Tantric Couple Shares Their Painful Experiences With Agama Yoga: A Call to Examine All Tantric Teachings for Misogyny
We as graduates of Agama Yoga on Koh Phangan, Thailand are not surprised by the recent accusations that have been leveled at “Swami Vivekananda” (Narcis Tarcau) and at some of the senior teachers of the school. Most of what is shared in Be Scofield’s article, Women Accuse Agama Yoga Founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati of Sexual Assault is aligned with our personal experiences while attending Agama. Our grief and love is with all those who have been harmed by the misogynist teachings and actions of Narcis (“Swami”) and by all the other Tantra teachers, male and female, who have internalized, acted from and perpetuated deeply harmful, sexist ideas. We are saddened to see the extent of the harm that has been inflicted on our community and our friends. We are also relieved that these allegations are finally coming into the light. We are grateful to the brave people of the #MeToo movement and we are not surprised to see spiritual teachers finally being held responsible for years of sexual abuse.
As Tantra teachers and practitioners, we have a lot to disclose and to add to this discussion. To begin… There are a lot of teachings that we have personally found useful in healing and in the process of spiritual awakening. Some of these teachings we found at Agama and some we have found elsewhere. We are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The focus on energetic flow during yoga practice, the movement away from yoga as exercise toward yoga as preparation for meditation and a spiritual path in its own right, the sense of sex as sacred, the understanding that trauma lives in the body not the head, the knowledge that the energy lines (called nadis in yogic tradition) are the physical fascia, the understanding of the impacts of sexual assault and sexual shame on the body, heart, mind and soul… All of these things are worth holding onto.
What is not worth keeping is not only a reverence for “Swami” the man, but also an unexamined adherence to the teachings, some of which are over 10,000 years old, that identify Shakti (the feminine) with the material alone, that attribute masculine aspects to God (Shiva), that consider women “lower” than men, the focus on healing women (many of whom have already gone through sexual assault) through more violent “pounding,” the placing of male sexual desires above the intuition of women, the projection of responsibility for the sexual desires of men onto the women they are attracted to, the identification of the feminine with the lower chakras and the masculine with the higher, enforced sexual polarity and the shame that is leveled at gender non-conforming and homosexual individuals, the repeated and well accepted calls for women to “surrender,” the notion of “fucking her to God,” the idea that women want to be destroyed by their lovers (quoting and paraphrasing David Deida)… These ideas are well embedded in neo-tantric and new age communities. They are widespread, present in almost every Tantric school in the world and they are indefensibly harmful and wrong.
We have spent several years since leaving Agama talking about how to refine and transform the teachings we were exposed to so that we feel comfortable offering them to the world. This process has been painful and difficult for us, to tease out the contempt for women from the teachings that are of benefit. They are terribly intertwined, sometimes very subtly, and often aligned with the Judeo-Christian contempt for sex and the feminine that we in the Western world are all steeped in. We have had to look within ourselves for the shards of toxic weaponry that we absorbed during our time not only at Agama but studying with other new age teachers and communities and living in mainstream culture. The war against sexuality and the feminine within all beings is one that has only one goal — to keep people and nature enslaved.
We have spent years transforming ourselves and our relationship and no doubt this task will continue throughout our lifetimes. To vulnerably disclose our personal journey, we met in the summer of 2012 and became lovers in November of that year. We were both under the sway of new age, neo-tantric rhetoric that teaches that the use of condoms “block the flow of energy” and dedicated to using sex as a vehicle for enlightenment, we did not use condoms. We were also dedicated to the relationship style of polyamory, which is encouraged at Agama but not isolated to or invented by that school. Our lovers were also people who had been at, or were at Agama and we all generally followed the same “rules.” Sean contracted chlamydia from a lover who had contracted it from her lover, both of whom were very involved in neo-tantra and had also studied at Agama. Sean passed it unknowingly to Deva whose body reacted violently resulting in hemorrhaging, testing and treatment for all involved.
Years went by during which time we struggled to balance the teachings we had learned around polyamory and Tantra with building a relationship that was loving, considerate and stable. We found ourselves tested over and over again by toxic situations that were extremely damaging to the foundation of our relationship. We closed the relationship and spent years pursuing various kinds of therapy and training, including working with a Hendrick’s Method therapist, which we highly recommend for all who are recovering from toxic neo-tantra. By miracle, love and hard work our relationship has survived, but we have paid a dear price for all of this.
One of the things that drew us together was our mutual desire to be parents. While at Agama we were taught that getting pregnant would be as simple as ejaculating once “to clear the pipes” and then again a day or two later and boom! Pregnant. For those who don’t know, Tantric men aim to separate orgasm from ejaculation and to avoid ejaculation altogether. Sean had been practicing the avoidance of ejaculation which is taught at Agama as Brahmacharya, a term often applied to celibacy in ascetic (non-Tantric) traditions. Sean had been practicing Brahmacharya for about four years when we started to try to get pregnant. After four years of not ejaculating, his sperm production was very low and none were swimming. We were so brainwashed to be skeptical of modern medicine that we didn’t even go to a fertility specialist to have any testing done for a year and a half, precious time wasted. It was then we learned of Sean’s condition.
We restored his sperm health using a combination of acupuncture, supplements and regular ejaculation. Within a few months his sperm count and motility were within normal ranges and shortly after Deva got pregnant. At 39, she miscarried, which is not uncommon. We tried again and got pregnant right away. The second pregnancy was ectopic, meaning that it was placed not in her uterus but in her fallopian tube, which ruptured while she was traveling and she almost died, suffering extreme medical trauma in the process as a result of being denied treatment at Saddleback Memorial Hospital in Irvine, CA. Her life was saved by the doctors at Kaiser in Irvine but she suffered postoperative bleeding which she failed to seek treatment for as a result of medical trauma and that bleeding resulted in extensive internal scarring, ending her chances of natural conception.
We cannot know for sure if the chlamydia infection caused the ectopic pregnancy, but we do know that such pelvic infections often lead to sterility. Less than 1% of all women experience a miscarriage directly followed by an ectopic pregnancy. We have spent the last few years coming to terms with the reality that Deva will never give birth and that we will live our whole lives never seeing our children live and grow, never hearing them laugh or seeing their resemblance to our parents or ourselves, never knowing who they would have become. The grief of this reality is hard for many people to understand but it is a lifelong loss that we experience every day. These losses never go away. There is no replacement and no going back.
The thought that our adherence to the teachings of Agama has contributed to our experiences of infertility and child loss has haunted us. We feel at once responsible, gullible, foolish and disillusioned. Many of the things we were taught at Agama fly in the face of decades or centuries of science. An antipathy toward science infuses Agama’s teachings. Condom use is discouraged. Muktananda (Khushru), who for the record we know well and love as a person but do not condone many of the things he has said or allegedly done, taught us that getting HIV from unprotected sex would be as hard as a man swimming from Koh Phangan to Bangkok, a seemingly impossible task. He downplayed the risks of all STIs strongly. While there were many other teachers at the school who encouraged condom use, or who at least encouraged people to decide for themselves, the overall advice was to have three to five lovers at all times and to not use condoms with any of them. Simply multiplying this exposure by how many lovers your lovers lovers have, at least one of whom is destined to be “Swami” himself, a man who has repeatedly refused to get tested for chlamydia, and you easily see the problem. Add to that the fact that whenever someone would contract an STI the general consensus at Agama was that they created it by “resonating with the energy of sexual shame.” When we left, Deva was of the opinion that when HIV eventually hit the school it would shut down. Well, it wasn’t HIV. It was rape.
And so here we are, with the revelation, which isn’t surprising, that rape and sexual assault were (are?) systemic at Agama. Many of the women in Be Scofield’s article are our friends and beloveds. We are devastated to learn the extent of their wounds and how callously, with what disdain and disregard, they were treated. We are outraged, disgusted and deeply grief stricken. And we carry a degree of culpability because we knew that things weren’t right and we didn’t speak up louder, sooner. We have been very transparent about other aspects of our relationship but we have not admitted publicly the ways in which we suspect the teachings of Agama harmed us and stole our children from us. We apologize for not being more forthright about this sooner. It has been a burden to hide this information, one which we feel many, mixed feelings about releasing.
As a couple committed to loving each other well and to working together to help other people heal from the trauma of sexual assault and shame, to help people form relationships based on deep love and respect, to point out the sacredness inherent in all things, and to contribute to a world that honors the elevated aspects of both masculinity and femininity equally, we are dedicated to continuing to examine the teachings of Tantra and neo-tantra in an effort to root out all denigration of the feminine, sexual predation, manipulation and selfish using. For this reason Sean has made a dedicated choice not to offer sexual healing sessions directly to women because he believes it provides too much opportunity for Tantric men to confuse and insert their own sexual desires. Rather he has decided to teach men how they can help heal the women they love and with whom they have formed a respectful, loving relationship. Deva is committed to exposing the hatred of the feminine where ever it occurs and to advocating for the elevation of the sacred feminine and masculine in mainstream culture. Together, we are committed to promoting relationships based on respect and a reverence for sexuality as a tool for connection, healing and enlightenment. We invite you to hold us, and all Tantra teachers, to these standards.
In closing, we strongly advocate that we as integral members of the Tantric community look at this situation not as a problem with a few bad apples but as a red flag pointing to the many teachings that denigrate the feminine, which give men mastery over women who are expected to surrender, and which shame and manipulate women into consenting to sex with Tantric gurus, then blame women for the pain they are left with. Throughout our culture, we need to examine all the ways in which men project responsibility for their own sexual energy onto women, from “Swami” saying that many women have a large Muladara (base or first) chakra and therefore need to have many lovers (including him) to the more mundane “what was she wearing” comments that we are all familiar with. It is insulting to men to imply that men are incapable of controlling their sexual energy and it is harmful to women whose bodies, hearts, minds and souls are imposed upon by male sexual desire — assaulted — then blamed.
Narcis Tarcau is a very sick man. He is no true Swami. This was clear to us years ago. But if we make this only about him, and other “monsters” like him, then we fail to effectively change anything. As long as the belief systems which teach that women are secondary to men, that the feminine is less divine than the masculine, that Shiva is consciousness and eternal while Shakti is material and illusion, that women were created to serve men, that women “want” to be “obliterated” by sex with men, that men provide the direction while women provide the raw energy that men direct… As long as these beliefs, which in one way or another poison most religions, are held in our hearts and minds then we are complicit in the harming of all of humanity. It is we who must change, we who must take responsibility, we who must advocate, with every breath, for a world based on real love.