Accused Agama yoga guru’s ‘Secret Talk’: strange claims and a misogynistic ideology
Narcis Tarcau aka Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, established the yoga community of Agama on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. He has recently fled the island following the reporting of 31 written records documenting sexual assault, including from senior staff at the school (detailed in this Be Scofield article). The other men named below have also fled and are also accused, of considerably less serious acts. This is a recording of a ‘Secret Talk’ made by Tarcau at the end of the first day of the Vira (hero) Men’s Training at Agama, June 2018. I attended and gained much from this course and three other Agama events I experienced. I witnessed admirable qualities in the teachers I had. I met beautiful souls studying there. This isn’t an examination or repetition of the accusations. It’s a call to take a close look at the teachings to understand the context of the actions and avoid further suffering (EDIT: as of October 2018 Tarcau is back on the island and due to teach at New Year. The statute of limitations for sexual offences in Thailand is just three months, compared to 3-30 years depending in which state in the USA and no limit at all in the UK. That little has changed makes an examination of the ideology more urgent).
In this speech Tarcau tells us that men are superior to women, and that this idea is justified in ancient religious writings as well as by the relative accomplishments and abilities of the two genders. We’re told that men correspond with ‘good’ and women with ‘evil’. It’s hard to believe that the philosophy he taught and the crimes Tarcau is accused of are distinct.
We were told to keep all teachings secret. I understand and value honour codes and have never revealed a word of the experience of anyone else partaking in any of the thousands of workshops or circles I’ve been a part of. I chose to record this because of a gut-feeling, and because Tarcau made comments which I judged to be misogynistic, inaccurate, highly-selective and simply lazy-thinking in their interpretation at the beginning of the talk (before the recording starts, I challenge him on this earlier statement at about 57 minutes in). I also felt like his energy seemed like a Yogic Sith Lord and I had serious misgivings. The secrecy he asked for and the bad karma he assured us would occur if we broke it felt to me more like ‘Bros before hos’ and an attempt at a threat than a sacred pact. And I was feeling, since his opening statement, that the gut-reaction I’d had prior to joining the course had been right and I might leave the course after or during the speech. I share it now because I think it may serve the purpose of elucidating the thinking which may have been used to justify the abusive actions which have been reported. A statement by a teacher is totally different to the experience of another student in terms of confidentiality. If even one of the reports is true, trust has already been breached. The dam has burst. I share it to help prevent further harm. I share it because the philosophy of an organisation, and the assumptions upon which it is built are more powerful than any individual and can survive any one individual. Indeed, they probably predate Tarcau and perhaps even his most significant teacher, a controversial cult leader and convicted criminal (for sexual abuse). If Agama and its teachings survive in any form, I believe they’d benefit from some exposure to sunlight.
Ultimately, I chose to continue with Agama beyond the first day, despite major misgivings with Tarcau, because I wanted to try something new to me, to see if I could extract the good and filter the bullshit, to accept that most teachers and teachings have faults. I learned some valuable things. But needless to say, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have continued or even begun the course. I’m glad I challenged Tarcau’s ideas but I wish I’d done so more strongly, especially the spiritual aspects, and wish that I’d given more weight to the deep unease I felt at his words and bearing. Trusted my instinct.
It’s a hard listen. It’s turgid and monotonous even on top of the heaviness of much of the content. It feels like being cornered by an obsessive uncle at the tail-end of a wedding. What I get from this speech is that the basic assumption of Tarcau (and presumably of Agama as an institution, since it is Tarcau’s baby) regarding the two genders is that men are superior. The idea is that women are of matter. Men are of spirit. Spirit is superior to matter. So men are superior to women. It is easy to see how this attitude could justify overriding consent, or not seeing any need for it at all. I’ll give examples of how Tarcau makes this doctrine of male superiority clear, implicit and explicit, in his speech and how he uses religious history to support his idea in a highly selective way. You may disagree that this is what he is ultimately saying. In my opinion it’s absolutely obvious, despite some seemingly contrary statements, and I think the horrible catalogue of abuse allegations gives weight to this.
The ideology that was pushed, with dubious arguments and evidence, was of women’s inferiority and also that men are victims. He began the speech with a claim that the fact that 90% of prisoners across the world are male is a sign of male oppression. Even a criminalisation of masculinity. I challenge this notion at 57 minutes suggesting that there are many other interpretations – we could be raising men badly, there is a dearth of good male role models and a lot of absent fathers which could create acting out, and we have no initiation for young men, unlike traditional cultures (the Masai say “If you do not initiate your young men, they will burn down your village”). And I ask which things that are currently illegal he would make legal. Ram suggests that duelling might be seen as an example of a masculine way to settle differences which has become criminalised. The obvious problem with that is that right and might or being good in a fight (as Dr Seuss might have interjected had he been in attendance) are not the same. I’ve wondered if the secret act, that Tarcau might feel should be made legal, is when a man feels compelled to take a woman he should do so, without repercussion.
At the end of the talk (1:06:00) Muktananda, a senior teacher, implies that a woman was wrong to refuse a man sex because she wasn’t in the mood, and then equates grabbing the bottom of a woman you like with female nagging and comments, implying unfairness, that while the former is culturally prohibited (criminally actually), the latter is not. It recalled for me the post-#metoo adage not to touch random women in any manner you wouldn’t also feel comfortable having your prison cell-mate replicating.
Tarcau claimed that women were men’s intellectual and spiritual inferior and that it was men’s job to guide them. Muktananda, implies at the end of the speech and later said to me explicitly that rape and violence was a problem of the feminine, and not the masculine. This crazy doublespeak - arguably gaslighting - requires some explanation. Basically, the masculine is viewed as being all about control and nobility, the feminine as being about indulging, weakness and lacking control. Therefore, a man out of control was in his feminine. So rape in the world was a problem with the feminine. Rather than a distorted masculine, seeking to dominate others. Tarcau implied as well that evil and temptation were also of the feminine – everything was polarity, and apparently men got all the positive stuff. It seemed more akin to the fundamentalist teachings of Abrahamic religion than any Eastern philosophy I’ve come across. Narcissistically projecting masculine human failings onto the feminine. I spoke about this briefly with another teacher, Ram, who I deemed analytical enough to recognise that this was tortuous logic. I mentioned that this was at odds with Jungian psychology - which underpins pretty much the entire modern Western psychotherapeutic tradition - and the notion of the immature masculine, who acts irresponsibly because they have not yet integrated their feminine (anima), not because they are too feminine. This is represented in Yin-Yang symbology with the opposite colour forming a central part of each side. He had never heard of this and I found myself wondering how much knowledge of the world outside the Agama doctrine this otherwise thoughtful and intelligent-seeming man had. How much independent and critical thought he’d given to what he’d learned from Tarcau.
Two examples which Tarcau used to justify the superiority of men stood out for me as being highly selective interpretations (all the below is within the first 25 minutes). The first was Buddha’s saying that his sangha wouldn’t last as long if it included women. However, the Buddha has also clearly stated that women are just as capable of enlightenment as men: “Women, Ananda, having gone forth are able to realize the fruit of stream-attainment or the fruit of once-returning or the fruit of non-returning or arahantship (attaining nirvana)". As Tarcau claims, it is true that the Buddha did predict that his teachings would last half as long if women were allowed in the sangha, 500 years rather than a thousand. However, firstly, Buddha was wrong, his teachings still last today, 2500 years later. Secondly this prediction could have been because of the potentially destructive temptations of the presence of the opposite sex. Not because of a belief in something inherent to women, but to the relationship between the genders. The second example was a description of the crowds at Christ’s Sermon of the Mount. Tarcau claims that the bible refers to ‘5000 people plus women and children’. He said that this was because the bible did not regard women fully as people. “Women and children are not people… That’s in the Bible… A text of love”, he claimed. Firstly, every bible I could find online said 5000 men, not people. Secondly ‘people’, if indeed that even exists in some texts, could easily be a inexact translation of a political reference to citizens, tax-payers, men as head of the household and so on. In Rome for example ‘citizen’ referred only to the legal and political status of men (and not all men). Lastly is it really a surprise if a 2000-year-old book is sexist? It wasn’t written by Jesus. Both examples are readily open to different interpretations, unless your aim is to gather supporting evidence that women are inferior.
The Bible also forbids wearing clothes of mixed linen and wool, (Deuteronomy 22:11), another outdated and irrelevant Biblical ‘truth’. Doesn’t evolution (the slogan of the school) include dropping those mutations or variations which are not useful? Does Tarcau believe that organized, predominantly patriarchal religion, which coincided with agriculture and city building (the text based ones, like Christianity came even later) was the birth of spirituality? That these man-made texts are infallible? Most archaeologists and anthropologists agree that pre-agriculture, humans were largely matriarchal. Were we not spiritual then? Did hunter-gatherers not look at the stars with awe and some sense of yearning and belonging? In other words the idea that such texts are irrefutable tenets of our spiritual and energetic essence is bumpf.
Tarcau also suggested that the Torah raises doubt as to whether “women have an independent soul”. Then seemed to avoid responsibility for all he had said, and indeed his motivation for saying so, by stating, “I’m not saying I agree”. He certainly did not unequivocally disagree. He told us, “Make up your own minds, I’m just signalling to you the trends of this [idea]”. Confusingly (or disingenuously) after all these examples he claims that only “in tantra do women receive the 50% share they deserve according to their gender” and “in tantra we are full on for the feminine”. This may be what a loyal devotee could cling to. But what was his purpose then, in the other 90% of his talk? Not long after (30 minutes in), he talks about the polarities, claiming that he’s just expressing a less politically correct version of what US Taoist-inspired author David Deida talks about. These polarities “corresponding to” (which he describes as meaning a weaker state than “being”) respectively, the masculine and feminine, include “Darkness and light, and going even deeper than that...Good. And Evil”. Men corresponding with good. Women corresponding with evil. Sometimes when someone seems confusing it is because they are clearly communicating their own confusion. And Tarcau seemed confused. Blinking and pale, as though he’d been alone too long in a dark room.
In his talk, Tarcau makes a lot out the lack of female chess players or great artists through the ages. He takes no account of the cultural and historical context where women would have had less opportunity to do these things, regardless of the underlying preferences and abilities of the genders, due to child-bearing and raising responsibilities which may have limited their choices, or political and social norms which made self-actualization in the public-sphere an extra-challenge for women. And it all seemed a little beside the point. I had come to learn about the yogic aspects of masculinity – Tarcau’s purpose seemed to be to make us feel good about our masculinity by demonstrating that we were better than women. This felt to me like the difference between patriotism (loving your country) and nationalism (thinking your country is superior). It seemed weak. It seemed unhealthy. It seemed an obsession. Since we ourselves are matter, contemplating our spiritual existence (and vice versa), using in part our squidgy, soft grey-matter to do so, the notion of hierarchy as to which is most important seems to me irrelevant – were we not matter as well as spirit we could not even ask the question, nor would we need or want to. Or even be ‘we’. Hierarchy seems a very earthly concern. Yoga has the literal meaning of ‘union’, of Shiva and Shakti (masculine and feminine), of spirit and matter. During the declarations of male superiority - another was telling us how Chinese philosopher and politician, Confucius had declared a woman to be as intelligent as a rooster, an intelligent woman as intelligent as two roosters - I often found myself thinking of my greatest teacher, Xamam Alba Maria, a formidable female shaman and psychotherapist who I deemed could spiritually, intellectually, energetically and perhaps even physically (with Tarcau’s resemblance in both ideology and appearance to the Steve Bannon of Tantra) wipe the floor with any man in the room.
I’d forgotten I had recorded this until these allegations came out. I’d completed the course. Made some good friends. Met some beautiful souls. Learned a lot and had come to respect Tarcau for the highly detailed and technical knowledge of his staff, his apparent open-ness to being questioned, and the different community events of the school. When I had challenged him he’d described the question as “very creative” and appeared to be considering what I’d said rather than dismissing out of hand or shutting me down, which surprised me. When he spoke to us on the last day he had, in my view (I didn’t record this), softened his views somewhat. However, he did tell us about a Tibetan saint who raped a woman, causing her enlightenment. So the story goes. He offered a private meeting to discuss my views (he‘d described indigenous cultures as primitive and unenlightened. I said that they showed more wisdom than ours or India’s in their ability to live in harmony with nature. He considered this and agreed that this was an important virtue and suggested the meeting to discuss further as he was short of time, apologising). This was in June – perhaps he was being forced into reconsidering his views by allegations soon to break publicly. My impression was of a man who hadn’t considered that he might be wrong much before. Muktananda and Ram were also open to challenge and questioning. I experienced both as warm, committed and caring individuals. Every day I still do the yoga practices I was taught. They have benefited me. I only spent 8 days at Agama in total, along with an evening transfiguration ritual which was truly magical. And even I have felt internal conflict. I can only imagine how people feel whose experience of this island has been infused with Agama. Who have discovered many new and valuable parts of themselves through the teachings. Who have found love and friendship in the community. It must be very, very hard to use discernment about what residue is good and what is bad. About how to proceed. The confusion and pain of those who experienced abuse, having sought healing and personal growth, is of course beyond imagination. EDIT: I’ve since learnt that Tarcau is an adherent of NLP and there are reports of people going to speak to him privately about a complaint and coming out having completely forgotten what their complaint was. Perhaps he intended an NLP manipulation and I allowed myself to be flattered by his suggestion of a meeting.
I’ve done some research on Kashmiri Shaivism, not a lot I admit but it seems to have aspects in common with monotheistic religions, and this might include an elevation of the male over the female which is distinct from traditions which place more emphasis on non-dualism. The Kashmir area between India and Pakistan is quite possibly one of the most patriarchally dominated geographic areas on earth – ‘honour’ killings are not uncommon and the biggest sexual abuse scandal involving young women in the UK in recent years involved men from this culture (though Islamic). Or maybe the elevation of the masculine is an interpretation by Tarcau, raised perhaps in Eastern European Catholicism, or the influence of his early teacher of tantra and yoga, Gregorian Bivolau, who is on Europol’s most wanted list for the crimes of sexual abuse and human trafficking, in Finland and France. Perhaps Tarcau’s study of Hesychast Orthodox Christianity is involved. Was Tarcau himself indoctrinated? I don’t know. I do believe that the culture of male superiority and a deep lack of respect for the feminine, for nature itself, was imbued in some of the teachings I experienced, and that this may be insidious, not simply appearing in errant actions by staff members. I totally accept that this is likely to have been much emphasised on a retreat aimed specifically on examining gender. But I’d be surprised if it wasn’t implicit elsewhere. I had the strong sense of an accumulated body of knowledge being held and passed at Agama – and it is out of a similar respect for knowledge and for legacy that makes me challenge what has been learned. Any rebirth of the Agama school or teaching by those who studied there would in my view be wise to include careful contemplation of the philosophy they learned, its source and its veracity. And me, I’ve learned to trust my feminine, my ‘inner knowing’ a bit more.
*in the recording I state that in India there is a rape every 20 seconds. It's every 20 minutes. Still appalling almost beyond belief.