Pull my string (to enlightenment)


Guru Brahma, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara

Guru sakshat parabrahma, Tasmai sri guruve namaha. 

The guru is the force of creation;

The guru is the force of preservation;

The guru is the force of destruction;

The guru is present both within and without.

I give honor to the guru…

by doing whatever they say, even if it involves checking her vagina for tampons.

At least that’s the culture that’s been created in the Jivamukti world, according to Michelle Goldberg, whose article in Slate this week about a sexual harassment suit filed against the famous yoga style has yogis in a tizzy about the guru system, victimhood, boundaries and the intersection of spiritual arts and good ol’ American capitalism.

Former Jivamukti teacher Holly Faurot is suing Jivamukti for $1.6 million because of what she allegedly suffered  at the hands of her mentor, teacher Ruth Lauer-Manetti (cloyingly called “Lady Ruth,” as if she’s part of the landed gentry). Faurot was enrolled in the Jivamukti apprenticeship program to the tune of three grand (after spending $10,000 on her initial training), and during that time, she says Lauer-Manetti spooned with her in bed, rubbed her thighs, took naked photos of her and, yes, demanded the Faurot check her oh-so-ladylike lady-parts for a tampon.

Faurot, a survivor of an abusive childhood and recovering from an eating disorder –

We interrupt this program for an important public service announcement: If you have or have ever had an eating disorder, don’t dedicate yourself to a yoga style that is severely restrictive about food. You’re just tarting up your disorders in sparkly, pseudo-sacred drag. 

– says she was looking to Lauer-Manetti as someone who could take her further into a spiritual life, something that Jivamukti, which describes itself as “a path to enlightenment,” encourages.

“You kind of felt like, if you became her closer student,” Faurot says in the article, “you would be further along the spiritual path.”

Now, Scourge readers sitting comfortably in their armchairs might, at this point, be thinking, “What the hell is wrong with this lady? Didn’t she see this coming?” – a question raised by others quoted in the article. However, Goldberg’s really juicy point is about the machinations of the guru culture and how it affects yoga practitioners here in the west who, let’s be honest, are often wounded, unfulfilled people searching for healing. (Aren’t we all?) Given that American students walk into the scene from a place of lack, they end up in classrooms brimming with power imbalances, the precursors to bad boundaries and abuse.

For example:

  • Sharon Gannon and David Life, the founders of Jivamukti, are photographed wearing flower garlands usually reserved for sculptures of deities.
  • Click on Jivamukti’s self-proclaimed guru tab on the group’s website and the pair’s pictures pop up.
  • Students allegedly touch their heads to the floor as the illustrious founders float into the room. (Why do the gurus never prostrate themselves before the students? After all, practitioners are paying the fucking light bill.)

All this contributes to a culture whereby the guru is sacrosanct, an idea already perpetrated by the root texts and traditions of yoga. Classically, the guru is the one to get you to god, enlightenment, freedom, whatever pious idyll you’re searching for, so if you’re buying into that rhetoric, you do what your gurus tell you…no matter how absurd.

The reason people enter into guru relationships is because they can’t recognize their own perfection. They project onto someone else all the qualities they wish they had themselves. The guru holds the projection, and at some magical moment, the student feels betrayed by something the guru does which goes against the student’s impossible expectations of their teacher. It’s then that the student has a choice – guru hop or stop all this fucking nonsense and follow the internal teacher, which is what must happen for spiritual “advancement” to occur.

If we’re constantly passing the buck onto the guru – and the Scourge has heard a lot of craziness around this, like “Swami Charlatananda helped me get my favorite peaches at the grocery store today” or “by Sri Sri Phony-ji’s grace, I found my car keys” – we end up with a lot of rich gurus and poor-ass disciples. The world over, and especially in the Western yoga scene, we’ve spiritually bankrupted ourselves by searching for wealth outside of ourselves.

Like Faurot, we willingly open our literal and metaphorical pocketbooks, because we want to believe that someone else has the answers. They don’t. In the words of Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, “guru” means “the one who points. Another meaning is the one who brings enlightenment, lifts your burden. But instead of lifting your burden they impose their burden on you.”

In this whole debate around Faurot and Lauer-Manetti, some are characterizing Faurot as a jilted lover, which isn’t fair. Obviously, Faurot has a history which made this relationship particularly volatile, and given that history, it was likely hard for her to parse out the various complexities involved in the teacher-student relationship, especially when encrusted with the candied claptrap of yoga speak.

However, the Scourge can say, unequivocally, that Lauer-Manetti fucked up. Never, ever under any circumstances get into literal bed with a student. If someone looks to you for spiritual guidance and you dare to set yourself up as someone who can provide that guidance, you have an ethical responsibility to observe the student’s monsters and do as much as you possibly can not to feed them.

Lauer-Manetti has denied that anything was inappropriate about her behavior, and told Faurot, in what turned out to be a taped conversation, “The fact that I caressed you in bed. I mean, you have a problem because you really misinterpreted that.”

Caressed, eh? An interesting word choice from someone who claims nothing untoward was happening.

“Who would have ever guessed that dedicated Holly could be so cruel? And if you really were dedicated, Holly, what is all this?”

Oooooooooh, casting doubt on a person’s spiritual commitment as a feint, now that’s classy.

Classier still is Jivamukti’s response. From their website:

“We adamantly reject the very serious accusations against Ruth Lauer-Manetti and the New York City Jivamukti School that have recently appeared in the press. This negative campaign is being waged against our satsang, our principles and our competency. These allegations are wrong and misguided, moving outside the realm of critical dialogue. There has been no proof to substantiate any of the allegations.”

The Scourge has to wonder which village idiot is their PR person? In cases of sexual harassment, always err on the side of the victimized. By categorically dismissing Faurot’s claims, Jivamukti is sending a message to all of its adherents that dissension  will not be tolerated. The organization has closed ranks around one of their wounded captains and in so doing only cements the impression that it’s a cult steered by out-of-touch mandarins more concerned with animal-welfare than the safety of their community.

As an end note, it’s important to say this isn’t just about Jivamukti. They’re the latest in a long queue of gurus gone bad. The problem isn’t solely John Friend or Amrit Desai, Bikram Choudhury or Kaustubha Desikachar. It’s all gurus. And it’s also the rest of us who hand over our autonomy to quacks in saffron costumes.

If you meet the guru on the road, kill him. Why? Because you’ve mistaken someone else as the person in power. There is only one guru and that personage, that quality which dispels ignorance, is you.

Until next Sunday…the heretic’s day.

In other news of the faithful:

At long last, Pope Francis has gotten out of the Fiat and onto the doublespeak express. In his document on marriage and family issues, the pontiff has said that same-sex relationships are not part of God’s plan, but neither should anyone discriminate against the gays. Is it any wonder so many psychopaths claim religious ideology as the inspiration behind their heinous crimes?

Mississippi continues its boffo history on civil rights after the governor signed a particularly draconian religious freedom bill into law this week that puts gays, lesbians, transgender folks and even single mothers on alert. Even Robin Roberts, who is on the cover of the state’s tourism magazine (#awkward), shamed the Magnolia State.

Former Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s sordid past of molesting teen boys has come to light during his legal woes. Hastert, a born-again Christian, was an opponent of LGBT-positive legislation during his political career. There’s nothing like schadenfreude to warm the Scourge’s black, shriveled heart.

Tennessee lawmakers want to make the bible the state book. Given that one in eight adults in the state are lacking basic prose literacy skills, it better be a picture book.

Turns out that wage disparity between men and women is related to religious beliefs. Let’s break this down for the viewers at home: devotion to a male god who textually devalues women yields unequal treatment of women in the real world. Imagine.

(The picture above, of Lauer-Manetti, is a YouTube capture.)





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