An Apology of Sorts from Sharath Jois

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On the 10th July Sharath Jois posted the following text on his Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/p/BzuKYVRlUv9/

·  sharathjoisr

“Growing up I was very close to my grandparents. When I recall learning asana from my grandfather it brings me immense pain that I also witnessed him giving improper adjustments. I did not understand and felt helpless. I am sorry that it caused pain for any of his students. After all these years I still feel the pain from my grandfather’s actions.
We must have zero tolerance towards abuse, mishandling, or touching students inappropriately. Teachers should respect students at all times.
We all have a responsibility to govern the teachings and protect against wrongs. Many times I have wondered why the senior students who were at the Lakshmipuram shala did not support the other students when they saw these things occur? They have moved on to become famous teachers worldwide. Why did they not act in support of their fellow students, peers, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, friends and speak against this?
My grandfather was my guru. He taught me everything I know about Asana, and I loved him, but I’m extremely sorry for those students who are going through this trauma. I understand your pain. It is my humble request to all those students harmed to forgive him for his actions. By acknowledging the past wrongs I hope you will be relieved from this terrible burden. It is my sincere hope that we can prevent abuse from ever happening again.
Namaskara 🙏🙏🙏”

Firstly, I want to commend Sharath for acknowledging this at all. We have waited for this for such a long time that it felt overdue, unreal and almost unexpected when it finally came. I think this is a huge step forward from the silence we had to listen to for the last 18 months. I do hope that this is not the end but the beginning of a dialogue. In this spirit and keeping in mind that I feel great relief at this first step I want to offer a few observations:

Sharath, you are using the terms “giving improper adjustments”. To call grabbing a student’s breasts or genitals or to dry-hump them “giving improper adjustments” is unhelpful and hurtful to the victims. It is this language that was used for three decades to cover up your grandfathers assaults. Let’s not continue it. You can read up on Guy Donahaye’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/AVPJSA/ what language is appropriate and what isn’t. It would be important to say things like “I acknowledge that my grandfather KP Jois sexually assaulted and abused some of his students”.

Another point that is really important when making an apology is that one confesses in what way one has contributed by enabling (i.e. “I saw, stood by and did nothing and I’m really sorry about that”).

Very important is also to state in what way one has benefited from enabling, such as “through not speaking up and confronting KPJ I inherited a vastly profitable family business and immense power”. Again, you would find valuable guidelines in Guy’s FB group https://www.facebook.com/AVPJSA/.

Also, when making an apology it is really important that one does not use it to shoulder off some of the blame to others. While parts of your apology appear heartfelt it then veers off into attacking those Western “Lakshmipuram senior teachers” who became “famous teachers worldwide”. While you are right that the ball is in their court now and we are keenly awaiting their statements, one’s own apology in such a difficult matter is no time to seek fault in the actions of others. They did shut up for probably exactly the same reason than you did and after all you profited most from being silent as you are even more “famous worldwide”.

It also needs to be acknowledged that people did speak out, were ostracized for it, removed from the teachers list, blocked on social media, insulted and verbally brutalized. I was screamed down on several occasions when I aired criticism at your grandfather and many others had similar experiences. We were “removed” from the community. Deleted.

Using your apology to deliver yet another blow to those “world famous Lakshmipuram teachers” (only recently you took them off your teachers directory) makes it appears as if your agenda is to make yourself the sole hegemon of Ashtanga. But this was your agenda ever since you took over from your grandfather, wasn’t it? And your mother, your uncle and those Lakshmipuram teachers continue to be obstacles in your path.

A few sentences further down then you ask the victims to forgive KPJ. That’s a double-edged sword. It’s almost like putting a timeline on the coming-to-terms process, i.e. “I’ve apologized now you should forgive”. You have to give the victims the choice to forgive in their own time or also to not do so. They may do so when they are ready or they may not. But it’s their choice and there can be no coercion or pressure.

Then, are you aware that until this day some of your lieutenants slander and discredit some of the women that spoke out against your grandfather? Those heroic women who spoke out first faced those attempts right from the beginning. But the slander and discrediting are going on until this very day. How would you feel if the leader of the people who are trying to destroy you, after years of ignoring you comes out with a lukewarm apology? An apology in which responsibility is passed on to others and then a few sentences later they ask for forgiveness? Wouldn’t we have to first set things straight and reach out to the victims?

Finally, I’m wondering why now? So many people complained verbally through the decades. Anneke was the first who wrote it in 2010. Then Karen Rain spoke. There were articles in the Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, petitions on change.org, so many students wrote you open letters, rescinded their authorization and certification, even asked you openly to take them off your directory. The Walrus article, the videos of your grandfathers adjustments taken off the web over and over again, yet they popped back up. Karen Rain’s video that gave us for the first time a visual testimony of the destruction your grandfather had wreaked on a human being. Jubilee Cooke’s excellent article. Then Matthew Remski’s book painstakingly documenting it all. Through all of that you had this amazing Teflon personality. Water on a duck’s back. It all peeled off you.

But then came Magnolia. Three weeks ago, one of your long-term students, certified and assisting in your shala threw everything away. She closed her studio, stopped practising and walked away from your yoga for good. And she wrote that she did it because you didn’t apologize. She had rather no yoga in her life than the yoga of an abuser, your grandfather. Was it that that caused the crack in your armour?

But I think there is another thing we need to talk about. The parampara. You call yourself parama-guru- the supreme guru. That’s a title that is usually reserved for God, the guru of gurus. In fact, on your Instagram feed to your post one of your students says, “Immense respect to you sharathji🙏 it’s takes a lot to speak up firstly, and when it involves ur idol/ guru all d more painful…..but you are God’s chosen one….may you continue to touch every person’s life with such honesty”. God’s chosen one? Do you agree with that or would you want to correct this projection of your gullible student? Or do you happily go along for the ride? Your grandfather was a master in the maintenance of such projections.

Another response on your Instagram feed states thus “For me, Guruji Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois remains flawless and the whole world will not change my vision. There is Shiva, Guru and Yoga and nothing else matters!” Deeply worrisome but then it’s a divinely handed down lineage, right. The above statement is internally consistent with that belief.

A parampara implies that one has received a title through a long lineage of teachers. In your case your grandfather. Now I’m asking you, can a spiritual lineage, a parampara be handed down through somebody that performs sexual abuse and assault (not to mention dry-humping and digital rape)?

Think well and don’t hasten. Take your time. Because if you say “yes” then arguably the term parampara means nothing anymore.

If it is “yes”, if there are no moral standards on those who hand down a lineage, we may as well all start our own paramparas. Or we could as well call your parampara “par-hump-ara” or “dry-humpara”. These would be all feasible consequences.

If your answer though is “no”, if there is in fact a moral standard for paramparas then your grandfather does not qualify for handing down a parampara.

In this case you did not receive a parampara!

You should then rescind the title parama guru. A title that you advertise ‘til this day on your Instagram account.

Save your soul, Sharath, and stop this narcissism. This self-aggrandisement! In any case wasn’t it one of those world-famous Lakshmipuram teachers who arranged the bestowing of this Parama title on you?

I think for the benefit of this yoga, this community it is necessary that you step down from this title (which was manufactured anyway). Ashtanga yoga is more and bigger than you, your grandfather, the Jois family. So many people have stopped practising Ashtanga because of your botched handling of this crisis. Do not damage this yoga any further.

This whole abuse was only possible because of this stratification and hierarchical order created by your grandfather and maintained by you. We should all just be sisters and brothers in yoga and no more looking up and down at each other in artificially maintained hierarchies.

Enough damage has been done to unsuspecting young people, who still believe that you are god-like or that your father is beyond reproach whatever he may have done. You can still teach and make Millions. But not continuing to use this title. It is morally bankrupt to do so.

PS About 18 months ago when this story finally broke somebody suggested that Ashtangis should place the photos of the victims of Jois’ abuse on their altars instead of images of the Jois family. At the time I thought this suggestion to be flippant. I don’t really have an altar and I’m no friend of person worship at all. But Anneke, Karen and Jubilee taught me so much more about bravery, courage and honesty than this bogus-parampara ever could. Isn’t that what yoga is truly about?

About Gregor Maehle

Gregor Maehle began his practice of Raja Yoga in 1978 and added Hatha Yoga a few years later. For almost two decades he yearly travelled to India where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Since then he has branched out into research of the anatomical alignment of postures and the higher limbs of Yoga. He obtained his anatomical knowledge through a Health Practitioner degree and has also studied History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Gregor lived many years as a recluse, studying Sanskrit, yogic scripture and practising yogic techniques. He has published a series of textbooks on all major aspects of yoga. His mission is to re-integrate ashtanga vinyasa practice into the larger framework of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers trainings, retreats and workshops worldwide.
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Gregor Maehle began his practice of Raja Yoga in 1978 and added Hatha Yoga a few years later. For almost two decades he yearly travelled to India where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Since then he has branched out into research of the anatomical alignment of postures and the higher limbs of Yoga. He obtained his anatomical knowledge through a Health Practitioner degree and has also studied History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. Gregor lived many years as a recluse, studying Sanskrit, yogic scripture and practising yogic techniques. He has published a series of textbooks on all major aspects of yoga. His mission is to re-integrate ashtanga vinyasa practice into the larger framework of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga in the spirit of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers trainings, retreats and workshops worldwide.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Gregor
    Fabulous. You wrote this just about perfect. Just so good.
    Small thought to add about the apology:
    The matter he addresses is incredibly serious. I feel an instagram post is just about a smack in the face. Maybe this is how things are done now and I am old fashioned but it just feels wrong… I also listened to some of Sharath‘s recording etc and feel that this letter is not his voice. His pr company who wrote this? Which makes it even worse…speechless…

    Furthermore, I feel so sorry that people abandon the practice. Pattabhi Jois contributed to the practice that exists since hundreds of years if not thousands BEFORE he was caught in what I feel is the real culprit here. The whole GURU matter is a problem. Remember Tolkien? All 9 human kings fell into darkness when they received power..it happens over and over in different shapes and colours.
    And look what happens to his grandson right now…
    This is why we developed intricate political systems to guard against this terrible downfall in our human makeup.

    Which leads me to what I feel is a huge problem – I speak to people that consider, becoming an ashtanga teacher who feel they HAVE to go to the Sharath shala in order to be authorized. They feel that it is a necessary evil in order to be reckognized by students seeking a teacher. Another dictator on his way to triumph. ARGH!! Please dearest senior teachers worldwide, get together, form a democratic, healthy body that creates a healthy system of authorization to counteract ashtanga to be hijacked by the most terrible sickness that hurts human kind and that devoured Patthabi Jois and now his grandson.

    Or to come back to this so very powerful writer Tolkien: the defenses must hold!

    • Dear Patrizia,
      Thank you for your remarks. I agree. My take on it is that so far the message (spirituality) has not transformed the vehicle that conveys it (vertical, authoritarian guru-student relationships). Spirituality can only succeed if it transforms the vehicle of transmission itself. That is teacher and student must meet as equals. That is what the Anahata (hear lotus) teaches, but it is the Manipura (power chakra) that teaches that the student must bow to and submit to the all-important authority of the teacher.
      Greetings
      Gregor

  2. I love this piece. I do feel the need to clarify one thing. Sharath did not call himself Paramaguru. This title was given to him, by Indian students, in a ceremony that is documented in Namarupa magazine. Whether or not he should use the title, is still a good question, however, I do think that it needs to be clarified that he did not give it to himself. I believe it was in issue 21 of Namarupa if you would like to do some research on it.

    • Hello Shanna, Good to hear from you. Issue 21, thank you. I’ll check it out. But you know, these guru titles are never bestowed by gurus on themselves. Similar to a monarch it’s always somebody else who crowns them and of course followers will jostle to the fore to be the crowners as they may get rewarded with influence. Hope this finds you well. Gregor

  3. Well done excellent response to Sharath.

    May I please ask you to publicise this Panel on Sexual Abuse in Yoga with Karen Rain and Jubilee Cooke, plus other women who have been involved in confronting this issue in other yoga traditions?

    The Panel is being held at the Brighton Yoga Festival on Sunday 28 July: https://www.facebook.com/events/814899112236837/

    It is the first time Karen and Jubilee (key survivors from Pattabhi Jois’ abuse) have spoken together on the same platform to address this issue.

  4. I am a life long yogi and have practiced Ashtanga for the last two decades.

    Pattabhi Jois gave us this beautiful, rich practice, and it is, for many of us, a powerful spiritual practice. I get what happened and it is a tragedy. All the yogis fueled with outrage and indignation, demanding more apologies and better, different apologies is only creating more of the same. Instead I would invite you to think of this:

    Many years ago Pattabhi Jois and his beautiful wife Amma lost their beloved son. It is a tradition among Hindus, when you feel you were in any way responsible for a death, to give up the most meaningful thing in your life. Pattabhi Jois was going to give up teaching, but Amma talked him into giving up his practice instead.

    This had profound health consequences as Pattabhi Jois aged. No one seems to see the obvious: Over the years he developed dementia, which affected his behavior in devastating ways. I am not making excuses for this behavior, only hoping to shed light on what has happened because compassion and forgiveness often follows understanding.

    And additionally, what Pattabhi Jois did or did not do has NOTHING to do with the beautiful the Ashtanga Yoga System, which he gave to the world.

    Yoga, like life itself, is what you make of it. Ashtanga yoga is what you make of it. To me Pattabhi Jois and the Ashtanga Yoga System is like a giant basketball size rose. I can lament the fraying edge of one of its petals, but this will not deter me from celebrating the astonishing beauty of the whole.

    • Thanks for your response, JJ. I agree that what PJ did had nothing to do with the practice itself.

      I think though what Pattabhi Jois did equates to more than just frayed edges of a petal and I know some of the survivors of his abuse would be distressed to hear that.

      I admit that I, too, am sometimes drawn back and fourth between gratitude to him for exposing me to the system that changed my life and the horror at seeing what he did to some people.

      I found it problematic to find in Ramesh’s death much material to drum up support for KP Jois’ actions. I know a fair amount of detail but it’s too long ago to be completely certain and too many people refuse to be quoted on what they know.

      I heard testimonies of KP Jois starting sexual assault as far back as the 70’s but certainly 80’s is confirmed. So probably 30 years before he died. Surely that can’t be all due to dementia.

      I also don’t think that it would give the survivors of his abuse any solace to know that it was performed under the influence of dementia. I tend to think that the internal world of the assailant, often used to explain abuses, is more or less irrelevant in these cases. It’s still abuse. I think we need to care about the inner world of the survivors for our Ashtanga-movement to heal. For all we know Pattabhi Jois is dead but the suffering of the survivors continues because they are still silenced by so many arguments.

      Hope this finds you well
      Gregor

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