Latest response from Sharath on his Instagram account where he did face anger and criticism relating to his ‘apology’ for his grandfather’s abuse with my observations below. I think his response may have been deleted since then but this is a direct copy from his account with no edits:
“Some people have accused me of taking my Grandfather Hillam Please take back your worlds,whatever I’m today it is because of my 30 years of hard working. I have gone through many difficulties in my life.I have dedicated my entire life to Yoga practice Getting up every day at 2am to do my practice. I didn’t practice yoga to become famous it’s my life it’ll stay for ever until my last breath. I have spoken to my Grandmother about my Grandfather asana adjustments She was the only one who could control him but unfortunately she passed away in 1997
I was only 19 years old when I restarted yoga,Senior students who were 20 years older then me who came year after year to study with him didn’t speak about it ??
Please understand it’s because of my many years of dedication & commitment that has brought glory to Ashtanga Yoga & many people are relishing it .You can criticize me what ever you want…. I have always respected & supported women my students know it & god knows it. That’s the reason why I have more female students because they feel safe studying with me
It’s so unfortunate that this world 🌎 is not for good people
I’m getting very emotional now 😭…..I’m getting tears in my eyes I’ll stop at this now🙏🙏🙏”
Sharath, I can hear through your words how upset you are and I think it’s a good thing you show it. Under your rule, a lot of us were left out in the cold and suffered. Everybody who didn’t agree with you was made wrong, i.e. we were said to practice wrongly and were morally wrong. Hence the backlash now. Seeing you emotional like that helps me to stay connected and less judgemental. In this spirit I offer a few more observations:
You say that whatever you are today is because of your 30 years of hard working. I want to challenge that. Not just you, but a lot of us have ploughed their whole life into yoga and most of us did not become famous and for many it didn’t even supply a livelihood. Some put in decades and were left broken in body and soul. I’m suggesting that a big part of what you are today is simply because you were born into a “yoga dynasty”.
Think about it, if it wasn’t for you being born as grandson of KPJ where would you be today? When you were crowned Paramguru many of us thought, “what a coincidence that the grandson of KPJ gets to be Paramguru”. If you were simply looking at merit and compare your practice with some of the other luminaries it can be contended that it was you who ended up in that position. I thought Richard’s, Karen’s and Tim’s practice to be better than yours. Sorry.
Please also note, that during the entire contemporary Ashtanga-history a narrative was carefully developed and that was that Ashtanga was a Jois-family venture, Jois-property, a Jois-brand. Many of us teachers were told we weren’t allowed to teach once we had fallen from your grace. Nobody was ever allowed to train teachers unless they were a Jois. Can you explain to me why?
What exactly under God’s wide heaven makes you Jois’s so special that only you can determine when someone is a teacher or not?
Look how you and your grandfather outlawed teacher trainings. Only Jois’s were allowed to certify teachers. Then have a look at what it took to become a teacher under your and your grandfathers rule. The number one determining factor was devotion to a Jois. So, I think the position you are in today is because you cleverly took charge of the narrative that Ashtanga = Jois.
You then again hit out at those senior teachers (I was a junior back then so I’m nicely ducking away under the blow). I remember the seniors well. Back in those days most of us had a lot in common. We had lost our home countries as a spiritual home and we were looking for a new one. We travelled around the world, broke and ended up with all the tropical diseases in the book. Many of us ended up in India, many died, succumbing to drugs or ended up in bizarre cults (hint, hint). India wasn’t the relatively cushy place it is today where you can buy any level of comfort as long as you have the money (but not cushy if you don’t). And we didn’t have any money to start with. For us it was a big journey into the unknown and at no point was the outcome certain. I don’t think many of us knew that you could turn yoga into money until the year 2000 struck (for the record that’s 22 years after I started yoga). Yoga wasn’t taught in our countries, not in our cities and certainly not in our family homes. In those years us oldies had to travel very far, in most cases alone, to places where we knew nobody, to find yoga. For you yoga was taught in the house you grew up in.
I’d like you to put that into perspective when you bag those old guys. They didn’t speak out, true, and I’d like to now know their side of the story and in writing please. But your repeated barb at them reminds me of the fact that they travelled around the world (sometimes overland in those days), found and promoted your grandfather. Without those guys your grandfather would have remained obscure.
With no students in your grandfathers house, what would you have done after your finished your electrical engineering degree? Set up a yoga shop to teach the citizens of Mysore?
No, I think it’s fair to say that you are what you are mainly because of those pioneers who promoted your grandfather. And you just inherited the family business.
One of your main claims to your position today is “Getting up every day at 2am to do my practice”. I want to respond to that because I heard that over and over again aired by your followers as support for your greatness. That not many could have gotten up at 2am.
Sharath, I recently met a retired guy who for 47 years worked nightshift in a huge publishing house. They were printing 10’s of thousands of books, newspapers, catalogues, etc so the printing presses could never stop. So this guy went to work his whole life from around 10pm and finished at 6am. He got paid a pittance and now that he’s retired he can’t sleep. Many of us have to do things like that and it’s no claim to greatness.
Sharath, there are a few 100 Million people in the world in the police forces, defence forces, hospitals, aged care, transportation, etc. who work most of their lives at ungodly hours and get little to no reward. In the 90’s I worked as a night cab driver to earn your grandfathers fees. You don’t get credit for your work times. Nobody does. Welcome to the real world.
Reading through your above message what stands out is the use of “I”, “my”, and “me”.
Here we go, “people have accused me”, “whatever I’m today”, “ my 30 years of hard working”, “I have gone through many difficulties in my life”, ”I have dedicated my entire life” “to do my practice”. “I didn’t practice yoga” “ it’s my life” “ until my last breath”. “I have spoken”, “my Grandmother”, “my Grandfather” “I was only 19 years old”, “when I restarted yoga, “ it’s because of my many years”, “criticize me what ever you want”, “I have always respected “, “my students know”, “why I have more”, “studying with me”, “I’m getting very emotional”, “I’m getting tears”, “in my eyes”, “I’ll stop at this now”.
If I counted right you managed to squeeze in 26 references to yourself into a short paragraph. Astonishing! Sharath, do you know how they call a person that can only talk about themselves and can’t see the other?
They call’em a narcissist.
Sharath, this “apology” was meant to be about the survivors of your grandfathers sexual abuse, wasn’t it?
Or was it about you, after all?
But let’s get to what seems to be the core message of your above statement: “it’s because of my many years of dedication & commitment that has brought glory to Ashtanga Yoga”.
Sharath, so let me get this right, Ashtanga’s glory exists because of “your many years of dedication & commitment”?
What about those tens of thousands of students that through the decades trapesed to Mysuru to attend your grandfather’s and now your and your mothers’ classes? What about those dozens of senior teachers who invited your family traveling first class (and all of us traveling economy)? Those senior teachers who taught tirelessly for four decades to spread the word? What about those hundreds, thousands of junior teachers who kept open small studios around the world teaching “your” yoga brand?
It’s because of all these people that you have an army of students showing up at your shala. Without them nobody would even know about you.
And finally what about the 100’s of thousands of students worldwide whose name we don’t even know. They are often single parents, struggling with loans, often in stressful or poorly paid jobs. And still they do their practice.
Often they can’t practice daily and their practice may not be very spectacular. But it is to them that I want to bow down, Sharath. Not to you.
For they are the glory of Ashtanga Yoga!
But this is something you may always struggle to understand. You were born into a family that gave you a spiritual movement/cult as an inheritance (jury is still out which one of the two, granted). But all you can do is worry about that those senior teachers who don’t understand your greatness and fail to bow to you.
Could it be that you exaggerate your own importance because you entered movement as heir-in-waiting at age 19 and from then on never had peers but only a growing number of devotees?
Could that be the reason why your above response lacks emotional maturity? A maturity that’s also prevented you from seeing that in this whole crisis more is at stake than just you and your family. What is at stake is a glorious system of yoga practised by a worldwide community, for which many of us have given their life to make it glorious. Not just you.
Sharath, there is another way: Reach out to the survivors, acknowledge them by name. Say that you are sorry. Don’t try to defend yourself or make yourself look better. Simply “sorry”. Then ask the survivors what they would like to see you do? Ask them what they would need to feel better? They need to see you care. They need to see you render service.
Can you do that?
Wow Gregor, simply Wow
Had the same thought…
He won’t have to. The hangar is full. The regular attendees who found his statement satisfactory will continue studying there and the rest of us will find equally suitable alternatives. This marks the end of a chapter in our respective yoga studies. It feels liberating to me.
His last line says it all. He just doesn’t have the bandwidth or the introspection to come to terns with what you are saying here.
I understand it very very clearly and at first glance, it might be easy to be compassionate, connected and see ‘his’ way.
But then I remember, all the hardships of the many many many many students who entered the Ashtanga doors and I remember the victims who did not gain a famous repetition or even great home practice, but broken dreams, a broken life and much to heal. And exactly as you pointed out, had he not been born “into” the family, who would he have taught. The Western students with their love, grace and devotion put Ashtanga and PJ on the map. The rest just follows.
Thank you for your words here. And for standing tall.
The never ending Ashtanga soap opera.
I agree with your statements. I think Sharath is out of his depth to be teaching anything to anyone. He came across as an immature individual in these comments.
Regarding your statements, however, I sometimes I get the feeling there is anger and even hate in you. Am I right? If yes, why is that?
Also, what do you mean with “If you were simply looking at merit and compare your practice with some of the other luminaries it can be contended that it was you who ended up in that position. I thought Richard’s, Karen’s and Tim’s practice to be better than yours. Sorry.” How is a practice “better”? Is that the point of ashtanga yoga even?
Thanks for your remark. I do feel the occasional anger and that’s okay. We are all just human and sometimes it’s necessary to feel anger to get going on something that’s important.
Hate certainly not. I noticed that everybody that ever spoke out against the Jois hierarchy was accused of hatred, of an agenda. Yet the agenda of the Jois juggernaut was never questioned. It feels to me as yet another method of silencing critics. Why can’t they just respond to the criticism?
In regards to “If you were simply looking at merit and compare your practice with some of the other luminaries it can be contended that it was you who ended up in that position. I thought Richard’s, Karen’s and Tim’s practice to be better than yours. Sorry.”, I wrote the following on my FB page:
“When I was in Mysuru in the 90’s the status and place in the hierarchy of the community was determined by your level of asana practice. If you were a fourth-series people stopped talking when you entered the room and deferred to you (that excess emphasis on asana was one of the reasons I left in 1999). When you had completed Intermediate you were authorized and could start a shala when you had completed Advanced A you were certified and could become a traveling teacher. Advanced A also gave you the supposed right to start spiritual practices.
If we look at that as the internal logic of the cult, we must say then that the head of the cult should be the person with the best asana practice. It wasn’t Sharath’s practice. I practised in that room with Sharath for over a year, a few meters away. Look at his photos in Yoga Mala. What I want to show is that the cult did not follow its own internal logic.
Once it came to choosing a successor this internal logic (merit is determined by asana performance) was cast overboard and a hereditary/ commercial decision was made.
That’s all. I don’t care how good or bad is a person’s asana practice. That’s not how I judge them.
What I wanted to show was that those supposed sacrosanct tenets of Ashtanga were ignored and the decision was made based on heredity. Sharath still believes today has his position is based on merit. It’s not. It’s based on heredity. Somebody needs to tell him that. I felt sorry for him and mean but somebody had to deflate the bubble in his own interest.”
If you have read my books you may know that I’ve always worked against the perception that the asana practice is central to Ashtanga but that it is a preparation for sitting pranayama and meditation practice.
That’s all great but practically speaking that’s not how it worked in Mysuru. So my point when talking about Sharath’s claim that he was in this position because he worked harder than anybody else to make Ashtanga glorious was to refute that claim. And one of my angles of refutation was to deconstruct the internal logic of the cult.
This does not mean that I agree with the internal logic of the cult.
Hope this finds you well
There is another thing that I want to mention. I dropped out of the Jois-narrative 20 years ago. Following the publication of my series of textbooks from 14 years ago onwards I ended up in a high-profile position. Those two facts combined made me the recipient of a completely different story of Ashtanga. You could call it the trail of broken souls and broken bodies.
The broken ones always came and still come to me to complain. They trust me because on one hand they know I broke with the Jois but they also know that I’m an insider when it comes to technical knowledge. So I get to see all the dirty laundry but few dare to speak out.
So at this point I feel I have to speak out and give a voice for so many that for some reason don’t dare. Belief me I don’t fancy at all being in the position to talk truth to power. I much prefer to have a quiet life.
But why does nobody dare to speak out? Why do so many Ashtanga people talk behind closed doors but always say, “off the record”, ”confidential”, “don’t quote me on it”? Why is that? I’ve never seen it anywhere else in my life. It’s because the power structure handed down through KPJ is coercive and manipulative. And it didn’t seem to change with KPJ’s passing.
Somebody has to speak out and take the flak.
Hope that makes sense
The notion that some “Guru” has the answers, and you must be worthy to receive these answers is everything that is the worst of people. Ashtanga Cult members are drinking the cool aid. It’s so obvious that this guy just wants their money. The insecure “Ashtangies” feel they need some guy in India to validate their practice. It shows that 99% of Ashtanga practitioners are merely performing asana and have no idea what Brahmacharya is. Basically it’s a fitness routine for them, and whether they understand that or not is irrelevant. What I believe we are trying to accomplish by practicing all 8 limbs, is to manifest a union between the Citta and Atman, So if you don’t even know what these words mean then you are just doing fitness.
I don’t know what they mean. For a long time I believe I am just working out when I do the first series.
Felipe, Thanks to you and others who think likewise – the so called “ashtangi” community with their so called “Paramguru” Sharath will prosper and honest teachers like Gregor Maehle would be names that go Obscure. Actually it is Gregor’s fault – he should have been born to the Jois family, isnt it?
Thank you for your response. It definitely answers what I wanted to know. Also, thank you for sharing your views with the community. I think they are valuable.
I value people giving voice to their truth. I have not met you, yet I respect your devotion to the practice and what you have given to share it with many. That said, my reading of these words from you brings to mind the concepts of Entitlement, Colonization, and White Superiority/Supremacy.
Also, please understand my intention to speak from “I” because the only experience and truth I can speak is my own.
I have an addition:
“…Superiority/Supremacy – especially against the backdrop of India’s history.”
Thanks for your considered response. A delicate subject. Firstly, I have noted that in this particular cult, when everything else fails, critics are silenced by being called colonialists. So let’s have a look at your offered concepts one by one:
Supremacy – well the supreme one is the Parama Guru. That terms means “supreme guru”. I have said enough about that elsewhere and here the ball is in his court. Please note, that this present author never allows any of his students to use any honorific address when referring to him. In this very post people addressed him on his FB page with “Maestro” and he replied “just call me dude”. Several people did and he ‘liked’ their replies. That’s his title, “dude”. How supremacist is that.
White Superiority- The author grew up to a father whose hero was Muhammad Ali. HIs dad got him up in the night and they watched Ali kick white arse. Ali was great at that and it’s the closest the author ever got to his Dad. The author has repeatedly stated in his books that his heroes are Jesus, Gandhi, ML King and Nelson Mandela. One Jew and three gentlemen of colour. Where is the white supremacy there? In 2012 the author went to the movies and saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The author cried through half of the movie because for the first time he saw a black movie hero with great skill, unashamedly kick white arse. In Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy the author has criticised the belief of Western historians and particularly Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy, that philosophy and intellectual inquiry suddenly burst on the scene 500BC in ancient Greece. Westerners manage to uphold this delusion by consistently dating Indian scriptures and culture Millenia too late. If they are dated leaving Europe-centric biases aside then we must come to the conclusion that “brown people taught thinking to white people”. Written by yours truly in 2006. Okay, good bye white superiority.
Colonialism – The present author wrote a blog article a few years back criticising the Australian Government of a patronising and neo-colonialist attitude when trying to interfere into the judicial process in Indonesia pertaining to a group of Australian drug dealers that were supposed to be executed by firing squad. In this article the present author exhorted the heroic actions of General Lieutenant I Ngurah Rai, who, leading a small Indonesian liberation resistance force, fought to the death and ultimately succumbed to a in numbers and equipment vastly superior white colonialist force. At least they kicked white arse and they died holding their heads up unbowed. The departure of the white colonialist force happened because they ultimately realized that continued suppression of skilled, small resistance groups like the one of I Ngurah Rai would ultimately come at too high a cost.
When studying in India the present author would often wear a sticker depicting the image of Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was the leader of the armed resistance of the British Raj and the leader of the Indian National Army. While this army was ultimately defeated by vastly superior British forces, the British realised that Indian resistance armies would march again and again against the Raj until it would fall. Bose died tragically in an aircraft accident but the British realized that the best deal they would get is to arrange themselves with Mahatma Gandhi before the next Subhas Chandra Bose would arise. The present author could go on and on with similar details about being partisan to counter-colonialist movements but it may suffice to read his ongoing blog articles documenting massacres of white colonialists on Australian Aborigines and supporting the causes of Native Americans.
“– especially against the backdrop of India’s history.” The author has shown through his five text books that he does not only deeply value Indian culture but also tirelessly works on returning yoga to its true Indian roots, based on shastra and based on the practice of all eight limbs. The author calls this process yoga-renaissance, meaning “rebirth” A cursory glance over the textbooks will easily reveal this to be true.
The author also questions, that this argument can be used in this case. For Ashtanga as it currently presents itself appears to be rather a modern gymnastics-cult pandering to the typical Western obsession with the body. The author proposes that the skilful pandering to this Western obsession is part of the strategy of the very person he criticizes in his last few articles.
To summarize all of this:
Mate, it’s got nothing to do with race or culture. It’s simply a spat between me and Sharath over different values. That’s all.
Let’s untiringly fight together against fascists, supremacist, racist, sexist, and colonialists in all disguises and let’s not look for them where they are not.
Fantastic observations and comments in your article. Although, it seems silly to me that these points have to be articulated to illustrate the absurdity of it all. I see that in theory Ashtanga incorporates all 8 limbs. But, in practice “Ashtanga” is just a set of asana sequences. In my opinion, the best set of asana sequences. But, when considering Brahmacharya, it is clear to me that no one ownes anything having to do with “Yoga”. Furthermore, the mafia tactics used by this guy concerning teacher authorization and certification is ugliness at best. Typical, resource extraction and indicator that this little guy from mysore has no idea what the true-self really means.
Thank you Gregor, for great analysis and response.
Really well put. I was unsure of some of the things you said, like Sharath’s practice not being the best. I thought that was maybe a bit of a personal attack? He after all, is also a human being who is flawed like many of us. However I think your analysis is fair and the ashtanga yoga method definitely needs a revamp. It should no longer be ‘owned’ by the Jois’. I have seen so many dedicated teachers around the world. I always had a funny feeling about the Mysore group. I love the practice and will continue to do it along with Hatha yoga, Pranayama, Meditation and spiritual development according to the yogic path.
Thanks for your response. The problem is that Sharath implies with his title Parama Guru, i.e. Supreme Guru, which is actually a title denoting God, that he is not a flawed person like the rest of us. Please not that even to this day, on his Insta feed. people have referred to him as God’s chosen.
HIs followers certainly accepts his dictums as if he was the absolute authority. If you do put yourself in this position of being a divine or semi-divine authority you have to accept that people come and try to pierce that armour. And in order to pierce that armour we may have to use effective, armour-piercing ammunition.
When I arrived in Mysore in 1995 neither KPJ nor Sharath had any semi-divine status. KPJ’s status was not based on the fact that he was a “guru” or a lineage-holder. His status was based on the myth that he was the only ever person on earth to have conquered all six series in an arduous multi-decade journey. Of course now we know that’s bollocks but that’s how the whole thing started.
So cult-logic was the more postures and the more series the higher the status. Let’s just for a moment analyse this, the cults own internal logic without stating whether it has merit or not (of course it hasn’t but let’s just analyse the structure without the content). So, who’s the world most advanced asana practitioner gave that person authority over the cult.
During my time in Mysore the worlds most advanced asana practitioner was actually, ironically Karen Rain. KP Jois then threw postures at an amazing speed at his heir and by the time I left Mysore Sharath was declared as the first KPJ student to have completed 5th series. Not long after his body fell apart.
When I left Mysore Sharath’s sole claim to greatness was exactly this, him being the world most advanced current practitioner. All of the other stuff, him being the lineage-holder and Parama-something came much later.
It is then important that even this first claim that got him where he is was actually inaccurate. That’s all. I’m showing that the narrative of the cult is based on myth and inaccurate. I don’t care whose practise is better or worse. That’s childish, of course.
Hope this finds you well