Trigger alert: The following includes discussion of abuse and betrayal in Satyananda Yoga.
Rocklyn Yoga Ashram, Victoria
Swami Atmamuktananda Saraswati, as the most senior swami and Acharya of Satyananda Yoga in Australia, was called to appear before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RCIRCSA) to answer questions about her time at the Mangrove Yoga Ashram.
In responding to the RCIRCSA, Atmamuktananda admitted that Jyoti had raised the subject of Akhandananda’s abuse and that she, Atmamuktananda, had responded that the girls acted in a flirty way towards him.
Atmamuktananda also accepted that she had told Jyoti that before Akhandananda was charged, he had propositioned her sexually while she gave him a massage. Atmamuktananda admitted that she told Jyoti, who had been abused by Akhandananda as a young person, that she, Atmamuktananda (a senior swami at the ashram at the time) had rejected his advances and walked away.
The RCIRCSA made the following findings in relation to Atmamuktananda’s evidence:
“We are satisfied that Atmamuktananda held a position of seniority and authority within the Australian Satyananda yoga movement at the time Jyoti disclosed to her. We are also satisfied that Atmamuktananda’s response to Jyoti’s disclosure was inappropriate, and evidenced an apparent lack of understanding of how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse within the Satyananda yoga community” (Page 38 of Report of Case Study 21: The response of Satyananda Yoga Ashram to allegations of child sexual abuse by the Ashram’s former spiritual leader in the 1970s and 1980s).
On 23-25 September 2016, just days after the RCIRCSA released its final Report on the Satyananda Yoga Case Study 21, Atmamuktananda hosted a “Celebration of Sangha, Yoga & Tradition” at Rocklyn ashram with the aim, “to reveal and highlight the outstanding depth and breadth of knowledge and wisdom taught in the Satyananda Yoga tradition”.
Prior to this celebration, Dr Josna Pankhania wrote to Atmamuktananda, pleading with her to reconsider the celebration, explaining that such insensitivity would hurt many in the community. Pankhania also offered her support to implement a reparation process and to evaluate the teachings, considering the RCIRCSA’s report. There was no proper response from Atmamuktananda. This offer was repeated to Atmamuktananda by Hetty Johnston the Founder of Bravehearts.
Rocklyn Yoga Ashram, headed by Acharya, Swami Atmamuktananda Saraswati, offers training in Satyananda Yoga with no reference to the findings of the RCIRCSA.
“While the culture of silence and denial prevails at the highest level of the Satyananda Yoga community and the problem of cognitive dissonance persists, significant questions about the psychological safety of people within this yoga movement must be raised”.
(Pankhania, J. Hargreaves, J 2017: A culture of silence: Satyananda Yoga)
The national peak body for Australia has produced this statement.
Yoga Australia has also drawn up a Member Statement of Acknowledgement (MAS), an additional tool to further reinforce awareness of the potential for harm to occur as well as the importance of ethical conduct.
Swami Atmamuktananda Saraswati, as head of Rocklyn Ashram and the most senior swami and Acharya of Satyananda Yoga in Australia, evidenced a lack of understanding of how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse within the Satyananda yoga community.
Little has come of the encouragement of Hetty Johnston, founder and Executive Director of Bravehearts, for Swami Atmamuktananda Saraswati to address the pain suffered by our community. It is, however, never too late to make proper amends for the past and to attempt to heal the wounds of abuse and spiritual betrayal.
With good grace we appeal to Swami Atmamuktananda Saraswati, the Management Committee Members of Rocklyn Yoga Ashram, and residents based at Rocklyn Yoga Ashram to change the legacy of harm in the country where the RCIRCSA sat. We encourage all resident and visiting teachers at Rocklyn Ashram to review their own practice in light of the findings of RCIRCSA, and to follow the recommendations of Yoga Australia. We encourage those who attend this ashram in order to learn about yoga to stand with the survivors.
The Royal Commission highlighted the role of enablers, bystanders, and beneficiaries in the history of abuse. Those who continue to teach Satyananda Yoga without acknowledging the survivors, or addressing the findings of the RCIRCSA, could be seen to be betraying primary and secondary victims, and thereby playing an active role as enablers, bystanders of on-going institutional betrayal, and beneficiaries.
Our actions today contribute to tomorrow’s history, and each one of us has the power to choose whether it will be a history of hiṃsā (violence) or a history of satya (truth) and ahiṃsā (non-violence).