What do we do with these men? What do we make of their complicated legacies? How do we relate to them and their teachings?
These men have harmed others. Sexual assault and harassment. Verbal abuse. Messy, public affairs. Shadowy manipulation and mind control. Financial abuses. Intense chemical addiction. Turning away from staggering abuses by others within their organization.
They leave a trail of pain, trauma, and sorrow in their wake. They leave behind victims.
And I love these men. They have liberated countless humans from their own twisted suffering. They have spread compassion to the masses. They were lineage holders, translating the ancient wisdom traditions for modern times. They have introduced a new way of being into the West and in doing so changed the culture and its destiny.
Each of these men has profoundly changed my life. I would be a soulless automaton wandering the flatlands had I not stumbled into men’s work and Eastern contemplative practices. The teachings of these men have undoubtedly changed for the better the trajectory of my life and that of my family.
So do I dishonor their victims by honoring the men? Does it perpetuate their harm by drawing from their words?
I’ve been sitting with these questions since reading Premka’s brave autobiographical account of her relationship with Yogi Bhajan.
I haven’t settled all of these questions but in my attempt to make sense of this I do believe that it is important to separate the teacher from the teachings. Or in the words of Osho (Rajneesh), “The commitment is to love, not the man.” A dear friend who spent nearly three decades with Yogi Bhajan said to me, “It is the mail, not the mailman, that changes us. Don’t confuse the message with the messenger.” Pure consciousness is beyond any human and is imperturbable.
The fall of these gurus also presents a great opportunity for each of us to reflect on those we’ve hurt and reconcile. This is especially true for us men at this moment in our culture.
How does this happen? Men with an incredible capacity to open people’s hearts and change
lives for the better leaving a massive wake of pain. The integral philosopher, Ken Wilber, writes about lines of development. We can be highly evolved on our spiritual line but extremely underdeveloped on our emotional or sexual line of development. Geniuses in any line have sacrificed balanced growth in other areas of their lives. Just because we are spiritually enlightened does not mean we don’t have deep-seated childhood wounding that causes shadow behaviors in other areas. This is why meditation and yoga alone are never enough. We must also do our deep shadow work of emotional healing.
Western culture needed these men to come to translate the wisdom of the East. They came as gurus. We no longer need gurus. We no longer need infallible teachers who can do no wrong. We no longer need teachers who direct other’s lives for them. We need teachers who lead with their own human vulnerability and teach about their shortcomings. We need teachers we own their shadows. We need teachers who are deeply rooted in the wisdom traditions without the cultural and patriarchal entanglements. We also need more women teachers.
How are you making sense of the fall of the male guru?