Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ken Wilber and the Center for World Spirituality welcome Marc Gafni back in 2012

Ken Wilber's statement

Ken Wilber took time off to deliberate on the recent Marc Gafni sex scandal. Now he has given us his conclusions:
"I am not working with Marc despite this last blogosphere explosion but rather because of his reaction to it. What impressed me most about Marc’s response to this situation is that though he might well have felt justified in feeling angry or hurt about what happened, by and large he focused on asking for all feedback from every possible source on why this happened. He wanted to know, at a deeper level, how he might have contributed to it himself, and what he could do to help remedy the situation and any part he might have played in this. Most astonishingly, for a spiritual teacher, he included in this list—in order to make it truly comprehensive—a search for a great therapist that he might see. He made a serious and widespread search for a therapist, and finally found an incredibly competent and highly respected one—and signed up."
It is common knowledge that those accused of sexual abuse blame the devil or run to church or run to a therapist. Wilber doesn't seem to be taking that common knowledge into account. Nevertheless, I think it is good that Gafni sees a therapist. That is one practical thing that needs to happen. However, after three months, he and his supporters do not seem to understand that he was supposed to be guiding these women's spiritual growth yet he contaminated that noble goal with his own sexual desires. What happened to his evolved status? What happened to his compassion and wisdom?
"This was not because he necessarily needed therapy, but simply that he told himself he was going to cover every base and make a truly comprehensive and inclusive search for any approach that might help address the situation. He was, in other words, doing whatever necessary to cover any shadow elements, should they be present. I know of extremely few spiritual teachers that would do this—that would be committed enough to their own integrity to include all possible angles, and then genuinely follow through on it. This, to me, is an indication of a genuine spiritual teacher, one dedicated to working on himself no matter how “embarrassing” it might appear to others. On this issue, even his critics will have few if any grounds for complaint at this point. Even they have acknowledged that he is, in many ways, a very gifted spiritual teacher, and this recent move simply makes him an even more gifted teacher, in my opinion."
So running to a therapist and acting humble has led to a rise in Gafni's status. Now he is "an even more gifted teacher". That's an excellent payoff for Gafni, and it gives further evidence for Wilber to consider the possibility that Gafni could be doing this for less than noble reasons.
"In many spiritual traditions, forgiveness is a path to God, and I know Marc has worked hard to forgive any insults—real or imagined—that he recently received, and perhaps it is appropriate for others also to work to forgive any insults—real or imagined—received from Marc. In this atmosphere of loving-kindness, care, and forgiveness, we can all get back to this incredibly important work of Integral Spirituality."
Marc forgives us - what a relief! And now we can get back to business as usual. However, looking forward is a common method to produce forgetfulness of the real issues. In reality, we only learn and grow by facing the past and learning from it.  

The Center for World Spirituality's statement

The Center for World Spirituality has also given Gafni "unequivocal support":
"We, the undersigned, do without any reservation whatsoever, support Marc Gafni, D.Phil as a teacher and leader of the Center for World Spirituality. We find it unfortunate that the blogosphere has become a place where allegations are made, and where rumors, distortions and simple untruths are so easily spread, all without the benefit of finding of fact."
So they seem to be claiming that Marc didn't have sex with students who were seeking the noblest spiritual goals, yet I don't even think Marc himself has denied that he had sex with those students. It seems that Gafni will continue to do these things because he knows he will get extraordinary levels of support.
"Further, each of us personally recommends Dr. Gafni to any organization, church, synagogue, spiritual or cultural center, or to any context which seeks to benefit from his teachings."
So if you are a woman seeking spiritual liberation, the Center for World Spirituality recommends Marc Gafni as your teacher! Isn't that a startling result?

Dr. Warren Farrell also added his own personal statement to the Center's endorsement:
"Marc Gafni is one of the world’s change agents. Virtually all change agents, whether Martin Luther King or Gandhi, will be subjected to attempts at assassination–character assassination and sometimes literal assassination. Unfortunately, the internet has allowed such attempts to be magnified when aimed at a leader’s character. This propensity of people without vision to try to ruin the person rather than challenge the ideas has long been with us… Marc continues to make a commitment to lead; I for one, am making a commitment both to continue co-creating with him and to never allowing myself to be sidetracked by those whose feel it is easier to kill the messenger than create a more visionary and informed message."
Marc Gafni is a martyr now! It reminds me of that poster for The People vs Larry Flynt! Furthermore, Farrell says "people without vision… try to ruin the person rather than challenge the ideas…" Isn't this an obvious case of projection? Farrell is trying to ruin the people who are criticising Gafni's behaviour (not his ideas) by calling them assassins, and Farrell is not challenging the ideas of the critics.  

Joe Perez's statement

Another Integralist, Joe Perez writes:
"I’m glad that the Tami Simon/Bill Harryman-manufactured controversy is now coming to a close. The statements by Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, Warren Farrell, and the Special Committee of the Board of the Center for World Spirituality sound true to me, and I am proud to be part of a spiritual movement in which many leaders are capable of looking at even the most complex ethical quagmires with a multi-perspectival, all quadrant, all levels lens. The world desperately needs more integral, evolutionary visions … and we cannot afford to be distracted with faux scandals perpetuated largely by First-Tier ideologies in action and Integralists who haven’t exercised very careful discernment and owned their own shadows."
To summarise: the controversy is "manufactured" and the pro-Gafni Integralist responses all "sound true" and those who disagree "haven’t exercised very careful discernment and owned their own shadows". What a quagmire! While I agree with Perez that some of the statements about Gafni have been over the top, the fundamental issues still remain ignored.  

Marc Gafni's own statement

Gafni himself has written for "closure" on the issue:
"That said, these events demonstrated to me that it is usually not a good idea for a public figure to hold his or her personal dating relationships privately. First, because, by definition, it necessitates a certain amount of dissembling. Second, because, as I have come to realize more deeply, sometimes even when the privacy is mutually and lovingly agreed upon, some people may still come to find it psychologically painful to hold. Third, holding privacy about a romantic relationship may create alienation in other relationships in both people’s circle of intimates."
That's excellent!
"I want to be fully transparent at this point however that I am making no grand or sweeping declarations for transparency over privacy. They are both important values in many spheres of life and it would be bad heart and bad mind to dogmatically and simplistically value one above the other in any absolute sense. The one thing that I will promise is that, to the best of my ability, my public teaching and private action will be consistent with each other"
This looks bad to me. It leaves too much wriggle room for Gafni. Also, given that he has charisma, he can sell anything in his public teaching. He could make sex with students part of his teaching and that would necessitate further sexual involvements. Instead of changing himself, he can just adjust his teaching to make it fit his sexual desires. His standard is conveniently his own teaching! By the way, note the implicit narcissism.
"Let me state formally that if in the future I enter into a monogamous commitment, then I will honor it and live in it to the fullest. If that is the right path for me then I will enter into it with full delight and even ecstasy. If I do not enter into that path, and choose to love from a different place, then I will enter into that path with full delight and even ecstasy. If that is the case then it is not impossible that at some point I will date women who are in my circle. If that feels uncomfortable to someone in principle that it might not be wise to join my circle of teaching… I had full right to date the people I dated and to hold the relationships privately, and I stand by this right and the essential ethics behind my actions."
Uh-oh. He hasn't learnt the core lesson. It is not right to date your students. Period. They are seeking liberation from illusion - the noblest goal. That should be your priority if you truly have compassion. You should not risk that ever in any way. So if you want to have sex with students and cannot control your desire, then send them to another guru and begin the sexual relationship a few months later. "I had full right to date the people I dated" sounds like a jarring and twisted sense of sexual entitlement.
"At the same time, I have felt an obligation to ask how my own internal “stuff” might have contributed to the outcome… To this end, a major part of my internal response to this blogosphere explosion has been to seek feedback from colleagues and spiritual friends who I invite to challenge me and engage me in the process of inner work."
He should seek the feedback of people who are NOT colleagues and NOT spiritual friends. Colleagues and spiritual friends will collude with him as they have done all along.  

Two elephants in the room

There are two elephants in the room that these Integralists are not addressing:

1. What does Gafni's actions mean for Integralism? Note that all the pro-Gafni responses come with advice like we need to "get back to this incredibly important work of Integral Spirituality". So it looks to me like these Integralists are afraid that the truth will derail their idealistic goals. Thus, they don't trust the conversation and they don't trust life. They also seem to think they need Gafni, which demonstrates a lack of faith in the potential of other people. Furthermore, they are making a false dichotomy: either continue debating the Gafni issue or get on with Integral Spirituality. Isn't continuing the debate the same as getting on with Integral Spirituality? Also, I think the organisation is not dealing with this issue seriously because they know that it will open a can of worms regarding their own status and activities. Taking the issue seriously would expose the organisation as not being serious about spiritual liberation. They would have to stop being a bunch of hot-air philosophers playing at being compassionate enlightened beings. They would have to start getting real.

2. Is it right for a teacher to have sex with his students? The answer seems quite clear. The students are seeking liberation from illusion, which is the noblest goal. The teacher is supposedly compassionate and wants to see the students liberated. Therefore, neither party should risk contaminating the goal with sexual activity. Could it be any clearer? On a more mundane level, it is widely accepted outside of spirituality that therapists shouldn't have sex with clients, teachers shouldn't have sex with students, etc. This is mainly because there is obvious inequality in the relationship.

These Integralists are supposed be leading the world into a new spiritually evolved age, yet they cannot or will not straighten themselves out on these fundamental issues. What is needed is the objective views of outsiders. However, instead of integrating those views, they are attacking the outsiders (and insider critics) and are now calling for "closure". This is obviously a case of group self-defense rather than conscientious spiritual evolution. The group's elites are protecting themselves and their status and are guiding their followers into a group-think illusion of futuristic idealism while maintaining the pretense that it's about spiritual liberation. Therefore, these Integralist leaders are wrong.


  1. Hi Martin. A new blog? Good luck; I'll keep an eye out and wish you well with it.

    On this particular post, I think the crux is your view that "Is it right for a teacher to have sex with his students? The answer seems quite clear. The students are seeking liberation from illusion, which is the noblest goal. The teacher is supposedly compassionate and wants to see the students liberated. Therefore, neither party should risk contaminating the goal with sexual activity. Could it be any clearer?"

    Liberation from illusion? What does that look like? Do you know the contexts in which Marc dated the student he did (a woman who has not had one complaint, and is vehemently offended when people like yourself call it "sexual abuse" or "sex scandal")? There's so much context that you do not know, but are assuming...

    Marc Gafni's central teaching is on Eros, the Enlightenment of Fullness, and non-duality. He has extensive articles and things he has written with nuance on student/teacher relationships in the enlightenment process. People may come to different conclusions than he does, for sure, but rather than assuming that you know what his teaching is about and then condemning him for violating your presumed standard, look into his own arguments, and then consider them in an AQAL matrix. Also Mariana Caplan's essay in The Guru Question.

    You may read all this and if you still believe in the moral absolute that you do, it may not change your perspective, but I hope you'll notice at least that people can exercise discernment and not find all relationships inherently and categorically exploitative that you do.

  2. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for commenting, and thanks for the good wishes.

    Liberation from illusion, imo, means no longer thinking that the inner or outer world is the source of happiness. That results in realising that that happiness is innate to being.

    I don't know the context of Marc's dates. But if he was a teacher of non-duality, then having sexual relationships with his students is wrong. To me, that is quite obvious. Once the student is liberated, then they are equals and so a relationship would be fine. Alternatively, if the teacher sends the student to another teacher, it is okay to begin a sexual relationship, say, a few months later.

    If you can direct me to what you believe to be Marc's most important article, I will read it. But if Marc's arguments justify a sexual relationship with students, then I think his arguments would be wrong. Anyone who wants to have sex with their students is automatically suspect, don't you think? They are certainly in very risky territory, at the least. Seekers need to be liberated from thinking that romance and sex are primary sources of happiness.

    Primary happiness is in being, so emphasising the secondary happiness of eros is merely sowing the seeds of illusion. My experience with Integralists, is that they don't get to the core of this issue. In other words, they aren't really liberated. They are philosophers pretending to be enlightened beings. So they create more dramatic or romantic illusions.

  3. Hi again, Joe,

    I just read Caplan's article "How to Find a Spiritual Teacher". I like her 3 questions:

    1. To Whom Does the Teacher Bow?

    2. Is the teacher self-serving or other-serving?

    3. What Are the Teacher's Students Like?

    It is probable that a guru who has sex with students bows to his penis and is self-serving. That probability is due to the fact that the teacher gets a big benefit - SEX!

    Furthermore, sex with students is wrong because the teacher is dragging the student back into one of the areas that causes illusion. Until you have the outside perspective that liberation brings, it is impossible to deal properly with the world and it's contents, especially sex and romance.

    Sex and romance contaminate the teacher-student relationship because they are on the instinctual and mythical level. Those are valid levels, but only after you have a clear perspective and are liberated from illusion and the suffering it causes. Then they are free choices to augment the happiness of being.

  4. Yesterday, I read a couple of Gafni essays.

    On one hand, his creative flowery writing reminds me of Rajneesh and Jung. It is like good mental entertainment, like poetry. It might even be good for therapy - balancing people who are too logical.

    On the other hand, it also functions as a dangerous substitute for liberation. It has enough truth in it that you can easily think that you need to keep absorbing more and more of his ideas. It's like trying to get to liberation through adding more ideas. It's like trying to build a mental ladder to truth or creating a mental picture of truth. Thus, a writer like Gafni can go on endlessly weaving new conceptual networks because even a billion ideas won't add up to total reality.

    And it is all in vain. It is a quest for happiness through ideas and experiences rather than giving all that up and realising that happiness is innate to being. Such writers can be mistakenly seen as geniuses uncovering the truth when in reality they are weaving colourful illusions.

    Gafni's writing confirms for me that Integralism is for people who want to delay liberation from illusion. It's like a last ditch effort to make reality into an experience through conceptualisation. Of course, mental types such as Wilber are particularly prone to this mistake. It's dangerous because it is so alluring to others. People get lost forever in the mental creations of people like Wilber, Rajneesh, Krishnamurti, Andrew Cohen, Carl Jung, L Ron Hubbard, Ramesh Balsekar, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Ram Dass. The works of such people are like final temptations before the hero reaches the inner sanctum. At worse, they are like the Sirens in Greek mythology.

    So where does this leave us with the sex scandal issue? I would say that this weaving of illusion is another scandal to add to the sex scandal!

  5. Along similar lines re: Integral's forgetful embrace of Andrew Cohen.

    From Rude Boy To Nice Guy?

  6. Ah yes, instead of admitting mistakes and writing an article explaining the lessons he has learned, Andrew Cohen and his friends are just erasing the evidence! I guess he would call that "uncompromising integrity"!

  7. Wow, I've been there so many times with male spiritual teachers, this kind of stuff has become a cliche. And the debates/discussions generally cover the same ground and arguments. Y'know, either you accept this behavior or you don't. To me it smells of rotten fish.

  8. Marc's writing takes many stiff drinks to get through, so don't bother going further ("flowery" is beyond kind). It's painful that Wilber continues to associate with such a charlatan. I agree with all of Martin's points -- if you've spent any time around real scholars, in a real university setting, you don't get into arguments about sex with students. It's simply not done; it's off-limits, and if you can't resist, it's a clandestine meeting in a dark apartment and you move on. The fact that this sort of "spiritual guru" behavior is still tolerated reeks of an Onion story -- and worse, if you do any dancing in the conservative blogosphere, it plays into the hands of every "New Age" skeptic/argument in circulation. Gafni's behavior and persona are cartoonish, and the faster people run in the other direction (even if it's to the big void), the better.

  9. Well, Gafni's latest book "Your Unique Self" gets 5/5 on Amazon! What can you do? I have been disappointed by so much corruption in the world especially since 9/11 that my expectations are low these days.

    People can't progress until they get new and better information. Until then, they will collude in maintaining the status quo. It's instinctual, automatic. Look at all the people who reflexively came out to protect him. All just solidifying their positions and the status quo.

  10. Gee, I just read the first few pages of Your Unique Self on Amazon. It looks arrogant and narcissistic to me. But it's very alluring. I can see why people fall for it. He paints spiritual rainbows, i.e. illusions.

  11. I see the links in my post to Wilber's response and the Center for World Spirituality's response now redirect to Amazon ads for Marc Gafni's book. How corrupt are these people? They are drowning in illusion and spreading illusion.

  12. Gafni's pattern of misbehavior suggests that he is an addict. Except that instead of using drugs to give himself a sense of self coherence, instead of using drugs to manage his own mood states, he is using **people** to accomplish this.

    Using people as his "ersatz self-objects".

    * Using girls and women

    * Using his students

    * Use and disposal of a series of "partners"

    and...drumroll..Gafni is using the celebrities of the Integral scene as well. Using them as his chorus of enablers.

    Gafni uses people.

    Perhaps he even uses those who voice their disapproval of him; whenever this happens, it triggers his celebrity enablers to yet more support of this charming but dangerous rascal.

    I dare wonder if the actual shadow of the Wilberian Integralista scene could be this:

    Willingness to support abusers (celebration of "rude gurus)willingness to declare cruelty to be compassion somehow "proves" one has attained a specially high level of

    Repeat, willingness to defend and rationalize abusive teachers proves oneself to be an elite member of the Wilberian Intgralista scene.

    Let us ponder this. KW has endorsed not one but series of abusive charlatans. Yes, yes he has associated with some kindly and even saintly persons.

    But look at KW's long term endorsements - Adi Da, Andrew Cohen, Dennis (Kenpo) Merzel -- and Marc Gafni.

    Could it be that KW gets an unconscious pay off by endorsing abusive teachers because rationalizing abuse as love enables KW to make sense of an overwhelming cruelty he witnessed or endured when he himself was young and powerless?

    To identify cruelty as cruelty is to recognize and respect one's own experience of victimhood - powerlessness, shock, boundary disruption, betrayal.

    Rather than re-experience these emotions, many are tempted to rationalize their suffering as not having been betrayal, but as.."character building' as having been good for this.

    If elite status is actually attained in the Integral scene by
    willingness to celebrate cruelty rather than feel horror, to defend persons who are not only exploitative but repetitively exploitative, this means that the Integral scene is indeed what Bo Scofield has called "A Culture of Abuse".

    Kindness is made to seem childish

    Compassion is equated with weakness and inferiority

    Smiling callousness becomes the badge of elite attainment.

    Identifying with one's tormentor. Denying one's own suffering.

    It can be a short step to denying other people's suffering and making excuses for their tormentors.

  13. In the integral world, enablers of cruelty are ontologically superior.

    This is a big ego incentive to defend serial abusers.

    Human beings are social mammals. We influence each other. We adapt to the company we keep.

    I suggest that spending a long time associating with people who are defenders of cruelty will literally coarsen, debauch and de-moralize us.

    Behind the surface charm, aesthetic elegance, name dropping, conferences and media sophistication, IMO the Wilberian Integral world is a sink of iniquity.

    "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil" Exodus 23:2

    When Moses was on Mount Sinai, the people created and worshipped the idol of a golden calf.

    In the Wilberian Integralist social scene, the idolatry is worse.

    Charismatic cruelty, embodied in a series of "teachers" is what is worshipped and celebrated.

    One way to corrupt our discernment is to make it plausible that
    exploitation, deceit and cruelty are more entertaining, more elegant than kindness and candor.