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