This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA
Wellness is a multi-billion dollar industry in Asia, but behind its zen and wholesome image is an insidious truth. One of the most notorious scandals in the industry involves Agama Yoga, the world's biggest tantric yoga school located on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand. After closing its doors in September 2018 following allegations of sexual assault that dated as far back as 15 years, the school has reopened.
A total of sixteen students and staff members accused the school's founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati—whose real name is Narcis Tarcau—and two unnamed male instructors for committing sexual assault under the guise of helping them achieve ‘’enlightenment.’’ Besides this, he was also accused of incorporating dangerous health theories into the school’s curriculum, including saying that women didn't need treatments for cancer as long as they followed his teachings.
Two of Tarcau's victims—and there have been hundreds of them over the years—filed formal rape reports with the police, but due to Thailand’s three-month statute of limitations on rape cases, their reports could not be further investigated by Koh Phangan police. Tarcau and the two teachers fled the country not long after the news became public.
During Tarcau’s absence, the school made a statement on its website and social media channels, apologizing for “any harm that any Agama teacher may have caused” and pledged they were “dedicated to change," hiring a consultant to carry out an independent investigation, before closing down operations to restructure the organization.
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But Tarcau has returned to Thailand, as the Guardian reported, and is once again teaching at the school. In posts on Agama Yoga's website that now have been deleted, he was even listed as the teacher leading the New Year’s retreat.
One notable difference on the Agama Yoga website is a new workshop called “Boundaries and Consent/Conscious Touch." The six-hour workshop, which covers topics like consent, safety, and power dynamics, is required for all participants before they take any other class in the school.
Meanwhile, Koh Phangan police told the Guardian that they're still monitoring the school though they believe that Tarcau is no longer teaching there.
Sexual assault in yoga circles all over the world is rampant. In 2017, Uma Inder, a yoga instructor from the famed Yoga Barn located in Ubud, Bali was accused of using the center to operate a cult. Inder was accused of grooming students with promises of enlightenment, a process that allegedly included verbally and physically assaulting members and having sex with students. John Friend, the founder of Anusara Yoga, which has instructors all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, and China, was accused of sexual assault in 2012. After the allegations, he stepped down and has had no role within the organization since. A famous Indian yoga guru K. Patthabi Jois, who died in 2009, was the subject of a long Medium post about how he'd assaulted one of his students almost daily for two years. The list goes on.
Ana Smith, whose daughter was Tarcau's student in 2017, told the Guardian that he claimed that her daughter would be cured of breast cancer if she drank her own urine and menstrual blood. She died that year.
“The three months she had stayed at Agama had been crucial to her survival,, Smith told the Guardian. "There is only regret that I did not travel to Agama and forcefully remove her from this man’s grip and influence."