The End of an Era: Bikram Verdict Puts Guru in Hot Seat

By: 
Malinda Gosvig

On Tuesday, a jury unanimously found Hot Yoga Guru Bikram Choudhury guilty of sexual harassment, including threats to the victim’s life, and awarded plaintiff Minakshi Jafa-Bodden nearly $6.5 million for damages. This trial is to be followed by six other similar suits against Bikram, all filed by separate women.

While the accusations against Bikram are particularly extreme, he is just one of several yoga teachers and guru figures whose darker sides have come into the spotlight in recent years. And, with this recent verdict against Bikram, the Age of the Yoga Guru may well be coming to an end.

The concept of the perfect teacher—the infallible, advanced spiritual guide, who will take care of your needs and give you a set of instructions guaranteed to transform your life for the better—has, for decades in the West, drawn disciples like moths to the flame. With the level of personal power and genuine ability many teachers possess, and their skill in facilitating our own, inner transformation, it’s easy to see why we are drawn in by their glow. Unfortunately, the danger of being singed is, as Jafa-Bodden can and has testified, very real.

Perhaps the time has come for us, as seekers and as a society, to hold in perspective that the power to transform our lives, the light we seek, and the unconditional nurturing and guidance we desire along the way are gifts we can give to ourselves. In many ways, we’ve always known this, and many teachers have said it as well: the true guru lies within.

It’s true that the answers from within don’t always come as clearly or readily as those from the mouth of another, and that developing self-love and acceptance may take more time and attention than receiving them from an external source.  It’s also true that teachers and gurus can still provide much needed tools and advice that can be of service to us. But we are the authority in the end: in the same way we decided what a teacher offered was right for us, we can decide that another thing that same teacher offers is not right.

According to the lawsuit, after reporting what happened to Choudhury's staff, Jafa-Bodden was told to "separate the man from the teacher." I would suggest that what we need to do is the opposite: to remember that the teacher is, at the end of the day, only a man.