March 22, 2015
It's deja vu all over again. Supposedly celibate guru is discovered to be sexually abusing dozens of women in his religious community. This time it's a guy I knew for a few years in the 80s when I was a manager in the Siddha Yoga religious community. Once a smart funny guy from Brooklyn, Russel Kruckman stopped doing drugs once he started getting high on Eastern mysticism. He followed Swami Muktananda, my original ex-guru, no slouch in the sexual predator department himself, and became a Swami (monk), Swami Shankarananda. Caught seducing too many women in Muktananda's and later Gurumayi's ashram, he was kicked out. Unfazed, Shankarananda moved to Melbourne and started his own Ashram community, calling it Shiva Yoga. Now about 40 women have come forward alleging charges of rape, and Shankarananda is the subject of a police investigation. In Australia, these guys tend not to get away with this stuff, unlike here.
I bring this to your attention not for the schadenfreude, but because one of the women he abused decided to speak publically about how it all happened. Of course she was immediately vilified by Shankarananda's propaganda machine; but then many of the other women who were abused stepped forward, and the police stepped in to investigate. I thought her public declaration was courageous, and extremely important to help those who do not understand what this kind of narcissism, Shankarananda's, is like, and how traumatizing and abusive it is. Here is her letter:
Dear Shiva Yoga community,
I have felt for a while that I have needed to share a public statement. Not out of hate but concern for everybody involved. I love everybody in the community very much and it was very painful for me to wake up to the reality of what has gone on at Shiva yoga. I was in a denial that allowed me to cope. I knew that if I ever "spoke" of what was happening to me that I would no longer be permitted to be a part of Shiva yoga.
There is no end to my disappointment in Devi Ma who I have loved dearly, as well as Vani, the Swamis and Centre leaders whom remain there. I feel that they are not only ignoring the facts but are also condoning sexual abuse. And all in a community where I was led to believe that love, compassion and truth were the practise and goal. I loved my job/dharma as a swami and it was heartbreaking to stop serving others. But I could not condone the abuse once I continued to hear of others. I know some women may not feel abused. Some believe and feel like it's a sacred act and feel special, others confused and many are completely traumatised by it. I am not to judge on anyone's position only I feel a responsibility to share some of my own experience. I would like to express my apology for not speaking sooner as I may have been able to protect other victims. I feel a great regret over this. I am aware of the backlash and vilifying that has and most likely will occur from me speaking. Some people that have stood up have been attacked. I feel however that there is nothing for me to be afraid of. I speak only from my heart. Every day I worry about my sisters who I love dearly and who still remain there.
When I came to live at the ashram I was never informed of "Tantra" in the way of sex, sexual rituals or anything of the like. Had I known that, there is no way I would have stayed. Not only was I already a victim of rape, but I was just about to go through a second trial at the county courts in Melbourne. I came because my sister and father were trying to help me and I was looking for spiritual guidance. As another woman has said in her testimony, I also do not want to put every distressing detail here. I only wish to clarify some facts to help those who remain confused. As one of Swami Shankarananda's 'victims' I have had to ask myself some difficult questions: Was I coerced? - Yes. Was I manipulated? - Yes. Was I scared? - Yes. Did I ask for the "tantric" relationship to stop? - Yes many times. Was I silenced? - Yes. Did Swamiji ever listen to what I wanted? - No. Did Swamiji care that I had a partner? - No. Did Swamiji ever allow me to speak to anyone when I felt I needed help about it and was having panic attacks? - No. (He told me that wanting to tell the truth was a wrong understanding spiritually and that I had to learn to lie.) Did Swamiji care that I was scared? - No (He got angry at me. Told me I was neurotic, weak, and that I would not attain spiritually speaking.) Did Swamiji give me a choice to stop? - Well when I begged him, he stopped temporarily, but started again quite quickly. He also made sure I felt condemned, guilty, and ostracised by saying things like "you're dead to me", "I don't want to speak to you. There is no love between us anymore." "This (tantric/physical relationship) is all I want from you", and "you should obey the Guru". I trusted Swamiji at the time. I was extremely devoted and continued to ask him why there had to be a physical element to our relationship that I didn't want; wasn't my love enough? Yet he remained relentless, never taking no for an answer. Even then I believed he had my best interests at heart, that it was my fault, my shortcomings and that I just had to "put up" with this difficult situation, and that it was, as he had told me, "my sadhana" (spiritual path). There is no denying that I wanted to be close to him. I was told that my relationship to him was my path to God. I wanted to feel close to God. But I never signed up, or asked him for a "tantric" sexual relationship.
I completely understand the needs of other women who had shared in anonymity, as the unfortunate response from the Ashram is what has kept many silent, unable to heal. To talk has been what has helped me. I hope that anyone else suffering through this abuse is able to seek the help they need. The counselling services such as CASA, Nigels team at Integrative psychology has been a great help to me. Also reading 'sex and the spiritual teacher' helped me understand how and why these things happen. My love goes out to everyone in the Shiva yoga community both men and women, in and out.
Leila McCann, (formerly Swami Priyananda Saraswati)
Only when those who have been abused have the courage to speak out will predators be brought to justice. If you have been abused, are being abused, know of someone being abused - speak out.