Monday, February 18, 2013

Buddhist abuse

Child and sexual abuse by religious leaders in the Catholic Church is common knowledge and also occurs in the Protestant faith.  Recently there have been several prominent cases of Jewish leaders who have been accused of abuse in different countries: Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who is leader of the UK’s Orthodox Jewish community, told an alleged victim of sexual abuse that it was forbidden to report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority; in New York, Rabbi Nechemia Weberman, a prominent figure in the ultra-strict Satmar branch of Hasidic Jewry, was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a girl who had been sent to him for counseling; in a recent case in Canada, Dr. Aubrey Levin of the University of Calgary‘s Psychiatry Department was convicted of sexually assaulting male patients who had been referred to him for treatment by Alberta’s criminal justice system, and a letter from Rabbi Yisroel Miller, the leader of House of Jacob Mikveh Israel, an Orthodox synagogue, was read aloud in court in support of Dr. Levin; and in Australia there have been reports of sexual abuse at Jewish schools in Melbourne and Sydney in the 1970's-80's.
But this blog is about an unusual case of abuse that occurred in the Buddhist faith, one not usually associated with such activities. The Buddhist Master Joshu Sasaki arrived in Los Angeles from Japan in 1962 and has taught thousands of Americans at his Zen centers in the area and in New Mexico and has influenced thousands more seekers of enlightenment through a chain of affiliated Zen centers across the world. He is known as the Buddhist teacher of Leonard Cohen, the poet and songwriter.  Although he is now 105 years old, Sasaki has been accused by an independent Buddhist panel of having groped and sexually molested young women over a period of 30 years (see
 Several women have come forward and made complaints that while they were being taught by him, he groped their breasts and had intimate physical contact with them.  At the time, when they were teenagers they accepted his authority that this was part of the training in self-control that they had to undergo, and also that this was not to be revealed to anyone.  What is unusual about these complaints is that Zen Buddhism as a religious order emphasizes self-restraint, that the world is an illusion and therefore that feelings and passions are to kept severely under control (this raises the eternal question "what is the sound of one hand groping?") Apparently Buddhist leaders too are only human and succumb to the needs of the flesh and of their own power over others. I have seen no evidence that revered religious leaders are any more moral than those of us who do not pretend to their higher levels of moral authority. 


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