Yoga and Buddhism Reform Movements: 16 Red Flags

As one yoga and Buddhist organization after another implodes, reform efforts are afoot. Some, if not most, are well-intentioned. But the industry is still unregulated. It’s an economy that runs on opportunism, and co-optation is standard.

So how can you determine whether those who step forward to lead reform are acting in good faith and not self-interest? That they aren’t simply re-establishing the same dynamics and silencing the same voices? How do you know whether they are, unconsciously or not, more interested in preserving the social and economic structure that fostered the abuse than they are interested in really listening to what survivors have to say?

How do you know whether they’ve done the extremely hard work of seeing through and overcoming cultic dynamics? After all, it is harrowing to even try to make different choices and foster new patterns when you’ve been in a cult, which is always terrifying members into pursuing power and position instead of equality and transparency.

Here are some signs that a reformer’s effort might be more unhealed or performative than educated:

  1. They issue long and complex partial acknowledgements of the abuse, filled with euphemisms, personal anecdotes, I Got-Mineism digressions, and premature claims that things are getting better.
  2. They don’t reach out to survivors directly to offer support.
  3. They do reach out to survivors, but when they make missteps, they give up because things get uncomfortable.
  4. They host discussion panels on the issue, but don’t invite survivors to participate, preferring to keep the issue both “in the family” but also in the abstract.
  5. They host trauma-sensitive trainings, or offer them on their own, sometimes only months after institutional abuse has been revealed.
  6. Survivors did not ask for their help in particular.
  7. They argue that reform must come from within the family/method/community, when it was precisely the family/method/community that enabled the abuse.
  8. They treat survivors and whistleblowers with respect in public, but in private doubt them, run them down, or defame them.
  9. They’ll raise money to help the organization with its scandal-plagued shortfall before they set up a reparations fund for survivors.
  10. They’ll develop an instantaneous and loud interest in social justice issues (inclusivity, accessibility, etc.) that are only peripherally connected to the abuse history of their group. (“Wokewashing”.)
  11. They come up with progressive-sounding proposals that are different from any of their previous content, but they cite no sources. Typically, those sources have already been produced by survivors.
  12. They write long self-aggrandizing blogs about how they always knew there was a problem and they’ve actually been addressing it all along, but privately, which is where it really matters, because survivors and whistleblowers doing the public work are obviously in it for themselves.
  13. They form endless formal committees that seem to do little but issue very long email newsletters.
  14. They form no formal committees.
  15. They repurpose the group’s ritual language or jargon for reform, even though it was often used to silence.
  16. They stand to keep or even improve their professional status by pressing for reform.

Reform movements MUST be survivor-led. The best resource that exists to date for this is this essay by Karen Rain and Jubilee Cooke.

Anybody who reads this essay and wants to sort out their organization’s abuse history and DOESN’T immediately think: “I should hire Rain and Cooke or people like them to consult with our organization TODAY” is probably not on point.

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