Sexuality and Ritual in Tibetan Buddhism





Buddhist Clergy Sexual Abuse:

Annotated Bibliography


Extract from Clergy Sexual Abuse: Annotated Bibliography of Conceptual and Practical Resources by James S. Evinger - Rochester, NY - July 10, 2002, 5th revision.


Adam, Enid. (1998). Echoes of Nalinika: A monk in the dock. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, (5):261-276. [Internet: Journal of Buddhist Ethics website.] Adam is with the department of religion and philosophy, Edith Cowan University, Australia. From a first-person point of view as a consultant for the government prosecutor. Reports on the trial in 1997 of Pannasara Kahatapitiye, a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka who was practicing the Sinhalese tradition at a monastery in Perth, Western Australia. He was charged with five counts of sexual penetration without consent and six counts of indecent assault. His accusers were two women who came to him for astrological chart readings, and then returned for his counseling and assistance related to problems he had identified in the readings, including health and relationship concerns. Both had trusted his role as a monk and his respected reputation in the community, and thus were more susceptible to his sexual behaviors that, while contrary to the Buddhist monastic vows, he rationalized by reassuring references to his monk’s role. The defense tried to discredit the two as part of a political plot by Sri Lankan enemies to have him discredited and returned to his homeland so he could be harmed. He was convicted by a jury on all 11 counts, sentenced to four years in prison and to deportation upon completion of jail time.


Aitken, Robert. (1996). “Brahmadana, Intervention, and Related Considerations: A Think Piece.” Essay in Original Dwelling Place: Zen Buddhist Essays. Washington, D.C: Counterpoint: 160-170. By a senior Zen roshi in the U.S. who since 1959 has practiced and taught at the Diamond Sangha in Hawai‘i which he and his wife established. An essay written in 1995. Explores the phenomenon of the Buddhist teacher who sexually exploits his students as a violation of the third of the Pañcha Shila, the Five Precepts that Buddhists vow to follow: “I take up the way of not misusing sex.” The Buddhist teacher who is a sexual abuser: 1.) displays attachment; 2.) conceals Dharma from the student; 3.) manipulates transference to create an ultimate kind of loyalty. He recognizes the inherent vulnerability of a student: “To be vulnerable, to be naïve -- that is the Tao.” Identifies as factors: meaningful consent by a student vs. dynamics of transference to the teacher; power differential between men and women historically and culturally; the difference between “a one-time incident, ...a love affair between the Buddhist teacher and student” and “willful actions that stand in for love but that are actually ruthlessly exploitative.” As interventions, explores: 1.) the possibility of brahmadanda, i.e. shunning, by the abuser’s colleagues; 2.) an intervention analogous to that in the case of a substance abuser; 3.) informing those in a position of authority, e.g. senior members of the sangha or the sangha’s board. The goal of an intervention is “to encourage the liberation of the teacher, as well as those for whom he has caused trouble.” In a case where an “appeal to compassion and ordinary decency” fail, he allows for a lawsuit and the setting aside of the “traditional Buddhist distrust of the adversarial approach to the conflict.” Calls for the sangha to support financially the therapeutic treatment of the victim. Calls for regular sharing meetings in a sangha to create a safe setting in which betrayal can be disclosed by a student. His analysis of Zen history points to multiple factors related to the occurrence of sexual abuse by teachers: women historically were shut out of positions of power; there is a failure to address the power of sexuality, and where it is addresses, it is trivialized or exploitation is  minimized.


Anthony, Dick, Ecker, Bruce & Wilber, Ken. (Eds.). (1987). Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation. New York: Paragon House Publishers, 375 pp. Anthony is a psychologist and a disciple of Meher Baba; Ecker is a psychotherapist and a disciple of Meher Baba, Berkeley, California; Wilber is an editor, New Science Library, Random House, and a student of Zen and Vajrayana Buddhism. The book grew out of a seminar in 1980-81 (?) led by Anthony at the Center for the Study of New Religious Movements, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California. In Part 1, Anthony and Ecker present a framework of concepts and criteria by which to assess New Religious Movements, particularly those in the post-1960s U.S., and their leadership, beliefs, and practices for spiritual authenticity, distortion, and psychopathology. The typology assesses a psychospiritual group on three descriptive dimensions, each of which is divided into bipolar categories: metaphysics -- monism or dualism; central mode of practice -- technical or charismatic; interpretive sensibility -- unilevel or multilevel. This typology is briefly applied to the issue of master-disciple sexual relations which is framed as a question: “does a master’s sexual behavior have implications regarding the master’s level of spiritual realization and trustworthiness?”, p. 89. Three arguments are presented to explain why: (1) serve as role model for transcending conventional morality and going beyond the duality of good/evil; (2) play with in freedom with sexual energy as cosmic recreation; (3) initiate a disciple into higher consciousness through the avenue of sexual, or kundalini, energy. The authors reject all three as implausible, pp. 89-91: (1) promiscuity, like repression, is a non-transcending strategy, and the soul purpose of a role model is to promote spiritual realization for others; (2) physical sex does not enhance a perfect master’s already limitless ecstasy or infinite bliss; (3) experience indicates this deception is spiritual fraudulence and exploitation, that most female disciples describe the effects of sexual intercourse with a master as a source of psychological wounds and spiritual disillusionment. They liken master/disciple sex to parent/child sex in terms of dynamics of trust, power differential, and need. (This discussion refers to an earlier summary of the sexual conduct of several spiritual masters with their devotees: Baba Muktananda, a Hindu master; Richard Baker of the San Francisco Zen Center; Da Free John, pp. 22-24.)


Barol, Bill. (1988). Who is this Rama? Newsweek, 111(5, Feb. 1): 58-59. Reports that Frederick Lenz, known to his followers as Zen Master Rama, of Malibu, California, and Stony Brook, New York, has been accused of emotionally and sexually coercing former followers. Lenz is a former disciple of Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy. Includes statements from two women who were sexually exploited.


Boucher, Sandy. (1988; 1993). Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism, updated and expanded edition. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 387 pp. Boucher is a feminist and writer, Oakland, California, who, in her 40s, was introduced to Buddhist meditation. Wrote the book to explore the “phenomenon of women’s participation in Buddhism in the United States today...” and to create a “segment of history and a tool for change.” Considers a number of themes and topics, including: a basic understanding of Buddhism for readers with no background; feminist visions for new Buddhist practices; role of nuns and women teachers; the problem of abuse of power, including sexual, as experienced by women; Buddhist practice and political activism; integrating Buddhist practice with family life, job, and community. Draws upon numerous interviews with women throughout the U.S. See especially Chapter 5, “Conspiracy of Silence: The Problem of the Male Teacher,” pp. 210-258. Based on interviews, she tells the stories of: Jan Chozen Bays and her experiences with Maezumi Roshi of the Los Angeles Zen Center where she was living in 1983, the year his sexual relationship with her was disclosed; Sonia Alexander who left the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zen Center after the news that the head, Master Seung Sahn, called Soen Sa Nim by students, had had long-term sexual relationships with women in the Center; Loie Rosenkrantz, formerly director of the Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, California, that was also founded by Soen Sa Nim, and her analysis of the spiritual atmosphere after learning of his sexual activities; Carla Brennan and her thoughtful analysis of these issues [see below, Brennan, Carla, (1986).] Also interviews students of the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the former head of the Vajradhatu religious community in Boulder, Colorado, who was known for sexual relationships with students, and students of the San Francisco Zen Center which was severely affected by the discovery in 1983 that Richard Baker, the head, had had sexual relationships with students. See also ‘Painful Lessons, a section of Chapter 6, “Living Together,” pp. 351-357. Mentions of a series of incidents from California, Rhode Island, New York, Maine, and Canada.


Brennan, Carla. (1986). “Sexual Power Abuse: Neglect and Misuse of a Buddhist Precept.” Chapter in Hopkinson, Deborah, Hill, Michelle & Kiera, Eileen. (Eds.). Not Mixing Up Buddhism: Essays on Women and Buddhist Practice. Fredonia, NY: White Pine Press, pp. 55-61. Brennan is a visual artist living in western Massachusetts. Briefly discusses Buddhist teachers in the U.S. who initiated sexual relationships with their students. Analyzes these relationships as violations of the third Buddhist precept, but qualifies that analysis: “...not every instance of sexual relations between teachers and students constitutes sexual misconduct... It is the motivation behind a sexual act that determines whether the precept has been broken.” Reports on an instance of her being sexually harassed by a Zen teacher during a seven-day retreat, and its impact on her. Identifies some factors that give Zen teachers power in Western communities that can lead to sexual abuse: hierarchical organization structures adopted from the East; myth of the teacher’s infallibility; role of women in Western culture; students who are dependent; complicity by silence. Calls for open discussion and for study of the third precept.


Butterfield, Stephen T. (1994). The Double Mirror: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 261 pp. Butterfield is an English professor, Castleton State College, Castleton, Vermont. Describes his experiences as a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan guru of tantric or Vajrayana Buddhism who established Vajradhatu, an organization in the U.S. and several other countries. (Trungpa was born in 1940 in eastern Tibet, left as a refugee in the late 1950s, and began teaching in the U.S. in 1970. He was associated with the founding of Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in 1974, and died in 1987.) One of Butterfield’s preceptors was Osel Tendzin, Trungpa’s dharma heir, who “had AIDS, kept it secret, and infected one of his many unknowing student lovers” (p. 6). Tendzin died in 1990. The book is a critical reflection on Butterfield’s experiences of Vajrayana teachings and practices, and his teachers. Chapter 9, “No Big Deal,” (pp. 103-117), reflects on sexuality and love in relation to Trungpa’s teachings. While Trungpa and Tendzin “were both notorious for the number of sexual partners, or ‘consorts,’ as they were called,” including their students, his opinion is that only Tendzin violated the Mahayana commitment and the Hinayana precepts of Vajrayana Buddhism. He does not criticize either for sexualizing the teacher/student relationship.


Butler, Katy. (1983). Events are the teacher: Working through the crisis at the San Francisco Zen Center. CoEvolution Quarterly, 40(Winter):112-123. Butler is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and a student at the San Francisco Zen Center, San Francisco, California. A magazine-style, and occasionally first person-, account and analysis of the crisis in the San Francisco Zen Center following actions by the Board of Directors on 04/08-04/10/83 upon discovering that the Center’s abbot since 1977, Zentatsu Baker-roshi (nee Richard Baker) had been sexually active with women students, and that the relationships had damaged their efforts to practice Zen. The Board requested Baker-roshi not to lead services, give lectures, or perform the Jundo (silent morning walk). He withdrew from the Center, but his continuing relationship was unclear at the time of publication. The formal response included the Board choosing to disclose more information to the community, and to invite the community to engage in shared decision-making. Her analysis of what led to his behavior includes a variety of factors: the leader being isolated by not receiving feedback from a community of people who are emotionally dependent on the leader; tacit collusion by the leadership to not voice suspicions about his behaviors; uncritical respect for the concept of Dharma (teaching) transmission, a concept that reinforced Baker-roshi as the heir of a line of generations of Zen teachers; uncritical acceptance of an idealized image of an enlightened person that focused on the person rather than specific enlightened activities; a willingness to rely on trusting Japanese Zen’s structure of hierarchy and practice of emotional distancing. News of Baker-roshi’s acts disturbed the community in that he counseled against deceit, manipulation, and harming another’s spiritual path. He taught that the leaders were expected to set an example judged by tougher standards.


Campbell, June. (1996). Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 225 pp. Campbell lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, lectures in women’s studies, and teaches religious studies. The book examines the historical and institutional context of Tibetan Buddhism as a means to analyze its philosophy of female identity. Draws mainly from feminist thought and psychoanalysis for her theoretical approaches. Describes the tulku system of patriarchal lineage that combines spiritual and secular power in the lamas or monks based on the power of male priests. Analyzes the divine birth of the Dalai Lama as a devaluation of the birth mother, and by extension, all women. Also explores the meaning and relevance of secret sexual practices of Tibetan Buddhist Tantra, and issues of power and authority as they relate to the subjugation of women. Chapter 6, “At One with the Secret Other,” pp. 97-123, describes the centuries-old practice by celibate male lamas of keeping a secret songyum, a female sexual consort. The author was a secret songyum to a tulku-lama of the monastic Kagyu order, Kalu Rinpoche, for several years. The songyum was an integral part of the non-public Tantric rituals intended to use sexuality to promote spirituality. This belief derived from the Hindu Tantric system. Identifies cultural factors that contributed to women’s maintenance of the secrecy: a sense of derived prestige and acquired holiness, and access to spiritual opportunity. The mythologization of the beliefs and practices was reinforced by threats and vows of silence which were used to silence women within the patriarchal, closed system. While some lamas’ sexual practices are disclosed in posthumous biographies, the songyum practice was hidden in their lifetime because “ordinary people might misconstrue events, and lose faith in the lama...” Preservation of the monastic system’s power depended on the perception of the lama as superior beings, and therefore as celibate. Contrasts the Tantric sexual beliefs and practices of Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, particularly regarding the essence and role of the female. Her conclusion is that Tibetan Buddhism has taught a dualistic, male-centered system in which the otherness of the female is valued only insofar as it is instrumental to the superiority of the male lamas. At other points in the book, she discusses the willingness of contemporary Western converts to submit uncritically in a student/lama relationship that can lead to a cult-like devotion and result in sexual abuse. Includes: bibliography, endnotes, and glossary. [For an interview with her, see below, Tworkhov, Helen. (1996).]


Jenish, D’Arcy. (1990). A troubled church: A Buddhist group recovers from controversy. MacLean’s, 103(44, Oct. 29):62. Newsweekly magazine report about the Vajradhatu International Buddhist Church. The church was founded by Chögyam Trungpa, is based on Tibetan Buddhism, and has about 3,500 members in North America. Trungpa died in 1986 after relocating the world headquarters from Boulder, Colorado, to Halifax, Canada. In August, 1990, Trungpa’s chosen successor, Osel Tendzin (formerly Thomas Rich), died of AIDS-related pneumonia amid allegations that he had infected other church members through his sexual activities with them.


Tworkhov, Helen. (1996). The emperor’s tantric robes: An interview with June Campell on codes of secrecy and silence. [] From Tricycle, Winter, 1996; pagination lacking. Tworkhov is not identified. Campell is the author of Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism. [see above, Campbell, June. (1996)]. Interview topics include: her motivation for writing the book; the place of women in Tibetan Buddhism; how misogyny helped male monastic practice; the tulku system and the silencing of women; secret relationships between llamas and women; her realization of being sexually exploited by Kalu Rinpoche; those who criticize or discredit her; advice for women in the position she once was in; power and the Tibetan system of Buddhism.


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