Ah, nothing like a guru-student sexual affair to spice up a churchless blog. Through my friend Randy’s “Gangaji’s Pinprick” and “More on Gangaji and Eli Jaxon-Bear” posts I’ve learned about some Neo-Advaitan hypocritical failure to practice what you preach.
Understand: the hypocrisy is what bothers me about spiritual teacher Eli, who is married to fellow spiritual teacher Gangaji, having a three-year affair with a much younger female student. Affairs happen. Usually they should remain a private matter.
Some of the commenters to an Ashland (Oregon) Daily Tidings story about Jaxon-Bear’s affair wondered why this was newsworthy.
Well, I agree with a Ron who said, “When you have an Ashland-based group that has some national prominence, and that is a spiritual organization whose leader gets caught with his pants down, so to speak, that's news.”
(Another commenter called Ashland “ten square miles of land surrounded by reality.” Neale Donald Walsch of “Conversations with God” fame, the subject of my previous post, also lives in Ashland. Along with other gurus. I love this quirky southern Oregon town, noted for its Shakespeare festival, which is about three and a half hours down I-5 from where I live.)
Coincidentally, if there is such a thing, yesterday I had coffee with my philosophical friend Patricia. She’d brought along the most recent issue of “What is Enlightenment?” It featured a critical article about Neo-Advaita that I found interesting: “Who’s Transforming Anyway?”
The author, Tom Huston, describes his youthful descent into the craziness of this New Agey teaching that we’re all already enlightened; we just don’t know it. Concerning Andrew Cohen and the editors of “What is Enlightenment?” Huston says:
No matter how effective a mystical teaching Advaita might have been in India’s ancient past, its newborn Western child, Neo-Advaita, seemed to be missing something significant. Isolated from its Eastern religious and historical context and taught as a quick-fix, no-frills contemporary path to spiritual enlightenment, they noticed its tendency to ignore traditional values like ethics and the cultivation of personal integrity.
Gangaji is one of the Neo-Advaita teachers mocked in Jessica Roemischer’s related previously-published piece, where Stacey Heartspring encounters the post-modern craze of Neo-Advaita. Here’s a typical Neo-Advaita bit of blather from Gangaji:
There is nothing that keeps you from the realization of your inherent, permanent, present freedom except your imagination that somebody or something is keeping you from that.
Neale Donald Walsch, who by and large echoes Gangaji’s and Eli’s outlook, says pretty much the same thing:
It’s not really a question of stepping into an experience so much as it is allowing it to flow through us more fully and more completely. It is quite possible for anyone to do that without any sort of training, without any particular sort of discipline, without any study, but with just a willingness to have the experience. And the first step is to allow the possibility that it could occur, because of course if you don’t think it could occur, then it cannot.
Well, fine. I haven’t realized my “inherent, permanent, present freedom.” But it’s possible that Gangaji and her hubby Eli have.
She’s written a book that promises to reveal how we all can “directly experience the perfect radiance of who you really are.” And at this very moment spiritual seekers are enjoying the “rare gift of being with Eli in an advanced setting for ten days.” So we have to assume that Gangaji practices what she preaches about desperation:
Find who is feeling desperate. The feeling of desperation only continues because you assume that you are, in fact, something that the feeling is hooked on to.
Hmmmm. I wonder why Gangaji and Eli had to go through a three month separation to resolve their differences if neither of them is a “something” that can be hooked by negative feelings, and if, as fellow Neo-Advaitist Tony Parsons says, “all concepts of good or bad, original sin, karma or debt of any kind are products of an unawakened mind.”
Eli and Gangaji, who somehow spoke as one voice in this interview, say:
Each of us needs to experience the ignorance, to find the place of fundamentalist certainty, fear, aggression, and animal territoriality, and to discover what is deeper. What is deeper is the next stage in the evolution of the human. It is the transcendental realization that you are not limited to human animal-ness. I do not mean merely to understand this, or to believe this, or to hope this is so, but to directly realize it for oneself. This requires the willingness to turn one’s back on personal identity as a male or female human animal.
Yet a student of theirs says that Eli is a “sexual predator who abused his power in the most egregious way.” Sounds pretty animalistic to me.
I’ve got no problem with men or women acting like animals. That’s a big part of what makes sex enjoyable. What ruffles my avian feathers is when a religious or spiritual figure pretends to be something that he or she is not, or says one thing and does another.
Another proponent of Neo-Advaita, Francis Lucille, says that “the only sin is to take yourself for a sinner.” I don’t agree with that point of view, but it is admirably simple and clear.
If it is true, though, then there wouldn’t have been a need for the Gangaji Foundation to issue an apologetic letter to their community of followers.
[Update: This letter has been removed by the Foundation. However, emails from the Foundation relating to the scandal still can be found at another web site.]
What was initially seen as a matter between adults is now recognized to be a betrayal of the teacher/student relationship and an abuse of power. A trust with the larger community also has been broken. This is an important revelation as real harm is being experienced by the student and is being fully acknowledged. The repercussions of this betrayal are reverberating in ways that were never imagined, but are very painful.Tom Huston describes how he awakened from the relativistic nightmare of Neo-Advaita that, for a time, passed for spiritual truth in his excessively nihilistic eyes. There’s a valuable lesson for all of us here: fundamentalism doesn’t only come in the guise of traditional religion.
Tell it like it is, Tom:
Night after night, day after day, I’d storm Zen Buddhist forums, atheist forums, Christian forums, and even Natalie Portman fan discussion forums with my proselytizing passion for the Neo-Advaita way. “You morons think you’re real? Try this,” I’d say, as I dished out the intoxicating truth that renders human beings and their concerns into utter irrelevancy.
…“If all is One, then nothing is wrong,” said the notorious murderer Charles Manson. And while I didn’t actually kill anybody as I spread my love of Neo-Advaita far and wide, I probably did as much damage as one can with words alone, subverting all beliefs, trouncing all opinions, actively denying all values, hopes, and dreams—and loving every second of it, as I savored my absolute power over all relativity.
Yesterday Patricia and I talked about the big difference between thinking that you’re an enlightened spiritual person and actually being such. Passionate Neo-Advaita advocates, like all true believers, are prone to confusing the two. Thinking so doesn’t make it so.
If you claim to have turned your back on being a human animal, having a lengthy sexual affair with one of your students is just a touch contradictory (to put it mildly). Still, it’s always possible to take heart from a saying that my friend Hans is fond of repeating:
No one’s life ever is completely wasted. He can always serve as a horrible example for others.