the privilege of lineage: kausthub desikachar’s continued silence

Kausthub Desikachar's website (kausthub.com) on April 10, 2013 (screenshot)

Kausthub Desikachar’s website (kausthub.com) on April 10, 2013 (screenshot)

Less than 24 hours after IAYB and YogaDork reported that Kausthub Desikachar has started teaching yoga again, his website (kausthub.com) became password-protected.

Perhaps he felt judged. But really, it shouldn’t be a surprise: this non-response is more silence and security, following a course of events that is already shrouded in silence and security.

I’ve been following the response from practitioners both here and on YD – as usual, there is a small contingent of dismayed and concerned folks calling out for an alliance of ethics or increased regulation and accountability. But there is a smaller, and rather alarming, group of people saying simplistic things like, “Don’t sign up for his classes! Unlearn powerlessness!” Which really annoys me, because it places the responsibility on the individual and not the institutions (in this case, the Krishnamacharya and Desikachar lineage).

Even more annoying are comments like, “Unless you were there, you really don’t know what happened…”

Fair enough, we don’t know what happened. And that’s actually the problem here. What we do know: five women in Austria went to the police and said Kausthub Desikachar sexually, emotionally and physically abused them. But we don’t know what’s happened since. There is a cloak of silence around this story. Has there been a trial? Were charges laid against Desikachar? What is happening? And now this man is teaching yoga again. Likely, to more women. The fact that this is permissible in the yoga world is highly problematic.

Everything that we know about this case emerged in October, in a letter from R. Sriram, a longtime student of TKV Desikachar and Krishnamacharya posted. Some key highlights, to refresh our memories (via YogaDork):

  • Kausthub has systematically intimidated [these women] into believing that they are unwell and need his help and then sexually harassed them. If they did not comply, he has been abusive towards them and tried to instill greater fear into them regarding their own health and welfare or that of those close to them.
  • The details lead us to the conclusion that Kausthub is developing psychopathically, needs perhaps professional help on a long term basis and should be stopped from further activity in the yoga world. It is awful to say this, since I have seen Kausthub’s astuteness in teaching theory. But his continuation poses a threat not only to women but also to the right awareness for the teachings of the two masters.
  • 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.

For more details about what the women went through, see the full post on YogaDork. It may have been posted six months ago, but it’s apparently the most recent and relevant information available. The rest of it is covered in a cloak of guru delusions and deceit.

UPDATE: As of April 14, Desikachar’s website is back up and now includes a letter called “Positive Beginning.”

11 Comments

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  1. “an alliance of ethics or increased regulation and accountability” – I always have mixed feelings about this partly because what I’ve seen historically in groups that do this is more a trend to cover these things up more to protect the good name of the profession than to protect those taken advantage of by unscrupulous practitioners.

    Which is the opposite of the stated goal.

    At the very least I think such an organization should have non-teacher, non-industry members involved who actually represent clients, especially in any sort of ethics committee.

    Years ago I was a client rep in on an ethics committee for a massage therapy group with exactly that logic of remembering this is not just to protect the “profession” but the “clients/students” as well.

  2. With all due respect… if you want to find out about what’s happening in India, then come to India.

    It’s the height of ignorance and ego to assume that two bloggers half a world away writing about Kausthub is enough to scare him into password protecting his website. If that’s the case, then he never would’ve had the balls to start his own new yoga school, given how many articles were already written about him.

    Perhaps, and this is just a suggestion… his website was password protected for reasons that have NOTHING to do with you?

    Let’s be clear though – I’m not defending him in the least. But I was just at KYM, I know what’s going on there, but I don’t feel like it’s necessary to gossip about what I did see and experience because hell, five days at KYM hardly qualifies me for understanding the situation, KYM or India.

    Yes, there’s a lot of things that aren’t public about Kausthub’s scandal. And sure, that isn’t great. Far from it. But it’s also not great that there’s silence around ANY sexual or other kind of abuse scandal – in or out of the yoga world. But let’s count for a second if we can – how many other scandals are there like this, past or present?

    But then really… to use this situation to ongoing-ly denounce the tradition of guru-disciple as a bad thing just because of the bad done by some so-called gurus is disingenuous, and speaks of a bias on your part, perhaps?

    Yes, there are plenty of shysters presenting themselves as gurus. But there are also plenty of shysters in politics, finance and many other professions.

    Yes, it’s meant to be bad (worse?) for “gurus” doing the wrong thing because hey, they’re meant to be honest and trustworthy etc. But so is the Pope and all those Catholic priests. So was Bill Clinton.

    As for your closing comment “The rest of it is covered in a cloak of guru delusions and deceit.”… ummm, no. Just because you don’t know, and most of the American blogger world doesn’t know what’s going on, doesn’t mean Kausthub’s scandal is “covered in a cloak of guru delusions and deceit”.

  3. I must agree with Amanda.

    Much has been written about Kausthub’s “lineage” by people who have never studied at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram. I just returned from my 7th time there so I think I can speak to what is going on much more so than you, Roseanne, or Yogadork or Mathew Remski (who also wrote on the Kausthub mess) or any other yoga blogger for that matter. In fact, I received the same information that you did when this broke but chose NOT to write about it; I sat back and wondered which yoga blogger would the first to break the news to the yoga blogosphere.

    I want to strongly emphasize that in no way do I condone Kausthub’s behavior whatsoever. That being said, while I was never as close to him as other people I know were, he was a brilliant teacher in my dealings with him. He certainly has personal failings — I wrote that I believe he needed an exorcism! I wrote about him here: lindasyoga.com/2012/10/12/the-latest-yoga-scanda/ and here: http://lindasyoga.com/2012/10/16/final-words-on-a-yoga-scandal/ which contains a very interesting perspective on his behavior by one of my astute readers. The “kausthub desikachar scandal” is THE most searched for term for my blog. I find it interesting that while you, Yogadork, and others have written about Kausthub, none of you ever commented on my blog posts about him.

    What always strikes me about any writing about Kausthub is the constant reference to “lineage” and “guru.” Carol Horton is another blogger who seems to fear the word “guru” and disparages lineages AS IF those two ideas are the crux of this problem. They’re not. The problem boils down to one man, Kausthub. NOT Krishnamacharya, NOT the lineage, ONE man — Kausthub.

    As I heard Kausthub himself say last year, “If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain. The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.” When he said that I thought he was referring to John Friend, but I know now he was predicting his own future.

    While Kausthub is solely responsible for his actions, let’s not forget that he had many enablers starting with his parents, the people in Europe who brought him to Austria, and American teachers like Chase Bossart and Sonia Nelson who worked closely with Kausthub. If they or any other Western teacher had any inkling that something horrible was going on, they should have stepped forward, gone public, disassociated themselves. I don’t know how they could NOT have known. We know that these things have been going on since at least 2007. Did they really not know any of this? I saw Sonia Nelson work closely with Desikachar every time I was at KYM, every year since 2005. In fact, while in India this year I heard that Meenaka Desikachar told a woman student who was studying with her that the student should also study with her son!

    If you read my blog about Mark Whitwell’s take on Kausthub, you will read the thoughts of my friend who was a close student of Kausthub’s — he and I have different perspectives compared to you, Yogadork, and other bloggers and he knows some of the women who were involved: http://lindasyoga.com/2012/11/04/mark-whitwell-on-kausthub-desikachar/

    In fact, read the comments and you will see a commenter bring up Mark Whitwell and Gary Kraftsow also acting inappropriately with women: “Mark Whitwell has been in his own mash-up over being inappropriate with regards to his sexual behavior at a yoga retreat…I was there for the bad behavior. I witnessed it.” Lineage or the failings of one man?

    So…the “privilege of lineage”? “Silence”? It seems to me that before throwing the yoga baby out with the yogic bathwater, look to the individuals for their own personal responsibilities. I’ve tried to stay away from the yoga blogosphere chatter on Kausthub because too much of it has turned into a caricature of what happened and adds nothing to the understanding of it.

    As I wrote: “I am wise enough to not let Kausthab’s personal failings get in the way of my respect for the Krishnamacharya lineage. What Kausthub did (and he denies nothing) is a disgrace — but he only disgraced himself and his family, not the tradition. If anything, this should be another wake-up call to yoga practitioners about putting their teachers on pedestals.”

    With all due respect, Roseanne, stop the speculation.

    • If the Desikachar family is still controlling the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram behind the scenes, it would seem that anyone supporting the KYM is actually still supporting Kausthub Desikachar. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kausthub Desikachar will eventually resume teaching at this institution.

    • Linda, at the end of your post you comment on not speculating, but in the midst of it, you suggest that there have been many enablers and name some of them.

      I have never studied with Kausthub Desikachar. I have studied with Chase Bossart. I find Chase to be approachable, endearing and honest. I have a hard time imagining that he would knowingly enable any cult of personality or impropriety.

  4. Big fish in small ponds…get over yourselves.

  5. To declare that Kausthub Desikachar as “brilliant” despite what has transpired shows the magnitude of the current “yogic” delusions.

    The “bloggers” who have exposed Desikachar’s abuse of women should be thanked for bringing these ugly truths to the surface to prevent future suffering of vulnerable people.

  6. It is actually horrifying to hear ANYONE supporting someone who has had sexual allegations levied against them.

    “Let’s be clear though – I’m not defending him in the least. But I was just at KYM, I know what’s going on there, but I don’t feel like it’s necessary to gossip about what I did see and experience because hell, five days at KYM hardly qualifies me for understanding the situation, KYM or India.’ – you cannot possibly know what is going on there since western people never have the full picture.of what is going on. There is no transparency. You never hear about how disgruntled the staff are because they are all terrified of repercussions.

    “If they or any other Western teacher had any inkling that something horrible was going on, they should have stepped forward, gone public, disassociated themselves. I don’t know how they could NOT have known.”

    again the whole point is missing here. Half the original sanga resigned from their association with Kausthub because of his behavior. Not only that but five senior teachers left the KYM at varying intervals because of his behavior. Unfortunately no-one believed them. In fact you remain as receptive to his powers as those abused.

    Furthermore I have studied with Kausthub and I know that he will keep happening. It is not only about his manipulation of people but also because he believes in his own superiority. Yes he may have a brilliant mind but so did some of the best oppressors in our history,

    • What is so “brilliant” about his mind?

    • “It is actually horrifying to hear ANYONE supporting someone who has had sexual allegations levied against them.”

      actually I DON’T support him and it’s obvious you never read anything that I previously wrote about Kausthub because if you did you wouldn’t make that statement. of course he manipulated people and not only women. frankly, I don’t think he should be teaching at all.

      and I also know which teachers left KYM and which were fired because of their association with him.

  7. Just to let you know that the website is not password-protected anymore. They were probably just updating it getting ready for the launch…