We do not seem to understand many of life’s lessons until we experience them directly, either through our own suffering, or from being touched by those very close to us. For example, we don’t know death until someone whom we love has died; we don’t know cancer until we have tasted it in ourselves or have witnessed the disease in a loved one; we do not really understand what depression feels like until it has visited us personally. Racism, or any kind of religious, gender, or sexual orientation oppression is the same way. We know it only when we touch it. The same is true for thousands of other life lessons and experiences.
In this way that I have come to explore more deeply the power of false complaints, and the abuses that happen not only against students, but against teachers themselves. Since I first began compiling the material for this book, I have become a partner and parent with a spiritual author and teacher who was the target of false accusations. It is somewhat paradoxical that someone who has spent 15 years writing about the complexities of discernment on the spiritual path would find herself partnering and mothering a child with a spiritual teacher who has suffered the most complex story of false complaints that she has ever encountered. But life often presents such karmas for our own learning.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Palden Drolma said that often people who serve in the function of spiritual teacher are put through great pains in their own growth so that they can speak to, with credibility and experience, the suffering of those they teach. I have been given many sufferings in life, and been touched by many more in my work as a psychotherapist. Each has refined my discernment and has in some way served the readers with whom I interact with, and the clients whom I counsel. Marc Gafni’s story has touched me in this way. My hope is that the closeness to the injustice and pain my partner experienced will allow me to help other spiritual seekers understand the dynamics of false complaints against spiritual teachers, much as I have helped them to understand the dynamics of psychology and power can lead spiritual teachers astray. Although students are in a way vulnerable under the tutelage of a teacher, the teacher is in many ways no less vulnerable to the students.
Generally teachers are unequivocally assumed guilty when there is any type of financial, emotional, or sexual abuse. For many reasons we will come to understand throughout this epilogue, it is not only difficult for people to understand clearly the dynamics around false complaints clearly, it is also extremely difficult for a teacher to rise from the devastation of false complaints, even if he or she is fully innocent. Most teachers are destroyed by false complaints. Occasionally a teacher survives. Even more rarely a teacher reemerges—both deepened and transformed by the experience. Thankfully such is the story in this Epilogue.
In spring of 2006, Marc’s work was thriving in Israel and the United States. As a spiritual teacher, public intellectual, and a builder of spiritual and social movements, he had catalyzed a movement in Israel called Bayit Hadash. It had an inner core of several hundred people and ripple effects on hundreds of thousands of people. He had hosted a national TV show on spirituality in Israel, and had just completed writing his doctorate at Oxford.
Marc had long been known as a controversial teacher. This was partly because of the unorthodox style of his presentations and their content, the largeness of the space he held, and the challenge that many people felt in his presence, but it was also due to religious politics. His high profile and style aroused the love and admiration of many, but also, as it always does in these cases, provoked primal negative feelings in some of the powerful rabbis in the world in which he lived.
In his early twenties, a combination of his strong qualities of intellectual rigor and passionate charisma, alongside a youthful pugnacity, audaciousness, and bohemian nature common to many younger teachers in their early years, created conflict with two Orthodox Jewish teachers. These two teachers would later be significant catalysts in the underlying dynamics that made the false accusations possible. Without sharp discernment into these unseen dynamics, the superficial story seems to be very different from what actually happened.
In Listen Little Man, Wilhelm Reich describes the dynamic in which certain larger-than-life personalities incarnate a raw life force that moves others who feel threatened or diminished by them, to try and “murder” that very life force. People whose are jealous, or feel their position of power challenged, are drawn together by a magnetic-like attraction in an attempt to remove the threatening presence. It was this kind of energy that animated a decade’s long effort to discredit Marc Gafni, using the mistakes Marc made as the justification to “create” their cause. Given that this charismatic spiritual teacher had researched and published on the subject of Eros, which pushed the boundaries in Jewish thought, the makings of a “sex scandal” were waiting to happen.
One of his colleagues, spiritual teacher, former feminist leader, and author Sally Kempton once said to me, “Marc was always primarily a pure lover and an artist of spirit. His brilliance in dharma stems not only from this mind but from his radically overflowing heart. He was never a conventional rabbi nor really a conventional anything else, and yet he lived in a conventional system that could not hold him, and which caused enormous suffering to him.”
In May of 2006, returning home late in the day to run a festival after a long and exhausting teaching trip, Marc got off the plane and turned on his cell phone. He called one of his staff members to check in and was met by the voice of a screaming woman that he did not recognize saying, “You are over.” He was instructed to go to a certain lawyer’s address, at midnight, where people would be waiting to tell him what was going on. In this way, the “horror” story began.
Marc had no idea what was happening or why, only that something was terribly wrong. When he arrived at the designated lawyers office, he was told that three women—all connected through his inner circle—had filed complaints against him of sexual harassment to the Israeli police.
(ED. A critical new fact emerged in 2014 after this article was written. It is necessary to share that at this point so the reader will more clearly understand what transpired. Marc became aware in 2014 that no legal complaint was ever registered with the Israeli police. Marc was unaware of this between 2006-2014. Because of the obviously frivolous nature of the complaints as reported to Marc by the complainants and in the Israeli press at the time, Marc's original lawyer has advised against contacting the authorities. He suggested that the complaints would be automatically dismissed in a matter of time for lack of substance, and that if the police wanted to contact him they would but that he should not contact the authorities. The police who has access to all of Marc's contact information never contacted Marc. Marc however assumed that there were legal complaints. All of his actions were driven by that assumption. He wrote to the ostensible complainants and those close to them asking if there were indeed complaints; they claimed, in written emails, that there were legal complaints, as did an article in an Israeli spiritual magazine and other more minor press references in which they were directly and indirectly quoted.
To say that the level of distortion and falsification in the reporting of these alleged complaints in 2006 was highly shocking and painful to Marc would be to major in understatement. Marc spent two years in the United States and enormous resources on every level preparing a full refutation of these complaints--complaints which actually did not exist. During this two years period, Sally Kempton and others connected to Ken Wilber and his circle did a full investigation of the issues. A formal fifty page report was written showing that the alleged false complaints were utterly without any merit at all. Indeed they were based on false statements for which there was clear evidence which unequivocally refuted them. In 2008, Marc resumed his partnership with Ken Wilber, started a new teaching center, and resumed teaching in the United States.
Marc however operated for years on the wrong assumption that the complaints had been legally filed. He was however completely certain, as was his lawyer that if a legal battle were to take place, he would ultimately prevail. He had gathered much more then sufficient documented information to fully refute the complaints. However, given the inevitable press that he thought would surround the process, he felt that the "he said -she said" back and forth would be highly destructive to all parties. He also felt that many people's lives would be ruined if he shared all of the facts, context and backdrop to the false complaints. He did not want to be the cause of that. He believed that his job as a spiritual teacher was to seek the larger good even if it meant giving up all that was precious to him in Israel. He preferred to constructively serve and teach in the United States than to engage a protracted press battle in Israel which would not serve the larger good. During all of this time Marc was unaware that no legal complaints had ever been registered by the authorities. It was only in 2014 that Marc hired a second legal team in Israel who contacted the police directly. It was only then that Marc found out that no complaints had ever been registered with the Israeli police. He was informed in an official notification by a highly regarded Haifa attorney that the persons involved had gone to register a complaint, but that after hearing the facts, even as presented by the complainants, the police had decided that there was no cause and not registered the complaints. So it turned out that for eight years Marc had acted based on false information. Indeed there never were any legal complaints. ED.)
This made absolutely no sense to him as there was no truth in the complaints. He felt as if he had stumbled into a scene from Kafka’s novel The Trial, in which the protagonist is accused of crimes that he has not committed, yet is caught in a system in which his guilt is assumed and in which no evidence to the contrary is accepted. Marc went into a kind of traumatic shock due to his utter confusion and devastation around this unexpected assault.
It occurred to him that he should be able to easily refute the complaints, for he had extensive email correspondence not only from these women, but from all the women he had dated in the years he had been single. The emails would make it clear that these relationships—including those addressed by the complainants—had been fully appropriate and completely mutual. However, when he checked his computer, he realized that all of his email correspondences had been erased, apparently intentionally, by one of the involved parties who had access to his computer. After seeking help from several sources, he called a friend who told him and that in Israel sexual harassment is legally termed a criminal rather than a civil offense. Another prominent Israeli figure with close ties to the police told him that it was well documented that the Israeli police were often corrupt in these kind of situations. Marc realized that without the evidence of the email correspondence, he stood a chance of being wrongly jailed in the Israeli prison system. This prospect seemed horrifying, not only for himself but for his children and community.
It was recommended by his friends and advisors that it was both wise and legal for him to leave the country in order to recover his computer and determine what his next steps should be The police had indicated that they had no interest in talking to him, and they did not object to his leaving the country. Besides recovering his computer in order to protect himself and family against the false complaints, Marc knew that he needed to search his soul in order to understand his part in the contribution system that had brought this about, and to find a path through it that allowed optimal healing for all involved, the accusers included. From the beginning of this ordeal, Marc, strived to avoid unnecessary hurt to others and to find his way back through love and forgiveness of those who betrayed him. This was made markedly more complex because once false complaints are made, it is legally prohibited according to Israeli law to have any kind of contact, including healing or clarifying conversations, with the complainants.
Safety for both sides is absolutely necessary for any real healing dialogue to occur. For example, when false complaints are filed in a legal system, and the accused lacks evidence to combat them, he may have no choice but to act strategically to protect his essential safety. While in Marc’s case, the complaints were not pursued and never became charges, nonetheless in order to stop the hysteria and have time to recover the inner and objective resources necessary to prove his innocence, he was (poorly) advised in the days immediately following the complaints to take all responsibility on himself, and to promise to seek help. As a result of his very safety being threatened, in combination with shock and the naïve believe that he must take upon himself any sickness that appeared in the system he had created, he mistakenly, I believe, signed a letter taking all responsibility on himself.
It took about year to fully reconstruct Marc’s computer and to deploy other important methods of gathering information. The reconstruction yielded dozens of erased emails and instant messages to and from the complainants, as well as the other women Marc had dated during this period. Expert evaluation, as well as other forms of evidence gathered, confirmed beyond any question that the complaints reported in the press were categorically false. The relationships had been loving, mutual, largely initiated by the women, and without any implicit or explicit deception or coercion of any kind, or inappropriate deployment of authority.
In my opinion, one attribute of a teacher of integrity is the ability and willingness to step back and engage a deep and rigorous process of self-investigation and self-honesty when accused of any significant misgiving or inappropriate action. I believe this process of self-inquiry should be engaged even when the teacher is innocent. It is my experience over many years that there are those who engage a rigorous process of self investigation and interiority when faced with any challenging situation, and other teachers who consistently refuse to look within and take responsibility for any part they may have had to in the contribution system, often articulating this defense in the armor of dharma, or spiritual teachings, themselves, a dynamic known as spiritual bypassing.
In the two years following the filing of false complaints in Israel, Marc engaged an intensive process of self-reflection and therapeutic work to try to understand his part in creating the circumstances that gave rise to the complaints. He did an intensive life review. He looked into his own relationship history, recognized where his post-conventional tendencies had been at odds with this position as a rabbi, and did whatever was possible to make amends to anyone he felt he had hurt in his life.
At the same, Marc engaged in an intensive process of research on sexual and relational behavior. He read widely in feminist and post-feminist literature and studied the nature of masculine and feminine shadow. He looked into the cultural, political and communal conditions that can produce circumstances in which false complaints of sexual harassment are believed without investigation and checking the perspectives of both sides. He also went through processes of psychological and legal assessment with highly reputable professionals, and even initiated testing by one of the foremost polygraph experts in the world. These evaluations yielded unanimous validation of Marc’s innocence in the story. In conjunction with these processes, Marc wrote an open explanation of his part in creating these circumstances and where he had erred, which would later be posted on his website.
After two agonizing years of public silence, necessitated by the legal requirement to gather the information necessary to fully repudiate the complaints should that ever be necessary, Marc and his supporters posted a website of Marc’s teaching which also contained a full response to the false complaints. As part of his response, he explained publicly why he had written the original letter taking responsibility upon himself. Not surprisingly, his original adversaries spun this as further cover up, rather than an honest explanation. He began to teach once again, now informed by the broken-heartedness and humility of one who has gone through trial by fire and has emerged.
Marc’s profound teaching and realization has drawn many people to him once again, and he continues to create leading leading-edge teachings. His evolutionary teachings on the Unique Self has opened hearts, even as they challenge and re-define the understanding and dharma of many teachers and students alike. His teaching on World Spirituality are launching new waves of spirit that are moving the hearts and minds of many thousands of people once again. Through the power of grace and the depth of who he is as a teacher, Marc has somehow avoided bitterness and emerged more loving and open then before, even as the loving has qualities of depth and poignancy to it that are new and sometimes heartbreaking.
Yet he, like all teachers who are have been falsely accused, still suffers intensely in numerous ways. On a practical level, he carries the strain of being attacked by several well-known and lesser known foes, each with their own hidden personal agendas, who continually try to sabotage his work in the public arena. These detractors have consistently refused to engage mediated meetings initiated by him and aimed at truth and healing. They have, to date, been adamantly unwilling to review the extensive evidence that would refute their rationale for trying to keep Marc's work and teachings from fully flourishing once again.
Marc decided not to return to Israel because of the almost certain damage that would come to many in his former circle if the issue turned into a public drama in Israel. He has decided to focus his teaching in the United States and the international arena. As such he remains exiled from his home, his people, his original students, and his children. In addition to Marc’s own losses, what happened represents a significant loss for both Marc’s students both in Israel and the United States, and prevents a very rare and precious teaching on Judaism to be given to a widespread audience that is deeply in need of, and craves, this teaching.
This story offers us a lens through which we can view the phenomenon of false complaints, and how corruption occurs not only in teachers, but also students and colleagues of teachers. This is the reverse face of the shadow of spiritual authority.
The Need for Discernment in Understanding False Complaints
The most challenging aspect of the false complaint syndrome is simply that that there exist both true complaints and false complaints, as well as varying degrees of truth in complaints. The discernment to be made here is that just because real complaints do exist—a significant amount of them are accurate—it does not make all or even most complaints true. To honor our commitment to conscious discipleship to the teacher and to life, we must learn to discern what we are encountering when hearing, relating to, and in some cases propagating, the circumstance of spiritual scandal and publicly defaming a teacher.
There are times when each of us is called to speak out against an experience of injustice and violation we have experienced at the effect of a spiritual teacher or any authority, but sometimes it is the injustice and violation of the teacher that we must support. We need to understand not only the complex dynamics involved, but the mutual complicity in creating any given circumstance. The notion of false complaints is nothing new in human history. It is a well known category in legal thought. Whenever there are complaints, there are also false complaints. In our time, the potential devastation of false complaints is exponentially increased because of the power of the internet to widely and uncritically disseminate false information.
Often, when there is a complaint of sexual abuse—whether against a professor, an employer, or a teacher—there is a collective assumption that it must be true. Yet this is oftentimes not accurate. There are many reasons why individuals and groups of individuals make false complaints. In addition, there are just as many reasons—ranging from shadow projection, to political egoic machinations, to those having to do with professional, competitive envy—that cause individuals and groups of people to encourage women or men to make false or distorted complaints. Often the encouragers act from behind the scenes, and then “spontaneously” step forward to “courageously” support the complaints once they are made. This is all done under the veneer of protecting the ostensibly abused student.
Many of us have had the experience of a false complaint made against us at least once in our lives, even if on a much smaller scale than Marc did. In my own experience, I was once approached by an African American student at the university where I taught, insisting that I let her take my class and that she desperately needed to learn from me. After advocating every exception on registration policies to allow her to take my class, she soon decided she disliked my teaching style and would routinely come to class and open a book and read a novel or put her head on the desk and sleep. She did her final paper on comparing my university class to genocide in Rwanda. Although the complaint was absurd—I had consistently positive response from students for a decade—I was still brought through the standard processes in the university when any professor is charged with racial discrimination. I remember burning with feelings of injustice, fear, and the loss of voice against such an accusation.
After the fact, I was told that nobody had believed her complaints and that there were no consequences for me, but that it was university policy to take any accused teacher through the full process of mediation before they told me this. During this interval, I suffered intense nightmares, a sense of deep betrayal by being falsely accused, and a profound feeling of injustice.
If we magnify this experience exponentially, we understand what someone like Marc or other teachers have experienced when at the effect of false complaints, often leading to consequences so profound as loss of country, home, life savings, reputation, loss of students, friends, community, profound damage on one’s family, and perhaps loss of the ability to do fulfill to give their gifts, desperately needed by so many, and for which the teacher may have devoted a lifetime to. We are aware of the impact of spiritual scandals upon students, but far less aware of the effect of it on teachers when there are false accusations. Just like in the case of false accusations in any domain of life, the losses to the person falsely accused are incalculable.
In Marc’s particular case, the harm included: loss for a time of his ability to make a living as many doors were closed that could have otherwise been open, the loss of being able to see his children regularly and to provide for their needs in the way he had previously been able to do, loss of a community of students, loss of being able to teach in the Jewish community, and the loss of a network of friends, colleagues, and financial backers, as well as much more. That, after several years of intense suffering, he has been able to reconstitute much of this through a new wave of creativity and love makes him very much the exception and not the rule. A parallel toll of loss may arise for anyone who is falsely accused, particularly of sexual harassment. Sometimes when we set processes in motion out of our anger or jealousy, we cannot compute the consequences.
In the so-called sexual scandals that are driven by false complaints, the actual sexual abuse that is happening is often the abuse of sexuality itself. According to leading feminist writers, Dahpne Pattai and Cathy Young, it is not an anomaly for students and colleagues to brew up a perfect concoction which deploys false complaints about sexual harassment as a “lynch pin” to bring down a teacher whom they are angry with, have a grudge against, or by whom they feel rejected.
If you scratch beneath the surface, you almost always see that most of the people involved in initiating or supporting false complaints have significant ulterior motives. Other times, supporters of the complaints are swept up by the waves of hysteria, fear, and ignorance which often drive these events, creating a vortex which in a short period leaves behind substantial destruction which is later very hard to rectify. Even when it becomes clear that complaints are false, the initiators and supporters of the initial wave of damage are often unable to find a way to climb down the tree of false accusation without losing face. Sadly, they all too often lack the humility, honesty and courage required to make amends.
As Alan Dershowtiz, and a group of feminist writers point out, the initiators of false complaints are often a group that coalesce through a mixture of ulterior motives, who in turn win to their cause a legion of well meaning supporters of the so-called victim. A narrative is developed, aided by the easy and quick communication of the internet, and the surface appearance of a righteous campaign to protect the victim—in this case, the “hurt women”—is put into place. Since everyone feels sorry for hurt women, it is not hard for the story to be set in place without anyone noticing that there are hidden motives involving competition, envy, and personal resentment that drive the core energy of the story.
The false narrative becomes a dogma which cannot be challenged without being accused of heresy, since as in the church of old, there are many hidden agendas of power which require the perpetuation of the false dogma. In Marc’s story, as in the case of the Duke Lacrosse players and many other false complaint scenarios, the facts are vastly distorted and exaggerated in order to accomplish the conscious and unconscious drives and motivations of the accusers.1
In Marc’s story, as I have learned is the case of most stories of this nature, there are one or two “Iago” figures, who have managed thus far to remain hidden from the public. In Shakespeare’s play Othello, the villain Iago is the archetype of the person who, driven by malice, moves the action behind the scenes in order to destroy the life of the man he envies. It was these figures who worked hard, with deliberate intention behind the scenes, to seed the ground and develop the narrative that turned the loose cards into a near fatal hand to be dealt against the teacher. It has been Marc’s decision not to name the involved, behind-the-scenes parties and to leave balancing the scales of justice to God, unless left with no choice as a result of renewed attack, in which case he will respond directly and unequivocally with full publication of the relevant material and information. His preference, however, is to channel all of this energy into creative teaching, raising our child, loving people, and creating a World Spirituality.
Masculine Shadow/Feminine Shadow
In many ways we are more aware of the masculine shadow than the feminine shadow, but both are equally real, and similarly destructive. Masculine shadow usually constellates around issue of formal power, authority and influence. As I have surveyed countless spiritual and religious groups and communities, as well as groups in other transformational modalities, I have seen a striking mix of spirituality combined with destructive power and competition—particularly among male teachers and leaders. Underneath the bright surface of countless organizations are games of destructive power and competition, alliances based on collusion instead of integrity, and significant dynamics involving money, control, fame, and recognition—often cloaked under the deceptive robes of truth. In some of the great spiritual and religious organizations of our time, there are significant power dynamics going on that corrupt the system. When we compromise our spiritual and human integrity as the result of a conscious or unconscious drive for power, people will suffer.
Whenever there is power, some measure of corruption and abuse almost inevitably follow. Injustice and corruption are often the bedfellows of dishonesty and malice. The masculine shadow involves a need to compete, dominate, and destroy anyone who gets in the way of the individuals identity and “territory.”
The masculine shadow is, paradoxically, behind many expressions of the feminine shadow. In Marc’s case, those who wished him to be out of the picture banded together. One of them in particular set the wheels in motion behind the scenes by intentionally fueling the resentment of a woman who felt romantically rejected by Marc. This in turn moved the woman, fully supported and encouraged, to coalesce a group of women in Marc’s circle whom he had been involved with over a period of years.
There was nothing in Marc’s involvement with these women in his circle—none of them students in any conventional sense—which contradicted either his teaching or this ethical principles. All of the relationships were co- initiated by the women and fully mutual. But because Marc held his personal involvements privately, because there were people who had profound investments in first encouraging and later supporting the false and distorted complaints, and because the teacher-student abuse narrative was an easy veneer behind which malice could hide, Marc was deeply vulnerable. The former-student-turned-rabbi who very much wanted Marc’s place in the community, encouraged their coming together to create an intentional cocktail of false accusations that would have consequences much larger than the women could have imagined, but that he and some of the other supportive rabbis were most likely aware of.
This does no excuse feminine shadow, which will loudly deny and protest and suggestion that it has been manipulated. What it does inject is the element of masculine shadow which stands behind this and so many other similar stories. As has happened over the centuries in so many similar situations, patriarchy used the feminine for its own ends of power and status. The Trojan war was not, truly speaking, undertaken so that Menelaus could recover his straying wife, Helen. Helen was merely an excuse for an ambitious Greek king to invade a wealthy kingdom whose riches he coveted.
Marc was a natural target. His gift for teaching, ability to channel radical love, and ambition for large teaching venues, coupled with an uncommon ability to manifest all of this, made him a person who attracted a lot of students and took up a lot of space in certain Jewish circles. His bohemian nature and lifestyle, his tendency to idealize people, the gap that existed at the time between his ability to magnetize and sustain, coupled with a brilliance in dharma, visionary insight, and almost childlike innocence and goodness, paradoxically intertwined with a sharp strategic mind, all came together to form a complex spiritual personae, and made him vulnerable in many ways. All of this combined with a kind of naiveté on Marc’s part which never dreamed that women he was close to and loved might turn and hurt him, certainly not in such dramatic and death dealing ways. As Alan Dershowitz writes in Sexual McCarthyism, “A disaster takes place when six or seven different factors that each could and should never happen, all happen together.”
This example gives rise to a subtle point of spiritual discernment. The feminine tends to be viewed as good, and nurturing, while the masculine is inevitably portrayed as aggressive, narcissistic, base, and depraved. In my brief perusal of victim-feminist literature, I collected numerous, casually stated comparisons between men and Nazi’s, analogizing implicitly in various ways the Nazi’s oppression of Jews with the patriarchy’s oppression of women. In virtually all of these accounts, women are depicted as “survivors” and words like “holocaust” and “concentrations camps” are deployed liberally in descriptions of the masculine. In these distorted accounts, men not only have shadow, they are shadow. Women not only have light, they are light. The truth, of course, is that both men and women have great light and potentially great shadow. In each gender, shadow is triggered by a threat to what each group sees as what is most essential to its identify.
Just as the masculine tends to be concerned with personal autonomy, freedom and territory, the feminine is traditionally concerned with connection, intimacy, and relationship. For this reason, if you threaten the feminine at the place of relational intimacy, the feminine shadow may be triggered. It is to this truism that Shakespeare referred to when he said, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Sometimes eruptions of feminine rage stem from horrific betrayal of the feminine by the masculine. However, in so many of the modern examples, we see women who take the ordinary and inevitable hurt that occurs in relationships and use it as justification for violent retaliatory action that produces pain that is significantly disproportionate to the pain they have actually experienced. All too often the “betrayal” was not some larger-than-life horrific betrayal by the man who is being accused, but projected rage usually arising from trauma and childhood circumstances that date long before the circumstance they are upset about, and is used unconsciously to exaggerate or distort the hurt in the actual situation at hand.
Victim Feminism and the Dynamics of Power
Victim feminism derives from an underlying premise that women are powerless victims and always innocent, and that men are powerful, aggressors and always guilty. This stands in contrast with power feminism—the great reclamation of authentic feminine power and values.
It requires great effort at discernment and profound willingness to break the silence to dare to speak the truth about these matters. But we must do so, for to remain silent while our teachers—who are none other than our brothers and sons—endure false accusations, is a tragic abandonment of the integrity and honor of the feminine. There is no question that women have suffered for centuries from the patriarchy’s commitment to protect its own at the expense of the feminine, but the healing of this is dynamic is to come into balance and harmony, not to enact the opposite dynamic.
Forty years ago, a female student who challenged and accused a male teacher of sexual harassment, for example, was often disbelieved. The power in that situation resided largely with the teacher, and the student had little recourse. All of that changed for the better with the advent of the sexual harassment law which made it an actionable offense to sexually harass a student. This shift, which began with sexual harassment legislation in the seventies and crystallized in a series of court cases in the 80s, was a critical and important claiming of power for the feminine. It redressed a historical power imbalance which desperately required addressing. The shift, however, moved almost all of the power to the feminine.
In Marc’s case, the complaining women were not students in any formal sense but rather women who played different roles as part of his informal inner circle. They both hung out with him and occasionally studied with him. It is fully documented in both the content and tone of voluminous correspondence between them recovered from Marc’s computer, that the friendships were playful, dynamic, mutual, and explicitly post-conventional. Both sides of the relationship had power and both had vulnerability.
Let's look at the power dynamic today in relations between teacher and student. Today, a woman or group of women who know each other or who are otherwise linked, can easily file complaints of sexual harassment. In many circumstances, the complaints by themselves, even if they later turn out to be false, are enough to set dynamics into play that can destroy or cause significant damage to a male teacher. The potential to inflict damage merely through the complaint, with virtually no risk at all to the complainants (and potential social and psychological gain) gives the feminine and her masculine backers enormous power, making even the innocent man dangerously vulnerable to the abuse of this power. What is also true is that some of the women who claimed hurt became “instant feminist heroes,” receiving enormous amounts of attention, support, and love for “breaking the silence.” Whenever there is power there is the potential for corruption. This is true for the feminine no less than the masculine.
In some cases, adult female students will lie about or distort their sexual relationship in order to inflict pain on a former lover who may have been their teacher for a time. At times they may be applauded and encouraged by those who are intent upon taking the teacher down. Of course, most women do not file false claims of sexual abuse after engaging in fully mutual sexual encounters with their teacher. Much adult sexual contact is deeply mutual, even between teachers and students. Many spiritual teachers marry someone who has been their student, and have very successful marriages of deep integrity and mutuality.
Just as most men who have the power to sexually harass their students do not do so, most women do not lie about their lovers just because they feel hurt or because they have the power to do so. But some women do lie, just as some men do harass women and then lie about it. As my friend Jeff says, “Everything has two sides to fall off of.” There is potential shadow in all circumstances, as well as potential light. Each individual story requires very careful fact checking, cross checking, and deliberate careful investigation in which both sides are given equal weight in order to determine what is actually happening in a complex accusation of sexual abuse.
None of these dynamics let the teacher off the hook—everybody must be held accountable to be responsible and discerning in their choices. In the case of false complaints, it is usually the case that the teacher has had some part in the contribution system that created the crisis. This is naturally true in Marc’s story as well. It is clear that Marc made mistakes in discernment in the decisions he made, which made him and his teaching unknowingly vulnerable to this kind of dynamic and which undoubtedly turned out to be hurtful to the women. It is very hard for people to understand that just because a man is in a teaching function does not mean that he will have all of his personal issues clarified and refined. All of us, including the teachers who make mistakes, would wish for this to be true, yet it is not fair for us to expect this to be so. My experience working with this issue for over fifteen years reveals this to be true again and again.
There is, however, a vast gulf between having a part in a contribution system of normal interpersonal hurt, and people trying to destroy your life. The morally shocking degree of distortion and demonization and therefore destruction that can arise in spiritual scandals where an element of victim feminism is present, privately encouraged by masculine shadow, is an essential element in understanding these situations.
The distortion of relationship after the fact through a public “name rape” by a woman or group of women and their male supporters is a vicious expression of feminine shadow that is no more justifiable than the many of the expressions of masculine shadow. Bell Hooks reminds us that if we do not think that women or groups of women are capable of lying about what men did to them sexually, then we just need to ask the families of the many black men brutally lynched in the south after false complaints of “sexual harassment” by white women. Paradoxically, the new form of lynching is the name rape of innocent men. Contemporary feminist writers, including Lauran Kipnis, Daphne Pattai, Cathy Young, and Christina Hoff Summers, as well as liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz and writer Warren Farrell, have each extensively documented cases in which a woman or groups of women made false complaints of sexual harassment against men. In virtually all of the documented cases of this kind, the knee-jerk reaction of liberal establishments, including the public statements of respected liberal figures and major media outlets, all supported the women.
A further point of discernment to be aware of is the fear factor that drives many people to support false complaints. We tend to be afraid to be associated with someone accused of sexual misconduct, even when we know the accusations are untrue. Associates fear liability, loss of status, or being perceived as not protecting the women. All of these fears are consequences a culture that assumes that women or groups of women always tell the truth about sexual harassment. Understanding victim feminism helps us to overcome the myth that women and groups of women do not lie and distort the truth. They do, just as men do. Dershowtiz further points out that it is often the case that men who do not stand up against false complaints are guilty of sexual misdeeds, afraid themselves of being falsely accused or of the loss of status they may incur by supporting the attacked teacher. Their support of the accusations, whether voiced or through silence, is driven by a mixture of self-protection, fear, and cowardice.
Not surprisingly, some of the very same rabbis and spiritual teachers who condemned him, and who have acted against him behind the scenes, have themselves engaged in unconventional sexual behaviour, and made similar mistakes. It would appear that when what one writer called 'sexual hysteria' takes over, self-protective fear in many forms overcomes decency, fairness and friendship. All this contributes to an atmosphere that Alan Dershowitz correctly labelled sexual McCarthyism.
The Fig Leaf of Hurt
All hurt needs to be honored and attended to. However, we need to distinguish between degrees of hurt: the very real hurt that arises through the challenges and misunderstandings that occur in love relationships, in contrast to the hurt intentionally caused by the malicious and conscious attempt to publically destroy a teacher by deploying or supporting false complaints. Particularly we need to discern where the hurt of the alleged victim is deployed as a fig leaf to cover up malice or a host of other conscious and unconscious agendas.
It helps in this discernment to contemplate the unavoidable hurt we may have passed through due to a circumstance or relationship in our lives that was, or potentially could have been, a part of our growth and learning. Hopefully, our own experience can show us the distinction between the unavoidable pain of romantic encounters, and the hurt of a true victim. This discernment needs to be a primary guiding factor in determining our course of action. This is mentioned because with respect to false complaints of sexual harassment, one of the most common things one hears from individuals who have not examined the story is, “The women got hurt.” Or, “We need to protect the women.”
Of course I want to protect women. I was a young woman who needed protecting, as I have written about with respect to my own adventures and misadventures with spiritual teachers. Yet I was determined to learn from my own mistakes, and it is exactly these lessons that became the basis for all of my books. Yet we must ask who is really hurt in a story like that of Hozi, my drunk Mexican shaman, where I intentionally colluded with his antics, consciously and unconsciously, because I wanted to get something from him and the situation? I did hurt, but I hurt myself, and I grew well from it over time. Not all levels of hurt are the same. Sometimes we are hurt because we don’t get what we want, or because the specific hurt triggers our stored hurt in a particular arena in our lives, often one in which we keep repeating that hurt. Sometimes we are hurt by malice and deception, but no less often our hurt is simply carried over and is part of our karma to meet, understand, and unravel.
Oftentimes we as adult women engage in, and initiate, adult sexual relationships which are fully mutual and in which no false promises or expectations are created. In the case of Marc, and others who I have known in similar positions of authority, there were explicit written communications saying that the individuals involved were not functioning merely as teacher/student, or even employer/employee in their relationships, but were meeting as full equals. There were no false promises, as the objective record written in the first person voices of the women themselves makes clear.
For example, one woman who later complained had earlier written emails—many which were apparently intentionally erased right before the complaints were filed and then subsequently retrieved through the efforts of Marc’s team—thanked him for honoring her autonomy and independence. She writes clearly that he has been completely honest with her about his intentions, thanks him for it, and acknowledges the fact that he is interested in pursuing other relationships, as is she. She had a total of three encounters with Marc over a four week period of time when they are together. Not realizing that her email record is recoverable, she later filed a complaint that Marc seduced her sexually by promising to marry her, which is a criminal offense in Israel and was cited in many press stories. All of her emails indicate that she had initiated all of their encounters and written him afterwards thanking him for his sensitivity, love, and honesty. Her distorted account of their encounter was further distorted in a short press notice, probably dashed off by a young reporter on deadline with no facts available, which said that marc had “simultaneously sexually seduced five women to marry him with concurrent promises of marriages.”
Those who have not experienced being written about in the press, and having what they say distorted, may bit realize how common this is. Yet even as an author who writes about controversial topics yet is not controversial herself, I have had this experience repeatedly throughout my life as a writer and spiritual journalist.
Another short press notice during the same initial weeks in May 2006 said Marc was accused of raping three women. This is demonstrably false and absurd. No such complains were made and nothing like this even vaguely happened. This false complaint was then fixed in the public consciousness and disseminated by the men who encouraged the women to complain, and those with motives of malice, cowardice or fear The fact that these complaints and false stories in the press are categorically untrue seems not to disturb the profoundly “spiritual” rabbis who have a strong egoic stake in Marc not returning to teaching in their communities or who remain silent due to fear and self protection. Of course it is rare for people to come forth with their ulterior motives, particularly those which reside in the darker shadows of the human psyche. Instead they find a way to demonize Marc, perhaps even to themselves, exaggerating whatever his flaws may be in order to forget the loving good person that he is. All of this is in order to avoid looking into the mirror of their own malice, lack of motivation to right the injustice, fear, and self-protection.
Here is a point of refinement in our discernment in relationship to false complaints: Do those who have been hurt or feel angry with respect to a spiritual teacher have the right to voice these complaints? The answer, of course, is yes, in the appropriate context. But what is that context? For on both practical and karmic levels, we must be responsible for the effects of our actions. Do we want to send a young boy to prison for stealing from a store? Or in Marc’s case, do we want to attempt to ruin the life of a teacher and his family because we were hurt in sexual or romantic relationship which was fully mutual and freely engaged on both sides?
In other words, do we feel our grievance is significantly justified to fully dismantle the life of another human being, especially before sufficient efforts have made to directly resolve our hurt with that individual? Over the years, when former students of various spiritual teachers would come to me and disclose a deep hurt or perception of corruption they felt in relationship to their teacher or his or her community, I would ask them if they had approached the teacher or community on this with the intention to find a way for fixing and healing? In some cases, they had, but in many others, they had not. Their projections or accumulated hurts led them to be afraid to do this, and thus they did not get the chance to understand more deeply or help the teacher to potentially address his or her errors in a real way.
We must take responsibility for our hurt and grievances. My own teacher always listened to my critiques of the community and questions about him, and often addressed this in a public forum. We were all benefitted by this and I learned I could trust him.
Rationalizations for False Complaints
There are two additional dynamic that often take place in situations of false complaints. Both are expression of the movement to demonize the teacher which almost always accompanies false complaints. The first might be called the “Narcissist” move, and the second is “Lifelong Pattern” move.
The “Narcissist” move is very simple. Complaints of very particular and condemning nature are made against a spiritual teacher. Over time, it becomes gradually clear to at least some significant amount of people that the complaints may have been false. The false complaints are neither withdrawn, rectified, or apologized for. Rather, the false complainants and their supporters seek to shift the focus of attention from the falsity of the complaints, to various forms of character assassination of the teacher. For example, they might say, “Our real issue with him was not sexual (or financial, or whatever the false complaints were about)—really he is a bad guy.” They might analyze the teacher as a “narcissist,” “self serving,” “manipulative,” or whatever the criticism might be. If the teacher happens to be an obviously loving and caring person, then they might say, “All of his or her love and care was really self serving.” If the teacher was strategically wise, they say, “He or she is really just manipulative.”
The “Narcissist” move is virtually always distorted to some significant degree. Moreover, it usually insidious on at least three distinct levels. All three are easy to miss and therefore need to be pointed out to facilitate appropriate discernment. First, attacks on character or motivation are subjective claims which are notoriously difficult either prove or to refute. Second, such attacks almost always ignore all the values, goodness, and loving to which the teacher may well have dedicated his or her life. They furthermore dismiss or even degrade that body of work by claiming that it was all based on agendas of ambition and power, when it is more true that motives are always complex and mixed. It is often the case that a spiritual teacher is able to clarify and purify their motives with the fullness of years, practice, and experience. Moreover, motives and character are only truly known in the interior of a person and even there self deception is always possible.
The third level at which this dynamic of “demonization” plays out in an insidious way is that the individuals who make false complaints, support them, or who are silent in the face of them, need a rationalization to support their position. If they were to truly face the implications of their actions—whether overt or silent—it could destroy their whole self-perception of their character (as spiritual, wise, or ethical), and thus the stakes are very high in maintaining their position.
The gross distortion of the character of the falsely accused is a necessary prerequisite to support this rationalization. This is particularly true for the supporters of false complaints who may not have done any form of due diligence before providing critical support to false complaints, with devastating results to the teacher and perhaps to thousands of other people who looked to him or her for guidance. If they lazily allow themselves to endorse the character assassination of the teacher, which is usually done by grossly exaggerating whatever legitimate shortcoming the teacher may possess, they fall into the trap of this distortion.
A stunning example of rationalized silence can be seen in the powerful example of the genocide in Rwanda in which 800,000 Tutsi were brutally butchered with machetes by the Hutu tribe members. In her book, A Problem from Hell, Samantha Powers describes the silence of the United States, which was fully aware of the genocide and stood by and did nothing. One of the key reasons given for not acting was a series of ostensible moral blemishes on the part of the Tutsi tribe. It was said in the memos that a few decades before, the Tutsi had massacred the Hutus. Since the parents of the present day Tutsi were now deemed culpable, this justified silence in the face of the genocide of the Tutsi happening in the present. Finding fault with the victim is the most common way of rationalizing silence and cowardice.
This is precisely the dynamic that took place in Marc’s story. The false complaints were insidiously linked by the complainants to reports that had been circulated in the Jewish press and on disreputable Internet sites, claiming that Gafni had, 25 and 30 years before, had sexual relations with two underage women. This is not true. These allegations as reported on the internet distort both the nature of those relationships and the substance of the engagements. An internationally respected expert in polygraph testing administered three polygraph tests to Marc, supporting the assertion that these two claims are untrue in the manner that they were reported on the internet and in the press.
It is important here to understand the lacks of discernment and outright lack of any form integrity in these kind of reports. The way there are related in the blogosphere it seems very clear that as one site says. “It is well known that Rabbi Gafni confessed to sexual relations with a 14 year old girl.” The level of the distortion that exists as a matter of course in the more malicious tabloid sites in the blogosphere has been addressed in a number of recent books including Daniel Solove’s excellent book The Future of Reputation. The tragic nature of the nature of the web is its shadow side, which as Ken Wilber, Jorgen Haabermas, and others have pointed out, is all too often a tabloid-like cesspool of disinformation, outright lies, and distortion. For someone unfamiliar with this phenomenon it is almost beyond imagination.
In this case for example the reports which suggest that Rabbi Gafni age 45 was involved with a 14-year-old girl are in fact referring to a story when Gafni himself was only 19 and just out of high school and the woman was in the first year of high school. The relationship involved no more than mutual teenage petting, and both of them at the time experienced at the time it as a deeply loving relationship. The limited nature and quality of this relationship as described here has been supported by polygraph.
In the second story as well, there was a very limited one-time contact between the 25 year Gafni and a 16-year-old woman, who according to polygraph, asked Gafni to have sexual relations with her, which he refused. Of course, since he was a youth leader at the time, any intimate contact was wrong on Gafni's part. But nothing abusive in the sense suggested in the falsified or distorted internet stories took place. The polygraph confirms this. That said, in statements on his website, Gafni has publicly acknowledged his mistakes in these contexts, as well as his regrets in not having been fully transparent to his earlier supporters regarding one aspect of this latter story.
Gafni sought advice on his initial and later decision not to be transparent in this regard, from credible figures in the Jewish community. He followed their advice. His reasons for doing so are understandable, though unfortunate, but not indicative of any sort of pathology on his part. All the psychological evaluations confirm this. He has publicly expressed his regret for that mistaken decision. All the professional evaluations of Gafni's character and behavior in this and in any other regard have stated that attempts to portray him as abusive in relationships is unfounded. The key point however is that atmosphere created by circulated distortions of old stories are then used as an excuse to justify the fear or agenda driven silence or support of false complaints.
Still another dynamic might be termed the “Lifelong Pattern” dynamic, which refers to collecting detractors from each stage of the person’s life and stringing them together to pathologize the teacher. In an internet world, particularly when people are connected to the same general social circles, this is very easy to do. This dynamic amounts to a hijacking of the discourse about the teacher’s life.
The detractors are usually people with whom the teacher has parted ways at various stages of his or her life. The teacher in these stories is usually a high profile and energetically powerful figure. He may be a complex figure and undoubtedly, like all of us, has shadow dimensions to a lesser or greater extent. Moreover, potent teachers generally arouse strong reactions that are both negative and positive. This will generally be true throughout the course of their life. A teacher may be supported by a vast majority of the public, and disapproved of by a small group of people. Link the naysayers and a small number of distorted incidents, ignore all the positive, and a very sullied overall picture results.
While this negative picture will be rejected by most of the people who knew and loved the teacher, the supporters of the teacher are almost always the rational, stable, but silent majority. The most vocally aggressive figures are usually the ones who launch and support false complaints and populate the nastier neighborhoods in the blogosphere. The result is that the false accusers become those who gather and disseminate the discourse of the disaffected. All of this is in no way to deny that teacher’s need to work on his or her shadow.
Are Dual Relationships Possible?
This is an important and complex question, with no single, clear, moral perspective by which to answer it. We can, however, deeply consider the question. To begin with, two discernments need to be made: 1) the distinction between a formal rigid teacher student relationship and a more informal loosely knit situation; and 2) even within the context of the teacher student relationship, what is the precise nature of the relationship? Is it based on formal commitment and obedience that characterize the guru model, or is it a relationship which explicitly and implicitly affirms the mutuality of the relationship and the autonomy of both sides. I would like to be clear that there are circumstances in which dual relationships almost categorically do not work, such as a formal psychotherapeutic relationship, but most situations are not that clear cut.
Dual relationships are what happens anyway: people befriend the teacher, or their children play with the teacher’s children, or the individual is in a secretarial or managerial function, with only peripheral involvement as a student. There are no clear-cut rights and wrongs, and, as stated throughout the book, there will always be exceptions. With respect to the question of dual relationships, people orient on different places in the spectrum of this issue, yet oftentimes we understand our particular perspective to be the correct moral perspective on the issue.
For many years, well before I knew Marc, when speaking on this subject I would often ask the group: “If a teacher is 100 percent committed to his or her circle, and wishes to have a relationship, and is surrounded by likeminded people, is he or she expected to go to a bar far away from his community in order to find a relationship partner?” It simply did not make sense to me, as the teacher was far more likely to find himself or herself attracted to someone whose deep spiritual orientation was fully resonate with his or her own.
The next question the emerges is, “Is the teacher entitled to a private life, or must his or her entire life be transparent to the community?” Often, as in Marc’s case, the legitimate request for privacy in a relationship or encounter is distorted as “swearing the women to silence.” My personal response to this question is that the teacher is entitled to a private life, but that he or she is simultaneously responsible to maintain upmost clarity in his or her boundaries. My teacher, Lee Lozowick, was an exception to most teachers in that he claims no privacy for his personal life. There were no private telephone lines in the community, including his own. His family lived in the ashram with his students. He chose an unconventional lifestyle, but it was fully visible for the world to see, and none found it out of integrity.
Yet most people will not, nor should they be expected, to live with that level of self-disclosure. Whereas it is hypocritical to teach against homosexuality while carrying on a homosexual affair or relationship, it is not out of integrity to engage and face the challenges of dating and relationships, just because one is a teacher. This is especially the case as in Marc’s story, where there was no formal policy on this issue, and the organization was loosely knit and slightly bohemian in style and tone.
Marc’s default sense was that he should not date formal students, and he did not other than one person who remains his close friend today. In the more murky area of people in his circle with whom he was friends, and who also were involved with him at different times, he preferred to maintain his involvements privately in order to avoid them becoming the subject of gossip or vulnerability. Neither he, nor his partner in running his organization Bayit Chadash, shared with each other the unconventional dimensions of their private lives, which resulted in a dynamic which would later be problematic.
While all other parties to the story have denied any responsibility for their actions, Marc, who was the party most clearly devastated by what happened, has written a public statement and apology taking full responsibility for his part “in the contribution system that created the condition that made these events possible.”
Due to the nature of my work, I happen to know a tremendous amount about the personal lives of many leading teachers—their love affairs, relationship breakdowns, depressions and medications. They do not disclose many of these things to their students, nor is there a need to, as long as they are working out their life lessons with diligence. I do not judge any of this from an ethical standpoint, unless there is outright abuse. I simply try to understand what is effective and what is ineffective in terms of the teacher’s reliability as a guide. Again, like most issues in the student-teacher relationship, there are no clear cut rights and wrongs, only the need for ongoing discernment.
I do not believe it is fair to ask a teacher to share the details of his or her romantic life, particularly if they are single, or even if they are in a marriage which will inevitably have years that are more challenging, with the mistakes that many human beings make occurring along the way. It is the teacher’s responsibility to stay in integrity with respect to his or her teaching function as well as to his or her students, but the student should not feel betrayed when there has not been a full personal disclosure. The teacher must be allowed his or her own process as well, as long as he or she is responsible and accountable for his or her actions, and non-defensive when given feedback.
Healing is always possible. As is reemergence. Even in a case like that of Yogi Amrit Desai, a well-known Indian guru, who in the seventies was rightfully called to task for having sexual relationships with multiple students while claiming celibacy, he could still atone, make amends, and recover. Even when complaints are real, it is still possible to forgive and move on, much less when they are false. Everybody deserves another chance. Once when I was organizing a large event with dozens of renowned teachers throughout the country, somebody called to complain that one of the individuals should not be included, as he had had an affair during his marriage. When I recounted this suggestion to my co-organizer, she said, “If we had to eliminate everyone from this event who had had an affair, there would be almost nobody left.” Again, I am not endorsing this behavior, but it remains critical to make distinctions with respect to these complex issues.
False complaints are often still more difficult to overcome. For the individual is attempting to take responsibility for his or her part of the event in question, while at the same time processing the pain of the false accusation, as I felt in when falsely accused by the angry student who compared my teaching style to genocide in Rwanda. How does an individual wrongly accused make apologies to the degree that will satisfy those who have made false complaints and the media hype that often follows, when he or she is major person hurt by circumstances?
The individual who has been turned against and accused by those whom he or she considered the closest of friends and allies, must struggle mightily not to become bitter at the destruction of his or her work and the distortion of his or her personality. He or she must find a way to experience the trauma from a transformational perspective, and to reap the fruits of its life lessons, even if they have left him or her broken. “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” says the old Hebrew mystical maxim.
When complaints are made, it is critical to create forums for mediation and potential reconciliation between those who have been accused, and those who have accused them. When false complaints are motivated by power and grievance, oftentimes the individuals who have asserted the complaints are unwilling to provide this, and thus they are inadvertently responsible for propagating false complaints. When the political or religious leaders of a community move to block a teacher’s reemergence, while being unwilling to meet with the teacher either publicly and privately—even mediated by a respected colleague to both parties if necessary—they are themselves engaged in the abuse of spiritual power. When they use ostensibly sexual issues as a fig leaf to hide their true motivations, which are often animated by many of the compulsions of shadow and ego which all too often animate spiritual politics, then they are engaged in a form of sexual abuse. They are abusing sexuality and sexual principles to accomplish their own corrupt egoic ends.
Four Simple Litmus Tests for Spiritual Scandals
There are a number of simple litmus tests of discernment which reveal whether the critique of a teacher in an apparent scandal is primarily motivated by a desire to protect the innocent, or is just a convenient veneer which hides the malice, fear, jealousy, or power motivations of those who decry the scandal and who may even benefit from it. The first litmus test is: Have the spiritual leaders and others involved spoken carefully to all parties involved in the issue before taking action? Second: Has a fact-checking mechanism set up to check, and cross check, all available evidence regarding the claims of both sides before taking action? Third: Is there a protocol for healing and forgiveness which is effective and safe for both sides? Fourth: Is the accused party treated with dignity, or is he or she dehumanized, demonized and treated with cruelty?
No easy formulas apply across the board for any circumstance. However, if someone with a discerning heart applies these four litmus tests, he or she can generally discover the truth about what is actually driving the events in a scandal from behind the scenes. All too often, dubious complaints are encouraged or supported because they serve the interests of various parties with agendas of malice, greed, power and envy. When political agendas are at play, there will be a reluctance to investigate both sides, and even to systematically check the facts.
Various strategies of denial and justification can be deployed by those who may not instigate or directly support false complaints, but who also refrain from speaking out to object to the complaints even when they intuitively or actually know them not to be untrue. How does one explain not speaking out on behalf of a friend or colleague? Most people prefer to think of themselves as loyal friends who live in integrity and not in fear. Their unconscious strategies of denial and justification allow them to excuse their own silence with statements like, “Even if the complaints are not true, he or she had it coming to him or her anyway for this or that reason, and therefore its okay for me not to speak on his behalf.” At this level, the individual will rationalize his or her own inaction by saying that the person being brought down “deserved it” because they were arrogant, self- involved, narcissistic, hard to work with, overly ambitious, or whatever rationalization they choose to tell themselves.
Even if there were to be some grain of truth to their self justifying estimations of the individual’s personal faults, they do not in any way warrant the cruel treatment, life destruction, and social shunning that occurs in so many of these instances. The failure to set up proper investigative or healing mechanisms is nearly always an indication that there is an Iago factor lurking in the situation, or that the goal of the accusers is not justice, but malice or retaliation.
To fully emerge, the teacher who has been falsely accused will need to learn to allow the breakdown that has occurred to break him or her open to deeper love, compassion, and understanding. The teacher is invited, and even required, to turn the fate of the injustice into the destiny of internal liberation, both for his or her own sake, as well as for that of all the people who have and will be touched by him or her. When St. Francis was asked by a disciple what, for him, would be the most perfect joy, he replied that it would be to seek shelter in a house, be rejected and thrown out, and left to lie in the mud with the dogs. Although most of us would consider this a fairly extreme position, it is nonetheless true that depth and humility arise when suffering is accepted and used as a way to open one’s own heart. In Marc’s journal, he wrote, “To be firm in your knowing of love even when you are desperate, and to be strong in your heart of forgiveness even when you are betrayed, is what it means to be holy.”
At some point, however, the teacher may need to share the truth of what has happened, and the complex motivations of the people involved, both to clear the public record for him or herself and his or family, and to expose the byzantine spiritual politics and power dynamics that led to the situation be exposed for the sake of truth and integrity. If there is some reason that the whole story cannot be told, the teacher should let his or her public know that full disclosure is not possible because it would hurt relatively innocent people and their lives.
In some cases, circumstances can make it difficult to make full amends and resolve the complexities that gave rise to the false complaints. Sometimes people do not want to resolve the situation because they are gaining position, power, or some other advantage by the individual being ousted from his or her function. So the question is, who decides whether a given teacher has made full amends, and according to what criteria is that decision made? Clearly those who make this decision can not be the very people who made the false complaints. Do they not need to be, at a minimum, part of the overall accountability that everyone in the system needs to be held to?
In attempting to evaluate any teacher’s capacity and authenticity, there are no single set of clear cut, moral criteria, but rather countless criteria, all circumstantially dependent. We can only use pointers. For example, one might ask, “Who are the people close to this individual? How do they act, and what depth of integrity and genuineness do you perceive in them? How do you feel when you are in this person’s presence, and does your intuitive response to them feel like a deep perception that is trustworthy? Does this human being seem like someone who is not defensive, and who can be trusted to be accountable to his or her actions? These are qualities that we perceive and feel, and this capacity to perceive with discernment can be learned.
I was a young and critical seeker when I asked Robert McDermott, three decades my senior on the path, what he thought about people who had made mistakes on the spiritual path, or even caused harm. He surprised me when he said, “I’m not even interested in hearing about a scandal that is more than five-years old. If I cannot allow people to make mistakes and to learn from them, I am not the spiritual practitioner I believe myself to be.” For myself, I would not study with, much less live with, a person in whom I did not perceive an extraordinary degree of integrity and authenticity, including an awareness of that person’s weaknesses and gifts. From two decades of research in this arena, I have learned to trust my own discernment in these areas, and am grateful that others have trusted me to guide them in this respect.
One thing we come to understand through maturing in the student-teacher relationship is that any teacher can be both highly developed in a number of areas, and at the same time inevitably human. My experience of knowing the inside story of many renown teacher’s lives reveals this to be true in most, if not all, cases. Of course, it is complex and challenging to learn how to fully trust a teacher when we accept that he or she is also human. But to expect our teachers, or any human being, to be infallible is simply not understand what it is to be human. To be human is to engage an endless process of learning from our mistakes, to err often and hopefully in the right direction, and to live in dignity and integrity. We cannot expect ourselves, or our teachers, to be perfect, only for each of us to strive to be deeply conscious, responsible, loving, and forgiving.
It is my deep conviction that Marc is one of the truly great heart-mind teachers of this generation, and that he offers students a transmission of leading edge dharma and a profound realization of love that is rare and precious in our world.