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!)
the article seems to suggest yoga is the cause for such scandals, which begs the question why are american senators , rich sport personalities, rich people in general and regular people involved in scandals all the time
That’s exactly what I was thinking – it’s not yoga that causes such things to happen, it’s the power that comes with being in the public eye.
A thought on newspaper articles reflecting on their authors: I know my sister, who writes for the Boston Phoenix, has had some articles drastically re-written by editors (only a few, but still). Plus, she doesn’t get to revise them again after that – they might have a few go-rounds before print but the editor has the final say. Often, the tone of a piece can be emboldened (or sexed-up) by someone NOT the author. This is one reason she likes posting to their geek blog (Laser Orgy) instead of print – I believe she does get more control over the content, there.
Anyway, it seemed like this article made careful use of the word “can” while trying to imply “does.”
Which is to say, if you got a good vibe from the NPR interview, I would at least check out the book from the library. If nothing else, it’ll have a different editor!
That’s an excellent point, I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you!
Great post! thanks for the shout out. I will definitely work on my grammar as well as my tantra studies. But I will only enjoy my tantra studies :).
Thanks, Zach! I can’t help it, I was a writer long before I was a yoga teacher. 🙂
I think that yoga has hit that point in its popularity that it now warrants the full blown star treatment. That means, of course, sex scandals and any other sexytime stuff that can be thrown in, fallen stars, greed, deceit – all manner of things in dire need of expose. In other words, everything’s normal. It’s just the way we roll. The John Friend and Anusara events have raised important questions for all of us yogis – there’s some serious stuff there. The NYT articles are sensational and shallow and don’t raise much in the way of serious issues – except about the state of journalism, maybe. The rest of us can go about our practice. But we have to expect that some of our students are aware of the NYT articles. So… But, seriously, we should all be aware of the Anusara miseries. There are big issues around the guru-community model, student-teacher relationship, and a lot more – integrity in general.
It’s really interesting, because the way that most of us practice yoga is pretty far removed from the superstar yogi stuff–I guess in the same sense that the way my dad goes golfing is pretty far removed from what Tiger Woods does. But at the same time, yoga practitioners should be aware of what’s going on in the wider yoga community, because that might be the only thing that our friends and family and new students know about yoga. Plus my heart goes out to our Anusara colleagues who are being rocked by this. Friend came up with a yoga system that people really believed in, and it’s a shame that all of that is being challenged because of his personal integrity. When and how do we separate the yoga practice from the guru/teacher who advocates it? You’re right, valuable questions for all of us to be considering.