the pathless path: the real road less traveled, the teacher, and the teachings.

UNPOPULAR OPINION: most of the “big name” yoga or spiritual teachers and their lineages are tarnished by sexual abuse, psychological torture, and cult dynamics.

UNPOPULAR OPINION #2: that first opinion isn’t an opinion. it is a well-documented fact that would take all of seven seconds on google to confirm.

i posted the following comment in a group for yoga and movement teachers. the original thread referenced cult activity in a well-known yogic lineage. someone commented something along the lines of, “can’t we just separate the teacher from the teachings?
and to this effect, i said:
“i just…can’t. find a way to reconcile that cognitive dissonance of ‘teacher versus teachings.’
if i found out my dentist was a known rapist or cult leader, i would, without hesitation, find another dentist. and then i would tell anyone in my community who would listen not to support his business. even though i have had the same dentist since i’ve had teeth.
now YOGA. it’s not just gum disease, is it? it’s not “just exercise” either. it’s, in theory, a lifestyle, a philosophy, and a code of conduct.
so why would i listen to a known rapist or cult leader regarding lifestyle practices or philosophical ideology?
…not to mention at least my dentist would be legitimately qualified to do his job. not a self-reported enlightened practitioner just hacking away at my molars.
the reality is, maybe not for everyone or every case, but all too often, so many of us are still looking for that ‘spiritual daddy’ to dictate to us what is right and wrong, and what is the ‘path.’ when in fact, true spiritual maturity lies in discovering every step for oneself. it is our emotional attachment to the practices that makes us look the other way.”
it seems so simple to me. so straightforward. painful. yes. but obvious.
  • pattabhi jois (ashtanga) was a known sex offender who sexually assaulted and intimidated his students. 
  • BKS iyengar physically attacked and emotionally abused his students for years, even and especially during class. 
  • bikram choundury was openly sexist, racist, and perverted…all while trying to copyright yoga and abusing company funds.
  • osho’s (wild, wild countrycommunity of devotees resorted to intimidation, wiretapping, and literally poisoning the dissidents in the neighboring community. (there was rape, too. duh.)
  • chogyam trungpa rinpoche (author of cutting through spiritual materialism) drank and smoked regularly, had myriad sexual relationships with his students, and even once drove his sports car into a storefront. his son had to step down as the leader of shambhala, too, because…you guessed it. sexual misconduct.
  • kausthub desikachar (grandson of krishnamacharia) blackmailed his female students into sex.
  • soygal rinpoche. yep. you guessed it. rape. assault. psychological torture. he also punched a nun.
  • yogi bhajan (kundalini) was repeatedly accused of psychological and sexual abuse, threatening devotees who wanted to leave with violence, and an impressive repertoire of criminal activity.
and these are just the big ones. just the indian guys who “made it” in the states.
on the whole, the western teachers shake out a bit better, but not by much. ultimately we are still deifying teachers, hoping that their advice will give us better bodies, healthier relationships, and that shiny trophy of enlightenment.

cool. so everyone’s a rapist. now what?

i almost want to say, “i wish i knew.” but no. i don’t.

because one person “knowing” the answers takes us further away from shifting out of this paradigm and healing this wound.

i have something of a solution. but it’s gritty and complicated. and there is no leader. there is no path. there are no answers, quick fixes, or universal truths.

the first step? acknowledging what is, as it is. always. waking up to the truth about “our teachers.” opening our eyes to the gaps in their knowledge, the pseudoscience they pedaled, their baseless claims, and the harm all of it has caused and continues to cause. allowing ourselves to truly start to feel into all the feelings that arise as a result of acknowledging these truths, instead of just bypassing them.

and with that? acknowledging that maybe there isn’t a 12-step (or any numbered step) approach to enlightenment. that there’s no chute or ladder to escape suffering, no fool-proof method to outrun the nakedness of not knowing, no teacher or practice or teaching that will make you invincible against the less savory aspects of the human experience.

and hey, that can be a heavy truth to sit with. if that’s the case for you, mourn that dream. grieve that fantasy. so that you may be open to something else. to another way of seeing and being.

i don’t know exactly what that is. but i believe it starts with the question: if there is no universally viable path to enlightenment, then what?

maybe the second question is: what is enlightenment? and does it exist?

to be honest, i’m not sure. but as of now, i believe that healing and recovery are possible. that we are hard-wired for connection which is at least some proof of our inherent oneness. and (my own personal faith) the universe, and everything in it, is striving toward self-awareness.

i believe that living from a place of love, that overriding fear-based patterns, is possible, and even likely with practice. i believe that there are infinite practices, and that each tool has its time. that our work here is to try different tools with an open heart and an open mind, to accept life as it arises moment to moment, and to continue to refine our ability to discern what is the medicine for the moment. in every moment. if that is what enlightenment is, then yes, i believe in it.

i often equate it to this: if “enlightenment” does exist, then it exists as the center of a wheel. coming off of the wheel, in every direction, are many spokes. some traditions call the spokes the different “paths to enlightenment,” but i find that naive, as no path to enlightenment (or anywhere else) could be so straightforward. no, to me the spokes represent all of the ways we are knocked “off-balance.” and life is just the cosmic dance of being thrown from center and finding our way back.

everything in life that triggers us, that challenges us, this is a bump away from center, in any number of directions.

this means that although the destination is always “the same,” the journey back is always different. what worked once won’t necessarily work now, and what failed last time might one day be just the thing. o, and because of the nature of entropy and our ever-expanding universe, the size and shape of the wheel is also always changing and growing. you know, to make it really fun.

so to follow one teacher, one school, one lineage, as the be-all-end-all? it’s laughable. unfathomable. and dangerous.

can i personally take the teachings and leave the teacher? no. i can’t. my internal compass points me away from that. can i cultivate compassion for individuals who have made horrendous mistakes? honestly, no. i can’t. though i hope that will change with time and practice. maybe you can. maybe that is your journey.

what i can do, though, is stop looking for a spiritual daddy to give me answers. i can be self-empowered. i can find teachers to teach me tangible skill sets (physical goals, styles of meditation, languages, whatever) because i want to learn from them. not because i want to worship them.

and i can continue to strengthen my own inner authority. this is not to say i’ll never ask for advice or wisdom. but i can use my own discernment and intuition. and i can establish firm boundaries so that no one is ever given the authority to override my intuition again.

this is the pathless path. one can try to explain. but in a sense, that’s a fruitless endeavor, as each person’s journey is (and should be) unique. maybe it’s lonely. and scary. and maybe it requires a lot of inner work that is not focused around external markers or validation.

but a worthier path i’ve yet to walk. and trust, i’ve walked a fair few.


Leave a Comment

  • Tivanne
    22 May 2019

    Mm… By chance and without consciously be aware of it, my yoga teachers always only were women…. Just feel it s more natural to me.
    Oh god its terrible to read about all those ”known” abusers… But isn’t it part of a very male attitude, to feel more powerful while mistreating people you take as inferiors while getting pleasure out of it… 🤔 Thank God men are not all like that… But I find it terrifying to be surrounded by those kind of creatures….

    • rae
      27 September 2019 Tivanne

      i think there is a lot of trauma in the collective masculine, but i don’t believe abuse is an inherently “male” trait. (also, while there are fewer female cult leaders and fewer sexual abuses within the yoga community perpetuated by females, they do exist. the jivamukti scandal comes to mind.) it’s easy to put the blame on the teachers, but we have to look at the wounding and trauma in the feminine that made these people (more often than not, women) stay and continue to come to class in the face of repeated and obvious abuse. no one was holding them hostage, in fact, they were paying for the “privilege.”

      NOT TO VICTIM BLAME. i was sexually assaulted in a training, and i fought back to the best of my ability and faced tremendous pushback from teachers and students alike. so i know the complexities at play. very intimately. i just mean none of these dynamics happen in a vacuum, and it’s not the fault of one while the other entity is completely helpless. there is something in an individual who is so disempowered, so hungry to be told what to do, that they fall willingly into this kind of situation (often over and over again).

      like i want to call out the abuses of these teachers. but it’s the students who worship them who give them power.

  • oprolevorter
    26 September 2019

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch because I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch! “One who’s our friend is fond of us one who’s fond of us isn’t necessarily our friend.” by Geoffrey F. Albert.

    • rae
      27 September 2019 oprolevorter

      how cool — thank you so much for taking the time to reach out. 🙂 i’m so glad my perspective was of service!