Spiritual Teachers and Primrose Paths
by Scott Edelstein
Adapted from the book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher,
published in 2011 by Wisdom Publications
The paths involving sex between a spiritual teacher and a student can lead through many different terrains. Here are the 11 most common paths:
Sexual assault. Forced or violent sex between spiritual teachers and students is quite rare. More commonly, the teacher will begin with some consensual contact—say, a hug—and turn it into something sexual. Out of shock, surprise, or confusion, the student may then become unresistant. Later, if the teacher is accused of sexual exploitation, he may describe this non-resistance as consent.
Role bait-and-switch. A one-to-one meeting begins with the teacher in his usual teaching role. As the encounter proceeds, however, the teacher changes its dynamics via sexual energy, talk, and/or touch. Here, too, students’ shock or bewilderment may keep them from resisting or leaving.
Sex as a spiritual teaching or tool. Some teachers present sex with them as an aid to enlightenment or growth—e.g., “This exercise will heal your wounded heart” or “You’re so close to seeing your true nature—all you need is one profound experience of nonduality.” Others turn not having sex with them into a threat of spiritual failure: “I’m offering you an opportunity to finally let go of your egoistic attachments. If you’re too scared to complete the process, that’s your business. But I’m deeply disappointed. I expected so much more of you.”
Power plays. The teacher uses his status, his experience, his awareness of human vulnerability, his knowledge of the student, and/or his spiritual insight to manipulate the student into sexual compliance. Although some power plays can be complex and can involve weeks or months of manipulation, others can be quite simple—e.g., looking a student in the eye and saying firmly, “Take off your clothes and come here,” or having an assistant tap a student on the shoulder and announce, “You’ll be spending the night with Baba.”
Sex as a prize or honor. In one variation, the teacher uses sex to confer status on the student. (“I’d like you to be my personal assistant. That means you’ll handle my correspondence, keep my office tidy, and be my Beloved One.”) In another, the sex is framed as a reward or recognition of status already attained. (“I use this technique only with my most evolved students.”) In a third, the teacher presents the sex itself as a gift. (“I want to give you this special blessing.”) In a fourth, sex with the teacher is presented as a spiritual initiation or sacred ritual.
Verbal manipulation. This is ordinary b.s. tarted up with spirituality. Common variations include grand destiny (“This was meant to happen from the day the universe began”; “God promised me He would bring us together some day”), less-than-grand destiny (“You know what’s going to happen next. Don’t fight it; just let go and be one with the experience”), and what a mess you are (“I can see that most of your chakras are closed down. That’s why your life is so out of balance. Do you want me to open them for you?”). Some teachers may employ ordinary b.s. without any spiritual veneer (“You have gorgeous energy”).
Professions of love and/or proposals of marriage. These can of course be entirely authentic and wholesome. But they are also some of the oldest and most effective tactics that exploiters use to lure people into bed. (Later on, they may rescind their love, or break or deny the engagement.) In rare cases, spiritual teachers fool themselves, confusing their desires or neuroses with love.
Sexual dealmaking. This is a straightforward transaction: the teacher offers time, attention, status, or approval in exchange for sex. (“Yes, you can come to India with me—if you’ll share my bed.”)
Ordinary seduction (or attempted seduction), i.e., chatting people up, inviting them in for coffee or wine, offering them a shoulder massage, etc.
Simple, straightforward offers of sex. This can be private (e.g., asking a student, “Would you sleep with me tonight?”) or very public (e.g., ending an evening talk by saying, “I’m going to bed. Would someone like to join me?”).
Giving in to mutual attraction. In one common variation, both people fall willingly into each other’s arms; in another, the student successfully seduces the teacher.
Scott Edelstein is the author of Sex and the Spiritual Teacher (Wisdom Publications, 2011) and 15 other books. His short work on spiritual topics has appeared in Shambhala Sun, American Jewish World, The Writer, the anthology What About God? (Upper Room Books), and elsewhere.