Who knew, guru?

love-guru1On Christmas, my non-SorryWatch-non-Sumac colleague Mark Oppenheimer published a piece in the New York Times about a New Age spiritual leader named Marc Gafni. Gafni advises such luminaries as John Mackey (of Whole Foods), John Gray (of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus) and Arianna Huffington (of Fuck You, Pay Me). He uses words like “integral wisdom” and “meditation” and “renaissance,” and mentors business types in their quest for “conscious capitalism,” which is a thing. But Mark’s story shows that Gafni (born Mordechai Winiarz) also has a long history of statutory rape and sexual abuse allegations and all-around sexual manipulation. A former Orthodox rabbi, he had his ordination rescinded by the prominent rabbi who ordained him. What is relevant to our purposes here is that he apologized for his conduct, then RESCINDED the apology, which means we have a lot of SorryWatching to get to! My shakti is ready! 

But first, read Mark’s entire piece in the Times and the longer foll0w-up piece in Tablet. (You can also read a heart-rending essay by one of his three ex-wives here.) Basically, the dude worked as a rabbi in both the Orthodox and Jewish Renewal branches of Judaism and kept leaving positions in the wake of scandal. (Mostly sex stuff, but there was some plagiarism thrown in there too.) He has acknowledged repeated sexual encounters with a 13-year-old girl — with whom he says he was “in love” and who he called “14 going on 35,” and who we we call victim of statutory rape, and he has been accused of getting naked, getting into bed with and repeatedly groping a 16-year-old girl — who he called “highly initiatory” and who we call a victim of statutory sexual abuse, you foot-faced predatory dickweasel.

But you know, tomato tomahto.

After these events, Gafni moved to Israel, changed his name, and became the leader of a mystical community. It fell apart when numerous women in it said he’d been sleeping with them and swearing them all to secrecy (Gafni told Mark he’d asked for “privacy,” not “secrecy”). One of the community’s other founders said that Gafni had acknowledged having “a monogamy problem.” Another noted that he just has a lot of shakti.



The fact is, many powerful folks have excused his behavior over the years. Men’s rights activist Warren Farrell said, “Orthodox communities are pretty sexually repressed, and Marc is not sexually repressed.” Conservative book editor Adam Bellow said that folks sometimes change their minds after the fact about what they’ve previously voluntarily engaged in. “We obviously cannot know for certain what occurred between two people—as the Hill/Thomas case amply demonstrates, memory is a very tricky thing and an experience that might seem benign or acceptable at one time in a person’s life may look very different in hindsight,” he emailed Mark. A female associate of Gafni’s, a member of his think tank and writer about Eastern philosophy, noted that Gafni is a wonderful teacher for “mature students” and not someone that “young, susceptible women should take as their teacher.” (Way to blame the victim, sister.)

And now that I’ve wiped the bitter disbelieving spittle off my monitor, ON TO THE APOLOGIES!

David_KoreshAfter Gafni’s spiritual community in Israel imploded, he moved to Utah and published this online apology, beginning, “To My Holiest Friends.” (Apparently the less holy don’t deserve apologies.)

I want to say I understand I have made grave mistakes. I made choices that clearly hurt people I love. I am infinitely saddened and profoundly sorry for the pain I have caused.

I take full responsibility for all the pain I have inflicted. Clearly all of this and more indicates that in these regards I am sick. I need to acknowledge that sickness and to get help for it. That is what I am doing in this letter.

He goes on to say he’s “entering treatment” (where, what kind, for how long?) and committed to “making healing the number one priority in my life” (healing whom, exactly?). He concludes, “I apologize with all of my heart and soul to everyone,” and signs off, “With love and pain beyond words.”

SUCH WRONGNESS, WOW. A letter of apology needs to start with the apology, not end with it. Apologies need to say you’re sorry to everyone, not just to the people you hurt. Predatory teachers and spiritual leaders hurt everyone, so apologize to everyone. Be specific about what you did. This letter is so vague, it could be an expression of regret for using the synagogue’s meat cutting board to slice cheese. Stop repeating that you’re “sick,” which is a way to evade responsibility: it’s not you who did this, it’s your illness! And ending with “love and pain beyond words,” again, makes this about YOU. It’s not about those whose lives and community you destroyed. Your suffering is not relevant to an apology.


article-1103250-02EADC2B000005DC-509_468x561Gafni later took back his apology. His explanation, on his web site, must be read to be believed.

But the highlights: “Why, if these complaints were not true, did I sign a letter that took all responsibility for what happened onto myself and attributed what happened to my ‘sickness?'” (Nice use of “scare quotes,” as we call them in the biz!) “My initial response emerged from a place of radical shock, confusion, trauma, and fear. All products of the mind’s illusion, yet painfully real at the time.” (Why do New Age people love the term “radical” so much? Whatevs, his wrongdoing was merely an illuuuuuuusion — please say that in magician Doug Henning’s voice.)

I felt that as ‘Captain of the Ship’ I needed to take responsibility for any sickness that appeared in a system that I had created.” Ooh, his beloved word “sickness” is back, but this time it is not aimed inward. It’s in the system, and its presence has been invoked in the passive voice (sickness appeared! like a rabbit inside a top hat!). This aligns with the theory of spontaneous generation, in which ancient cultures believed that life could arise out of non-living matter, like maggots materializing in rotten meat and mice appearing in sweaty underwear.

Rasputin_piercing_eyes“I also recognized that the clash between my post-conventional values and the values of the systems in which I lived, and the holding of privacy to resolve that tension, made me vulnerable to attack.” Post-conventional values is like “post-racial society.” And Gafni is the victim, of course, vulnerable to evil-doers. (Cosby-esque crazy bitches, gold diggers, politically motivated resentful power-hungry monocle-wearing villains — your choice.) He refers to the “unconventional nature of his relationships” being held against him by narrow-minded unimaginative sexually repressed loserfaces (I paraphrase), and says he found “the notion of engaging in a sensationalist conflict in the public realm so abhorrent and defiling to both my heart” that he chose to fall on his own sword. (His metaphor. And by sword he does not mean penis.)

Also, everything happened so fast he got confused! There was a rush to judgment. He felt despair and shock and paralyzing grief and he could not breathe. He had NO IDEA all those women he was sleeping with and swearing to silence were “unhappy with our relationships.” (Those were not relationships. Relationships, including polyamorous ones, are consensual, dude.) “Not in my wildest nightmare did I ever imagine the absurd possibility that someone would file a false complaint against me for sexual harassment,” he writes. Absurd! He was “abandoned,” a victim of “hysteria” (you know women with their hysterica, it’s a KNOWN FEMALE PLUMBING THING, related to fallopian tubes or the uterine lining or something). Ominously, the “feminine shadow [was] manipulated behind the scenes by masculine shadow, that is to say women encouraged and manipulated by men.” So often these false-accusation-y victim-y lemming-y women are easily led by penis-havers, like tiny Konrad Lorenz ducklings.

Jim-JonesAlso someone erased his hard drive so he couldn’t prove his innocence. And in Israel “unlike any other country in the world,” sexual harassment is a criminal offense. You can be jailed for it! That is cray! So he left. (He didn’t flee. He totally asked the police first and they didn’t care what he supposedly did, so pay no attention to what he said a few sentences ago about the possibility of being jailed.) His only flaw was that he “believed it legitimate for [him] to have a private life.”

“The image of my children seeing me go to jail for an offense that I never committed, simply because I was unable to disprove the complaints, dominated my consciousness and guided my actions in the following weeks―until I was able to reconnect with my center, my natural love and authentic self, and walk through the fear. I wrote the letter in an attempt to give myself time to do this. I did not fully realize that writing the letter would be taken as a confession that the complaints were true. They are not.”

So there you have it! Un-apology unlocked! Watch out for the feminine shadow! Go to Whole Foods and try the organic cruelty-free $23.99 almond butter!


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11 Responses to Who knew, guru?

  1. tanita says:

    Aargh. I just hate so much that we – as religious people – are complicit in helping cover this mess. When it comes to someone like Cosby, you can see that the women feared the power he had in his milieu and if they were actresses or whatnot, they kept silent – but literally, in the name of God, WHY do religious people help these horrible, soulless people?

    • sumac says:

      I wish I understood. Maybe some of it is people thinking ‘I’m not perfect, I hope people will show mercy to me if that comes out. I’ll show mercy to him’ — without realizing what a harmful person they’re showing mercy to, without knowing exactly what he does… Maybe?

  2. S. McC says:


  3. Karen Freeman says:

    But, really. The only acceptable apology for this is Seppuku. And that takes a certain amount of honor and integrity, so that’s not happening.

  4. bratschegirl says:

    Oh, sorrywatchers, I am so profoundly sorry that I did not leave the work of wading through that steaming pile of rationalizing gobbledygook to you, the trained professionals. No, I had to click on the link to see the whole thing. And there is not enough eye/brain bleach in the universe to clean it off. Ewwww ewwww EEEWWWWW what a weasel.

  5. Debra says:

    Excellent article! We have alot of information on cults and a for a limited time a free magazine please mention this post -our website is guruethics.com

  6. ilona says:

    Brilliant post!

  7. Susan in PDX says:


    At least the Rabbinate defrocked him. That’s a blessing.

  8. Diane says:

    Oh God. The photo of Jim Jones with the caption ‘Who knew, guru?’ is in such ghastly taste. Jones convinced over 900 people to leave San Francisco and go with him to Guyana where he set up Jonestown. There was nothing funny about this homicidal monster poisoning 900 people, 300 being children with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. A con artist is very different than a mass murderer. With respect for all his victims, I ask that the photograph of Jim Jones be removed from this article.

  9. Honkbark says:

    wow, his ex-wife’s chronicle of the last 2o years was so brief, but so intense. Really happy about the changes in her life, and impressed both by her sense of responsibility for potential victims and the generosity of her prayers for the sad little boy he once was.

  10. Lion Goodman says:

    The New York Times wrote a balanced but disturbing piece about him last Saturday that explores his “troubled past:” A Spiritual Leader Gains Stature, Trailed by a Troubled Past: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/26/us/marc-gafni-center-for-integral-wisdom.html

    And then four days ago more than 100 Jewish rabbis and cultural leaders put out a very strongly worded Change.org petition that has attracted more than 1900 co-signers, who are calling for organizations such as Whole Foods and Esalen to dissociate from him completely. The comments on this petition are particularly intense to read: Stop Marc Gafni from Abusing Again: https://www.change.org/p/whole-foods-www-esalen-com-stop-marc-gafni-from-abusing-again

    There have been many other articles in the last week, including a statement from Aleph (the Alliance for Jewish Renewal) which issued a strong warning (http://kolaleph.org/2015/12/29/statement-of-the-jewish-renewal-movement-concerning-marc-gafni/) as well as a heartwrenching and prayerful testimony from Gafni’s third wife in the Times of Israel on Friday. (http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/from-one-gafni-victim/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter)

    The New York Daily News also ran a disturbing piece. (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/marc-gafni-denies-sexual-misconduct-allegations-article-1.2483567)

    In the last few months, I have personally spoken with nine women and men who have told me they were deeply traumatized by Gafni. Almost all of them have been afraid to speak out. Many are still healing from their experiences. And they have told me about many others they personally know.

    I have considered many sources of information to come to my own conclusions. I encourage everyone to do the same.

    It’s worth noting there are many other trusted leaders in our movement who have come to the same conclusion as me and signed a statement to that effect here:

    We, the undersigned, have concluded, based upon direct experience, investigation, or conversation with trusted allies, that we cannot endorse Marc Gafni as a teacher in any way. Furthermore, we will not feature him in any event, publication, or online activity we produce, nor will we participate as a speaker or promote any event in which he is featured.

    Signed by:

    Sera Beak – Author of Red Hot and Holy
    Adam Bucko – Hab Community
    Rev. Diane Berke – Founder, One Spirit Learning Alliance
    Deepak Chopra – NY Times bestselling author
    Stephen Dinan – CEO, The Shift Network
    Scott Edelstein – Author of Sex and the Spiritual Teacher
    Lion Goodman – founder, Clear Your Beliefs
    Andrew Harvey – Founder, Institute for Sacred Activism
    Craig Hamilton – CEO, Evolving Wisdom
    Harriet Hawkins – Center for Spiritual Living Livermore Valley
    Ross Hostetter – Founder, The Fieldwork School
    Jean Houston – Author of The Possible Human
    Kurt Johnson – The Interspiritual Network
    Anodea Judith – Founder, Sacred Centers
    Bill Kauth – Founder, The ManKind Project
    Rory McEntee – Foundation for New Monasticism
    Devaa Haley Mitchell – Co-founder, The Shift Network
    David Nicol – Founder, Subtle Activism Network
    Terry Patten – Integral Evolutionary Practice
    John Robbins – Author of Diet for a New America
    Ocean Robbins – CEO, The Food Revolution Network
    Robb Smith – CEO, Integral Life
    Mirabai Starr – Author of Caravan of No Despair
    Marcia Wieder – CEO, Dream University
    Claire Zammit – Founder, Feminine Power

    I strongly believe that the full truth of this situation needs to be surfaced, witnessed and addressed, not just for the sake of those involved but for the sake of our whole movement so that we may do collective shadow work and face the abuse of power that too often happens under the guise of spiritual teaching.

    The situation with Gafni is a collective wake-up call and an opportunity for our maturation.

    Andrew Harvey, who is one of our most beloved faculty members and who previously endorsed Gafni’s work, including featuring him in a course, offers some insights in an illuminating 12-minute audio that makes it clear why it is so vital that we address this situation with rigor.

    You can listen to that here: Reflections on the Marc Gafni Situation: http://blog.theshiftnetwork.com/blog/reflections-marc-gafni-situation

    My hope is that we can address this situation with a commitment to the evolution of all beings (yes, including Marc Gafni).

    To serve the Shift to a better world, we all need to be willing to look into the the darkness with open eyes and a commitment to truth and justice. That is what will grow us all into the kind of mature, sacred leaders who can really help change things for the better.

    In many ways, how we as a movement choose to navigate situations like this is a reflection of how ready we are to face the shadows in our world and transform them into a higher possibility.

    I do sense there is a higher possibility in this very disturbing saga but it will require each of us to cultivate a strong heart, clear discernment and courage to get there.

    Thank you for reading this email, reviewing those articles, listening to the message from Andrew Harvey, doing your own research (I particularly recommend reading the comments on the petition where many people are sharing their direct experiences), and keeping your eyes and heart open.

    May we approach this situation with compassion, and may the truth prevail and lead to healing and awakening for all.

    Stephen Dinan

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