This is our (Karen Rain and Gregor Maehle’s) commentary to John Scott’s reply to being asked about Pattabhi Jois’ sexual abuse. You can listen to his reply here starting at 1hour:36minutes.
John Scott (JS) begins by describing Krishna Pattabhi Jois (KPJ) poetically as a diamond with many facets with each facet being a mirror or a window. Dependent on which window a student would look into, this would determine their experience. This passage is an irresponsible glorification of KPJ, the sort that we have seen enough of in Pattabhi Jois – A Portrait Through the Eyes of his Students.
By unreasonably glorifying KPJ, his victims and critics were silenced and this process is ongoing as we can see here. It is apparent that JS is not interested in seriously engaging with the discussion of KPJ’s sexual abuse as he uses poetic imagery to escape it.
JS then continues to evade the subject by stating that he cannot talk about the experience of the victims as it was not his experience. We do not expect nor do we want anyone to talk about the experience of victims, if it is not firsthand. What we are hoping for is that former enablers acknowledge the pain caused first by KPJ and then by the community’s betrayal of the victims. Making amends would be the way forward. Unfortunately JS continues the betrayal here and further gaslights victims.
JS detracts with, “I can only speak of my own experience.” The speaker claims that he had all the same adjustments from his teacher (which he does not describe), but he did not “experience it as sexual abuse” (whatever that means).
Abusers don’t abuse everyone they come into contact with. JS’s “experience” of what KPJ did or didn’t do to him is irrelevant. Pattabhi Jois sexually abused other people. There is plenty of victim and witness testimony as well as photographic and video evidence to show that KPJ sexually abused students.
JS is asserting an erroneous belief that sexual abuse is defined by the subjective experience of the receiver, as opposed to the behaviour of the perpetrator. This is victim blaming at its finest. He is saying, “It’s all in your head.” Thus, there is no objective way to define sexual abuse. KPJ did nothing wrong. It’s all in the victims’ minds.
For almost 30 years Larry Nassar was very close friends with the gymnast Trinea Gonczar and her mother. Until shortly before Nassar’s trial Trinea insisted that vaginal manipulations were just part of Larry’s regular treatments. He did it to her hundreds of times. She never thought the treatments were wrong. Gonczar figured Brianne Randall-Gay (who filed a complaint against Nassar in 2004) must be confused: “I remember thinking if I could just get to her. If I could just talk to her and explain to her how many times this happened to me, she would understand that it was just to make her better.” (Trinea Gonczar in the podcast Believed)
By the time of the trial Gonczar realized that Nassar abused her. But according to John Scott, Nassar did not abuse Trinea Gonczar because when he was abusing her she didn’t “experience” it as abuse?
Obfuscation or confusion are frequently components of abuse. If everyone could discern when someone was abusing them there would be a lot less abuse in the world.
JS then states, “But more importantly I have been accused of inappropriate adjustment. I have been accused of sexually abusive adjustments. So let’s talk about this because I am here.” Why is this “more important”? It hasn’t yet been made public by a victim and it certainly hasn’t become a case of global proportions. The rationale is that because Pattabhi Jois is not here anymore, the victims should be silent. It is one of the current favourite arguments of KPJ defenders. One problem with that view is that many victims are still here and they have to live with KPJ’s abuse and the community’s betrayal every single day, whether KPJ is here or not.
Many survivors of sexual abuse say that the betrayal of their friends, family or community is more traumatic than the initial abuse. Thus, the enablers have not really ceased enabling. They are continuing the harm that KPJ initiated. They are preserving an abusive culture. If KPJ’s decades of abuse are not addressed and the culture which enabled it is not dismantled, there is no progress. This “yoga” remains defective.
John Scott also deflects the accusations of having sexual assaulted a student by invoking his intention, i.e. that his intention was for the betterment of his students. Again he is asserting an erroneous belief that sexual abuse is defined by the intention rather than the behaviour of the perpetrator. Under this convenient definition sexual abuse occurs only when it was the intention of the abuser to sexually abuse. Does JS really think all perpetrators admit to themselves that they are going to sexually abuse someone? Often they are making up justifications for what they are doing, that the victim likes it or that what they are doing is intended as friendly or helpful. There have been plenty of cases of child molesters who claimed that they wanted their victims to feel loved.
We then hear that JS did not try to defend his actions when faced with the claim that he had sexually abused or “inappropriately touched the pelvis” of a student, but that he apologized and affirmed it would not happen again.
It is great that John Scott apologized because we are not aware that KPJ ever apologized. He also has to be commended for saying it would not happen again and that he did not try to defend himself. However, he is now taking this opportunity, when he has the sympathy of an audience, to defend himself at length. This is a betrayal of the student who was brave enough to make the complaint.
He said it was not his intention to sexually abuse the student. This is not a defense. Ideally it is a stepping stone for learning. Perhaps he could seek training in how to make sure there is informed, affirmative consent?
But unfortunately JS is using that “it was not his intention to sexually abuse” to defend himself, to show that both he and KPJ did not sexually abuse anyone. “It was not my intention” does not change the behaviour. It hopefully indicates contriteness. John Scott no longer sounds sorry for what he did to his student, he sounds defensive and determined to prove that his student was wrong. And, how likewise, the students who say KPJ sexually abused them or that they witnessed him abusing other students are also wrong.
Since “inappropriately touched his pelvis” is vague, this example that JS gives does not compare to what we know KPJ to have done. Jubilee Cooke summarized KPJ’s actions thus, “Pattabhi Jois intentionally grabbed women by their genitals. He intentionally placed his hands on their breasts. He intentionally kissed them on the lips. He dry-humped women in supine poses after intentionally placing his penis on their genitals. Several women have described how Pattabhi Jois stuck his fingers into their vaginas through their tights. In other words, Jois committed digital rape, a felony in the US. Digital rape and dry humping are not incidental contact. He got away with his predatory behaviour under the guise of adjustments/assists.” Cooke forgot to mention that KPJ also groped women’s buttocks, during hugs.
JS then goes on to elaborate on a spiritual experience that the same student had during a different adjustment by JS. Because JS neither shared that particular experience, nor did he experience the other adjustment as sexual abuse, he reasons that both were invalid because they were not “a shared experience.” He is further betraying his student by trying to make the student look inconsistent and unreliable.
Furthermore whether a perpetrator and a victim share the same experience is irrelevant. There have been abusers who claimed that what they did was meant to bring joy to their victims while their victims held that their life was being destroyed. The justifications and rationalization of the perpetrator are irrelevant. Abuse is abuse whether the perpetrator shares that view or not. To this day, the date when white colonialists invaded Australia is celebrated as Australia Day. The indigenous population calls it Invasion Day. There is no shared experience of this event between black and white Australians. We may say to the contrary that perpetrator and victim, oppressor and oppressed, will always have very different views of an event.
JS then repeats, “I was not there with the student in a sexual act.”
Sexual abuse is essentially not a “sexual act.” It is violence and domination and it will not necessarily elicit sexual feelings from the victim. Sometimes perpetrators might try to, or inadvertently, sexually arouse victims and confuse them. But often sexual abuse is not pleasurable. According to KPJ defenders, his “adjustments” didn’t feel sexual, therefore they aren’t sexual abuse. But no doubt if his adjustments felt sexual, the victims would be blamed for “liking it.” What a Catch 22!
I, Karen Rain, used that delusional reasoning myself when KPJ was abusing me. “I did not get turned on, thus it didn’t feel sexual to me, therefore it wasn’t sexual abuse.” Looking back I see how asinine this argument is.
The speaker then goes on to describe how now he has the difficulty that he has to call his guruji, his teacher, by his name Pattabhi Jois. He states that he still has KPJ’s picture as his screensaver on his telephone but when he looks at it now his personal experience is denied by the fact that his teacher was a sexual predator. This predicament was caused by KPJ’s actions. He was responsible for his actions, not the people he harmed. JS should have complained to KPJ that his experience of the benevolent “Guruji” was denied. JS is blaming the victims for causing this predicament.
If JS still wants to call KPJ “Guruji,” he should. That’s a choice people ought to make from their own conscience, not because of public pressure. It’s clear where John Scott stands. He wants to call KPJ “Guruji” and his own “personal experience” and idolization of KPJ are completely intact. He is upset that now there is some public resistance to him flaunting it. He wants people to feel sad for him and his discomfort, so that he can start gushing about his “diamond teacher” again.
The speaker devotes a single sentence admitting that there is a chance that the victims are right, “Having said all of that, he may have been guilty”.
Immediately after that sentence a new avenue of distraction and deflection is opened, that we should not look at Jois but only at the yoga. “If he was guilty all I can say is that his work was greater than the man”. What about a 4-decade long culture where most Ashtanga teachers ignored, justified and enabled KPJ’s abuse for their own personal gain? What about addressing that?
But no, the speaker immediately sets out on another diversion tactic. “The man also had his human weaknesses. When he lost his son [Ramesh] to suicide he stopped practising. As a penalty to himself he stopped practising. When his wife died I was with him and my ex-wife was hugging him he said “my god is not working for me”. Since he was not practising since his son’s suicide it may have been that the rock of his practice started to crumble.” Is John Scott saying that we should feel sorry for Pattabhi Jois and disregard the harm he caused?
JS then makes the surprising double statement, “I want to keep practising. I will not judge my teacher.” Is the speaker insinuating that admitting Pattabhi Jois’s guilt means having to stop practising yoga? How so? Has the speaker tied up so much importance with the personage of KPJ that he thinks if he acknowledges the abuse and comes out in support of the victims that he needs to stop practising Ashtanga? This is actually how it still feels, in part of the movement, and it is exactly this view that is created in Guruji – A Portrait, to which John Scott contributed, i.e. the view that Jois = Ashtanga. But doesn’t that actually mean that our yoga is still just skin-deep if we are totally dependent on keeping the personage of the teacher upright, whatever he did?
JS states that he knows KPJ had his welfare in this mind and that he wanted to take him out of his suffering, not cause more. If KPJ lost the plot in the later years of his life, JS is sad and sorry for him and for those whom he hurt and that we are all human and we all have a dark side.
We don’t know what JS is referring to by “the later years of his life.” There are victim and witness testimonies dating as early as 1983, 26 years before KPJ’s death and about a decade before his classes were packed with students. There’s a photo of KPJ groping a woman’s breast in the early eighties. When KPJ was groping the woman’s breast, he had her welfare in mind? He wanted to take her out of her suffering? If so, he was delusional.
That we are all human and/or have a dark side is meant to minimize KPJ’s abuses. Not all humans are serial sex offenders. Isn’t part of the purpose of yoga to help us discern and control our base human impulses? JS offers a long barrage of arguments for why we should ignore that KPJ sexually abused students. The final argument is that we all have a dark side and therefore shouldn’t point the finger at Pattabhi Jois.
John Scott concludes with, “The message of yoga, the teachings of yoga are not held in one man alone. Whatever the story, the yoga will survive.”
Whatever the story the yoga will survive? Whatever it is? Rape, abuse, genocide, ecocide, exploitation, colonialism, don’t worry about it, just keep doing your yoga. And onward the carousel of deflections goes. Now we are back to the argument that we should look at the greatness of yoga and therefore look away from the actions of KPJ. The speaker is literally using every tool in the book to prevent us from learning the painful lessons of Ashtanga’s history and move towards a more positive future.
Survive as what is the question? What would a yoga be in which we superimpose our own pleasant experience with our teachers on what they do to other students around us? Wouldn’t a yoga in which we only worry about our own practice be selfish, self-centered and self-important? Should we really continue to look up to teachers who fail to show concern about corruption in yoga? Who continue to betray sexual assault survivors? Who are most upset by the fact that they now feel uncomfortable raving about their wonderful experience looking at the screensaver of their “Guruji”?
We are asking our readers to consider whether the views held by JS here represent the direction they wish Ashtanga Yoga to take.