The following is a repost of an article by Carly Mayberry first published in the Monterey Herald on January 6, 2016.
Pacific Grove >> Despite past sexual misconduct allegations reported recently in the New York Times and online efforts condemning him, Esalen Institute speaker Marc Gafni still plans on teaching his three-day workshop at the Big Sur retreat in February.
Gafni, a so-called spiritualist guru and part-time Pacific Grove resident, has been the subject of allegations dating to the 1980s that he sexually exploited a high school freshman. He was never charged.
He was also accused in 2006 of having affairs with multiple followers of the mystical community Bayit Chadash, which he had founded in Israel.
The accusations have led to an effort by New Age leaders and a petition by more than 100 Jewish rabbis to denounce the 55-year-old’s status as a leader in the New Age community.
Besides his teaching, Gafni is the founder of the think tank The Center of Integral Wisdom, which espouses the business-ethics movement dubbed “conscious capitalism” and aims to formulate “a global ethics for a global civilization.”
Born Mordechai Winiarz to an Orthodox family, Gafni is a former rabbi. He said he resides most of the year in New York and Holland.
In previous interviews, Gafni described the claims against him as “old” and “exaggerated,” the result of “professional resentment” and “pseudo-feminist witch hunts.”
“They’re not true, substantially not true, addressed many times in the past, and are the same old recycled and discredited accusations,” Gafni told The Herald on Wednesday.
To date, about 25 New Age leaders, including best-selling author Deepak Chopra, author Jean Houston, The Shift Network CEO Stephen Dinan and author/religious scholar Andrew Harvey, have signed a public statement disavowing themselves from Gafni. The statement was sent to 180,000 subscribers to The Shift Network.
Also, a petition last week titled “Stop Marc Gafni From Abusing Again” was posted on the website change.org by Rabbi David Ingber. The petition is aimed primarily at Whole Foods, whose co-founder and CEO John Mackey is a supporter of Gafni’s and chairs the executive board of his Center for Integral Wisdom. It included a signed statement by more than 100 rabbis along with other prominent educators in the Jewish community. As of Wednesday, it had close to 2,800 supporters.
“This publicity has caused me and my family and my friends great pain,” said Gafni. “We all remain committed to transformation and creating a better world together in the best way we know how.”
While Esalen President Gordon Wheeler said he couldn’t comment about Gafni directly, he did address the center’s commitment to providing sound teachings.
“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback and we’re trying to get informed and taking it very seriously,” said Wheeler. “I can’t tell you what is actually going to happen moving forward, but I do know how committed we are about safety and facilitative conditions for transformational learning because that’s why we’re there.”
Wheeler recently told The Jewish Week, an independent weekly newspaper serving the Jewish community, that “we are listening and learning and not brushing away” the accusations made toward Gafni.
Gafni, who has co-taught one weekend a year at Esalen for the last five years, is scheduled to teach a three-day workshop starting Feb. 5 titled “Evolutionary Relationships: Opening into the Great Heart” with a member of his think tank, Sally Kempton. He is described on the retreat center’s website as “a visionary scholar, public intellectual and spiritual artist” whose teaching is marked by “a deep transmission of heart, love and leading-edge provocative wisdom.”
Gafni said that to the best of his knowledge nothing has changed regarding his relationship with Esalen.
“I have taught at Esalen for one weekend once a year for the last five years. During every Esalen weekend I, of course, strictly adhere to all of their ethical guidelines,” said Gafni.