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Every new yoga scandal is carried upon a chorus of “you have to separate the person from the practice” and “the teacher is not the teachings.” Clearly, this seems to abandon the victims by ignoring the allegations, with the main objective being to preserve the brand and subsequently the earning potential.

Both phrases are ridiculous and are in fact, spiritual bypassing, which is an attempt to preserve the inner peace of those parroting the words while ignoring the very real damage done to victims. 

To teach yoga is nothing more than sharing our personal practice, how, why, and what we practice with others. We teach what we know.

The teacher is the living embodiment of the teachings, not just how they are taught, but how they are lived. Children will mimic their parents’ actions, even if it contradicts their words. Students will do the same.

And teachers will teach the lessons that their own teachers taught them.

There is no separating a person from their practice because the teacher is the teaching.

I have studied with many teachers, some of which were problematic. For several years I studied with a teacher that was very focused on money. He offered every teacher training under the sun, as well as charging for initiations and selling a wide range of merchandise. For those that could not pay seva (service) was encouraged in the form of donating time and labor. Every student was a source of revenue.

But this fixation on finances had always been part of his lineage. His own Guru charged hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars for classes, initiations, and other services. Granted, the Guru was financing a hospital in India with the proceeds, but the example was set – and followed.

Another teacher I studied with had a long history of engaging in sexual relationships with his young female students. He would groom these young women first by inviting them into his exclusive circle. Then he would compliment them, telling them they were special, deeply spiritual, and powerful. Eventually, he would promise them a place at his side as a senior teacher and promise to make them heir to his ashram.

He would talk about his own guru and promote his teachings. However, he would never discuss the sexual relationship they had as student and teacher.

These abuses were all part and parcel of the lineage. Just as abuse is carried through generations of a family,  so too does it infect and spread in spiritual communities.

A teacher from a lineage of abuse passes the teachings on to new students, and with it passes along the abuse. Removing an abusive guru might correct an immediate threat, but it does nothing to stop the institution that allowed abuses to occur. We are enabling a cycle of abuse when we try to separate the two.

Those who defend scandal plagued lineages (and sometimes even the abusive teachers) are often defending their practice and communities – but those practices, even if removed by multiple degrees of separation from the original teacher, still contain the seeds of abuse. And those communities, unless they address and fix this problem, will continue to allow those abuses to occur, because the abuse has always been a part of them.

Saving a lineage from an abusive leader requires the senior teachers and community to come together and confront not just the leader and their actions, but also the community that stood by as abuses happened. If the leader can be expelled, the behaviors purged, and the abusive teachings and influence be completely removed then (and only then), can the lineage be saved.

But this requires the community to first recognize and take responsibility for the abuses that happened. These abuses are always open secrets within the communities that house them. I had heard of impropriety and abuse by some celebrity teachers years before the scandals became tabloid fodder or Netflix documentaries.

I understand how hard it is to see a teacher or guru fall from grace. It is a deep sense of betrayal, not just by the teacher, but by your own sense of reason. No one wants to feel like they have been duped. And, powerful emotional bonds caused by past and ongoing trauma causes even the abused to defend the abuser.

As humans we are what we do – and how we practice as well as what we practice makes us who we are, and ultimately, that is what we teach.

And we must be accountable for what we teach – all of it.