From Betrayal to Oneness

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coup de foudreIn this article we'll consider the problem of spiritual teachers who misuse devotees for sexual ends.

Nearly every major religion teaches that we would be wise to treat each other as we would like to be treated…because eventually what we do comes back to us. So why do spiritual teachers so often exploit others sexually? After all, many possess genuine insight and a gift for inspiring others. It is also evident that they certainly would not want to be used sexually as they sometimes use those in their flocks.

Why don't they treat their sexual partners as cherished equals and revered mates? Why do they sometimes rationalize casual sex, or sexual addiction, as an improvement over the unconditional love of a relationship devoted to mutual enlightenment?

In many cases, it is because they are convinced that they are already enlightened, or at least holier than others, and therefore have risen above the karmic scorecard. This may be a flawed assumption. As Taoist master Lao Tzu once taught,1

Lao Tzu on his oxDon't think that you can attain total awareness and whole enlightenment without proper discipline and practice. This is egomania. Appropriate rituals channel your emotions and life energy toward the light. Without the discipline to practice them, you will tumble constantly backward into darkness.

Here is the great secret:

Just as high awareness of the subtle truth is gained through virtuous conduct and sustaining disciplines, so also is it maintained through these things. Highly evolved beings know and respect the truth of this.

Channel Edgar Cayce explained that if you raise the kundalini energy before you have disciplined your sexual desire completely it simply inflames your sexual desire - creating a pitfall on your spiritual path.2

The kundalini is latent life force energy, which when raised through the channel of the spine, creates altered states, and may confer extraordinary powers, such as psychic insight, the power to heal, and enhanced ability to persuade others. Many spiritual techniques directly, or indirectly, raise the kundalini. In addition, some spiritual teachers can trigger kundalini experiences in their disciples with a touch - and may even do so simply to impress followers. Moreover, some people have spontaneous kundalini awakenings, without even realizing exactly what has happened. 3 Could the ease with which this energy moves in some of us be a carryover from experience gained in a past life devoted to spiritual discipline?

Whatever the impetus, the point is that the kundalini may start to rise even if the individual has not been educated about the critical need to balance and neutralize sexual desire first. Without safeguards or reliable instruction, such people are at the mercy of their opened sexual centers. If they then use sex to pursue orgasm, the experience is highly addictive, and triggers an equally-enhanced sensation of depletion/neediness during the weeks afterward. This often throws them into an addictive cycle - or makes them easy, emotionally-fragile prey for others. kundalini rising(See Sex and Addiction.) This weak point in our design is why the discipline of controlled intercourse is so vital as spiritual centers open.

Once in the addictive cycle, these charismatic people may be sorely tempted to rationalize manipulating others to meet their sexual addiction. One particularly ugly rationalization is that they are using a devotee sexually (but usually secretly) "for the student's own spiritual advancement." Imagine the karmic debt for this type of self-deception. If the person is clear that it is wrong to use another selfishly, he/she may struggle secretly with sexual addiction in some form, or be especially vulnerable to abuse by others because the urge to merge with another for a higher end is stronger than before the kundalini opening.

The problem of sexual predation by spiritual teachers is not confined to men:

For some time I was with a male spiritual teacher who initiated a sexual relationship with me soon after we met. He "needed" daily ejaculation and was upset if there was no occasion for a "ritual," but apart from that he could not integrate me into his life. One reason was his traditional background; the other was that he had many (mainly female students) and our relationship had to be kept completely secret.

Later I found a female teacher. My deep devotion and service to her day and night was mistaken as an invitation for more. She started making sexual jokes, remarks and allusions, and after some time she claimed she wanted to heal my "wrong views about sex."

I was shocked by her rather mundane approach. It spoiled a spiritual relationship, it felt as if I were plunging down from the highest levels of idealism right back to very normal ground and hangover, into the abyss of feeling used and hooked. At the same time I felt addicted from the first time on and simply horrible. I was lost and hopeless, as I loved her from my deepest heart. She had family and many students, and of course no one should know about us. Gradually she began to make fun of me in front of others, joking and criticizing me, until I left the group. This meant that in the end, I lost everything....

To understand how such destructive experiences can proliferate within environments supposedly dedicated to sacred sexuality, let's take a larger look at two sacred sex traditions that have suffered parallel deterioration over the centuries.

Unsafe Pilots

gondolier with boat

"The man is the pilot, the woman is the boat."

Wise Taoists recognized that before a woman can relax into her yin receptivity she must feel safe to open. Only then can she absorb the man's fiery yang energy, benefit from it, and return it to him through her heart as the soothing yin energy that will also make him feel whole and fulfilled. In this way both partners are nourished.

To achieve this result, the man must be a "safe pilot." That is, he does not pursue his mate, demanding that she ease his sexual urges. That would simply result in orgasm(s), which would ultimately leave him feeling depleted — and, over the following days, hungrier than when he reached for her. Instead, he gently creates a safe space in which she can open completely and fall into a deeply relaxed state. In this way both partners are positioned to experience a profound merging known to the Taoists as a "valley orgasm."

Alas, this simple dynamic is in direct opposition to the programming of a primitive part of our brains known as "the reward circuit." Its function is to urge us to grab impulsively for sexual gratification — so that we pass on more genes.4 It cares not a whit for the experiences of energetic nourishment, profound wholeness, or spiritual advancement. So powerful is this biological mechanism, that even the Taoists couldn't consistently follow their own advice. Taoist lovemaking practice predictably degenerated over the centuries.

Lao Tzu once described "angelic dual cultivation" (controlled intercourse) as:5

an opportunity for a man and woman to mutually transform and uplift each other into the realm of bliss and wholeness.

Douglas Wile book cover 'The Art of the Bedchamber'Yet his successors imagined that a man could steal the yin energy of a woman by encouraging her to orgasm — while he controlled himself. They recognized that orgasm depletes a woman, but convinced themselves that her lost energy must go into her male partner (perhaps because a woman's orgasm is exciting to her mate, too). Then they got it really wrong, persuading themselves that they could steal the most yin energy from young girls who had not yet had a period.6

In their quest for longevity, these would-be sexual vampires effectively dismantled the concept of mutual enlightenment between the equal forces of yin and yang.

The Devolution of Tantra

The same degeneration apparently took place in Tibet. In the eight century, a female Buddha, Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, achieved enlightenment through mutual tantric practice.7 The legend of her experience makes it clear that a strong female partner is essential:

Cover of Keith Dowman book 'The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel'Woman is a sacred ingredient of the Tantra,
A qualified Awareness Dakini is necessary;
She must be of good family, faithful and honour bound,
Beautiful, skillful in means, with perfect insight,
Full of kindness and generosity,
Without her the factors of maturity and release are incomplete,
And the goal of tantric practice is lost from sight.8

Moreover, it is recorded that Buddha himself taught9 that:

"Enlightenment resides in the sexual parts of women."

Yet over the intervening centuries, the role of women among the holy men of Tibetan Buddhism has radically deteriorated. Contemporary insiders report that lamas, both married and celibate, have secret consorts. These women are used by the men in the men’s quest for divine union — but not as equals. A former consort-turned-professor10 explains that, although sexual relations may be presented in the sacred texts as purely symbolic,

in the functioning of the system, to have an actual sexual consort is considered the most important ingredient in the path of tantra. That's where so much of the confusion and ambivalence and misogyny come into play, because you have both: the emphasis on male monastic society and, at the same time the need for women, but without the acknowledgment of the role women play. The centrality of the hidden sexual relationship is terribly important….

[In Tibetan lore] there are many expressions of ambivalence about women: how women are polluting, how they are an obstacle to practice, that at best women can serve others and at worst they are a nuisance. At the same time, women are transcendentalized into goddesses, dakinis, female aspects of being that men Cover of June Campbell book 'Traveller in Space'must associate with in order to reach enlightenment….

The tulku system [by which a lama symbolically gives birth to himself through reincarnation as another male] was what put the tin lid on any potential for women to gain equality in the religious sphere, or for their voices to be heard. It ensured the power of the divine male [and worked a hardship on young boys, who were raised away from loving women, in an all-male environment].

It is ironic that in the ancient sacred text The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, the Guru makes this prediction:11

At this moment the Tantra has the vital potency of youth. In the future its promise will not be fulfilled. Its practice will be confused and perverted.

Sure enough, as scholar June Campbell observed,

I've got no doubts now that when a male teacher demands a relationship that involves secret sex, an imbalance of power, threats, and deception, the woman is exploited. You have to ask, "Where does the impulse to hide sexual behavior come from?" Especially if it happens in a system that supposedly values the sexual relationship. 12

Tibetan master Djwhal Khul states that,

sex magic and the inner tantric teachings have gone woefully astray and been centralised upon individual development and the attainment of some experience which is presumed to promote spiritual attainment.

In fact, he explains, the purpose of sex is the union of male and female polarity, and there can be no creation of the 'body of light' or union between the personality and the soul without "the physiological processes of sex."13 An ongoing relationship is encouraged.14

Initiates and Masters, in many cases marry, and normally perform their duties as husbands, wives, and householders, but all is controlled and regulated by purpose and intention, and none is carried away by passion or desire. In the perfect man upon the physical plane, all the centres are under complete control, and their energy is legitimately used; the spiritual will of the divine inner God is the main factor, and there will be a unity of effort shown on all the planes through all the centres for the greatest good of the greatest number.

Complete union is vital to overcoming dualistic thinking.15 The division between races and between religions can be traced back to the misuse of sex between male and female.

The mystery of sex itself is bound up with the re-establishment of the sense of unity and of balance, of oneness or of wholeness.

Master Djwhal Khul warns that as a person first begins to understand tantric union imagethe significance of his sexual desire and how to use it for a higher end, he/she is often swung off balance for a time, "into a maelstrom of...sex magic....He is glamoured by the beauty of his motive, and deceived by the acquired potency of his personality."16

What to do?

This glimpse into the deteriorating trend of two venerable sacred sex traditions shows that even spiritual masters can easily create bad karma for themselves with sexual desire - despite years, or even lifetimes, of lofty intention and discipline. Such distortions can become institutionalized in combination with quite valid spiritual insights, making it hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.

So what can we rely on?

We can be careful that we treat others as we would like to be treated, and we can trust our inner compasses, rather than external authorities, on this point. If your lover is misusing your sexual connection - with or without tantric lingo and rituals - recognize that you cannot help him or her by continuing to tolerate selfish behavior. After all, it is impossible to make genuine spiritual progress by using another. Indeed, selfish behavior ultimately slows spiritual advancement. Do your lover a favor: insist on a mutually-nurturing, disciplined sexual connection and healthy, respectful companionship.

If you sense that you have a spiritual contribution to make to this planet, and yet also suspect that you are addicted to orgasm, it may be time to stop rationalizing further departures from the principles of disciplined celibate practice or controlled intercourse and the careful nurturing of a partner. It is likely that when you balance your sexual energy, you will truly become the force of Light you long to be. The ultimate goal of left-hand tantra is for both partners to remain "pre-orgasmic."

Keep in mind tantra teacher Barry Long's warning, which is supported by recent research about the neurochemistry of sex:

"You can't be in a state of love if you are going for an orgasm."

If you're not sure if your sexual energy is out of balance (that is, whether it has pushed you into an addictive cycle), here's some guidance from a Yogi Times interview:

YT: What are the signs that would alert a man that his sexual energy is out of alignment?

SB: If they become frustrated or angry with their partner when they're not in the mood, that would be a sign that their energy is driving a sexual response rather than a true emotional state. They feel compelled to have an orgasm, and if they don't, they don't know how to handle that. The energy is too overwhelming for them.

It's also wise to recognize the need for consistency in sexual discipline, even if the kundalini should rise. Controlled intercourse offers an on-going, balanced foundation for spiritual advancement. It does not simply use the intensity of a brief sexual encounter to raise the kundalini. It does not rely upon professions of seeing each other's inner Buddhas in the heat of a ritual - followed by emotional distance or abuse.

Ideally, controlled intercourse employs mutuality - that is, the relationship - rather than transient sexual intensity, as a key spiritual vehicle. In effect, the relationship transforms into a spring of energetic nourishment that continues to circulate between mates, balancing them, nourishing them, and helping them to tap their inner wisdom.

couple holding hands on beachThis means that both partners channel their energy upward instead of striving for orgasm. Where the man controls himself and the woman is urged to climax to move his sexual energy, mutuality and a stable energy balance are not possible. The experience of the Taoists and Tibetan Buddhist tantrics are proof that such a practice ultimately leads to inequality, exploitation, and no doubt, karmic debt.

By making love carefully and with the emphasis on selfless service to each other for a sacred end, lovers ensure that they consistently see one another as safe to love. First, they don't project the neurochemical lows that follow orgasm onto each other during the days and weeks afterward. Second, mutual selfless adoration gives partners a "glow" of spiritual radiance - much as an adoring disciple sees his guru. By recognizing this divine light in each other, lovers can more readily accept that holiness is theirs - and not just their spiritual teacher's.

Who needs a guru when we have each other...and a way to balance our sexual energy safely?

  • 1. Hua Hu Ching: Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, trans. Brian Walker, Harper SanFrancisco (1995), section 29.
  • 2. Cayce reading 2475-1, see discussion of kundalini
  • 3. One person described a kundalini awakening experience this way:

    I felt a glowing orange fire ball filling my abdomen and heat shooting up my spine into my crown. I "ceased to exist" and felt like a black hole or anti-matter mold around the space where my physical body had been. As if I had been the white half of a yin-yang and now switched over into the black half. There was only dark starless cosmic space, and at the same time I felt each particle like a tingling yin-yang. I lost any sense of time, and when my friend looked at me, he was stunned: my back was scattered with red dots, and he said "You are looking so holy now, like an angel! Come back to your normal state." After that experience I was able to let my energy flow whichever way I wanted, circulate and transmit it, and I became psychic, telepathic, could see the energy auras of electric wires, light bulbs exploded as soon as I switched the light on, etc. And I felt that it was my deliberate choice to remain in this body, and as soon as I changed my mind I could leave it and it would dissolve. When we had body contact, I could control the energy flow, and he got really scared. I was afraid to lose him, so I dimmed my abilities down.

  • 4. See 'The Coolidge Effect.'
  • 5. Hua Hu Ching: Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, trans. Brian Walker, Harper SanFrancisco (1995), section 69
  • 6. The Art of the Bedchamber, by Douglas Wile, State University of New York Press (1992)
  • 7. The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, p. 234
  • 8. The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, p. 24
  • 9. The text in Sanskrit, said to be the authenticated words of the Buddha, reads "Buddhatvam Yosityonisamasritam." Monk scholars have tried to explain away this assertion as symbolic. However, this same view is repeated in sacred texts of the tantric Kashmir Shaivite tradition of northern India and other little-known sources, including sacred tantra oral teachings and certainly extremely rare Chinese Buddhist texts.
  • 10. See interview with author June Campbell
  • 11. The Secret Life and Songs of the Lady Yeshe Tsogyel, p. 60
  • 12. From interview published in 'Tricycle' magazine.
  • 13. Excerpts from A Compilation on Sex, by Alice A. Bailey, Lucis Publishing Company (1980), p. 57
  • 14. Excerpts from A Compilation on Sex, p. 85
  • 15. Excerpts from A Compilation on Sex, p. 147
  • 16. Excerpts from A Compilation on Sex, p. 118

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Comments

Do unto others ...

I always feel funny when I read the supposed quote of Jesus like "We can be careful that we treat others as we would like to be treated".
My mother used that quote frequently and never got what she wanted because what she wanted was inherently different from what my father wanted ... she gave him what she wanted for herself and it didn't fall in fertile soil.
If someone "wants to be spanked" should he spank others ?

How about another principal for mutuality: Two yes is a yes, two no is a no and one yes and one no is a no -- in other words those who do not want to participate should never have to. It requires sometime practical negotiation that comes to a working compromise (as opposed to "compromise" where you give up what you want). I think the reason why we won't see much of this principle of mutuality in society is that it punctures the designs by hierarchy and authority to govern others (which they of course think is of the utmost importance). So could it be that gurus inherently are not interested in mutuality ?

Did not mean to be critical

Marnia, I read my post above and want to apologize as it sounds as if this is the totality of my response to your article -- it certainly is not meant to be -- I agree with what you write and my comment is only about this one little issue. It reminds me of the guy who gives his wife a set of golf clubs for her birthday and receives a mink coat for his. There are women interested golf and men in fur coats but when it isn't so, the "do unto others" can go persistently wrong as it did with my parents...

No problem. I think your

No problem. I think your comment is a good one, and I just got distracted before I replied when I first read it.

I guess my thought is that we could all at least begin by thinking about NOT doing what we know we personally wouldn't like! Certainly tantra teachers abusing their students could start there.

I have a friend who went to

I have a friend who went to India to study yoga and ended up having sex with the teacher because he said she needed to "open up her heart chakra" and could only do so through direct penetration. He gave her a venereal disease. I'm sorry she went through this. If she had clearly developed her yang side, and had been able to be discerning in who she wanted to be receptive to, this wouldn't have happened. But she learned a lot from it.

So, your points are well taken. However, I think that it is necessary to be very cautious when painting a picture of an entire spiritual tradition - such as Tibetan Buddhism - as being conducive to such abuses. It seems to me that the dynamics you are describing are the tendency of human beings to be greedy for power and to use any tools at their disposal to reach their ends, even if that means distorting the truth of the teachings. Lets just please recognize here in this discussion that such abuses are not representative of true Tibetan Buddhism - they are distortions; just as the historically male tendencies towards control, violence, and abuse are distortions of true masculinity.

I think that the spiritual emptiness of consumerist american society has led many westerners to rightfully look for deeper and more meaningful approaches to sexuality and spirituality. This openness to new ways of seeing things, coupled with the human desire for power on the part of SO-CALLED gurus or teachers, can be a very unhealthy combination. But it's clearly a stage in growth and development that we have had to go through culturally, and hopefully we have learned a few things from it without outright having to reject what are otherwise very valuable and insightful traditions.

Since I have been studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism for the past few years, the last year with a teacher (and no - we do not have sex), I just ask that you be careful in the picture that you paint of a tradition that you are not a part of. It could be needlessly discouraging. What is at fault here is not the tradition, but - again, as always - human beings and their greedy need for power. If we were to discard anything that at one point has been harmful to us, we would never grow or learn. Men have systematically abused their power over the centuries. Does this mean that I should distrust all men because so many have been poor representatives of their sex? Well, yes and no. As you point out, caution in such situations with a history of abuse is sane and intelligent, to a certain and limited and always individually-determined degree.

The sacred sex traditions are so varied and so specific, that it is hard to have a general discussion about them. For example, much of the literature and teaching that has come to the US on "kundalini" focuses on raising the serpent fire energy up the spine through the seven chakras. From the perspective of Taoist sexual alchemy and Tibetan Inner Fire meditation, this would be a very incomplete way to raise the kundalini - up the spinal yang channel only. Both of these traditions emphasize that each human being contains a complete circuit of energy - a polarity of positive and negative charges - that go up the spine (yang, fire) and then back down the front (yin, cooling energy). The actual kundalini itself in these traditions is seen as the "kundalini drops" - that is, the yin cooling energy, which is evoked by the buildup of the yang fire. So - what it looks like to me is that unfortunately the kundalini traditions that have come to the US or been found most attractive to Westerners are those that emphasize the fire, yang circuit, and completely ignore the yin channel, which quenches and cools the fire. My guess - based partially on experience - is that the cases of insanity and "burnt fuses" that are alluded to as being dangerous side-effects of kundalini meditation are actually the side-effects of an incomplete meditation that does not recognize or utilize the cooling yin energy.

Thanks, Hotspring

For your more balanced perspective. I wrote this article after a woman shared some horror stories about her experiences. I know I am speaking of only a portion of spiritual teachers here, but I do think it's good for people to keep their eyes open.

There's a big difference between ego and egoless, and it's not always easy to discern through the charismatic glow that surrounds some teachers.

Thanks Aphrodites. I have a

Thanks Aphrodites. I have a strong voice in the written word but haven't sung much in my life, until recently. Just last week went to a singing circle, it was so much fun! Always new things to discover . . . Since I haven't been getting down much (sheesh, it has been a DRY year), singing is the next-best way to release that juicy energy held deep inside. Do you sing much? Might be a nice release.

I don`t get it. Why there

I don`t get it. Why there are so many religions but every body know that there is only one God? Different name, different style`s but they all believe in the same thing, why can`t they do something and make it just one? It would be more simple and in this case it will put a stop to some region "crimes".

Spirituality v. Religion

I have always seen spirituality and religion as two different entities. The former is a spirit's quest for wholeness, seeking light and wisdom for freedom's sake; the latter is a man-made philosophy/doctrine requiring acceptance and following.

To err is human, to seek forgiveness is divine.

Power

This is a great post--thanks so much. I have been disheartened a couple of times upon learning someone spiritual I looked up to was engaging in affairs with students. It is such an abuse of power, and a betrayal of trust, not just to the one being sexualized, but also to anyone following the teacher. I often hear students of Chogyam Trungpa defending his behavior (a terrible womanizer, who flaunted it at times--and also an alcoholic), by saying there are spiritual ways of detachment that we just don't understand--or that it was his way of shaking students up so they didn't become too attached to him (!).

When I learned of my own yoga teacher behaving in this way, I remember it sent me into a spiritual crisis for some time. Maybe it was a good lesson for me--learning to rely on my own integrity rather than that of someone else...still, the experience leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I find it much harder to trust teachers of any sort. And, doesn't life provide us with enough opportunities for "negative" growth experiences without our teachers also being a source? This post is very helpful for me in understanding how it happened to them, and perhaps it will help me in my process of also forgiving them.

Do unto yourself

I agree that that moralising Jesus stuff didn't always make sense to me. hmmmmmm. Then someone told me that what He said was quite simple: You will treat others the way you treat yourself. Bingo!

I have no judgement

regarding teachers who have sexual relations with their students. Teacher-student relations are a formal title. In the world at large every relationship is in a state of imbalance where situationally one is the teacher and one is the student, even in collaborative efforts. Hence every romantic realtionship also has roles of teacher and student, most often a mutual flux trading roles. We are not so judgemental then when we view the dynamic as such. I have had teachers who expressed a sexual interest in me. I was flattered. I did not engage just as I would never engage any one of my formal students in sexual relations. Besides that I am married and my wife is often my student. Teachers are human and I do not fault them for the foibles that other humans are allowed. As long as there are gems to be obtained the teacher is entertained by the student. When the teacher runs out of gems it is time to move on. I do not burn the Old Testament because of its sins, there are enough gems within to uphold it as a worthy source of discussion. Students who fall "victim" to "unscrupulous" teachers are, at an eternal level, asking for this experience. At the level of our soul, our material minds can never be sure what experiences are necessary for our education and completion. The goal is to learn and become wise and move on when lessons no longer serve us. How do you know when a lesson no longer serves? It is when you no longer hang a descriptor akin to evil[and there are dozens] upon any of the parties.

Thanks, Luke

Good to hear from you.

Yes, just as people attract teacher dramas into their lives, perhaps they also attract articles like mine when it's time. Wink

Two sides

My teacher was an alcoholic. I never thought less of him. He had gems and I benefited from that. His weaknesses just showed me a human side, almost like a balancing of his gifts. Perhaps we could even learn wisdom from the most wicked person on earth.

Unethical Sexual Relationships in New Age Circles

Because there is no governing board for the type of Psycho/Spiritual work that my husband's therapist does there is no recourse for me but to give the public my experience with her.
She had an affair with my husband while we were living together while they were engaged in therapy. He called her his "Spiritual Teacher" and she continually asked him to do therapeutic sessions with her and engaged in therapeutic sessions with him while they were romantically involved.
This is an unethical practice by any measure and with her training and education she should have known better. There are good reasons to avoid combining romance with Spiritual Teaching/ Therapy and there are good reasons to avoid relations with married men with children. Combining all these can cause real harm and truly did in this situation.
We had been together 18 years and have two children together. It was extremely damaging and painful to me and did not help him psychologically. In fact he deteriorated so much he began to be physically violent with his family. She helped contribute to the deterioration of our family which has resulted in the suffering of our children as well.

janetV