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63 3 Amrit Desai and the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health Ellen Goldberg This chapter has three specific goals: first, to understand the Kripalu Center’s initial growth based on Amrit Desai’s (1932–) adaptation and innovation of the Hindu‑inspired1 ashram model, with emphasis on the guru‑disciple relationship and the overwhelming popularity of the Kri‑ palu approach to modern yoga; second, to document briefly the near collapse of the Kripalu community based on open allegations of Desai’s sexual impropriety and the perceived betrayal of Desai’s spiritual and moral authority; and third, to capture both Desai and Kripalu’s remark‑ able resilience. Under the strong leadership and capable management of its current board of directors along with their ecumenical vision and edu‑ cational insights, Kripalu has become one of the most successful spiritual retreat centers in North America today, with 2008 revenues estimated at $27.3 million. Kripalu’s formula for financial success did not ultimately reside in Desai as guru, but rather in the innovative community he estab‑ lished—the American‑born or “homegrown” Kripalu Center. As an alter‑ native community, its structure provided the organizational stability and support needed as the devotees and disciples experienced the darkest period of Kripalu’s history. Desai too has risen from the debacle stronger and more resilient. As the spiritual director of the Amrit Institute in Salt Springs, Florida,2 Desai is currently teaching and training a new genera‑ tion of yoga teachers and devotees using his deeply spiritual approach to yoga practice. Thus we see two distinctly different models at play. At the Amrit Institute, Desai as “Gurudev” continues to provide what Lola Williamson refers to as the “center of charismatic authority”—a role 64 / ELLEN GOLDBERG Kripalu replaced after Desai’s resignation by a roster of guest teachers and in‑house programs. Consequently, the two models provide an ideal opportunity for comparison. Weber’s model of charismatic leadership provides a thematic lens and informs the overall discussion. Weber’s Definition of Charisma One of the hallmarks of Max Weber’s contribution to sociology is his reference to and use of “ideal types” as a method of interpretive analy‑ sis and as an explanatory framework for understanding the interplay between individual and institutional social behavioral patterns. However, Weber’s ideal types are psychosocial abstractions and largely represent a simplified reality. As Camic, Gorshi, and Trubek point out, Weber’s ideal types do not reflect “reality‑as‑such” but rather provide a useful analytical tool for thinking about “recurring features of the sociohistori‑ cal world.”3 Philip Smith argues more specifically that Weber’s “charis‑ matic type” has been used rather “indiscriminately” and that at best it is an ambiguous model in contemporary studies of culture.4 Nonetheless, Weber’s model offers a clear definition of charisma as well as a sharp heuristic tool for understanding the dynamics of institution building that we see operating within the life and work of Amrit Desai and the Kri‑ palu Center for Yoga and Holistic Health. Thus Weber’s understanding of charisma provides a central theme throughout this chapter. In his classic work Economy and Society, Weber defines charisma as “a certain quality of an individual’s personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities.”5 Based on this definition, essentially meaning the “gift of grace,” we see how a symbiotic relationship ensues between the charismatic leader and his or her organization.6 Weber states clearly, “social or political systems based on charismatic legitimacy exhibit certain characteristics which reflect the intense and personal nature of the response to cha‑ risma.”7 Consequently, charismatic leadership reflects a mode of author‑ ity that is ultimately driven by its dependence on group recognition and subsequent institution building.8 In other words, charisma requires reciprocity in social relationship—it cannot operate in a vacuum. Or, as Weber puts it: It is the recognition on the part of those subject to authority, which is decisive for the validity of charisma. This is freely given and guaranteed by what is held to be a “sign” or proof, AMRIT DESAI AND THE KRIPALU CENTER / 65 originally always a miracle, and consists in devotion to the corresponding revelation, hero worship, or absolute trust in the leader.9 For Weber the charismatic personality remains unconditionally depen‑ dent on the validation and recognition of others for his or her status as community...


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