Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Ethical Case

What Guru did was wrong.

If you believe the allegations made by Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela, and Suchatula -- as I do -- then the ethical case against Guru's behavior is straightforward. His conduct was clearly unethical (or immoral if you prefer that term).

(I wish I could footnote, because having re-read each of their testimonials, I feel compelled to note here that Phulela's testimonial strays a bit from what she experienced directly to things she either heard from others or assumed was happening. While I accept as true those experiences she recounts from first hand experience (i.e., having sex with Guru), I don't embrace some of her other accusations (i.e., "there were signs [Guru] was also having relations with men" or the implication that Guru's misconduct was widely known).

In the most general way, Guru misrepresented himself to seekers like me who joined the path thinking him to be a lifelong celibate yogi. While my thinking about the subject of sex has evolved over the last three decades (something I intend to post about in the near future), at the time I was actively searching for a guru (1980-81), celibacy in a master was a selling point.

The Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh or "Osho" -- and his more permissive attitude toward sex -- was much in the news back then, and not in a good way. I was looking for the opposite. Sri Chinmoy presented himself as the anti-Osho. Guru's path was strict; celibacy was required.

I suspect that had I known back then that Guru was having sex -- with his disciples no less -- I would not have joined the path.

As things turned out, however, I'm not sure I was harmed by this deception. My life was better for having met Guru, for being his disciple. Nevertheless, Guru hid his sexual activity from me (and most others) and this deception was wrong. No question about it.

I'm pained more by Guru's treatment of Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela, and Suchatula (and the other unnamed disciples like them). There's no question that Guru's conduct, as alleged by these former disciples, was unethical.

It constituted not only the implicit misrepresentation Guru made to all disciples about the status of his sex life, but compounded that deceit by breaching the sacred trust those women gave to him. Guru abused his authority.

Over the years, I've heard both disciples and former disciples downplay these allegations by saying that, even if the allegations are true, the acts described were consensual. In other words, these women shouldn't be complaining -- they all could have said "no" to Guru's request.

While I agree that this is literally true -- each of these women could have, and in hindsight probably wish they had, said "no" from the beginning -- as a practical matter, assuming these women were capable of consent ignores reality. Guru held all the power. Their lives were consecrated to the concept of unconditional surrender to the divine in Guru. By definition, their ideal was to say "yes" to anything asked of them.

This concept was litigated not so long ago in a lawsuit brought by a former disciple of Swami Kriyananda. In that case, the young woman disciple alleged, among other things, that the swami and the spiritual community he founded -- Ananda -- had perpetrated a fraud against her. In the course of discovery in that case, the swami admitted to having sex with a number of female devotees.

In court, the swami claimed the acts were consensual. The jury believed otherwise. In his successful closing argument, plaintiff's attorney Michael J. Flynn put it to the jury this way:

Why isn't it consensual?

He's the Swami, she's a young female nun adoring him. Believing that he's all these things. The power in that, in his position as a swami and her position as a nun, when he asks for this kind of conduct, is something that you the jury are going to have to address and comes to grips with. How can that be?

Reverend Cooper-White said, "It can't be consensual. The mind of the person here, and the mind and the power of the person here, prohibits consent."


Because of not only the undue influence, but the mind of the person who's getting sucked into this situation. The mind of the person believing that this man can take her to God. But the fact that he has all of the accouterments, he's got all the tools of power, he's the Spiritual Director, he's supposedly a man of God, he's got power of employment over everyone in the community. He's got power over their housing, power over their spiritual lives. So a young woman coming in, idolizing and adoring someone like Swami Kriyananda is going to submit. She's going to submit against her better judgment, and against what's good for her.

If you believe that the principal allegations made by Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela and Suchatula are true -- as I do -- then the ethical case against Guru's misconduct is straightforward.

Guru was wrong to portray himself as a lifelong celibate yogi.

He abused his power over Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela and Suchatula (and apparently others) by coercing them to do things they didn't want to do.

He breached the sacred trust these women gave to him.

For this I am truly sad.

The photo above is of another great sculpture -- The Head of Justice -- by Audrey Flack. Check out her other amazing work here.


Elizabeth K. Kracht said...

That's powerful stuff. It gets right to the point of why what happened to them was wrong:

"Their lives were consecrated to the concept of unconditional surrender to the divine in Guru. By definition, their ideal was to say "yes" to anything asked of them."

"He's got power over their housing, power over their spiritual lives. So a young woman coming in, idolizing and adoring someone like Swami Kriyananda is going to submit. She's going to submit against her better judgment, and against what's good for her."

Anonymous said...

This most dramatic aspect of Sri Chinmoy's fall from grace was just the door that opened into a much larger room of deceit IMO.

In the years following the testimonies, sent to all disciples (at which Chinmoy put out to word that we would be cursed by doubt for the rest of our lives if we didn't tear it up), I came to see that even his writings were a mixture of light and darkness, that is, spiritual principals mixed with subtle twists of manipulation to direct all devotion to him, personally.

This, Yogaloy, is where I believe we differ. Chinmoy's presentation of spirituality was so laced with an agenda, that I believe one should throw it out completely, and start over again. We could consider that we had somewhat of a head start.

Many have experienced deep inner experiences with him, yet I wonder if those were more of an occult nature, whether they were really necessary for our spiritual development, or that perhaps they were just tricks - lollipops to encourage our continued devotion.

To bottom line for me is that the CKG experience was too much of a tangled web to hold a continued affection for.

Y. said...

You may be right, we may differ a little, but I don't think we're that far apart from one another on this.

I left the Center in 1990 and wasn't there to witness things in the wake of the allegations. I have, however, heard from a number of reliable sources inside and outside who confirm your take on the situation. According to them, the mood -- the zeitgeist of the Center -- was far more serious and down in the last decade as opposed to the almost carefree eighties as I experienced them.

I understand completely your point about your Center experience being too much of a mixed bag or "tangled web" as you say to keep your affection. Among my friends -- and family for that matter -- that's a common theme. So many people are tired of looking back -- as I too am getting after all these blog posts!

On a serious note, though, I think your comment gets to the heart of it. How do we make sense of the apparent contradiction between the "deep inner experiences" we had with Guru and the other things we either heard about or saw?

That's what I want to get at in these final posts. I hope you'll read, consider, and comment upon them as they're posted.

I think all of us -- together -- can perhaps make sense of some of these things that seem so confusing and disheartening when we are sitting alone, with only our own thoughts as company.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I will indeed continue to read with great interest. I appreciate your search for the truth, and the balanced perspective you ceaselessly try to maintain. Good work Yogaloy!