Something for Women to Think About
March 22, 1996
Dear Ones at Ananda:
I began this letter in August, 1995, but the time did not seem right to send it out. In the present spirit of open dialogue among ourselves, it seemed timely to update and complete this communication. Originally I intended to share it with selected women I knew were concerned about these issues. To avoid any sense of exclusion, I’m giving copies to everyone although the focus is for women. Please simply discard if you are not interested.
March 22, 1996
Dear Sisters in Divine Love,
As women devotees, the issues now being addressed by many recent letters may have special significance for us. I have felt drawn to write this letter, partly as a health care provider and partly as a woman with an abiding concern for the expression of feminine values in the present era.
Over the five years I’ve worked at the Clinic [Sierra Medical Clinic located near Ananda Village], I’ve seen that there is much suffering among community members; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. There have been examples of great courage, faith, perseverence, growth and change; and the beauty of people helping each other through difficult times. We all share this spiritual journey, which takes some into the experience of physical or psychological pain. In these experiences are opportunities for expansion and transcendence, if we can go beyond limiting self-definitions. When we are feeling a lot of sorrow, anger, anguish, confusion, and suspicion, this usually means we are stuck in mind-states that are constricting. Our challenge is to break through into new understandings, new ways of perceiving that empower us to take actions or change attitudes toward greater inner harmony, peace and acceptance.
Ananda provides an environment which supports our spiritual search. I am deeply appreciative of Ananda as a spiritual village, as I am sure you are too. We sincerely want to benefit from the many blessings living at Ananda offers, the myriad ways to learn and expand our consciousness toward the Divine. In order to realize these benefits we must be able to receive and accept; when something blocks this process, our spiritual growth is affected.
Some blocks for women at Ananda include issues around sexuality, expression of differences, hierarchy, authority, and counseling. I will consider sexuality and counseling issues in this letter.
Swami’s sexual behavior
The most difficult current issue involves Swami’s sexual encounters with women over the years. We’ve received letters expressing various viewpoints, ranging from claims of abusive sexual encounters which indicate dysfunction in our supposedly celibate spiritual leader, to the whining complaints of victimized women who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. There are several basic issues involved here:
1) Should Swami be (or have been) celibate?
Swami has not stated he was celibate. Because he did take Swami vows, and Swamis are supposed to be celibate, one could make that assumption. But, he was dismissed from SRF, and in essence was removed from his order of Swamis, although he did not ask formally to be released from Swami vows until he planned to marry Rosanna. There were other sexual encounters, including Kimberly, before that time. The absolutist view says this breaks celibacy vows, and therefore is wrong. We don’t live in an absolute world, however. How many of us have kept significant vows perfectly? Purity is a quality of the heart and consciousness, not whether or not one has sex.
2) Did Swami abuse his power in sexual encounters?
The women who submitted declarations in the Bertolucci case state they were taken advantage of sexually, through the power and influence Swami had as their spiritual leader. They imply that their alleged sexual participation was not completely voluntary, but had a coercive quality. Some felt they needed to submit to the “guru’s” will, or serve their spiritual leader, even though they may have felt something was wrong. We can appreciate that they felt theirs was a difficult position. No doubt some were quite confused, wanting to surrender to a perceived higher being (either Swami as himself, or as a representative of Master). If this was their perspective, then they did not enter this experience as mature women consenting, but more as a child to a father figure.
From this perspective, it is easy to understand how they felt violated, betrayed, or abused. This is the position of an immature ego-personality, and leads to victim consciousness. Without blaming, because people are where they are developmentally, still this is not a helpful position. Women who accept victimization are giving away their power. Continuing to blame the powerful man for “using them sexually” keeps women stuck in victim consciousness. Only by owning our part in every situation can we transcend it.
Do you believe in karma? That we truly do attract to us every situation and experience in our lives? That these experiences are our lessons for growth in spirit and consciousness? Then these women were as much active participants in any sexual encounters as was Swami. Their growth is in transcending limitations caused by their pain, anger and resentment about it.
Swami’s sexual behavior has been called “inappropriate.” Some women may believe that any sexual involvement of leaders with followers is inappropriate, and a misuse of power. Swami has said he never knowingly took advantage of anyone. I, for one, believe him; everything I know from my experience of Swami supports his basic kindness and consideration for others. But did he fail to appreciate the impact of his power as spiritual director on susceptible women? Men in positions of leadership are always at risk for having women drawn to them sexually (both consciously and unconsciously on the women’s parts): This becomes confused with father and authority figure relations. The powerful man is looked up to like a father/god, but unconsciously desired sexually at the same time. This creates a situation where it is very difficult for the woman to resist sexual advances; yet virtually assures that she will feel violated and abused afterwards.
Should Swami have anticipated this dynamic, and therefore avoided any sexual contact with devotees? In a perfect world where we know everything, yes. Perhaps Swami made some errors in judgment; no doubt he has learned much from these situations. More instructive for us is to examine why we need/want Swami to be perfect.
3) Why do we expect perfection from Swami?
To the extent that each of us is disturbed by some aspect of Swami’s behavior, we have unresolved issues or wounds in this area. By holding Swami as an ideal of perfection, we somehow escape our own imperfections. When he seems flawed, our own wounds may be opened—or more likely, covered up by our righteous indignation over his shortcomings. Swami clearly states he is not a God-realized master. Expecting perfect behavior from him is simply unrealistic. If we take the broader view, we can certainly appreciate what an outstanding model Swami is for so many of the qualities we want to develop as devotees. Master repeatedly encourages us to use discrimination, to test truths ourselves, to seek understanding by direct experience. As we develop intuition and learn to trust our inner wisdom, it becomes less important that Swami be “perfect.” We can love and accept him as our Divine friend, and appreciate his courage in facing his tests. Then his behaviors don’t need to serve as surrogates for our own search for enlightenment.
4) Should Swami confess his “wrongdoing”?
Some women at Ananda have suggested that a public admission of error by Swami would serve to clear the air, defuse the controversy and turmoil around his sexual behaviors, and allow us to get past these issues. In actuality, Swami has made several public statements that go quite far in this direction (especially in the September 24, 1995 community meeting). He stated he had sexual encounters with women, but that these were few and he was “no libertine” or else could not have put so much energy into creative projects. Libertines place no limits on sexuality, or on any sense satisfactions. Knowing Swami’s character and works, he’s the farthest thing from a libertine!
Swami also said he was sorry for any suffering he might have caused anyone. I am sure he sincerely means this. However, it is not an admission of wrongdoing, nor should it be. The issue of wrongdoing is complex, and depends upon your perspective. There are levels of error involved. I think Swami has gone as far in this direction as is appropriate and prudent.
Even when acting dharmically, we may see that others experience pain or sorrow related to our actions. Having empathy for this suffering is not admitting our guilt, but reaching across a gulf of misunderstanding.
If any women is feeling strongly that Swami should admit wrongdoing and apologize, I invite her to examine from whom in her life she wants an apology. What powerful man betrayed her love and trust, and never said he was sorry?
What are the real issues?
Dear sisters, don’t let subconscious psychological processes masquerade as righteous principles, higher consciousness or intuition. Let’s be painstakingly honest with ourselves, remembering that “all circumstances are neutral.” Its our reactions that give them qualities such as good or bad. On the other hand, let’s have the courage to stand up for our deeply held and examined truths, and challenge situations when we think they are in error. If you are troubled by Swami’s sexual behaviors, ask yourself these questions (and answer them as honestly as you can):
1. What am I so upset about related to Swami?
2. Why am I upset about this?
3. How does this relate to issues in my life, or wounds/hurts from the past?
4. What do I want Swami (or Ananda) to do about this?
5. How will what is done resolve the problem? (for the community, for me personally)
6. What adverse consequences might result from this action?
7. Do I feel strongly enough about this to take action, and put forth enough effort to make it happen?
There is a time for counseling
As a health care provider, I often see the necessity for people to seek professional counseling. When the physical body has a significant illness, most would consider it fool-hardy not to seek medical attention. When the mental-emotional state is out of balance, psychological assistance often is essential. The mind has its processes and developmental stages in arriving at a well-integrated, mature ego-personality. Problems can arise in various aspects of development and mental processes; if severe enough these problems act as blocks to effective work patterns and interpersonal relationships. They can lead to serious depressions and other mood disorders, or even psychotic states.
People in life crises also benefit from counseling. Death of loved ones, divorce, severe psychological trauma, addictive disorders, childhood abuse, and many other situations create crises. Counseling and other forms of therapy help people identify and express feelings, discover hidden fears and release them, develop skills in self-regulation and communication, and learn acceptance. Psychotropic medications often assist in regulating brain chemistry and restoring balance to altered neurotransmitter systems. Blocks to growth and effective function can often be released, with increased ability to respond to life’s challenges.
Counseling is not an endpoint, but a step toward self- development, a vehicle to assist us in doing our inner work. As the self is more fully realized, we are better able to progress toward Self-realization. In order to transcend the ego, we must be able to claim (or know) our ego-self. Aspects of our self that are denied (or suppressed) will push toward consciousness, often with problematic consequences, such as physical disease or interpersonal dysfunctions. It’s my hypothesis that spiritual growth is likewise affected by blocked psychological development.
I have heard some negativity toward counseling expressed by Swami and others in Ananda leadership. In Swami’s June 29, 1995 talk, he said that “Talking won’t do it for us, and psychology won’t do it. We’ve all had deep hurts; that’s how we grow. What gets us past all this is meditation.” I can attest that this is a high truth. I’ve had years of counseling of various types (confrontational, insight, Gestalt, Jungian, adult child of alcoholics, couples, etc.) From each experience I learned something important, and grew in different ways. Some of these experiences released blocks for me that were profound; some provided me with new understandings and greater interpersonal skills. But none of them satisfied the deep yearning of the soul to know perfect love, or peace beyond all understanding. Only union with God does this, and meditation is the main pathway for Godunion.
In order to derive most benefit from meditation and spiritual practices, however, I believe a healthy ego-personality is a real asset. Deep psychological blocks can erupt to sabotage the devotee. Women with persistent depression, major inadequacy issues, addictive problems, or childhood sexual abusewho have not confronted and to some degree resolved thesemay. not be able to heal such wounds by meditation in the absence of therapy. Advising these women to meditate more is asking them to do something they simply may be incapable of doing, at least at that point. All healing comes from God, in whatever form. Therapy often provides a basis from which wounds may begin to heal, although the ultimate healing occurs spiritually.
I have not heard a prohibition against counseling; but more a caution not to let it become a substitute religion. I’ve referred a number of devotees to professional counseling, with minister support in some instances. If a woman sees a need for counseling in her life, it’s important to follow that inner guidance. Don’t expect to find all the answers and solutions to every problem; see counseling as a tool in your growth and an aid to fuller spiritual expression.
Expressing feminine energy
Swami recently described the energy of the new age as more feminine in quality. I believe this encourages developing sensitivity and opening the heart. Compassion and acceptance, the cornerstones of non-judgmnent, exemplify this energy. Let us balance these qualities with discrimination, honesty and astute reason. Seek your own deep comprehension of things. Ride the waves of differing opinions with detachment. Everyone’s perspectives are unique, as our precious letters to each other have shown. Repetition, publication, or even stating things under oath does not necessarily make them true. Attune your consciousness to Master. Strength, courage and truth are within our own higher selves.
Yours in Divine Friendship,