Re: Shunyamurti aka Robert Shubow of Sat Yoga Institute
Date: May 24, 2020 09:49PM
Another amazon book review.
I saw this review some time ago, though it has since been added to.
The section towards the end of the book that the reviewer refers to is indeed a bit of shocker when you come across it, everything seems to be going so well.. but then blam, this one drops in.
“ A word of caution to LGBT people
Reviewed in the United States on December 6, 2009
I haven't been this stimulated by a book on spirituality since "Autobiography of a Yogi" many years ago which still defines my yoga practice in many ways. I came across Shunyamurti's essays at the Sat Yoga Institute's website and eagerly ordered his book. It validated much of what I've come to believe through my own practice and it clearly defined where I am on my path and the challenging steps I need to take to move forward. It gives a stark and sometimes brutal assessment of our narcissistic, ego-based culture and challenges us to break out of the fog, presenting a convincing case that it's imperative to do so.
My enthusiasm ended when reading one of the final chapters in the book, "After Monogamy: The Advent of Momogamy". Shunyamurti gives a critique of sexual relations and dismisses homosexual and transgender people as dysfunctional and he states that the true meanings of masculine and feminine have been lost. He suggests that homosexuality and transgenderism are childish evasions from healthy relationships with the opposite sex. "Gender confusion cannot be resolved through homosexual evasion of relationship with the other sex. Nor can it be resolved through so-called "trans-gender" identification - or worse, by surgical shifting of sexual positioning. On the individual level, one must develop the psychological capacity to achieve what adulthood used to mean." (The Transformative Imperative, p. 199.) Shunyamurti does refer briefly to gay rights in the following chapter as "necessary" but he does not explain his position on homosexual and transgender people further, it seems clear that he sees us as representative of human failing. Considering Shunyamurti's impressive background, how brilliantly he writes and how authoritative he seems in explaining a yoga path, I found his beliefs on the diversity of human sexuality to be shocking and nothing more than uninformed opinion.
Earlier in the book he writes that we must transcend gender and sexual orientation to evolve spiritually, meaning heterosexuals must also transcend gender and orientation. That may be true on some level, however, few people will progress to this ego-less state in a lifetime as most Eastern religions make clear. Most people who seek a spiritual path practice a middle way and work towards more meaning in their lives and more selfless love in their relationships; homosexual, heterosexual or some other basis of family and community. The Transformational Imperative is not written for the middle way but it could have an impact beyond the few who seek to devote their life to a spiritual path.
The Sat Yoga Institute states that they are training people to be spiritual guides through the use of psychological counseling, dream interpretation etc. I find Shunyamurti's views to be potentially dangerous. It is unknown if Sat Yoga will treat homosexuality and transgenderism as symptoms of dysfunction but The Transformational Imperative suggests that it may. Shunyamurti has a powerful voice and gives a very effective assessment of our spiritually sick culture, he could have mass appeal. I see the possibility that Sat Yoga could emerge as one more religion of many that treats homosexuality, transgenderism and bisexuality as neuroses that go against nature and that heterosexual relationships are inherently superior.
In an essay published on the Sat Yoga Institute's website titled "The Sat Yoga Philosophy of Sex" on 3/20/2011, Shunyamurti has elaborated on his views. There is much there that could be criticized but I will only focus on homosexuality and gender identity.
Shunyamurti writes that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality but then continues in a way that contradicts accepted beliefs in the field of psychology. He states that "psychologists make a distinction between ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic homosexuality (or heterosexuality, for that matter). In other words, some people are happily homosexual, while others wish they were not homosexual. Those who are suffering from a homosexual drive that they wish to be free of, should know that it is possible to free themselves, if they are willing to explore the psychological roots of the drive and to confront and work through their core anxieties."
He seems to be saying that sexual orientation (homosexual or heterosexual) is caused by core anxieties in the subconscious and that sexual orientation is a "drive" that can be overcome. His statement also leaves the impression that "psychologists" agree with this approach but he falls short of actually making this claim. He doesn't suggest that people who wish they were not heterosexual can "free themselves", probably because that might sound absurd and also because in Shunyamurti's view, the true meaning of masculine and feminine is a heterosexual ideal of his creation.
Shunyamurti fails to acknowledge that when a person experiences dissatisfaction with their homosexuality or gender identity it is almost always due to the pressures of living in a society with toxic prejudices projected on people who do not identify as heterosexual. Shunyamurti's approach to homosexuality is similar to that of fundamentalist Christians in the US who point to higher rates of depression, addiction and suicide in the LGBT community and claim that it's proof that their "lifestyle" is wrong rather than taking responsibility for their part in contributing to an atmosphere that is at the root of these problems.
The American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization have dropped "ego-dystonic homosexuality" and instead use "ego-dystonic sexual orientation" as a diagnosis. The APA stopped using the term in 1987. The WHO describes ego-dystonic orientation as a condition where a person's gender identity or sexual orientation is clear but that patient wants to change it. They also elaborate that gender identity and orientation are not disorders or diagnoses; it's the inability to accept one's nature that needs to be addressed in therapy.
Therapies used to change sexual orientation have been condemned by the American Psychological Association and many human rights organizations. The APA has also published a report on the issue backed by two years of research suggesting that "reparative therapy" can induce depression and suicidal tendencies. Shunyamurti doesn't come right out and say that homosexual orientation can be changed but the suggestion is clearly there. He is claiming that people who are not happy about being homosexual can find freedom through therapy. He parts with the field of psychology by making no suggestion that freedom can be found through acceptance of one's sexual orientation, it is implied that a homosexual orientation can be overcome or eliminated. Considering his belief that people suffer because society has lost the true meanings of masculine and feminine as he defines them, it is implied that an unhappy homosexual is really a heterosexual waiting to be born, or perhaps they can become an asexual person to end their suffering, this isn't entirely clear.
Shunyamurti is making no distinction between attachment to ego based sexual desires or drives that may cause suffering as interpreted in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies and a person's innate sexual orientation or gender identity. He seems to be making an effort to define a person's ego based attachments and a person's sexual orientation as one and the same to justify his stance on homosexuality.
Shunyamurti also condemns transgender identity, "While nearly every male questions his manliness, and nearly every woman doubts her femininity, a few are even certain their body is the wrong gender altogether. The transgender phenomenon, which is carried to the point of sex change through surgery, is the epitome of the postmodern quandary."
I would suggest that Shunyamurti study indigenous cultures around the world that accepted and even revered the "third sex" or "two spirit" people prior to European colonization with its intolerant and oppressive views on sexuality. He should also keep up with scientific research on the subject, it's clear that being transgender is normal and natural. Some cultures have believed that two spirit people have special gifts and talents because they viewed people as spirits first, they saw beyond the illusion of the human form. Oddly enough, this is a concept that is at the heart of Shunyamurti's teachings.
I see nothing wrong with a spiritual community establishing rules and expectations for sexual behavior and relationships within that community but the conclusion I came to after reading this essay is that Shunyamurti believes that the ideal formula for someone on the Sat Yoga path is one man and one woman bound in marriage and engaging in sex only for the purpose of procreation. This is a puritanical view based on nothing more than "inner knowledge" or opinion even though he has a background in psychoanalysis. It's a similar view that has led to the oppression of sexual minorities and members of the sexual majority and has contributed to many of society's ills that have roots in religious extremism, from shocking violence in the Caribbean to executions in Iran. I believe that a better approach is reflected in Buddhist teachings that urge a person to live a life with no sexual misconduct, a guideline open to interpretation and applicable to all orientations and genders, to all societies and historical times.
Meditation and other practices help to develop more compassion and a more spiritual approach to relationships and might lead some people naturally to detachment from sexual desire and the choice of celibacy; sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant. Some people on a spiritual path choose celibacy and other forms of asceticism only for a period of time but return to society to contribute as a citizen and householder. It could be argued that this is a more common approach than someone living out their life as an ascetic. The point is that a person's orientation will remain the same almost 100% of the time. Diverse orientations and transgender identity are gaining acceptance throughout the world as innate and part of the natural order. Homosexual behavior has been documented in over 1000 species on the planet which is a fact that Shunyamurti has not addressed.
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