Trigger alert: The following includes discussion of abuse and betrayal in Satyananda Yoga.
The first step towards reparations: An apology or Apology?
Many survivors (primary victims) continue to experience complex trauma, compounded by community leaders’ failure to respond to the outcomes of the RCIRCSA. Others suffer vicarious trauma as a result of what they perceive as institutional betrayal, this also due to the failure of the institutions to respond appropriately to the RCIRCSA. (Pankhania, J. Hargreaves, J. (2017). “A Culture of silence: Satyananda Yoga”.)
It is vitally important that the AYS, as the last entity of Satyananda Yoga Ashram Mangrove Mountain, with the legacy of those who gave so generously, focuses on those harmed in the organisation first, and lead reparation for the whole community. (Pankhania, J. 2016. “The ethics of yoga”. Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics (AAPAE) Newsletter. and Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics (AAPAE). 2017. “Editorial: Restoring ethical leadership in yoga”.).
A public reading of an apology by a lawyer to the survivors at the RCIRCSA, or the posting of an apology on the AYS website is the initial step towards the settlement of grievances. It is the first step in the healing process, but it does not constitute reparation. It is important that the apology is followed by genuine acceptance of wrongdoing, followed by corrective action.
“It must be noted that transformative apology is a process, and must involve reflection, interrogation as to what went wrong, and a commitment to the future via reform. Victims’ voices form the centre of this process…” (from: Merchasin, C. Pankhania, J. “Project SATYA Investigation Interim Report #3.”pp 145-146 and pp 167-169 Project SATYA, Nov. 2020, .
On the website of their Yoga for Good Foundation, the AYS state:
“We feel it is an important step in healing to accept and forgive what has happened and build a better future where we are able to give back by inspiring others to live a better life through yoga”.
It is deeply concerning to see such assertions being made by those who have communicated with the survivors via their lawyers; communication which unleashed further trauma for the survivors, trauma which the AYS has so far failed to address.
Joram Tarusarira, Assistant Professor of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands explain that,
“While apology and forgiveness are vital for dealing with a violent past, when uncritically undertaken these actions do not transform discourses, narratives, ideas and ideologies that justified the wrongdoing in the first place” (p207).
He goes on to explain that,
“Lack of transformation results in failure to stop a repeat of the brutality; not uprooting the logics behind violence engenders reconciliation that is not sustainable; and not instigating truth seeking or pursuing justice and accountability stifles key aspects of dealing with the past, such as truth seeking, truth telling, justice and accountability, given that uncritical, unsophisticated and simplistic apology and forgiveness tend to sweep them under the carpet” (p207).
(Tarusarina, J. (2019). The Anatomy of Apology and Forgiveness: Towards transformative apology and forgiveness. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2019 (13), 206–224).
A desire for truth and knowledge should form the core of any reparation process and also validate past harms and on-going experiences of betrayal so that the victim survivors’ dignity and self-esteem are recovered.
Photos on the AYS Yoga for Good Foundation website portray the AYS directors meditating and practicing yoga asana with yoga enthusiasts, in idyllic surroundings of vast and expansive vistas.
Thorough restitution involves working with those sexual abuse survivors whose innocence and youth was stolen from them, whose lives have been shattered, who continue to struggle with complex, post-traumatic stress and other debilitating health issues, whose work, lives, family relations and friendships, and support networks have been compromised.
It involves working with other survivors, who have fallen through the net of the National Redress Scheme: survivors of grooming, of psychological abuse, of financial abuse, of spiritual betrayal, and survivors of on-going institutional betrayal. Pankhania has documented the impact of these forms of abuse in a Sivananda Yoga, (from the same lineage as Satyananda Yoga). In order to understand the devastating impact of grooming and all the other forms of abuse please see:
Merchasin, C. Pankhania, J. “Project SATYA Investigation Interim Report #3.” Pp 53-166 Project SATYA, Nov. 2020.
Engaging in proper reparation requires the directors of the AYS to reach out to each and every member of their own community who are suffering. Rather than sitting in meditation with fellow yoga enthusiast in beautiful surrounds, perhaps the directors could engage with the suffering members of their community and implement support systems to aid their recovery.
Such a conversation could begin with the directors asking,
How are you doing?
We are truly sorry for what you have gone through.
We were not at Mangrove Ashram when this abuse occurred, but we willingly undertake the responsibility of addressing the findings of the Royal Commission and will do what we can to support and assist you on your recovery journey.
These are but small steps towards reparation. Reparation is not made by asking a lawyer to read an apology at the Royal Commission, followed by an interrogation of survivors which questions their credibility. Neither is reparation made by posting declarations of acceptance and forgiveness on a website.
There are swamis in positions of power at Rocklyn Ashram and in SYTA, who were residents of Mangrove Ashram when the atrocities were being committed against some of the youngest and the most vulnerable residents. To date, they have not reached out to the survivors or offered an apology.
There are people who were at the ashram at the time, and others who joined later, who would like to engage in a meaningful restorative process, since they carry guilt, and grieve the loss of meaning, purpose and community.
A community-based reparation process ideally involves the AYS directors engaging in conversations with those harmed, with those who have remained silent, and with those who no longer wish to remain silent, supporting them to reflect on, and learn from, past failures, with a commitment to heal the wounds of a violent past. Only thus, are the discourse, narratives, ideas and ideologies that justified the wrongdoing in the first place going to be transformed. Transformation is not achieved by practicing yoga in beautiful surroundings with friends, giving grants, and offering free yoga classes.
The AYS has liquid assets worth several millions of dollars. It is recommended that the following steps be taken as part of the healing process for the Satyananda Yoga sangha in Australia:
- Appoint an independent advocacy service to undertake a thorough healing, transformative reparation process for primary and secondary victim survivors of abuse and institutional betrayal.
- Appoint, in conjunction with the survivors, an independent review of compensation paid, given that the finances of AYS have changed.
- Establish a benevolent fund for those harmed during the 45 years of operation.
- Offer leadership, and assistance to those teachers trained in the organisation AYS has assumed, to address properly the findings of CS21.
- Ensure that the governance of all AYS Foundations is democratic, inclusive, and transparent, with no secret deals or policies; and that any grievance policies, and protocols around recruitment, are clearly articulated.
The Yoga Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation in Sydney, which aims to ‘bring the benefits of yoga’ to the wider community, and the good work being done by them with vulnerable people is welcomed by all. The $100,000 grant the AYS donated to the Yoga Foundation, however, does not help those suffering in the Satyananda Yoga community.
The AYS have admitted that they are not professionals in trauma management, and have therefore partnered with the National Redress Scheme to offer an option for those seeking further support. This, however, fails to solve the problem of those who have fallen through the net of the National Redress Scheme – survivors of grooming, psychological and financial abuse, and betrayal.
Any good done in the wider community, since it does not benefit primary and secondary Satyananda Yoga survivors, raises ethical and moral question about the aims of the AYS Foundations. The AYS would do well to use their funds to reach out to survivors of abuse, use it to carry out trauma treatment on those who have suffered.
The wider community can make an important contribution towards reparation by offering solidarity to those harmed, or it can hinder the process by becoming bystanders, enablers or beneficiaries.
Yoga Australia Statement In response to: Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.