If you see the Buddha on the road
January 15, 2014 5:04 AM   Subscribe


Interesting. I don't have a good sense of what "vulnerable" means here, but I can definitely understand an angle of grossness more if I substitute "rabbi" or "pastor" for "Buddhist leader."
posted by oceanjesse at 5:29 AM on January 15, 2014

If this topic interests you, read, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, it was written in 1993, by two Yoga instructors. Discusses the problem with guru-student power dynamics.
posted by KaizenSoze at 5:30 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Wikipedia's list of US Buddhist documented misconducts.

Does not list the sex scandal we had in Atlanta where the temple (a house) got burned down. I can't remember who burned it -- the displaced leader? the cuckolded husband? I can't find news stories about it, circa 2008.
posted by surplus at 5:35 AM on January 15, 2014

Unfortunately this is far from the only case of this. The potential for abuse of all kinds in this power dynamic is why there is so much emphasis in the teaching on carefully vetting your teacher. But in practice it just turns out to be really difficult.
posted by selfnoise at 5:38 AM on January 15, 2014

Mostly happens with Zen teachers

From the Wikipedia article:

James Ford writes,
[S]urprising numbers of people use the titles Zen teacher, master, roshi and sensei without any obvious connections to Zen [...] Often they obfuscate their Zen connections, raising the very real question whether they have any authentic relationship to the Zen world at all. In my studies I've run across literally dozens of such cases.[57]
James Ford claims that about eighty percent of authentic teachers in the United States belong to the American Zen Teachers Association or the Soto Zen Buddhist Association and are listed on their websites. This can help a prospective student sort out who is a "normative stream" teacher from someone who is perhaps not, but of course twenty percent do not participate.[57]
posted by claptrap at 5:50 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

i think its unfortunate that Metafilter brackets this discussion on the lower part of the webpage with:

« Older Feeling horny? Here's a visual and audio guide to ..

How am i not supposed to click on that?
posted by Colonel Panic at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Sexy Sadie, you'll get your yet... however big you think you are..."

(Yes, it's about the Maharishi, not a Buddhist, but, ya know...)
posted by symbioid at 7:24 AM on January 15, 2014

Why is it that people raised in democracies still cling to/submit to authoritarian forms of social organization? Is it because most of our institutions -public, private, secular, religious, spiritual, commercial, non-profit- use a top-down form of management that we accept without question? Is it because of patriarchal authoritarian families?


I have seen too many friends sucked into cults to bow at the feet of soul-sucking money-grubbing manipulative sadists.

Don't follow leaders! If they will not let you walk alongside them, walk away.
posted by mareli at 7:26 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Perversely, the whole sad tale, and the publication of Zen Predator itself, might be good for American Buddhism. The stereotypical notion many of us hold of a wise, Yoda-like Zen master dispensing pithy spiritual bromides is not just inaccurate and offensive – it’s deeply unhelpful to the contemplative path itself. In the end, meditation is not about exotic sages, black robes, and following in the footsteps of someone else. It’s about finding your own footsteps, in your own Western clothes, and according to your own experiences and insights.

Wouldn't be an article about Zen without someone realizing that they too, can say things as if they were an authority on the spirit.
posted by Teakettle at 7:31 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

> From the student/victims point of view.

I'm not sure why that was linked, but just to save others some trouble, the only part that has anything to do with the topic of sexual abuse is this, near the end:

Even though he had tremendous perseverance, he was human, with needs and desires. All of us want something—even the vastly wise like a good cookie with their tea and delight in good-quality tea. Maybe it was that very perseverance that broke him. He couldn’t keep it up, and his human needs leaked out.

You'd think the author might have felt that was worth expanding on; she certainly didn't practice "less is more" in the rest of her piece.
posted by languagehat at 8:08 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

This has happened at a couple zen / yoga places here in the Bay Area. I think the circumstances are ripe for this to happen. The leader is almost always male. They are placed on a spiritual pedestal. The followers are led to almost worship them. All of this goes to the leader's head. He believes all the adulation. The followers also believe it to a certain extent. And if the leader wants to take personal advantage of it he will. And the followers tend to go right along. Any cult, let's be honest about this, that centers on a person is dangerous.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:59 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, I think you hit it on the head. Buddhist and yoga cults are no better than other varieties.
posted by zscore at 9:02 AM on January 15, 2014

Guruphiliac has been keeping up with this among guru's and transcendental meditation communities and the like for a long while and they have some interesting links that have also been following this common issue- for those interested in the subject.

I had this discussion frequently when I was at Naropa, founded by a Buddhist teacher with a similar practice of have sex with his followers. The justifications were frequent (after all everyone else was choosing to follow his teachings so it was important to justify this practice of his as good or at least neutral to erase any moral culpability of following his lead).

The women liked it! It was good for them!

Apparently, it would seem, that philosophy affects current practice at Naropa, from a Naropa student "The monk harassment… was Lama Tenpa… he touched and came onto a student friend of mine, and then really really came on to me hard in a disgusting way. Since we’re both rather assertive women, we thought – who ELSE is he doing this to? we reported it to Student Affairs….. and you know what happened? He was sat down for a chat, then wrote us letters, that we could pick up in the student affairs office [re-contacting the victim, anyone?!] The letter said that he now understands naropa and american university policy…..he’s still teaching to this day."

While I was there I was offered a reiki session the day after getting out of the hospital for severe dissociative PTSD. It turned out to be a "sexual chakra" healing which I was not notified of before this occuring (this by the way was a fellow student, not staff).

Another friend of mine said the same guy had done the same to her and she felt is was profound and healing, but on thinking about it, she had different feelings know he was pulling this on many women rather than just as the line goes "sensing YOU have special sexual issues I need to attend to!"

It's a shtick and it's a creepy shtick and people can walk away thinking it was a nice experience when it was still a creepy practice to have culturally reinforced and celebrated as morally acceptable or "healing" or "healthy" for vulnerable people who do feel harmed.

People are attracted to power imbalances (on both ends) for various reasons and I don't think it always involves abuse or exploitation- however these kinds of systemic and culturally ingrained practices of celebrating these weird power imbalanced sexual practices are the breeding grounds for a lot of very real abuses, and often abuses that occur under very very shady levels of consent that is difficult to persecute due to verbal consent having been given but under very manipulative and vulnerable circumstances.
posted by xarnop at 9:20 AM on January 15, 2014 [8 favorites]

Does this mean I'm not a Level Six Laser Lotus?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:01 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

One of the things I took away from reading Ken Wilber (who writes about consciousness, spirituality, science & an integral approach to them) is his opinion that the "personal development" axis is separate from the "spiritual development" axis.

And that just because one has had deep and profound insights about reality through years of disciplined meditation and practice of something like Zen doesn't mean that you're worked out your personal shit. nor does it confer upon you some saintly, inhuman lack of dirty, confused human emotions and experiences, all that messy emotional/below-the-waist stuff. That's something else you gotta work through.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:51 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Regarding Zen teacher lineages, as someone with a seed of a Zen practice I don't care about lineages. Because all throughout the history of Zen there have been teachers who have withdrawn their endorsement of a former student who the teacher thought, once they began teaching, kinda went off the rails. (Example: Joko Beck.) And if it was done deliberately for some, it's almost guaranteed that some of the ones who went off the rails slipped through. So the ability to actually trace a lineage is a sketchy prospect, and of dubious usefulness, at best.

Cheri Huber in particular doesn't name her teacher, which causes all sorts of consternation for some Zen folk. Partially (so I've heard/read) it's because her teacher hasn't retired from teaching and doesn't want people "swimming upstream" from Cheri, looking for "something purer, closer to the source" (or some nonsense like that). Lineage is the big controversy with Cheri, not whom she's sleeping with. Enough people are bent about the lineage thing with her, it seems to me that if there was any smoke available on the sleeping-with-students thing, people would be fanning it trying to make fire.

But there's also a bit of "The teacher is less important than the teaching" in her refusal. Listen to what the teacher is teaching you and put it into practice. Focus less on the personality giving the lecture, more on shutting up, sitting down, facing the wall and counting your breath.

Which makes me wonder what percentage of these scandals are associated with Rinzai Zen and how many with Sōtō Zen. Rinzai Zen was the Samurai Zen. "Rinzai for the Shōgun, Sōtō for the peasants" (臨済将軍、曹洞土民, Rinzai Shōgun, Sōtō Domin) Rinzai students sit facing the center of the room. Rinzai also is associated with the use of koans, the "What is the sound of one hand clapping" questions the student is to ponder, presented by the oh-so-wise and impressive and charismatic teacher. Very rigorous, very butch, very martial.

Sōtō Zen was Japanese peasant Zen founded by Dōgen. Sōtō students sit facing the wall, and that's it. Sōtō doesn't do koans. Sōtō is considered "rustic" and "gentle" compared to Rinzai.

SF Zen Center is Sōtō, so it's not like wall-facers are immune. But I would be curious to see how it evenly or not it scandals shake out by school.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:20 PM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why should lineages even matter in Zen? It's not like it's kung fu.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:03 PM on January 15, 2014

Some folk in Zen think an unbroken line of Dharma Transmission from teacher to student going all the way back to Gautama Buddha is important in a similar way to Catholics embracing an unbroken line of Popes going back to Jesus.

So kinda yeah, it's somewhat like kung-fu.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:46 PM on January 15, 2014

Actually, Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk before he is supposed to have founded Shaolin Kung-Fu. So yeah, if anything Kung-Fu got the lineage thing from Zen (Ch'an in the Chinese pronunciation).
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:52 PM on January 15, 2014

Robert Wright's interview with Mark Oppenheimer, the author of The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:43 PM on January 15, 2014

Wu-tang is Taoist, though.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:43 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The linked Daily Beast article seemed off-base enough that I wonder what the author's angle is. Labeling people abused by Catholic priests as "teenagers" and therefore worthy of dismissal is a rather large denial of reality, which makes me call into question the author's definitive pronouncements about Buddhist theology.

I appreciate that you included that review in the post, Potomac Avenue, because it was very much an interesting read, but I'd be interested to learn what that author's axes are to grind.
posted by jaguar at 7:53 PM on January 15, 2014

Wu-tang is Taoist, though.

Also, nuthin' to fuck with.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:34 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing to fuck with that can be described is not the real thing to fuck with.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:52 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's the student's responsibility to examine the teacher before deciding if that teacher
has the qualities one is looking for in a teacher, just as a teacher examines the student
to see if they are suitable. At least, that's what it says in Buddhism.

If a teacher has sex with a student and it's consensual....for whatever reason,
deluded or not....is it a crime? And, are not both parties responsible?

Certainly there are charlatans without moral compunction about this. There are also
lineages where this behavior is seen differently historically.
posted by eggtooth at 12:05 PM on January 16, 2014

In the movie "Crazy Wisdom", about the life of Chogyam , Trungpa,
A woman Zen Master from California says that she felt that the problem
with the Zen Teachers sleeping with their students was more in the fact
that they tried to hide it and/or lied about it....that's where the real
misconduct was...she said.
posted by eggtooth at 12:19 PM on January 16, 2014

> It's the student's responsibility to examine the teacher before deciding if that teacher has the qualities one is looking for in a teacher, just as a teacher examines the student to see if they are suitable.

Yeah, and the student should definitely be able to tell right away that the charismatic, knowledgeable teacher is going to sexually abuse them somewhere down the line. If they can't, they deserve whatever they get, eh?

> If a teacher has sex with a student and it's consensual....for whatever reason, deluded or not....is it a crime? And, are not both parties responsible?

Are you serious? Have you actually never come across or thought about this issue before? There's been a great deal written about it over the last few decades (since people stopped accepting the "boys will be boys" line). Hint: it's complicated, but yeah, the older male with the prestige and authority has a hell of a lot more responsibility.
posted by languagehat at 12:24 PM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think in a teacher student relationship that asks the student for a huge amount of trust in the superior wisdom of the teacher there is a different level of responsibility when that is used to open someone up sexually under the guise of it being part of being a good student. I don't think the fact that some people are not good at delve defense makes it morally ok to abuse this leverage over them.
posted by xarnop at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, and the student should definitely be able to tell right away that the charismatic, knowledgeable teacher is going to sexually abuse them somewhere down the line. If they can't, they deserve whatever they get, eh?

what's the difference between this and a ponzi scheme....except for the type of damage?

You're right...people are taken in by charisma...Lady Gaga...Ect....
posted by eggtooth at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2014

don't think the fact that some people are not good at self defense makes it morally ok to abuse this leverage over them.

I agree....it's the same for the Charismatics that swindle millions from old people. And teachers
that show misconduct should be exposed.
posted by eggtooth at 12:34 PM on January 16, 2014

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