Sunday, October 25, 2009

Crying Wolf?

It's a horrible truth to face.

The idea that all that time I was earnestly leading a celibate life, Guru himself was having sex with his female disciples. That when my innocent, sibling-like relationship with Jayanti was brought to his attention, Guru felt compelled to warn me about inappropriate conduct, while he himself was sleeping with his own spiritual daughters.

In hindsight, it's not the sex that bothers me. It's the deceit. The sheer scale of the deceit is what leaves me reeling even now. With every new revelation -- and there are more to come -- the scope of Guru's gopi network becomes more apparent.

Yet, I owe everything to Guru.

Whatever else might be said about Guru's deception and misconduct, it didn't affect his ability to prime my spiritual life, to effect my occult transformation, or on a more mundane level to give me some much needed positive reinforcement.

So, that's the conundrum I've been wrestling with. How to square the evidence?

Since Sevika's story first broke, there have been a few schools of thought amongst my friends both inside and outside the Center. On one end of the spectrum, there are those (including some prominent former disciples) who reject the allegations of sexual misconduct outright. Impossible, they say.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who say Guru was a fraud. He had no redeeming qualities, they say, and any positive developments his disciples report were the result of either their own self-deception or their own self-disciplined life. In either event, Guru deserves no credit.

Then there are those scattered in the middle somewhere. Some folks sympathetic to Guru, for example, accept the truth of the allegations and shrug them off. Among this small group is one of my best friends, who said "they were all adults" -- no harm, no foul. Others, less sympathetic to Guru, acknowledge he had "powers" of some unspecified kind, but was a fraud nonetheless. A false or fallen master, they say.

I've got close friends in each of these groups, but none of these takes on Guru satisfies me.

Instead, I believe both -- that Guru had access to an exalted spiritual consciousness and engaged in sexual misconduct with his female disciples. And that's what I've been trying to explain over the last so many posts (starting here).

There is one aspect of this equation, however, that I haven't yet addressed in any depth-- the credibility of women who have made these troubling accusations against Guru. I began the discussion here, but as a recent commenter pointed out, I haven't really considered the possibility that Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela and Suchatula might all be lying about their experiences with Guru.

Do women make false allegations of sexual misconduct?

Yes. But not very often, and when they do there's usually a pretty clear motive for it. Our spiritual sisters in this case don't fit the mold.

First, let's talk numbers. The only reliable empirical data on false allegations comes from rape cases, which while not exactly on point here -- nobody has alleged Guru committed rape -- the data still gives us a baseline understanding. Though it makes for big headlines in the news (see the recent Hofstra University case or the infamous Duke University lacrosse case), women do not make false rape allegations very often.

The number is between 8-10%. (Here's a good article from Slate on the topic.) In other words, 90% of the time, women who report rape are telling the truth.

There are reasons the number of false rape allegations are relatively low, including criminal prohibitions against making false police reports, moral prohibitions against destroying an innocent person's life by making such a false allegation, and a general unwillingness by most people to endure the invasive scrutiny into one's private behavior that making such a charge entails. As a matter of fact, most rapes (as many as 60%) are never reported.

I can't think of any good reason why this same trend wouldn't apply to false public allegations of sexual misconduct. While there are no criminal prohibitions against such false claims, there are civil prohibitions. Sevika's allegations, for example, certainly tarnished Guru's reputation. If false, she risked exposure to a defamation lawsuit, which is the civil remedy you pursue to get your reputation back.

Yet, Guru never pursued such a suit. Now, as a trial lawyer, I can tell you that just because you can sue doesn't mean that you should. In these types of cases, for example, filing a lawsuit can exacerbate the very problem you're trying to avoid by bringing widespread attention to allegations that otherwise would get little attention on the Yahoo! message board.

In Guru's case, however, the claims made by Sevika and the others were already attracting press attention by the New York Post and other press outlets. There didn't seem to be much downside -- on the publicity front anyway -- to suing Sevika and the others for their false allegations. Unless, of course, the allegations were true.

Likewise, it seems the same moral prohibitions against making such false allegations in a rape case would also apply in this case. I can't imagine my spiritual sisters any more inclined to lie than the general public. Nor do I think they'd be any more willing to expose their lives to public scrutiny, knowing as I do firsthand the reticence with which one confronts the wider world upon leaving the Center.

On the sheer numbers alone, it seems unlikely that our sisters are making these stories up. Numbers aside, what would motivate these four women to make such allegations?

In all of the other circumstances that I can think of where people make false allegations of sexual misconduct, there's almost always a discernible ulterior motive. In rape cases -- like the Hofstra and Duke cases alluded to above -- the false allegation of rape is used to mask the putative victim's embarrassment at having had consensual sex (with either some undesirable person or with someone other than one's spouse).

In sexual harassment cases, false allegations may be made to gain a financial advantage in a civil suit. In family law cases, false allegations of child abuse are sometimes made by one parent trying to win sole custody of the children. In the political arena, false allegations may be made for both financial and partisan advantage.

I detect no such ulterior motives in any of the allegations made by Sevika, Rupavati, Phulela or Suchatula.

It has been suggested that perhaps they're simply disgruntled. That in order to mask their own respective failures in the Center, these women simply made up these allegations of sexual misconduct against Guru in some crazy-assed attempt to get attention.

Whatever appeal such a theory has -- and I don't think it has much based upon what we've discussed above -- it begins to break down with each successive revelation. One crazy woman, I could believe.

But four?

Last week, seeking some confirmation that I'm thinking clearly on these issues, I checked in with a prominent female disciple still active in the Center. I asked her if she believed Suchatula's story. She confirmed that she did.

When I asked her why she believed Suchatula's story, this disciple (who asked for anonymity) told me that she had had sex with Guru for more than a decade.

These women are telling the truth.

As shocking as it is to contemplate, Guru was not only having sex with his female disciples, but also encouraging some of his female disciples to have sex with each other. This makes me both extremely sad for my sister disciples so taken advantage of and extremely disappointed in Guru's behavior.

This is a very tough pill for my friends in the Center (and even some outside the Center) to swallow. I know that first hand, because it took me a long time to fully accept it as well.

To start, though, you must have not just the willingness but the desire to know the truth.

Isn't that the very definition of the word "seeker?"

That's Krishna and the Gopis, above, in a picture from the Smithsonian found here.


JEEVAN said...

The sex thing is what it is. The complicity in letting the untruth of it go on, as there must be a clandestine inner circle of older disciples in the center that are aware of it is only going to get uglier with time. That secret society of woman need to come forward and not let their sisters who had to speak out take anymore flack. Coming forward is the Only stepping stone for the future for the Sri Chinmoy Center. Must be hard for everyone in the center currently. Full openness seems the only way to move through this rock and a hard place. And in that vein I would put all gurus art and music and written word on line. Guru was a force of nature, a creative powerhouse. His early Bengali songs & translations are an Indian National treasure. Fighting the controversy or trying to control it by not acknowledging it, only seems to prolong Gurus powerful being force from being fully manifest. He dug the chicks, who cares! He was imperfect just like this world. He was a mad artist, poet, athlete and a genius.

Maryanna said...

I agree with Jeevan that his songs are his greatest and most powerful legacy.

dukeofdharma said...

Just in case this didn't go through the first time:

I'm with you, Yogaloy, it was not the sex that bothered me either, so much, but the total and unmitigated hypocrisy of the whole enterprise of Guru saying and writing one thing, and doing the complete opposite. When I first discoverd the ex-disciple website in 2001 or thereabouts and spoke to a very close former disciple who convinced me absolutely that the stories, especially Sevika's was true, it put a bug up my rear end that has remained lodged there, pretty much to this day.
Anyway, congratulations on maintaining a well balanced and very fair approach to examining the various aspects of life in the Centre as we knew it, each in our own way.
I'm afraid we are not as "fair and balanced" over on our ex-disciple website, although that, of course, is the goal.

Thanks for letting me share.

Swadhin Gary (1970-1980)

dukeofdharma said...

I sent a message recounting a conversation I had last Sunday night with a former female disciple who told me that Guru asked her to have sex with another local disciple while he watched from the sidelines. He told this woman that it was not actually "sex" but merely "entertainment." He apparently was very entertained b/c he the performers come back for repeated encores over the ensuing months.


Y. said...

@Jeevan: I agree. It's a very noble impulse of Suchatula and others not to "out" (to borrow a term from our gay brothers and sisters) those who were involved and still in the Center.

And I think I'd be inclined NOT to print their names even Suchatula told me. (Note to commenters in the future: I probably will not publish comments which out alleged participants by name who are still in the Center.)

It certainly is, however, an opportunity for those women (and men who may have direct knowledge -- as opposed to second or third hand knowledge -- of the events to come forward and tell their stories. If for no other reason than to push the Center as an organization to modernity.

@Maryanna: Agree. Guru's songs were a big part of my spiritual life. As my Bengali vocabularly grew, so did the intensity of my experience. And I truly found many of Guru's simple melodies to be haunting. When people say Guru was a fraud, I think of those songs.

@Duke: Thanks for the kind words. I strive to be fair and balanced (and hopefully not in the trademarked Fox News sense of the term).

JEEVAN said...

I think of guru and his path as kind of like the history of the Catholic church. You cannot argue the countless negative actions done in the name of god. Popes with their own armies etc. But the art created with its patronage, the music, and that it created safe haven for millions of monks and nuns to develop spiritually and to live spiritual lives is a truly great service. I still cherish my time in the center. I was a disciple for 10 years(19 -29) Guru created an environment and structure that allowed me to develop my inner being. I learned to sing soulfully, I learned and became advanced in the art of meditation, I became a life long athlete, a Vegetarian, and learned the sacred art of contacting my soul. for this I will always be grateful.

Markus said...

@Jeevan: "He dug the chicks, who cares! He was imperfect just like this world. He was a mad artist, poet, athlete and a genius."

Oh boy, Jeevan--it's good to read a statement that is so you!
I know, there is some really serious stuff here and it is not to be taken lightly.
but I had to laugh, reading that statement, so full of your spirit!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the songs were great, uplifting and wonderful. I was surprised to learn that many of the tunes were actually copied (inspired) from Indian classical music and it didn't bother me. However, sex aside I think the testimonials, like Udita's, Phulela's and Durga's of intimidation tactics, harassment and deceit simply need to be remembered. It is a painful process but we all can recall a "scolding" or other experiences when we did have CKG's dark side in front of our face. It would be something we would somehow apply a twisted logic to. We'd justify those things because not to do that would mean falling off the path into a void. So it's easy to see why many are still doing that, no matter what they heard or hear now or saw before, they will always want to find a way to justify it. It takes a powerful sense of self and one's own relationship with the divine to be able to break off from long held beliefs about a guru while holding on to a sense of true connection to the infinite.