The Covid-19 or coronavirus crisis is inviting us all to truly become wholly present: The whole world is reeling in a state of fear and having to meet life in a way that is completely unknown. This pandemic tidal wave of fear – be it of the unknown, our health, our plans, our freedom of movement, economic certainty, of the future itself – is like a glitch in the matrix of our reality so far, exposing the tenuous nature of much we consider fixed and unchangeable. Planning for the future is difficult and from day to day our reality as we know it to be is shifting. This means that we truly are invited to be here, now. And to make conscious choices in each moment.

This uncertainty is matched in the yogic world by a series of scandalous exposures of key gurus. Multiple paradigms are falling. Constructs of the known are disappearing before our eyes. Never have our yogic teachings been more relevant: to be present and to self-enquire. Being with what is, staying with our personal process of inner reflection and connection is demanded in the current climate.

From Corona to Corruption to Consciousness

The C word has replaced the F word.

Aside from coronavirus, the whole yoga world seems to be warping as increasing information about corruption arises, with information being revealed about the latest guru expose of Yogi Bhajan’s multiple shocking sexual, personal and financial violations.

Yet another guru bites the dust, falling from the pedestal of their self appointed moral and spiritual authority, an authority reinforced by us as members of their communities. Bhajan is the most recent in a growing list of spiritual leaders exposed as sexually predatory and abusive at all levels of power.

The book “Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage” shares Pamela Sahara Dyson’s personal experience working and living directly with Yogi Bhajan and the sexual, personal and professional exploitation she encountered by him. Since its release, many more women have come forward to share their personal stories of his sexual violations.

This current unveiling of truth and shapeshifting of our world reality is forcing us to examine our beliefs and to let go of many of what we have believed to be constants. The wave of shock, outrage and pain in the Kundalini and general yoga world is a real invitation to drop the outer guru and enquire within.

Spiritual Quarantine

The essence of Aruna’s teachings after observing the insidiousness of the devotion uber alles approach to the guru is this:

The teacher, the guru, the truth, is within you.

It is a deep message to all to come back to the one and only place that is real. The self.

With social distancing, the self may be the only one we get to hang out with!

At the deepest level we have little choice now but to stop placing our value on the outside, either in the form of guru or in how we trust the world to be. Our financial securities, freedom of movement and social interaction are already showing signs of enormous change. As I write this children’s schools are closing and online education will replace classrooms. Empty airports and locked down cities evoke horror movies spliced with science fiction. There is already a gigantic shift in everyday life. The changeability of known constructs falling away through the coronavirus’s impact on daily life underscores the transient nature of reality and that we cannot rely on assumptions that our ways of life will stay as they are.

Perhaps what is called for is spiritual quarantine, where we go inside ourselves, discover who we truly are and what the essence of our true nature is. Our nature is infinite, free and unconditionally loving. It is not affected by any outside changes nor can it be scathed by any occurrence or damage.

Spiritual Bypassing

The revelations about Yogi Bhajan need to be addressed by those within the Kundalini community, including myself. I trained in Kundalini Yoga among many other yoga practices and continue to use its practices in Aruna Yoga. I had an exemplary teacher who taught from her heart with true grace and revealed the magic of the Kundalini yoga practice through her teaching. Yet I was never able to fully swallow the full Kundalini tablet and deviated from the strict Kundalini fold some years ago. I opted instead to develop an all-encompassing yoga practice born of personal freedom and creative license, which incorporated many of the yoga traditions I studied trying as hard as possible to stay away from anything that felt like dogma.

Kundalini Yoga is based on sets of guided practices which Yogi Bhajan prescribed as a yoga class structure which should not be deviated from. In Kundalini, you are taught to follow the kriya precisely as the guru gave it, not deviating from its structure and sequence. The only permission was to alter timing of the exercises equally. After some years, I found that following the kriyas was becoming increasingly difficult. I struggled with applying a teaching verbatim that was not necessarily appropriate to the class in front of me. As a teacher I needed to be present to the group and ensure that the yogic teachings were relevant to the health and emotional issues arising in class. To follow a kriya in the strictly prescribed way did not allow for me to be fully present to my students. And although I loved the practices themselves, I dared to deviate from dogma and permit myself the freedom for creative abandon.

Today I am not willing to perpetuate the spiritual bypassing that looks for an ostensibly spiritual justification to sweep truth under the yoga mat. For many years I was that yogini: sweeping harsh realities under the cloak of spiritual cover, saying sat nam (Truth is my identity, a Kundalini seed mantra) when I really wanted to say fuck you!

Then I realized that a yogi ‘all is beautiful’ mantra was nothing other than another type of avoidance that kept me from acknowledging the truth of what is.

For me, yoga is predicated on TRUTH and truth has many facets, not all of which appear as consummate yogis in lotus pose, the depiction of pure bliss.

Truth means shit happens. Truth means we fuck up. Truth means feeling all sorts of emotions like outrage, horror, terror, rage, disgust, victimhood and judgment. Truth means that sometimes our most revered gurus have engaged in shocking abuses of power, and that their closest supporters have been complicit in covering up those crimes. Acknowledging our internal climate in relation to external reality is ultimately the way to truly be set free. Not to fake that all is ok and that anything goes. But to meet what we feel, and to discover that within the heart of our own emotional states is the very guru we have been looking for. Our own Self. Our own truth.

I assure you the TRUE consummate yogi who recognizes that the extant perfection of all things is waiting for YOU, free of judgment and divine in nature, right in the heart of your truth that is here now.

The Guru is dead.

Long live the Guru within!

I have written in my book on Aruna Yoga about how the fallibility of the guru in human form released me from prostration at his lotus feet.  I sought the spiritual teacher for most of my life and watched as guru after guru were exposed for various violations, literally like a train of dominos falling. This growing guru repugnance is corroborated by the tsunami of shocking exposures of Yogi Bhajan in the Kundalini Yoga ocean.

I have watched for many years how often spiritual teachers’ walk was incongruous with their talk. That chasm between principle and action has always been an alarm bell, which over time developed for me into a Pavlovian-like allergic response against guru glorification.

On the upside, it has also invited deep selfenquiry to vigilantly question my own personal integrity and to endeavor to stay true to the self and to what I consider to be higher principles of truth. For this I am deeply grateful to these ‘gurus’ for their many teachings of how not to be, their examples of the teacher I would be loath to become or follow.

My observations of the guru-shishya (disciple) relationship, are that many of them feel unhealthy and/or dangerous. These perceptions led me to strip away the notion that these gurus are deities. Any worship of a leader that engages in power violations, and which enables them to take place, is intolerable.

It is easy to get confused, mistaking the teacher as the source of divinity we connect to when we practice yoga. Divinity is an abstract notion without form, so often that form is projected onto the teacher. In many yogic and religious traditions, the spiritual leader is a prerequisite to attaining our spiritual goals. But when you impute God onto another human form, you head for trouble. Spiritual and religious leaders falling from grace keep showing us the folly of assuming the guru is God.

No longer can violations of any kind be allowed to be perpetuated with impunity. In the light of the truth being exposed about Bhajan and multiple other yogic gurus, the dynamic of bowing at the guru’s feet must becomes an anachronism. This is an opportunity for liberation: To really let go of looking to the outer form as a source of divinity and to begin to enquire within for those qualities.

I know from my own direct living experience that by letting go of the guru, I was ultimately guided back to the core of my own true being and to the teacher, truth and divinity within me.

Warning signs:

Do not drink the Kool Aid!

The teachings of yoga and many other spiritual traditions tell us we need a guru or mentor to follow. And we are all inspired by those beings that appear to have attained that which we are seeking. So how to know who to follow when so many teachers are being revealed to be fakes, frauds and rapists?

The best gauge is your gut. The smell of something being off. Your instinct is usually the bodily warning of danger.

You may imagine that lots of flashy material wealth like jewels, watches and luxury cars hint at a problem. This may be true, and a definite clue that something is off, but abundance in and of itself is not to be judged and may be a consequence of connecting to the infinite. Some choose the ascetic approach, others a worldly one. So this in itself is not necessarily the issue. You may also think that signs of outsize ego are the biggest warning sign. Ego is a difficult one to assess as all human being (i.e. anyone embodied in a physical body) has ego. I’ve been with some of the best (and the worst) of the masters and gurus and see in all of them what they would define as ego. I believe that while we are in form, ego is present. But while ego is not a disqualification, an overblown ego should be a screaming siren. And when spiritual masters declare that they are beyond ego, take that as a solid warning sign that they are not!

I think there are warning signs besides obvious manifestations like sexual exploitation and which are likely to be hidden from view. Be aware of any teacher:

  • who demands that you surrender wholly to them;
  • who justifies their own abusive or otherwise questionable behavior in spiritual lingo by telling you it is for your own good, to alleviate (or close a cycle of) karma or elevate your consciousness;
  • who justifies their own behavior by saying their guru instructed them to do so or that their dubious action is for the highest good of the devotee;
  • who tests your devotion to the guru in inappropriate ways;
  • who purports to be God (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in some form or another;
  • who asks or demands that you renounce your personal power to own property or requires you to give significant parts of your income in service of the community;
  • Who denies your free will and the ability to make your own life choices (like dictating your relationships, what to wear, where and how to live and be, educate your kids and so on)…

The list is likely inexhaustible, and perhaps the essence is to watch yourself for what may be unhealthy projections onto the teacher, and instead to be open to receiving the teachings as they apply and work for you and your life in the present moment.

Throw out the baby with the bathwater?

With the teachers in question, so should their teachings come into question. With every exposure, another school of yoga dissolves or is shaken: From John Friend, Bikram Choudhury (the yogic Harvey Weinstein) to Yogi Bhajan – no guru or swami is immune from the human condition and base proclivities towards greed and abuse. But to reject the practice itself based on the human fallibility of the teacher would be to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I have learnt from each ‘guru’ and teacher a pearl of wisdom that constitutes my garland or mala of teachings that is my living practice of presence and truth. Each pearl is a gem. I will continue to wear this garland as embodying the tools of yoga or union which form my foundation of being and guide my living practice of presence.  

That said, it is appropriate for us in yoga to begin the process of critically examining the practices that these corrupt gurus have created in order to identify where and how those warped power abuses may have infiltrated the essential theory and practices of these traditions. And perhaps the place to start is to truly make ourselves aware of the allegations of violations and wrongdoing of these ostensible gurus, and let that be the framework from which we re-examine what in the theory and practices is tainted dogma that can be shed.

The real guru

After years of spiritual seeking and many a teacher, I came to recognize that the real guru, is in life itself. In every pebble, person, experience and encounter. Guru means dispeller of darkness through light. It does not mean saffron clad, turban bearing, bearded loin cloth bearer, skull cap or rosary carrying being.

The real guru is your difficult mother in law or your prick landlord or boss who evokes your deepest disempowerment and unworthiness. The guru is your partner or child who may teach through their triggering behaviours that you are not in control of anything. The guru is the virus that threatens life as we know it and everything we hold to be secure.

This means getting real through the triggers life gives us on a daily basis. By opening to what these triggers evoke within us, we are catapulted into consciousness, returning to the drawing board of our own self.

Selfenquiry means asking: what is here? How does this make me feel?

 Sit in that truth and see how life as it unfolds will guide us to the truth of the present moment and into the depth of our own being.

Yoga is Union

When we practice ‘yoga’, from whichever source, the effects of inner connection are indisputable. Yoga means union. Union with the body and breath. Union with source is not tainted by human behavior nor diminished by pandemic viruses. In fact, it is catalyzed by the very triggers we encounter.

Yoga is a daily practice of pure presence just like the breath. The teachings of yoga remain as valid as ever, if not more so in light of these game changing truths and world shifts that are arising.

Be it Corona or Corruption, we are implored by life’s twists and reshaping deeper into Consciousness.

Plagues will continue to happen. The human condition will continue to do what it does. That does not mean that we condone the corruption. What it does invite us to do is to honour truth, each other and ourselves. Honour the practices of inner connection passed down. Honour life as it leaves us breadcrumbs to follow. Honour the Self as the moral and spiritual compass. Take the best of what we have learned, throw out the bath water and grow the baby, love more, connect more, deepen into our own essential Self.

No virus nor human action can derogate from our intrinsic, essential nature. The yogic union with the Self is beyond all human condition. From here, yoga is. From this all is revealed as perfect, as whole. All is divine.

If you want to stock up on something, stock up on the Self. It is in infinite supply and all sustaining. Let us meet there.