Yoga, Yogis ,Gurus and Sex Scandals

N K Srinivasan The yoga world had seen several earth-quakes of sex scandals associated with gurus, yoga 'masters' and teachers. Having watched the yoga-dom for the past several decades and being a practising yogi and teacher to some students. being Indian by birth, having had advanced education at one of the Ivy league schools in USA, I feel that I am sufficinetly well informed and matured enough to write about the scandals that had broken out with gurus/yogis . I also take this opportunity to explain the role of teachers/gurus in Indian/Hindu perspective. This is important because the concept and role of a guru or traditional teacher cannot be easily understood or appreciated by western students who enroll for a course,spend a few weeks in a school or ashram in India or a regular class/retreat in the West. As I survey the scene, starting from the days of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of TM,I could see how corrupt, mentally,morally and spiritually they become ;it is, indeed, shocking.The fair name of Hindu spirituality is being spoiled by these charlatan/bogus yogis and gurus.I write this with a sense of

pain at the way in which the hoary traditions of yoga and spiritual traditions of India had been compromised by these greedy, lecherous teachers and half-baked yogis.

Yogis and Power of wealth Several of the yogis were poor kids back in India or hail from humble middle class background ;their parents toiled hard to educate them and send them to school or college. When these young yogis arrive in the USA, they are dazzled by the wealth and affluence every where, and hear about the American dream to make money and the goal of "pursuit of happiness" extolled by Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of America. Soon enough ,with their yoga classes fetching money and a few rich devotees or female money bags, they acquire material possessions---starting with a new spanky car and a large house. Celebrity students arrive and along with them, the media coverage, with TV interviews and magazine articles and even bill boards in big cities like San Francisco. Many unbeleivable achievements are attributed to these

half-baked yogis. They are supposed to have authored hundreds of books---mostly short juvenile 'chapter books' written by their doting female students who are mostly English majors. Often the books are transcribed talks of shallow depths, given in the evenings ,with a smattering of Sanskrit words and expressions.Many have not read any of the scripture or even the Bhagavad Gita, to any depth.The books are edited profusely to cater to the local market of western readers who are reading about Hindu philosophy or yoga for the first time.

With money flowing in , the young yogi soon acquires a ranch style ashram with fancy name [for instance "New Mathura"] often bequeathed by a wealthy corporate guy or distraught rich widow, seeking 'enlightenment ' or at least mental peace at the feet of the master.[Often it is the personal tragedy that brings a person to these charlatan-gurus.] The ashram soon has several rooms,cottages ['kutirs' ]and conference halls besides yoga studios for the comfort of students who come for extended week-ends or retreats---- a fertile ground for promiscuity and gentle night -life.

One yogi bought a palatial monastery space with more than 100 rooms.Another wanted a new town to be made on a dry ranch.Soon they move around in Rolls-Royces or limos driven by their favorite female chelas . One charlatan-yogi who was an instructor in a local college in India, became rich in USA and owned more than 90 Rolls-Royces as part of his assets in his ranch, before certain criminal charges were clamped on him and he was driven out of the country. With tight security , body-guards and surveillance cameras, the yogi, a man of 'superior wisdom ' or divine dispensation, moves in his walled city--like a prince . One British politicain wrote nearly two centuries ago:"Power corrupts; Absolute power absolutely." How true! The yogi is no more a man pursuing spiritual goals or teaching spiritual path ,but a corporate executive or CEO, maximising his profits.He may invest in real estate and other deals to secure steady income from the earnings thus far collected. Money power and media publicity corrupt the mind of the yogi.He becomes a charlatan, trying to protect his

interests from now on. He forsakes the simple life style of true yogis in India. Furthermore he forsakes the greatest asset of a yogi--humility. He becomes arrogant, abuses his followers and even threatens them with dire consequences if they let out his secret misconduct around.

Yogi and the Seva concept
Karma yoga is the path of self-less service for the poor and the needy--like Mother Theresa ,for instance. Our modern yogis gave a nice twist to this path to accelerate their corporate growth.They would expect naive young ones in the ashram to do volunteering in the ashram kitchen or dorms or garden, as 'seve' to the guru and the community of students in the ashram, who are wealthy enough. This service is supposed to purify the minds of the students , in between their meditational practice. While volunteer service for an hour or two in the ashram for free lunch may be acceptable, many ashramites are forced to work for 8 hours or more in these places. This is a subtle form of exploitation by the gurus.

Pot bellied gurus
It is at this stage, with wealth and power increasing exponentially, gurus overeat and become obese and pot bellied---they cannot touch their toes...why, they cannot even see their toes! Unlike genuine yogis who practise yoga regularly, these pseudo yogis become inactive and let their young students teach others or train poor quality instructors. They spend their time amassing wealth or politicking in high circles. It is no wonder that many of them die fairly young ,say around 50 to 60 years, unlike T krishnamacharya who lived upto 102 years or Indra Devi who also lived upto 102 years or BKS Iyengar who teaches now at the age of 94.

Yogis or Play Boys
The rich and powerful yogis soon attract celebrities, hollywood starlets and rock-star musicians who not only bring in lot of money and media publicity, but certain elements of moral turpitude and sexual perversions. One high level yogi 'initiated' young novices in bubble bath; another in swimming pools and so on. The austere style of functioning soon changes to trivial ceremonies

and perversions with sexual overtones. Some of these are labelled as 'tantric' methods to arouse the sleeping kundalni from Muladhara chakra for the less-knowledgeable students and partners. If you read the yoga literature of the past 50 years of growth of Yoga in the west, you will find numerous instances of sexual exploitation/abuse besides flirtations by the yogis. One yogi winked at a starlet during her birth day puja , perhaps with bad intentions and got his reputation ruined significantly. Another well known yogi, who hailed from my ne in ighborhood in India, had the audacity to steal the girl friend of his disciple, professing to teach 'advanced methods ' under his roof , soon sired a child through her. A yogi who studied under a great master in India and was respected for his special yogic powers of shakti-path of raising kundalini power had a secret passage to the harem of female students for his sexual 'experiments' . Another yogi of great lineage openly sought sexual favors from female students and was sued in the court but denied any wrong doing. Another yogi, when facing legal charges for sexual exploits, paid a huge compensation or settlement

money in USA and quietly went back to India and apparently committed suicide in his ashram near the Himalayas. There had been many allegations even on great ones like Swami Vivekananda which were not proved or substantiated. But the recent instances have been painfully well documented and court cases followed...some with out-of-court settlements .One advanced philosopher carried on his affair with his secretary's wife for many years, sending her to clandestine abortion clinic periodically. The secretary was also sued for financial impropriety. Another young self-styled yogi married his secretary and left his devotees in the lurch. In a recent instance in India, a yogi was taken to court by his own wife who could not tolerate the flirtations of her husband. In Hindu traditions, a yogi need not be a celibate. He can be a family man ,with wife and children .The two illustrious examples of house-holder yogis are T Krishnamacharya and Yogendra of Yoga Institute [Santa Cruz, Mumbai] among others. There are ,of course, monks who are yogis and they would be celibate.

But modern yogis pretend to be celibates and carry on their sexual activities or perversions with several women. Some even justify this horrible behavior as due to compulsions from adoring females around them and their inability to control the urges. Many western women associate their yogi gurus/teachers with extra-ordinary powers acquired through yoga ,besides some charisma or physical charm. Unfortunately such claims are false or self-propagated, without any verification and often hear say reports. It is defintely possible to acquire certain intuitive powers and powers of healing by advanced yogis who had lived strict lives and practised long and hard for many many years. Such yogis are rarely seen under the glare of media publicity. These yogi-charlatans do not come under that category.They do not possess even moderate cleanliness of mind to acquire such powers or qualities. Many of them had read the Patanjali Yoga sutras with a chapter on supernatural [siddhi] powers ---that is all . The naive western students are duped cleverly b y these yogis and their promoters/students.

This can go on in India too.But India being an overcrowded country with little privacy in any ashram, such nefarious activities are soon found out. Further with gossip-mongering in top gear, many yogis or gurus of immoral behavior will be exposed soon.

What is true Guru-Sishya relationship? A true guru leads a student through the difficult path of yoga and spiritual growth very slowly. He may take months and even years to impart this training.Further he watches over the student to minutely understand his/her behaviour and give corrections or stern warnings from time to time. We say that a guru guides the student for life...it is not simply attending a structured course, performed in a hall or taught by correspondence or on-line course.. This system implies that the guru can at the

most train only 8 to 12 students at a time. Swami Sivananda [Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, India], a great vedantin and yogi , did train only about 30 students in his entire life. Mass education of yoga is another thing all together...It is not Guru-sishya type of training at all. In modern context, the yogis serve as mere teachers and so they can be forgiven for imparting poor training. At the same time ,the students receive packaged learning, without learning subtle points. Therefore one cannot expect the Guru-Sishya relationship to flourish as in old schools. There is very little responsibility of a guru/teacher towards his students. The

relationship is akin to that between a college professor and his/her students. In such circumstances gurus cannot expect total surrender or allegiance to a guru.Therefore it is needless to regard guru relationships in the classical Hindu tradition.

Caveat
With my long experience about yoga and yogis, I can make the following caveat or warnings for yoga students: 1 Check the background of the yoga masters and their institutions. If they indulge in cultish practices and walled enclosures, without access to outside world, shun them. 2 Check also for personal,financial and technical beckground of the master and his

chief instructors. 3 Avoid any personal encounters in closed doors, personal interviews or closeted instruction. 4 Do not believe in the claims of extra-ordinary powers or siddhis such as levitation, walking on water, materialisation of objects [sacred ash, metal objects and so on].. These are cheap tricks under controlled conditions. There were great yogis who could divine your thoughts, bilocate or predict your future. Such masters I do not find anymore.Some were there one or two generations ago. The present day yoga masters are of much inferior caliber. The chance of your finding a master who can

exhibit such powers, even in the hoary Himalayas, is very remote. The most common advanced feat they can exhibit is stopping the pulse for a few minutes and getting buried for some length of time without food and outside air. But then stopping the functioning of the heart and reviving it is common with CPR techniques and other means and need not be considered a supernatural feat. 5 Finally, do not part with all your money or assets to a yoga organisation or guru and then become dependent on the Guru...maintain your financial independence. You may give large donations ,provided they are accounted for valid expenses. I must add that there are great yogis, with

sincere teaching to their credit and considerable research/therapy experience---those genuinely interested in their students. Search for them. As the saying goes, if the student is ready, the teacher will come---as the divine law operates.. But the garden variety teachers, with lot of advertisements and bill boards to promote them are money-making charlatans and the dictum "Customer Beware" applies to the world of yoga as well. ------Om Tat Sat---

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