Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the founder of Agama Yoga has indefinitely fled the center in Ko Phangan, Thailand several sources confirm. He is believed to be headed to Europe, presumably Romania where he is from. His abrupt departure comes just four days after the publication of an expose that chronicled numerous accusations of sexual assault against him and several senior Agama teachers. The story has gone viral, gathering over 25,000 views since its publication on Tuesday. A public statement posted on Facebook by Agama says that Swami has “taken the decision to step back from all his administrative and teaching responsibilities” while they investigate.
Agama yoga teacher Ram Avnur, accused of sexual misconduct in the article, fled Ko Phangan yesterday sources confirm. It is believed Muktananda, also accused of sexual misconduct, is leaving the island.
The accusations have rocked the island of Ko Phangan, where hundreds of people flock for Agama yoga and tantra programs each year. “It’s like a bomb exploded” on the island wrote one student. Another wrote that everything is in “chaos” at the center. Several witnesses report that it is a “ghost town” with little activity and very few people attending classes. Additionally, some key Agama staff have quit since the publication of the article. One teacher who quit states that several yoga teachers left when they realized Maha and the leadership were not interested in changing:
“Several teachers have resigned. They saw that the school has no real intentions to change and keep up the denial and secrecy. I’m of course one of the teachers who said we can’t stand behind a system that doesn’t stand behind it’s teachers and students who got hurt. We started to see all the manipulation.”
The current director of Agama, Ananda Maha, held a community meeting on Friday night to address the controversy. An attendee reports that the meeting was “a big cover up. No acknowledgements. There was no compassion for the victims.” She said it was clear “there will be no investigation into what these 31 women from the 31 written statements have experienced. Not by an internal committee, nor by an external source.” In regards to the numerous women who have come forth with sexual abuse stories, Maha said “It had all been their own perception, because of the wounds they were already carrying” the attendee claims. A source previously stated that Maha, who is Swami’s former lover, has turned a “blind eye to every abuse” that has occurred over the years.
A Ko Phangan resident has started a Facebook group called “Boycott Agama”where people can stay updated on the story.
Yoga Alliance, the governing body for Agama’s yoga training certifications, has received several formal complaints and has begun their own investigation.
This is a developing story. Information will be updated when possible.
The founder of the Thailand based yoga and tantra school Agama, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. He claims to be the “brilliant exponent of a unique and modern trend of thinking in Yoga” who “has reached high states of spiritual realization.” Agama is one of the world’s largest yoga training centers. Swami’s teacher is the infamous Romanian yoga guru Gregorian Bivolaru. He was sentenced to six years in prison for having sex with an underage girl. Swami warns those who dare to speak against him that they are under “demonic influence” and face “infernal consequences for many lives to come.” Several of his most senior teachers have also been accused of rape or sexual assault. Former staff have stated Swami says he is paying off the Thai authorities. This article draws from interviews of several former students and staff, most of which chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal and retaliation.
UPDATE – 7/28/18: Just 4 days after the publication of this article Swami has fled Ko Phangan indefinitely. Sources believe he is headed to Europe, probably Romania where he is from. Read full press release.
UPDATE: 9/4/18: Thai police and military raided Agama Yoga today after charges were filed against Swami.
UPDATE: This article has led to the closure of Agama Yoga and widespread international coverage including front page stories on The Guardian, CNN, the CBC, Die Zeit and the New Zealand Herald. There are now over 50 articles in 25 counties. SEE PRESS.
[Each of these articles takes over 80 hours to investigate and write, and I am able to do it thanks to donations from people who believe in and support this life-changing work. Please help by donating.]
It was a typical night on the island for Jessica Rose (not her real name). She had just finished hanging out with some girlfriends and was headed home. She had been drinking wine. On the way she noticed that her spiritual teacher and employer, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, had his light on. She hadn’t seen him in ages. She popped in to say hi like she had previously done on several occasions. Swami was glad to see her. He immediately made a comment about her being drunk. She sat down on the couch and there was small talk between them for several minutes. She doesn’t remember specifically what happened for a short period of time. She described to me what occurred then, “The next thing I remember I’m sitting on the edge of the couch and he’s putting his dick inside of me and I didn’t want that. And then he put his fingers inside of me and I said I didn’t want that. I told him that this is not what I wanted and that he needs to stop immediately.” She then left and cut off all contact with Swami (real name Narcis Tarcau).
Jessica said Swami should have known better. He was both her spiritual teacher and employer. In addition to the fact that she was drunk, “He knew that I wasn’t into him for sure,” she said. “He knew that I was in a closed relationship and not open to other guys. I had clearly told him in the past I’m not attracted to you sexually and I just want a teacher/student relationship.” She said she didn’t want to go to the police because she had been in Thailand illegally.
Jessica’s account, which occurred in June of this year is the latest in a string of accusations that have followed Agama Yoga founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati for years. He founded the center in 2003 and since then it has become one of the largest schools of tantra yoga in the world with thousands of students having passed through. A Yoga Alliance registered school, Agama offers 200hr and 500hr yoga teacher training certifications, tantra instructor training, yoga therapist certification and more. Several women, many of which are former senior staff, have recently come forward with their stories of sexual abuse by Swami and other senior Agama teachers.
A Pattern of Abuse
When Agama student Kelly Anne (not her real name) met with Swami for her first spiritual consultation she says he sexually assaulted her. She told me that she sought advice from him on anxiety and other issues. His advice was three men a day she said. When she tried to leave he threw himself on her, “Then I got up to go away and he started kissing full on tongue. It was very aggressive. And then he started groping my bum. I was literally dizzy.” This was her very first consultation with Swami.
Kelly Anne did eventually end up being sexual with Swami at one point. However, on one occasion she messaged him before she arrived for a meeting and said, “I don’t want to have sex. I don’t know what I want to talk about.” She made it clear what her intentions were, expecting he would listen. Yet, when she arrived Swami immediately threw himself on her:
“When he opened the front door he instantly stuck his tongue in my mouth and started kissing me. I closed my mouth and started moving my head away. He then proceeded to feel my ass and tried to get his hands inside my shorts to finger me. I pushed his arm away, in a downward movement, with my fist clenched. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t slap him and walk out of the house.
Instead we sat on the sofa and he continued to try and get in my shorts. I remember moving positions several times, to try to get his hands away from that area. In the end, he succeeded and I was lying on the sofa, he had his fingers inside of me. It wasn’t like he was trying to pleasure me, he just had his fingers inside me and continued to chat to me about general things.”
Kelly Anne describes another incident, “I had come over for a yoni massage. Instantly after I got there he was trying to fuck me. Then he went down on me and started to stick it in.” A yoni massage is a sacred healing massage that involves therapeutically touching a woman’s genitals. She said she felt sexually violated.
Stephanie Houser (not her real name) went to Thailand to work through issues related to having been raped twice several years before. She believed Agama would be a “safe and welcoming environment” to work through her pain and trauma. Like so many of the other women, Swami told her she “had a lot of sexual energy but that it is blocked” and that she would need “a few normal men to satisfy it.” She says he essentially told her “I could come to him and make love with him and he could help move those blockages for me.” It rattled her:
“I felt sick. I wanted to say how inappropriate that was, how I felt he was taking advantage of me and using this opportunity to manipulate my “weaknesses” and traumas into something that would bring him pleasure. I didn’t feel he actually cared about helping me figure out what was best for me, but instead thinking he knew what was best, which was to have me allow him to ‘fix me’ with his ‘lingam.’”
When she tried to leave he began telling her how beautiful, powerful and sexy she was and he kept pressuring her:
“And then he hugged me goodbye, and wouldn’t let go. He started caressing my back, kissing my head, despite the multiple times earlier that I told him I was not interested in being his lover or being ‘healed’ or ‘unblocked’ by him. I had already clearly said no. He didn’t listen, or if he did, he didn’t care what I wanted or didn’t want.
He then backed me against the door, with his hand against it so that I could not leave (I froze even more, as Swami is a very large man, and I was now feeling afraid he would force himself on me).
He leaned in (me still frozen and in total disbelief of the violation and power being so inappropriately used) and kissed me, sticking his tongue in my mouth.
I felt disgusted and completely violated. He penetrated me when I said no, not with his ‘lingam,’ but with his force and tongue. He then started to try and lift my skirt and touch my inner thigh, and that’s when I snapped out of it.
I told him no, I was not interested, ducked under his arms, and said I’d like to leave now.”
She said the encounter left her feeling “gross, violated, unclean, and like a disposable item.” It “tainted” her “trust in Tantra teachers,” and she questioned what Tantra even was after that. She wondered how “a true teacher of Tantra could use sexuality in such a manipulative way.”
Another student recounts an almost identical experience to Kelly Anne’s. She also had communicated to Swami her intentions for coming over and that she really needed his advice about emotions she was experiencing. She describes what happened:
“The door opens just a small amount and he pushed me against the door and his fingers were inside of me. It took me minutes to push his body away. His hand was still in me. I was afraid that if I fully rejected him that he would fully overpower me and push me, hurt me, or slap me. That’s been my experience with other men.”
“The first time I ever went with him, was also during a meeting that was meant to be to talk about the issues I was having at the school at the time. He was not interested at all in talking about anything with me. Instead he did a music meditation with me to feel all my chakras. After that he sat me on the sofa and stuck his finger inside me and because I was aroused he took me into his bedroom to have sex.”
“We met at his office and I explained to him that my decision about not seeing him for sexual appointments anymore was final and that I do not want to be having sex with him anymore. He looked at me and said that I should stop pretending, that I know I wanted it, then he grabbed me by my waist and he sat me in his lap. He started kissing me and he pulled my knickers to the side and entered me. No man has got the right to violate any woman’s spoken boundaries to such an extent.”
One former senior staff member and teacher who had slept with Swami previously claims that he anally raped her. She says that she never even wanted to sleep with him to begin with but after years of him breaking her down she finally conceded. She describes what happened:
“I was in bed with him, and he just turned me over and shoved it in. It hurt like hell and didn’t ask if I wanted it but he kept going. It was only after I’d left the school and looked back at that incident that I actually realized it was rape. It was absolutely not consensual. It was violent and painful.”
Another staff member, who had also slept with Swami previously, shares an almost identical story of being anally raped by Swami:
“He grabbed me and threw me on the bed. He didn’t say anything. There was no talking. He pulled my pants down and he shoved his dick up my ass. He was shoving it violently. No lubrication. He kept shoving it and shoving it. I said “this is hurting me, this is hurting me.”
One woman says she “got all her courage up” one day to visit Swami in seek of support. “I told him everything; that I had issues approaching a man, that I felt sexually vulnerable & confused and that I need advice on how to heal and live healthy sexuality & relationship,” she said. She was “shocked how ‘blunt’ and not sensitive he was talking” to her. And like other women he told her she had a “big sacral chakra” and that she should be with a lot of men. When she tried to leave she says “he pulled me toward him and kissed me very abruptly” which left her “very shocked.” He told her he could help her heal if she went back. In hindsight she is really embarrassed that she did go back. “All I wanted was to live a healthy sexuality, and I thought he could help me heal.” She said that she expected to work together with him and that he’d “explain things to me or him to be very sensitive, but he only slept with me. I had to say that ‘I am his’ all the time and I felt so empty.” Other women also report that Swami would ask “are you mine?” and make them answer yes when they were orgasming. She says he then told her to get in touch with her desires and to “send him naughty text messages” which she did. “It all felt so wrong, but I thought I was only dealing with my blockages and the resistance was to be broken and behind it was happiness and freedom” she said.
A woman who went to see Swami for advice because her father was about to pass away says his first question was inquiring about how many lovers she had. He began teasing her for being too “picky” with men she said. Swami told her to have lots of lovers and claimed to have read the impurities in her chakras. It all appeared strange to her as it was completely unrelated to why she went to see him. On the way out she says “he grabbed my bum, reminding me about sex.” She felt “disturbed and unsatisfied” after the meeting and soon left the school.
A former student says she “did not get any support” from Swami and her “concerns and my questions were always ignored.” She said he was someone who “did not care nor show any respect towards” her. She describes how every time she went to him for guidance he only wanted sex. He wasn’t willing to address her “sexual questions or concerns” and she found it “very damaging” she says. Her attempts to discuss her feelings with him fell flat as she claims he just “dismissed” and “talked over” her.
Another former student told me she found the overall environment at Agama exploitive and that the Swami “often asked me to have sex with him.” He told her “it would benefit me to experience his Tantra master energy and that I had this power that needed to be matched by someone experienced like him.”
After telling Swami about a crush she had on a teacher he advised Jessica Rose to “go for it” despite knowing that teacher was in a monogamous relationship. “You can have anything you want” he told her. His direction was to masturbate while thinking about the person she had a crush on and audio record it. He told her to scream his name while she was orgasming. Swami wanted the audio recording himself so he could “analyze it” she told me. She was hesitant about doing it and told him it sounded like dark sex magic. But he convinced her and she went along. After sending Swami the recording she immediately felt like she shouldn’t have done it.
One woman who tested positive for chlamydia after having sex with Swami says that he told her she “psychologically created” the STI. He tested positive as well but told her she needed to ask permission to tell anyone else. Women were not warned by him she said, despite that fact that he did not use condoms during sex. I’m told that numerous women got Chlamydia at Agama.
According to the staff and students who have come forward it was common for Swami to often grab women’s buttocks, touch them without consent and tell them they were beautiful, and send flirty text messages. After having only met Swami twice, a new staff member expressed how weird it was when her boss and director of the center sent her text messages such as “5 cervical orgasms in a row will blow your Virgo reservations to the moon,” and “I will love to see you have some massive surprises that will shatter your rational character.” He would often tell staff and students, “I’m open to it,” referring to sex. Women report that despite clearly stating that this type of behavior crossed their boundary and made them uncomfortable he would continue it. Sometimes Swami would try for years to sleep with a student or staff member. One woman says he regularly put her down and “constantly chipped away at my confidence and undermined me” in order to have sex with her.
Senior Agama Teachers
There are complaints of sexual assault and rape about other Agama teachers as well. Swami’s most senior students are Somananda (Moses Maimom) and Muktananda Mistry (Khushru Mistry). Serkan Temel is an advanced teacher who opened Agama Linz in Austria. They’ve all been accused of sexual misconduct.
One woman who went to a yoni massage with an Agama teacher says he pulled out his penis and told her she could touch it while telling her they could take things further. A former staff member describes one of her experiences with Agama staff, “I had one senior teacher come over to my house and penetrate me without my consent when I was in an altered state and really vulnerable. I came to my senses and threw him off me half way through.”
Somananda is one of Swami Vivekananda Saraswati’s most senior Agama teachers. He’s been studying with him since 1999. He claims to have reached self-realization. Several former Agama employees and students explained to me that Somananda was pushed off the island by Swami after being accused of rape as a way to hush the situation. Sophie Bekkering, the woman who experienced the alleged rape, describes what happened. It occurred during a yoni massage, she says:
“I had my eyes closed the whole time trying to go inward and focus on my sensations in an attempt to drop in. However all of a sudden I felt something inside my yoni that felt very different then a finger. As I open my eyes and I see Somananda (completely undressed all of a sudden) who was now penetrating me. I was completely in shock and felt absolutely frozen. He did not use a condom and did not say a word, or gave me any warning or any other signs that would make me see this coming in any way.”
When Bekkering reported the incident to Swami he said “that he didn’t believe it happened this way” she said. “He implied that I was ‘asking for it’ and said that I needed to have lots of sex because I had a lot of confusion in my Svadhisthana.”
Somananda currently runs one of the largest tantra massage schools in the world which is publicly affiliated with Agama.
Serkan Temel is a senior teacher who runs the Agama Yoga School in Linz Austria. An Agama teacher and former co-worker describes an incident in Linz where Serkan forced her into having sex:
“I told him a couple times I did not want him to be sexual. I had told him for weeks that I did not want to be sexual with him…I would tell him cuddling is ok, but I do not want to have sex. He said okay and stopped. Then a few moments later he would start again, trying to get his hand in my pants, pulling his pants down. After asking him to stop and pulling his hand away several times, I push his whole body away physically. I told him ‘Serkan, I really do not want to, can you please just stop it.’ I tried with logic. He replied with the argument that we are a tantric school. I got angry to the extent that I got louder and tried to push him away more strong. But at that point he had already wrapped his arms strongly around me. He didn’t respond to my clear and repeating no’s.”
She felt helpless and out of options with a larger man on top of her, overpowering her. She contemplated physically hurting him to get away but quickly thought of both the immediate and longer term consequences of that at the school. Despite her repeated attempts to both physically push him away and say no numerous times she finally relented.
“I turned around to my side (so I wouldn’t have to face him) and let him have sex with me. I was frozen and didn’t make a sound. I didn’t move and didn’t make any moans. I didn’t even dare to breath. I just wanted it to be over. I tried to disconnect as much as possible from my body. When he was finished I felt disgusted. I laid frozen there. He fell asleep. As soon as I could move again and I knew he was asleep I got out of bed and left. I quietly gathered my stuff, packed it downstairs and ran home 20 minutes at 1am. I took 3 showers. I felt sick. I cried. I didn’t quite understand what happened. I didn’t understand for months.
When I saw him the next day, he hugged me and whispered in my ear ‘that was so hot last night when you really didn’t want to have sex and I just took you despite it.’ I was shocked, I was speechless. I felt deeply disgusted by him and myself.”
She also described an incident while working in Linz where she was approached by Serkan and Ram Avnur, another advanced teacher, in a “very predatory like way.” She says she was “completely overwhelmed by the situation” and that she “got really scared.” She told them “no, I’m working right now”and but they continued to pursue her. She describes what happened:
“I couldn’t get out of the situation (at least I was convinced so), so it was either Serkan or Ram. I felt more comfortable with Ram, less endangered. It sounds weird but Serkan kept touching me, so I literally just buried my face in Ram to get away from Serkan. Serkan started rubbing himself against me, playing with himself and masturbating against me so I tried to get away from him by getting closer to Ram.”
Serkan then took a selfie while she was performing oral sex on Ram in the background:
“Serkan said ‘this is such a cool Agama teachers meeting. We should take a picture and send it to Mukta.’ I thought he was joking. When I looked he was taking a selfie with me and Ram in the background. I was really shocked. I didn’t realize what was going on. And then, without anything he sent it to Mukta. I was so shocked. I immediately stopped. I realized what the fuck, what am I doing here, I don’t like any of these actions, this is so against any of my boundaries, I feel so uncomfortable, I don’t feel safe at all. I feel really endangered right now.”
A former Agama staff member recalls when Ram Avnur made sexually offensive comments to her. She said that during a group conversation, “he started being vulgar in a sexual way, and he announced to me, and in front of the other people, that he would like to get a glass bottle and shove it up my yoni.” On another occasion Ram told Swami in front of her that “she is a dirty little slut.” She says “Swami just nodded at him” and they left.
Muktananda Mistry is one of the most senior Agama teachers. He has been studying with Swami for over 16 years. He has been a principle defender of Swami when allegations surface, claiming that he has witnessed cruel rumors being spread about him over the years. He has told Agama students they should look within first and take care of their own issues before accusing Swami.
One student says she felt Muktananda took advantage of her in a vulnerable moment after she collapsed in yoga class. She says he suggested she come talk about it with him at his house and he then began being sexual with her. She said she only wanted to talk about what had happened in class but ended up having sex with him. She felt like he took advantage of her altered state.
When Jessica Rose, the woman allegedly assaulted by Swami while she was inebriated, spoke with Muktananda about her concerns of having been violated by Swami he twisted and manipulated her account she says. He told her, “The demons always come and test you. The demons take over. They were puppeting you to test you with Swami. He could have sent you home or act in that moment.” She told me Muktananda “was suggesting that Swami put his penis in me to get the demons out.” He also told her “The more you tell other people, the more you will attract bad things.” Muktananda told her “I’m your friend.” He said “all these people are just blind and only seeing the surface level, they’re not seeing the causal level of what happened with Swami.”
An insider also told me, “it is known by a select few in the community that Muktananda has been accused of rape and was detained in prison in India.”
One Agama staff member says that Muktananda sent her several unsolicited “dick pics” over the years of being there. And other women spoke about additional predatory type behavior against them by Muktananda and Ram as well.
On one occasion Muktananda referred to the Agama yoga teachers as “our bitches” while laughing and claiming he and Agama can get them to “do whatever they want them to do because they are so desperate to get some teaching experience.” A former staff member told me this was in regards to her wondering how they’d fill the extra teaching slots needed after a scandal erupted and many staff members had left. She said this lack of gratitude and willingness to manipulate Agama teachers was “sickening” to her.
Muktananda has also stated “I disagree with the #MeToo movement” claiming that women were “playing too much the victim.”
Swami’s Guru: Gregorian Bivolaru
Swami’s spiritual teacher is the infamous Romanian yoga guru Gregorian Bivolaru, founder of MISA (Movement for Spiritual Integration in Absolute). It is perhaps the largest tantric yoga school in the world. In 2003, he was sentenced to six years in prison for having sex with an underage girl. He has been accused of “coercing or seducing hundreds of vulnerable women into producing hard-core porn videos,” some of which were allegedly underage. An article in the DailyMail claims that he “promised tantric illumination in exchange for sex with virgin girls as young as 15” and reveals that former members claim he was carrying out an Indian myth that said if you have sex with 1,000 virgins you will achieve enlightenment. Former members claim his yoga students would send him photos of girls that he would have sex with that had their birthdate on the back of the picture. Agnes Arabela Marques, who had sex with Bivolaru when she was 15, and was in a relationship with him at the time said, “In his apartment, there were constantly girls that were there to have sex with him” and that they’d rotate out every week. An article in the Huffington post includes statements from former members who say teenage girls are recruited into the group and “are slowly drawn into a series of deepening and more compromising personal commitments, frequently backed up by written contracts that the members are led to believe have the force of law.”
A Culture of Abuse and Denial at Agama
Members of the community testify to a culture at Agama of rampant sexual misconduct, abuse and boundary violations. When incidents are reported to senior staff women have been victim blamed. Or at best, small, incremental changes are made which have little to no real impact on the abuses occurring a source says. Swami and other senior teachers and staff will dismiss complaints as being “ego based” or “drama.” People who speak out have been referred to as impure or not advanced. Others have been told bad karma will come to them. There is no official, company process to receive, document and deal with complaints from what I understand.
One former staff member testifies to the exploitative environment she found herself in at Agama. She says she had her “tits and ass grabbed without consent hundreds of times, included being pinned down and assaulted regularly in public, often by senior teachers.” She says “there’s continual incidents of sexual assault and rape by senior teachers” at Agama.
Some women were told they need to be better “tantric women” when they expressed their boundaries or refused sexual advances.
When Jessica Rose reported the incident of being sexually violated by Swami to the general manager, she victim blamed her, “There was no part of her that thought it was wrong” she told me. She said “it was you who broke your tapas [of drinking]. You offered yourself to him. It is very easy to put the blame on others.” Jessica told me that the general manager was “saying this was my fault.”
Ananda Maha (Dr. Mihaiela Pentiuc), the director of the yoga therapy teacher training program and a trained doctor, has “turned a blind eye to every abuse, often even sending women to him saying ‘he’s the best at what he does’” an insider said. Maha has a 20+ year relationship with Swami which began as sexual and is now platonic.
Justine Baruch, another senior teacher, runs the Agama Tantra Initiationtraining program and has taught there for 15 years. The same inside source as above says she “has also turned a blind eye, even blaming the women for having issues. Many women have gone to her only to receive no empathy and the hardline — its your projections onto swami — you have to deal with it. I was told yesterday she also has a pile of testimonials of which nothing was ever done with.”
Other women who report to senior teachers about Swami’s behavior have been told that he “was doing this for the benefit of a woman to use their full potential” a former staff member said.
Swami has threatened students who speak up to him or others in the community about the abuse they are experiencing. One former member says she’s heard him say he can get people’s legs broken if he wanted. He tells them they are under the influence of “demonic influences,” and speaking out equates to “terrible spiritual crimes” that will incur “infernal consequences for many lives to come.” He also has accused women of creating a relationship with him that is based on “egocentric neurosis.” All of these actions will be “dearly paid karmically” he has told them. Anyone who continues will be subject to “further demonic influence.”
There are many negative reviews about Agama on TripAdvisor which warn potential students about Swami and the exploitative culture that surrounds him. You can read a few of them here: Sexual Manipulation of the Shakti’s, Beware of Fake Gurus and The Dark Underbelly of Agama. One former staff member told me that when she asked other Agama staff about the reviews they made excuses by downplaying them or dismissing them as coming from crazy or loose canon women. Yet the negative reviews all echo the claims made by those I’ve spoken with.
It’s also important to note that many have studied and trained at Agama over the years have deeply benefited from the trainings, yoga classes and community created by the school on Ko Pha-ngan.
Deeply Entrenched Patriarchy
From the numerous accounts I’ve received about the school, it is steeped in a deeply patriarchal view of women and sexuality. One former staff member, Ryan (not his real name), who worked and taught there for six years, told me that Swami has stated “Women are fundamentally inferior on the spiritual path” and that “men are fundamentally superior — which is why there are so many more saints, enlightened beings etc who are men throughout history.” He also said Swami claims men achieve awakening through samadhi (meditative consciousness) whereas women achieve it through sex. At Agama they teach men to not use condoms because it “disrupts the flow of energy” he said. Ryan also told me that women could get almost unlimited time with Swami and men could get almost none. Men are encouraged to use “pickup artist” tricks from The Game and other things such as “negging.” When Ryan asked Swami about the Agama rule against teachers sleeping with level I students he replied “you’re a man, she’s a woman, nothing else matters.” Ryan said the “rule” is almost universally ignored. He said he knew Swami was sleeping with at least four women in the teacher training that he coordinated.
There also have been men at Agama who have spoken out against abuse over the years. They have defended victims, raised awareness and fought for what’s right. While there are deeper systemic problems, many individuals, both men and women have tried to do the right thing. The problem is that no real change has been implemented.
A Counselor Speaks Out
Susan Kirk (not her real name) is a counselor who has had many former Agama students referred to her. Over the years she heard numerous accounts of trauma, sexual assault and abuse:
“I have been approached by women in or formerly in the community who are suffering or who have suffered assault, harassment, violation, trauma & retraumatization. I have done sessions working through violations ranging from rape, non-consensual touch, coercement, psychological manipulation and boundary violations. Victims are usually too afraid to report incidents for fear of retribution from the school or community. They worry that the Thai Police are part of the circle and won’t take their report seriously or that their safety will be threatened. Silencing or ‘shushing things up’ I’ve seen happen a few times — the most serious one when Somananda had non-consensual sex with a woman while doing yoni massage. He quickly left the island. Another one was a woman who went into psychosis after having group sex with several male student/teachers. She had to be put into hospital, she was in such bad condition.
It appears the school diminishes, minimizes and silences victim experiences. I’ve had women say to me that they are told it’s their fault that and they have brought the assault or violation onto themselves in some way. It is clear people are being awarded teaching certificates and qualifications that put them in places of power which are then abused by some.”
In reference to the Thai police and government connection to Agama, one former senior staff member said that Swami told her and another staff member in a meeting that he was paying off the authorities. When someone told Swami they couldn’t just put up promotional stands all over the island he said they “shouldn’t worry about that too much as enough money is being paid and that it will cover it and added that actually he could buy himself underage Thai girls for sex and do whatever he wants with them if he wanted and he would be covered.”
A former staff member who worked closely with Swami for years says that he has been banned from India, where he operated from for many years, because there were allegations of rape.
Reform or Revolution?
In 2015 many senior Agama staff members quit. It was one of several exodus’ that have apparently occurred every few years when the staff realized the type of place they are working at. A long email thread ensued where members of the community debated about a path forward amidst the numerous allegations against Swami and issues facing the community. A few incremental changes were made that had no real lasting power I’m told. After the last exodus in 2015 it was business as usual until 2017 when another group left.
Staff have tried to act and they’ve been stopped. A former staff member ended up leaving the school after her attempts to create change fell flat. When Swami denied engaging in inappropriate behavior anymore she asked him, “So you say you are not actively approaching women anymore and not touching them without consent, so how come you did both of that with me? How was I different?” She said “Swami didn’t answer my question, he just looked down and remained silent in his seat.” This occurred after a large travel booking platform contacted her to say they would no longer refer people to Agama because they’d received numerous complaints of sexual assault.
Susan Kirk, the counsellor quoted in this article, reflects on attempts to create change at the school:
“I’ve heard there have been many attempts at internal change which come and fail. It is not taken seriously and never gets up, never succeeds. People see the good things they get out of the school so they get attached and turn a blind eye to the shadow. There are many long term enablers there. Most of the long term senior teachers are enablers. Even those who think they want change are actually attached to the school so couldn’t bear it’s downfall.”
Sex scandals are nothing new to the yoga and tantra communities. Matthew Remski chronicles some of the latest yoga scandals in his latest article which exposed sexual abuse by Ashtanga Yoga founder Pattabhi Jois. Fueled by beliefs about unconditional devotion to the guru, claims of divine authority and deeply entrenched patterns of institutional denial, abusive gurus are able to get away with misconduct for years. Many of the women genuinely believed that what Swami was doing was Tantra and it left them confused and doubting what they’d otherwise know was harmful behavior. Mix in wounded spiritual seekers looking for love and healing and it’s a recipe for disaster.
The actions of Swami, Somananda, Serkan, Ram and Muktananda have had real, lasting impacts on the lives of those who have come to Agama for healing and transformation. Students and staff that I’ve spoken with suffer from PTSD, trauma, anxiety, low self esteem, flashbacks and other conditions. One former staff member says that many women’s lives have been ruined. She said “I was left emotionally wrecked, my confidence destroyed and my physical health was ruined for a long time.” People report showing up bright eyed and excited and then lose their friends, family and life, leaving the island a complete mess.
The people I spoke with for this article believe that Swami must step down and even suggested the school shut down. One former senior staff member told me “he needs to be in prison.” The most likely successors, Somananda and Muktananda would be very poor choices to take over they believe given their sordid history. Other potential successors, Ananda Maha and Justine Baruch, have played a central role in maintaining the status quo in the face of widespread abuse. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who could run Agama who is not tainted by the years of abuse that has gone on. Perhaps Agama’s days are coming to a close.
My request for an interview with Swami Vivekananda Saraswati had not been granted at the time of this publication.