Spiritual leaders’ split leads to consolidation of groups

Marital problems between two leaders of prominent Ashland spiritual organizations have caused disturbances in both the Leela and Gangaji foundations.

Eli Jaxon-Bear, the former head of the Leela Foundation, publicly admitted to a three-year sexual relationship with one of his students, who later became a teacher in the organization.

Jaxon-Bear’s affair during his marriage to Antionette Varner, also known as Gangaji, has affected her organization, as well.

“What was initially seen as a matter between two adults is now recognized to be a betrayal of the teacher/student relationship and an abuse of power,” said a letter posted on the Leela Foundation Web site. The letter was written by Barbara Denempont, the Executive Director of both foundations. “The repercussions of this betrayal are reverberating in ways that were never imagined, but are very painful.”

Jaxon-Bear stopped teaching and has resigned from the Leela Foundation. The Leela Foundation has merged with the Gangaji Foundation as a result of the affair, Varner said, though the letter on the Leela Foundation Web site does not mention this.

Varner added that she expects there will be more fall-out from the affair to come.

“People are shook up, as they would be in any relationship or family,” she said. “The staff is upset because they didn’t know. It’s been referred to as a family secret. I expect some people will leave and some people will stay.”

The Gangaji and Leela Foundations help people live more spiritually enriched lives, according their respective Web sites. Varner said, “Our mission is to support people in discovering peace in their heart.”

The two foundations moved to Ashland two years ago from Novato, Calif. They couple has taught together for 16 years and have been married for 30.

Jaxon-Bear admitted the affair to his wife in October of 2005. The two separated for three months before resolving their differences. In January of this year they not only mended their marriage but also merged the two organizations.

“We were duplicating functions,” Varner said about the organizations. About rekindling their marriage, she said, “He got that this was a betrayal of himself.”

Varner and Jaxon-Bear have decided to publicly address their marital issue within their own communities, and within the greater Ashland community too. On Wednesday night they held a public meeting at the Southern Oregon University Rogue River Room to address the public’s concerns.

“A lot of people are upset with me,” Jaxon-Bear said. “I’m human. I make mistakes. This has been hugely humiliating, but I am willing to stand and face that.”

He said he hopes that people learn a lesson from his mistake, as he has.

“I feel like this itself is a teaching for people,” he said. “It’s a great test for everyone to see what is true within their own hearts. My prayer is that people don’t discard the teaching because of the flaws of the teacher.”

Jaxon-Bear said he met his mistress some three years ago during a book signing in Portland. She invited him over for dinner and, instead of accepting the invitation he gave her a scholarship to attend a conference, he said. Within a year their relationship had become romantic, and they had fallen in love with each other. Jaxon-Bear said he still loves the woman, but no longer in a sexual way. He would not say who the woman was.

“She is going through her process and doesn’t want me to be a part of that,” he said.

Staff writer Robert

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