Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 6:29 am

Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere
by Roshi Joan Halifax
Upaya Zen Center
January 2, 2011



We all know that rape as a weapon of war has been used against women and nations for thousands of years. Rape, forcible seduction, seduction through trickery, power and domination, seduction through loneliness or delusion have also been part of most, if not all, religions. Yes, if you want to demoralize a nation, rape its women, its daughters, its sisters, its wives…….. And if you want to deepen the shadow of any religion, turn wisdom and compassion into hypocrisy, and stand by, conflict averse, as its male clergy disrespects women, has sex with female congregants, dominates women, abuses women, degrades or rapes them.

But as a Zen Buddhist priest, as a woman, I have to ask, why my religion? Why Buddhism? This is not what the Buddha taught. I like Buddhism; I love my practice of meditation; Buddha’s teachings are practical; they make sense to me. But for too long in the West, and I am sure in the East, gross misogyny has existed in the Buddhist world, a misogyny so deep that it has allowed the disrespect and abuse of women and nuns in our own time, and not only throughout history, and not only in Asia. The misogynistic abuse is not only in terms of the usual gender issues related to who has responsibility and authority (women usually don’t have much if any), but it is as well expressed through mistreatment of women, through sexual boundary violations of women, and the psychological abuse of women.

Since 1964, according to the late Robert Aitken Roshi’s archive (http://www.shimanoarchive.com/), a Buddhist teacher, Eido Shimano, has been engaged in sexual misconduct with a number of his female students; sometimes the sex was forceable; sometimes crude, tricky, and coercive. And it has been ongoing, for more than forty-five years. Many Buddhist practitioners have known about this for a long time, although the late Aitken’s archive was closed until just before his death in the fall of this year. What was this silence about, I have asked? Why did we not act? Why are we, as Buddhists, so conflict averse?

On August 21, 2010, the NYTimes published an article, Sex Scandal has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/us/21beliefs.html). This article publicly surfaced Eido Shimano’s long pattern of sexual violation. Sadly, On December 1, the principle figure in this article wrote a rebuttal, basically denying his culpability and blaming the NYTimes for disinformation: http://www.openbuddha.com/2010/12/26/ei ... ork-times/ The Times reporter, Mark Oppenheimer, responded to this self-serving letter from Eido Shimano: http://markoppenheimer.com/front-page/a ... vs-me.html

I think that this rebuttal by Eido Shimano was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many of us Buddhists. We were incredulous on reading Eido Shimano’s communique to the Times’ reporter. Naively, we had thought that this problem was taken care of; the teacher was full of remorse and had resigned as abbot and board member of the institution that he founded; and the institution was committed to addressing this issue and redressing the ills suffered by the women involved and the wider community.

But we were wrong……. and I assure you, this is not the first time we have been wrong about similar violations…….

Fortunately, the response to Eido Shimano’s unempathic, self-centered and self-serving communique has been building, nationally and internationally, over December and into January. Buddhists are finally getting it. You have to take a stand, a strong and vocal stand, against the predatory behavior of its religious figures. You have to speak truth to power, and speak it loudly. And you have to act……….

I have been waiting for this moment not just for the many months since the discussions have been happening among Zen teachers. I have been waiting for years for a concerted response to such violations against women in our Buddhist world. Many of us women have brought these issues to the attention of the wider community and have been shamed and shunned over the years. But finally, just before New Years, the flood of letters addressing Eido Shimano’s behavior has found its way onto the shores of his Buddhist monastery and the internet. Herein, one of first of those letters, my own…… https://www.upaya.org/news/2011/01/02/o ... o-shimano/

It will take a while for us to fully understand why we as Buddhists took so long to act. If Eido Shimano had been a doctor, lawyer, or psychotherapist, there would have been rapid social and legal consequences. But there is something about our religions, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islam, or Buddhist, that disallows us facing the shame associated with sexual violations and the gross gender issues that plague most, if not all, religions.

I understand that letters are easy to write. Less easy are the creation of protections so women (and religious communities) will not be harmed like this ever again. And even more difficult is changing the views, values, and behaviors that made it possible for someone like Eido Shimano and others to engage in such harmful acts for so long. Yet, it is not only a matter of the sexual violation of women and the painful violation of boundaries that are based in trust between teacher and student, it is as well a matter of the violation of the core of human goodness; for his behavior is also a violation of the entire Buddhist community, as well as the teachings of the Buddha which are uncompromising with respect to the unviability of killing, lying, sexual misconduct, wrongful speech, and consuming intoxicants of body, speech and mind. The northstar of goodness has been lost from sight in the long and recent past, and we are all suffering because we cannot see how deep the wound is to the heart of our world and to the coming generations.

Protections, dialogue, education are all necessary at this time. And a commitment to not forgetting……… as well as vowing to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and to practice a compassion that is clear and brave, liberating and just.

I am aware that these words do not address issues related to the sexual violation of children and men by clergy. I am also aware that power dynamics between women and men are inadequately referenced here, nor are issues related to the exploitation of students by female clergy. What I have written, however, is meant to address specifically the violation of boundaries and trust, whether by force or consent, by Buddhist male religious clergy of their female congregants and students, and a particular case in point that is in the foreground of the Zen Buddhist community in the United States at this time.

As author and Buddhist Natalie Goldberg wrote in her book “The Great Failure”: “We are often drawn to teachers who unconsciously mirror our own psychology. None of us are clean. We all make mistakes. It’s the repetition of those mistakes and the refusal to look at them that compound the suffering and assure their continuation.” It seems as though the time has come for us to take a deep look at our individual and collective psychology……… and to strongly request that those teachers who have crossed the boundaries of trust to engage in sexual intercourse with students and congregants step aside, so the healing of individuals and sanghas can begin.


7 Responses to Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere: Roshi Joan Halifax

Ex-yogini" January 3, 2011 at 10:01 am #
I haven’t taken time yet to read this thoroughly, nor to delve into more information about Eido Shimano, of whom I’d never heard until now..
Why dont I follow it up? Because after experiencing years of cover-ups and denials, followed by – when the perpetrators were outed” – unrepentant trivialisation of Sangha’s serious complaints, I’m too sick of it all to want to hear more.
My own experience and knowledge of these abuses took place during my many years of being in thrall to Tibetan Buddhism in Europe.
Unfortunately, many people whose only home now is a Dharma Centre are too fearful, institutionised, unemployable or old to leave, and so they have no choice but to somehow rationalise and excuse their teacher’s behaviour.

Clemens M. Breitschaft January 3, 2011 at 10:17 am #
Probably, it’s worth talking about the way we want precepts to be understood. F.e. »Not talking badly about…« can be misunderstood as not exposing ourselves to being critical – something that is a core practice in »western« philosophy for example, and I would say a very very important one. How is it to criticize our teachers? Is that »allowed«? I hope so, but I doubt it. In a way, it’s only possible if the teacher him- and herself offers it in a open manner and does not try to hinder it in any way.

Ex-yogini January 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm #
Yes indeed. My only experience has been within the “devotional” Tibetan Buddhist tradition, where any perceived criticism of a teacher is regarded as the most serious violation of one’s Samaya or sacred bond with the teacher.
But I had always thought that within the Western Soto
Zen tradition, there was indeed a more healthy openness to debate, and that courteously challenging the teacher was an acceptable tool for the Sangha’s development?

Frank Ostaseski January 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm #
If the evidence presented is accurate and the Zen Studies Society community has any ethics Shimano should be dismissed without honor or future benefits and be appropriately prosecuted. Moreover the board should make public apologies and exercise it’s legal and fiscal responsibility by providing financial assistance to cover appropriate therapeutic support for all of the former abbot’s victims.

Barbara Couture January 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm #
There is no sacred bond with a perpetrator of abuse. We must educate ourselves and our children never to tolerate abuse and how to see it as a powerplay. If the board refuses to act in a responsible manner perhaps they should be referred to what is happening today with the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

Sandra Lee January 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm #
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Martin Luther King, Jr. This wisdom teaching underlies “My actions are the ground upon which I stand.” Thich Nhat Hanh. A challenging course of action is ‘breaking the silence.’

Annette Seidenglanz February 14, 2013 at 9:45 am #
Women must take their place as equal partners in religion as elsewhere. I often wonder at the deeper problems that exist for women because Christian God, Buddha, Mohammed and others are all male figures of spiritual leadership.
This is no small matter in the spiritual life of women.
Many women have been seeking their spiritual center, the fundamental that they are heirs to and I believe that we must continue seeking it. For myself, Buddhism is only half the answer.
We don’t call it KwanYinism? Mary is not depicted in the Sistine ceiling as the giver of life, though she was literally so, instead it is the finger of a bearded god and a spark of energy. Etc.
Women must find within themselves a feminine, authorial, and spiritual center and this will help enormously in resolving this problem and women must take a role in the leadership of these institutions, new and old, to maintain balance and the dignity of all.
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Re: Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 6:41 am

Sexual Abuse by Spiritual Teachers
by buffalodharma.org
Accessed: 1/16/18



Please note, the excerpts from below were taken from the sources referenced. If you have a concern about how that news source stated the content, please contact the news source.

Joan Halifax asks: Why are some Buddhists so conflict averse? and Natalie Goldberg from her book “The Great Failure” writes: We are often drawn to spiritual teachers who unconsciously mirror our own psychology. None of us are clean. We all make mistakes. It’s the repetition of those mistakes and the refusal to look at them that compound the suffering and assure their continuation.

Abuse by Spiritual Teachers Has Some Looking Within

Even though abuse by spiritual teachers is known, there are great differences in how religions handle these transgressions. For Jews and many Protestants, it is the local congregation that decides what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed. For Roman Catholics, a worldwide hierarchy decides, depending on reports from local representatives. And for Buddhists — well, the answer is not so clear for most Buddhist groups. One exception are a group of teachers in the modern Western Vipassana (insight or mindfulness meditation) tradition rooted in the School of the Elders - Theravada. These teachers, such as Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Carol Wilson among many others, have for a long time followed a published code of ethics such as those posted on the Spirit Rock meditation center website, Insight Meditation Teachers Code of Ethics. Not only does this teaching collective follow a published code of ethics but they also have a published method of dealing with such ethical dilemmas, Ethics & Reconciliation Council

When Buddhist centers have no process for enforcing a code of ethics, as one Zen society in New York is learning, that can lead to problems.

Eido Shimano

Since 1965, Eido Shimano, now 77, has been the abbot, or head spiritual teacher, of the Zen Studies Society, a Japanese Buddhist community with headquarters on East 67th Street in Manhattan and a 1,400-acre monastery in the Catskills. For much of that time, there have been rumors about the married abbot’s sexual liaisons, with his students and with other women. Such rumors could no longer be ignored when, in 2008, the University of Hawaii at Manoa unsealed some papers donated by Robert Aitken, a leading American Buddhist and founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

The papers included files about Mr. Shimano that Mr. Aitken kept from 1964 to 2003. Mr. Aitken, who died Aug. 5, met Mr. Shimano when both men worked in Hawaii in the 1960s, and for more than 40 years he kept notes on his colleague’s liaisons, based on conversations with women who had confided in him.

In a 1995 letter to the president of the Zen Studies Society’s board, Mr. Aitken wrote: “Over the past three decades, we have interviewed many former students of Shimano Roshi. Their stories are consistent: trust placed in an apparently wise and compassionate teacher, only to have that trust manipulated in the form of his sexual misconduct and abuse.” (“Roshi,” or teacher, is a Japanese honorific that goes after the name.)

The Aitken papers were soon circulating on the Internet. On June 15, Mr. Shimano’s board of directors, which exercises ultimate authority in the society, met to discuss the allegations. Mr. Shimano, who was then on the board, was not present, but most board members concurred that the charges most likely had some validity.

“I thought the sources were varied enough” to seem valid, said one board member, who asked not to be named. “I certainly didn’t think it was all a fraud.”

At that meeting, the board members began writing a new set of ethical guidelines for the society. In the text, they included an acknowledgment of past indiscretions by Mr. Shimano. Chris Phelan, another board member, said that Mr. Shimano saw the text of the statement and approved of it. “He didn’t step forward and say he was being libeled,” Mr. Phelan said.

Nonetheless, several board members told The New York Times that they believed that Mr. Shimano’s relations with students had ended long ago, and they saw no reason that Mr. Shimano could not continue teaching.

“As far as I knew, there had been a hiatus of 15 years,” said Joe Marinello, a board member who is the abbot of the Seattle Zen Temple.

But then, on July 19, the board announced that Mr. Shimano had resigned from the board after being confronted with allegations of “clergy misconduct.” The statement was sent in response to inquiries from Tricycle, a magazine about Buddhism. Since that time, the board has said that Mr. Shimano will continue as abbot until 2012, but a vice abbot has been appointed and Mr. Shimano will not be taking new students.

So what had changed?

A week after beginning work on new ethical guidelines — which in their final form forbid “sexual advances or liaisons” between teachers and sangha members — the board was confronted with a new revelation.

In interviews over the past two weeks, four board members, including Mr. Marinello, said that on June 21 a woman — whose name he would not reveal — stood up during dinner at the Catskills monastery and announced that for the past two years she had had a consensual affair with Mr. Shimano, who was at the dinner. Several board members have said that Mr. Shimano later admitted the affair in conversations with them. On Wednesday, the society issued a statement acknowledging that “in June of this year, a woman revealed that there was an inappropriate relationship between herself and Eido Roshi."

Mr. Shimano did not return several phone calls.

In two ways, this small, symbolic statement — Mr. Shimano’s resigning from his own board — reflects how American religion has changed in the last 15 years.

Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors) or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all. First, this more recent affair occurred in a different news media culture. Clerical impropriety is a hot topic, of course. And on the Internet, where several bloggers were scrutinizing the Aitken papers, the new affair was sure to be mentioned. “The Internet was turning the heat up,” one member said. Board members had to act; they could not afford to be seen as indifferent.

Second, there has been a shift within the American Buddhist community, which has become more concerned about relations between teachers and students.

Historically, because that relationship is considered sacrosanct, affairs were not always condemned, or even disapproved of.

“Unlike the therapeutic environment with analysis, with Buddhist teachers and students there are debates about what is appropriate and what isn’t,” says James Shaheen, editor of Tricycle. As to sexual relationships between teacher and student, “most people would come down on the side of ‘Let’s just not do it.’ ”

But there has also been a cultural aversion among Zen Buddhists to seeming censorious about sexuality. In a 2002 review of “Shoes Outside the Door,” a book by Michael Downing about Richard Baker, the abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1970s and ’80s, Frederick Crews wrote that Mr. Baker’s “serial liaisons, hardly unique in the world of high-level American Buddhism, could have been forgiven, but his chronic untruthfulness about them could not.”

Richard Baker

Sex, alcoholism and drug abuse by major Buddhist leaders have all been tolerated over the years, by followers who look the other way, or even looked right at it and pretend not to care. For example, the Tibetan Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who founded the Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) in Boulder, Colo., was often publicly drunk. The Buddhist journalist Katy Butler wrote a 1990 article called “Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America,” in which she described the public alcoholism of Mr. Trungpa Rinpoche.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

“We habitually denied what was in front of our faces, felt powerless and lost touch with our inner experience,” Ms. Butler wrote.

Clark Strand, who led Mr. Shimano’s Upper East Side zendo from 1988 to 1990, said that on American soil, Asian Buddhism’s sexual ethics, in particular, had to change.

“What you see in America is a lot of Asian Buddhist teachers coming into contact for the first time with spiritual communities that include women,” Mr. Strand said. “And they weren’t necessarily prepared for that.”

“To be blunt about it, a Japanese Zen monk could go over the wall and visit a prostitute and a blind eye could be turned to that.” In America, he added, “it wasn’t as easy to turn a blind eye to going over the wall in his own monastery.”

Source: New York Times

Disclosure about Joshu Sasaki Roshi, an Elder in the Zen tradition, having sex with numerous students. Roshi was a primary teacher to Shinzen Young, Leonard Cohen and numerous others.

Joshu Sasaki Roshi

Recently there has been the allegation of long-term sexual misconduct by Joshu Sasaki Roshi, as well as the inability on the part of the senior practitioners to appropriately address the problem.

Sadly, we cannot deny these accusations. This issue has been a sore on the body of our Sangha for decades, and we are eager and relieved to finally open it to the light of day.

The Rinzai-ji community of practitioners has struggled with our teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi’s sexual misconduct for a significant portion of his career in the United States. Senior members of our community have made several earnest and serious attempts over the years to correct this problem. Ultimately, these attempts failed. Our hearts were not firm enough, our minds were not clear enough, and our practices were not strong enough so that we might persist until the problem was resolved. We fully acknowledge now, without any reservation, and with the heaviest of hearts, that because of our failure to address our teacher’s sexual misconduct, women and also men have been hurt, women and men who trusted us with their Zen practices, and whose trust we failed to honor in a fundamental way.

Joshu Sasaki Roshi is no longer teaching. Senior members of our organization have been busy the past year crafting a document that outlines how our community will move forward without him. A key portion of this document is being dedicated to an ethics policy to ensure that the kind of misconduct that we failed to address properly in the past will not occur again—and will be dealt with properly and swiftly if it does. Although we sincerely believe that Sasaki Roshi’s teachings have helped a great number of people, and we are profoundly grateful that he brought us this deep and meaningful tradition, clearly we have been doing something fundamentally wrong if harmful behavior could continue for so many years.

It is our deepest and sincerest intention that in directly addressing the issue here, we can begin to contribute in some small way to the larger discussion in American Buddhism about how to manifest the dharma without deceit, dysfunction, unhealthy power imbalances, inappropriate sexual relationships, and, ultimately, the heartbreak that results from all of the above.

Most importantly this means reaching out to those who have suffered from this problem, and doing everything we possibly can to help them heal. As the first step on a long road, we are forming a Bearing Witness Council that will confidentially receive the stories of the women who are hurting, and work with them to move toward healing. (Information about this will be available soon at rinzaijioshos.org.)

Furthermore, as practitioners tasked with teaching the dharma, we must take a look at ourselves, and the way we relate to each other, and at the question of power in our community, with fresh and unyielding eyes. It is our profound and immediate responsibility to make sure that this problem never happens again in our community. Our job now is to face our failures with humility and a firm commitment to change, and as a start, we bow our heads low in apology and ask for the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt over the years through our neglect.

Nine bows,

The Osho Council of Rinzai-ji
Source: Tricycle
Why are Buddhists so conflict averse? See: Joan Halifax's post on Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere

Yoga and Sexual Abuse

Swami Rama

The wholesome image of yoga is not always wholesome. Numerous "gurus" have been accused of sexual and other improprieties(a failure to observe standards or show due honesty or modesty; improper language, behavior, or character). These well known gurus include Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute and Amrit Desai of Kripalu. Swami Rama died in 1996 and Desai left Kripalu in 1996. Kripalu has the distinction of being the first, and possibly the only, yoga center in North America to survive the transition from a traditional guru-disciple structure to a secular, all-inclusive center for health, wellness, and lifestyle change. Himalayan Institute current leader is Pandit Tigunait, the successor of Swami Rama. Below is an article from the New York Times that provides a history of the darker side of yoga.

Amrit Desai

After accusations of sexual impropriety with female students, John Friend, the founder of Anusara, one of the world’s fastest-growing styles, told followers that he was stepping down for an indefinite period of “self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat.”

Mr. Friend preached a gospel of gentle poses mixed with openness aimed at fostering love and happiness. But Elena Brower, a former confidante, has said that insiders knew of his “penchant for women” and his love of “partying and fun.”

Few had any idea about his sexual indiscretions, she added. The apparent hypocrisy has upset many followers.

“Those folks are devastated,” Ms. Brower wrote in The Huffington Post. “They’re understandably disappointed to hear that he cheated on his girlfriends repeatedly” and “lied to so many.”

But this is hardly the first time that yoga’s enlightened facade has been cracked by sexual scandal. Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

One factor is ignorance. Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise.

Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.

The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.

Hatha originated as a way to speed the Tantric agenda. It used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss. In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.

Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.

B. K. S. Iyengar, the author of “Light on Yoga,” published in 1965, exemplified the change. His book made no mention of Hatha’s Tantric roots and praised the discipline as a panacea that could cure nearly 100 ailments and diseases. And so modern practitioners have embraced a whitewashed simulacrum of Hatha.

However, by 1995, sex between students and teachers became so prevalent that the California Yoga Teachers Association deplored it as immoral and called for high standards.

“We wrote the code,” Judith Lasater, the group’s president, told a reporter, “because there were so many violations going on.”

The misanthropes among gurus offer a bittersweet tribute to yoga’s revitalizing powers. A surprising number, it turns out, were in their 60s and 70s.

Swami Muktananda (1908-82) was an Indian man of great charisma who favored dark glasses and gaudy robes.

Swami Muktananda

At the height of his fame, around 1980, he attracted many thousands of devotees — including movie stars and political celebrities — and succeeded in setting up a network of hundreds of ashrams and meditation centers around the globe. He kept his main shrines in California and New York.

In late 1981, when a senior aide charged that the venerated yogi was in fact a serial philanderer and sexual hypocrite who used threats of violence to hide his duplicity, Mr. Muktananda defended himself as a persecuted saint, and soon died of heart failure.

Joan Bridges was one of his lovers. At the time, she was 26 and he was 73. Like many other devotees, Ms. Bridges had a difficult time finding fault with a man she regarded as a virtual god beyond law and morality.

“I was both thrilled and confused,” she said of their first intimacy in a Web posting. “He told us to be celibate, so how could this be sexual? I had no answers.”

To denounce the philanderers would be to admit years of empty study and devotion. So many women ended up blaming themselves. Sorting out the realities took years and sometimes decades of pain and reflection, counseling and psychotherapy. In time, the victims began to fight back.

Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) was a superstar of yoga who gave the invocation at Woodstock. In 1991, protesters waving placards (“Stop the Abuse,” “End the Cover Up”) marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium.

Swami Satchidananda

“How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor,” a former devotee shouted from the audience, “when you have molested me and other women?”

Another case involved Swami Rama (1925-96), a tall man with a strikingly handsome face. In 1994, one of his victims filed a lawsuit charging that he had initiated abuse at his Pennsylvania ashram when she was 19. In 1997, shortly after his death, a jury awarded the woman nearly $2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Swami Rama

So, too, former devotees at Kripalu, a Berkshires ashram, won more than $2.5 million after its longtime guru — a man who gave impassioned talks on the spiritual value of chastity — confessed to multiple affairs.

Amrit Desai

The drama with Mr. Friend is still unfolding. So far, at least 50 Anusara teachers have resigned, and the fate of his enterprise remains unclear. In his letter to followers, he promised to make “a full public statement that will transparently address the entirety of this situation.”

John Friend

The angst of former Anusara teachers is palpable. “I can no longer support a teacher whose actions have caused irreparable damage to our beloved community,” Sarah Faircloth, a North Carolina instructor, wrote on her Web site.

But perhaps — if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.
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Re: Why Buddhism?: Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere

Postby admin » Wed Jan 17, 2018 6:59 am

Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America
by Katy Butler
Common Boundary Magazine
1990 May/June
(c) 1990, 2010 by Katy Butler



One summer afternoon in 1982, a friend of mine stood on a street in Boulder, Colorado–under a bright blue Rocky Mountain sky–holding a bottle of sake. The wine, a gesture of gratitude, was a gift for Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, “Radiant Holder of the Teachings,” second-in-command of Vajradhatu, the largest branch of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States.

Moments later, my friend entered an elegant, minimally furnished office nearby. Tendzin—the former Thomas Rich of Passaic, New Jersey, round-eyed, mustachioed and wearing a well-cut business suit—rose from his chair and smiled My friend shook his hand, grateful for the rare private audience. He had recently emerged from an emotionally repressive religious community in Los Angeles, and a meditation retreat led by the Regent had introduced him to a more colorful, less guilt-inducing, spiritual path.

As the afternoon wore on, the men talked about Buddhism, love and theology. Gradually, the sake level dropped inside the bottle. Then my friend, a little drunk, grew bold and raised the subject he feared most: homosexuality. There was a moment of silence.

“Stand up,” Tendzin said. “Kiss me.” My friend complied.

When the Regent requested oral sex, my friend, slightly dismayed, declined. ”I think you can do it,” the Regent said cheerfully. The two then moved to a couch, where my friend’s taboo against homosexuality was broken.

When it was over, Tendzin mentioned in passing that he had similar sexual encounters several times a day. He offered my friend a ride, opened the office door and led the way through clusters of waiting assistants to a sleek car purring in the twilight below, a driver waiting at the wheel.

My friend later felt confused and embarrassed about that afternoon, but not bitter. “He pushed me into a homosexual experience, and yet at the same time, he was generous. I asked to see him, and he made time for me," he told me. “I felt a mixture of embarrassment and honor. I don’t feel Tendzin abused me, and I don’t want my sexual experience judged by anybody."

AFTER MY FRIEND TOLD ME his story, I often replayed it in my mind, like a videotape, searching for hidden clues to later events. I noted my friend’s fascination with the trappings of spiritual power and his discomfort with moral judgments. I observed Tendzin's apparently routine transformation of a religious audience into an afternoon of drinking and sexual relations, and how casually he admitted to addictively frequent sex. I had to acknowledge that my friend did not feel harmed; yet I saw in the incident the seeds of the disaster that followed.

A Crisis of Leadership

In April 1987, Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin assumed leadership of the Vajradhatu community, following the death of the well-known and widely respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Less than two years later, in December 1988, the most harmful crisis ever to strike an American Buddhist community unfolded when Vajradhatu administrators told their members that the Regent had been infected with the AIDS virus for nearly three years. Members of the Vajradhatu board of directors conceded that, except for some months of celibacy, he had neither protected his many sexual partners nor told them the truth. One of the Regent’s sexual partners, the son of long-term students, was infected, as was a young woman who had later made love to the young man.

Two members of the Vajradhatu board of directors had known of his infection for more than two years, and chose to do nothing. Trungpa Rinpoche had also known about it before his death. Board members had reluctantly informed the sangha (community) only after trying for three months to persuade the Regent to act on his own.

“Thinking I had some extraordinary means of protection, I went ahead with my business as if something would take care of it for me,” Tendzin reportedly told a stunned community meeting organized in Berkeley in mid-December.

This crisis of leadership was hardly the only disaster to befall an American Buddhist sangha. In 13 years of practicing Buddhist meditation, I have seen venerated, black-robed Japanese roshis and their American dharma heirs (including my own former teacher) exposed for having secret affairs. Other Buddhist teachers—Tibetan, Japanese and America—have misused money, become alcoholic or indulged in eccentric behavior. (See box below.)

As an American Buddhist, I found the scandals heartbreaking and puzzling. I thought of Buddhism not as a cult but as a 2,500-year-old religion devoted to ending suffering, not causing it. I also knew that many of the teachers involved were not charlatans, but sincere, thoroughly trained spiritual mentors, dedicated to transmitting the Buddhist dharma to the West.

As a journalist, I noticed that media coverage of the scandals seemed to reinforce secular America’s deeply held suspicion of all religious impulses. The teachers came across as cynical exploiters; their followers as gullible fools.

But having watched and participated in Buddhist communities for more than a decade, I know that these misfortunes are more than a tragic dance between exploitation and naiveté. Their roots lie not in individual villainy, but in cultural misunderstandings and hidden emotional wounds. And all community members, however unconsciously, play a part in them.

When Buddhism moved West, an ancient and profound Eastern tradition encountered a younger, more fragmented American society. The new American Buddhists enthusiastically built Japanese meditation halls lined with sweet-smelling tatami mats, and Tibetan-style shrine rooms with altars laden with ceremonial bowls of water and rice. Trying, to build new communities, they cobbled together structures that combined elements of Eastern hierarchy and devotion and Western individualism. The blending of widely divergent cultural values was complicated by the fact that orally students hoped to find a sanctuary from the wounds of painful childhoods and from the loneliness of their own culture. When the scandals erupted, however, many found themselves like Dorothy at the end of the Wizard of Oz “back in their own back yards,” having unconsciously replicated patterns the hoped to leave behind.

Now, as the shadow side has come to light, certain common elements within the communities are apparent:

• Patterns of denial, shame secrecy and invasiveness reminiscent of alcoholic and incestuous families.

• Soft-pedaling of basic Buddhist precepts against harming others by misusing alcohol and sex.

• An unhealthy marriage of Asian hierarchy and American license that distorts the teacher-disciple relationship; and

• A tendency. once scandals are uncovered, to either scapegoat the disgraced teachers or blindly deny that anything has changed.

A Lineage of Denial

As a member of San Francisco Zen Center in the early I980s. I was mystified by my own failure–and the failure of my friends–to challenge the behavior of our teacher, Richard Baker-roshi, when it seemed to defy common sense. Since then, friends from alcoholic families have told me that our community reproduced patterns of denial and enablement similar to those in their families. When our teacher kept us waiting, failed to meditate and was extravagant with money, we ignored it or explained it away as a teaching. A cadre of well-organized subordinates picked up the pieces behind him just as the wife of an alcoholic might cover her husband’s bounced check or bail him out of jail. This "enabling," as alcoholism counselors call it, allowed damaging behavior to continue and grow. It insulated our teacher from the consequences of his actions and deprived him of the chance to learn from his mistakes.

The process damaged us as well: we habitually denied what was in front of our faces, felt powerless and lost touch with our inner experience.

Similar patterns were acknowledged at Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1983, when their teacher, the respected Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi-roshi, entered a treatment program and acknowledged his alcoholism. [He later drowned in his bathtub after a night of heavy drinking.] “We were all co-alcoholics,” one of Maezumi’s students told the Buddhist historian Sandy Boucher. “We in subtle ways encouraged his alcoholism [because when he was drunk] he would become piercingly honest.”

A similar process may have taken place at Vajradhatu in the 1970s, as students attempted to come to terms with their teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rin­poche, a maverick, Oxford-educated Tibetan exile who was brilliant, compassionate and alcoholic.

Trungpa Rinpoche, the 11th incarnation of the Trungpa Tulku. was the teenage head of several large Tibetan monasteries when the 1959 Chinese in­vasion tore him from his native culture. Eager to meet the West on its own terms, he gave up his robes for a business suit, fell in love with Shakespeare and Mozart, and married an English woman. He sometimes lectured with a glass of sake in his hand.

Trungpa Rinpoche taught that every aspect of human existence–neurosis, passion, desire, alcohol, the dark and the light–was to be embraced and transmuted. He called his wild approach “crazy wisdom,” referring to a small but genuine tradition of revered, eccentric Tibetan yogis–most of whom worked intimately with one or two students.

Many Buddhist teachers–even those uneasy with his behavior–admired Trungpa Rinpoche for his brilliant translation of Buddhism into Western terms. Wary of importing Tibetan cultural forms, he first taught his American students a simple, Zen-based sitting meditation. He then gradually introduced the elaborate Tantric disciplines that distinguish Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism from almost all other Buddhist schools. Students completed foundational practices, including 100,000 prostrations, and attended a three-month seminary in the mountains. Advanced students were ceremonially initiated into confidential Tibetan practices of meditative visualization. Teacher and student entered into a relationship, traditionally more devotional than anything in other Buddhist schools.

Trungpa attracted thousands of well-­educated people who soon created the largest, most creative and least conventional of America’s non-Asian Buddhist communities. He counted among his students poets Alan Ginsberg and Anne Waldman, playwright Jean-Claude van Italie, Shambhala Publications publisher Sam Bercholz, and Rick Fields, author of a respected history of American Buddhism. Based primarily in Boulder, students ran businesses, founded Naropa Institute, an accredited Buddhist univer­sity; edited a journal on contemplative psychotherapy; and published a widely­-read bimonthly Buddhist newspaper, the Vajradhatu Sun.

Yet woven into the discipline and creativity was a strand of hedonism. Vajradhatu students had a reputation for the wildest parties in Buddhist America. Although most Tibetan Tantric schools clearly discourage “acting out” passions and impulses, Trungpa Rinpoche did not. In fact, drunk and speeding, he once crashed a sports car into the side of a joke shop and was left partly paralyzed. He openly slept with students. In Boulder, he lectured brilliantly, yet sometimes so drunk that he had to be carried off-stage or held upright in his chair.

To student Jules Levinson, a Tibetan scholar and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia, the stories “were very upsetting–that he drank a lot, that he slept around." Yet at the same time, Levinson was grateful to Trungpa. “I found him gentle, delicate, provocative and nurturing–the most compassionate person I have ever known. I just couldn’t put it together,” he said.

Some students, replaying dynamics from their alcoholic families, responded to Trungpa Rinpoche by denying and enabling his addictive drinking and sexual activity. “I served Rinpoche big glasses of gin first thing in the morning, if you want to talk about enabling,” said one woman, who had watched her own father die of alcoholism.

Others resolved their cognitive dissonance by believing that their teacher had transcended the limitations of a human body. “Trungpa Rinpoche said that because he had Vajra nature [a yogically transformed and stabilized psychophysiology], he was immune to the normal physiological effects of alcohol,” said one student. “We bought the story that it was a way of putting ‘earth’ into his system, so that he could ... relate to us. It never occurred to anyone I knew that he was possibly an alcoholic, since that was a disease that could only happen to an ordinary mortal. And many of us were ignorant–we thought of an alcoholic only as the classic bum in the street “

An atmosphere of denial permeated the community in the 1970s and early 1980s, and other Vajradhatu students became heavy drinkers. “I found myself a nice little nest where I could keep on drinking,” said one long-time Vajradhatu Buddhist. who was among a handful of Vajradhatu members who joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the early 1980s. Their recovery seemed to threaten others. The first woman to get sober was asked to quit the hoard of a home care organization found by Vajradhatu members. “I felt such contempt for someone who had to quit drinking, and I treated her like a mental case.” said the woman who got rid of her–a woman who has since joined AA herself.

When Trungpa Rinpoche lay dying in 1986 at the age of 47, only an inner circle knew the symptoms of his final illness. Few could bear to acknowledge that their beloved and brilliant teacher was dying of terminal alcoholism. even when he lay incontinent in his bedroom, belly distended and skin discolored, hallucinating and suffering from varicose veins, gastritis and esophageal varices, a swelling of veins in the esophagus caused almost exclusively by cirrhosis of the liver.

“Rinpoche was certainly not an ordinary Joe, but he sure died like every alcoholic I’ve ever seen who drank uninterruptedly.” said Victoria Fitch, a member of his household staff with years of experience as a nursing attendant. “The denial was bone-deep.” she continued. “I watched his alcoholic dementia explained as his being in the realm of the daikinis (guardians of the teachings, visualized in female form). When he requested alcohol, no one could bring themselves not to bring it to him, although they tried to water his beer or bring him a little less. In that final time of his life... he could no longer walk independently. At the same time then was a power about hint and an equanimity to his presence that was phenomenal, that I don’t know how to explain.”

Some students now feel that the Regent Osel Tendzin suffered from a similar denial of human limitation, as well as ignorance of addictive behavior.

“Many students who are outraged by the Regent’s behavior seem to think he arose out of nowhere,” one student said. “They’re not using their Buddhist training about cause and effect. I think the Regent has emulated in a more extreme and deadly fashion a pattern of denial and ignorance exemplified by Trungpa Rinpoche’s own attitude to alcohol.”

Family Secrets

By the time the crisis broke, a small but significant minority of Vajrtdhatu students had begun to deal with wounds fell by family alcoholism and incest. By the mid-1980s, about 250 Vajradhatu members around the country–mostly wives of alcoholic husbands –had joined Al-Anon, an organization modeled after AA for the Families of alcoholics, and more than a score of sangha members had joined AA. Soft drinks were also served at Vajradhatu ceremonies, and the atmosphere of excessive drinking diminished.

Those in the 12-Step movement were a minority, however, and certain stubbornness persisted. For example, the Regent himself sought to suppress any public discussion of the sexual scandal and crisis, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of an alcoholic family’s defensive secrecy.

When editor Rick Fields prepared a short article for the Vajradhatu Sun describing the bare bones of the crisis, he was forbidden to print it. “There have been ongoing discussions, both within community meetings and among many individuals, about the underlying issues that permitted the current situation to occur,” read the banned article. "Those issues include the abuse of power and the betrayal of trust, the proper relationship between teachers with spiritual authority and students, particularly in the West, and the relationship between devotion and critical intelligence on the spiritual path.”

In the article’s place, Fields printed a mute drawing of the Vajradhatu logo–a knot of eternity–stretched to the break­ing point over a broken heart. In March, Fields again attempted to run his article and was fired by the Regent. When the board of directors refused to support him, he formally resigned, saying that Buddhist teaching in the West “would best served in the long run by openness and honesty, painful as that may be.”

The suppression of public discussion echoed both the Asian tradition of face-saving as well as the dynamics of alcoholic families. “There’s a sense of family secrets, things you don’t talk about, especially with outsiders,” said Levinson. “Shortly after the news came out I wrote to the Regent and said, 'If the rumors are true, then [those actions] don’t seem to be in accord with the dharma, but it doesn’t make you a devil. The most important thing is what we do now. I would really like you to come talk to us openly, in small groups, at least in Boulder and Halifax, as your health permits. If you can do that we ... may be able to re-establish some trust.' My biggest heartbreak is that he hasn’t done that."

Cross-Cultural Clashes

For more than a year, the stalemate stretched Vajradhatu to the breaking point. Tendzin publicly but obliquely acknowledged violating Buddhist vows, but he declined to accept responsibility for infecting others. He remained on retreat in California with a small group of devoted students, defying; a request by the board of directors that he withdraw from teaching. In Boulder, some anti­Regent students virulently and unrealistically blamed him for the entire disaster, while pro-Regent students practiced what might be called “devotional or transcendental denial.” They urged the preservation of the Buddhist teaching lineage at the expense of facing what had happened Many others fell into what one senior student called “the heartbroken middle.” In a letter widely distributed in Boulder. one student wrote, “If the Board and the Regent cannot work out their differences with compassion and intelligence, the sangha will he shattered.”

The community consulted Tibetan lamas to resolve the impasse, but their responses reflected an Asian emphasis on face-saving, hierarchy and avoidance of open conflict. Although it is unclear how much he understood the situation, one venerated lama, the late Kalu Rinpoche, forbade his American students to comment on the Vajradhatu disaster Another, the Venerable Dilgo Khyentse, Rinpoche, first asked the Regent to go into retreat but urged Vajradhatu students to respect the Regent's authority.

It was too much for many students to stomach “This is a living nightmare for us,” said Robin Kornman a long-time Vajradhatu meditation teacher and a gradate student at Princeton University. “We are being told to follow a person we are certain is deeply confused."

Buddhist students at other centers have experienced similar cross-cultural problems. In the late 1970s, Zen student Andrew Cooper became disturbed when he realized that his Japanese Rosh “discouraged the expression of personal disagreement, doubt or problems within the community, even when those problems were undeniably real and potentally disruptive.”

Cooper, now a graduate student in psychology, thought his teacher was hypocritical until a frend who had lived in Japan told him that the Japanese have no notion of hypocrisy, at least not in the sense we in the West do. “For the Japanese, withholding one’s personal feelings in order to maintain the appearance of harmony within the group is seen as virtuous and noble,” Cooper wrote in an unpublished paper. “This attitude is part of the structuring of Japanese social relations–it has a place there. But when it is imported under the banner of enlightenment and overlaid on an American community, the results are cultish and bizarre.”

Asian Deference and Western License

The results are particularly troublesome when communities import Asian devotional traditions without importing corresponding Asian social controls. Chogyam Trungpa, for instance, came from a society where the sense of “self” and the social controls on that self were very different from those in the West. Raised from infancy in Eastern Tibet as an incarnate lama, he headed a huge institutional monastery at 19. He was granted tremendous devotion and power, but his freedom was rigidly circumscribed by monastic vows of chastity and abstinence, and by obligations to his monastery and the surrounding Community.

Community standards were based on an intricate system of reciprocal obligation. They were clear and often unspoken. Almost everyone’s behavior–serf, lama or landowner– was closely but subtly controlled by a strong and often unspoken need to save face.

But these social controls did not exist in the society to which Trungpa Rin­poche came in the freewheeling 1970s. His American students’ behavior was loosely governed by contractual relationships; by frank, open discussions, and by individual choices rather than by shared social ethics and mutual obligation. His ancestors had lived in the same valley for generations; when he first arrived in America, he flew from city to city like a rock star. While America removed all social limits from Trungpa Rinpoche’s behavior, his students became his household servants, chauffeured his car and showed him a deference appropriate to a Tibetan lama or feudal lord.

The same deference was shown to his dharma heir. Osel Tendzin. “His meals were occasions for frenzies of linen-pressing, silver-polishing, hair­breadth calibrations in table settings, and exact choreographies of servers,” said television producer Deborah Mendelsohn, who helped host Tendzin when he gave two meditation retreats in Los Angeles, but has since left the community. “When he traveled, a handbook went with him to guide his hosts through the particulars of caring for him, including instructions on how and in what order to offer his towel, underpants and robe after he stepped from the shower.”

This parody of Asian deference, combined with American license, ultimately proved disastrous, and not only at Vajradhatu. At Zen centers as well, students took on Asian gestures of subservience while their teachers sometimes acted “freely,” drinking, spending money, making sexual advances to women or men, all with precious little negative feedback. The deference often went far beyond what would have been granted a teacher in Japan or Tibet.

“Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities,” said Dr Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social anthropologist at the City university of New York who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans in Nepal and Tibet. “In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedestal .. if such a scandal had happened in Tibet, the whole community might have felt polluted. Osel Tendzin might have been driven from the valley. Depending on the degree of community outrage, his family might have made substantial offerings to the monastery for purification rites and prayers to infuse society with compassion.”

Furthermore, Aziz pointed out, Tibetans may “demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a reverend, but they won’t necessarily do what he says.” “I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends,” she concluded. “than among Westerners.”

The Need for Discernment

In this confusing cross-cultural context, the teacher-student bond can he easily misunderstood. In the early days of my Zen training, I would make a formal prostration before my teacher when visiting him For practice instruction. I tried to see him as “enlightened,” and I hoped that over time I would internalize the qualities of awareness, sell­containment and energy that I admired in him.

Idealizing one’s teacher is part of a long and healthy tradition in Tibet, Japan and India, according to Alan Roland, a psychoanalyst and author of In Search of Self in India and Japan. “The need to have a figure to respect, idealize and imitate is a crucial part of every persons self­development. But “Eastern cultures are far more articulate about that need and culturally support it,” he explained.

Roland believes that Asian students approach the teacher-student relationships more subtly than Americans–who often commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. Asian students may display deference, but withhold veneration, until they have studied with a teacher for years. They scent to have a “private self’ unknown to many Americans, a self which is capable of reserving judgement even while scrupulously following the forms. When a teacher fails, Asians may continue to defer to his superior rank but silently withdraw affection and respect.

In America, it’s often the reverse. Some Vajradhatu students could forgive Osel Tendzin as a human being, but could not treat him as a leader. Few Americans can show deference to someone they don’t venerate without feeling hypocritical. Faced with this cognitive dissonance, they either abandon deference and leave, or they deny inner feelings.

If they deny their perceptions, reality becomes distorted and a mutual dance of delusion begins. “Part of the blame lies with the student, because too much obedience, devotion and blind acceptance spoils a teacher,” explained His Holiness the Dalai Lama last year at a conference in Newport Beach. California. "Part also lies with the spiritual master because he lacks the integrity to be immune to that kind of vunerability. I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one’s spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action a divine or noble. This may seem a little bit bold, but if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior.”

Turning Point

Last autumn, it looked as though the Vajradhatu sangha would be torn in two. After the long retreat advised by Dilgo Khyentse, Rinpoche, Tendzin boldly re­asserted authorty. Those who refused to accept his spiritual leadership were fired from key committees, denied permission to teach meditation and barred from taking part in advanced practices with the rest of their community. The conflict became so intense that the two opposing factions sent delegations to Nepal and India to implore senior lamas to support their positions.

In response, Khyentse Rinpoche advised Tendzin to enter into a “strict retreat” for a year. Tendzin complied, retaining nominal authority but effectively abdicating his teaching and leadership role. Senior Tibetan lamas were invited to Boulder to teach, and Vajradhatu began to connect again to a wider Tibetan religious tradition.­

“This is a real turning point,” said a relieved David Rome, a member of the board of directors. “This is a way to come together and feel basic unity, and to look at the issues that this crisis brought to the surface. This is not the end, really, it’s the beginning,” he said.

After the Fall

As Vajradhatu struggles to pick up the pieces, other Buddhist sanghas, which have undergone similar crises, are likewise dealing with ways to heal their communities. In one of the most promis­ing side effects, American teachers of In­sight (vipassana) meditation have recently created a clear set of ethical standards for teachers and a community hoard to oversee them­.

In other Buddhist communities, however, where teachers have stone­walled accusations of misconduct, successive waves of dissenting students have departed. At San Francisco Zen Center, my own practice home, our teacher resigned under pressure. We brought in psychological consultants and learned to talk more honestly to each other, and adopted more democratic forms of decision-making. Even so, many students left. The meditation hall emptied. Friendships were broken, and some people lost the energy for spiritual practice. Our former teacher moved to Santa Fe and continued teaching; my husband and I moved to the suburbs.

My black meditation robe still hangs in the back of my closet. I never lost faith in Buddhist teachings, but for some years I didn’t know how to reconnect with them. Instead, I did what a friend called “remedial work,” examining my personal history and the anger and self-righteousness I expressed when the scandal broke. I was among those who hoped to find a sanctuary within Buddhism for my personal wounds. But my culture and family history trailed me into my Buddhist community like a can tied to the tail of a dog.

I study with another Buddhist teacher now, and I constantly remind myself to allow him –and me–to have imperfections. Once a month or so, I gather with others in a friend's living room to recite the lay Buddhist precepts.

Yet something of the past remains unfinished. My old teacher simply left when he could not bear his students' anger any more. I remember a senior preist saying at the time, "Students are expecting him to transform himself without safety. You can't learn a whole new way when you are under attack."

The bitterness from that unresolved schism still hurts, like a splinter working its way deeper into one's palm. A friend of mine, Yvonne Rand–an ordained Buddhist teacher who still participates closely in the community–said to me recently, "We're still struggling with the fallout of his departure. I don't think the shoe will fully drop until we find a way to be in the same room together. As long as there's a fear of having him around, there's a way people don't understand their part in the situation."

We lack rituals that would allow communities to acknowledge these crises and toheal them. I remember reading about the Full Moon Ceremony used by monks in the first few centuries after Buddha's death. On the eve of every full and new moon during the rainy season, monks would gather in the forst for a ritual called "confession before the community." There, they publicly recited the precepts, admitted their shortcomings, their violations and any damage they had done to their community.

If we reinstated such a quiet ritual, perhaps, a brave, disgraced teacher might safely acknowledge his misconduct and the wounds that brought him to it. Perhaps the sangha could confess its deep disappointment and feelings of betrayal, and its participation in what had gone wrong. Perhaps the whole sangha could publicly apologize to the men or women who had been misused sexually or in other ways, and compensate them in some way.

After full acknowledgment and resitution, forgiveness might be possible and healing begin. ---- by Katy Butler

(c) 1990 by Katy Butler. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reprinted or reposted without written permission. First published in Common Boundary magazine and reprinted in "Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature," (Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. 1991.)

End of Story

Related Sidebar: Sex in the Forbidden Zone

In the late 1960s, a bright-eyed, patrician woman I know entered San Francisco Zen Center intending to give her heart to the practice She was in her early twenties, shaken by a failing marriage, with a fierce, lion­hearted energy that kept her back straight for long hours in the meditation hall. Several years after the death of her first Zen teacher, his successor - who was married - pressured her to abandon her plans to attend the rigorous winter training period at the Tassajara monastery and to become his personal assistant. She resisted for months, knowing that this would mean living in his house and traveling with him. After she finally agreed, he asked her to enter what he called a “practice relationship” with him that was to be kept a secret from the rest of the community.

“I’d never really felt intimate, never really felt known before,” she told me recently. “Until he began to relate sexually to me, he had been the most important man I’d ever met, a wonderful teacher. He touched my deepest primal self, and I felt the promise of a spiritual intimacy that I longed for with my whole being. I very much hoped that by breaking through to that forbidden area I would somehow, magically, break through to all that was held frozen and paralyzed within me.”

For six years, my friend remained enmeshed in this secret sexual relationship. It healed none of her old wounds; in fact it created new ones. She became a priest, but at the same time, she was guilt-ridden, isolated by secrecy from the rest of the community, and yet unable to pull away. Even after ending the relationship, she guarded its secret for years. She ultimately gave up her priest’s robes, left the community and entered therapy to repair the damage.

“As soon as we became sexually involved, any possibility of real spiritual intimacy with him ended,” she told me recently. “And so did my trust of my own inner center. It felt like incest to me–it was very physically unrewarding, and after every time, I would feel just destroyed.”

My friend’s experience was not unique. Presumed taboos against sexual relationships between students and spiritual teachers from Asian traditions are Frequently broken When they end badly, these relationships cause the same damage seen in women sexually abused by therapists: guilt, emptiness, suppressed rage and an inability to trust. In the worst cases, women have tried to kill themselves, have been confined to mental hospitals, or have seen their self-confidence or their religious vocations destroyed.

Jack Kornfield, a psychologist and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, informally surveyed 54 Buddhist, Hindu and lay teachers in the United States as well as their students. In a 1985 Yoga Journal article, “Sex Lives of the Gurus,” he reported that 15 of 54 were celibate. Thirty-four of the remaining 39 - including Tibetan lamas, Zen roshis, vipassana medita­tion teachers and Indian swamis - had had sexual relationships with their students, ranging from one-night stands to committed relationships ending in marriage. Half of the students told Kornfield that the relationships “undermined their practice, their relationship with their teacher, and their feelings of self-worth,” he wrote.

Kornfield, a former Theravadan monk said the teachers’ motivation was not always a misuse of power, but a lack of training in the psychological dynamics of transference and counter-transference and “a longing for contact and intimacy, a longing to step out of the isolating role of teacher.” Not all the relationships were disastrous, Kornfield added.

Many teachers, from all traditions, including Kornfield, have married students or staff members they met during retreats.

The late Maurine Stuart-roshi, a Zen teacher based in Cambridge, Mas­sachusetts, distinguished between sexuality and sexual abuse when she broke off contact with Eido Shimao­roshi of New York. “I wasn’t judgmental about sex, or about a teacher having sex with a student, but in this situation it was an unloving act,” she told author Helen Tworkov, who profiled Stuart in Zen in America. “It was the misuse of sex—and of women and the manipulations that were so devastating.”

While the distinction between sexuality and sexual abuse is a valuable one, others argue that such relationships almost always turn out badly because of enormous differences in power, experience and hope between the people involved Peter Rutter, M D., a San Francisco Jungian analyst, believes women are drawn into such relationships by psychological wounds: a background of incest, the desire to be deeply seen or the hope of spiritual and psychological healing.

But the promise of healing almost always goes unfulfilled, explained Rutter, author of Sex in the Forbidden Zone: When Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers and Other Men in Power Betray Women’s Trust. “The number of healthy relationships that emerge are minuscule,” he said in a recent interview “The damage is almost universal, and it is absolutely identical, whether the relationships take place within imported Eastern disciplines or Western psychotherapy.” Rutter says the relationships bear the hallmarks, and cause the damage, of incest relationships. “There’s the same difference in power, the built-in admiration for the symbolic father, and the inability to displease him or see that he is damaging her.”

“These relationships are mostly temporary, and the women are usually discarded,” Rutter said. “They break the student’s connection to his or her own spiritual source, and that connection can be forever lost.”
-----Katy Butler

(C) 1990, 2010 by Katy Butler. All rights reserved. Not to be reprinted or reposted without written permission.

Scandals and Improprieties: a list from 1990

Abuses of power and silent collusion in sexual exploitation occur not only in Buddhist communities, but also in Western psychiatric settings and other religious communities as well. Here is a sampling:

The Zen Studies Society of New York: In 1975, 1979 and 1982, the married Japanese abbot, Eido Tai Shimano-roshi, was accused of seducing emotionally vulnerable women students — accusations he has repeatedly denied.

San Francisco Zen Center: In 1983, American abbot Richard Baker, successor to Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, resigned under pressure after affairs with women student -- including his best friend’s wife ¬-- were acknowledged.

Zen Center of Los Angeles: In 1983 Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi-roshi, a married Japanese abbot, entered an alcoholism treatment program and openly apologized to his students for affairs with several women students. including a teen-aged girl.

Kwan Um Zen School (Rhode Island): In April 1987, it was revealed that the widely respected and supposedly celibate Korean ten teacher, Soen Sa Nim, had had secret, long-tern sexual relationships with two women students.

Insight Meditation Society (Barre, Massachusetts): In the early 1980s, this American meditation community confronted sexual boundary violations before they became unmanageable.

Richard Ingrasci, M.D. (Watertown, Massachusetts): In 1989, The Boston Globe reported that three women patients accused lngrasci of fondling them during therapy sessions. Two of the women said they were molested while under the influence of psychotropic drugs, including MDMA, which Ingrasci, the former medical editor of New Age Journal and a holistic physician had earlier lobbied Congress to legalize. Ingrasci surrendered his medical license, ending state disciplinary proceedings.

The Catholic Church in America: By the end of 1988, the Church had reportedly paid $19 million to families who had accused priests of sexually molesting alter boys and other children. At issue was not the small number of pedophile priests, but the church’s failure to protect children once problems were known. In several archdioceses, priests accused of molesting were quietly transferred to other parishes, where more children reported sexual abuse.

SYDA Foundation, Oakland, California: Shortly before his death in 1982, Swami Muktananda was accused by close disciples of repeatedly molesting young female devotees, some of them in their early teens.
---- Katy Butler
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