Over the years I’ve wondered about the ‘loss of innocence’ for young spiritual seekers who leave their homes to live in Ashrams and gain spiritual growth through Discipleship under a Guru; and later report that they were abused physically and sexually! This should never happen. It is the equivalent of the Christian priests abusing young children – wherein unsuspecting children and adolescents are abused and don’t know how to react. Their parents are often disciples of the Guru and will not see the Man claiming to be a Guru for whom he really is. Worse still, many disciples think that the sexual abuse/initiation is for their spiritual growth! Often it takes years before the discipleship wears off and adolescents (now adults) come to terms with the fact that they were abused and seek retribution.
This week, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia has been hearing evidence against Swami Akhandananda from India and his second-in-charge, Shishy, an Australian woman. Akhandananda set up the Satyananda (Mangrove) Ashram outside of Sydney in 1974. This is the largest Yoga Ashram in the southern hemisphere. The gruesome specter of Shishy slapping children and also bringing them in for ‘sexual initiation’ by Akhandananda is damaging enough; let alone his abusive physical and sexual relationship with her. The Swami was jailed for 2 years in 1989 for cases of sexual abuse relating to 4 under-age girls. While the charges were overturned in 1991, he died of the effects of excessive alcoholism in 1998.
Why has so much Sexual abuse happened in Ashrams, Churches and other centers of Spiritual growth?
While abstinence is recommended by many systems for spiritual growth, the point is that not many people are actually suited for a monastic life. Sexual sublimation for meditation and spiritual practices is understood; but a lot of modern ashrams have become over-sized and so not all those who enter the ashram are actually suited to say no to sex. It interferes with the natural biological urges; and even so-called Gurus fall from grace. The monastic way of life works for many but it also creates a lot of tensions for many people; tensions that are not worth it in the broader context! Adiguru, the first yoga guru had a consort and many ancient Yogis had wives as well. My own Guru always recommended that one had a partner.
We sincerely hope that sexual abuse at spiritual centers of growth and learning do not happen. These are places that are supposed to comfort an individual and not misuse his/her trust and abuse those who come seeking spiritual comfort.