I was first introduced to tantra through a teacher in Finland, Shanti Limnell. As I studied with her, my curiosity about tantra grew stronger and I naturally wanted to explore and learn more.
In 2014 I participated in the Tantric Massage Therapist training in Estonia. It was held by Liisa and Somananda Maimon, and through their teachings I was introduced to Agama Yoga.
Agama’s “headquarters” are based in Koh Phangan, Thailand. Many call the island of Koh Phangan a paradise island. It is indeed an easy place to live in: the weather is nice most of the year, except for the rainy season in the autumn or early winter, and the cost of living is reasonable. There are plenty of activities and workshops around for everything imaginable, especially during the busy season from December to April.
Agama has played a huge role in the field of tantra and tantric yoga in recent years – many of the current international tantra teachers, have at least some background with it. Thousands and thousands of people have done their one month long Level 1 yoga training at Agama. Sometimes the Level 1 classes hosted more than a hundred participants, all at once.
I first went to Agama at the end of 2016 to do a yoga teacher training there. It was great, with nice people and lots of interesting information about yoga.
Agama claims to teach authentic and traditional tantric yoga and tantra, and I was not knowledgeable enough to discern if this was really true or not. Their teachings made sense, and the whole school and their materials were well structured. The teachers were enthusiastic and it seemed that there was a nice yogic community on the island.
I did the second part of the 500-hour teacher training last year, in 2017, and it was equally good and interesting. I again met great people and learned more about yoga – Agama style proper. It was all there: satsangs, meditation, bhajans, pranayama, trataka, subtle energy bodies and more.
The dark side
But there was a shadow. From the first time I was at Agama, there were rumours about sexual abuse, by either some of the senior teachers or the head of the school, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, or Swami for short. However, no-one seemed to know for sure, and even when I asked around about it, it seemed that these issues were somehow processed and settled.
Swami (his real name is Narcis Tarcau) is Romanian and he got his start studying yoga with Gregorian Bivolaru in communist Romania in the ‘70s. Yoga was forbidden there at that time, and his stories about it were interesting to hear, to say the least. Later on Swami founded a yoga school called Natha in Denmark, and that expanded to Sweden and Finland as well. Apparently, along the way, Bivolaru and Swami went their separate ways at some point.
If you have been following the tantric yoga scene, you would know that Bivolaru has been in all kinds of trouble for his actions. You can do research online for more details.
Last summer, a journalist named Be Scofield published an article on Medium.com (later on the article was deleted from there, but now you can read it here) where she exposed that several women were accusing Swami Vivekananda of sexual assault. This led to a huge storm on social media and newspapers around the world. You can also do a simple Google search on that to find out more of the details.
At first, it looked like the school tried to cope with the issue somehow, and the “second” of the school, Ananda Maha, was in charge for a while, trying to sort things out. However, the pressure on social media was so big and many people really started to fight against Agama. Eventually, Agama decided they would shut down the school for the low season.
They did some public announcements that said they will do some restructuring and revisions of their protocols, and even an internal investigation on what really happened. That investigation was never published, for reasons unknown for now.
Reopening the school
A few weeks ago I returned to Koh Phangan, to further study yoga at Shri Kali Ashram, which relocated to the island from Rishikesh. At the same time, Agama re-opened its doors (on the 10th of December), and to the dismay of many, it seems that nothing much has changed, after all.
I had felt that many students had benefited a lot from Agama, and I hoped that they would be able to sort out the wrongdoings in some way. But, it has been painful to follow as the head of the school has not been willing to stand behind his actions. He seems to be saying, let’s just continue business as usual. Except that most of the Agama teachers have decided to stay away from the school as well.
At the same time this scandal was unfolding, there have been several other reports around the world about teachers and gurus who have been sexually abusive towards their students and disciples.
What can we learn from all this?
Well, first of all, it’s really important to do your background checks. You may read the reviews on Tripadvisor.com (Edit: It seems that these reviews can be manipulated) , and if you know someone who has been there, interview them.
Know that no-one can “fix” you, whatever they may say. There’s no magical guru who can heal your wounds and hurts simply by having sex with them.
Know your limits, and make sure you and they know what is consent.
After all, it’s best the teachers would not have sexual or other intimate relationships with their students. It just makes things so much clearer for all.
This is just a brief summary and an overview of a very complex situation. If you would like to know more, you can find various discussions from Facebook groups and from the web.
One interesting memory stayed in my mind. On Swami’s birthday, there was a video greeting displayed to him in one of the yoga halls. On that short video, many people around the world really sent heartfelt greetings to their Swami. He was very dear to many.
The future of Agama is yet to be seen. For me, it’s difficult to see the school operating without Swami, as he is the genius and mastermind behind it. And at the moment it seems that he is not going to change the ways of operation. The credibility of a spiritual teacher crumbles away if he’s not able to live up to his teachings.
I hope the victims of this episode get the love and support they need for healing. And I hope that the discussion around this and other scandals have helped to clear the table and brings more light to the world of tantra.
Blessings from Koh Phangan,