It’s incredible the similarities in response to disclosures of abuse, running the gamut of ‘I know x. He is an honorable man. There is no way he did those things’ to ‘If he did those things, it’s not important. Look at all the people who had good experiences with him.’
I imagine that for the most part Ashtanga and Shambhala associates would not like to be compared to the Republican Party or rape culture in general. Many hardcore Republicans, as well as Democrats, no doubt have undying loyalty to their party and it’s ideals. And they would turn a blind eye to, cover up or enable abuse within their party, if they thought it was necessary for the ‘greater good.’ The ‘greater good’ is deemed as moral, perhaps even spiritual.
Conceivably, many Ashtanga and Shambhala teachers believe that theirs is truly the greater good. They have a ‘practice’ which will provide them with answers to their inquiries and lead them to pure insight and understanding. This is more important than the mundane specifics of abuse. Some, who have acknowledged the abuse, seem to think their only karmic duty is to ‘listen’ and ‘have compassion for other people’s suffering.’ No reformation is required. They turned a blind eye to the abuse for so long that the investment in the system is paramount. Loyalty to and promotion of the system are, were and likely will always be their priority.
When someone learns about or is witness to abuse they have the choice to align with the abuser or the victim. Siding with the victim is the moral and courageous choice. Aligning with the abuser is the safe choice; doing nothing gives the abuser a pass to continue. At times victims may even align with an abuser for a sense of safety. We don’t want to get abusers angry. We know they have power and are capable of hurting people. If we are loyal to them, maybe they will protect us.
When there has been institutional abuse, the response can be similar. Loyalty to an institution offers refuge. When in doubt, diligently abiding by the practices and teachings of Ashtanga, Shambhala or other institution offers the comfort of familiarity.
When I was in Mysore in the ’90’s only twelve people at a time could practice with Pattabhi Jois. There were always other students watching. The scene is well described in this article by Jubilee Cooke.
Many present day teachers were there at the same time I was. I believe that people can change and grow. And that self rectification is always possible. In that light, I think it doesn’t matter so much what someone did 20 years ago; what matters is what they do and how they respond now. They may not have realized it at the time, but they all witnessed the sexual assaults that Jubilee and I describe.
I would love to hear Ashtanga and Shambhala teachers* say: There are serious problems with our entire structure. It’s hard to face and own our accountability and how we profited from our complicity while other people were harmed. I’d love to hear them say that they will seek trainings, teachings and counseling from outside experts in institutional abuse, trauma awareness and consent culture.
Clearly these systems did not teach skills to recognize, prevent or respond to abuse or abusers. Recently an AY teacher discounted my suggestions that without specific, independent trainings an AY teacher is not prepared or qualified to teach awareness and prevention of improper adjustments. The teacher asserted that listening and caring about their students were sufficient and denied that any further training was necessary. Listening and caring are great things to start with, but they are not qualifications to teach anything.
With few exceptions, I don’t expect anything grand from teachers embedded in cultures which enabled abuse. I’m putting my hope into the growing number of people who have the morality and courage to make calling out abuse their priority, who are willing to totally change their lives to prevent further abuse.
*This applies to other yoga and spiritual teachers where there has been institutional abuse. The list is long.