Mallika Chopra: Gurus, Yoga and Sex Scandals

Ugh. Several people have asked me to write about the John Friend scandal. For those who don’t know about it, you can read yesterday’s NY Times article (which happens to be the most popular one of the day). The scandal involves John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, who apparently had sexual indiscretions and inappropriate interactions with his students. (For the record, I have no idea who John Friend is and don’t think I have ever met him.)

I’ve avoided writing about this topic, because with a dad (aka Deepak Chopra) who many see as a guru, I am always very aware (and uncomfortable) of the perception of who he is (ie who people want him to be) and who he actually is. In fact, my brother, Gotham, is premiering a documentary, Decoding Deepak, which addresses this very question. Gotham’s story in the film is a reflection on the father/son dynamic – one that is even crazier with a well-known father.

Perhaps my discomfort with the perception of my dad stems from the fact that our family is very close. Being so close, we are very aware of each of our vulnerabilities, including my father’s. We see him as an incredibly smart man who can write and speak well, who can inspire people with his words, guide them to discover more about themselves. But we also see my dad as a man who has his strengths and weaknesses — just as each of us do.

Like with many celebrities, it seems to be human nature to build up personalities (authors, Nobel Peace Prize winners, the President) as heroes. It is common knowledge that Mahatma Gandhi was not “saintly” at home and personally struggled with his own morality. Great leaders inspire. They become the symbol of change in societies that are ready to change.

In similar ways, I think “gurus”, “priests”, certain “teachers” are simply guides for others on their journey’s of self discovery. But keeping the message and the messenger separate for me is so important. I have seen with my father, and with many of the other amazing teachers I have encountered in my life through him, that people are people. Some speak well, some make us feel inspired, some have sharp minds and can move us to our core with their words. But at the end of the day, I have yet to come across a truly “enlightened” teacher.

I spent much of my childhood around Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. No question Maharishi exuded something that made you feel different. But, I learned through years of interactions between my father and Maharishi that even “our guru” was a perception of what we wanted him to be.

So, my thoughts on John Friend… We’ve seen the same behavior before – not just with yoga teachers or the “gurus” from the East as the NY Times article goes to lengths to point out. We have been disappointed and aghast with leaders in the Catholic Church, in our politicians, President Clinton himself. Perhaps these individuals play the mythical role of the hero that we inherently seek out. And so when the expectations fall, the disappointment is so much more.

Maybe we are seeing more and more, in a world where the truth, I believe, always come out, that great teachers are really just our guides and nothing more. And in the end, we can hold only ourselves accountable to the high standards we wish to see in others.

Image via the NY Times


  1. Awesome! We are all just human beings, doing our best to find our way home. Keep the message separate from the messenger <3

  2. LOVE this, Mallika! People are people, and all of us need to be reminded to seek our own inner strength and our own self-knowledge rather than placing so much power and expectations on a single individual. Of course, far easier said than done. Reminds me of one of my favorite Buddha quotes:
    “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”

    — Buddha

  3. Wow, Mallika, wonderful insights and perspective! Thank you. "People are people." Simply beautiful.

    I so resonate with your statement, "Even “our guru” was a perception of what we wanted him to be." This speaks to how the idealizations we project onto others (especially leaders and spiritual teachers) tend to obliterate the physical, the real, and replace persons with ideas.

    IMHO, we have to contact the other person as they are, which is always in process, hopefully growing, sometimes regressing, deeply flawed, and, most importantly, real. In this regard, we can grow together. You do an exquisite job of articulating this in your post.

    Looking forward to more reading…


  4. What a great perspective!

    We project a God-like image on anyone who starts to guide us in life. It could be the human tendency to seek a shoulder to cry upon or its just too easy to become followers rather than being independent in consciousness. Sometimes, the founders of such organizations also project a very grand aura of themselves in public & show that they are immune from all human errors. These scandals & controversies shows us every time that we still have a long way to go as far the 'living in the divine' is concerned. It might be impossible for us to be a Patanjali, Ramana Maharishi or Buddha…but at least we can be open & truthful in our all acts of life. Openly accepting ourselves the way we are & not being schizophrenic about it is the main essence of divinity. We need to put an end to this flood of so called incarnations of Gods in the society.

    Mallika, your views on Deepak Ji being looked upon as Guru are so very well put!!

  5. Mallika – inetersting views on your Dad and Gurus 🙂

    What you said about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi :

    "But, I learned through years of interactions between my father and Maharishi that even “our guru” was a perception of what we wanted him to be."

    – is true for EVERYTHING that you engage with. Isn't it? And at some level, the fact that you are judging the Guru also betrays the wall of ego that was still left intact which one couldn't pull down to give oneself completely.

    He may have not been a Guru, but we would never know. Because we never gave ourselves completely.

    This may not have been the case with your Dad, but if we all look at our selves closely, it is surely the case.

    One shudders to think what would Buddha have been subjected to for abandoning his infant and young wife. By all modern standards he was an atrocious husband and a father.

    Meera also was a terrible wife by our standards. Nanak was also similar.

    If these people were living in today's world, they would have been trashed before they would have flowered. Tabloids and Youtube would have written and shown tomes of evidence as to why Buddha was an immoral man.

    We all can only "worship" Buddha, Meera and Nanak – as long as they are not OUR spouse! 🙂

  6. Let us accept the fact that the Authors who publish negative blog /article in New York times on Yoga do not have any experience on the benefits of Yoga. The only experience of life, these negative mind people have is enjoying Sausages and Filetmigon beef. People have to outgrow and it is only individual experience that speaks the truth.

  7. I enjoy the way you write. Very good article. Even gurus have egos and their own shadows to work through. I learned over the years to evoke my own power within Never get STUCK on one person My inspiration and wisdom comes from a wide range of individuals form all backgrounds and time periods.. People idol worship too much and loose trust in themselves. At a certain person one must become their own healer. Go within themselves and stop idol worshipping. Learn self love, confidence and non judgement. Be Well All 🙂

  8. Wow Mallika. A new way to let ethics and responsibility of integrity and actions slip even further down the sinkhole.

    Yes we are all human. But those who hang a sign up as to an identity with a power relationship, like your father or John Friend or any teacher or anyone putting out moral or health related information…. well those that claim this need to be walking the walk. Not frauding and using.
    Looking forward to your brothers film.

  9. The question is:
    can we be Enlightened & neurotic at the same time?
    A good question to ask yourself!

  10. Then there is always this well known angle to lessen the hurt of disappointment and betrayal.
    "For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway". ~ Mother Teresa. ps. I saw your brothers trailer and it looks great!