My Defamation Lawsuit Against Genny Wilkinson Priest

A recent opinion piece on Medium describes a defamation lawsuit I filed against Genny Wilkinson Priest in the spring of 2019. At first, the Medium article linked to PDFs of the Statement of Claim and Priest’s Statement of Defense. Presently the links are broken, so now people can’t read it for themselves.

 

This opinion piece has now generated misinformed comments about the suit throughout social media based on inaccurate presumptions as to the seriousness of or motivations behind my Claim. Therefore, I’m posting the filing here so that the substance of and reasoning for the suit, which I fully stand behind, is clear. I did not choose to make this story public. I am now trying to give people the opportunity to see the actual legal filing at issue, as opposed to a third-party opinion.

 

The one personal note I will offer is that I am open to and appreciative of criticism of my work. This is the first time, in a long career largely spent asking difficult questions about our institutions, that I have ever taken legal action against anyone. I initiated this action because, as the filing argues, the defamation was harmful not only to myself, but to the credibility of the testimony I was reporting, and by extension of those who testified to me.

 

I won’t comment further at this time, as the suit is still in process.

 

If This Changes Everything… We Can Wash a Lot of Bullshit Away as We Wash Our Hands

The other day I watched a press conference given by the chief medical officer in British Columbia. A reporter asked whether officials were going to step in to stop a local Bikram studio from advertising that practicing together in a hot room was both antiseptic and beneficial for the immune system. (Two days later, they did.) The doctor managed to stay polite and professional with an answer that basically said “That’s fucking insane.” I felt for her and wanted to apologize for my industry and so I almost — almost — opened up a blank doc to fire off a punishing hot take. But I didn’t.
 
I’ve also almost pulled the trigger in response to spiritual people who have enough of a nest egg to not be thinking about eviction or hunger, which means they can dump their Bypassing Benedictions into the social media river: going on about what a great opportunity this is to go within and reconnect — as if those weren’t the same exact platitudes they were using last month to market privilege as if it were wisdom.
 
Those hot takedowns would have felt good for about five minutes, and would have helped some of my readers blow off steam. (Thank you for your messages, BTW.)
 
Except for my opening paragraphs here — lol —I’ve refrained from the hot take reflex. Like everyone else I’ve been busy learning how to live in 1918-with-the-internet. Working with my partner and the children to adjust to now having to be almost everything to each other. I’ve been on the phone with creditors, checking in with parents, taking care of the larder, cooking compulsive amounts of dahl, trying to fix up the boys’ bikes so we can ride in the open air, dealing with rats in the compost pile, washing rags and snotty mittens, sanitizing floors and shoes and the basketball we might go out and play with if no one is at the playground and it’s warm enough. So 60% of me is tied up with the stress of getting by and predicting our children’s needs and being worried about their spirits, and trying to stay connected. I’d say another 20% of my brain is obsessed with the news and tallying up the math of infection cases vs. ventilators, abroad, and then here. That leaves 20% for my more familiar public/private mash-up: how to re-orient my content to serve a collapsing market while reorienting my heart to serve a collapsing sense of reality.
 
“What am I going to do with that 20%?” is an hourly question. For now the answer is It can’t be what I was doing before.
 
If this is changing everything, to borrow Naomi Klein’s phrase, it’s got to change everything. That includes how I use my brain, obviously, but also how I use digital space, which is becoming even less distinct from the physical world as lockdowns tighten up. We’re sharing homes in new ways that require a harrowing surge of emotional labour and maturity, and I think before long we’ll realize that we have to share virtual house in the same way.
 
Yes the Bikram studio guy is a delusional shitgibbon, and the privilege ninnies should take a seat on a tack. But they’re not any more dangerous than anyone else ignoring public health for whatever reasons — selfishness, ignorance, institutional trauma.
My point is that if impotent outrage functions as a displacement activity from this point forward, we’ll all pay for it more than we already have.
 
Also — who is actually surprised? Of course those who have been drafted into the yoga / wellness / lifestyle pyramid precariat will have default modes of self-expression and self-defense. Many are humiliated to learn they didn’t actually provide an essential service. And what else do they know? What other tools have they been given? And of course the cults will continue to cult — even moreso. Is it really surprising to see Kundalini devotees marketing kriyas for the immune system, or a Sivananda Yoga social feed quoting Swami S. himself about the karma of germs and contagion? No it isn’t.
 
I don’t want to spend calories on being surprised — whether it be at Stepford mindfulness or White House sociopathy — and then let that energy stand in for worry or empathy or grief. I don’t want to obstruct my worry, empathy, or grief.
 
I also have something approaching faith that COVID-19 is exposing socio-economic viruses that a revolution in common sense will fight to vaccinate against. Folks won’t be able to sell their wellness products or high-demand groups in the same way anymore, with the same empty smile. Who in 2021 is going to give money to the wellness predator, whether they’re selling magical yoga adjustments, yoni eggs, or essential oils? How can Goop not evaporate like a neurotic dream? (The only real question is how lawmakers or hackers can siphon the cash out of the Goop/tech gadget supply chain and redistribute it to people without health care.) Who will be able to remain blind to the fact that this masturbatory economy has parasitized the attention of a culture that needs masks, ICU beds, ventilators and Universal Basic Income?
 
Expanding out from that: who will not be nauseated by the new car commercial in 2021, or the headline about a pro athlete’s new contract? How will any venal priorities remain intact? I have this fantasy every time I wash my hands: I’m washing alongside comrades shedding whole loads of bullshit in a very narrow window of time.
 
As an act of faith, I’m going to imagine that the excesses of neoliberalism are now openly consuming themselves, and that engaging with, mocking, or cheering on that self-destruction is a waste of resources. I think this may free me up to be more clear and responsive. I can’t be thinking of the doTerra yoga goofball when I need (in this moment for there is no other) to connect with the growing confusion and sorrow of my seven year-old realizing in his body what is happening.
 
I’m not planning on dropping the content, but I have to soften the edges. I continue to believe it will be crucial to take what we’ve learned from studying the dishonesty and cultishness of modern yoga and Buddhism with us as we imagine new ways of living. Data on abusers and cult dynamics is as useful as knowing how long a virus lives on stainless steel. I believe preserving the voices of abuse survivors will provide us with our root texts going forward. I believe cult analysis will prove to be another type of vaccine, needed because charisma will always be with us, and it will burn hotter in times of despair, and we have to learn to organize so that it’s distributed like any other resource, and doesn’t accumulate like capital. This knowledge is in the vault already. It doesn’t need daily exercise on FB.
 
Dahr Jamail spent three years travelling the world to document the collapse of ecosystems. After he published The End of Ice, he realized that the only thing he could continue to do with his reporting would be to revise the numbers upwards, while basically nobody with real power listened. More species going extinct. More ice shelves collapsing. More carbon PPM. He told me that the power of journalism is rooted in the possibility that knowledge can motivate social change. With our ecosystem, we haven’t seen that happen. It’s totally demoralizing. And so he decided that he was giving up on reporting: it had all been reported, and it’s all there for anyone who wants to read it. He gave an interview in which he said that he wanted to just be with the world now, in the same way he sat by the bedside of his dying friend. He said “Everything is about kindness now, about how we treat each other. Everything else is just a pile of horseshit.”
 
Observation can be a form of kindness, I think, as well as being a sanitizing form of writing: to be open and notice, doctor-like, especially the little-noticed. To listen and hold.
 
So I’ll try to turn that 20% in that direction:
 
Listening to how neighbours talk about their children. Listening through the parenting codes that cover the exhaustion.
 
Thanking the garbage guy and every cashier and grocery stocker. The bike mechanic who worried that recreational cycling was going to be shut down but got the gears working on the 7 year-old’s bike even though he was overloaded with other jobs. Thanking our day care provider for keeping in touch about whether she’ll cash the April cheque, based on whether the feds will help us and her both.
 
Seeing folks post sewing patterns for face masks.
 
Feeling sick about what will happen to folks with substance use issues, to folks in homeless shelters, to sex workers, or how many more people will be vulnerable to domestic violence. Knowing that people’s mental health will be cratering. Reading about how landlords are abandoning tenants in high-rises — not mopping or vacuuming, or collecting quarters from the washing machines. And how we’re talking about the simplicity of hand-washing while many First Nations people have no fresh water. Feeling so strange about my relative security and wondering what I can actually give, and how it measures up against how I want to see myself.
 

Listening to my partner explain to the almost-4-year-old that he can’t physically share his fire truck with his little buddy through FaceTime.

Wondering about the new ways my partner and I will get closer, but also give each other space.

Telling the boys that now I have time to do little piano lessons with them. It took my mom to remind me about this. And that we can plant the romaine and kale soon.
 
Keeping the worst news from the older one, like about Italian doctors choosing who will live or die, or how some African countries have 1 doctor per 10K population, where we have 40 or 50 times that. But holding that news nonetheless. Taking all the news that makes me feel helpless and letting it invert into the drive to spend more time and attention on him and his brother.
 
To hold those with whom you are distancing, and let them be the world you cannot touch.
 
To avoid the low-hanging fruit on the social media tree. It was rotting anyway.
 
To let the deluded be confronted by reality. It doesn’t matter whether they wake up or not. For all I know, when push comes to shove, I might have to care for them in their time of need. And of course I would. So why not start now?

Quotes from Ram Dass That Fit the Pattern of Spiritualizing Sexual Abuse in Yoga

Not long after the glowing obits for Ram Dass started packing my feeds, Karen Rain, a trusted friend and colleague messaged me:

“Did you know that Neem Karoli Baba was a sex offender too?” No. No I didn’t.

Neem Karoli Baba was Dass’s guru. Bhagavan Das introduced them. (Falk has the rundown here.) Karoli Baba is essential to the bios of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal as well.

Rain pointed me to a book that I was able to download and search in a few minutes. Miracle of Love (Dutton Publications, 1979. ISBN-13: 9780525476115). It’s a hagiography of Karoli Baba, compiled by Ram Dass.

Dass has an entire chapter in the book called “Krishna Play” (loc. 4661). Here’s how he introduces it:

IT SEEMS AT ONCE surprising and obvious to note that Maharajji was quite different in the quality of his relationship with men and with women. With men he hung out and gossiped, scolded, and guided—as friend, father, and sage. With the women, on the other hand, in addition to those roles, he seemed frequently to assume roles like that of Krishna, as child and playmate and lover. Such play on Maharajji’s part of course created some consternation and confusion among devotees and also grounds for criticism on the part of people who did not like or trust Maharajji. But for the women devotees who were directly involved with Maharajji in this way, his actions served as a catalyst to catapult them to God.

Okay Boomer.

Here are some of the testimonies that Dass compiles for this section:

We’d be sitting outside and Maharajji would pull my hands under the blanket and make me massage his legs, almost pulling me under the blanket. I loved touching him, but I was not sure how far you can go in touching Maharajji. I’d be working on his feet and calves, and he’d grab my arm and pull my hand up to his thigh. So I’d do his thighs for a little bit and then my hands would start wandering down to his calves again, because all of a sudden I’d look around and see all these people staring at me. An Indian woman would be gasping, and I’d get real embarrassed, so I’d start working on his feet again. Then his hand would come sliding down and grab mine and pull it up again. He would often perform this puzzling ritual with me. And if I tried to explain it to myself, no sooner would I have the thought than he’d turn to me and yell “Nahin!” and then go on with his conversation.

 

One Indian widow who had no children came to Maharajji, worried about who would take care of her. Maharajji said, “Ma, I’ll be your child.” She started to treat him like a child and then he said, “You know, Hariakhan Baba used to suck the breasts of women. I’ll sit on your lap.” And he sat on her lap and he was so light and small, just like a child. He sucked on her breasts and milk poured out of them, although she was sixty-five. Enough milk came from her to have filled a glass. After that she never missed not having children.

 

I felt a great deal of fear of Maharajji and experienced a kind of awkwardness with him, wanting so much to do the right thing yet afraid that I wouldn’t know what that was. He called me into his room in Kainchi one day. (Of course it always happened on the days when you really needed it.) He had me close the doors. He was up on the tucket, I was sitting on the floor, and he leaned down to hug me. I reached out to hug him back and he meant for me to come even closer. He said, “Come closer, come closer, you’re not close enough.” And he just lifted me off the ground, onto the tucket, and into his arms. He put his arms and his blanket all the way around me. He absolutely covered me with his blanket and with his being. He swallowed me whole! I melted—all my fears, all that stuff totally vanished into the sea of Maharajji. I was completely out of my body, totally immersed. So that’s how he answered all those questions: Just by one hug!

 

I was kneeling before Maharajji when he grabbed at my sari and started pulling at it. Then he was holding my breasts and saying, “Ma, Ma.” I felt for the first time as if I were experiencing an intimate act free of lust.

 

There are stories about gurus doing things with women. But somehow around Maharajji there was a feeling of such purity that people could tell me anything he had done, and it never shook my total trust in him at all. It was clear that he needed nothing; he had no desires of his own. I believe that he would do things with women for whom the sexual part of their lives was not straight. In retrospect, it looks as though it served a very direct function for them.

In the introduction to the book, Dass explains that the material comes from interviews with over one hundred devotees. He writes:

These stories, anecdotes, and quotations create a mosaic through which Maharajji can be met. To hold the components of this mosaic together I have used the absolute minimum of structural cement, preferring to keep out my personal interpretations and perspective as much as possible.

Any Stanford psychology PhD should know that it’s not that simple. Inclusion choices are also exclusion choices. Dass put together the book by either cherry-picking statements that frame experiences with Karoli Baba as transformative, or, most likely, by not having interest in or access to survivors’ narratives in the first place. There is a difference between cult literature and survivor literature.

Interestingly, the most visible time Dass displayed a critical eye in relation to sexual abuse in the guise of spiritual intimacy was in his vicious take-down of “Joya”, a female spiritual teacher living in Brooklyn in his 1976 Yoga Journal essay “Egg On My Beard”.

Then there’s this bit from Dass’s obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Leary accused Mr. Alpert [Das] of trying to seduce his 15-year-old son, Jack, whom Mr. Alpert often took care of while Mr. Leary, a single parent, traveled.

I’d like to know more about that. Can’t find much.

There’s an entire genre of male writing that mystifies, rationalizes, or spiritualizes women’s experiences — especially of sexuality — within modern global yoga and Buddhist cultures. I believe it has both blessed and reinforced a misogynistic pattern that has prevented survivors’ stories from being heard.

Consider these two passages, both written by men, glorifying Chögyam Trungpa’s relationships with women:

For those of his fortunate female students who wished it, his love could manifest in the most intimate physical manner. Those who did take up his invitation almost always remembered these times as some of the most precious of their years with Rinpoche. They were felt as times of profound teaching — though rarely was there any formal dharma discussion between them — as well as times of lightness, freedom from care, and playful humor. At the same time, of course, anyone in any similarly intimate situation with Rinpoche was pushed to the edge of their little ego games, pushed to be open and genuine; and, for many of us in the West, sex provides one of the deepest entrenchments for ego.

— Hayward, Jeremy W. Warrior-King of Shambhala: Remembering Chögyam Trungpa. Wisdom Publ., 2008. 48.

and:

A measure of his compassion can be gleaned from the reports of a number of female students who experienced spending intimate time with him as a very precious communication. Some women reported that, even when there was no sexual intimacy involved—as was often the case in the last years of his life—they experienced spending the night with him as the greatest kind of intimacy.

— Midal, Fabrice, and Ian Monk. Chogyam Trungpa: His Life and Vision. Shambhala, 2012. 153.

Hayward and Midal obviously didn’t ask Leslie Hays about her experience of Trungpa.

I’m left with uncomfortable questions, given how wall-to-wall the praise has been for Dass. The way he was mourned over the holidays positioned him as some kind of unimpeachable saint. I started to notice that every single portrait of him captured exactly the same overwhelming beaming smile.

But this is the yoga world, and I’m skeptical of single-toned portrayals.

So I’m wondering if he also benefited from the mythologization of his guru. And if that mythologization depended upon the suppression of abuse stories.

I’m wondering how many bystanders to abuse in the yoga world felt consoled — for decades — by that enormous, unfailing smile.

I’m wondering if he was the guy who somehow made it all okay.

 

Sharath’s Statement on Pattabhi Jois’s Assaults: Context, Links, Notes

Context:

Sharath Rangaswamy Jois has posted an acknowledgement of harm committed by his grandfather to his Instagram account. The post features a photograph that has been used venerate Jois and highlight Sharath’s relationship to him for years.

The context I’d like to provide here is with respect to the women who made Sharath’s statement not only necessary, but possible, and whose names he does not mention.

Continue reading “Sharath’s Statement on Pattabhi Jois’s Assaults: Context, Links, Notes”

Shambhala Centre Will Rehang Devotional Pictures of Alleged Sexual Predator: Announcement Annotated

On June 19th, Myra Woodruff, the Executive Director of the Karmê Chöling retreat centre in Barnett, Vermont, sent an email to the centre’s mailing list. The email announces that the devotional portraits of Chogyam Trungpa and his son, Mipham Mukpo, will be reinstalled in the centre’s shrine rooms.

Karmê Chöling was founded by Trungpa in 1970. Initially named “Tail of the Tiger”, it was an early site for recruiting members and establishing the model of “land centers” through which Shambhala International has extended its assets. After dying of cirrhosis of the liver related to terminal alcoholism, Trungpa was cremated at Karmê Chöling in May of 1987. Continue reading “Shambhala Centre Will Rehang Devotional Pictures of Alleged Sexual Predator: Announcement Annotated”

Shambhala Centers Still Holding “Sealed” Retreats to Venerate a Leader Under Criminal Investigation

A New Year’s Eve email sent out from the Sky Lake Retreat Center of Rosendale, New York, invited qualified practitioners to attend a seven-day “sealed” retreat, beginning on February 23.

The event, named the “Monarch Retreat”, will be focussed on generating loyalty towards the spiritual “kingship” of the leader of Shambhala International, Mipham Mukpo, known as the “Sakyong”. Mukpo is the son and heir of the Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of the organization. In 1995, Mukpo was recognized as the reincarnation of Mipham the Great, a Tibetan philosopher, astrologer, and mystic who died in 1912.

This past July, Mukpo stepped down from his administrative leadership of Shambhala International amidst accusations of sexual assault published by Buddhist Project Sunshine. Mukpo has issued a vague apology for past behaviour, but he has since denied all criminal allegations through his lawyer. Continue reading “Shambhala Centers Still Holding “Sealed” Retreats to Venerate a Leader Under Criminal Investigation”

Pattabhi Jois Sexually Assaulted Men: Photo Evidence

Content warning: photos of sexual assault, below. 

This post is intended to facilitate access to the following already-available images, which will be cited in Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics and Healing in Yoga and Beyond (March 2019).

In the first photo, Pattabhi Jois is seen sexually assaulting a male practitioner in Supta trivikramasana. Jois is seen sexually assaulting Karen Rain in the same posture in a similar photo. The photo below was taken in the old Lakshmipuram shala, and so dates from before 2003.

In the second photo, Jois is seen assaulting a male practitioner in a forward fold. A source says that the photo was taken in 2003 in Encinitas.

The identities of the practitioners are unknown. They remain anonymous because their faces are hidden.

I’m posting with the awareness that the practitioners might dispute that the photographs depict sexual assault.

However: victim testimony alone does not define sexual assault. Other factors can include whether there was full consent, whether the alleged victim was capable of granting full consent at the time, whether the alleged victim was in a position or condition of submission, whether the contact was administered under the false premise of medical treatment, and whether there was a significant power imbalance between the alleged assaulter and the victim.

Karen Rain commented on these photos in a thread on Facebook:

I’ve heard a couple stories about P Jois sexually assaulting men, including one story of a male digital rape. I know that the AY community likes to say that what he did to women wasn’t sexual assault because he did the same thing to men. This is the most nonsensical argument. Imagine if we used that reasoning with priests: they did the same thing to young girls as they did to young boys, so therefore it isn’t sexual abuse(??). It’s important to understand that sexual abuse/assault is about power not about sex. Unfortunately, males are perhaps, even more than females or non-binary people, conditioned in ways that prevent recognition and disclosing of sexual assault. So much for the argument that P Jois was tempted by effusive, scantily clad western women.

If Jois’s sexual assaults on men were more difficult to recognize and disclose, this may have increased the tendency, especially among the senior male students, to ignore or rationalize assaults against women as well.

 

Jois assaulting male practitioner in Supta trivikramasana, before 2003.

 

Jois assaulting male practitioner in a forward fold position, Encinitas, 2003.

 

 

Maybe It Wasn’t the “Shambhala Teachings” That Changed Your Life: A Brief Note on False Attribution

Maybe It Wasn't the "Shambhala Teachings" That Changed Your Life

“But the Shambhala TEACHINGS are precious. They changed our lives. We CAN’T let them go. We HAVE to separate them from the organization and its leadership.”

This is the active-ingredient argument you may be hearing from some of your fellow community members. It’s based on the premise that beneath all of the human imperfections and “conventional realities” of Shambhala International, there was something essentially good and true communicated by Trungpa and his followers, and that that essence was what changed lives.

A further premise is that that essence can and should be isolated and mobilized.

Those who talk about the “essence” of the teachings are those who are still in one way or another within the learning community or high-demand group. They might believe that the essential teachings were universally clear; they could test this belief by asking those who left the group what they believed the teachings were. 

They would be also be the ones who would be least likely to consider the placebo effect of the teaching content. Continue reading “Maybe It Wasn’t the “Shambhala Teachings” That Changed Your Life: A Brief Note on False Attribution”

Why Reasoning with Jordan Peterson Fans Can’t Work, Or: Privilege is a Feeling State

Why Reasoning with Jordan Peterson Fans Can't Work, Or: Privilege is a Feeling State

So Nellie Bowles wrote this piece of magic.

Then former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro stayed up all night and sweated out this response.

My post here will avoid the content weeds to zero in on a single syntax transition that Shapiro made, and that somehow made it through editing. The indented graf is Bowles. The second sentence is a direct quote from Peterson. The second graf is Shapiro.

Read how the highlight connects them.

Slow down if you have to.

 
One more time, isolated:

Bowles: “[Peterson direct quote]” he said.

Shapiro: This is not what Peterson is saying. 

This freaked me out. I talked it through with my partner Alix to get clearer on it. Here’s what we explored together:

It never matters what Peterson said.

It matters what he’s saying.

As in: generally, and all the time. And most specifically (speaking as a Peterson devotee): right now, in my head, as my internal homunculus of reassurance.

Continue reading “Why Reasoning with Jordan Peterson Fans Can’t Work, Or: Privilege is a Feeling State”

“Deception, Dependence, and Dread” — via Michael Langone

Farber, Harlow, & West (1957) coined the term “DDD syndrome” to describe the essence of Korean war thought reform with prisoners of war: debility, dependency, and dread. Lifton (1961), who also studied thought reform employed in Chinese universities, demonstrated that the process did not require physical debilitation. Contemporary cultic groups, which do not have the power of the state at their disposal, have more in common with this brand of thought reform than with the POW variety, in that they rarely employ physical coercion. In order to control targets, they must rely on subterfuge and natural areas of overlap between themselves and prospects. As with all Korean era thought reform programs (those directed at civilians and at prisoners), however, contemporary cultic groups induce dependent states to gain control over recruits and employ psychological (sometimes physical) punishment (“dread”) to maintain control. The process, in my view, can be briefly described by a modified “DDD syndrome”: deception, dependency, and dread. Continue reading ““Deception, Dependence, and Dread” — via Michael Langone”