Did anyone see this recent New York Times article about yoga and sex scandals? On one hand, it’s interesting to see collected in one place a listing of yogis who’ve been involved with such scandals – I’d heard about Swami Rama, but not Satchidananda, and I hadn’t heard about John Friend yet. (I guess I was more interested in reading their works on yoga and spirituality than in what they might have done behind closed doors – which is the perspective that I think most educated yogis will have – although I cannot imagine being part of a close-knit spiritual community when such a horrid act is suspected of someone so admired and trusted.)
On the other hand, sexual scandals can occur when any individual is put up on a pedestal. Tiger Woods, anyone? Too much power can go to anyone’s head. Of course such a thing is only compounded when it occurs in a spiritual community. I’ve read about Tibetan monks who let themselves get out of hand, even giving up their vows to get married, and typically we think of them as above that sort of thing. There are also countless stories of Christian preachers who took advantage where none should have been taken, and we won’t even discuss Catholic priests. William J. Broad, the NYT author, makes sex scandal out to be something unique to yoga, and in no way is that true.
Broad also suggests that, in addition to sex scandal being a yoga thing, it’s due to yoga’s roots in tantric theology. He really manages to dumb down (or sex up) tantra and the theories behind it. Having written an entire book about yoga, one would assume that Broad has read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and hopefully the Bhagavad Gita, which are the books that I was taught are the foundation of yoga. I’ve read them too, and read two different translations of each, and I found no kinky sex stuff. And believe me, if there is kinky sex stuff to be found, I’m somebody who will notice it (see my review of Moola Bandha: The Master Key, a review which I know I wrote but somehow seems to have been infiltrated by a 13-year-old boy there at the end). There ain’t no kinky stuff in the Yoga Sutras, so I must make one of the following conclusions: (1) Broad is mistaken that tantra is the founding system that produced yoga, and yoga arose out of just plain ol’ Hinduism, or (2) tantra is a much wider system, encompassing much more than the sex Broad so readily brings up. Either way, he’s doing his readers, and the NYT readers, a disservice.
On a related subject, wait a sec, wasn’t William J. Broad the same guy who wrote the inflammatory article “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body“? Why is the New York Times accepting multiple articles from this biased author? Because controversy sells, I guess? (And apparently because he’s won some Pulitzers? :) ) It’s not selling to me, I can tell you that; I won’t be buying Broad’s book and one would think I’d be in his target audience. I heard an interview with him on NPR not long ago and was struck by how different he seemed “in person” over the radio than he did in the body-wrecking article; he talked candidly and thoughtfully about how an injury made him rethink and restructure his yoga practice, but these articles make him seem like an anti-yoga crusader. That sucks because based on the NPR interview I have the feeling I’d have some good conversations with Broad in person (I tuned in mid-way through and was frankly surprised at the end when they announced his name – “Wait, that‘s the yoga-will-wreck-your-body guy?!”), but if these articles are examples of the sort of writing in his book, I feel offended and will never read it. Here’s a summary of the NPR interview and a link to listen to it – I’m struck by how different Broad’s tone is in these quotations compared with his own writing in the NYT. Anyway, if Broad’s a science writer, why is he writing articles about yoga and sex scandal anyway? Writing one book about yoga and science doesn’t make one an expert in all aspects of yoga, especially not in yoga spirituality. If you’re looking for a semi-to-non-expert, you might as well hire me, New York Times. (Psst, I’m available.)
Here’s another response to the sex scandal article (the punctuation and grammar are less than stellar, but the writer is clearly coming from a passionate interest in yoga and spirituality, and I happen to think (although it hurts me to do so) that the finer nuances of apostrophes are not an essential component of a yoga education). Anyway, just another set of thoughts from someone who appears to know a little more about tantra than I do. (Believe me, I’ve got some tantra books on my reading list for this year!)