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Kausthub Desikachar ‘Sex Scandal’ Spurs New Questions on Teacher Student Relationships and Strength of Lasting Legacies

in YD News

Though we have crossed the threshold into a fresh year, so far free from guru-related scandal, many are still feeling the rippling effects of all the shit that went down last year. Pardon, but really, it was shit. Though we might not want to talk about it, it’s kind of a big deal and may set the precedent for the future of yoga.

Included in the category of shocking news of 2012 was the outing of lineage laden teacher Kausthub Desikachar (son of TKV Desikachar, grandson of Krishnamacharya) as a sexual miscreant. As details emerged, we were served with several victims’ accounts of their experience via KYM (Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram) announcements and an email from senior teacher R. Sriram on October 17.

On that same day, Scott Rennie, a Scotland-based yoga teacher and close student and friend of Kausthub shared his response to the scandal on his blog, offering his take on transparency in the yoga world and potential TMI. It’s an interesting blog post not only because of proximity to Kausthub and the situation but for Scott’s perspective on boycotting the KHYF (Krishnamacharya Healing Yoga Foundation) of which he was but is no longer a member and what happens to the students who inadvertently find themselves embroiled in a sex scandal. Additionally interesting is its relation to what happened to Anusara, the brand’s teachers and followers.

While it’s not an outright defense of wrongdoings, Rennie tries to make sense of these so-called sex scandals:

Why do I usually not get involved in the posturing that goes on over yoga sex scandals? Most of the time it’s because I have a life (i.e. better things to do with my time) and the kind of petty flame-fest moral judgement bullshit that follows a yoga teacher having consensual sex with a student utterly bores the shit out of me. I get the whole “position of trust” thing, really I do – I worked as a cop for 12 years, 5 of those in the CID investigating sexual crimes, and I think I have an insight into the boundaries of acceptable behaviour that many never will. Maybe I hang about with too many Tantrika-s, but most times I read about “sex scandals” I find teacups full of whimpering storms that have no substance at all when you consider sex and relationship beyond the choking constricts of inauthentic Victorian values or phony Brahmacharin attitudes. They are usually just a forum for some people to feel morally superior at the expense of others.

Actually it’s often not the sex in the scandal that ruins careers and brings down entire Yoga empires overnight, it’s the lack of transparency and the deceit that goes with it. So perhaps a good way to stay clear of sex scandals is to be open and honest about relationships, avoid manipulating others and avoid doing anything that you feel a need to hide from the world (noting of course that this is very different from feeling the need to tell everyone about everything, and ordinary rights to privacy always apply).

But he admits this case is different:

But this case is different for me, for three main reasons. The first one is that it involves my former teacher, the biggest influence in my yoga teaching and a massive influence in my life to date, Kausthub Desikachar. Now I’m not talking about him being my teacher in the sense of those who love name-dropping on their website because they once went to a workshop by Shiva Rea or spent a few months in Mysore as an anonymous face that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois wouldn’t know apart from the guy selling coconuts in the street three crossroads away. I had a personal relationship with Kausthub, to the extent that I regarded him as a friend as well as my teacher.

As well as the Yoga side of studying in his Sanga in India from 2007 – 2009, sitting in hour after hour of lectures and lessons, and of helping arrange his trips to Scotland, I have dined with him and his family regularly, sat and chatted over tea in his home with him, received gifts and wedding invitations form his family, edited a book for him, even got up out of bed to go photographing along the coast of Tamil Nadu with him at 4am on a chilly Sunday morning. That said, I made the decision a couple of years ago to move on and find my way without him as a teacher, but not for any reason at all relevant to this situation. Still, I feel that I have insight into this situation and a right to speak my mind about the allegations i have heard to date.

The second main reason I am voicing my thoughts and feelings is the nature of the allegations. From the information I have seen so far, this is not one of those “yoga teacher has affair with student” type of allegations that is just a platform for whiney moralists to out their Victorian ethics and start quoting sutra-s and out-dated concepts they don’t even understand just so they can feel important/superior. From everything I’ve heard about this situation, from all the information I have about it, this particular scandal is about behaviour that amounts to actual physical sexual abuse which has led to serious criminal allegations and subsequent investigations by the police.

My bottom line with that is simple –  no matter how good a friend you are or have been, if you have chosen to engage in non-consensual sexual activity then I totally, utterly, with every fibre of my being denounce what you have done.

There is no excuse, no justification at all from any valid authentic philosophy or approach to life that makes such behaviour acceptable. If what I’ve heard is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, then it is my unwavering position that what Kausthub has done is wrong and he deserves whatever is coming to him in terms of loss of all his privileges as a respected Yoga teacher and in terms of criminal prosecution. The most I can offer him in terms of compassion is that I hope, as someone who knows his brilliance as a teacher and witness of his potential beyond even what I have experienced of that, that he finds a way through whatever has led him to such deplorable actions and into some sort of clarity.

But what about KHYF and the unsuspecting students? This is where Rennie takes issue with the content of the detailed email that was written by R. Sriram.

More worrying than that is the following part of the email, which disturbs me deeply as a former student at KHYF who has done nothing wrong whatsoever, has not committed any abuse or had any involvement in these allegations, and has actually never been taught by Kausthub in a manner that would lead to such abuse. I will quote directly from Sriram’s email so there is no confusion:

“We are called to advise people to boycott KHYF. I am in touch with several senior and long-time students of Sri Desikachar and active members of KYM and have taken their support in writing this letter. In Chennai there is an honest attempt to shut all teachers of KHYF out of the doors of KYM, the centre started by Sri Desikachar. This is a right effort for people to reinvest their faith in his life-project KYM, which is a non-profit organization. If it succeeds in shutting out the influence of Kausthub, there will be an authentic forum for students all over the world to learn yoga as the way it was envisaged by him.”

This stance, I must strongly stand against – the former students of Kausthub Desikachar are not responsible for his actions. Those with whom I have been in contact since the allegations have all, to a person, denounced Kausthub’s behaviour. While I am no longer a member of the KHYF and any such efforts to exclude people based on their teacher’s actions would not affect me, it is simply, utterly totally 100% wrong to discriminate against one person based on the actions of another when they had no part whatsoever. The fact that several people within KYM and elsewhere agree with Sriram provides no authority whatsoever, this kind of discrimination is totally unacceptable in the modern world – just as the son is not held accountable for the actions of his father, no student should be treated differently just because his teacher acted badly.

He goes on to propose there may be some shady politics going on to oust a bad seed and quickly sweep any remnants away as if to protect the higher ups and distance themselves from a collective guilt.

I worry in fact that what is going on here is some level of political machination – now that the heir-apparent to the KYM dynasty has fallen the wolves are gathering to fight out who gets to be in charge. And the best way to improve your chances of being leader of the pack is to exclude the competition. Speculative I know, but I can see no other reason why apparently intelligent people would choose the extreme action of exclusion on the faulty basis of collective guilt. If there are KHYF teachers out there who feel that Kausthub’s actions and methods were acceptable, then there is certainly no place for them within Krishnamcharya’s tradition. I also feel there is no place for people lacking the intelligence to discern between two. You do not throw the baby out with the bathwater!

Without sounding facetious, we’ve heard this one before. It’s very interesting to think about in a time when gurus of supposed luminescence have their darkness revealed in a public and shocking manner, leaving students and followers to fend for themselves. We don’t have the latest update on the dissolution or re-intactment of KHYF, but we know yoga communities are strong and can recover. In the case of Anusara, adherents splintered, estranged, rebuilt and moved on. Others clung to the teachings of John Friend but perhaps call it something different now. John Friend himself dropped the Anusara brand (almost entirely) and has reinvented himself, everything practically all but forgotten. The deep-rooted lineage of Krishnamacharya is different. And many are scrambling to keep the legacy intact (ie. Sri K Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar both stem from Krishnamacharya’s teachings).

We’re curious what all of this means for teachers and students of yoga today when mega brands (styles) are tarnished by the misdeeds of modern leaders and integrity is worn away to the point of mistrust. This, surely, is not your parent’s yoga.

Update: Mark Whitwell’s response from the Heart of Yoga Conference 2012. Thanks to J. Brown for the heads up:

Also, this from MW’s YouTube account.

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Earlier

12 comments… add one

  • wow. I guess you didn’t read what I wrote on the mess.

  • YD

    all scandaled out. please share.

  • YD, I wrote three posts from my perspective as a long time KYM student:

    http://lindasyoga.com/2012/10/12/the-latest-yoga-scanda/

    http://lindasyoga.com/2012/10/16/final-words-on-a-yoga-scandal/ — containing an astute analysis by one of my readers

    http://lindasyoga.com/2012/11/04/mark-whitwell-on-kausthub-desikachar/ — containing thoughts of my friend who was a close student (male) of Kausthub

    I was contacted by more than a few people when the shit hit the fan to comment on this since they knew I am close to KYM. I was sent all the paper (emails, letters) on this before IAYB wrote about it. I chose not to say anything until I heard more about it.

    I am conducting a group trip to KYM (private classes) in March and seriously reconsidered my trip, however, the participants (all but one) were not really concerned about the allegations and they trusted my judgment about continuing the trip.

    I can tell you that when this happened I immediately emailed the director of yoga studies (whom I’ve known since 2005) about my concerns, in no uncertain terms. I made my decision to continue my group trip to KYM based on what she told me.

    frankly, I am surprised this all blew away so quickly, unlike the Anusara mess.

  • Mark Whitwell has had a lifelong and personal relationship to the Desikachar family and lineage (edited Heart of Yoga.) To hear/watch his response to this tragedy:

    Part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIqZknA796g

    Part 2
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KaTjxHsE9w

  • Thanks for sharing those J. A terrific response from Mark Whitwell.

  • TK

    There be no such thing as bad press,,,just ask the catholic church, or even Penn State.

  • The links I provided above are from the Heart of Yoga Conference and are different then the video’s YD posted in the Update (which are also good.) They are not as good aud/vid quality (skype projected on a wall) but are a bit more specific in some ways. You might check them out as well.

  • YD

    Thanks, J!

  • Camtron

    In regard to the Mark Whitwell conference- his response was mature, intelligent, thought-provoking, and one that any person could relate to. His students on the other hand, sounded like a bunch of giggly middle schoolers- laughing when he talked about the criminal nature of this case, and even interrupting him. Grow up and show some respect!! There are many times throughout the day and in our lives to laugh, and this is not one of them.

  • Camtron- When Mark said: “lets not treat him like a criminal, even though he is,” an uncontrollable laugh erupted because of the paradoxical nature of his statement. He too smiled and laughed a bit and his choice of words. This was also in the context of a much longer conversation that went on between Mark and his students (many of which he had trained to teach.) There was also some delay happening with the Skype session that caused for a bit of overlapping. Having been there, I can assure you there was no disrespect whatsoever. The lightheartedness in the room, even while discussing such a difficult subject, was by Mark’s design alone.

  • I strongly disagree with Scott Rennie’s remarks about current KHYF teachers. Kausthub is still very much in control of the KHYF, which is a privately held corporation, owned by his family. He claims that he has nothing left to do with it, however he has done nothing more than put his mother and demented father in charge of it. That, in and of itself is deceitful. Kausthub is still very much in charge. Any teacher who is still affiliated with the KHYF is supporting a sexual predator both financially and professionally and I must seriously questions their motives and ethics.

  • julia

    Dear Scott

    I believe you are seriously deluded. Of course you were close to Kausthub. You helped him edit a book after all. That is a job that each and everyone of the girls that were subject to abuse did as well. Each person that is needed to prop up the skills of this egotistical teacher is love bombed. Much the same way as you have been. They are made to be felt so important and special that they fawn to his every need. Of course you were treated nicely – that is because you are male. What is absolutely shocking is that you in your own words worked as a ‘cop’ for many years. And yet you appear to have no empathy for the plight of the women and their voice in this situation. You must be aware that only two percent of rape and abuse cases ever come to trial. You must realize that these women are in fear of their lives and incomes. You must realize that some live in India and are even more terrified of having acid thrown in their faces. So if you have no recourse and the world is not listening what do you do. Much the same as the current cases with the Church, Jimmy Saville and numerous other cases you start a slow game of chinese whispers with hidden identities. You hope that someone is going to listen and find a way for recourse. I too have worked very closely with this great teacher. His teaching methods are bullying, manipulative and vindictive. Today a letter has been sent to all his students. It informs everyone that he has had four months to think about events and he regrets his actions. On the other hand he says that people are telling lies. What sort of apology is that? To admit guilt and not address the victims. I am sorry Scott but this guy is a fake. Someone living in yoga would take the opportunity to speak out in full transparency. Own up like a man and address those that feel injured. It doesnt matter what others are doing or saying it is only the injured that count. And who is speaking up for them.

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