Desperate for cash, Friend had started to think it was time for the children to pay back the parent. He asked some teachers for a 10 percent cut of videos, books, or other products made by teachers in exchange for allowing those products to bear the Anusara trademark. Unhappy with this request, the senior teachers started to talk among themselves: Who was John Friend anyway? He had been their teacher, but they’d been on their own for so long; they were in their forties and fifties now, too old to be under anyone’s thumb.
And they had started to hear odd rumors of Friend’s secret life, of what he was doing in California. The core of this group were conservative, quiet yogis focused on building serious careers, not interested in being part of an organization that was starting to feel like “sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll yoga,” as one put it. On New Year’s Day 2010, Friend showed up for practice in L.A. a few hours late, with women in tow, some of whom the host thought were still drunk (Friend says the women were “very respectful”). Later, the host yelled at him. “He said, ‘John, you’re hanging out with hard women, you’re going into the dark,’ ” says Friend.
Friend had leased a new house in California—he was on his way out of the Woodlands, though he always thought he’d keep his mom’s house, which he’d paid off. According to an employee, some of Friend’s staff in Texas were going to be let go when he moved, but Friend wasn’t telling anyone that yet. But someone knew the truth. The IT guy had been on the servers, looking at Friend’s e-mails back and forth about moving to California, his letters to and from the coven. The IT guy had his own set of American morals, and he didn’t like the way Friend was peacocking around the world, talking about ethics while leading a different kind of life. Someone with this much ego, and this much power, should be taken down, by rights. Putting up the JFExposed website was just being Batman, responding to the rules of karma. And if a few teachers knew that he was agitating to do something public, maybe go to the press, beforehand—well, maybe they thought it was the wake-up call Friend needed.
It was like the hand of God had reached down and struck Friend. Within four days, 22 teachers demanded that he step down from leadership of Anusara. “I understood the shock from the inner community, because I was the ideal of the very levelheaded, conservative guy that knew scientifically good stuff and loved everybody,” says Friend. “But this was like, ‘Oh my God, you are into sex? You smoked marijuana?’ It freaked them out. I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t want to tell you that I actually have a Wiccan coven. But it’s just a prayer circle, it’s for healing.’ ‘Oh my God, a pentacle.’ This is what I was dealing with.”
At first, Friend tried to dissemble, but that just made them angrier: They lived their lives “in alignment” with the principles of Anusara, with a fierce sense of honesty and integrity, and now their teacher was going to try to lie to them? A conference call was arranged with the same mediator from the scandal at Massachusetts’s Kripalu center in the nineties, when the leader, Amrit Desai, was deposed for a string of extramarital affairs with group members. Friend balked. “I tried to tell him that it wasn’t what he thought, and he kept saying, ‘No, you are in denial—you are sick, you know you’re sick, you have abused your power,’ ” says Friend. On the call with a new mediator, the teachers told Friend they felt betrayed; they were crying. Some women were trembling with fear and anger when they talked about the photographs that they saw on the site.
Friend asked to proceed with an upcoming seminar in Miami, on the theme of the “Dharma of Relationships.” “We had ten people from Brazil coming, and they weren’t going to get their airfare back,” he says. “And I was out of money, so I couldn’t refund anyone’s money for the classes.” He said he was happy to pass the “On Relationships” portion of the conference on to someone else, and the group eventually voted to allow him to proceed, with stipulations: He had to leave the room before the end of the class, so no one tried to hug him. There was to be no asking for forgiveness. No nurturing. No love. It was a Puritan sort of punishment, a shunning.
And it didn’t end. When Friend went to Miami, a call was made from a teacher at the conference to other senior teachers, saying that he wasn’t acting remorseful enough (later, he acted too loving, putting a chocolate on students’ mats for Valentine’s Day). Many more teachers resigned, some of whom were disciples of his old friend the Tantric scholar Brooks, who issued a letter saying that Friend should not have assumed the “seat of the teacher.” After a misunderstanding over whether he performed “sex therapy” on a woman with whom he had an affair, there was another round of resignations. Friend asked for an ethics review, but teachers were unmoved. “We don’t need to go through his dirty laundry,” says a source—“for free, by the way.”