It is hard for me to share this in a blog. But it is necessary for me to share this. I was woken up from my sleep to write this, so I am in trust of the energy that sees this work as necessary for me, and perhaps for you. This is my first guru Poornima after feeling devastated.
Allow me to share and be compassionate as you listen…..
In December 2019, I was hit with the worst and most unexpected news of my spiritual life. There were allegations that Swami Vishnudevandanda who had brought the Sivananda Lineage of which I am a part to the west, had sexual relationships with several students.
For the first time, I could not sleep at night. I couldn’t process what my child was saying to me, I could not meditate. I went through the stages of grief… disbelief (how could that even be possible), recognition of spiritual pride (but my lineage was the only pure one left standing, so how to swallow this), deep disappointment (how could he, how could the board), silence (watching all the unfolding of information and anger and even abusive language from fellow teachers) and sadhana (bringing my grief, my disbelief, my pain) to the sanctuary that is my sadhana. Placing them at the altar of the Anja chakra and practicing pratipaksha bhavana. Sadhana ALWAYS brings clarity. So, I got off the ballistic Facebook groups, intensified japa (mantra chanting with mala beads), and dedicated my malas to myself, the perpetrator, the victims and all victims of abuse of any kind anywhere.
It still wasn’t easy. I had never believed in gurus. I was raised catholic and to think that placing one’s faith in anyone but God was foolish. But I didn’t understand what guru can be. A series of external and internal events, including some kind of longing for God I’ve felt since I was a little girl, changed that experience… I’ll share later, but back to that moment…..
On a practical level, personally and as a yoga teacher, I had decisions to make. Should I tear the picture of Swami Vishnu from my altar, from my wallet? Should I tell the students that have done Sivananda Yoga teacher training because of me? Should I give thanks to Swami Vishnu at the end of each class as part of the guru parampara? Would my students notice? Would they ask? What would I say? Should I change my social media handles? Should I go to the ashram for Christmas given the stance of the board? How do I communicate with the 2 swamis who are my mentors? What must be their pain if my heart felt ripped? And what was I really even feeling, cos it seemed to change constantly.
It was really the worst news I ever had!
It took me a few days. I spoke to most of the students who trained as yoga teachers. There were tears, lots of them, from all of us. That idea of having a “role model” had been lost and along with it the hope of such a possibility existing. I stopped using Swami Vishnu’s name in class, but I have been for over a decade, so I was still thinking of it. So, I chose to use that thought to silently pray for his soul while remembering that doesn’t make me holier than thou. Through grace in sadhana, I found a space of compassion for both victims and perpetrator. This is real compassion, through grace, not silent spiritual bypassing though it may appear that way.
It took me a few months, but I finally immersed the pictures of Swami Vishnu in the ocean with prayers too personal to share. I spoke to one of my mentors and it was so human and beautiful. I emailed the other wishing him “viveka (right discrimination) and isvara pranidhana (surrender to the divine will)”. There is great beauty in respecting the journey of our teachers. It is a silent connection where not much is said but energy is felt, and no verbal communication is required.
I decided not to change my social media handles, that if people were not going to come to my class because it said Sivananda Yoga (though Swami Sivananda had nothing to do with this scandal) it was not for them. The teachings I had received and still receive from swamis in this lineage have revolutionized my life. They have come through the teacher and yet are beyond them. Could one not have a “direct revelation” of this in meditation? Perhaps, yes, but not me, my soul needed igniting and the guru ignites.
One of the experiences I have consistently had is the presence of my guru Swami Sivananda. He left his body in 1963 but he’s still here. I had read of such things many years ago, in the autobiography of a yogi, but wasn’t sure it was possible. The closest anyone I knew had experienced anything like this was 2 friends a few years older than I, seeing Jesus on a wall. We were just kids, but those girls had a conviction and a look in their eyes that was unreal!
When I teach class, he’s there. Sometimes his presence is peripheral, like something from the corner of my eye. Sometimes he’s like a large protective presence around the room. Sometimes, he’s behind a student, seemingly placing his hands on their shoulders. Sometimes he’s in my meditation, with a reassuring hand on my shoulders. Most of the time I can’t sense his presence.
Yet those sometimes……. And it’s real, because after the class the student he was behind will come and tell me stuff….their experience so profound, even they hardly realize it. And I say, “you are taken care of, or you are protected” and I don’t say what really happened, though sometimes I do.
Can I explain this? No. Do I need to make cognitive sense of it? No.
There is a line in Hamlet, that a theatre director, Salim Ghouse who I acted and trained with for many years said to the self-righteous teenager that I was “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. I was mad when he said that to me. But it was a great gift. I remember even now ….there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.
Maybe because I’m Indian, I have this culture of respecting teachers that is very sacred. If the lineage has a “tainted” guru, I accept that too. Like the families, we are born into with their own scandals. Not everyone is perfect, neither are we and yet we are whole and complete as we are…we suffer together, we heal together and as the famous song goes….we are family.