eromain wrote:3rd March 1999
Thank you for your letter. I was astounded by the clarity, lucidity and directness of your words. It is a most incisive critique of the less praiseworthy side of Raja Yoga. And it seems to me that as a Raja Yogi of some twenty years and in particular as someone who had to grow up in Raja Yoga you have every right to expect your story to be heard. Everyone connected in the past, present or future of Raja Yoga whether they acknowledge it or not, and no matter how unpalatable they might find your words owes you a debt of gratitude for your honesty and your courage. To learn from mistakes they need to be pointed out. Maybe someone somewhere might learn from this.
One of the most powerful feelings I have on reading your letter is one of respect for your anger. Anger may not be the ultimate answer but it is sometimes a very good starting point. Over the years I have had such sad discussions with so many ex and current Raja Yogis in which they have expressed great anger at their experiences in Raja Yoga. I do not seek out Raja Yoga gossip at all, I had more than enough when I was in it, but through the years so many deeply upset people have contacted me, often after years of no contact. Sometimes it is current Raja Yogis wanting to talk and finding no one in the organisation that they feel able to confide in. Sometimes it is ex Raja Yogis re-examining their past and struggling with unresolved issues. From these various people I have heard the most awful stories of mistreatment, intimidation, exploitation, violence, attempted suicides, wife beatings, mental breakdowns and sexual molestation. I was in Raja Yoga for fourteen years, and it is only after I left that I started to hear about most of these things! It fills me with dread now to think about this real hidden legacy of Raja Yoga; not their little leaflets and VIP lists but the inner work that thousands of people have to do to repair the damage once they leave.
Over the years I have worked hard to get my own history within Raja Yoga to a place inside of me in which I could emphasise it’s good points and I could appreciate the good things I participated in whilst there. I wanted to feel that my exchange with it was on the whole an upstanding and noble thing. I wonder in retrospect if I should have allowed myself to be much more critical of it than I did.
There are very few western Raja Yogis that could be said to have grown up from childhood to adulthood in Raja Yoga. They are a select and therefore valuable group. As one of them I would like to state that in my opinion I cannot believe for one moment that a Raja Yogi who came to the institution as an adult can imagine what it is like to have to try to grow up in Raja Yoga. Nor do I think they realise how vulnerable the young and innocent are to the more extravagant claims of Raja Yoga. I totally worshipped my teachers when I was a child, I was incapable of thinking of them as anything but God’s directly appointed and infallable instruments on earth. They were not people they were gods and goddesses. And I was totally unequipped once their human frailties and weaknesses started to show through. Coming to Raja Yoga as an adult and making a life once there is so sufficiently difficult that ninety nine percent of people ultimately fail. Coming as a child is substantially harder and rarer. All Raja Yogis have a responsibility to listen respectfully and humbly to the testimony of the Raja Yoga children. And ultimately if Raja Yoga ever feels the need to apologise to you for your treatment, the proof of their regret would be an overhaul of the way they treat their members’ children.
All over the world awful things are done in the name of God. The legacy of Raja Yoga like all religions is in parts sublime, but also it can be awful. What will or will not distinguish the institution from all the other religions which it judges so critically is whether or not it shows itself to be morally and institutionally mature enough to be accountable for it’s failings. Nowhere is this more crucial that in respect of the Raja Yoga children -those people who were not in a position to choose their involvement. If Raja Yoga cannot listen honestly to the cries of it’s children, if it cannot take responsibility for it’s part in causing the long-term pain and difficulties you speak of, and if it cannot do this publicly, then I’m really not sure what it’s claimed spirituality really amounts to. In spite of the many very good people within it, the institution would to all purposes be morally bankrupt.
A crucial measure of this will be if the Seniors try to deal with the issues you raise without involving the wider Raja Yoga community. If they try to exclude the rank and file Raja Yogis from whatever soul-searching your letter prompts I think this will speak more loudly than whatever they say to you. Your letter raises issues that the whole Raja Yoga community needs to address. I hope that the more cynical of the Seniors don’t try to deal with it simply as a potential public relations issue. If they do I have no doubt that they will come to regret it.
Many institutions, both religious and otherwise, are painfully and awkwardly having to account for past failings and abuses of power. They are having to institute safeguards and controls which until recently they thought themselves above. When I left it Raja Yoga had yet to begin this process, and did not recognise the need for it. Indeed this was a factor in my departure. In my discussions with the Seniors about your generation of young brahmins I felt that their disregard for your emotional, social, sexual and spiritual needs was unjustifiable. In my opinion both at the time and now it went beyond the bounds of well meaning failure. I think they failed in their duty of care for you not through error but through neglect. As an adolescent myself I had gone through many of the very things which I could see were waiting for you on your horizon, but the Seniors seemed to think that because they did not really understand what I was talking about there was nothing to talk about. They knew the intimate details of my story and knew some of the difficulties I had been through but they neither acknowledged that I could have been handled better nor that you should. I felt at the time that their rather blaise and condescending attitude amounted, on an institutional level, to negligence and recklessness. In short I was trying ten years ago to warn them of what you are now complaining about. I apologise now to you that I left so discreetly and did not at least tell you of my failed efforts.
It seems to me that if Raja Yoga is to flourish in the west it will have to institute genuinely the kind of accountability every other public organisation faces. When I was in Raja Yoga accountability was about as foreign a concept as you could get. Students and teachers from all over the world in their most candid moments used to ask myself and the other older London Brahmins advice and tell us their problems. It was clear to us in Shanti Bhavan that half of the people whose job it was to sort out these problems did not even know about them. The other half were frequently causing the problems in the first place. Many students and teachers had no idea what to expect in any given situation, there were no norms, no standards, no agreed common practices. Every centre in the world seemed to be run a different way and they all thought they were doing it by the book. Of course there was no book. Every teacher was more or less a law unto themselves, and abused or poorly treated students had virtually no comeback against a teacher who had the ear of his or her senior. Those that complained found that there seemed to be virtually nothing a bad teacher could do to get themselves thrown out if they managed to keep up the appearance of a good centre. The system was open to the most extreme abuses and in Shanti Bhavan at one time or another we would hear of most of them.
When I tried to raise some obvious directions that we might gradually as an organisation move in (such as proper teacher training, standards of delivery and conduct, some system of complaint management, proper monitoring of teachers, perhaps a mentoring system) or at least a systematic investigation into what the most common problems might be, the Seniors could see no need for any of these things. They seemed to me to ignore half of the crises and deal with the others in a very arbitrary way. Above all they seemed to treat them as if they just happened out of the blue. Most of them, however, could be seen coming a mile off. Most of them were inevitable given the lack of training, monitoring and accountability. Even today I shudder at how badly so many people were let down. People were coming to Raja Yoga centres in good faith, they were getting involved because they perceived it to be a certain kind of an organisation and then once they had jumped in they were finding themselves at the mercy of all kinds of poor treatment against which they had no effective recourse. And with the amazing amount of trust and faith students give their teachers and the institution, it can easily take many years before one works out what is really happening.
Clearly, this sort of mismanagement is still happening, but in my opinion it should no longer be tolerated or excused. Raja Yoga has had long enough in the west to get it’s act together. Innocent mistakes repeated and repeated are not innocent mistakes they are reckless endangerment.
Like many ex-Raja Yogis it is no understatement to say that leaving it was like death. Starting again was so hard and so painful and so completely the opposite of what I wanted to do. In reality all I really wanted was to be a Raja Yogi, but there was no Raja Yoga, there was just this complacent and arrogant little club that was an insult to the name. Along the continuum of well-meaning failure; carelessness; negligence and cynical recklessness senior Raja Yogis would no doubt place any institutional mistakes at the well-meaning end of the scale. I disagree. What you complain of are not aberrations in the Raja Yoga lifestyle, they are the cultural norms of it. They are the well established patterns one must learn to get on in that organisation. To be a good Raja Yogi you must learn their particular dysfunctions and preoccupations, their obsessions and their group languages and games. But, and this is a big one: It does not matter how much you devote your life to it all, those sweet little ladies will never allow you to genuinely participate in their adventure. Ultimately you are just another person they are using while you are passing through. They think that you are benefiting from the exchange and so they allow themselves to use you. But it is still just that: They are using you. If you want to stay then it is on their terms. Not God’s terms, their terms. The moment you try to point out something on the horizon that they don’t see, it is your sight that will be called into question. The moment you disagree with them, it is you who will be wrong, even if it is they who are wrong. And if truth or justice or your conscience gets in the way of you playing your role they expect you to sacrifice your selfish little morality just as they have. Ultimately I concluded that morally speaking Raja Yoga was a captainless ship, and it was around this time that I reluctantly and with a very heavy heart decided I had to swim for it.
In the end the renunciation of personal responsibility that everyone in Raja Yoga indulges in is a complete illusion. Baba doesn’t take on your personal baggage if you hand your brain in with your shoes. Spirituality is a relentlessly individual affair and whatever help you receive from others you will have to pay for. That doesn't mean one should not receive help, simply that one should factor in the true cost before handing your soul over into their safekeeping. At some point one has to begin to claim it back. I remember the happiness of Raja Yoga and I remember the price of it. It is a dirty, self-denying trade. But our hearts betray us and disguise it so well . And those who are offering the trade are so very, very seductive.
Good luck to you. There is a big wide world out there and you are an amazing person due some nice times. Whether Raja Yoga ever apologises to you or not is really a matter of their loss or gain. It is their privilege to be accountable to you and their loss if they fail to recognise it. But for the sake of those that they will in future presume to teach I applaud your act of whistleblowing.
Raja Yogis make extravagant promises to the person turning up at their door. They offer heaven in the next life and a near perfect lifestyle for this one. What they don’t tell you is that ninety nine percent of the people that sign up ultimately fail and leave bitterly disappointed. I think it extremely dishonest of Raja Yoga that they take absolutely no responsibility for their failures, even though most of their students will end up, by their own definition failures. An experienced senior looking out over a class of students at any given day of any given year knows that of her hundred students, on average only one or two will be in the fold in ten years time. But she directs everything she says to that one. In her opinion all the rest, who will founder and fall, will deserve whatever post Raja Yoga problems they inherit. Even if it is Raja Yoga teaching and practices that will sow the seeds of those problems, she will take no responsibility for them. If in her quest to find and make her king she damages others, that is their problem.
And every Raja Yogi of any substantial amount of time in the organisation has watched this merciless and exploitative system in action. Generation after generation pass through each centre. They leave and are replaced by a new batch, each one being told that they have miraculously just got in the door before time runs out and the world ends. A few years later they have gone. New people come, are seduced by the same promises and the same spectacular early progress. Gradually they too get disillusioned and eventually leave. They take with them not the health, wealth and happiness they were promised but often anguish, confusion and great personal dislocation. What they always take with them, without fail, and it is a horrible gift for a spiritual university to bestow on its graduates is a heavy and permanent disappointment.
If they are still at this point Raja Yogis they also often have a great deal of guilt, because they still believe the party line that only low class souls leave. The centre makes occasional friendly gestures to them but both sides know that according to Raja Yoga they are failures, they are the irredeemably impure, the fools who were attracted back to hell from the very lap of God. But this is not the odd difficult or weakminded brahmin we are talking about here! This is the story of very nearly all serious, committed Raja Yogis. According to the definitions of it’s own metaphysical caste system Raja Yoga does not actually make kings so much as legions and legions of body burners. Viewed from a distance it is a rather merciless system. Up close you are carefully shielded from this view. No teacher lets their fresh faced latest batch realise that the centre which they think of as a kind of nursery for kings is actually little more than a production line for cremators.
The sad reality behind this perverse system is easily stated: Any system which by it’s own definitions has at least a ninety percent failure rate is itself the failure.
If I were in charge of Raja Yoga I would make genuine and sincere efforts to get comprehensive knowledge from those that leave Raja Yoga of the ways that it could be improved. Instead of it blindly stumbling onwards, causing untold bad karma and pain in it’s wake I would manage the progress Raja Yoga makes consciously and openly. I would gather information from everyone, especially the ex-brahmins. I’m more likely to get the truth from them and anyway there is always five times as many in the ex-brahmin family as in the current one. Most current brahmins are simply passing through on their way to their eventual status as ex-brahmins. Knowing this fact as every senior does I would also be much less insulting about ex-brahmins during my classes to my current batch. When in the future I am inviting them round to tea as ex-brahmins this would stand me on much better ground. Given that the Murlis are edited anyway I would edit out the insults about ex-brahmins they are littered with.
In addition I would apologise to anyone who having committed themselves to Raja Yoga then decided that it was no longer for them. I would apologise formally in writing, I would thank them for their time and efforts and I would ask them to be candid in their insights about the institution. I would gather information such as this systematically and I would use it to drive through the large-scale improvements the institution needs. I would publish statistics on drop-out rates. I would know how many people dropped out after one, two, five, ten fifteen and twenty years. I would know what the major reasons are. And those reasons would guide me in my planning.
In essence if I was one of these self declared living deities running the so-called Confluence Age and the failures of my institution played a hand in people diminishing their future fortunes I would feel an obligation to find out where those failures lay. And I would think it deeply unspiritual to assume it was simply the karma of those that fall by the wayside to have a poorly trained or unsuitable teacher. I think it is patently obvious that usually people leave Raja Yoga somewhat reluctantly, when they see no other option. This kind of undermines the official view that they were predestined to go because they are poor-quality souls. People leave when their needs do not get met. It is usually a shared failure.
Raja Yoga is full of wonderful people. I have known most of the Seniors very well and many of the rank and file and they are in general people I am proud to know. Unfortunately wonderful people in a dysfunctional system can do as much damage as immoral louts. But wonderful people who refuse to acknowledge that they are doing this much damage actually are immoral louts. Raja Yoga is full of genuinely spiritual people functioning in an unaccountable, autocratic and ignorant way. Raja Yoga is full of the most spiritual people actually participating in a very unspiritual organisation. It teaches wonderful introspection then requires people to retard themselves so that the teacher has someone they can pretend to teach. It turns self respecting adults into lip-serving cow-towing weaklings. It shows people how to grow self esteem privately and secretly, making real foundations into the hidden self, and then it puts them at the mercy of some coward with a gun and calls the resulting struggle dharna. Wonderful decent people have received your letter T-- and many of them won’t know what to do with it. So well trained are they that they won’t know what to think about it until their senior (or conversely the trouble-maker at the back of the class) tells them. Three years later when they have left they’ll know exactly what they think, but by then it is too late.
What is perhaps most saddening about this awful episode is that according to, in my opinion, a most crude and unspiritual distortion of the principle of karma many badly trained and mis-educated Raja Yogis would interpret anything bad happening to someone as, karmicly speaking, their fault. Hence if your sister was sexually abused there are many Raja Yogis that would be quietly asserting that it serves her right. If I were you I would at some point request that apart from accounting institutionally for such an event as her repeated abuse you also request that an appropriate authority gives an official statement on the Raja Yoga beliefs as to the karma of such an event. In short is it a part of Raja Yoga doctrine that she deserved it? Do they actually realise that something bad happened to her? And if they believe that her abuse was as a result of her own karma how does this bode for their protection of children from child abuse in the future?
As we enter this thing called the Information Age when anyone can publish their thoughts to the entire world’s front room for virtually no cost at all Raja Yoga will rapidly lose the near total control it presently has of it’s public profile. People won’t leave discreetly with a polite letter asking why their sister was abused, they will publish their grievances on the internet. Once that starts it will not be long before all manner of skeletons start to emerge. Apart from the damage this will do to all the VIP parties, one wonders what the impact will be on Raja Yogis themselves, who up to now have had vast areas of their institutions failings carefully hidden from them by their Seniors. I would recommend that you do not use the internet in this way and concentrate instead on your own life, your own future, and your own healing. If Raja Yoga really cannot police itself in the longer term then unfortunately it will inevitably invoke it’s own public nemesis, but as I say I would discourage you from taking on the role of instigating this. Presume it is another battle, for someone else.
Isn’t it such a shame to think of the Yugya we loved needing to be slapped on the knuckles in public like all the other rather disappointing organisations? When I think about it all it makes me so sad. Ten years on I still can’t quite let go of my dreams for it all. I still can’t let it be normal. How ironic that it trained us so well in the conception of the sublime and the transcendent, and then with the perception it taught we turned on it and saw so clearly its’ many faults. Perhaps it really is a university and we simply outgrew it. Perhaps we shouldn’t resent it for not being heaven on earth, but should be grateful for what it was.
I know one thing for sure; ultimately every ex-Raja Yogi needs and deserves to be able to look back on it with love.
I think you should feel proud of all you have tried to do in Raja Yoga. It has great failings but it is a noble path. But however noble it might be or could be never forget this: All along from day one, in direct contradiction to what they tried to tell you, the question was not whether you would be good enough for it but whether it would be good enough for you. They tried, they really did, but it wasn’t. When you are ready you’ll forgive them and you’ll move on.
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