Following what goes on elsewhere on this world and the ‘integral Blogosphere’ in my German blog on June 12th I published a post called “Houston, we’ve got a problem”.
It is clear that abuse by spiritual leaders & gurus is a difficult topic; one that raises eyebrows and much more than that. And whoever raises this topic has got to deal not only with applause from all kinds of quarters that one surely doesn’t want it from, critique and stunning silence from quarters that one would like to have emotional support from, and the accusation that it is actually all about oneself and one’s immature look on things.
So let’s take it from the beginning: On my travels in the internet I stumbled on this piece of info “Cohen Collaborator Gafni Removed For Sexual Misconduct“. It is about Rabbi Gafni, a much celebrated spokesman of the Jewish Renewal movement, who also is in high esteem of Ken Wilber and prominently featured in his Integral Institute (I-I). The sexual misconduct (abuse) is not just one of these Internet-rumours, it is a fact that has been admitted openly by Gafni himself: He writes: “Clearly all of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it.” I find that courageous, and want to honor him for that.
What struck me, though, was that even now his work is still plugged on the I-I site with such works as “The Mystery of Love”, “The Ultimate Erotic Art” or “The Kabbalah of Surrender”. I don’t mean to say that theses teachings are not valid regarded on their own. But it does seem a bit – tasteless? Especially to the women who have been at the receiving end of the ‘misconduct’.
Also on the same I-I website there is a lengthy discussion about ‘integral ethics’ between Wilber and Roger Walsh which I found quite inspiring at the time I listened to it. So what then to think of Ken Wilbers reaction in his blog to the case of Gafni? It has ten numbered paragraphs. In #1 he says that indeed something happened that is not quite kosher. And in #2 he immediatly starts bashing the ‘mean green meme’ people for how they react pathologically. In #3 he says that Gafnis behaviour is pathological (something strange between the order of pathologies here, don’t you think?) to then says in #4 that Gafni has admitted to being sick in his letter. In #5 Wilber states that Gafni therefor is not fit as a teacher at the Integral Center until he has undergone therapy (which makes me wonder all the more how he is still fit to teach, for instance, “The Kabbalah of Surrender” at I-I). In #6 to #9 the therapy is thouroughly mentioned, and in #10 Wilber is saying that Gafni should nevertheless be allowed to write. And finally, in the very last paragraph of his statement Wilber finds words for the women, saying that his heart goes out to them.
I do understand, and appreciate Ken Wilber’s support for his friend Marc Gafni. Nevertheless it seems to me that mentioning these women only at the very end says something about ‘integral ethics’ in the practise of one of its proponents.
Maybe I wouldn’t have spent this much time on this happening if it wouldn’t have coincided with reading extended reports by former students of Andrew Cohen about his teaching-methods. Sure, ex-students can and will reinterpret what happened for them, once they leave their teacher behind, and not always fevourable. But what is astonishing is both the consistency of these renderings and the loving way in which most still regard their former teacher. These are, among others, stories (undenied by the defenders of ‘the faith’) of Cohen ordering senior students to slap others in the face as hard as they could for being ‘ego-ruled’ or other things that he didn’t see fit in his community, extorting great sums of money from people in deep distress, sending a student to a prostitute against his will, forcing a father to tell his teeange daughter about the sexual escapades of his mother from long years back to break her attachement to her, and so endlessly on. And all of this, you could have guessed, to help his students overcome the ‘ego’. (And Andrew Cohen is a good buddy of Ken Wilber who, remember, doesn’t have a problem in severly criticising the ‘mean green meme’ for reacting pathologically to the Gafni-incident; there does seem a great difference of ethical standards at work here which I, and maybe that’s my fault, have not found a way to reconcile).
And the story goes on: Wilber is not only criticised for being buddy-pal of Andrew Cohen but also by many others for flaws in his work. And recently he has greatly ranted “Wyatt Earp style” – his way of headlining his verbal bashing: The Unbearable Lightness of Wyatt Earp – against his critcs. Then he explains it away in “On the Nature of Shadow Projections in Forums” where he says (quite rightly, I think) that if something hurts us it is because there is a disowned part of us projected out there. But let’s look at this matter in a simpler way.
If I slap you in the face, and then say that you respond angrily because you project your shadow on me, than not only am I right, of course, because the anger is in you after all, but I am also being very nasty at the same time if I am an authority (rightly or wrongly) to you. Because deep down you know I’m right and are thus utterly helpless. The Wilber question is in this case, “Are you mature enough to get my lesson?” If you are, you didn’t need it. And if you aren’t, not only will you not get get my meaning this way but you will probably also be estranged enough to henceforth scheme behind my back to slap me back in some way.
Well, all of this looks confusingly (not convincingly!) abusive to me. I can’t understand this anymore. Here is Ken Wilber pleading for his friend Gafni: Give him a chance to rehabilitate. Then Ken Wilber has no problem whatsoever in supporting a guru that is very clearly quite violent in his teaching methods. And now he strikes out with verbal furor against his critics (punching some old friend, Frank Visser, wickedly hard who has the audacity to be a harbour to critiques of his work he doesn’t approve of – read Visser’s answer here) and then blames the people who cry ‘ouch’ for projection their shadow on his rant. (An insightful comment on the cultic attitude of Wilber in this regard here)
It is too early for any kind of conclusive learning from this situation for me. But it seems to be time to question the basic teachings where such behaviour comes from. As it looks to me these are the top 4 questions on my agenda:
- What is the effect of the prolonged distancing of the observer (“I am not his body; I am not these feelings; I am not these thoughts; etc”), the prolonged ‘neutral witnessing’ of the phenomena inside/outside in a ‘mirror of pure consciousness’?
- What is the effect of the ‘trans-ethical’ stance that regards all human values as merely relative, and only the Spirit as absolute?
- Are so called higher levels of evolution (yellow, turquoise etc. in SDi language as used by Wilber and his adherents) right in using all kinds of violence to raise lower levels up to their standard?
- Is the non-participatory nature of the ‘pure witness’ in situations and phenomena in ‘the world’ – which will eventually dissolve according to Wilber et al in non-dual One Taste – maybe a cause for the kind of abuse we have recently seen in the integral world of Ken Wilber?