending and one's pleasures, a healthy human being has the capacity for realization.

In fact, the healthy relationship between these three leads directly to the fourth. Being healthily established in the body, having performed one's duties to one's self (such as yoga practice) and to others, one is then well prepared for suitable work, from which one may derive appropriate pleasure.

It is possible that the happiness derived from harmonious and healthy living naturally starts to merge our minds in samadhi. Samadhi is a birthright and dis-harmony, ill health and distress prevents its appearance.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Seer and Seen

I was recently reading some articles on Richard Freeman’s website when I came across this statement:

“As it appears normally, consciousness is always conscious of something. Consciousness then appears as the thing of which it is conscious. What is unconscious then appears as conscious.”

I had to stop at the second sentence repeatedly. First of all, because I did not understand the jump he was making between the two sentences, but then, once I understood what he was trying to say, my mind still refused to read further…

These two sentences represent the crux of the yogic view of a-vidya and maya.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Vairagya (non-attachment), Samtosha (contentment) and the Sweetest Happiness

Following the last post a couple of people emailed me feeling that my view of the modern condition was overly pessimistic. In this blog, I am not trying to put my own views forward, but to present my understanding of the yoga darshana. I am not sure if I completely agree with all the conclusions which are presented, that is my work in progress.

The yoga and ayurveda shastra state that samadhi was once naturally experienced but is almost totally lost today because of the decline in our diet and habits. We may be very good at making sophisticated things, there have been many medical advances etc., but we are no closer to understanding how to be happy - because we are looking in the wrong place.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why yoga is therapy

"...three natural states of being, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, occur in human beings as well as animals. These are natural states and usually require little or no training. However, for human beings alone, there is a fourth and most important natural state; it is the state of samadhi, yoga, or sahajavastha. The word sahaja means, endowed by birth, avastha, means, state. While this fourth state of mind is natural, it is present only when there is total balance and health in body and mind." *

Man seems to be the only creature that does not know its place in nature. Modern man is so riddled with dis-ease simply because of this. Our bodies belong to nature. They do not belong to us. Thinking that we own the body, we believe we can treat it any way we choose. It is true, the body shows incredible resilience to mistreatment but not without consequences - pain, sickness etc.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hatha and Ashtanga - Further Thoughts

Having said that Ashtanga Yoga is not Hatha Yoga, certainly some elements of Hatha Yoga are also found in Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Pattabhi Jois and in the teachings of T Krishnamacharya. In fact, Krishnamacharya used a wide variety of techniques and taught the Hatha texts as well as Patanjali Yoga and many other subjects, whereas Guruji tended to favor fewer techniques and a concentration on the Patanjali Yoga and Advaita Vedanta.

Guruji saw yoga as one. Different techniques for different people in different circumstances. But he was clear that what he was teaching was Patanjali Yoga - so any Hatha techniques he utilized were in the pursuit of that goal rather than vice versa. In fact, although the Hatha texts state that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga and some passing lip service is paid to the angas of Ashtanga, the development of practice and practices as well as the the culmination of the goal are clearly significantly different.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ashtanga Yoga is not Hatha Yoga

There has been much debate about the origin and development of Pattabhi Jois' system of asanas over the years. There has been much less interest in placing his asana system in the context of ashtanga yoga as a whole, or indeed, the yoga darshana as a whole.

Guruji used to say that his teaching was "original Patanjali Yoga." 

What are the implications of this?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Misty Woods

I recently had the good fortune to attended a retreat with Dr KLS Jois at Misty Woods, in the mountains of Coorg. Dr Jois - known as "Acharya" has a deep knowledge of yoga, ayurveda, sanskrit, the six systems of philosophy and the epic hindu dramas. As he took us through the Samadhi Pada of the Yoga Sutra, he wove a lucid tapestry, illuminating each sutra with a rich interweaving of these various branches of knowledge.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Giving adjustments and stilling the mind through asana - Elise's further questions

What is the point of giving students physical adjustments?  If it isn't about the asanas, then does it matter if one can do it or not?  If one isn't willing to make the effort then why should the teacher bear the burden? Or is more like helping the light shine through and the energy move past someone's samskaras? 

There were some students Guruji would seldom adjust and there were others he helped with every pose. Some students learn verbally and others somatically. Adjustments can help students understand how to get into a posture, take them deeper than they understood was possible and can be used therapeutically.