The Embodiment Conference and Beyond: A Trauma-Aware Call to Healing [Guest Post]

Guest Post | A Call to Healing in the ‘Wellness’ and ‘Embodiment’ Communities

by Dr. Jess Glenny, Rev. Jude Mills, Dr. Theo Wildcroft

 

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We are a coalition of elders in our communities of practice, who identify as neurodivergent and/or as survivors of trauma. We call on you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – to bear witness, to take personal and collective responsibility, and to commit to moving forward for the healing of ourselves, our communities, and those who have been damaged by the misuse of power; by individuals, structures, and institutions that claim to be promoting wellness. We also ask that this healing extends to those who have misused their power, for without the healing of all, there is no healing. This is a heartfelt prayer, invocation and invitation to you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – to ask some difficult questions, and to move towards radical personal and collective change. 

We have, in recent weeks, been bearing witness to the public ‘call-out’ of Mark Walsh and The Embodiment Conference, in the wake of much debated statements made by Mark on social media, that have been widely condemned as offensive. 

We understand and wholeheartedly support the ensuing reaction of hurt, anger and desire for reparation that is being expressed in online spaces. However, we collectively fear that the public, social-media-fuelled fervour that builds up around these calls to action sometimes echoes the violence of the behaviours that we are collectively denouncing, and actually further harms those who have been harmed. 

As people who identify as neurodivergent and/or as survivors of trauma, we simply cannot safely engage with this level of volatility. We experience this as a form of ableism that has repeatedly excluded us from spaces like The Embodiment Conference, and also from the online spaces where such events are debated and discussed.

Some of us have seen warning signs and refused any involvement with Mark Walsh from the outset. Others have had varying levels of professional and personal involvement and have subsequently decided to remove our support and to cut off our ties and involvement with him and his work, having experienced professional and personal emotional and psychological harm by our involvement. 

Our experience predates but resonates with all of what has been currently reported on Walsh’s online behaviour. As survivors of trauma, and as neurodivergent practitioners, we knew years ago that we were unwelcome in Walsh’s space, and that the commodification of ‘embodiment’ it represents was built, in part, on that exclusion, and on the denial of our lived experience. We fully acknowledge the intersectional nature of such experiences, but equally acknowledge that we can only legitimately speak to our own experiences. 

We are the ones who either were never invited to join the conference, or whose consciences would not allow us to sign up. In the wake of the online call to action, some of us with direct experience of Mark Walsh, have even been asked: why didn’t we warn people, and how are we going to help repair the damage? We have been asked to take ‘accountability’.  The fact is, some of us did warn you, and you didn’t listen. Others who had relevant information to share weren’t consulted or even considered as relevant.  

To be clear, we have not been silent; we have been silenced.

What we feel needs to be said however, is that this is not just about one person and one event. These same dynamics have been experienced by many of us, in many organisational contexts. Mark Walsh and his behaviours are symptoms of deeper cultural and systemic issues that are culturally normalised. These are the issues that need to be addressed for us to move towards healing of a situation that will, otherwise, continue to repeat . The fact is, we’re not sure that you want to repair anything that we are really invested in.

We believe:

  • That the structures and systems that promote, encourage and support charismatic leadership in the wellness/embodiment ‘industry’ are essentially damaging. Such leadership is not conducive to communities of collective responsibility. We call for a healthy scrutiny of such leadership, and of anyone actively seeking such a position. But more than that, we suggest that communities based on this kind of leadership model, are best avoided. 
  • That given what we intuitively know, and given research (among other issues) of: intergenerational, individual and collective trauma and harm; historical, structural and systemic forms of oppression; countertransference; attachment dynamics; interpersonal neurobiology; addiction and cult psychology; we appreciate that work at the intersection of soma, psyche and spirit may invoke particular risks and that such non-collaborative models may harm all, especially participants.
  • That movements such as The Embodiment Conference are based on large-scale market principles that are, we feel, in direct opposition to the practices that they claim to promote. 
  • That the fact that such leaders are often white, male and heteronormative further entrenches us in shoring up the systems of power and abuse that many of us claim to denounce.
  • That the existence of an ‘industry’ that seeks to commodify and profit from wellness and embodied practices by the engagement in large scale monetised events such as The Embodiment Conference, are essentially damaging to our practices and our communities. They create financial success and visibility only for those few who have already succeeded in creating a popular platform whilst doing so supported by the free labour of others. This echoes the worst elements of our economic systems and is damaging and toxic. From experience, we do not accept that ‘exposure’ actually works in practice, nor is it a legitimate form of remuneration. 
  • It has been pointed out elsewhere, but we feel it is important to reiterate, that many of the practices promoted in such events have their origins in indigenous sacred and ritual practice, and that the ownership and commodification of these practices by Western practitioners is at best problematic. Such commodification which often seeks to minimise, and in many cases deny, the cultural origins of a practice, may be felt as cultural violence.
  • That such practices also seek to systematise and commodify the hard-won wisdom of neurodivergent people and of survivors of violence, and sell it back to us in a packaged format.
  • That any event which seeks to merely platform marginalised voices rather than centre them with programming influence and choice, echoes and further promotes the colonial violence inherent in Western systems of power. 

The flow of power is clear to us:

  • Embodied wisdom accumulates in communities of care, formed by and held by survivors of violence, by people of colour, by queer people, by neurodivergent and disabled people (these communities often overlap, but have distinct identities that it is important to honour) 
  • Such wisdom accumulates not only in spite of, but in direct resistance to, our mistreatment at the hands of both medical and ‘wellness’ industries.
  • Such wisdom allows us, in many cases, to recognise problematic tendencies in ‘wellness’  and ‘embodiment’ cultures. And for many of us, the triggering that results means that engaging in those cultures can itself be a form of violence.
  • Our warnings about such tendencies not only go unrecognised, ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ cultures continue to funnel power and prestige into these dynamics, enabling dominant and predatory figures to extract our wisdom, to package it and sell it in ways that are actively harmful to us, and to others.
  • When the behaviours of charismatic individuals become too problematic to ignore, you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – look to us to step into those same arenas and either make peace with our aggressors or fight them on their terms, in arenas and on platforms that you gave them, in both cases in order to ‘save’ spaces that have never accommodated us.

We speak directly to you – the ‘wellness’ and ‘embodiment’ communities – and say:

  • As survivors and neurodivergent people in particular, we have always known that you see us as broken, as childlike, as in need of your assistance. 
  • We must tell you in the strongest terms possible: Our healing, our resistance, has continually been extracted, systematised, corrupted and then sold back to us. This needs to stop.
  • We put it to you that our inability to navigate your platforms, to rise to prominence in your arenas, is borne of our inability to tolerate your hypocrisy, and our incomprehension of your desire to be at the top of, or indeed anywhere within the structure of, this pyramid. 

We would also really like you to learn from us about:

  • Hypervigilance, sensory overload and what triggers really are.
  • Negotiating communication preferences and sensory needs.
  • Consent as an ongoing embodied practice.
  • Stimming, the invention of ‘normal’ and the pathologisation of difference.
  • The medicalisation of distress, drapetomania and the DSM.

Above all, we want to ask you :

  • Why would you want to learn ‘authentic’ embodiment from people who may be doing nothing illegal, but who treat the people around them with varying levels of contempt?
  • When will you learn that exposure doesn’t trickle down?
  • When will you learn to believe people when they show you who they are?
  • When will you learn that you cannot separate someone’s online voice from their personal values?
  • When will you learn that the lack of accountability in your online spaces is built in?
  • When will you learn that the real work, the deep work, is happening all around you – in care homes, in prisons, in secure units, in families, in communities, and above all, in relationship? 

Everywhere where good people care for each other, learning to be together day in and out, there ethical and authentic embodiment is. Until you model your online spaces after the same grassroots spaces, nothing will change. 

Until you slow down, until you stop handing power to those with great marketing skills and loud voices and no depth of practice, until you stop organising this culture like an industry, nothing will change.

In a decade or two of practice, we have watched you evolve: from seeking transformation in a one-day workshop of 200 people; to expecting it in a 2-hour webinar with thousands. There is no depth there. 

We have already anticipated the kick back from this invitation. We have heard it all before, too many times, including the accusation of ‘weaponising’ our experiences. We are clear that such statements, peddled freely in online discussion spaces, are experienced as violently ableist and show little real understanding of trauma and neurodiversity. This is an invitation. It is not a call-out, it is not a command, it is not a confrontation, and it is not a fight. Like all invitations, you can accept, or not. You can place it gently on your mantelpiece and glance at it now and again just to remind you that it is a choice. 

This is a once and for all statement in relation to The Embodiment Conference. We will be shielding ourselves from further aggression.

Meanwhile, we’re still working in our communities, for very little pay, but at least our hands are clean, and our hypervigilance is quiet. If you want to learn with us, we’re not that hard to find.

Offered in the spirit of healing for us all.

Written by:

Rev. Jude Mills, MA, PGCert, Interfaith Minister, IYN Yoga Elder, Yoga Alliance Professionals Senior Yoga Teacher & Certified Trainer, yoga for cancer specialist, bodywork therapist, Certified Embodiment Facilitator. Autistic practitioner and advocate. 

Dr Jess Glenny, IYN Yoga Teacher (Elder), C-IAYT yoga therapist, Registered Somatic Movement Teacher and Facilitator, Open Floor cert, PRYT cert, complex trauma specialist, hypermobility specialist, PhD. Autistic practitioner and advocate.

Dr Theo Wildcroft, PhD, MA, MA (Cantab), IYN500, Yoga Alliance E-RYT500, Lifetime honorary member BWY, accessibility specialist, consent advocate, co-founder of alt-ac.uk and Co-ordinator of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. Survivor of CSA living with complex trauma, neurodivergent practitioner and advocate.

Supported by:

Chris Brown

Madeleine Aguirre

Deirdra Barr

Ben Spatz

Alexander Ewald

Helen Stutchbury

Juliet Chambers-Coe

Olivia Streater

Berbel Alblas

Lisa Paterson

dare sohei

Richard Harding

Kirsty Hannah

Stephanie Hanna

Annie Holcombe

Jorge Arche Fernández

Lilith Wildwood

Fiona McKechnie

Amanda Montgomery

Rachel Lewett

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Comments are open only to receive added signatories. No comments will be printed, but names will be added to the “Supported by” list.

 

Trump Eating Poison is a Sacrament of Charismatic Escalation

Trump Eating Poison is a Sacrament of Charismatic Escalation

A short opinion piece:

It’s a mistake to think that Trump taking hydroxychloroquine is merely a sign of stupidity, anti-science narcissism, or a red flag for flogging something he can profit from in some way. It’s likely all of these things, yes, but I believe there’s something deeper going on.

Remember when he stared directly at the eclipse? Also a moment of stupidity, the machismo of a ten year-old, and a big F-U to so-called “experts”. He shows the same face in relation to the legal system when he fantasizes about gunning people down on 5th Avenue with impunity.

But when he challenges the *actual sun*, i.e., the source of all power on earth, he’s putting something at stake that his draft-deferring, germophobic soul rarely risks: his body. He’s showing off to his base, yes, but he’s doing it by showing them he has skin in the game. That his body is tougher than the game.

How much more extreme is it to take a medication that is both unrecommended by “experts”, and that has become an article of faith for those believing in his leadership? If he survives (if he took it at all), he gets to say:

The experts are so very wrong, they called the cure a poison. Sad!

But the unspoken somatic implication of this is:

I am so immensely sure of myself, and my body is so excellently powerful, I can magically turn what “experts” call poison (which it may actually be, I dunno) into medicine. Great!

It’s a kind of ultimate charismatic act: he’s digesting a symbol of his own insanity in order to become stronger.

If he could stage it, he’d walk on water.

Another indication of the increasingly shamanic or alchemical construction of Trump’s body is his refusal to wear a mask. I don’t believe it’s just vanity. It’s not just disbelief in the science, or a sense of libertarian entitlement.

I believe it may go farther than this: towards the conviction that his exhalation is righteous. If it makes some people sick, it would make the right people sick. Everyone else will feel its warm, moist blessing.

Back to pills though: IMO there’s a connection here between Trump’s pills and Elon Musk and Ivanka tweeting about taking the red pill.

Forgetting the MRA and 4chan connections for a moment: like hydroxychloroquine, the red pill is positioned as a dangerous but necessary challenge for the Übermensch to digest and transform. It’s a spiritual dare.

So now we have charismatic men, surrounded by enablers, cosplaying as divinities and avatars, consuming poison for personal enlightenment, and to show the people that they too can be magical.

Sad!

Reggie Ray Spiritualizes The Terror of Disorganized Attachment in Relation to Trungpa

Reggie Ray Confesses and Spiritualizes The Terror of Disorganized Attachment in Relation to Trungpa

This excerpt from a 2014 “dharma talk” by disgraced former Dharma Ocean founder Reggie Ray provides a textbook example of how the terror of disorganized attachment – as analyzed by cult survivor and researcher Alexandra Stein – can be framed as a spiritual necessity.

This theme is especially prominent within the Trungpa mythology. Pema Chodron reveals it here.

There’s not a lot of analysis required, but I’ll add some notes in red to the transcript. Ray succinctly provides a perfect vignette of the terror-euphoria cycle that characterizes the trauma bonding that Stein argues is central to cultic coherence. Of course this is not his framework. He’s telling the story as a kind of hero’s journey that has the secondary advantage of justifying a continuation of these dynamics within his own circle.

 

Transcript

(00:03):
And so we have this very ambivalent reaction, I think, to the path, very ambivalent response, which I myself often felt with Rinpoche. I would spend time with him, I would sit down to dinner with him or a more likely lunch at the picnic tables in Tail of the Tiger and he would be sitting there. I would come downstairs, Oh, I’m sure he’s there. He’s having lunch. And of course nobody’s sitting around him and there’s a reason for that. So, you know, um, you know, I’m in Chicago in graduate school and I come and visit and I think, okay, this is my big chance.

“Ambivalent” is a misleading framework here. In the literature of Klein and others, ambivalence refers to a maturation beyond idealization, through which a person can come to understand the blending of good and not-good qualities that characterize the psyche. Ray goes on to describe extreme idealization, and being terrified.

(01:00):
So I sit down next to him, Rinpoche, and suddenly I am overcome with terror. And I’m not exaggerating. I start [hyperventilating]. You felt like your clothes were totally stripped off at all times and you try to say something like, Hi, Rinpoche.

The stripping off of clothes, used here as metaphor for spiritual transparency, is ironic given Trungpa’s serial sexual abuse, including the criminal act – around that time period – of having W.S. Merwin and Dana Noane forcibly stripped of their clothes at a party at the Boulder temple in 1973.

(01:43):
And the amazing thing was, I think it was his field of awareness. You saw this pitiful, pathetic, terrified little person basically trying to get a handle on them and you’re trying to manipulate him and you’re trying to get him to acknowledge you and all I said was, Hi, Rinpoche and all of a sudden my whole thing is totally exposed and then of course the big problem is lunch has just started.

Note that the student in fear is labelled as “pathetic” and “pitiful” – as if this were there nature state of original sin – instead of someone responding reasonably to psychosocial stress.

(02:28):
And I would start to sweat and I would more than anything I wanted him to like say back Hi, but he didn’t, he would just turn slowly and look at me and I many times thought I’m either going to faint or I’m going to die. Those are the only two possibilities. It was so hard being around him and it was so hard being around the community for the same reason. Somehow we created a situation where everybody’s mask was basically, I wouldn’t say it was off, but it was falling off all the time and you kept trying to put it back on and I could falling off.

Note the absence of any question as to why Trungpa doesn’t give a response. What appears to be callous neglect is framed as transcendent wisdom.

(03:31):
At Tail of the Tiger, there was this long driveway and I used to take the bus up and they would drop me off. At the end of the driveway. And the minute I got off the bus, I would start to feel like throwing up and I would feel like throwing up from that moment until I got back on the bus three or four days later, a week later, whatever it was. But here’s the ambivalence, which I think we all feel. I would, um, I get away from him because I spent half my time trying to be closer to him and the other half trying to get away from him.

Here Ray discloses that he was violently ill whenever he was close to his master. He’s describing what Stein analyzes as the state of “fright without solution” that provokes disorganized attachment behaviours. To quote:

[Disorganized attachment] responses occur when a child has been in a situation of fright without solution. Their caregiver is at once the safe haven and also the source of threat or alarm. So, when the child feels threatened by the caregiver, he or she is caught in an impossible situation: both comfort and threat are represented by the same person — the caregiver. The child experiences the unresolvable paradox of seeking to simultaneously flee from and approach the caregiver. This happens at a biological level, not thought out or conscious, but as evolved behavior to fear. The child attempts to run TO and flee FROM the caregiver at one and the same time… However, in most cases the need for proximity — for physical closeness — tends to override attempts to avoid the fear-arousing caregiver. So usually the child stays close to the frightening parent while internally both their withdrawal and approach systems are simultaneously activated, and in conflict.

— Stein, Alexandra. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. Loc. 894

(04:18):
And when I would get away from him. Um, even during seminars, you know, you go through these, you know, periods cause he hung around the house, you know, he, he was in the dining room, he was talking to people, he was, he was there. So it was in your face a lot of the time. And it was a very small community at that time. Very, very small. And, um, what I would do is after his afternoon talk, he would talk after lunch in about to, um, during the warm weather. There was, uh, it was a Hill up in, back. And I, like many of us I had a little tent cause the farmhouse couldn’t like, couldn’t sleep very many people. And um, about two o’clock or three I would go up and I go to bed for the night.

Personal anecdote: in both of the high-demand groups I was in it was very common for the stress of the group meditations and activities to be so excruciating that group members would try to disappear for as long as they could avoid their service work. Dead-to-the-world naps or hour-long weeping jags were common. We would whisper to each other that “the transformation is intense” or “these practices go so deep” or “I’m converting so much right now.” For the most part, however, I believe we were trying to recover, and unwittingly sharing the group’s propaganda amongst ourselves to reassure us that the cycles were spiritually appropriate.  

(05:20):
But then I would wake up the next morning and I would be in a different place. And suddenly the feeling of being completely suffocated by my own vomit and my own shit and the feeling of, uh, incredible, overwhelming anxiety all the time, which really I felt that much of the time when I was in the in the first year, first year or two, um, it would be completely gone. And I would get up and you know, you know how it goes because you go through this too and look outside and it’s an unbelievable day you’ve ever seen. And you look at the mountains and you smell the air and um, you, you feel the warmth of the sun and you feel so open and you run into parts of yourself that you didn’t even know where there. Beautiful parts and inspired parts and open. And you look at people’s faces and you see them and you feel the tremendous sense of their sacredness and you feel love for them.

Stein describes a paradoxical moment of relief when the nervous response to cultic stress collapses into fold or fawning mode. She writes:

Giving in – dissociating and ceasing to think – is experienced as relief. In my own experience I remember well this sensation: overwhelmed with confusion and exhaustion, the thoughts that were trying to enter the cognitive part of my brain just could not make it there and they fell back out of consciousness. Simultaneously I stopped struggling and decided to commit myself more fully to the group even though I disagreed with it. That too felt like relief – I didn’t have to fight anymore. In fact, as we shall see later in more detail, key regions of the brain that connect emotional (largely right brain) and cognitive processing (largely left brain) are shut down in the disorganized and dissociated state.

(loc 1040)

I can report from interviews with and reading the testimonies of students of Jois, Iyengar, and others that the relief portion of this trauma-bond cycle – especially if it is also contrasted  with the physical pain of yoga practice or sitting in meditation for long periods of time – can be amplified into euphoria. 

(06:37):
And so then when lunch came, I go back into the dining room and Oh, Hi Rinpoche sitting there and no one’s sitting around him. And I would go through the whole process again. And that is the nature of the journey. And you know, at that time and later I used to think, well, is there some way I can get out of the journey and be up here and look down at myself being completely freaked out and be okay with it? And the answer is actually no. The thing about the journey is it is all consuming. We, um, many times, you know, uh, those of us who meditate would like to orchestrate our own enlightenment. We want to be in charge of what happens on our journey. And it’s understandable because that’s how we work as humans. But there’s one place where it doesn’t work. And this is it.

Ray concludes by framing the spiritual journey as a beneficent and necessary terror-euphoria loop that is to be repeated over and over again. Most disturbingly, he openly names the loss of personal agency that is central to traumatic experiences as being a positive development. Not only does he present the trauma-bond rhythm as a spiritual path, he equates the traumatic loss of agency with enlightenment. 

Given Ray’s training and capacity to reframe the traumatic experiences he describes as necessary, it’s little wonder that Dharma Ocean’s dynamics go on to produce this extensive testimony of abuse

Applying “The Work” of Byron Katie to the Pandemic

Applying "The Work" of Byron Katie to the Pandemic

Here’s a short post in which I apply “The Work” of Byron Katie to some concrete thoughts that are disturbing me, as per her instructions on this worksheet, but also in this 2016 exchange in which Katie encourages a woman to say that she’s not afraid of the outcomes of a Trump presidency, but that she actually wants those outcomes.

Let’s see how this goes…

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The Four Questions, Thought 1: I am afraid of contracting COVID-19 and dying or becoming disabled.

Q1. Is it true?

Yes.

Q2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?

Because I haven’t contracted COVID-19 and either died or become disabled, I can’t say for absolute sure that these are events that would be ultimately fearful. But this is a manipulative question, because it uses my own intellectual integrity against the feeling. It asks me to dominate my feeling with doubt.

Q3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?

I experience anxiety, a sense of meaninglessness, but also a sense of urgency with regard to connecting and relationship-building.

Q4. Who would I be without that thought?

A dissociative lump.

The Turnaround: “I’m looking forward to contracting COVID-19 so that I can die or be disabled.”

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The Four Questions, Thought 2: “I am afraid that if I die I will leave my partner and children vulnerable.”

Q1. Is it true?

Yes.

Q2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?

Because I haven’t died and can’t absolutely say how my family would respond, it is possible that this fear is irrational. The manipulation and cruelty in this question is that it undermines my reasonable sense of empathy for my family members, while seeking to devalue my perception of my importance to them. The doubt here says: “Don’t trust the instinctual feelings of attachment that have been forged by intimacy and care.”

Q3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?

I think of my family members in grief and under stress and I feel it throughout my entire being.

Q4. Who would I be without that thought?

A nihilist.

The Turnaround: “I want to die so that I will leave my partner and children vulnerable.”

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The Four Questions, Thought 3: “I am afraid that the pandemic will destabilize fragile human systems and cause enormous suffering, unequally borne by the poor.”

Q1. Is it true?

Yes.

Q2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true?

Because the epidemiology is still being worked out, not even experts can determine the extent of the suffering to come. The gaslighting nature of this question is carried by it’s black-and-white setup. It’s not like the pandemic will or will not destabilize fragile human systems and cause enormous suffering, but the EXTENT to which it will do just that. In this case, responsible intellectual conservatism is weaponized against me in the attempt to invalidate the feeling.

Q3. How do I react, what happens, when I believe that thought?

I’m filled with impotent rage at the scope of injustice. I feel intense shame at my complicity in systems of oppression. I feel deep survivor’s guilt.

Q4. Who would I be without that thought?

A banal privileged monster.

The Turnaround: “I’m looking forward to the pandemic destabilizing fragile human systems and causing enormous suffering, unequally borne by the poor.”

 

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If you are a proponent of The Work, please let me know if I got any of this wrong. Thank you!

Yoga People and Conspiracy Discourse | Preliminary Notes

(adapted from Facebook entries that reflect on the intersection between yoga/spiritualism/wellness crowds and COVID-19 conspiracy discourse)

 

 

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Yoga  Culture Can Train Us to See Conspiracy

The intersection between yoga/spiritualism/wellness interests and conspiracy discourse makes sense.

The history of yoga/spiritualism/wellness is a history of understanding the conventional as illusory, or bankrupt. Society itself is typically seen as a conspiracy against the inner self.

More recently, the yoga/spiritualism/wellness world exists in part as a response to scientific materialism, and a rejection of biomedical objectification.

It gives a lot of people a renewed sense of agency in relation to their bodies and ways in which meaning is made.

Yoga/spiritualism/wellness also rebels against the caste structures of bureaucracy and professionalism.

It rebels against the gatekeeping that invalidates intuition and minimizes body memory.

Through meditating on principles like karma, yoga people can rightly claim foreknowledge in current fields of study, like trauma.

Through meditating on principles like renunciation, yoga people can also develop a keen sense of where social conditioning is inauthentic, limiting, or exploitative.

When yoga/spiritualism/wellness isn’t conveyed by cults, it really can push back against authoritarianism. Where it does not victimize, it really can nurture survivors.

But COVID-19 doesn’t care about any of these things.

It’s not going to work to displace a generalized spiritual feeling of distrusting convention and rationalism onto this crisis.

And public health people care that yoga/spiritualist/wellness people don’t die, or endanger others. Like everyone, they might not have all the answers, but they’re practicing too, in ways that we may write epics or sutras about one day.

 

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If Conspiracy Discourse Intersects with Cultic Behaviour, How Do You Help?

There are a number of ways in which those who have been recruited into social media conspiracy discourse behave like high-demand group (i.e. cult) members.

Two caveats, however:

  1. Conspiracy discourse rarely has visible leadership, whereas most cults do.
  2. Conspiracy discourse that spreads online is unlikely to enforce a key aspect of cultic control — behavioural control — except in the broadest sense of “You must be online most of the time.” Other than this high demand, it’s implausible that an online group could control food, dress, sexual activity, sleeping hours, etc.

Questions of leadership and online vs. IRL aside: if conspiracy discourse maps onto parts of the cultic template, it might mean there are ways of helping recruits you know and care for, or at least showing them that consensus reality is not as threatening as they feel, or have been told to feel.

I see four qualities in social media conspiracy discourse that approach or the standard of thought or information control (cf. Hassan), by which a group cannot admit outside data or sources of authority that would disturb the ideology:

  1. Black and white, all-good/all-bad thinking;
  2. Unshakeable belief in a grand civilization narrative;
  3. Inability to distinguish charisma from evidence;
  4. The willingness to absolutely isolate oneself from consensus reality.

I see three qualities that meet the standard of emotional control (again Hassan), by which a group enhances bonds and compliance:

  1. Extreme hypervigilance. The group takes great pride in being constantly and uniquely awake to the highest truth of things.
  2. Frenzied defensive certainty expressed through endless comments, tagging, link-dumping.
  3. Affect of pious devotion that must remain impervious to evidence.

Cult analysts mostly agree that the person who has been recruited is extremely difficult to communicate with. Their new value system obstructs all former closeness, understanding, and generosity. But Hassan and Alexandra Stein and others suggest that if you knew the person outside of their cult behaviour, you can actually play a role in helping them remember that part of themselves.

In other words: if you had a relationship with the person pre-cult, you are keeping their pre-cult self accessible, perhaps even alive. This means that nurturing the relationship, despite how despicable their views are, can be important — and that you’re in the position to do it. Stein says that the cult member is in a disorganized attachment relationship to the group, which has offered a “false safe haven”. The antidote is the real safe haven of the secure attachment.

But simply considering this might be impossible if they are spreading falsehoods about COVID-19 and 5G, and you’re immunosuppressed, and/or you just can’t even. Their behaviour is directly and palpably endangering you, and maybe the best thing is to block them.

But if you value the relationship —again, not saying you should — and Stein is right that the person presenting cultic behaviour is acting through an attachment wound and/or trauma bond, it literally cannot be repaired through dismissing, abandoning, patronizing, or humiliating them.

Maybe “Oh wow, I hear that you’re scared, and I am too” can go a long way.

 

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Ignoring Direct Testimony is a Form of Silencing

Generosity dictates seeing the person engaging conspiracy discourse, or the subtler versions (“I’m just asking questions no one is allowed to ask”) as earnestly trying to be helpful, defend the vulnerable, nurture intuition and personal agency, and see through the illusion of an abusive civilization.

But there’s a moment when that earnestness turns a corner and is revealed as either a deception, or as immature, or as self-centred. I’m seeing this a lot.

It happens when someone posts a conspiracy theory doubting the existence, power, or origin of the virus, citing an indirect source. Then a friend, obviously triggered, posts a comment like:

“Please stop posting misinformation. My (partner, sibling, child) is a front-line health worker and this information endangers them.”

Or:

“Please stop posting misinformation. My (partner, sibling, child) is terribly sick (or has died) from this disease, and your post will endanger others.”

Or:

“Please stop posting misinformation. I’m recovering from this disease and I don’t want anyone else to get it, because it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been through.”

The key moment is when the OP doesn’t respond to that comment. What that shows is either that they value their idea over the direct testimony of the commenter, or that they believe the commenter is lying.

Valuing an ideology over testimony is at the root of systemic abuse.

We might consider the non-response to be a form of survivor silencing.

 

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Conspiracy Discourse is Not Pessimistic Enough

The paranoia conceals an unreasonable hope.

The iconography of warfare and cast of evil and angelic characters presents a morality play in which, if Bill Gates (or whoever) is outed and defeated the truth will be known and the world (righteousness/purity etc) will be restored.

In this light, the pandemic is a chapter in a necessarily heroic narrative that places the underdog truth-tellers – the brave few who get it – at the centre of a transcendent revolution.

This is not pessimistic enough, in my view, because there really are no grand heroic narratives in the age of climate collapse.

To my eye, what’s happening now is basically what we have going forward, unevenly distributed: one unsolvable crisis after another rolling around the globe and intersecting, with little to rely on but the ability to discern solid sources of information, the capacity to strengthen secure attachments, and willingness to listen to the indigenous, who have been here before.

A non-grandiose framework is not depressive. Within it, there are innumerable loving, nameless actions, compromised by blindspots and anxieties, but also enriched by good instincts and earned resilience.

Protégé pendant des décennies, l’abus sexuel dénoncé d’un dirigeant de yoga est enfin épinglé

[Traduction en français via deepl.com]

Dans le dernier épisode du monde du yoga #MeToo, des militants s’insurgent contre l’institution spirituelle qui les a laissés tomber.

 

Matthew Remski – Mercredi 11 mars 2020

Image: Tessa Modi 

 

En janvier, j’ai rapporté que l’un des empires de yoga les plus célèbres au monde avait été ébranlé par un seul post sur Facebook. Julie Salter, 63 ans, avait mis à plat la marque de yoga Sivananda en écrivant que son saint fondateur, Swami Vishnudevananda, l’avait abusée sexuellement et physiquement pendant les 11 années qu’elle avait passées comme assistante personnelle non rémunérée, avant sa mort en 1993. L’organisation a réagi en lançant une enquête indépendante, et des centres individuels débattent de l’opportunité de retirer le portrait du gourou de ses autels dans le monde entier. Mais ils ont également publié des réaffirmations de sa sagesse sur les médias sociaux et vont de l’avant avec un projet visant à publier davantage de ses sermons archivés.

Mais les alliés de Salter qui s’identifient encore au yoga Sivananda ont adressé une réprimande surprenante à leurs anciens dirigeants. Ils ont rejeté les termes et la portée de l’enquêteur nommé par Sivananda et ont lancé leur propre enquête financée par la communauté, appelée “Projet SATYA”. (“Satya” est un terme sanskrit pour “vérité” ; l’acronyme signifie Sivananda Accountability Truth-Seeking Yogic Action). L’effort de bricolage est comme les catholiques de Boston qui embauchent leurs propres détectives pour enquêter sur les abus dans leur archidiocèse. À ce jour, SATYA affirme avoir reçu 19 plaintes et avoir mené à bien sept entretiens officiels. Pour les dissidents de Sivananda (“Shee-vuh-nan-da”) – comme pour les activistes qui ont suivi le procès de Harvey Weinstein – le témoignage de Salter sur son célèbre agresseur n’est pas une histoire de crimes passés. Il met en lumière un réseau vivant de complicité et de dissimulation qui a ouvert la voie à un dirigeant actuel de l’organisation Sivananda, Thamatam Reddy, 53 ans, pour imiter la corruption du fondateur.

L’histoire de Salter est devenue emblématique d’un déluge de crises d’abus institutionnels dans le monde non réglementé du yoga, où des patriarches charismatiques ont régulièrement assumé un contrôle spirituel sur le corps et le travail de leurs fidèles, grâce à des modes cultuels classiques de tromperie et de manipulation. Il est également devenu une étude de cas pour savoir si le mouvement #MeToo peut mobiliser les communautés contre les institutions qui, selon elles, n’ont pas réussi à les protéger.

La Yoga Alliance – le plus grand organisme d’accréditation à but non lucratif en dehors de l’Inde – s’est battue pendant des décennies pour résoudre les scandales industriels. Alors qu’une autre série de révélations d’abus atteignait son apogée en janvier 2018, Shannon Roche, alors directeur des opérations, a fait des aveux collectifs dans un message vidéo diffusé à plus de 100 000 membres, dont Reddy.

“Il y a un modèle profondément troublant d’inconduite sexuelle au sein de notre communauté”, a déclaré Roche, “un modèle qui touche presque toutes les traditions du yoga moderne. Chaque être humain mérite de pratiquer le yoga sans être victime d’abus, de harcèlement et de manipulation. En l’honneur de ceux qui ont pris la parole, et en l’honneur de ceux qui ont été trop blessés pour parler, nous devons commencer quelque part, et nous devons commencer maintenant”.

“Presque toutes les traditions” n’est pas une exagération. À ce jour, trois des écoles de yoga mondiales inspirées par la mission de Swami Sivananda dans les années 1930 (l’une d’entre elles étant le yoga Sivananda) sont maintenant connues ou supposées avoir été dirigées par des prédateurs sexuels. Seize femmes ont décrit Pattabhi Jois, le défunt fondateur du Ashtanga yoga, les agressant ou les violant numériquement sous le couvert d'”ajustements”. Le monde international Iyengar lutte pour dépouiller un enseignant de haut niveau, Manouso Manos, de son capital social tenace, après qu’une enquête interne ait révélé une histoire d’agression de plusieurs décennies. Bikram Choudhury, fondateur du yoga chaud, a été accusé de viol et d’agression sexuelle par plusieurs femmes. En janvier, Pamela Dyson, ancienne secrétaire de feu Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, connu sous le nom de “Yogi Bhajan” et fondateur du Kundalini yoga, a publié ses mémoires. Il s’ouvre sur sa description d’une hémorragie presque complète dans un avion, assise à côté de Khalsa, causée par l’avortement qu’elle avait subi quelques mois auparavant en Inde. Khalsa était le père. Elle se réveille dans un hôpital londonien en se demandant si elle doit prendre le risque de parler de l’avortement au personnel, sachant que cela exposerait Khalsa comme une fraude. Il se retourne vers elle et lui dit de prier.

 

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Pour le premier reportage de GEN, j’ai interviewé Salter et deux autres femmes sur leur expérience avec le supposé célibataire Vishnudevananda – né Kuttan Nair – qui a été salué pendant des décennies comme l’une des lumières du boom mondial du yoga. Pamela Kyssa a décrit Nair en train de la violer, et Lucille Campbell a décrit Nair en train de l’abuser sexuellement, en étant témoin d’un cas d’abus sexuel contre une autre, et en entendant d’autres étudiants parler de leurs expériences d’abus. Parmi les autres personnes interrogées figurent deux femmes qui ont accusé Reddy, l’un des principaux protégés de Nair, de harcèlement et d’abus sexuels lors d’incidents remontant à 2011. Selon une déclaration par courriel du porte-parole de Sivananda Yoga, Jonathan Goldbloom, Reddy a “nié avec véhémence” ces histoires. Depuis la publication, deux autres femmes ont apporté des témoignages d’abus sexuels de la part de Reddy.

Lydia Coquet, 46 ans, décrit Reddy qui l’a abusée sexuellement en 2000 dans l’ashram du sud de l’Inde où il dirigeait une formation d’enseignant. Dans une interview, Coquet a déclaré que Reddy flattait ses postures de yoga et son corps, disant que son teint olive et ses cheveux foncés lui donnaient l’air d’une “belle Indienne”. Mais pendant qu’elle s’occupait de sa fille dans le cadre de ses tâches non rémunérées à l’ashram, il lui ordonnait de se rendre dans sa chambre la nuit. Elle se souvient d’avoir été embrassée et touchée. “Nous n’avons pas eu de rapports sexuels, mais nous étions assez proches”, dit-elle en se rappelant de nombreux cas. Coquet était confuse quant à l’éthique de cette pratique, quant à la règle selon laquelle les étudiants et le personnel devaient être célibataires à l’ashram, et quant au portrait du gourou de Nair, Swami Sivananda, accroché au-dessus du lit de Reddy. C’était encore plus confus, dit-elle, car Reddy était en position de leader, et son personnel indien louait tous sa vertu. Elle ne savait pas que Reddy était encore marié. Coquet avait peur qu’il la renvoie de son poste si elle n’obéissait pas. Elle est revenue nuit après nuit, comme il l’avait demandé. Cela réduisait son sommeil à quelques heures par nuit, ce qui rendait ses tâches quotidiennes difficiles. Elle avait peur de parler à quelqu’un de ce qui se passait.

“Je me suis évanouie ou quelque chose comme ça pendant le cours d’asanas”, dit-elle, se rappelant sa fatigue larmoyante pendant qu’elle pratiquait le yoga sous la direction de Reddy. “Je me suis levée du sol et il est venu à moi… ‘Tu es juste trop faible, trop émotive'”, se souvient-elle. Après cela, dit Coquet, Reddy l’a ignorée. Par courriel, Goldbloom a écrit que l’organisation n’avait pas encore entendu cette allégation. “Nous encourageons la plaignante à porter cette affaire à l’attention de Mme Plamondon”, écrit-il, en nommant l’enquêteur indépendant nommé par Sivananda yoga.

Un deuxième témoignage contre Reddy provient d’une femme qui était mineure au moment des incidents. Certains détails de son expérience ont été publiés pour la première fois dans Le Devoir de Montréal le 26 février, sous le pseudonyme de “Nadine”, que j’utiliserai également ici, car elle souhaite protéger sa vie privée et celle de sa famille. Nadine décrit Reddy qui l’a agressée et harcelée sexuellement dans les années 1990, alors qu’elle avait entre 12 et 17 ans. Lors d’entretiens menés en janvier et février, Nadine et ses parents m’ont dit que deux membres actuels du conseil d’administration de Sivananda avaient été informés de l’histoire de l’agression il y a près de 20 ans. L’un d’entre eux, Mark Ashley, faisait encore partie du conseil d’administration de Sivananda lorsque Reddy a été promu au conseil en 2016 et il y siège toujours aujourd’hui. Il n’a pas répondu à une demande directe de commentaires par e-mail, ni à une demande faite au conseil d’administration.

Reddy est actuellement en Inde, où Sivananda entretient plusieurs ashrams. Après que j’ai demandé à Reddy et au conseil d’administration de commenter les histoires de Coquet et Nadine, le conseil a publié une déclaration sur Facebook indiquant que Reddy faisait l’objet d’une enquête interne. Une déclaration ultérieure a indiqué qu’il avait été relevé de ses fonctions de direction et d’enseignement. Une déclaration de Goldbloom a confirmé que Reddy faisait l’objet d’une enquête, et a ajouté qu'”il est inapproprié pour la direction de l’ISYVC [International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres] de faire des commentaires alors que ce processus est en cours”.

Selon une journaliste de We the Women, un organe d’information féministe d’Asie du Sud, Reddy a brusquement annulé un événement public prévu pour le 16 février au Centre Sivananda de Delhi. La journaliste avait prévu de lui demander de commenter devant la caméra les témoignages publiés dans GEN, ainsi que ses propres recherches. Un membre du personnel de la réception a confirmé l’annulation et a déclaré que Reddy était en route pour Chennai. Reddy n’a pas répondu à cinq demandes de commentaires.

 

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Au sein de Sivananda, Reddy est connu comme un bourreau de travail pour l’héritage de Nair et un canalisateur charismatique de sa volonté posthume. Il est considéré comme une bénédiction d’étudier avec lui ou de participer aux programmes de formation lucratifs qu’il dirige. Sur le circuit des ashrams de Sivananda, Reddy porte le nom spirituel de “Prahlāda” – un prince de la mythologie indienne qui survit aux nombreuses tentatives de suicide de son père maniaque et qui grandit pour devenir le souverain vertueux et populaire du royaume.

La partie prince correspond : Les anciens membres décrivent Reddy comme une personne éternellement jeune et énergique, mais aussi, tour à tour, accessible et distante, enjouée et impérieuse. Mais il n’est pas la figure de proue iconique qu’était son mentor Nair. Pour le monde extérieur, il est une ardoise vierge. Son inscription sur le registre international de la Yoga Alliance est vide et, contrairement à presque tous les professionnels du yoga de son statut et de son influence, il n’a aucune présence dans les médias sociaux. Il a tenu une maison à Toronto et a enseigné le yoga au centre Sivananda de Toronto pendant des décennies, et pourtant il est pratiquement inconnu dans le milieu du yoga de la ville. Alors que Nair a passé sa carrière à faire passer son message messianique et à renforcer son image publique par des événements de célébrités et des cascades publicitaires, Reddy a réussi à se tenir derrière les rideaux et à tirer les leviers. Un initié, qui n’a pas souhaité être nommé, l’a qualifié de “brillant administrateur… l’un des meilleurs que j’ai rencontrés dans ma carrière”.

Les nouveaux récits d’abus, ajoutés à ceux qui ont été signalés précédemment, indiquent que Nair a laissé à Reddy et à ses collègues plus qu’une simple licence pour imprimer de l’argent pour le yoga. Nair a également laissé, semble-t-il, la possibilité d’une prédation normalisée, d’une dissimulation et d’une hypocrisie spirituelle. Des entretiens suggèrent que deux membres du conseil d’administration ont pu être au courant du témoignage de Nadine contre Reddy au début des années 2000, et ne l’ont pas expulsé de l’organisation. Une autre interview suggère qu’en 2006, Reddy a à son tour couvert l’un de ces mêmes membres du conseil d’administration lorsqu’il a été accusé d’agression sexuelle. Si l’on additionne tout cela, les abus dans le yoga Sivananda semblent systémiques, intergénérationnels et organisés. Ils ont déchiré le tissu de la communauté ayant contribué à construire sa vision utopique, et ont laissé certains adeptes de longue date dans l’ignorance.

Lara Marjerrison est une étudiante Sivananda depuis près de deux décennies. Les ashrams, explique-t-elle, lui ont toujours servi de refuge contre les abus qu’elle a subis et de refuge pour son jeune fils. “Ma toute première réaction a été de ne rien ressentir”, m’a dit Marjerrison au téléphone depuis Toronto lorsqu’on lui a demandé comment elle se sentait en entendant les rapports sur Reddy. “C’est ce que j’ai fait quand j’étais enfant et que j’étais en danger – c’est-à-dire ne rien ressentir, ne rien dire – parce que les conséquences de dire quelque chose étaient si terrifiantes à l’époque”.

Marjerrison a commencé à amener son fils au siège mondial de Sivananda à Val Morin, au nord-ouest de Montréal, à l’âge de huit ans. Elle est l’un des nombreux membres de la communauté à qui j’ai parlé et qui ressentent le choc se transformer en rage. Lorsqu’on lui a demandé ce qu’elle ressentait pour Reddy, elle s’est adressée directement à lui. “Tu m’as trahie”, a-t-elle dit. “Tu as menti. Tu as causé du tort à des personnes innocentes. Comment ai-je pu te faire confiance ? Je t’ai fait confiance avec mon enfant. Je croyais que cet endroit était le plus sûr au monde. Il était à l’abri de toutes ces choses dont j’ai passé ma vie à essayer de m’éloigner.”

Cherchant à panser les plaies, les dirigeants de Sivananda ont lancé leur enquête indépendante le 21 janvier, en engageant Marianne Plamondon du cabinet d’avocats Langlois à Montréal. Son mandat initial était d’enquêter sur les comptes de Salter, Kyssa et Campbell. Par courriel, Marianne Plamondon a déclaré qu’elle ne pouvait pas commenter l’enquête. Le 11 février, Salter et Kyssa ont reçu un courriel de Plamondon déclarant que “le premier objectif de ce processus est de rechercher la vérité, de déterminer si Swami Vishnudevananda a commis les actes allégués”. Le courriel présumait que les femmes voudraient la rencontrer. Par courrier électronique, Salter, Kyssa et Campbell ont toutes déclaré qu’elles refuseraient de rencontrer Plamondon. Mais elles continuent à se parler entre elles et avec d’anciens membres de Sivananda.

Elles parleront aussi, disent-elles, au projet SATYA. Au cours de ses trois premières semaines, la campagne GoFundMe pour le soutenir a permis de récolter près de 11 000 dollars sur les 20 000 dollars prévus, et de nombreux dons ont été faits à la manière de Bernie Sander, par tranches de 25 dollars ou moins. La copie de la collecte de fonds affirme que les cadres de Sivananda étaient conscients des abus pendant des années et n’ont pas agi et que le champ d’application de Plamondon n’aborde pas les questions de “complicité potentielle” des membres de l’exécutif. Par courriel, Mme Salter a fait part de son espoir que le projet “contribue à une plus grande clarté, à la vérité – et à la guérison pour tous – dans un contenant vraiment sûr”.

 

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Après que Julie Salter ait publié son témoignage en décembre 2019, elle a demandé l’aide d’anciens amis et de personnes de confiance. L’un d’eux était Danny Kastner, qui, en tant qu’avocat de première année, a représenté sa demande d’indemnisation après qu’elle ait quitté le groupe dans la pauvreté et la mauvaise santé. Kastner a assuré Salter de son soutien pour l’avenir. Lorsque je l’ai contacté plus tard pour vérifier les détails de son travail juridique pour Salter, il m’a dit qu’il avait grandi dans le yoga Sivananda, qu’il s’était éloigné du groupe lorsqu’il était jeune adulte, et a suggéré que l’histoire de Salter n’était que la partie émergée d’un iceberg.

Après notre échange, Kastner a appelé Nadine, une de ses meilleures amies des étés qu’il a passés dans le camp pour enfants du groupe à Val Morin, à 60 miles au nord-ouest de Montréal. Il avait été témoin de son histoire depuis qu’ils étaient adolescents, un quart de siècle auparavant. Il lui a parlé de mon enquête et lui a donné mes coordonnées. L’une des premières choses que Nadine a dites lorsque je lui ai parlé au téléphone à la mi-janvier a été qu’elle était choquée d’apprendre que Reddy abusait d’autres personnes, sans parler de ce qui s’est passé récemment. Elle avait toujours pensé qu’elle était la seule, et que c’était de l’histoire ancienne.

Aujourd’hui âgée de 39 ans, Nadine avait huit ans en juillet 1989, l’été où ses parents l’ont amenée pour la première fois au camp pour enfants. Maman et papa s’intéressaient au végétarisme, au yoga et à la méditation, et cela semblait être une escapade familiale saine. En tant qu’instituteurs, ils étaient recrutés pour s’occuper des enfants et superviser les activités. Les enfants du camp étaient une bande internationale – d’Israël, de Russie, de Hongrie – et leur camaraderie naturelle semblait refléter le message universaliste du yoga de Nair. Ils dormaient à environ 12 sous une tente, séparés par sexe et groupés par âge. Ils faisaient du canoë et se promenaient dans les forêts. Mais ils suivaient également un horaire discipliné qui reflétait le programme adulte de séances quotidiennes de yoga et de méditation. Nadine se souvient que le premier juillet et les cinq qui ont suivi ont été les moments forts de son année, chaque année.

Nadine raconte que lorsqu’elle a eu 12 ans, le simple plaisir du Kid’s Camp a commencé à être éclipsé par des rencontres de plus en plus confuses avec Reddy, un membre éminent du personnel de 26 ans à l’époque. Au mois d’août, sa famille restait à l’ashram pour terminer ses tâches. Nadine, l’une des seules enfants à rester, a été affectée au bureau de Reddy.

“Je ne me souviens pas comment cela a commencé”, dit Nadine. Elle a décrit qu’à un moment donné, il est devenu courant pour Reddy de demander à la masser, et elle s’y pliait. “Je me souviens que cela semblait normal. Ça ne semblait pas bizarre.” Nadine a expliqué qu’il y avait une culture du toucher et du massage innocent chez les adolescents et pré-adolescents de l’ashram. Pendant un certain temps, dit-elle, le comportement de Reddy semblait s’inscrire dans ce spectre. Mais elle se souvient aussi d’un sentiment de malaise quand ils étaient seuls et de l’étrange sensation qu’il lui touchait les fesses. “J’avais l’impression que j’étais censée l’accepter”, dit Nadine. “Mais je n’aimais pas ça.”

Nadine se souvient également que les conversations inappropriées à son âge sont devenues monnaie courante. Reddy faisait l’éloge de son corps, disait Nadine, et lui racontait les choses qu’il avait faites avec d’autres femmes. Il la complimentait pour son travail acharné, la comparant favorablement à d’autres filles, qu’il rabaissait. Tout cela était très inconfortable, a dit Nadine. “Mais j’ai aussi ressenti un sentiment d’importance. J’ai eu l’impression que s’il partageait tout avec moi, c’est que je devais être très mature”, a-t-elle poursuivi. À l’époque, Nadine a déclaré que Reddy était “extrêmement populaire”. Il est très charismatique. Alors tous les enfants – ils voulaient être proches de lui”.

Nadine a déclaré que l’audace de Reddy s’est accrue avec le temps. Il a intensifié les insinuations. Il l’a emmenée faire des courses dans la voiture et a grossièrement comparé son corps à celui d’autres filles. Pendant qu’elle travaillait – à nettoyer ou à peindre le temple – il passait devant elle et lui touchait les seins avec désinvolture. Bizarrement, il a également commencé à la dégrader verbalement, en disant des choses qui la rendaient confuse, laide et honteuse de son corps. “C’est ridicule qu’à 15 ans, je n’aie pas compris que ce qu’il faisait était si horrible”, a déclaré Nadine.

Un jour, alors qu’elle était chez lui, Nadine a dit que Reddy l’avait allongée pour qu’il puisse la masser, et qu’il avait ensuite défait son soutien-gorge. La femme de Reddy – dont Nadine était proche – est rentrée à l’improviste, et il s’est levé d’un bond de sa posture assise sur Nadine, et a disparu dans la salle de bain. “J’ai vraiment eu peur”, dit Nadine, se rappelant que c’est à ce moment que tout est devenu clair. “J’avais l’impression de faire quelque chose de mal. Comme si j’avais été complice de choses qui n’allaient pas”. La femme de Reddy n’a pas répondu à une demande de commentaires par courriel.

L’été suivant, Nadine raconte qu’après avoir vu Reddy s’intéresser à une fille plus jeune, elle a raconté son histoire à ses amis. Danny Kastner était parmi eux. Quelques temps plus tard, Nadine dit que Mark Ashley, un administrateur de Sivananda, lui a téléphoné pour discuter de ce qu’il avait entendu. Sa fille faisait partie du groupe de Nadine. Ashley a dit à Nadine qu’elle devait parler à l’avocat de Sivananda. “J’étais en colère contre lui”, m’a dit Nadine. “Je me souviens qu’il m’a dit que j’étais très en colère et que je ne devrais pas l’être. Pourquoi étais-je si en colère ?”

“C’était horrible. Je me souviens de ne pas me sentir en sécurité, de ne pas me sentir bien”, a déclaré Nadine. “Je me souviens lui avoir dit que Prahlad ne devrait pas être là.”

La dernière fois que Reddy a agressé Nadine, c’était quand elle avait 17 ans. Lors d’une visite à Toronto pendant quelques semaines cet été-là, Reddy et sa femme ont invité Nadine à rester avec eux dans leurs quartiers au centre Sivananda. Pendant son séjour, Nadine a aidé à s’occuper de leur jeune fille. Son comportement envers elle n’avait pas changé, dit-elle. Il essayait de lui peloter les seins pendant qu’elle travaillait à l’ordinateur, mais elle devenait de plus en plus critique. Un jour, elle s’est réveillée d’une sieste avec lui couché directement sur elle. “Cela a sonné le glas”, a-t-elle dit. Elle s’est levée et a appelé Kastner pour lui demander de venir la chercher.

Kastner se souvient d’être venu chercher Nadine ce jour-là. “J’étais furieuse de ce qui lui était arrivé”, a écrit Kastner dans un e-mail. “Je suis seulement devenu plus furieux au fil des ans en voyant le refus de l’organisation de prendre ses responsabilités.”

Des années ont passé. Nadine est devenue mère. La propre mère de Nadine continuait à faire du bénévolat pour Sivananda de temps en temps. A la demande de Reddy, elle se rendit dans l’un des ashrams en Inde pour aider à la formation. Mais à son retour, Nadine ne pouvait plus garder le silence.

“Prahlad avait brisé notre confiance”, a déclaré la mère de Nadine dans une interview, se rappelant ses sentiments lorsque Nadine lui a raconté l’histoire pour la première fois. “Je ne pouvais pas croire qu’il avait continué à abuser de ma fille chaque été.” Elle a pris grand soin de ne pas faire honte à Nadine. “Je lui ai toujours dit qu’elle n’était pas responsable de ce qui s’est passé”, a-t-elle déclaré. “Je me suis sentie très mal. Pour elle et pour nous.”

Dans une interview, le père de Nadine m’a dit qu’après avoir entendu son histoire, il a conduit de Montréal à Val Morin pour s’adresser aux dirigeants. J’ai réalisé qu’il était malade”, a-t-il dit, se souvenant de sa confrontation avec Reddy, “parce qu’il avait dit “Oui, c’est arrivé il y a longtemps”. Nous étions tous les deux jeunes”.

Nadine se souvient avoir reçu une lettre d’excuses manuscrite de Reddy. Quand la lettre est arrivée, toute la famille l’a lue. Nadine se souvient que Reddy a suggéré que les abus “étaient réciproques, comme si nous étions jeunes et que nous avions fait des choses stupides que nous regrettons”. Je me souviens que cela m’a bouleversée et que j’ai eu l’impression d’en être complice et que c’était quelque chose dont il fallait avoir honte”. Dégoûtée, elle a jeté la lettre.

 

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Lors du même voyage au cours duquel il a affronté Reddy, le père de Nadine dit avoir également parlé avec Maurizio Finocchi, connu à l’époque au sein de l’organisation sous le nom de Swami Mahadevananda. Finocchi était le supérieur de Reddy et était largement reconnu comme l’héritier spirituel de Nair. Il avait un siège au conseil d’administration à l’époque. Le père de Nadine se souvient que Finocchi écoutait avec gentillesse et inquiétude, et qu’il avait indiqué que l’organisation allait se pencher sur la question. Il a quitté Finocchi avec l’espoir que quelque chose serait fait, mais il n’y a pas eu de suivi.

Un récent post sur Facebook de l’ancien assistant de Finocchi suggère que si Finocchi a négligé de tenir Reddy pour responsable, Reddy a plus tard retourné la faveur. Le 14 février, Wendy Freeman a posté qu’en 2006, Finocchi s’était exposé à elle alors qu’elle lui servait le petit déjeuner dans ses quartiers à Val Morin. “Quand je me suis approchée de son lit avec le plateau de nourriture, il m’a tenu le bras et a retourné le drap”, a-t-elle écrit dans le post. “Il était nu jusqu’à la taille, se masturbant. Il a éjaculé sur mon bras.” Lorsqu’elle a rapporté l’incident à Reddy, elle a dit qu’il “m’a demandé de me taire, m’informant que le conseil d’administration de l’ISYVC était au courant d’un “problème” en cours avec Finocchi, qu’ils “traitaient” apparemment d’une certaine manière”.

J’ai interviewé Freeman, qui était connue sous le nom de “Veena” lorsqu’elle était dans l’organisation. “J’ai failli vomir”, a-t-elle dit en se souvenant de l’agression. “Je me suis éloignée, j’ai posé le plateau sur le lit, je suis allée dans sa salle de bain. Je n’oublierai jamais : il est entré dans la salle de bain pour se nettoyer, et nous nous sommes tenus côte à côte devant le lavabo, en nous regardant dans le miroir. C’est l’un des points bas de ma vie”.

Par courriel, le porte-parole de Sivananda, Jonathan Goldbloom, a fait la lumière sur la façon dont les membres du conseil d’administration ont traité avec Finocchi et sur le temps que cela a pris. “Lanny Alexander a été nommée par l’EBM en mai 2013”, a écrit Goldbloom, “pour examiner les allégations concernant Swami Mahadevananda, alors membre du conseil d’administration. Suite à la réception du rapport de Lanny, Swami Mahadevananda a démissionné de l’organisation en juin 2013”. Alexander a été identifiée dans mon précédent article sur GEN comme une avocat new-yorkaise et une étudiante de Sivananda qui a fait du travail juridique pour l’organisation. Elle n’a pas répondu à une demande de commentaires sur cette histoire.

Dans l’édition de l’été 2013 de Yoga Life, le magazine interne de l’organisation, une notice des rédacteurs indique que Finocchi prend sa retraite “afin de passer à une vie contemplative en isolement en Inde”. L’avis disait que le conseil d’administration le remerciait pour son “service dévoué et inspirant”.

Par courrier électronique, Goldbloom s’est montré provocateur. “Malgré les préjugés véhiculés par tout ce que vous avez écrit jusqu’à présent sur l’organisation, la politique de harcèlement sexuel et psychologique de l’organisation fonctionne et personne n’est au-dessus : Les allégations ont fait l’objet d’une enquête et les conséquences ont été conformes à la politique, qui a été appliquée à cet important membre de l’EBM comme elle l’aurait été à n’importe qui d’autre dans l’organisation”, a-t-il écrit. (L’acronyme de Goldbloom fait référence à l’exécutif de Sivananda).

Mais les courriels que j’ai obtenus montrent qu’une plainte similaire d’attentat à la pudeur et de masturbation publique a été déposée contre Finocchi en 2001, 12 ans avant sa démission, et envoyée à un administrateur de l’ashram Sivananda à Trivandrum, dans le sud de l’Inde. Et dans un courriel de 2006, Finocchi, qui dirigeait alors les opérations de Sivananda en Inde, a apparemment découragé la publication d’une nouvelle politique de harcèlement sexuel générée au sein de l’organisation. “Swamiiji ne pense pas que cette politique doit être affichée”, a écrit sa secrétaire. “Nous pouvons l’utiliser dans des situations difficiles, mais nous n’avons pas besoin d’aller vers cette pensée de type commercial. J’ai tenté à plusieurs reprises de joindre Finocchi, aujourd’hui âgé de 81 ans, par courrier électronique et par téléphone, mais sans succès.

 

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Presque tous les grands groupes de yoga, aujourd’hui empêtrés dans des crises d’abus, proposent des formations dans des écoles accréditées par la Yoga Alliance. Reddy est membre de la Yoga Alliance, et Sivananda yoga a accrédité 89 programmes de formation distincts par l’intermédiaire de l’association à but non lucratif. Les listes de Yoga Alliance pour ces écoles ne mentionnent pas les noms des membres du corps enseignant. Cela signifie que, jusqu’à la date où le directeur l’a mis sur la touche le mois dernier, un membre du public aurait pu demander à suivre une formation sans savoir que Reddy la dirigerait.

Dans une interview, Shannon Roche, PDG de Yoga Alliance, a déclaré que ce manque d’information serait bientôt comblé. Elle a également déclaré que des allégations publiques et corroborées concernant un membre de la Yoga Alliance pourraient déclencher une enquête, même si les survivants n’étaient pas membres de la Yoga Alliance. Cela dépendrait toutefois des souhaits du survivant. “Je ne veux pas faire de mal à quelqu’un en essayant de faire quelque chose de bien”, a déclaré Mme Roche. Elle a ajouté qu’en vertu des directives publiées fin février, il pourrait être possible de sanctionner une école entière si sa direction est compromise.

Jusqu’à présent, l’histoire de Sivananda éclaire ce que la psychologue Jennifer Freyd appelle la “trahison institutionnelle”, dans laquelle les effets de la violence interpersonnelle peuvent être aggravés par l’organisation qui la rend possible.

La question qui reste posée est celle de l’octroi de licences par le gouvernement. Yoga Alliance peut expulser les membres qui enfreignent son code de conduite. Mais dans ce secteur non réglementé, personne ne peut empêcher un professeur sanctionné de monter sa boutique de yoga avec ou sans l’approbation de l’Alliance. L’association à but non lucratif dirigée par les États-Unis défend depuis longtemps la cause de la méfiance de ses membres à l’égard du gouvernement. “Je ne crois pas que le gouvernement ait un rôle à jouer dans les pratiques spirituelles”, a déclaré Mme Roche, résumant la position ferme de son organisation en faveur de la séparation de l’Église et de l’État.

Lorsqu’on lui demande si le fait de ne pas être protégée contre un agresseur connu pourrait perturber la pratique spirituelle plus que la réglementation ne pourrait jamais le faire, Roche adopte une ligne de conduite prudente. “Ce dont nous avons besoin”, dit-elle, en citant l’éducation et l’autonomisation des communautés, “c’est d’une boîte à outils complète avec la bonne combinaison d’outils”.

 

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Jusqu’à présent, l’histoire de Sivananda éclaire ce que la psychologue Jennifer Freyd appelle la “trahison institutionnelle”, dans laquelle les effets des abus interpersonnels peuvent être aggravés par l’organisation qui les rend possibles et compliqués davantage lorsque l’organisation elle-même tente d’enquêter ou d’atténuer les dommages. Le problème de la trahison institutionnelle, a déclaré Jennifer Freyd à la radio publique du Connecticut dans une interview sur les abus systémiques envers les enfants dans l’Église catholique, “n’est pas seulement que les institutions individuelles ne parviennent pas à prévenir les abus, mais quand elles réagissent mal, cela s’accompagne d’une souffrance physique et mentale accrue pour les survivants”.
Freyd fait également des recherches sur les caractéristiques de ce qu’elle appelle le “courage institutionnel”. Elle recommande aux organisations qui souhaitent sincèrement se réformer de se conformer d’abord aux lois pénales et aux codes des droits civils. Les dirigeants devraient “chérir” les dénonciateurs, mener des enquêtes anonymes, s’informer et informer leur personnel sur la violence et les traumatismes, et témoigner de toutes les révélations avec sensibilité.

Jusqu’à présent, l’activisme en ligne en faveur de Salter et des autres femmes suggère que si Sivananda yoga, l’organisation, n’est pas à la hauteur du défi lancé par Freyd, Sivananda yoga en tant que communauté pourrait l’être.

Les alliés de Salter et la liste croissante de femmes qui se sont manifestées se sont connectés par le biais d’un groupe Facebook dissident comptant 2 000 membres et toujours en croissance. (Par comparaison, le yoga Sivananda touche 300 000 personnes par an par le biais de 11 ashrams situés dans huit pays différents, 31 centres dans 18 pays et 40 centres affiliés dans 26 pays”, selon un courriel envoyé par le porte-parole de Sivananda. Le siège de Sivananda à Val Morin recense 8 millions de dollars d’actifs pour 2017). Les dissidents exigent que les membres du conseil d’administration démissionnent et que les responsables du programme cessent de vénérer Nair. Ils font pression sur les célébrités du yoga pour qu’elles boycottent les centres de retraite de Sivananda et reconnaissent les abus. Ils forment des équipes en ligne pour afficher des avertissements de sécurité sur Tripadvisor et d’autres sites d’information pour les consommateurs, et se penchent sur les déclarations d’impôts de Sivananda, à la recherche d’irrégularités.

La réponse la plus sophistiquée des dissidents a cependant été le projet SATYA, formé en réponse aux soupçons que le mandat de Plamondon pourrait ne pas enquêter complètement sur la vérité, pourrait retraumatiser les participants, ou les deux. Ils ont fait appel à l’avocate à la retraite Carol Merchasin pour diriger l’opération. Merchasin devient rapidement connue pour son travail dans l’industrie de la spiritualité, principalement le Buddhist Project Sunshine, un rapport mené par des survivants sur des générations d’abus au sein de l’organisation bouddhiste internationale Shambhala. Cet effort a fait imploser la fière institution d’autrefois et a conduit à la démission de la célébrité spirituelle Pema Chödrön de la direction du groupe.

Par courrier électronique, Kastner a sympathisé avec la campagne de SATYA, qui prévoit de publier ses conclusions en août. Le cabinet torontois de Kastner est souvent engagé pour des enquêtes sur le lieu de travail, mais il n’est actuellement engagé dans aucune affaire ni partie concernant cette histoire. Il a expliqué comment de telles enquêtes peuvent être entachées de motivations mal alignées. “Lorsqu’une organisation refuse pendant des décennies de prendre au sérieux les allégations d’abus, la confiance de la communauté est brisée”, a-t-il estimé. “Il ne devrait donc pas être surprenant que les plaignants d’abus refusent de participer à une enquête contrôlée et payée par l’organisation”.

Mais Kastner a également exprimé son inquiétude quant au fait que des survivants de Sivananda aient choisi de parler à SATYA plutôt qu’à Plamondon, l’enquêtrice nommée par Sivananda. Si les accusateurs de Reddy ne s’assoient pas avec Plamondon, Kastner s’est inquiété : “L’organisation a le droit de dire Nous avons enquêté, aucune preuve n’a été trouvée – puisque personne ne s’est manifesté – et donc aucune action n’est requise.” Lorsqu’on lui a demandé s’il parlerait lui-même à Plamondon pour corroborer l’histoire de Nadine, il a répondu qu’il le ferait “absolument”.

En réponse aux demandes des dissidents, les centres Sivananda de Paris, Orléans et Munich ont tous décroché les grands portraits dévotionnels de Nair. Quelques intervenants de longue date des ashrams Sivananda ont annoncé l’annulation de leurs programmes en solidarité avec les survivants d’abus. Anneke Lucas, la première femme à publier son expérience directe de l’agression sexuelle d’étudiants par le fondateur de l’Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois, doit faire une présentation à l’ashram des Bahamas en juillet. Lucas, la fondatrice du groupe de soutien de yoga #MeToo sur Facebook, conditionne son contrat à l’utilisation de son temps d’enseignement à l’ashram pour aborder directement les abus et leurs implications en tant que survivante de traumatismes et avocate. Pendant ce temps, les administrateurs des ressources en ligne de Sivananda semblent avoir mis en place un pare-feu contre les critiques, bloquant les commentaires et interdisant les utilisateurs qui publient l’article de GEN ou qui posent simplement des questions. Le 29 février, des adeptes du yoga Sivananda ont créé un groupe Facebook pro-Reddy et Nair.

La déclaration officielle du porte-parole de Sivananda, M. Goldbloom, a toutefois concédé le stress causé par les allégations et a cherché à réaffirmer les valeurs de l’organisation, “qui consistent à promouvoir la santé, le bien-être, la guérison à tous les niveaux, la paix, la joie et la réalisation spirituelle”, a-t-il écrit. “Nous avons l’intention de continuer à offrir des formations et des symposiums sur la sensibilisation aux traumatismes, la santé et la guérison, la paix et la spiritualité, et de promouvoir ces valeurs par le biais de nos programmes, de nos publications et de tous les autres canaux”.

Au-delà des escarmouches, l’activisme semble aider de nombreux anciens membres à révolutionner leur compréhension de la communauté spirituelle et de l’intégrité. Les dissidents revendiquent le centre moral de leur ancienne église et remettent en question l’allergie de l’industrie du yoga au sens large à une réglementation et une responsabilité plus strictes. Au fur et à mesure de son développement, l’histoire s’inscrit également dans une expérience plus large visant à déterminer si le mouvement #MeToo peut aller au-delà de la dénonciation des auteurs d’abus et exiger des institutions qui les ont aidés qu’elles rendent justice.

“Pouvoir en parler nous a permis de faire quelque chose comme un énorme débriefing collectif”, a déclaré Jens Augspurger, l’un des modérateurs du groupe dissident. Augspurger est un chercheur doctoral en études du yoga. “C’est comme si nous sortions de cette performance bizarre. Tout au long de la pièce, vous n’aviez pas le droit d’en parler. Vous deviez vous taire. Vous étiez le public, mais vous en faisiez aussi partie d’une certaine manière. Et maintenant, nous sortons enfin, et nous pouvons parler aux personnes qui se sont assises à gauche et à droite de nous. Et maintenant nous réalisons : “Ok, il y a des trucs bizarres qui se passent.”

 

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La mère de Nadine a maintenu sa relation avec Sivananda, continuant à suivre des programmes et à enseigner occasionnellement. Pour elle, c’est en partie un acte de vigilance morale. Elle voit encore Reddy de temps en temps. “C’est un rappel”, m’a-t-elle dit, en décrivant son attitude à son égard. “Chaque fois que vous me verrez, vous vous souviendrez que je suis la mère de Nadine et de ce que vous avez fait.”

“Je ne sais pas si une quelconque punition les fera réfléchir à ces choses”, m’a dit le père de Nadine lorsqu’on lui a demandé ce qu’il pensait de tout cela rétrospectivement. “Je pense que tout le monde était très naïf. Je l’étais certainement parce que je n’ai jamais pensé que cela serait possible”.

“J’ai vraiment dû faire beaucoup de travail sur moi-même”, a déclaré Nadine, lorsqu’on lui a demandé quel impact son histoire avait eu sur elle. Elle est fière d’avoir fait quelque chose de sa vie, après une adolescence rebelle et d’être une mère célibataire. Son premier diplôme était en service social, où elle a appris à intervenir en faveur des victimes d’agressions sexuelles et à comprendre les blessures que cela fait.

“Dans mes études, je me suis reconnue et cela m’a aidée à normaliser ce que je ressentais”, m’a-t-elle dit.

L’amitié de Kastner a également été un roc pour elle, a déclaré Nadine. Quand, par désillusion, il a tourné le dos au yoga Sivananda, où lui aussi avait grandi, “il m’a rappelé la gravité de ce qui m’était arrivé”, a-t-elle dit. “Il me défendait dans ses principes.”

Lorsqu’on lui a demandé quel serait son résultat idéal en prenant la parole, Nadine a été franche à propos de Reddy. “Qu’il arrête d’abuser des femmes”, a-t-elle dit au téléphone. “Grâce au post et aux commentaires de Julie, j’ai découvert qu’il avait agressé d’autres femmes. Je pense que c’est un devoir et une obligation envers les autres femmes”.

Nadine a également réfléchi aux raisons pour lesquelles elle n’a pas porté plainte à l’époque. Elle voulait protéger la femme et l’enfant de Reddy, a-t-elle dit. L’envoyer en prison leur aurait brisé le cœur. Elle avait pensé que son appel téléphonique avec Ashley aurait arrêté Reddy, ou que quelque chose serait venu de la confrontation de son père avec Reddy et Finocchi à Val Morin.

Lara Marjerrison ne sait pas comment elle ou la communauté vont finalement traiter la nouvelle. “C’était toujours l’endroit où je savais que je pouvais retourner”, m’a-t-elle dit, se souvenant de la Sivananda qu’elle avait connue. “Je savais que les gens qui étaient là étaient magnifiques. Je savais que l’environnement naturel était serein.”

Elle aimait que son fils soit intrépide dans les prairies de Val Morin. Elle se rappelle combien il aimait Reddy. “Il courait partout et jouait avec d’autres enfants et il est revenu vers moi. J’étais allongée sous un pommier. Et il m’a dit : “Maman, cet endroit est incroyable. Je peux courir librement. Je peux être libre.”

Interrogée sur le projet SATYA, Marjerrison a indiqué son soutien. “Je crois que ce qu’ils font en vaut la peine”, a-t-elle écrit, en attendant de récupérer son fils à l’école. “Si ce n’est pas la communauté – qui d’autre ?”

 

“But Kundalini Yoga Works!” | Some Considerations

Here’s a slightly edited and updated collection of some recent Facebook posts on the “But Kundalini Yoga Works!” meme that’s floating around in the wake of the KY/3HO abuse crisis, prompted by the publication of Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, by Pamela Dyson.

My aim is to address a recognizable tension: the cognitive dissonance of trying to process the fact of Bhajan as an abuser against the deeply felt experience that his techniques were healing, or even life-saving. In the cult literature, these seemingly irreconcilable facts are described as, in some cases, deeply intertwined.

 

Maybe Kundalini Yoga Techniques Are a Form of Social Control

 
The classic definition of the cult is as follows, from Langone and West.
 
“A group or movement exhibiting great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control (e.g., isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.”
— West, L. J., & Langone, M. D. (1986). “Cultism: A conference for scholars and policy makers.” Cultic Studies Journal, 3, 119-120.
 
With a small but jolting perspectival shift, it’s clear that the practices of any group can perform the functions in the parenthesized checklist, all of which act to enforce compliance to the leader or the group:
 
Clothing, naming, and dietary changes can isolate members from birth families and former social circles. Getting up at 4am to invoke trance states can debilitate the capacity to question and be enormously suggestive. It’s also clear that the public images of Vishnudevananda, Jois, Bhajan and others have been carefully information-managed.
 
Definitions, however, can promote black-and-white thinking, and sometimes that doesn’t help. The practices taught by high-demand groups aren’t inherently coercive (though I would speculate that the closer the member is to the leader, the more coercive they are). The trick is to find where the practices cross the threshold between “Wow! here’s a new thing that I love to do and which seems to help me with X condition” to “Um, here’s this thing I must do every day because, um, I forget, but I’m a little scared to stop.” Beyond that threshold, the practices may perform the function of psychosocial control.
 
As we browse through the checklist we can see whether each data point applies to the spectrum of practices we’ve taken on according to the question: “Did x practice truly empower me and give me agency, or did it make me less likely to question or individuate from the group that gave it to me?”

Maybe Kundalini Yoga Works through Trauma Responses

Alexandra Stein has pioneered the application of attachment theory to cult dynamics. Briefly put: she shows that the main task of the high-demand group is to re-wire the recruit’s attachment patterning to the disorganized end of the spectrum, where they are in an acute state of arousal amidst the contradiction of needing to devote themselves to the person who is abusing them.
 
One of the most personally resonant implications of this for me is Stein’s description of how surrendering to the tension of this conflict can seem to provide deep relief, even euphoria. I experienced this very strongly in both of the cults I was recruited into.
 
The second phase of a trauma response is dissociation: “detachment from an unbearable situation.” As previously described, in this state, both physiological states of hyperarousal and dissociation are activated: internal energy-consuming resources are simultaneously on full alert at the same time as the person is dissociating to try to shut down and conserve these resources. Imagine the toll on the body that this two-fold unresolvable process must take. Eventually, dissociation – freezing and giving up the failed effort to escape – comes to dominate. Along with giving up the struggle to fight against the group and the fear it has generated, the dissociated follower comes to accept the group as the safe haven and thus forms a trauma bond. This moment of submission, of giving up the struggle, can be experienced as a moment of great relief, and even happiness, or a spiritual awakening.
 
What little I know of KY/3H0 experience is that there is a strong emphasis upon altered and/or transcendent states. From my personal experience and research on other yoga groups, I know that the line between a “radiant fawning” response and a truly empowering experience can be hard to find. Worse, that line can be manipulated by the group or its leader, by suggesting to the member that their stress response is actually a sign of awakening. Groups in which spiritual practice is particularly intense, demanding, or life-pervading (Ashtanga Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, etc.), are hot spots for this conflation.
 
So as KY practitioners consider the conundrum of how effective the practices have been vs the picture that’s emerging of Bhajan and his lieutenants and enablers, I would encourage gentle reflection on the question of “Why were the practices efficient? Why did this work?” Because it’s possible that the euphoria and bliss, in some cases, was not only part of the abuse, but an essential mechanism for deepening trauma bonds within the group.
 
This is definitely not to say that the practices if they are still felt to be beneficial, should be abandoned. But I believe that everyone deserves to practice without the additional burden of cognitive dissonance. And who knows? Practicing euphoria from a place of real freedom may well be possible.

 

Maybe Kundalini Yoga Works Because It Carries the Domination Affect of Yogi Bhajan | a note on Gurmukh’s Abuse Crisis Statement

This thought began to form in response to reading Dyson’s book and some testimonies on the Premka page about how Bhajan dominated everyone’s lives through a grandiose ideology that required constant material attention: a thousand different tasks, rituals, protocols, attitudes, gestures.

“Dominated” is the key word here. “Dominated” in the sense that no one else had time or space to have their own life, their own reality, their own feelings. One of the hardest parts of Dyson’s book for me to read was where she quotes Bhajan repeatedly saying things like: “You must be like me,” followed by pages on pages of Dyson discovering that her own identity had been suppressed, supplanted, negated, and that she had to find it again.

Domination was the root of the religion. Daniel Shaw details the granular level of how this might work in his masterful work Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation. His erudite psychoanalytic appraisal of the Bhajan-like figure — in his case Gurumayi of SYDA — shows a person who is terrified of anyone around them asserting their own agency, for then the world and and others in it would no longer be theirs to control. It would feel like a mortal threat.

Dominate in order to control, and do it completely, passionately, sleeplessly — or else you will die. I’m familiar with these themes from studying cult leaders.

But the possibility that they are baked into the very content and method of Kundalini yoga itself was made much more clear by Gurmukh’s post yesterday. Many have noted this quote in particular:

“Between the flu and the allegations, from the center of my being I choose Joy. This is sincerely all that I can do. I stand for Joy. My platform is Joy. Joy is the opposite of fear. Fear breeds more fear. Joy breeds more Joy. In my choice I choose to teach Kundalini Yoga throughout the world, God willing, until my last breath.”

Look past the white saviourism of the journey, the conflation of a virus for institutional abuse, the bypassing. The hidden-in-plain-sight message here is domination, albeit disguised in an emotive language of emotion that is coded maternal, receptive, and surrendering.

Come what may, this faithful practitioner will exert their will to Joy over all reality. No other emotion or perspective has the right to exist. With Joy she will cancel Bhajan’s critics. No one else — and obviously not survivors — will be referenced. Everything emanates from the centre of their being… and what emanates is Kundalini yoga (as taught by Yogi Bhajan), and she will colonize the world with it. This virus-infested, allegation-ridden world, teeming with orphans who will be Joyful when they are visited by the bearer of Joy.

So when I see people talk about how much Kundalini did for them — especially in totalistic terms: “It transformed my life” — I wonder about how much domination is wrapped up in that: domination of intuition, of one’s past, of trauma, of appropriately negative responses, of questions and doubts, of reasonable desires to wear jeans or drink wine. I wonder how much success in practice is generated by dominating the unwanted or disowned parts of oneself. And on the professional level: how much domination does it take to suppress bad news, to enforce cognitive dissonance, to make sure one’s buzz doesn’t dim and one’s brand isn’t tarnished, to be able to stare questions down from the mountaintop.

I don’t doubt that it helped many people. Pressure and encouragement can do that for a while. The question would be when and how helpfulness crosses that threshold into domination.

 

However Kundalini Yoga Works, It is Aided by “Bounded Choice” | Looking at Snatam Kaur’s Crisis Statement

Janja Lalich is a cult researcher whose work has been very important to my own healing. One of her most illuminating concepts is “bounded choice”, and it helps to explain just how difficult it is for a high-demand group or cult member to see their way clear of the insular ideology that has functioned to narrow their world.

Briefly put: “bounded choice” is the condition of having been trained to believe that everything that happens in the group, or that the leader does, or that is taught or produced by the group, is for some ultimate good. This means that everything becomes grist for the salvation mill. If the practitioner falls ill because of dietary restrictions, they’re being taught to detach from the body. If they are left impoverished, they are being taught about the maya of worldly wealth. If they are forbidden to marry, they are being taught the virtue of renunciation. If they are forced to have an abortion, they are being taught to give up on the wheel of life.

Bounded choice allows the leader and the group to continually move the goalposts so that the member is never able to convincingly say: “This is wrong. This doesn’t work.” It also does the crucial work of never allowing the group to be challenged by any external information.

The interpersonal examples above are fairly easy to spot when you get the hang of the idea. What harder is the subtler aspect of bounded choice, which is what is at play in Snatam Kaur’s invocation that all KY members should recommit themselves to chanting the mantras as they try to make sense of revelations of abuse in their group.

In Kaur’s view, the mantras are held up as all-good, all-saving, primordial, and sacred. It’s unthinkable that they were ever used to deceive, to baffle, to love-bomb, to dissociate, to hijack critical thinking in favour of bursts of serotonin. It’s inconceivable that they’ve ever been used to enforce a premature repair or forgiveness following abuse. And yet the cult research is filled with examples of techniques of hypnotic trance, contact high, pleasure/pain disruption, and nervous overwhelm that function to break down resistance and increase compliance.

Kaur’s statement can also be considered through Jennifer Freyd’s lens of institutional betrayal. One part of her theory says that when abuse victims are asked to appeal to the institution that enabled the abuse for relief, or to its content or methods, retraumatization can occur. A basic lesson is: don’t expect healing from the institution that traumatized you.

Here are some thought experiments that might help show that for some group members Kaur may be offering yet more bounded choice, even if she believes she’s offering relief. These are examples of bounded choice compounded by institutional betrayal. They also express a conflict of interest: the group continuing to promote itself as the solution to the problem it contains.

1. A man has just disclosed that a Catholic priest abused him when he was a child. The news shocks the parish. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone — including the man — bond and heal by going to church and reciting the rosary.

2. A woman has just disclosed that Harvey Weinstein raped her. The news shocks Hollywood. A well-meaning member suggests that community gather for a ceremonial showing of Shakespeare in Love.

3. A woman has just disclosed that Ashtanga yoga founder Pattabhi Jois regularly sexually assaulted her while in class. The news shocks the community. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by practicing the Primary Series.

4. A woman has just disclosed that Bikram Choudhury raped her. The news shocks the community. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by continuing to practice Choudhury’s 26 postures in 104 degree heat

5. A man has just disclosed a lifetime of institutional abuse within the Shambhala Buddhist community. The news is shocking. A well-meaning member suggests that everyone bond and heal by reaffirming their dedication to the Tantric kingdom of Shambhala.

 

 

 

Senior Students of Yogi Bhajan Give a Master Class on Abuse Minimization and Deflection, and Carrying On

Abuse crisis statements from senior teachers in yoga groups provide a rich vein of data for research. By laying bare the mechanisms by which a high-demand group and its beneficiaries protect themselves under stress, they also reveal the foundational tools upon which the group’s relationships are built.

These statements, delivered as sombre reaffirmations of faith, strip everything down to the bone and show what’s really operational: what got the group going, what kept it alive, what will persist —and perhaps glow brighter — through fire and famine. In times of uncertainty and stress, judges fall back on the law, lawmakers fall back on constitutional documents, and doctors fall back on basics like sanitation and hydration. High-demand group leaders have little to fall back on but habit, myth, and pious affect.

I’ve written about the formal rules of these statements here. I’ve also analyzed specific statements from Susan Piver and Judith Simmer-Brown of Shambhala International, and most recently from Reggie Ray of the now-defunct Dharma Ocean organization.

This one comes from  Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh of the Karam Kriya School in Portugal. They are responding to the publication of Pamela Dyson’s memoir, in which she describes 3HO founder Yogi Bhajan abusing her. They also hint that they are responding to ongoing revelations make in the Facebook group dedicated to her book.

Like anyone I can google Singh’s bio, but I don’t know anything about these teachers personally: their backgrounds, how they teach, how they’re regarded by their students. I’m also relatively uneducated in the byzantine details of the global “Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan” network, which consists of several intersecting institutions and multinational businesses — some of which, like Akal Security — are overwhelmingly wealthy and powerful. So I’ll limit my annotations of the transcript below to the structural elements that are clear to me as outside observer and high-demand group researcher. I’ll ask some questions that are often invisible to the indoctrinated.

The original video was posted to YouTube on February 28, 2020. I’m archiving it here for preservation, because these statements often deleted as the crisis deepens, and they come to be seen as additional evidence of institutional abuse.

 

Transcription, Annotated:

Satya (00:00):
What are the directors of the Karam Kriya School. I’m Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh. The Karam Kriya School is one of the main teacher training schools in the world, training, Kundalini teachers at level one and two.

The opening positions the speakers as qualified representatives of the culture. However, it also identifies them as beneficiaries of the culture’s branding and teaching content. Everything that follows can therefore be considered through the framework of what they have to lose socially and financially in the current abuse crisis. This will not be mentioned.

So for this reason, a lot of people look up to us as to what we have to say. What is our opinion, what is our stance in relation to what’s going on in the Kundalini yoga world.

Note how the language shifts here. After claiming centrality as informants, they now have a separate “stance in relation to” the culture. They are both inside and outside.

And as many of you are watching this are aware of, there’s been some recent allegations as to what Yogi Bhajan did and how he conducted himself towards certain people when he was alive. Talking about some 40 30, 20 years ago.

“Allegations” is a dogwhistle term for “claims to be doubted or tested in court.” But what they are really referring to is Pamela Dyson’s comprehensive first-person account of sixteen years of Yogi Bhajan sexually, psychologically, and financially abusing her. Note that the content is not only detailed, but is immediately diminished by vague dating.

Shiv (00:51):
It’s not the first time there’s allegations of been made. They’ve just, everything has come up to the surface again.

Wait. What? This would be a good moment to explain what happened the last time(s). The speaker here is framing reports of institutional abuse as if it were periodic or cyclical bad weather, instead of the systematic suppression of voices and obscuration of patterns.

Satya (00:59):
Because of the publication of a book of one of his early students called Premka Kaur. So we both had the good fortune of Yogi Bhajan when he was alive and learning directly with him. As far as I’m concerned, none of these allegations, or what’s coming out and the reactions that masses of people are having doesn’t change in any way the way I see Yogi Bhajan as a great teacher and master and my relationship with the teachings that he generously and profusely shared, which have impacted my life and impacted so many people’s lives in the world. So for that I’m eternally grateful.

This is as succinct and shameless an I-Got-Mineism statement as we’re likely to ever see. The speaker’s affirmation of “good fortune” instantly frames testimony against him as ungrateful or ignorant. The conflation of testimony with reactions to it put both into the category of chatter. “Reactions” itself is a dogwhistle dharmasplaining term: yoga practitioners are not supposed to be reactive. The sombre somatics of the speakers model a “non-reactive” affect for the viewer. 

Shiv (01:43):
From the beginning for myself. And also for you it was clear that the focus was on the teaching on the practice and not necessarily on, Yogi Bhajan. He’s the master, he was the postman, as I’ve said, or the channel.

A major theme initiates here: Bhajan the man was not really important. What he carried was. His body, personality, identity — all unimportant.

What this theme begins to do is to erase the bodies, personalities, and identities of those who testify he abused them. Because if Bhajan’s body, personality, identity and actions are not important in relation to his holy teachings, neither are their impacts. Survivors describe the teachings being used to obscure his actions, but it’s the actions themselves, flowing from his body, personality, and identity that abused people.

And I look over the years and see how people have very much idealized or glorified Yogi Bhajan as representing, you know, their higher sense of self, the highest self or that you know, their aspiration of, of a great being projected that onto him. For me that was never really necessary and never the case.

The speaker here elevates himself above all survivors, dissidents, and complainants, by explaining that he really got it. He wasn’t fooled by idolatry. Notice the infantilization here: students were naive to project greatness onto Bhajan.

However, lower down, Shiv will reassert that the yoga he teaches must continue to be branded as “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.” This is one of many dual messages in the statement: It’s not about Bhajan, but it’s all about Bhajan. Further: it’s not about Bhajan when we’re talking about abuse, but it’s all about Bhajan when we’re talking about the “technology”.

Anyway for myself he pointed to the Guru Granth Sahib really as as the guru. And so that was always my primary reference to the technology. And he was always a great, uh, gave so much insight to understand the teachings of the guru and the ancient teachings of yoga that came from thousands of years and he gave his, his, um, the spectrum on that. So the, the people are crying about it’s time to end the personality cult. Some people maybe have that issue.

The claim that Bhajan is not important is now substantiated with the claim that the Guru Granth Sahib is the real focal point of Kundalini Practice. My limited understanding is that the Guru Granth Sahib is the master-compendium of Sikh teachings that also records the lineage tree of Gurus going back to the 15th century. The book is accorded a kind of śruti status, going beyond narrative and argumentation to embody the living tradition itself.

I don’t personally know how to evaluate Shiv’s claim; what’s important to know is that the putative connection between Kundalini Yoga and traditional Sikhism is vigorously contested by some Punjabi Sikhs, and increasingly by 3HO dissidents.

The speaker presents the Guru Granth Sahib as not only the real reference point for Bhajan’s content, but also the source for the “technology” of the practice. “Technology” is a distancing word, like “software”, seemingly separate or separable from the systems that run it — in this case, the social system that runs Kundalini techniques.

The speaker’s quiet affect conceals punishing patronization. “Some people maybe have that issue,” he says, referring to the “cult of personality” that is the real problem — not the fact that Bhajan was a real leader with lasting impacts on people’s lives.

Satya (02:58):
I think there’s a, there’s a difference between those people who are very close to him on a very regular basis in the United States and Canada and Mexico perhaps. And those of us who are in Europe who are, who have the opportunity to sit and learn with him maybe once or twice a year. So we were much more independent of what was going on in his daily life. And we had our own way of relating to the teachings much more directly rather than via Yogi Bhajan as a teacher personality or filter.

This is not uncommon as a distancing technique during an abuse crisis: to claim that one was always on the periphery, that they maintained good boundaries, and therefore always had a healthy perspective that they have presumably taught from ever since. This has been notable in abuse crises I’ve studied and published on in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Shambhala, and Rigpa communities. The overall effect is to foreclose discussion of systemic abuses involving enablement, bystanding, intergenerational abuse, moral injury and secondary trauma, and to paint the abuse of a leader as a bad apple that can be plucked out of the bushel.

Notice the casual, Euro-pompous slagging of Americans.

I recognize that for those people who have come forward, especially recently, such as Premka and others since her, uh, and who have disclosed their experiences of private time with Yogi Bhajan and they disclosed the hurt and the sense that of the exploitation that they were subject to, then I acknowledge.

Very mixed language here. “Private time with Yogi Bhajan” sounds at first like a special privilege that the victims misunderstood. What is actually being described by Dyson and Katherine Felt is abuse perpetrated because the victim is isolated. “Hurt” is also euphemistic, and the passive of construction of “that they were subject to” is also noteworthy.

This is a healing process and that’s to be treated with respect and as to be, um, honor the courage to come out and say things as they were as they are. I acknowledge that as that’s a good thing that these things have come out, that there’s no secrets, there’s no taboos. There’s no, silencing of women’s voices. I think this is very important. And, um, and if with it comes like a breakdown of an illusion and if there’s a shattering of projections that were you know, throwing to onto Yogi Bhajan that he was, he was beyond this, it was beyond that. If this kind of illusions are broken and if the raw reality comes through, I think this is a fantastic, uh, fantastic times, fantastic opportunity to, um, come closer to the reality to see things more clearly. And to grow up.

Instead of contemplating and absorbing the reality of criminal actions perpetrated by her guru, the speaker proposes that the principle of disclosure (as opposed to the content) is potentially a new spiritual gift. That Dyson and others are not silent anymore is good for the group, not because the group now knows that the founder was an abuser, but because now the group can engage a deeper level of illusion-smashing. Satya is coming close to arguing that the abuse crisis is a good thing — not for the survivors, but for the group itself, because it will presumably allow those members who expected there not to be abuse in a spiritual group to “grow up”. The abuse crisis, in other words, doesn’t reveal criminality and fraud, but how true adults will respond to criminality and fraud.

Shiv (05:09):
And also to not turn those projections onto any other teacher, male or female, you know that teacher is just the teacher, messenger and the teachings are beyond that. And the other questions that people are inquiring about, like the Golden Chain for example, you know, is it still, is it still a valid, yeah. And suddenly our understanding is that the Golden Chain…

Satya (05:40):
…is the Golden Chain, is the Golden Chain.

Big pause here. What is the “Golden Chain”? Unlike the Guru Granth Sahib, the Golden Chain is a fictitious legitimization reference. It’s the epithet that Bhajan and the group has used to claim that his teaching content has passed through the ancient system of experiential testing that is Indian wisdom culture. All we need to know about this is that it’s a bullshit idea, deconstructed by the polite but razor-like scholarship of ex-member Philip Deslippe in his groundbreaking 2012 article, “From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga.”

“For the students of Yogi Bhajan,” Deslippe writes,

the history of Sant Hazara Singh [Bhajan’s putative guru, for which there is scant material evidence] is more than a matter of simple genealogy or lineage. Yogi Bhajan taught that that in Kundalini Yoga the link that stretched back to antiquity from student to teacher formed the ‘GoldenChain’. Every time Kundalini Yoga is practiced, whether privately or in a public class, the mantra ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’ is intoned three times to ‘tune in’ to this Golden Chain and to be guided and protected by it (Khalsa 1996, 14). Sant Hazara Singh is the only tangible person offered who precedes Yogi Bhajan in the lineage of Kundalini Yoga. The idea of the Golden Chain also helps to bolster the accepted belief in 3HO that Kundalini Yoga was an ancient practice that was forced into secrecy for centuries until Yogi Bhajan taught it openly in the West. The secrecy explains why nothing predating Yogi Bhajan seems to mention the specific details of Kundalini Yoga’s practice in the same context, while the Golden Chain of masters and their students explains how such a practice could be passed down and remain intact until the late 1960s.

But when the Golden Chain of Kundalini Yoga is investigated rather than invoked, it unravels. Within the first 2 years of 3HO is a hidden and vigorously revised history that stands in stark contrast to the accepted understanding of what Yogi Bhajan’s KundaliniYoga is and where it originated. A 3-month trip that Yogi Bhajan took to India with 84 of his students in December 1970 can be seen as the dramatic, demarcating pivot that ended the initial understanding of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga and birthed its current, popularly understood mythology. Instead of a single unaltered lineage, there lies a progression of forgotten and abandoned teachers, figures invented and introduced, and a process of narration and mythologizing born out of cultural context, temporal events, and pragmatic necessity.

It’s notable that not only do the speakers use circular logic to invoke (rather than investigate, as Deslippe says) the Golden Chain, they also speak the sentence together like some ouroboros of indoctrination. Circular logic is reinforced by somatic mirroring.

Shiv (05:42):
So that goes on and everybody can tune into it. The mantras of [mantras]. This gives us always a link to that lineage. And you might feel that link through your local teacher. You might have felt through Yogi Bhajan, you might continue to or not, but the Golden Chain continues to exist. The consciousness of Guru Ram Das prevails in this age that we live in and, and anybody can tap into that. And so the mantras are still completely valid, relevant. And the Golden Chain is a very real phenomenon if one chooses to connect with it and our commitment.

On faith alone, the Golden Chain is asserted to be real, and again linked into traditional Sikhism. But the speaker goes farther here and makes the reality of the Golden Chain contingent upon the students belief, which is compared to the teacher’s commitment. The subtext is that loss of belief will be responsible for the destruction of something thought to grant salvation. The choice to disbelieve is flagged as dangerous.

This goes further. One might say:. I don’t want to mention Yogi Bhajan in my classes. Of course you can teach a whole Kundalini class, just the kriyas and the meditation and never mention his name. But if you’re asked, you know, you’re not gonna hide and lie and pretend otherwise. That is the source of the teachings as we have them. And also, not wanting to quote Yogi Bhajan: It’s Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. Now we recognize that he may from a variety of different means gathered together his own synthesis. But kundalini yoga is thousands of years old. There’s lots of references to show that the concept of Kundalini has been, uh, known in traditional cultures throughout the world also thousands of years.

Here’s perhaps the crux of the speaker’s branding challenge. Having spent considerable energy attempting to separate the man from the teachings, the speaker must now reassemble the teachings with the brand, which happens to contain the man’s name, while also emptying that name out of its human reference. You can almost here the “TM” being attached to the name. This allows the speaker to both further separate from the relationship and stake ownership over the (now presumably neutral) content.

Shiv (07:04):
So clearly what Yogi Bhajan has also done here, by putting his name to it, is taking his own responsibility for the fact that he was told, “Don’t teach this or you’ll be dead in a year.” But he taught it and he survived that. So he took all his risks, put it together in the best way he felt was to serve the, the, uh, the age, the change of the age we live in. And the Western society that was, as he spoke about: all these hippies going to India, coming back with suitcases of trinkets, but no real spirituality in the inside. The fact that he came to make teachers not to collect students, made them stand out quite clearly amongst many other great yogis, swamis, gurus as it came from India at that time. So he chose a very remarkable path and took a lot of risks. And In a way he even crucified himself before all this current crucifixion is now going on by just stepping forward and saying, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make teachers, I’m not looking for the students and I’m going to teach at the risk of my own life, and this needs to get out there and it needs to get out there now.

Even though Bhajan has been said to be irrelevant to the content, he is now re-invoked for emotional impact. This alternation between detachment and attachment, between neutrality and investment, equanimity and devotion, is a big red flag for both cognitive dissonance and aiding in the inculcation of disorganized attachment, wherein the group member is never quite sure what they are being offered, because the goalposts continually move.

And in case you missed it, the speaker compares Dyson and her supporters to the Sanhedrin and Pilate who together crucified Jesus.

And one of his very early lectures he described why he chose to teach Kundalini yoga and not Hatha Yoga. He’s made many references. If you read the library of teachings that he acknowledges some kriyas, he put them together in his morning meditation that came to him or what he had to teach that day and so on. So he put his name to it and that was his crucifixion from the very beginning. So it is Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. If anybody wants to go and do others kind of Kundalini Yoga they can do it. Put their name to it, put some other name to it, that’s their choice. But this teaching that we have received and the we pass on, continues to be on that, uh, that with that reference to it

Note that the library of teachings is currently being scrubbed of passages like this one, recently erased by admins, but captured and quoted throughout Kundalini dissident circles:

“Rape is always invited, it never happens, a person who is raped is always providing subconsciously the environments and the arrangements. If you do not provide the circumstances and arrangements it is impossible. ” — Yogi Bhajan April 26, 1978 Espanola, NM

The library will disintegrate publicly, even as it’s surely been downloaded for future scholarship. It will be hard for teachers like Shiv and Satya to refer to it in the future with any credibility.

Satya (08:49):
If there’s anything that should be concerned, if there’s anyone that should be concerned with these allegations is really Bibiji his beloved wife who I greatly respect and love. Um, these disclosures might affect her and be hurtful for her. Her life has already been very hard as it was.

Note: Bibiji is still a leading figure in the movement. I don’t know anything about her, except that she is being used here as a symbolic figurehead, the embodiment of the organization.

So I don’t think it’s so much everyone’s concern what did happen didn’t happen. It’s 16 years ago for God’s sake what is there to change now? What matters, what you change about yourself. And how you conduct yourself. That’s what really matters. There will continue to be abuses. There will continue to be a desperate women who put themselves in very vulnerable positions, who will be taken advantage of. This will continue to happen. The new age feminist movement is coming in hard, thank God, but it takes generations. So, but each step forward, each step that we dare to be more ourselves is a great step.

I’ve highlighted the obvious rape-culture affirmation. What’s extremely manipulative about it is that it is immediately followed by a pseudo-feminist shout-out, as though feminism was Satya’s central concern.

Shiv (10:05):
Very interesting, people saying: Okay, so now we realize that Yogi Bhajan was just a man. But I think that might be interesting to separate Harbhajan Singh. He was the man, and when they took on Yogi Bhajan. Actually that is where he’s saying, “I stand under to understand the teaching and to pass that teaching on. So Yogi Bhajan was the teacher, but there was a man there and the man did what the man did.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to sever Yogi Bhajan from his teachings, students are now asked to sever “Yogi Bhajan” as a persona from his birth identity. Now there are three entities over which culpability can be dispersed. Who committed clerical sexual misconduct against Dyson? If it was Harbhajan Singh, we shouldn’t be surprised. If it was Yogi Bhajan, well that was a hollow idol. And — it couldn’t have been the teachings themselves, of course. 

So I think these are little details like that. Just a little way of thinking that turns everything around.

This is a huge tell. Consciously or not, the speaker is admitting that thought manipulation is required to weather the abuse crisis.

And a lot of people are saying a lot of things on the internet and it really shows not so much about actually what really happened. And it doesn’t necessarily even show a healthy way forward. It’s just showing that people have agendas and they’ve been waiting for this kind of door to open and suddenly they all want to throw up all kinds of stuff, whether it’s trying to fight and defend his name, whether it’s trying to, to say I knew it, I knew it and therefore this and that and the next thing, it’s all actually says more about the people who are speaking out than it necessarily says about actually what has happened. And when saying that, not with any, uh, position ourselves to deny what has happened. We do know that, um, an independent inquiry has been started and of course we fully support that and also very welcoming the statements that have been made by a KYTAB, KRI, 3HO and Sikh Dharma International.

Survivors and group members are to be doubted in that less-than-real-place called the internet, while the group should be supported in investigating itself. Remember back the top, where he says that the “allegations” have been recurrent through 3HO history. Why would the organization investigate itself now?

That, uh, we are committed to uphold the code of ethics to continue training teachers to the highest standard possible. And our challenge is to take it all forward, as Yogi Bhajan said himself: be 10 times greater. So that commitment is ongoing and it’s a very important commitment as Satya said, because shadows are within all of us. Naive students are everywhere, tendency of projection on putting teachers on pedestals, all those kinds of things goes on and it’s not going to stop overnight just with these allegations.

Again: abuse testimonies are minimized to allegations, and then conflated with the naïveté of students. With abuse and the response to it conflated, the speaker determines that neither can be resolved.

So continuing to push forward with the code of ethics to uphold the highest standards as best we can and keep, keep passing that on to others. Please talk to your communities, talk to your national associations any opportunity to join conversation. Feel free to do so. We’ve been having a meeting with a lot of trainers and mentees this weekend and we’ve gone through a lot of what we might call frequently asked questions that, um, trainers or teachers might feel might be coming from their classes. And we’re putting that together and we’re discussing and sharing what is a honest and healthy response to some of these questions. And we’ll be sending that document out. It’ll be a public document in the next few weeks. Sat Nam. Thank you very much.

The speaker concludes with another dubious statement, conveyed through jargon designed to instil emotional allegiance. The mantra “sat nam” is typically translated as “Truth is my essence.”  

Reggie Ray Flips His Own Abuse Crisis Into His Own Ultimate Dharma Teaching

In October of last year, twelve long-time students at Dharma Village / Dharma Ocean (I’ll call them the “DO12”) published an open letter disclosing “longstanding patterns of emotional and spiritual abuse within Dharma Ocean, the Buddhist community led by Reggie Ray.”

The DO12 said they’d been inspired by two previous efforts: the 2017 letter published by eight former students of the late Sogyal Lakar, founder of Rigpa International, and the 2019 letter published by six former attendants to Mipham Mukpo, the now-exiled (but slated for reinstatement) leader of Shambhala International.

In contrast to the Rigpa and Shambhala dissidents, the DO12 do not accuse their former leader of criminal acts — with the possible exception of lying to the Crestone CO, non-profit that granted Dharma Ocean land for a retreat centre. Instead, Ray’s critics focus on a long list of fully legal but blatantly abusive tactics that form the classic modus operandi of cults. They cite psychological grooming, love bombing, the punishment of questions, public shaming, verbal abuse, triangulation, unrestrained charismatic leadership, gaslighting, and “a pervasive culture of fear and paranoia.”

Whereas the Rigpa and Shambhala letters flag assaults on group members, the DO12 articulated and impugned the general ways in which Buddhist cults assault the values they pretend to promote. 

Here’s the full letter:

An Open Letter on Abuse in Dharma Ocean

The day after the letter was released, the Dharma Ocean board responded by announcing Ray had recused himself from administrative and teaching responsibilities. The response acknowledged and thanked the DO12, but also rejected a number of their assertions — particularly the DO12 description of Ray and DO being impervious to feedback.

At the end of November, newly appointed board members announced that Dharma Ocean would be folding, and that Ray remained sequestered in contemplative retreat. Two letters from Ray himself in February (here and here) have confirmed the dissolution, in terms similar to those he deployed in the half-apology, half-justification video I’ll analyze below. Spoiler: Ray narrativizes the destruction of the group as poetic, intimate proof of the Buddhist theory of impermanence, a sign of successful spiritual transmission, and an appropriate ending for a worthwhile community.

It’s been a swift collapse, compared with other embattled Buddhist groups. By contrast, Shambhala hobbles onward from one quarter to the next, selling off assets and dialling up fundraising, and Rigpa moves forward in the same basic form, seemingly relieved to be decapitated. The collapse-speed makes sense, given Dharma Ocean’s small size and fatal reliance on a single charismatic leader with no clear inheritors.

From another point of view, it may be that DO12’s focus upon Ray as a controller of group dynamics — as opposed to the perpetrator of specific crimes — has dealt the decisive blow. They’ve indicted the core feature of the global convert Buddhist constellation: the grandiose, narcissistic teacher who cloaks his power in sermons on humility and empathy.

But the lack of detail also means that Ray has also been able to defend himself in very general, philosophical — even contemplative —  terms. In a video response to DO12 filmed from retreat in Hawaii, Ray makes no mention of the open letter. The title is: “Reggie on His Responsibilities and Failures as a Spiritual Teacher”. It follows the basic structure of a dharma teaching: Ray slowly, methodically — hypnotically — lays out his grand themes over 54 minutes. Ray points in the direction of apology, but the gesture is swallowed up in a kabuki of teaching mudras. There are scattered notes of accountability (no plans) but they are buried in chords of metaphysical droning.

What grand themes? Well, the title could have been: “I Practiced Buddhism So Hard I Just Couldn’t Help Hurting People. But It’s All Okay.”

 

 

The video was deleted soon after it was posted. I’m reposting it here, with the transcript below, because I believe it should be preserved as an remarkable encounter with several features of charismatic leadership and how it can not only survive the demand for transparency but fold the discourse of transparency back into teacherly branding.

Side note: my impression is that turning abuse into Buddhist teaching content is a fundamental Trungpa legacy. Consider this love-letter from credibly-accused-of-multiple-assaults Shambhala leader Mipham Mukpo — Trungpa’s son — announcing his return to teaching.

Also: Ray’s video also serves as a sophisticated example of what an apology is not.

Performance notes:

Ray opens with the declaration that he’s speaking from within a “deep, powerful, spiritual tradition.” In other words, he’s not speaking in the midst of an abuse crisis of his own making.

He goes on to frame the crisis as resulting from his own spiritual power. He claims that the power and force he derived from good understanding and practice attracted people to him. He was understandably burdened by the accumulating force of his own practice, he laments, and then victimized because he became too powerful. This all supports an effort to position himself as a newly-minted expert on “spiritual codependency.”

Throughout, Ray uses language that is on one hand abstract and distancing, yet also claims personal expertise: “So I’m not trying to make any cases here against myself particularly, but I am trying to put on the table what I’m seeing and then we’ll see where the chips fall.”

The distancing keywords also connect him with his master, Chogyam Trungpa. One keyword is “situation”, which Ray uses to both point to and deflect from the accusations made against him. The word implies a shared and equal status with his students and customers and recalls the disastrous post-“Vajra Regent” period in Shambhala history, which group members came to call “The Current Situation.”

At one point, he even cites the Vajra Regent’s (the late Thomas Rich) description of him in the 1970s as a “transparent snowflake”, using this to gesture at a natural innocence that was then corrupted by the aforementioned spiritual codependency. It’s an extremely odd moment: at best tone-deaf, at worst gaslighting. Is he really relying on a quip by Rich, a serial sexual abuser, to frame his own youthful innocence? Are we to believe this? Is this yet another example of the Trungpa legacy needing to assert that insanity and lucidity are proximal, and that insight and abuse are a matter of perspective?

Besides abstracting language, Ray also consistently employs boundary-blurring affects, most notable in an effortless slide between singular and plural first-person pronouns, and between speaking to a third-person audience, and using the power of second person address. “When you were in trouble,” he says at one point, gazing into his webcam like a father over a child’s bed, “I was able to show you a different way.” Granted: the video is made for his initiated devotees. But the ease with which he engages pronoun-merging is clearly well-practiced. How are devotees meant to distinguish their internal selves from his? Oh wait — isn’t that precisely the target of the Tantric paradigm?

Ray seems to take responsibility for his treatment of students at some points, describing himself as emotionally immature or “in denial and defensive”. He also shows a familiarity with counter-transference that might suggest he’s working on it. But then he also frames his actions through the lens of traumatic response. His cruelty or anger at his students, he explains, comes from being “triggered” or “activated”. By whom? Folks like DO12?

Ray indirectly refers to the DO12’s descriptions of emotional abuse as a lack of “consistency”: “You know, one day, I completely embodied the teachings [what a claim!] and the next day, you know, I’m irritated, I’m activated, whatever it may be. And you know, so on day one the students feel loved, received, accepted, and on day two they feel like I don’t like them.”

Ray might be describing what I’ve argued is a known feature of Trungpa’s heritage, and a common pattern in high-demand groups: the fostering of disorganized attachment, whereby trauma bonds are formed by group members who are continually confused about whether they are being cared for or abused.

But strangely, in the latter of his two recent letters, we see backtracking on this position relating to the ethics of “inconsistency”:

Complaining because your teacher is sometimes encouraging and other times quite cutting misses the point. Falling into an ill-temper because you cannot pin your teacher down, that your teacher can’t be pinned down—well, you can do that, but it is somewhat pointless. You came to me not to be your friend, in the ordinary sense, but to be your spiritual teacher. And it was on that basis and on that basis alone that I accepted you and agreed we could work together.

Also key in the video are flips between active and passive responsibility, to the point where all actors are equally victimized:

But when that kind of ambition replaces the relationship with the students who are helping you, that is really, really damaging and really it’s terrible, shameful. And that happened to me, has happened to me really throughout, you know, our time together.

The video culminates with a dream followed by an anecdote. Both are invested with divinatory meaning.

The night before recording the video, Rays says, he had a dream that Dharma Ocean members were flying on a beautiful plane together, but that it was going down. He’s careful to note that he is a passenger — not the pilot. He’s not in control, you see. He is puzzled that no safety announcements are made, except that they would be landing on the St. Lawrence River. When they skimmed onto the surface, no one was scared or injured. They came to a stop and found themselves, separate but together, in the bracing but somehow baptismal water.

Later in the video, the dream is summarized. The dream has digested and depersonalized the abuse accusations, and becomes Ray’s next or perhaps ultimate dharma teaching:

“So we’re all in this rushing stream,” he says,

which was life. We’ve been thrown out of the plane, the plane crashes, plane’s gone. Forget it. Let’s just walk away. We can’t walk away we’ve been thrown out and we’re all our own, but we all know how to swim and we’re actually doing fine. And we can move ahead with an a tremendous amount of trust, in ourselves and in what we know.

The anecdote that follows seems to be an attempt at clarity and tenderness, but it’s also terrifying. Ray describes having had to set kill traps for mice in his house — in contravention of Buddhist ethics. He watches a mouse take the bait. The trap springs, breaking its back.

The mouse, dying, gazes at him as if for help. He’s reminded of the students he has harmed.

You read that correctly: Ray literally casts the student as vermin he had no choice but to kill. He regrets it, so much.

Nonetheless, it’s all good, Ray asserts, in a conclusion that closes the door on DO12 with a mixture of self-erasure and self-divinization:

“I personally don’t think anything that’s happened is amiss,” Ray says.

This is how the teachings happen. And my mistakes, my blindness, it’s part of the world’s process. And me taking responsibility for it is also part of the world’s process. And you being freed from me, it’s part of the world’s process. It’s part of the lineage.

The video fades to light, as though Ray’s eccentricities have been forgiven, and his wisdom restored. But in his second letter to the Dharma Ocean list, Ray doubled back on his journey to responsibility in a pearl-clutching maneuvre worthy of the DARVO Olympics. He bemoaned “internet negativity” and western mindsets that cannot seem to understand meditation. He also seems to poke a veiled jab at the DO12, who he frames as attacking Buddhism, and not his behaviour:

“If even Vajrayana students of many years can turn so easily against the teachings and the training I am offering, and against me as their teacher, what then?” Ray asked.

To tell you the truth, my question is whether this lineage can even be taught in this cultural environment, given the widespread hostility to the teachings of non-ego? In our situation, my question is, must the authentic dharma now go silent, given the willingness of some unscrupulous people, not just to ignore these teachings, but to openly attack them and people like me who present them? And for many of us to be so vulnerable to those attacks?

What’s fascinating is that between Ray’s video contrition and his newsletter walk-back, Ray seems to demonstrate the same “emotional inconsistency” to which he is presumably confessing.

Alexandra Stein’s work shows how manufactured disorganized attachment in the high-demand group eventually will have every member both coming and going at the same time. It’s the unpredictability — “inconsistency”, to use Ray’s word — that puts the member in the position of the child who “experiences the unresolvable paradox of seeking to simultaneously flee from and approach the caregiver. This happens at a biological level, not thought out or conscious, but as evolved behavior to fear.”1)Stein, A. 2017. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge. 2017. 33

Maybe, now that Dharma Ocean is no more, there will be less to fear, and nothing run to — besides pixels circulating through an obsolete email list.

 

Transcription

(Lightly corrected)

Hello everybody. I am making this recording from where I’m in retreat in Hawaii and I’m looking out over the ocean and the sun is about to come up. So during, during this recording, I may have to adjust the light a little bit or pull down some shades.

When someone is harmed as we know, it’s really, it’s really a good thing if the person who has caused the harm, which in this case is me, can I acknowledge what’s happened? Okay. And that’s what I want to do in this recording. I want to talk about, at least from my point of view, what I see other ways in which I’ve harmed people in our sangha. And you might wonder, you know, what took me so long because the, the initial sort of public criticisms or sangha wide criticisms or Vajra-sangha criticisms began a year and a half ago in really great intensity. And you know, why did I take a year and a half to say anything? And of course I have said things and I’ve written letters and I think included things in talks, but truthfully, in terms of the big picture, as we always say in the teachings, you know, I had to, I had to think about things, I had to reflect on them and I had to make the criticisms my own.

I had to see really how things landed for me and how I felt. But anyway, here we are and I want to talk about a lot of things. And I think the best place to start is with this whole issue of what we might call spiritual codependency, which I think has been a big it’s kind of the underlying thing. And, and it’s, you know, everything that I’m saying, this is, you know, this is my perspective. This is my story. This is our situation. But of course it applies to other similar situations and when your teachers, or if you are teacher as it applies to you. But right now I’m just speaking for myself and how it’s been in my sangha.

So when you you know, when you’re part of a practicing tradition, you know, you know, deep, powerful spiritual tradition as we are, what happens is, and what happened with me is you develop a lot of power and you develop a lot of understanding. You’ve developed a lot of insight. Okay. And what happens is you you change as a person? Oh, when I was, at Naropa, I dunno if it was the first summer or second summer I participated in a talk and afterwards, you know, in a panel and afterwards the Regent was characterizing everybody’s energy and he said, I was a snowflake. Transparent, light, clear.

And over time through the practice you know, I became something other than a snowflake as you know — energetically — we’re not talking about anything more than that. So you practice and you know, you develop there’s a lot of power, a lot of force in the way you do things and people are attracted to that. You know, if your understanding is good and your practice is good, people are attracted. As I was to Rinpoche. And those people are, you know, to teachers and you want, you want to be part of it and you want to receive it. You want to bask in the energy, you want to receive the teachings. And it’s very beautiful. It’s wonderful.

And what happens is that in my case, you know, I brought you into a world. I showed you the world that I had been shown and that was you know, part of my experience and I made it part of your experience. And you know, when you were in trouble, I was able to show you a different way of looking at things so you maybe didn’t feel so bad about yourself and you you could see things in a larger way and have more faith and more trust. And then of course, the body work totally underscored that and totally helped you experience what I was talking about. So it began to become your own experience. So, so far so good. But what happened? What happens and what happened with me? If you as the teacher, don’t realize the amount of power that you have, you know, the amount of the potential force of your energy, which I have not realized, you can do a lot of damage. And if you as a teacher, and this is true of me, get hooked on interpreting other people’s experience, you can do a lot of damage. And that’s what happened with me.

So you know, the, the student is in a very vulnerable, very vulnerable position because they have come to you with open hearts with deep inspiration and people have come to me that way and okay, they want to be trained the way I was trained and they want to become like Trungpa Rinpoche, let’s put it that way. They want to become that person who embodies teachings fully and it’s very, it was very important for me, and in some ways I did it. In some ways I didn’t, and this is, you know, one of the big, I would say, failings on my side is my inconsistency. I think that’s been very, very hard for people, very inconsistent in the way I did things. You know, one day I completely embodied the teachings and the next day, you know, I’m irritated, I’m activated, whatever it may be.

And you know, so on day one the students feel loved, received, accepted, and on day two they feel like I don’t like them. Inconsistency, you know, in a, in a university teacher inconsistency, it’s like it’s a human thing and you, you have a strong container, you know, in the university system and classes and grades and everything. But in the spiritual world, you don’t have that and you as a spiritual teacher, you really, this is what I’ve learned. It was very harmful for me, how inconsistent I was emotionally um my state of mind in terms of I related to people and I think people were, I know people were harmed by this.

With Trungpa Rinpoche, he didn’t let me become too dependent. Yeah, I’ve told you this over and over. He, every time I came in and I tried to like just bask in his thing, he wouldn’t let me do it. I mean in the teaching’s fine, you know, when he was giving a talk, fine. But in the personal level, he, he never let me suck off him. He never let me depend on him. He never let me get him to interpret experience. He would affirm my experience, but he didn’t interpret it for me. And this has been a huge failing on my part that I consistently I was vulnerable to interpreting people’s experience when they came to me and said, well, what about this and what about that? And I was happy to, happy to do the thinking for them.

And I think that has helped people back. I think it’s very been very harmful for them. Now you can say why, why did you do that? I asked myself, you know, why did I do it? I think that I was very flattered that people were so turned on by my teaching. And that was a term Rinpoche used when I started teaching and say, well, you know, you can turn people on. He didn’t judge it. And I thought that was very interesting. He wasn’t saying it was good and it wasn’t saying it was bad. And I think it’s actually very neutral kind of quality. The question is what you as a teacher do with that. And in my case, I became flattered by it and I became dependent on people giving me positive feedback. And as we all know, it’s very, it feels good, you know, when someone comes to you and says, you know, thank you so much. That was so helpful. That’s very important, you know, that we have those kinds of exchanges. But I think for me, and I think, you know, for teachers, but for me, it’s almost like I became I became dependent on people coming and telling me that I’d saved their life. It kind of gave my life meaning, but not in the right way. It’s almost like it became kind of almost I don’t know what to say.

So in my case, solving myself esteem problems, by the relationship that I had with many of my students and you know, you as a teacher really can’t do that because once it becomes about you, then it’s not about them and the students realize it. And I think people, not everybody, and again, I’m not talking about the fact that I did this all the time, but even doing it inconsistently was very confusing for people and very harmful for many people. Another part of this dynamic for me is the I did not work on my core issues in the way that I should have. When you’re a teacher you know, let’s, let’s start at the beginning. So you’re a meditator. That’s fine. I was a meditator and it’s been really, honestly, that’s been the most that’s been my work my whole life.

Nothing else really. I did the academic thing just to kind of as a placeholder until I could do what I really wanted to. And of course, as you know, practice has been the basic reality of my work. That’s my work. And then I became a meditation instructor and that was okay. You know, I think, you know, qualified to do that. Yes, I could be a meditation instructor. But when you become a spiritual teacher, then that’s a whole different ballgame. And I did not realize it. I didn’t see it. And in my case, one of the things that happened is that I used being a spiritual teacher and the spiritual codependency I’m talking about as a substitute for working on core issues. And I somehow, you know, I, I’ve always known they were there and of course they can’t, they’ve come up in every relationship I’ve had, but I didn’t really address them at all. Until I met Caroline in my personal relationships. And even after I met Caroline, I didn’t address them with you.

So, you know, you need, there are three things you need in my, you know, three things that I have needed, in being a spiritual teacher, number one is the practice. Okay. Check number two is the understanding I’m going to have to put a cough drop, so I apologize. Okay. Check. But number three, and perhaps the most important thing is you need a certain level of emotional maturity, which I have not had. You need a certain level of relationship skills, which I have not had. And you need to be able to, when you’re with students, you need to be able to handle the situation in a way that is consistently beneficial to them. And I have not done that. And I think many people rightfully so, feel harmed.

So do you know, there are, I have an abrasive nature as you know, I have you know, my, my root klesha is anger and the enlightened aspect is a kind of wrathful cutting quality, but it has to be without ego. And in my case, it often has not been without ego. And that’s very, very harmful. No, we can debate about you know, which klesha is worse for a spiritual teacher and spiritual teachers or let’s say more damaging to the students. And you know, we’ve seen all kinds of damage done and we can go through the Buddha families. It’s interesting, you know, they’re teachers that represent all of them. Okay. But what Trungpa Rinpoche said, and I agree with this, I actually think anger is the most potentially damaging because it, it really, it causes a different kind of hurt than the other ones.

So it’s just my opinion. But I feel in my case you know, I’m not saying that the people have where anger is the real klesha. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be spiritual teachers. However, if that is the case, you have to work on it. You have to see it, you have to address it. You have to get feedback. You have to be very, very clear that this is one of your weak points. And I did not do many of those things. And I have been throughout my teaching career, I’ve I feel personally that I’ve had a lot of spiritual inflation. Spiritual inflation means that you confuse your self with the power of the teachings. You begin to think that because the teachings are so powerful that somehow that’s a comment on you, and if the teachings are pure and the teachings are affecting people in a good way, and the teachings are changing people’s lives, that’s about you.

And that you’re a good person and everything’s basically fine. That’s spiritual inflation. And what happens at that point is you actually lose your own journey. You know, my meditative journey has continued as you know, and my meditative teachings have continued to evolve. And if you’re a meditator or a meditation instructor, maybe you can get away with it. But when you become a spiritual teacher, you cannot, that’s not okay. And it’s damaging to the people around you. And in my case, I think because of that spiritual inflation, I didn’t take seriously my own failings. And because of my abrasive nature and my emotional, I’m just going to use the word year with my emotional immaturity and lack of development. I really didn’t see or understand the tender open, devoted souls [cries].

That come to me and I didn’t see the impact. Oh my unconstrained force in relating to them. It’s been too much about me and not enough about these people that I love. And this I think is another important thing for me to acknowledge. No, if I were just, you know, a terrible person, you know, if I were consistently abusive or consistently, you know, angry and hateful, I mean, it would be easy because nobody would have studied with me no matter what the teachings were. And I think what has been very painful for people and also very hurtful is it, I actually have two sides. And you know, as we know from internal family systems, which many of us have been studying lately, we actually have many different sides. But I have two, two main sides that had been I think especially hurtful to people when, when they’re both happening. One is I have a side that is incredibly tender and loving and wants the world for the people I love. And in even in my, Naropa days and certainly, you know, with all of us, when I met you, and I would say it’s true of everyone.

There has been you know, everyone that came, everyone that studied here, I have felt a tremendous almost almost a sense of the sacredness of your being. And I’ve felt huge amount of appreciation and love and wonder at you, and it’s very real and has been very much part of the whole situation. And often I told you so. And that, that’s tricky. It’s tricky because it sets up expectations and you know, I know Rinpoche felt that way about his students, but he didn’t really talk about it very much. You know, he kind of held, he held that, he expressed it, you know, in the way he related to us, but he didn’t talk about it. And I did. I think, I don’t think that was helpful. And the other thing that I’ve done now, we’re on this sort of loving side is I’ve made a lot of promises to people that I couldn’t keep, you know, if I had one student,

I could say to them, here’s my private email address. Call me any time I’m here. You know, I love you. You know, I appreciate you. You’re so amazing and it’s all genuine. And maybe you could even do that with 10 students, but you can’t do it the way I did it with the size of the sangha that we had. In other words, there was here. Really. You know, we come back to the emotional immaturity issue here. We have,just being clueless in terms of the impact of the things that I do and the things that I’ve said with you, just clueless, clueless, checked out.

And so, you know, maybe you walk away from that interview and think, you know, this is it, you know, I found my teacher, I found my teachings, this is what I want to do with my life. And but then there’s this other side of me,

That it’s triggered, gets activated, it can be harsh, can be critical, overly critical. And that’s very confusing and you don’t know what the hell you’re dealing with.

And I just think it’s, it just causes a tremendous amount of doubt, tremendous amount of confusion in some cases. You know, it really undermines you. I think people felt very undermined by that lack of consistency. And then, you know, all of a sudden you’re really in a crisis and you send me an email, I don’t respond ever. What does that feel like? It’s terrible. So I think, you know, my lack of we could call it emotional restraint on both sides being too positive and too negative. I mean, it’s fine to feel those things, you know, all of us feel those things. Maybe I sit down with a student and I think the student is the most wonderful person I ever met and I do feel that way actually. You’d be amazed how often I feel that way. For God sake. Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t do it. Don’t put out that kind of, you know, magnetizing because you can’t follow through and when you don’t follow through, it’s going to be really harmful and cause confusion. But that’s what I’ve done many, many, many too many times.

In terms of you know, some of you have come and you have worked, you have come in and you said, how can I help? And open-hearted, tender hearted, trusting and willing to jump in. And some of you have ended up being very close. You’ve been on the staff, you been my assistants, you’ve been, you’ve help programs and that’s wonderful. The problem has come in the way that I have responded to that. Of course initially, you know, it’s a, it’s been a deeper connection and a deeper sense of us working together and helping others. But here’s the thing about me, you know, being in my role as a spiritual teacher, the most important thing, and I say this in my teachings, the most important thing is that every situation with a student, it’s about them. It’s not about you. It’s not about the work. It’s not about the end product. It’s not about the goal, it’s about them. And far, far, far too often in my case, I have failed to remember that. And in fact, I feel, I have in many cases, particularly with people who have been staff in Dharma Ocean and particularly people who’ve been close staff. And I’m thinking of one person who was an executive director in the past or present, I don’t know what the term was, where I, I failed miserably. Miserable, horrifying, terrible. And this is probably in terms of my individual students, I think that’s, this is probably the one that haunts me the most because I turned into, I didn’t turn into, I already was ambitious, you know. Okay, fine. You’re ambitious for the teachings, you know, you want the center to be beautiful, you want the teachings to be spread, that’s good. But when that kind of ambition replaces the relationship with the students who are helping you, that is really, really damaging and really it’s terrible, shameful. And that happened to me, has happened to me really throughout, you know, our time together and staff people know, you know, you talk to staff and they’ll tell you, you know, they get a call from me in the middle of the night about something that I don’t like, a mistake that I think has been made.

And if you have come to you know, Dharma Ocean, out of love, and that’s what you get back, how is that going to make you feel? And what does that do to your, even your trust in the teachings. You know, forget about the teacher, but what about the teachings? Here’s the thing. This has to be admitted and acknowledged by me. Because I want you to feel that the person who was done this harm does have some understanding of what he did and how he harmed you, how he hurt your feelings and how he harmed you and how he undermined you and caused a lot of problems for you. You know, there’s not, there’s no way I can not do the past, but at least I can do this. This is the very least I can do. So

Another sort of area, you know, here’s the thing, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna cover every way in which I’ve hurt people, obviously, because we’re talking about if we go back to Dharma Village, we’re talking about 25 years. That’s a long time. And there are a lot of things I’m not talking about. They’re probably a lot of things I don’t know. In spite of all the feedback, you know, there are probably things I don’t know that you know, so that’s, that’s a given. But I’m just trying to touch base on the main things. Another very important area is sloppy, sloppy, ignorant speech patterns on my part. Terrible. Really unbelievable. Now, you know, I’m talking emotionally here, these are not judgements, but I’m telling you how I feel. I feel the way I’d use speech is, you know, has been very, not always, you know, obviously, you know, there are two sides to it. There are two sides to me but often there’s the sane side. And then the insane side or the neurotic side. But often the way I’ve used speech has been, it’s been sloppy and it’s been hurtful. And I’ll just give you some examples. For example sometimes when people have challenged me in the interviews

And maybe, you know, maybe the challenge wasn’t clean, doesn’t matter, maybe they were attacking me personally. It doesn’t matter what’s happened — or maybe it was clean. But what’s happened and is, you know, in my opinion really under forgivable is that I’ve gotten triggered, I’ve gotten activated and I have responded with harshness. I responded with defensiveness and if you’re going to be a spiritual teacher, you can’t do that. Okay. And then we have the,uthe public sphere where it’s even worse, where people have gotten up and sometimes people get up and say something really, you know, very, very critical, very demeaning of me or Dharma Ocean or the teachings. It doesn’t matter. You know, you as a spiritual teacher, you can’t get triggered. You cannot get triggered. And if you do, which is typically my response, I mean, this is an area where I’m pretty consistent. You know, when that kind of thing happens in public, I respond in public and then the person ends up feeling undermined and shamed. Of course they do. How could they not?

And then of course, our relationship is, you know, I mean, I can I can seek repair, which you know, that that is what I do. But that’s not good enough. Truthfully, you can’t do in the first place if you’re going to be a spiritual teacher. If you are going to be a spiritual teacher, you have to have some emotional maturity. Emotional steadiness is, you have to, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s one of those qualifications that is not, it’s not optional. And I, I have not had it. And as I said, you know, if you don’t have it and you work on it and it’s clear everybody knows you’re working on it and you get everybody to help you and working on it, then I think the whole situation can be okay. I think it can, it can move forward. But that was not, the case has not been the case with me. I’ve been, you know, largely in denial and defensive. And then we have in public, people get up and they say something completely innocent, you know, completely innocent and open and just, you know, questioning. But something in me, you know, it triggers something in me and same thing, defensive, undermining, reactive.

So I’m not trying to make any cases here against myself particularly, but I am trying to put on the table when I’m seeing and then we’ll see the chips fall and then, you know, on and on and on. I mean, we can talk about other, you know, speech patterns talking about students to other students. And I’m not talking about you know, talking within about their students and, you know, maybe something that student is going through that’s, that’s part of the job. I’m talking about gossiping me gossiping and you know, me promoting negativity. Now mind you, a lot of the things I’m talking about it’s not like that’s the main thing. Other things are the main thing, you know, more positive things. But the thing that the person in my position can’t, I mean, it doesn’t, I’m not going to say they can’t do it.

They can’t, you know, sort of fall off the wagon, so to speak, but they can’t if, if they behave in ways that go against right speech in the different ways that I’m talking about, it undermines everybody’s confidence in, in me. And in what I’m doing, what we’re doing together. And it harms the people who, who are on the receiving end of it. It really does. And you know, we do talk about how important repair and reconciliation is yes, it is important, but it doesn’t change what happened and it doesn’t change, you know, your realization that I’m like that, and then I do those things and that, you know, even if you’re just a witness, it undermines our relationship, your trust in me. And that’s it’s harmful. It’s harmful to the lineage and it’s harmful to the teachings.

So let me check. I have some notes here. This obviously wasn’t too carefully planned, but yeah, I guess I want to come back for I want to come back a little bit to the the spiritual codependency. And this, you know, interesting saying that in this kind of situation, the student, you know, the student becomes initially becomes dependent on the teacher. You know, which is happened. That’s how it works. You’re coming, you’re attracted. You want to be there and be part of it. And bathe in, you know, the student bears 50% of the responsibility and the teacher bears 100% of the responsibility. And I haven’t. What happens know when the teacher encourages spiritual codependency and the teacher doesn’t in the way that Trungpa Rinpoche did deliberately be, you know, be super aware of the tendency on both sides, you know, of the student’s tendency and that the teacher, you know, wanting to feed on it and solve their own self esteem problems.

When that awareness is not there, then you really hold the students back. And I do feel that that’s been a very particularly if you, as you have matured and practiced and come along. I have impeded the process of you making your own discoveries and of making, you know, admittedly for the student certainly true of me and everybody I knew working with Rinpoche, you know, we’re stumbling along, you know, trying to see, you know, what this means for us. We’re kind of fumbling along, crawling along in the darkness and that is the process. And you know, Rinpoche, amazing person. He, he saw it and he understood it and he knew that’s, that’s the best.

And I haven’t done that. I haven’t appreciated that. I haven’t, I just didn’t, hadn’t had the understanding, you know, I’ve been trying to get too much out of this in a personal way all the way along. And I think it’s held you back. I think it has it’s impeded your sense of discovering for yourself what these teachings are. Um you know, and even when you come in to see me, you sit down with me and you ask me a question, I’m too ready to give the answer. I’m too ready to be the person who knows what’s going on. You know, I’m too ready to take up all the space. And this is a , you know, it’s, it’s pretty horrifying for me to realize it. This is how it’s been. But this from my point of view, this is how it’s been. Those of you who have, kept away physically, you know, as I was saying in Tibet, you want to make sure that, there’s a mountain between you and your teacher, you’re in this Valley and your teachers in the other Valley and you need to keep it that way. I think that’s a plus. And, and also I think when you’re on the other side of the mountain, you do tend to be more self reliant and you do tend to, you know, to focus more on your practice because you have to, you don’t really have anything else. So that’s an interesting point.

Okay. So let’s see. Is there anything else I can come up with here that needs to be… I, I think, you know, I think this is probably enough. I mean, I could go on on, I were talking about 25 years of mistakes and 25 years of causing harm to students. I’m not saying all students, but many, many students, you know. So, you know, obviously I could keep going, but I did want to close by telling you the dream I had this morning before I woke up. I woke up at around five which I do in retreat. And I had I had the following dream: I was all of us were in a plane and it was a jet plane. It was a beautiful plane. And it wasn’t you know, it wasn’t a 747 . It was I dunno, maybe about the size of a 707, you know, there are a lot of people in the plane that was us in the plane this new shiny, beautiful, and then the plane was gonna crash. We’re notified the planes can crash right now and that, that is kind of what’s happened, I would say in the last you know three or four weeks, it’s, you know, the plane is going down. And so the plane, it goes down and it goes down. And then we see there’s a big river.

And for some reason it’s the Saint Lawrence river. I don’t know what that is. I never heard of it, but that was the name that was mentioned. And I looked out the window. And there were ripples in the water, but the water was pretty calm and I thought, Hmm, this might work. But they weren’t telling us anything and nobody was saying take the brace position, you know, I said, why aren’t these people telling us anything? And I was a passenger too by the way. I was not the pilot. So the plane is going down, I’m about two-thirds of the way back, you know, in the passenger section. Plane goes down and we, we hit the water and it’s actually pretty smooth landing and we’re going really fast. And so the plane is skimming along the water. And you know, frankly I thought it would slow down quicker than it did, but you know, it took a while to slow down and meantime, you know, you can see the banks, I need this side of the river. In a certain point the banks are like really close and I thought, Oh my God, you know, it’s going to rip off the wings. But somehow we got through it, but then at a certain point the plane is pretty slow, but then it flips over upside down and we’re all thrown out of the plane into the water. And the water is speeding along and we’re all in the water. And by the way, we’re all on our own, each one it was, I’m in the water, each one of you was in the water, the water is speeding along and it’s actually, it’s kind of wonderful, really. I mean, it was, it was beautiful and beautiful day speeding along and you know, the banks are rushing by and there was something, you know, slightly Mmm. It was kind of okay. It was fine. In fact, I looked around and I saw everybody’s fine and they were kind of just bobbing up and down the water. I waved and they waved. And then we were on dry land. Some of us were, I don’t know, you know, there was just as a small group of us that kind of got washed up in a certain place. And, h thought that was, it was a very, auspicious dream. I felt very much so. And, h

I think it was it was reflecting my feeling about giving this talk or my feeling and giving the talk. First of all, the Dharma Ocean that we knew is, is gone. I mean, I think we can all see that. And also I felt contemplating this talk that I felt like a sky diver, this jumping out of a plane and this a 10% chance the chute is going to open 10%, 90% chance the chute is not going to open. But here’s the thing it doesn’t matter because this had to be done and whether the chute opens to me up, doesn’t matter. The important point is that, you know what I see and you know what I understand and you know the tremendous sense of responsibility I feel for having heard so many people and not taking responsibility myself sooner. So that’s the most important thing. And then there was one other thing that came up.

And it’s the mouse. And some of you have heard me talk about the mouse. Caroline And I were sitting in the kitchen of the Crestone house and we were having mouse problems and end of the day we had to put out actually traps and kill mice because we couldn’t get rid of them any other way. And there was a trap under the sink. And we’re talking and all of a sudden a mouse scoots across and the trap and tries to take the cheese and the trap lands on his back, and the reason I’m mentioning this, and it actually came up for me when I thought about you and, mice usually don’t look at people. They just try to get away. But in this case, he looked at us, he turned around and looked at it the same. It was like, help me, help me. I’m so hurt. I’m so hurt, helped me. And his eyes were big and they look right at us. It looks like a small thing that wasn’t for either one of us. It’s not a small thing. And at the time we didn’t attribute any meaning to it.

But this is how I’m feeling about you. That’s something that I have done has really hurt you and I didn’t help you. I didn’t see it.

So talking about my mistakes wasn’t good enough. We have to look at the whole picture and have I been and what I haven’t done. What I have done and how it’s impacted you.

I personally don’t think anything that’s happened is amiss. This is how the teachings happen. And my mistakes, my blindness, it’s part of the world’s process. And me taking responsibility for it is also part of the world’s process. And you being freed from me, it’s part of the world’s process. It’s part of the lineage.

So we’re all in this rushing stream, which was life. We’ve been thrown out of the plane, the planes crash, planes gone. Forget it. Let’s just walk away. We can’t walk away we’ve been thrown out and we’re all our own, but we all know how to swim and we’re actually doing fine. And we can move ahead with a tremendous amount of trust, in ourselves and in what we know. And you know, the teacher that some of you may have thought you had is gone. The person is gone. The person who inspired you and loved you, and the person who hurt you, harmed you, made you feel bad about yourselves. Everything is washed away and it’s a new day. I don’t know what the future will bring.

So this is a bit of a postscript. I got a little bit rattled at the end of the recording you just listened to it because the leaf blowers started up outside. Oh. So I’m in a different room now. You can see and there were a couple of things actually I do want to say just as a sort of summary and just to be clear. Mmm. Well, obviously you know, many, many people are still devoted practitioners in this lineage. And there are many people who have not felt harmed. I just need to say that because I’ve gotten all kinds of emails obviously from everywhere. And even people I haven’t heard from in a long time. And they’re saying, you know, we’re here, we’re practicing and we love you. And, you know, we understand there’ve been a lot of problems, you know, and a lot of, things, you hadn’t seen you’re human, but it hasn’t gotten in our way.

So I want to acknowledge that obviously. And you know, for me, I do feel that I have not been qualified to be doing this job that I’ve been doing. And I was told at one point you’re actually not qualified, but there isn’t anybody else is gonna do what is needed now in Trungpa’s Rinpoche’s lineage. Actually Traleg Rinpoche told me that shortly after I moved across to Crestone said, you know, well, you didn’t get the training that we did, you know, in the Tibetan tradition. But you have to do it because you know, you were, you understand Trungpa Rinpoche’s vision and how important it is. You have to go ahead anyway. So I think there’s been sort of understanding all the way along and by some people that, you know, I’m, I’m very human and probably more human in the sense of having unresolved issues and you know, blind spots and everything. Then many people even in our sangha, but at the same time, of course, you know, it’s been a learning process for me really, I would say my whole life, you know, going back to my days with June Singer and when I was in my early twenties, the Jungian analysis I did for several years and, you know, dismantling the Western bias toward consciousness and activity and accomplishment, materialism is not a small thing. Dismantling the patriarchy in myself, which is, where people of the male gender are given advantages and opportunities that are denied to people of other genders. It’s not a small thing. Dismantling the misuse of power. It’s not a small thing. And this has been really the course of my whole life. And,I’m still working on it and I would say that the most of the hurt that has been felt, not all of it and most of it has been before I really sort of began to realize the lay of the land and, began to dig in deeper and deeper. So the work continues. Am I going to teach anymore? I don’t know. Am I going to lead programs? I don’t know. Am I going to be, continue my own practice? Definitely. Will I continue to be a meditation instructor. Definitely. Excuse me. And, we’ll go from there. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to see what people want. Trungpa Rinpoche once said to me through someone else, if the students need the teachings, you can’t really slam your door and lock it, but I don’t know what it’s gonna look like. And as far as Dharma Ocean, I also want to say that,

As I said, I feel, and you know this is just my view, but I feel the Dharma Ocean that we have known, I do feel it’s crashed. And as you normally put a lot of stock in dreams, and I think the dream was pretty straightforward. It’s gone, at the same time. What will arise out of the of the collapse? We don’t know. And I think we have to be open to it. And also it’s my dream said we’re okay. Everybody’s okay, there may have been some people trapped in the plane or not. Okay. I don’t know. But, a lot of people are okay and we’re going to be okay. So I just wanted to provide that you know I, I don’t want the whole thing to be negative and kind of, we’re all going down. We’re all falling off a cliff into the abyss. It’s not like that. But I do think that what has needed to be destroyed has been destroyed. And now what needs, and now we need to care for whatever it needs our care. And that’s, you know, that’s the sadhana from the Mahamudra. Okay. So wishing everybody well from sometimes peaceful, sometimes a noisy and chaotic Hawaii, like our lives. And, I look forward to the unfolding situation and I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen.

References

1 Stein, A. 2017. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge. 2017. 33

Comment une publication #MeToo sur Facebook a renversé une icône du yoga

 

Une ex-disciple du swami Vishnudevananda révèle une décennie de mauvais traitements, faisant éclater une crise encore en développement au sein de yoga Sivananda.

 

Matthew Remski

 

Publié pour la première fois sur GEN par Medium.com, le 27 janvier 2020

Traduit par Nahida Alam

Si vous souhaitez soutenir le coût de cette traduction – et éventuellement des traductions dans d’autres langues – veuillez envisager de faire un petit don ici.

 

La photo ci-dessus est une gracieuseté de Julie Salter. Elle montre Salter dans les années 1980, lorsqu’elle travaillait comme assistante personnelle de Kuttan Nair, également connu sous le nom de Swami Vishnudevananda.

 

_______

 

Tôt le 10 décembre 2019, dans son sombre et modeste appartement de briques rouges, Julie Salter, 63 ans, s’est assise à un bureau spartiate devant un écran bleu rayonnant. La boîte de dialogue affichait neuf paragraphes qui ont mijoté plus de deux décennies depuis qu’elle a quitté sa position au sein des centres de yoga Sivananda – un réseau global d’ashrams et de centres de yoga autrefois enraciné dans l’évangélisme yoga hippie, mais maintenant célèbre pour le tourisme du yoga et la formation professionnelle. À 5 h 15 du matin, elle a cliqué « publier » sur un témoignage d’abus sexuel et psychologique commis par le fondateur du groupe reconnu comme un saint.

« Avec toutes les éloges sur la biographie autour de Swami Vishnudevananda et de son héritage », écrit-elle, « avec tous les vœux nostalgiques, les croyances, les projections, et en pensant au “bon” qui a été fait, faisons aussi face, au moins, un peu aux faits restés dans l’ombre… ».  Salter affirme que ces 11 années manque de sommeil et de surmenage pendant lesquelles elle a été l’assistante personnelle de Vishnudevananda, jusqu’à sa mort en 1993, et l’ont rendue malade et dépendante. Elle a dévoilé que le guru prétendument célibataire avait «abusée » sexuellement d’elle pendant trois de ces années – et cette honte, ce secret, cette peur et son sens du devoir lorsqu’il est devenu gravement malade l’ont gardée à son service jusqu’à ce qu’elle « soit trop brisée pour même savoir comment partir ».

Alors que la publication de Salter est devenue virale dans les heures qui ont suivi, elle a joint la plus grande vague de l’activisme #MeToo dans le monde du yoga qui a éclaté à l’automne de 2017, lorsque Karen Rain a dévoilé que le défunt fondateur du yoga Ashtanga, Pattabhi Jois, l’a souvent agressée sous le prétexte de faire des « ajustements ». (Rain a raconté son expérience pour Medium l’année suivante, et 16 femmes ont maintenant témoigné à titre de survivantes de Jois). En 2019, Manouso Manos, un enseignant chevronné dans le monde américain de Iyengar, a été sanctionné par l’organisation professionnelle de sa communauté après qu’une enquête ait prouvé qu’il avait agressé sexuellement des étudiantes pendant des décennies. Un mandat d’arrêt pour le pionnier du « hot yoga », Bikram Choudhury, a été lancé il y a plus de deux ans pour ne pas avoir payé un montant 7 millions suite à un jugement contre lui pour harcèlement sexuel et congédiement injustifié de sa directrice d’entreprise.

Les amis et collègues de Salter de partout dans le monde ont rejoint plusieurs discussions Facebook pour rappeler son service infatigable et non rémunéré au sein des centres de yoga Sivananda, et exprimer à la fois leur peine face à son histoire et leur soulagement qu’elle ait finalement été capable de la raconter. Puis, d’autres femmes ont publié des témoignages à propos de Vishnudevananda.

Lucille Campbell, 65 ans, a commenté la discussion en écrivant qu’elle avec eu des « relations sexuelles » avec Vishnudevananda dans les années 1970, et qu’elle connaissait plusieurs autres femmes à qui s’est également arrivé.

Pamela Kyssa, 62 ans, a écrit dans la discussion que le guru l’a violée en 1979 dans une retraite au château de Windsor, en banlieue de Londres. Elle était allongée sur le plancher de la chambre de Vishnudevananda après qu’ils aient pratiqué des positions de yoga ensemble, puis il s’est « placé au-dessus de moi de façon inattendue, a baissé mon pantalons de yoga, » a-t-elle écrit. « Cette sensation d’être hors de votre corps, lorsque vous êtes ramené à la réalité par le son du réveille-matin… c’est ce que j’ai ressenti… hors de mon corps, le réintégrant avec lui au-dessus de moi ».

 

 

Né Kuttan Nair dans l’Inde rurale en 1927, Vishnudevananda a été un catalyseur du boom mondial du yoga dans les années 1960s, propulsé par des célébrités. Il a rencontré les Beatles avant qu’ils ne rencontrent le Maharishi. Il a donné des conseils de respiration yogique à Mohammed Ali avant l’un de ses combats contre Frazier. Il a écrit un manuel de yoga best-seller et a parcouru l’Europe et les Amériques, accumulant les disciples et les dons pour la douzaine (et plus) de centres de retraite et de méditation qui ont été établis sur son parcours — de Montréal à Madrid, de Munich à Montevideo. En 1971, il a été surnommé « Le swami volant » après avoir piloté un Piper Apache peint avec des couleurs psychédéliques de Boston à l’Irlande, dans une quête pour résoudre les troubles d’Irlande du Nord. Son plan était de « bombarder » l’hôtel de ville de Belfast avec des pamphlets. Il a cueilli Peter Sellers à Dublin pour l’étape finale. Puis, il a volé pour répandre des pétales de fleurs au-dessus de la ligne de front de la troisième guerre indo-pakistanaise. En 1983, il a volé avec un ultra-léger au-dessus du mur de Berlin. Il a voyagé avec un « Passeport de la planète Terre », fait par lui-même : date de naissance : « immortel », yeux : « intuitifs ».

Altruistes ou non, les coups de publicité de Nair et ses occasions de photos auraient pu être considérés comme grossiers si ce n’était sa célébrité. Retournons en 1949, dans l’ancienne oasis de Rishikesh où Nair a été initié à titre de moine et obtenu son nom religieux du swami Sivananda, un héros charismatique du mouvement moderne du yoga indien. Nair est rapidement devenu le directeur de toutes les classes de postures de yoga de Sivananda et, en 1957, il s’est aventuré vers l’ouest, armé de sa propre version mémorisable des enseignements de son maître : « La santé est la richesse, la paix d’esprit est le bonheur, le yoga montre le chemin ! ».

Le message de bien-être de Nair a attiré des enthousiastes vers quelque chose qui semblait plus holistique et traditionnel que la gymnastique spirituelle qui fusionnera éventuellement avec l’aérobic et la culture de la gymnastique pour dominer le marché du yoga. Il a résumé les énoncés religieux de Sivananda en « Cinq points du yoga » : un ensemble complet d’exercices « appropriés », de respiration, de relaxation, de régime alimentaire (strictement végétarien) et de pensée positive. Nair a aussi renforcé son authenticité en imposant de vieilles règles monastiques dans ses nouveaux centres cosmopolites. Tous les résidents devaient suivre un horaire strict de dévotion et de « karma-yoga », une forme de travail non rémunéré devant mener à un état d’altruisme.

Nair semblait particulièrement fidèle à la célèbre obsession de Sivananda pour la vertu spirituelle de rejet du sexe. « Le célibat complet », insistait son guru dans un livre dédié sur le sujet en 1934, « est la clé maîtresse pour accéder aux royaumes de la béatitude élyséenne ». De la même façon, les débutants dans les ashrams de Nair devaient s’engager à l’abstinence. Ceux qui sont restés ont fait ce sacrifice pour la vie, scellé par une initiation rituelle et un nom spirituel. Nair est même allé jusqu’à purifier l’histoire du yoga, censurant sa traduction d’un célèbre texte médiéval sur le yoga afin que ses pratiques sexuelles ésotériques demeurent secrètes.

Les cercles autour de Salter, Kyssa, et Campbell ont évolué depuis leur époque des lignes de téléphone fixes et du courrier postal. Maintenant, en témoignant sur Facebook, elles sont visibles ensembles instantanément. Elles sont soudainement reconnectées par un média dans la désillusion d’une nouvelle génération.

En quelques heures seulement, leurs publications ont attiré deux autres témoignages de femmes dans leurs trentaines, accusant l’un des étudiants avancés de Nair de harcèlement sexuel et d’agression. Thamatam Reddy, 53 ans, connu dans les centres de yoga Sivananda comme « Prahlad ». Il voyage à travers le monde et dirige la formation des enseignants de l’organisation, qui coûte environ 3 000 $ par personne. En racontant leurs expériences durant des interviews, les deux femmes décrivent Reddy les harcelant pendant qu’elles travaillaient gratuitement dans les ashrams Sivananda.

Un courriel envoyé par Communications Avenue, une firme de relations publiques de Montréal représentant le conseil d’administration de Sivananda (constitué de dévots de Nair, incluant Reddy) a reconnu avoir reçu des témoignages en 2011 et 2017, similaires à ceux publiés à propos de Reddy.

« Nous désirons préciser que nous avons des politiques et des procédures bien établies pour traiter les allégations de mauvaise conduite », dit le courriel, donnant le lien vers une page de politique. Alors que le conseil d’administration de Sivananda a dit dans un nouveau courriel qu’il a commencé à créer un politique d’anti-harcèlement dans les années 2000, une recherche dans les archives Web semble démontrer que le texte relié à la mauvaise conduite sexuelle ne fut publié qu’en 2019.

« En ce qui a trait aux allégations faites par Julie Salter sur Facebook », dit le communiqué, « nous espérons être en mesure de nommer sous peu un enquêteur indépendant ».

Six semaines après la publication de Salter, le conseil d’administration a annoncé avoir engagé l’avocate montréalaise Marianna Plamondon pour « enquêter sur les allégations faites par Julie Salter et deux autres plaignantes ». Contactée par téléphone à Montréal, Plamondon a confirmé avoir reçu des questions par courriel à propos de l’étendue de l’enquête, à savoir si ses conclusions seraient rendues publiques, et pourquoi les membres de Sivananda avec des plaintes contre l’organisation voudraient parler avec une avocate engagée par l’organisation. Plamondon a refusé de répondre durant l’appel. Dans un courriel de suivi, elle a écrit « Je ne ferai aucun commentaire à une tierce partie que ce soit sur le mandat que j’ai reçu ou sur le progrès de l’enquête ». L’enquête, écrit-elle, est limitée aux « allégations qui ont été faites par trois plaignantes à propos de swami Vishnudevananda ».

Le conseil d’administration n’a pas contacté Salter, ni Kyssa, ni Campbell à propos de l’enquête proposée. La dernière fois que Salter fut contactée fut en 2007, lorsqu’elle a reçu une lettre la menaçant d’une poursuite en diffamation.

 

 

Lucille Campbell a rejoint la communauté en 1971, à l’âge de 17 ans, trois ans après la mort de son père, durant une période où elle se sentait « toute seule dans sa vie », comme elle l’a déclaré dans une entretien. En 1974, elle était devenue la directrice du centre Sivananda de Vancouver. Cet été-là, le centre a organisé une retraite dans la campagne. Un jour, dit Campbell, elle a ouvert la porte du chalet de Nair et l’a vu en train d’avoir une relation sexuelle avec une personne membre du personnel.

« J’ai fermé la porte », dit-elle. « J’étais totalement figée. J’avais 21 ans. J’étais encore très jeune. Puis, durant la méditation il m’a dit combien j’étais douée et tout. Je me suis figée, je n’ai jamais parlé de cela à personne ».

Peu après, Campbell a prononcé le vœu de renonciation et de célibat pour devenir un swami. Elle méditait et pratiquait le yoga deux fois par jour, faisant des exercices de respirations profondes, et travaillait gratuitement.

« Ma méditation était très centrée sur Swamiji parce qu’il est le guru et que les écritures disent que le guru est Dieu. Mais j’ai alors eu une étrange expérience de lumière que je ne comprenais pas. Et Swamiji a réalisé que je l’avais eue aussi, parce qu’après la classe il m’a dit que j’étais une étudiante avancée ». Campbell a dit que le compliment l’a encouragée à attribuer la lumière brillante à Nair. « J’ai pensé qu’elle avait été transférée depuis le guru ».

« Alors, j’ai naïvement été lui donner un massage. Je n’ai jamais été forcée, mais tout à coup, c’est devenu du sexe oral. Le fait qu’il n’ait pas éjaculé m’a déroutée. J’ai pensé qu’il ne le faisait que pour faire monter sa kundalini (un terme de yoga désignant une forme d’énergie spirituelle mystique). C’était peut-être un type de yoga tantrique ou quelque chose ».

Rien de cela ne fut discuté ouvertement, dit Campbell, mais ses lectures de l’époque l’avaient exposée à une vieille idée d’alchimie : que le yogi mâle qui était impliqué dans une activité sexuelle, mais « demeurait abstinent » pouvait d’une certaine façon sublimer la puissance de reproduction en une extase spirituelle, menant à sa « renaissance ».

La deuxième fois que Nair lui a demandé des faveurs sexuelles, la réponse de Campbell portait l’écho de ses méditations antérieures. Elle a quitté la chambre enveloppée d’une grande aura. « J’avais l’impression de marcher dans la lumière ».

Puis, Nair a demandé du sexe pour une troisième fois. Campbell savait que c’était mal et elle a refusé. En 1975, dit Campbell, trois femmes l’ont approché pour mentionner des incidents sexuels avec Nair. Deux des femmes, dit-elle, avaient prononcé des vœux de célibat. Elle dit qu’une de ces deux femmes a décrit son implication dans des activités sexuelles de groupe avec Nair, disant que c’était « amusant ». La troisième femme était alors mariée et elle a quitté l’organisation immédiatement après que le guru lui ait fait des avances. Campbell se rappelle le nom spirituel des deux femmes, mais ne voulait pas dévoiler leurs noms ou identités pour respecter leur vie privée.

« Il y a un point où il y a un dégoût extrême, » dit Campbell, « cela m’a pris un certain temps avant de partir, mais je suis partie ».

Campbell enseigne toujours le yoga à Montréal, mais est allergique à la mystification qui a donné à Nair autant de pouvoir. « Les hormones et les neurotransmetteurs », dit-elle, lorsqu’on lui a demandé comment elle comprenait maintenant l’aura et la lumière qu’elle a ressentie en sa présence. « On ne comprend pas tous les effets des émotions sur le cerveau ».

Avec des histoires comme celles de Salter et de Campbell dissimulées dans l’ombre, l’organisation de Nair a projeté pendant des décennies l’image d’une marque fantastique par son réseau de centres de méditation et d’ashrams qui offrent des vacances de yoga. À la Yoga Farm de Grass Valley, Californie, les visiteurs peuvent marcher dans le « Labyrinthe du miracle de la paix » ou passer la journée au spa, badigeonnés d’huile pour un massage ayurvédique. Le complexe des Bahamas sur l’île Paradise est un centre pour les vedettes en tournée et les ashrams d’Inde produisent cohorte après cohorte de diplômés avec le très lucratif cours de formation des professeurs de yoga (plus de 45 000 diplômés depuis 1969). Le portrait béatique de Nair, souvent plus large que nature, a toujours dominé l’espace des temples partout dans le monde, et les brochures distribuées au personnel, aux invités et aux étudiants citent des prières invoquant son nom.

Mais cela n’a pas toujours été facile pour l’image publique de Nair. Dès le début de sa mission, des fissures ont commencé à être publiquement visibles dans la sainteté, le collectivisme et la renonciation aux plaisirs matériels. En 1971, des adeptes ont emmené Nair en justice contestant ses plans d’hypothéquer le centre de l’organisation au cœur de Manhattan pour payer des améliorations à son avion privé. Une lettre mise en preuve dans le cas de la Cour suprême de New York montre que ses adeptes l’ont accusé d’abus sexuel sur une étudiante nommée Irene. La cour a rejeté la plainte.

« Cette sensation d’être hors de votre corps, lorsque vous êtes ramené à la réalité par le son du réveille-matin… c’est ce que j’ai ressenti… hors de mon corps, le réintégrant avec lui au-dessus de moi. »

En 1974, la journaliste canadienne Marci McDonald a visité le quartier général de Nair dans les Laurentides pour rédiger un profil. Son titre cinglant faisait écho à la phrase célèbre de F. Scott Fitzgerald à propos des riches — « Swami Vishnudevananda Is Not Like You and Me » (« Swami Vishnudevananda n’est pas comme vous et moi ») — et son texte a détaillé une scène d’hypocrisie spirituelle et d’obéissance psychologique. On voit Nair essayant de grandiosement montrer une posture d’équilibre précaire sur un bras, pour simplement tomber, n’étant évidemment pas en assez bonne condition physique. Nous admirons les voitures de luxe à sa disposition, nous l’entendons déclarer qu’il est trop éclairé pour être attaché aux richesses et nous rencontrons Gopi et Shyamala, deux jeunes assistantes, méfiantes et épuisées, accourant pour essuyer le lait renversé de son gobelet.

McDonald termine son article avec une scène de sa dernière soirée à l’ashram. Sur le chemin de retour vers le dortoir, elle rencontre une femme, trébuchant, pieds-nus  sous la pluie. Dans ses pleurs, elle a crié « Swamiji, comment avez-vous pu ? » McDonald réalise qu’il s’agit de Gopi. « Découverte, elle devient soudainement silencieuse, je prends ma couverture pour la protéger. », dit McDonald, « Elle reste là, blottie sous un arbre, seule sous la pluie ».

Jointe par téléphone le mois dernier, McDonald s’est rappelée ce moment effrayant. « Tout dans mon esprit suggérait un abus sexuel », dit-elle. En se rappelant Gopi, qui est morte depuis, elle nota, « j’ai tout fait sauf dire à voix haute que je suspectais qu’il avait abusé de cette jeune femme ».

Mais ce n’était pas l’époque du #MeToo. « Je n’étais pas surprise que Gopi ne se confie pas à nous », dit McDonald, « J’aurais même été surprise si elle avait dit “Oh, il m’a fait une chose terrible. Nous devons aller à la police.” J’y serais allée, mais cela aurait été exceptionnel à cette époque si c’était arrivé ».

« Je suppose que ma façon de me lever contre l’injustice était d’énoncer ce que j’avais vu et de laisser les gens se faire leur propre idée ».

Julie Salter est arrivée aux quartiers généraux de Val-Morin, au Québec, pour la première fois en 1978, un an après avoir joint sa communauté à Tel-Aviv et quatre ans après la publication de l’article de McDonald. Elle est arrivée durant une sorte de grande époque, avec l’ashram plein de swamis et de programmes. Mais en 1982, Salter dit que le personnel avait été grandement réduit, poussé à l’épuisement, et certains adeptes semblaient aux prises avec des problèmes mentaux. Nair lui-même semblait négligé et sujet à des épisodes de dépression. Un végétarien toute sa vie, avec peu de gens autour de lui pour préparer la nourriture du sud de l’Inde qu’il aime tant, il était souvent réduit à manger des sandwiches au fromage, du riz au lait et des boîtes de pois pour survivre. Il était atteint de diabète et souffrait beaucoup. Salter ressentit un grand instinct maternel envers lui.

Cette année-là, Nair lui a demandé d’être sa secrétaire personnelle. Il l’a installée dans sa petite maison avec un ordinateur pour dicter des lettres pour ses lieutenants à travers le monde et un livre, qu’il ne publiera jamais. Les heures étaient interminables. Salter dit que Nair n’avait « absolument aucun biorythme ». Il restait debout toute la nuit, demandant du thé ou de la soupe, faisant une sieste d’une heure ou deux, puis se levait à nouveau pour passer un appel international. Ajoutés à cela, Salter voyageait fréquemment à l’étranger à ses côtés pour prendre des notes.

En 1983, Nair a commencé à demander à Salter de le masser et, à un moment donné, il lui a demandé de s’étendre à ses côtés sur le plancher après le massage. « Mais je ne comprends pas, Swamiji. », lui a-t-elle dit. « Yoga tantrique », a-t-il répondu.

« La ligne était franchie », a écrit Salter en 2005, dans des notes personnelles revues par GEN. La ligne demeura franchie pendant trois ans. « L’absence de limites… non-fondement… obéissance comme je l’avais entendu enseigner dans cette tradition “spirituelle”… les limbes qui pourraient être les miennes si je rompais avec le professeur… J’avais entendu les enseignements disant que de désobéir ou rompre avec le guru était l’équivalent d’un suicide spirituel ».

Salter a vu son rôle d’assistante de Nair s’étendre malgré le fait d’être dégoûtée, descendant en spirale vers la honte et la culpabilité. Elle a décrit « des rôles profondément confus — comme étudiante, comme secrétaire, souvent comme mère, certains diraient fille, et “partenaire” sexuelle — bien que “partenaire” ne représentait pas vraiment ce qui se passait ».

Son sommeil était réduit à quelques heures par nuit. Elle survivait avec du jus de fruit et des biscuits lorsqu’elle travaillait ou qu’elle était au téléphone. Elle a développé des problèmes digestifs et d’autres problèmes. Une fois, Nair lui a crié dessus pendant des heures après qu’elle eu mentionné qu’elle était fatiguée. Une autre fois, dit-elle, Nair l’a giflé après l’avoir faussement accusée d’avoir une relation avec un autre employé. L’agression a laissé des marques. Elle se rappelle avoir dit à une collègue que les marques étaient dues à un accident.

« À plusieurs occasions, j’ai songé à partir, mais je ne l’ai pas fait », écrit Salter. « Mon niveau d’épuisement était très élevé pendant plusieurs années, avec de longues heures de travail et de l’insomnie, combinées au le poids du secret ». Un jour, elle a dit par téléphone, « Je sentais la peur émanant très fortement de moi ». À une autre occasion, elle dit « J’ai entendu mon cerveau “se briser” ».

Au fur et à mesure que la condition de Salter empirait, la dépendance de Nair envers elle augmentait. Elle s’affairait pour garder son insuline sous contrôle, pour lui administrer sa dialyse lorsqu’ils voyageaient entre l’Inde et le Québec, pour traduire ses discours brouillons après qu’il ait eu un accident vasculaire, pour le traiter après qu’un accident de voiture lui ait perforé un poumon et brisé le cou.

« Je me rappelle qu’il disait constamment “Mon cou me fait mal, ne me quitte pas. Mon cou me fait mal, ne me quitte pas. Mon cou me fait mal, ne me quitte pas”. Comme un petit enfant dit à sa mère ».

Le premier événement des centres de yoga Sivananda auquel a participé Pamela Kyssa fut une fin de semaine de jeûne, dans sa ville natale de Londres, en 1979. Elle avait 20 ans à l’époque. Elle a décrit avoir été « bombardée d’amour » par des membres du groupe — un terme utilisé dans les études de sectes pour la tactique de recrutement consistant à couvrir les nouveaux venus d’attention et d’affection pour créer des sentiments d’endettement et d’attachement instantanés. En moins de quelques semaines, Kyssa avait abandonné ses nuits dans les clubs pour déménager dans le centre de l’organisation situé à Londres.   Nair est venu en ville pour donner leurs mantras aux nouveaux venus — une prière personnelle à être récitée constamment, pour purifier l’esprit de toute autre pensée. Il lui a aussi donné le nom de « Padma », ce qui signifie lotus. Kyssa a abandonné tous ses vêtements à la mode de Kensington Market pour adopter la tenue jaune d’une novice.

Lors d’une retraite de groupe au château de Windsor, Nair l’a appelée pour lui demander de le masser, ce qu’elle a fait pendant deux heures, après quoi ils ont fait des postures de yoga ensemble, terminant dans une posture de relaxation.

Lorsqu’elle a réalisé que Nair était au-dessus d’elle et commençait à la pénétrer, Kyssa se rappelle avoir dit « Swamiji, je ne veux pas être enceinte ! »

« C’était au lieu de dire “Lâchez-moi” », a dit Kyssa dans une entretien. « Ce qui m’a déconcertée fut que ce viol ne fut pas violent – pas comme m’épingler sur le sol, me frapper ou quelque chose du genre puis déchirer mes pantalons pour s’imposer en moi ou quelque chose du genre. Je suis un peu gênée d’avoir 62 ans et de réaliser maintenant que c’était un viol ».

En 1981, Kyssa travaillait au Sivananda Yoga Ranch dans l’état de New York. Un membre du personnel supérieur l’a convoquée pour qu’elle lave Nair, disant qu’il était malade et avait besoin d’aide. Alors qu’elle séchait ses pieds après le bain, dit-elle, il a tiré sa tête vers son pénis. Elle a tiré sa tête pour se libérer de son emprise. « Je l’ai regardé intensément avec rage », dit-elle par téléphone. « Je suis sortie. Je réalise maintenant que c’était un acte de pouvoir. Qu’est-ce qu’il pouvait bien vouloir ? »

L’année avant la mort de Nair, Kyssa est allée à Val-Morin pour le Nouvel An, déterminée à parler au guru. Elle se rappelle que Salter était debout aux côtés du guru pour traduire ses paroles (Salter ne se rappelle pas de la rencontre). Kyssa fut frappée par la condition de Salter. Elle semblait être « une petite rate épuisée et noyée, que Dieu bénisse son cœur », dit Kyssa.

Kyssa a demandé à être seule avec le guru et se souvient que Nair a chassé Salter d’un geste de la main. La première impulsion de Kyssa à le voir aussi diminué fut de s’excuser pour avoir entretenu de la haine à son égard pendant tant d’années. Mais elle l’a également confronté.

« Cela fut très difficile pour moi de vivre avec ce qui est arrivé et je n’avais personne à qui parler. Ce ne fut pas correct que vos ayez agi sexuellement avec moi ».

« Il m’a interrompu et a dit “Je ne me souviens pas ! Je ne me souviens pas !” Il a continué de le dire avec assez de force ».

Rapiécer son histoire après toutes ces années est une bataille, mais Kyssa croit que c’est essentiel. « Je suis totalement pour la cohérence et le fait d’avoir de l’incohérence en moi est un immense compromis », dit-elle.

« C’est vraiment important de se maintenir dans la vérité. C’est la seule façon dont vous allez guérir ».

 

Lorsqu’on lui demande par téléphone si Nair l’a déjà remerciée pour ses années de service, Salter marque une longue pause.

« La seule chose dont je me souvienne », dit-elle en douceur, « c’est quand, à la fin de sa vie, il a dit : “Parce que tu as pris si bien soin de moi, tu seras prise en charge.” »

En 2004, Salter a commencé à communiquer avec ses anciens collègues du conseil d’administration. Elle en avait de grosses difficultés financières et une santé fragile, et a tenté de demander une forme de pension ou une compensation de l’organisation.

La personne-ressource au sein du conseil pour cette correspondance fut Mark Ashley, 57 ans, connu dans l’organisation comme Srinivasan, et directeur du Yoga Ranch. Sur plusieurs échanges, Ashley a aidé à arranger une rencontre entre Salter et des membres du conseil et a exprimé l’espoir que les « malentendus » puissent être réglés. Cela ne s’est pas produit.

Salter a retenu les services d’une société d’avocats de Toronto pour défendre ses intérêts. En juillet 2007, Danny Kastner, un stagiaire de la firme, a écrit une lettre au conseil d’administration de Sivananda en son nom. Kastner a grandi dans la communauté, participant à un camp d’été pour enfants à Val-Morin au début des années 1990.

Kastner se rappelle la lettre détaillant les 22 années de travail non rémunéré de Salter et aussi mentionné que le swami Vishnu l’avait fréquemment agressée sexuellement et qu’un certain nombre de membres du personnel supérieurs le savaient.

Un brouillon de la lettre obtenu par GEN disait aussi qu’après avoir quitté l’organisation Sivananda en 1999, sans l’approbation du conseil, Salter fut diagnostiquée d’épuisement, de palpitations cardiaques, d’insomnie et de dépression. Et elle rappelait que deux ans auparavant des négociations avaient mené à une offre brute de 300 $ par mois pour Salter, jusqu’à l’âge de 65 ans. La lettre proposait un montant forfaitaire de 600 000 $, pour éviter une poursuite publique.

« Il m’a interrompu et a dit “Je ne me souviens pas ! Je ne me souviens pas !” Il a continué de le dire avec assez de force. »

Par téléphone, Kastner a expliqué que le montant forfaitaire proposé fut calculé pour fournir à Salter une maison et des fonds pour le son maintien. « Je m’attendais pleinement », a dit Kastner, « que l’explication de la détérioration de la santé de Julie, après avoir rappelé ses sacrifices pour l’organisation — qui fut bien au-delà des sacrifices attendus des adeptes — j’étais certain qu’ils viendraient aux discussions dans un esprit de compassion selon les principes enseignés par l’organisation ».

Mais le 27 août 2007, Salter a reçu une lettre de la part du conseil d’administration du bureau montréalais de Stikeman Elliot LLP, une firme d’avocats reconnue pour ses poursuites agressives. La lettre rejetait les demandes de Salter et déclarait que son travail pour l’organisation Sivananda fut volontaire et « motivé par ses croyances et sa foi personnelles ». Elle dénonçait les plaintes de Salter comme étant « frivoles » et « inappropriées, agressives et injustes », mentionnant qu’il semblait douteux que Mme Salter soulève la question 14 ans après la mort de swami Vishnudevananda.

La lettre se terminait par une menace : « Nous nous réservons le droit de prendre tout recours approprié en diffamation contre toute personne que nous considérons appropriée afin de protéger les droits et la réputation de Sivananda et de swami Vishnudevananda ».

Ce court échange légal fut suffisant pour faire taire Salter et protéger le conseil d’administration de l’organisation Sivananda de la colère de sa congrégation pendant 12 ans. Mais maintenant, avec l’appui du mouvement #MeToo derrière elles, les réponses en lignes à la publication de Salter révèlent une communauté mondiale soudée comme une famille prête à soutenir les siennes. En quelques jours seulement, un groupe public et deux autres privés furent créés sur Facebook comme canaux d’évacuation des frustrations et des plans de réforme. Des membres de longue date ont rapidement commencé à parler de la possibilité d’une action collective contre l’organisation pour fausse représentation de l’image de Nair et de son héritage.

Le sentiment était immédiatement révolutionnaire et démontrait que plusieurs étudiants avaient pris à cœur les enseignements d’abandon de soi et d’altruisme. L’activisme semblait aussi être renforcé par les forts liens formés par le bénévolat et par les programmes de formation notoirement austères de l’organisation Sivananda.

Au cœur l’unité de Sivananda était l’expérience du camp d’entraînement quasi militaire du cours de formation des professeurs de yoga de l’organisation. Sa structure de 200 heures a fourni la feuille de route pour les formations de yoga à travers toute l’industrie. Son intensité est un milieu fertile pour l’endoctrinement, l’attachement à vie, voire les deux. Pendant quatre semaines, les participants sont réveillés à 5 h 30 du matin, se pointent à 6 heures avec leurs devoirs avant les chants du matin et le sermon, puis sont menés vers des séances de yoga à 8 heures, travaillent à la cuisine ou font du ménage jusqu’à midi, puis assistent à des cours — dont certaines sont des documentaires sur Nair. Il y a encore du yoga dans l’après-midi et la journée se conclut avec un sermon de soirée. Deux repas végétariens sont fournis.

Pour Lara Marjerrison, 49 ans, qui fait du yoga au centre Sivananda de Toronto depuis 17 ans, l’horaire brutal du cours demandait que les étudiants se supportent entre eux, résolvent leurs conflits et apprécient l’idéalisme de chacun. « Nous n’avions pas la possibilité de nous en aller », a-t-elle dit par téléphone, « Je me rappelle clairement regarder la grande salle de yoga et voir cent postures sur la tête parfaitement alignés, magnifiques, et l’harmonie qui émanait de cette vision et de chaque personne dans la salle et combien nous avions changé. C’est quelque chose que je n’oublierai jamais. Pour moi, c’était un microcosme de ce qui est possible dans le plus grand monde. Si nous voulons rester les uns et les autres. Cette paix est possible si nous pouvons juste nous asseoir dans l’inconfort de nos différences et communiquer entre nous avec respect et dignité, reconnaître ce qui fait mal, reconnaître ce qui nous effraie ».

« Jaya » ne veut pas que son vrai nom soit utilisé par peur de possibles répercussions. Elle a pratiqué au centre Sivananda pendant 20 ans, et elle croit que la hiérarchie du groupe est maintenant son talon d’Achille. « La structure d’autoritarisme vous fait sentir comme un mauvais enfant à l’école, », dit-elle au téléphone, « et parce qu’il y a plein d’autres mauvais enfants avec qui vous vous entendez, vous êtes retourné vers cette forme de folle transgression infantile et euphorique. Nous rions comme des fous à propos d’un swami en particulier. Nous l’appelions Darth Vader, avec sa coupe de cheveux et ces lunettes, à cause de sa rigidité ».

Les tours pendables faisaient partie de ce qui ramenait toujours Jaya. « Mais maintenant, », dit-elle, référant à la crise Salter, « ce sont vraiment de mauvais traitements. Nous le savions, car nous voyions comment ils traitaient certaines personnes du personnel permanent. Leur autoritarisme nous unissait et nous les tenons responsables en tant que groupe ».

 

 

La publication de Salter est apparue un mardi. Le vendredi suivant, le conseil d’administration de Sivananda publiait un communiqué prenant acte du témoignage, faisant allusion à leurs politiques et procédures et demandant à toute personne avec des allégations de les envoyer par courriel à Communications Avenue. Pendant la fin de semaine, les fêtes de Noël prévues dans de nombreux centres dans le monde ont été annulées et remplacées par des « satsangs » ou conférences qui aborderaient la nouvelle et permettraient des questions. À Toronto, les personnel aux réunions portaient apparemment des t-shirts disant « Unis nous vivons ; divisés nous mourons ». Un membre a reporté sur Facebook que le nom et le portrait de Nair fut retiré des chants matinaux aux locaux de Val Morin.

À New York, Ashley (qui a aidé à négocier les débuts des griefs de Salter en 2005) a ouvert la réunion de soirée avec un récit hagiographique des vertus de Nair, allant jusqu’à citer Nair lui-même à propos des dangers du pouvoir, de la corruption et de suivre un guru.

« Il y a maintenant plusieurs accusations qui sont sorties. », a dit Ashley, selon un enregistrement audio de la rencontre qui fut publié en ligne. « Je n’ai aucune idée si ces accusations sont vraies ou non. Ce n’est pas à moi de le dire. Je crois que si swami Vishnu était ici, il dirait “Ceci est vrai, cela n’est pas vrai” et il serait le premier à s’excuser, et je ne peux m’excuser pour quelqu’un…. »

« Il n’y a absolument aucun moyen que je sache cela, et je ne connais personne d’autre qui le sache à part peut-être les personnes qui étaient là. Et même pour les personnes qui étaient là : après 35, 40 ans, le discours change. »

Le reste des 90 minutes de la rencontre a consisté en un groupe de membres — principalement des femmes qui ont mentionné des décennies d’expérience dans le groupe — bombardant Ashley de questions sur ce que le conseil d’administration savait de l’expérience de Salter et sur les processus de responsabilisation que l’organisation allait suivre.

« Je crois que c’est tout simplement trop facile de publier quelque chose sur Facebook » a relancé Ashley. « Les gens partagent certaines de leurs expériences et cela devient un procès, un juge, un jury et c’est de la folie ».

Il a tenté de conclure le rassemblement sur une note de conciliation. « En ce qui concerne votre traitement », dit-il, « cela est très douloureux pour nous tous. Si vous avez des blessures personnelles qui sont survenues en relation avec l’organisation, je ressens beaucoup de peine pour vous pour cela et le fait que les choses se sont produites et si elles n’ont pas été résolues, nous aimerions tout résoudre ».

« Le conseil d’administration n’a pas du tout permis la corruption. Tout ce que le conseil d’administration sait, nous agissons. Lorsque nous ne savons pas ce qui se passe, alors nous n’agissons pas. »

Ashley a terminé la réunion en dirigeant le groupe dans un chant de om. Il n’a pas répondu à une demande directe de commentaire.

Les deux femmes qui ont publié sur Facebook que Reddy les a harcelées sexuellement ont réitéré leurs histoires dans des entretiens. Elles ont toutes deux demandé à ce que leur nom demeure secret, l’une citant des craintes de confidentialité alors que l’autre craignait des représailles de l’organisation. Les deux ont décrit que Reddy les a harcelées pendant qu’elles faisaient du karma yoga, pendant les formations qu’il dirigeait dans des ashrams de deux pays différents.

Une femme a décrit comment le harcèlement a mené à des accolades et attouchements à répétition alors qu’elle était seule, à nettoyer le temple. « Il ne n’a pas demandé “Est-ce que tu me veux ? Est-ce que tu m’aimes ?” Non, il venait simplement et le faisait simplement ». Elle dit l’avoir fermement repoussé lorsqu’il a explicitement demandé pour du sexe.

« Je ne veux pas que ceci se continue », a dit l’autre femme. Elle a décrit comment le Reddy camouflait son harcèlement sexuel en apparence d’offre de conseils spirituels ou de physiothérapie dans les rencontres privées avec les étudiants, qui sont principalement des femmes « Mon intention en rendant cela public est de changer ce type de comportement », a dit l’une. « Cela signifierait que cette personne démissionne et obtienne de l’aide appropriée ».

« Ce sont vraiment de mauvais traitements. Nous le savions, car nous voyions comment ils traitaient certaines personnes du personnel permanent. Leur autoritarisme nous unissait et nous les tenons responsables en tant que groupe. »

Les deux femmes ont dit avoir transmis leurs plaintes aux responsables de Sivananda, elles ont été référées à une avocate de New York nommée Lanny Alexander comme un genre de médiatrice pour l’organisation. Une femme a dit que Alexander l’appelait à des heures bizarres, lui demandant de prouver ses allégations et, éventuellement, disant que si la femme ne comptait pas intenter une poursuite il n’y avait rien à discuter. L’autre femme a refusé de contacter Alexander. Aucun des témoignages n’a apparemment été pleinement enquêté par une organisation ou une compagnie associée avec le conseil d’administration de Sivananda.

Ashley a identifié Alexander durant sa présentation de New York comme une étudiante dédiée de l’organisation qui a géré des plaintes pour « les 15 dernières années environ », mais qu’elle ne jouerait plus ce rôle, car elle était « trop proche de l’organisation ».

Communications Avenue, la firme de relation publique a confirmé dans un courriel qu’Alexander travaille avec l’organisation pour développer et promouvoir des politiques de harcèlement sexuel et « a aidé dans des enquêtes d’allégations de mauvaise conduite sexuelle » pour les centres de yoga Sivananda. Dans un courriel de suivi qui demandait si Alexander avait une formation spécifique en matière de sensibilisation aux traumatismes, Communications Avenue a répondu que l’organisation « se fie à d’autres professionnels externes en relation avec l’aide psychologique et traumatique ». Lorsque a été demandé qui étaient ces professionnels, un porte-parole a répondu « Je ne crois pas que ce soit approprié que je vous fournisse cette information ».

Alexander n’a pas répondu aux questions à propos de sa relation avec les centres de yoga Sivananda, de sa formation professionnelle ou sur comment fonctionne le processus de griefs.

Les semaines qui ont suivi depuis le 10 décembre n’ont pas été faciles pour Salter. Dans les retombées de sa publication, « Mon corps est entré en mode de réponse de stress intense », a-t-elle dit. Elle a décrit être fiévreuse, incapable de dormir, ni de manger, perdre ses cheveux. Lentement, par contre, elle gagne de la force, soutenue par son partenaire, allant faire de longues marches hivernales et se tournant vers des activités réconfortantes et manuelles comme le tricot et le crochet.

« Je veux un endroit sûr où les gens sont écoutés, pas rejetés, ou traités comme jetables. », a-t-elle dit. « À un autre niveau, c’est comme “Fais avec cette histoire !” Je ne suis plus vraiment intéressée par ce groupe spécifique de yoga ».

Pour Kyssa, l’ouragan d’activité en ligne a été épuisant. Mais elle décrit aussi le processus de reprise de contact avec d’autres survivantes et de parler clairement à propos de son passé comme une sensation d’un « film qui commence en noir et blanc, puis la couleur arrive soudainement. »

« C’est tout un effet de retrouver ton énergie familière », a-t-elle dit. « Je pensais que j’étais simplement vieille. Je veux dire — je suis vieille. Mais ce qui arrive c’est cette forme de vitalité familière qui parcourt à nouveau mon corps. De moi. C’est fantastique. C’est fantastique ce qui arrive ».

 

 

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Matthew Remski est un professeur de yoga et un écrivain vivant à Toronto. Si vous avez des informations que vous voudriez partager à propos de votre expérience avec les centres de yoga Sivananda, vous pouvez le contacter à [email protected].

 

 

 

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Matthew Remski est un professeur de yoga et un écrivain vivant à Toronto. Si vous avez des informations que vous voudriez partager à propos de votre expérience avec yoga Sivananda, vous pouvez le contacter à [email protected].

 

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