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Monday, April 12, 2010

Sexual Abuse Isn't Just a Catholic Issue.

I may be wrong on this but it seems rare to hear of a sexual abuse scandal in the Buddhist world but there has been one brewing for some time now in the American Zen circle:

"This article, among other revelations, presents a face of Zen not ordinarily visible to the general public. That is, how well known Zen rōshis and leading Zen figures spoke and acted; or failed to speak and act, in the face of deeply troubling allegations and really severe problems. Thereby, the article also points to the underlying interests of these rōshis.

The letter makes it clear that the teachers have heard first hand reports of Eido Shimano's activities directly from a number of the women involved. The repetitive nature of the allegations over a three decade period during which these alleged transgressions occurred without any formal public investigation or adequate resolution was so great that it motivated eight prominent Zen leaders from across America to sign the document, in the name of the greater North American Zen Maha-Sangha."
James: These are some of the allegations that really seem to show the Roshi as having acted highly inappropriately. If true, (and they seem true) he has also defaced and mocked the American Zen tradition. As well as Buddhism in general:

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. Some of these students elected to continue their practice with us; most of them wanted nothing further to do with Zen Buddhism.

James: This is extremely serious. This trusted monk was supposed to show people how to liberate themselves from suffering--not increase their suffering!! What an appalling perversion of Buddhism!! And he allegedly did it multiple times over DECADES!! He not only allegedly abused them but he has also lead people astray from the path, which is a very egregious action in Buddhism. And if other Zen teachers knew of these transgressions and did nothing about it are just as culpable in my view. A lot of Buddhists believe it is rare to find the path of the Buddha and to lead people astray from it is to hold the enlightenment of fledgling beings in the palm of your hand and then tossing that into a deep, dark and muddy hole. The karma that such a false leader incurs must be enormous.
There is a saying in a Jataka which can be summarized as follows: “When a herd of cattle is traveling, if the leading bull strays, the whole herd goes astray. So it is with the people. If the appointed leader practices adhamma or unrighteousness, the multitude will also practise it. The whole nation will suffer if that one fails to abide by the Dhamma. When a herd of cattle is traveling, if the leading bull keeps to the proper course, the whole herd will do the same. So it is with the people. If the appointed leader abides by the Dhamma, the multitude will do likewise. The whole nation will be content if the leader upholds the Dhamma. This Buddhist saying is quite clear. The behavior of the leader is of great consequence to the masses as they will inevitably follow his example."
James: The Vinaya, which is a body of rules of monastics states, "Like a person, whose head is cut off, is unable to live with that mutilated body, a bhikkhu having associated with sex becomes a non-samana and non-sakyan-son (i.e. loses his monkhood and the membership among the Buddha’s sangha)." It might be tempting by some to ignore this uncomfortable issue but if we truly believe the essence of Buddha's message was to help others over-come suffering then we owe it to these victims, and even the Roshi himself to address this completely. It is so sad that this drove some people away from Buddhism but regardless, I hope that they find the peace and relief from suffering that they deserve.

~Peace to all beings~

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Buddhist_philosopher said...

Wow - thanks James. The extent to which this mirrors the current Catholic scandal (albeit in much smaller scale) is amazing.

I'll update my (yesterday) post discussing the Catholic issue.

Mumon said...

I've commented on this before, and can appreciate some of the dynamic as to why these things happen the way they do. They inclue:

- A complete naivete and ignorance of the legal ramifications. Yeah, forget the moral and psychological ramifications. These guys are even clueless about what kind of s*!t can go down when you don't report this stuff.

- An extreme attachment to the teacher. A teacher such as Eido Shimano, as I've blogged, actually does help most of his sangha! He does. He's helped me. That said, see the point above. When you've actually gotten relief in your life from suffering, and someone like Shimano was catalytic in that, well, there's a tendency to be attached to that.

Combine both points together though, and it's a ticking time bomb for a sangha.

I continue to benefit from the teachings of Eido Shimano and his desendants, but that's because, paradoxically, the Dharma doesn't depend on them. I do wish that all those involved are made whole, though.

Nathan said...

There have been a fair number of sex scandals in North American convert Buddhist communities - most notably involving Ösel Tendzin, the successor to Trungpa Rinpoche, and Richard Baker, Suzuki Roshi's successor in San Francisco. My own first teacher was ousted several years ago after sleeping with a student, and additional allegations of power abuse with other female students. This stuff is happening in our communities, maybe not on the scale of that in the Catholic church (nor involving children, which is a major lightning rod), but we're not really doing all that much better (in my view) with sex, power, and sexuality.

RoseBelle said...

I've never heard of any scandals and sexual misconduct by Buddhist monks. This is the first time I hear about it. What a shame as that monk should know very well what happens when he performs these heinous acts against his students. For a monk, his karmic obstacles would be more severe.

They call him James Ure said...

Buddhist Phil:

Yeah, it just goes to show that even monks are subject still to desire and arrogance. Some monks let power get to their head, which is totally confusing reverence and respect as adoration. It's like Buddha said, don't automatically trust your teachers simply because they are teachers (Kalama Sutra).


I'm sure that Eido Shimano has done many good things as well, and I would never want to take away the good experience you had.


You're right. We ignore this at our own peril--not to mention of course the suffering of the victims themselves. I can't help but wonder if celibacy has anything to do with sexual abuse scandals.

I'm not saying we should end the centuries old practice necessarily but maybe we need to look into whether celibacy causes an unnatural build of sexual tension that can come out in unhealthy ways.


Luckily I think this kind of abuse is rare in Buddhist circles. I still have yet to see that it's as wide spread a problem as in the Catholic communities or any other religious community.

Still, it's serious enough to be something we should be facing head on. This latest Catholic scandal should tell us all we need to know about handling such cases.

Eugene said...

I had heard of Shimano roshi's indiscretions nearly 20 years ago while practicing martial arts with some Dai Bosatsu sangha members in NYC. Such sexually predatory behavior was practiced by many of the "high ranked" Japanese martial arts teachers I trained with at that time. Learning of the alleged transgressions of Shimano roshi, I came to the conclusion that Japanese culture tolerates sexual predatory behavior by teachers against students.

Al said...

Please don't call him a monk or quote the vinaya in reference to this. Zen priests, and I am one, are not Vinaya holding monastics. We don't follow those precepts and it is misleading to people to talk about the vinaya in this context. None of the Japanese Buddhist schools have followed the Vinaya for quite a while as part of their ordination system.

I agree with the substance of what you are saying but this lacks clarity.

They call him James Ure said...

@Al...What is he other than a monk? I'm not trying to be flip or anything. I'm just honestly asking what I should have referred to him as instead. Priest?

And I apologize for confusing the vinaya with Zen. I'm still learning things but I guess my point wasn't the vinaya as much as
I was expressing that he should lose his membership as a priest/monastic.

Al said...

Yes, priest. Some people use the terms interchangably but that just leads to confusion. Buddhist Monks (Bhikshus) follow the Vinaya. Traditionally, there you are either a monk or a householder.

In Japan and Japanese influenced places, this system fell into abeyance as Saicho, the founder of Tendai in Japan, pushed forward ordination reforms over a thousand years ago with an ordination based on the Bodhisattva Vows. This system became dominant in Japan. Add to this that Japanese monks and nuns quit being celibate in the 19th century, and they are effectively householders with a lot more vows.

You can criticize Eido for his behavior, especially in regards to sexual misconduct, but you can't really criticize him for not being celibate or by Vinaya rules because he isn't a holder of the Vinaya vows. A Chinese Chan monk or a Theravadan monk is, on the other hand. Generally, people only use "monk" to refer to those that hold the Vinaya these days.

By accounts (since we've seen no proof) Eido committed sexual misconduct and misused his position, both as a teacher and as a leader of an organization. This is reprehensible in any organization, whether it be public schools, work, or anywhere else. People in positions of authority have an moral responsibility to not take immoral advantage of the power dynamic that puts them in a position over someone.

They call him James Ure said...

@Al...Thanks for the clarifictaion. So, just to better understand--one can be a Zen priest and not be celibate? That sounds more realistic than living a life of total sensual denial but then again I'm a western Buddhist heathen lol. Thanks again for the information.

Al said...

I'm married and have a 14 year old daughter...

Al said...

You realize that most Tibetan lamas aren't monastics, technically, either and are married.

In fact, the Sakya lineage, for example, is passed down within the Sakya family. Most Japanese temples are passed down father to son as well. Suzuki Roshi's son, as I recall, became a priest in Japan and took over Suzuki's former temple.

They call him James Ure said...

@Al...That makes total sense because I've questioned the celibacy issue for years.

Blake said...

Kamamudra, or Tantric Yoga performed with a partner is an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism. While it is often done with adult nuns, young immature girls are often used as well. Also, these "rituals" are routinely practiced on the young boys living in the monasteries. While the Catholic Church officially condemns the sexual abuse of children, in Tibetan Buddhism, it is an integral part of the religion itself.

Al said...

Blake, you're a bit confused about what is actually going on.

Please cite a source other than your opinion if you want people to believe your claims are a systematic part of Tibetan Vajryana.

Tantric Yoga is part of Vajrayana but most practitioners are celibate vinaya holders so it is only done as visualization, not with a human partner.

Blake said...

Al, do you honestly believe they only visualize having sex? If so, I have some ocean front property in Arizona to sell you. You should read Traveller in Space by June Campbell. Also, I know a guy that lived in Dharamsala for a while, and he said the monks were far from celibate and they routinely abused the boys living there in addition to having sex with the adult monks (usually non-penetrative) and nuns (often penetrative). He had been a devout follower for many years before moving to India, but he was so disillusioned because of what he saw there that he no longer even considers himself a follower. He says when he finally realized what was going on there, he felt very foolish for ever believing these people were holy men. They did an outstanding job hiding it from him for a while, and followers in the West are clueless about these secret "rites." In Bhutan, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck banned the practice of Karmamudra because it typically involved exploitation of young immature nuns and monks. The visualization claim is an outright lie, and anyone that believes otherwise is only fooling themselves. Just look at the evidence and stop sheepishly believing what you are told.

Al said...

June Campbell's book, which I have read, does not show something systematic. It shows a particular situation.

Sure, people do this stuff on occasion but you're presenting it as something widespread and being done in an abusive manner when it is done. I call bullshit on that unless you want to step up with actual evidence. An incident or even a dozen incidents amongst tens of thousands of people is hardly that.

Saying, "I know a guy..." convinces me of very little. Anecdotal evidence is not evidence of much at all.

They call him James Ure said...

@Al. Agreed. A few cases doesn't mean the entire faith of Tibetan Buddhism is a den of iniquity.

Blake said...

Al, there is abundant anecdotal evidence out there that abuse is widespread, but you obviously choose to ignore it in favor of claims that have been proven time and time again to be false. June Campbell is just one example, and the exploitation is so extensive that most women and children will never escape it. How many cases of abuse do you consider acceptable? Do you consider the claims of the former King of Bhutan to be invalid? Did you also believe the claims made by the Catholic Church that there were only a handful of isolated instances of abuse, or do you only believe such claims when they are made by Buddhists? Maybe if more people didn't mindlessly believe the preposterous claims of visualizing sex, people like June Campbell wouldn't be taken in by evil people posing as holy men.

Al said...

I'm still waiting for sources. You claim, effectively, that everyone knows this and I'm just ignoring it. I think that is an excuse for the fact that you can't actually cite anything other than one person's account of being the consort to a Lama (which she was fine with for years until it ended).

Feel free to show me your evidence.

I wouldn't invoke the Catholic Church as there is lots of evidence there. The evidence is on public record in various court cases and people have investigated it in detail and published the results. The Catholics have lost in court. There is nothing like that kind of evidence trail and you can wave your hands all you want but I'm not buying it just because you personally believe it to be true. I find it unconvincing.

Al said...

For the record, I don't think June Campbell was "taken in" at all. While I think the power dynamic means that that sort of relationship is unhealthy, she wasn't coerced into it and maintained the relationship for years by her own decision.

If I found a teacher doing that, I wouldn't necessarily stay with them but it isn't the same as priests raping minors and the Catholic Church moving them to fertile fields to hide the priests that did it for decades.

jade said...

If you want to see some more of the mess in Tibetan Buddhism, read:
Tomek Lenhurt - 'Rogues in Robes'

Stephen Butterfield - 'The double mirror'

Peter Bishop - "The Myth of Shangri La"

You can go ask the Spirit Rock dharma centre about their visit to see the Dalai Lama, to complain about Sogyal Rinpoches constant sex abuse (a lot of spirit rock are therapists, so they get to see a fair few victims.) The Dalai lamas response... polite nodding and then showing them out, taking no action. Very like the Catholic scandals, sadly.

I've spoken to too many victims first hand to think that my contact with this is exceptional. Of course, no one will say anything to someone who thinks the Vajrayana is still so pure and holy.

I suspect taking a child of 3 away from their parents, raising them in a monastery, telling them they are a divinely enlightened being, whilst getting them to daily perform a ritual where they impersonate being a divinely enlightened being, produces some strangely distorted personalities.

(this is the common life of most Rinpoches) Power and abuse gets bad in Zen, but it gets worse where students literally worship the Guru as a living buddha.


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