in Gurus & Disciples

Sexual Impropriety Common Theme with Gurus

The Yogi gains his superpower from his devotees. The guru needs disciples for his identity. The disciples need guru for theirs. The guru-disciple relationship is based and maintained in this power exchange and sexual attraction.

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Disciples also use sexuality to lure and manipulate the Yogi. Yogi’s, like Paramahansa Yogananda, often surround themselves with attractive women.

“Allegations of sexual impropriety is a common theme in the phenomenon of Hindu gurus in the United States,” writes Lola Williamson in Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. “Yogananda was also formally accused of impropriety by Swami Dhirananda in 1935 and Sri Nerode in 1940; these two men worked originally with Yogananda to spread Kriya Yoga”.1

premasagar, Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Yogis are sometimes accused of impregnating disciples with more than just “spiritual” seed. Yogananda also “was accused of having an illicit affair with a married disciple and fathering Ben Erskine, now a 69-year-old Oregon gold miner…. Self-Realization Fellowship hired a former San Diego criminal prosecutor to establish an independent testing process to compare Erskine’s DNA to samples taken from Yogananda’s three male relatives in India. The results from two separate labs both showed no relationship between Erskine and Yogananda.”2 Doubting disciples questioned the “independent” results. After all, the hired “independent” tester and the DNA results were controlled by SRF.

Sex and Yogi Superpower

Sexuality is “inextricably tied to the Yogi’s superhuman power”, writes Anya P. Foxen, in her exposé, Biography of a Yogi: Paramhansa Yogananda and the Origins of Modern Yoga. Foxen writes, “Female disciples–disaffected and otherwise–frequently described being drawn to the mysterious spiritual power of their teachers.”3

american women victims hindu mysticism

“American Women Victims of Hindu Mysticism,” Washington Post, February 12, 1912

The figure of a Yogi can be sexually alluring to the devotee-disciple. This should not be surprising. A “spiritual” teacher’s position of power, authority, and promises of celibacy are inextricably linked to sexual attraction. In the Western imagination, the figure of the Yogi, supposedly celibate and in control of life and death, has hypnotic attraction for devotees.

“On the other hand,” Foxen writes, “in a predictable turn of perspective, critics attribute [the Yogi] phenomenon to a malicious hypnotic influence. In this sense, the Yogi’s power, real or imagined, once again becomes fundamental to his identity.”

The guru needs disciples to maintain his identity. The Yogi gains his superpower from his devotees. The disciples in turn need the guru for their identity. Allegations of sexual impropriety are common among Hindu gurus in the U.S. The guru-disciple relationship is built and maintained on a power exchange and sexual attraction.


Special thanks to Scott D. Jacobsen, Editor at Conatus News, and Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing for his editorial assistance and comments prior to publication of this post.

Featured image credit: invocation, premasagar, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

1 Williamson, L. (2010). Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. New York, NY: New York University Press. p92

2 Watanabe, T. (2002, July 11). DNA Clears Yoga Guru in Seven-Year Paternity Dispute. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from

3 Foxen, A. P. (2017). Biography of a Yogi: Paramahansa Yogananda and the Origins of Modern Yoga. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p17

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