The victims never seem as important

The NY Times has an editorial on abuse in religious groups.

 the truth is, there are not two kinds of religions — the enlightened and the medieval. Every religion has evildoers stalking its corridors. They just survive, and thrive, with different strategies.

Take Zen Buddhism, the paragon of open, nonhierarchical spirituality. Anyone may practice Zen meditation; you do not have to convert, be baptized or renounce your old religion. Yet leaders of major Zen centers in Los Angeles and New York have recently been accused, on strong evidence, of exploiting followers for sex. This weekend, Zen teachers ordained by Joshu Sasaki, the semiretired abbot of the Rinzai-ji Zen Center in Los Angeles, are holding a retreat to discuss sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Sasaki. The Zen Studies Society, in New York, is under new leadership after its longtime abbot, Eido Shimano, was forced out after he was accused of inappropriate sexual liaisons with students and other women.

Paul Karsten, a board member of the Rinzai-ji Zen Center, said the intense relationship between Zen teacher and student can be trouble. For example, in private meetings, some teachers touch students. The touching is never supposed to be sexual, but there can be misunderstandings, or outright abuse.

It’s like therapy in that way – an intense but hierarchical one-on-one relationship. It’s no big surprise that the priest/teacher/shaman/therapist can parlay that into sex. Priests and teachers get to be seen as special, wise, “spiritual,” enlightened – they don’t get rich but they do get admiration. No doubt to some it would seem just plain wasteful not to leverage it for sex.

That is everyone else, not just religious people. The Satmar Hasidim may have wanted to protect a beloved member, the Modern Orthodox administrators probably worried about their community’s reputation — and the Penn State loyalists enabled Jerry Sandusky. Somehow, the victims never seem as important as the rabbi, the Zen master, the coach. In the words of a once-revered rabbi, Norman Lamm, may as well let the perpetrators “go quietly.”

Oh yes I forgot to say coaches.


  1. Rodney Nelson says

    We certainly see this attitude with the Catholic Church. The bishops never say “we’ve got some bad apples and it’s our policy to protect them.” Instead they point fingers at gays, Jews, Hollywood, permissive sexual attitudes, and even those seductive, sexy children themselves. The bishops refuse to admit the whole thing is the church’s problem and they’re fighting hard not to fix it.

  2. sailor1031 says

    In “a path with heart” Jack Kornfield addressed this at some length. Not a new phenomenon. It seems to be an issue of power and control and the fact that gurus, be they zen monks, rabbis, catholic priests, coaches, teachers, politicians or whatever have great opportunity to indulge their appetites should they have them and wish to do so. Of course a serious student of zen would question the enlightenment of any roshi behaving in such a way. To quote Moose Roshi “there’s still something missing….”

  3. JoeBuddha says

    Speaking as a life-long Buddhist, I have to say: Please don’t give Buddhism a pass. Buddhism teaches you to be the best person you can possibly be. Problem is: It’s hard work. Much easier to slough off and convince teh rubes you know something special.
    You need to be as wary of a Buddhist priest as any other professional religionist. I know professionals who I have respect for, but they’ve always earned it. If more lay believers understood this, we’d have fewer incidents.

  4. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Buddhism teaches you to be the best person you can possibly be.

    Perhaps being somoene who uses their power for sexual gratification is being the best person they can possibly be.
    When someone pointed out that Evelyn Waugh wasn’t a very good example of the virtues of toman catholicism, Waugh replied:’What do you think I’d be like if I wasn’y a believer?’ Waugh didn’t think he could guide other people,though.

  5. akshelby says

    I remember trying to have a discussion about this subject when I was trying to be Buddhist. The founder of Shambhala, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, had numerous sexual encounters with his students. I was told those people were so very privileged to have sex with a fully enlightened being. He was also constantly drunk, but I was told that was to help him cope with being a fully enlightened being in this existence. It was a load of bullshit.

  6. Kelseigh Nieforth says

    From what I’ve heard Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s son seems to be a bit of an improvement on the previous generation. Although I’ve been out of the loop with regard to Shambhala for quite a while, so I could easily be wrong.

    I was listening to a Buddhist podcast recently that did point out that stripped of the religion and lore, what Buddhist practice really does is develop what you put into it. So if you’re fostering quiet, you’ll get more quiet; if you’re fostering creativity you’ll be more creative, etc. If you’re spending your time angling for sex, then being more sex-oriented and self-oriented you’ll be. Nothing really prevents that, but if you know what you’re trying to foster ahead of time it helps a lot.

  7. Sastra says

    I suspect that there’s a similar factor working in Catholicism, Buddhism, and sports: when you enter them you do so hoping to let go of “ego” and learn to submit — so that you may merge into/with a group for the sake of a Purpose higher than Self. “It’s not all about you.” You work very hard on developing that mindset.

    And you become very easy to exploit. If it’s not all about you, who are YOU to protest? You shouldn’t even notice. You should have eliminated that focus on self.

  8. invidosa says

    I think the last comment about the coach is very important. We make a mistake as a culture when we only highlight sexual manipulation from the pulpit (although it’s an easy mistake to make since it is a particularly egregious example, since new eternal soul is used as leverage). This is a problem less to do with religion and more to do with dramatically differing positions in a power structure. We have all heard the tales of the CEO and the administrator, ALL people deserve a voice and a position from which to protect themselves.

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