Swamis, Sex & Gurus

A Forensic Assessment by Dean Das
The Australian Yoga world is aghast at recent revelations of sexual abuse within the Yoga community. The Royal Commission into Institutionalized Child Sexual Abuse, 2014, revealed the sexual misconduct of leading Swamis within Satyananda Yoga. Currently, the Principal Swami at the Shiva Yoga School of Meditation and Yoga, Mt Eliza, Melbourne, is facing potential criminal charges for multiple incidences of sexual abuse against female followers (The Age Newspaper, ‘Sex Swami, 21/1/2015; 18/3/2015). These are two of the latest examples of abuse allegations leveled against prominent Swamis, Gurus and Yoga teachers.

• I write this as a former Forensic Mental Health Expert providing forensic ‘at risk’ assessments to the Criminal, Family, and Children’s Courts in cases of alleged sexual abuse - pedophilia, incest, rape, and sexual assault. Prior to this, I lived as a Hindu Brahmachari Sannyas of the Saraswati Order. So, ‘sex’ and ‘monkhood’ have long been part of my personal and professional life. I also have a Guru.
• Sexual misconduct by a spiritual leader toward a devotee is nothing new. Sexually promiscuous monks populate medieval Christian and Hindu literature. What is new is the digital age making secrecy a thing of the past.
• This article takes a forensic view of ‘the risk factors’ inherent in the Swami/Guru/devotee relationship, where the devotee is of adult age.
• Potential Perpetrator and potential Victim ‘risk factors’ are past history; socio-cultural factors; and personality characteristics. Below, (in no particular order) is a list of potential ‘risk factors’ for the Perpetrator (Swami/Guru), and for the Victim (devotee).

A/ Potential Perpetrator ‘Risk Factors’
• The title ‘Swami’ or ‘Guru’.
• Social-cultural status
• Male gender.
• A patriarchal society.
• Vows of celibacy
• Past sexual history
• Devotees predominantly female.
• Age differential.
• Knowledge base differential.
• Organizational structure, and type of community.
• Group goal.
• Method to achieve goal.
• Personality traits of Swami/Guru

B/ Potential Victim ‘Risk Factors’
• The title ‘devotee’.
• Female gender.
• Swami/Guru is a male.
• A patriarchal society.
• Past sexual history.
• Age differential.
• Knowledge base differential.
• Organizational structure, and type of community.
• Group goal.
• Method to achieve goal.
• Personality traits of devotee.

Perpetrator and Victim ‘risk factors’ can be categorized into Static (stable) ‘risk factors’, and Dynamic (acute) ‘risk factors’. Static ‘risk factors’ cannot be changed e.g. gender; age; past sexual history; patriarchal/matriarchal society; organizational structure. Static factors have a ‘consistent’ predictive value, and are cumulatively weighted. Dynamic ‘risk factors’ are changeable i.e. subject to variation e.g. personality traits; beliefs, attitudes, values; life-style; opportunity to offend. Dynamic factors have a ‘variable’ predictive value, and are volatile in effect.

Lets look at the Stable ‘risk factors’. Title and Authority – the ‘title’ Swami/Guru, and ‘colour of cloth’ (orange/red) carries a publicly sanctioned ‘level of authority’ within the general community. ‘Title’ and ‘clothing’ announces to the world that this person is of a ‘holy’ nature, and having taken vows of ‘poverty’ and ‘chastity’, is dedicated to God. Such a high status ‘public persona’ in itself, presents a high-risk value to the unsuspecting, whether they be young, naïve, or impressionable. Gender - the Swami/Guru is male and the devotee, female; Age - the age differential between the Swami/Guru and the devotee; Past sexual history – vulnerability e.g. it has been reported that many women at the Mt. Eliza ashram ‘have survived rape and sexual assaults elsewhere’ (The Age Newspaper, 18/1/2015). We have little information on the sexual histories of the offending Swamis; Swami/Guru/devotee live in a patriarchal society; also live in a ‘closed community’ (restricted social connections, and high group cohesion); live in geographic isolation; a ‘top-down’ hierarchy; a high value group goal – ‘spiritual enlightenment’; the prescribed method to achieve the group goal (‘enlightenment’) is decreed to be service and devotion to the Swami/Guru.

A Stable ‘risk factor’ alone e.g. male Swami and female devotee, has low predictive value. Add other ‘risk factors’ e.g. patriarchal society, and the cumulative effect considerably raises the predictive value. The totality of Stable ‘risk factors’, indicate a significant ‘power-imbalance’ between Swami/Guru and devotee, thus ‘a high level’ of risk of abuse.

Dynamic ‘risk factors’ draw heavily upon personality characteristics.

To be a ‘popular’ Swami/Guru requires specific personality traits. Natural leadership is one. Natural leadership is built upon ‘strength of personality’ e.g. intellectual certitude, ambition, and charisma (attractiveness to others). The problem for the unwary is that ‘personality characteristics’ are not markers of ‘holiness’! Take charisma. Personality research points to the ‘interface’ between charisma and narcissism. Narcissists present as natural leaders – they speak with certainty (often dogmatic), can be attractive to others (often overwhelming), and appear ambitious (often grandiose). The downside is that narcissists are self-revolving, lack empathy, and are self-destructive. So, one might pose the question, is your Swami/Guru a worthy natural leader, or a narcissist?

Followers of ‘spiritual leaders’ are prone to an external locus of control (i.e. believe that events in their life derive primarily from others). A Swami/Guru with narcissistic tendencies will encourage a vulnerable devotee to trade ‘trust’ for his ‘love’. Selection of victim is the preliminary step in the ‘grooming’ process. The chosen devotee is made to feel ‘special’ through ‘favours’ granted. The victim is desensitized and their compliance secured. Having complied, the victim is sworn to ‘secrecy’, accompanied by overt or subtle threats.

Are Swamis/Gurus more sexually depraved than the rest of the community e.g. accountants? Forensic statistics show that the majority of sexual offences are opportunistic in nature, and occur within emotionally intimate circumstances e.g. families. As demonstrated by Static and Dynamic ‘risk factors’, Swamis/Gurus have more opportunity to offend sexually than does the general community e.g. accountants. Accountants have a greater ‘opportunity’ to abuse, financially.

So, in such a ‘high risk’ situation, what can the devotee best do to protect themself from potential abuse?

1/ Beware Female. Australia and India are patriarchal societies with gender inequality at the fore. The ancient Hindu Swami/Guru tradition is at the extreme end of ‘right-wing’, male- dominated, conservatism.

2/ Assume Self-Responsibility. In the promise of ‘love’ and ‘enlightenment’, do not trade ‘self- responsibility’ for service and devotion to your Guru, nor the comfort of ‘belonging’ (to a family). A Sadguru (a true Guru) does not need your love. A Sadguru does not need your ‘service’ or ‘devotion’. A Sadguru does not require anything from you. A Sadguru is free from ‘neediness’. A Sadguru’s wishes only for your happiness, through exercising your discernment, turning within, and experiencing your Inner Self.

3/ Strive for Discernment (Vijnana). Discernment is ‘acuteness of judgment’ in secular matters. Discernment leads to discrimination (Viveka), to ‘right understanding’. Discernment keeps us
out of trouble, lack of, into trouble. It is the ability to distinguish ‘truth’ from ‘untruth’. Don’t get attracted to the ‘bling’ of Yoga. Look at what your teacher says, and what they do. Keep in mind, in the case of a Sadguru, ‘the teacher IS the teachings’.

4/ Discernment in Practice. Protect yourself with ‘knowledge’. It is simply appalling that in defense of their Swami, devotees can state - ‘he never claimed to be celibate’ (The Age Newspaper, Sex Swami’, 21/1/2015). Fact, a Swami is a Hindu sannyasin. The title ‘sannyasin’ literally means, ‘dead to the world’. Upon initiation (diksha), the sannyasin takes the vow of ‘sannyasa’ - the complete renunciation of the world, and its possessions (including ‘sex’ and ‘money’). Knowledge is power. The knowledge that Swami = celibacy may have forewarned the vulnerable devotee, and truncated the efforts of the said Swami to deceive his devotees.

5/ Right Understanding
All human beings are born from karma, and are sustained by karma. Even Sadgurus are subject to prarabdha karma (accrued karma currently operating). Swamis and Gurus, whether ‘enlightened’ or not, are in the process of living-out accrued karma. This is what Buddha meant when he said, ‘I’m just a man, not a ‘god’. Karma is ‘positive’, ‘negative’, and everything in- between. The only difference between a Sadguru, and not, is that the Sadguru is free from ‘identification’ with personal karma, positive or negative. The key word is ‘identification’. Karma, positive and negative still rolls on.

6/ Back to Self-Responsibility
Clinical ‘forensic assessments’ share in common with Yogic philosophy, a non-personal, ‘big picture’ approach relatively free from prejudicial human sentimentality. In keeping with this, Samkhya Yoga philosophy states that we are ‘the creators of our own karma’. This is a statement of ultimate ‘self-responsibility’. We choose a Swami/Guru in our own image. If we are driven by ‘greed’, we will find a greedy teacher. Self-responsible students find good teachers. Middling students find middling teachers, and those lacking in ‘self-responsibility’ suffer the consequences. The ineluctable Law of Karma says, ‘for every perpetrator there is a victim, and for every victim, a perpetrator’. Unlike human sentiment, the Law of Karma is fair, non- judgmental, and amoral.

Life may not seem ‘fair’, but actually, it is! Forget ‘blame’. It is a waste of a yogini’s energy. Get on with your life. Experiences, positive and negative, are there to help make future choices that enhance self-understanding. This is Yoga.

Please feel welcome to comment on this article (published in April 2015, Yoga Today Journal) Dean Das, Mind-Yoga (Aust), Melbourne, conducts Courses and Intensives in Australia.


Email: mindyoga@meditationclassesmelbourne.com