[Saturday, September 1 update] On Saturday, Noah Levine sent an open letter to the Against the Stream and Refuge Recovery communities addressing the allegations of sexual misconduct against him and the organization’s decision to shut down its centers.
Read the letter in its entirety below:
This is a complicated letter to write because I am essentially writing three groups of people in one open letter. I have a completely different perspective of my experiences with each of you individually and as groups of people. I’m going to approach this with compassion, willingness to listen and attempt to make sense of what is a layered, messy, painful situation.
I feel that it’s important for everyone to know that none of this had anything to do with students of ATS or members of Refuge Recovery. These were issues that came from my personal life.
I take full responsibility for anything that I have actually done. And will continue to be honest and cooperative with the process and anyone seeking the truth. That said, I will likewise also continue to tell the truth about what never happened, such as the accusation that I assaulted someone.
To the women who have come forward and expressed a sense of suffering because of interpersonal experiences with me, I am sorry I caused you harm and I ask your forgiveness. I wanted to connect and to explore a relationship. This has been a deeply painful learning experience. I want to take full responsibility for any harm I caused to anyone and everyone with whom I have had a dating relationship. I want to make amends for my behavior if it didn’t feel good to them. I don’t want to defend or minimize. It is important to me that any woman who felt harmed, now feels heard. I want to understand. It matters. I was shocked to hear (months later) that someone was unhappy in any way with our interactions. I was not aware at the time that anything was amiss with how we connected. Whenever a boundary was stated – physical, emotional, or otherwise – I always honored it.
This is part of the learning for me in all of this – that just because someone doesn’t say “No” or express displeasure at the time, doesn’t always mean they are happy about it. I can also see that I wasn’t taking into account my power/privilege and status as a dharma teacher in my personal dating life. Perhaps I’ve had some denial or dismissive tendencies around my role as the founder of these two communities (ATS and RR). This has been a very painful way to wake up to the reality of who I am and how I’m seen by others.
For my communities, my heart breaks that intimate experiences from my personal life have caused a ripple effect that has made our community fragment. I can’t explain to you the depth of my sadness as I think of each of you and what has come to be a community trauma. I am especially sensitive to the needs of the recovery community and I encourage you to lean on each other. Against the Stream may not exist in name, but the community still exists in each other. Refuge Recovery meetings are a peer-led process, support each-other and continue the necessary work of your own healing and recovery. In moments like this we must remember even more to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
For my colleagues, I feel betrayed and abandoned. You were my family. We taught compassion and forgiveness together. I feel you did the opposite. You silenced me. You isolated me. You did not give me the benefit of the doubt, and you offered me no path to forgiveness and healing.
As a community we face the painful reality of all that has taken place and we now have the task of beginning the process of grieving the losses, navigating the changes and rebuilding the trust and connection that we once had. I have every intention of carrying on with my calling and mission, that is to practice the Dharma, to embody wisdom and compassion as best I can and to share the teachings of the Buddha with all who are interested to receive it.
I will continue my work at Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers providing addiction treatment to suffering addicts as well as teaching my weekly meditation group at our new location in Venice. I will also be offering residential retreats through my friends at Rebel Saints Meditation Society. For now it looks like all of the other organizations and retreat centers that I have been teaching at for the past many years will cancel my events out of fear of the criticism they will receive if they continue to have me as faculty.
I am continuing to process all of this with my psychotherapist who specializes in Sexuality, and staying in contact with some of my Buddhist teachers.
I will end with my meditation phrase-
Please forgive me for any harm I have caused, intentionally or unintentionally.
On August 25, the leadership of Against the Stream Meditation Society sent a letter to its community announcing that founder Noah Levine was found to have “more likely than not” “violated the Third Precept of [ATS’s] Teacher’s Code of Ethics, namely, “to avoid creating harm through sexuality,” with multiple women, and that the organization’s centers would be shutting down.
According to the statement, Against the Stream (ATS) received allegations of sexual assault involving Levine on March 27. On March 29, ATS announced that it would launch an investigation. Levine’s teaching activities were suspended within ATS, though he continued to teach elsewhere. On August 14th, Jezebel reported additional allegations of misconduct by Levine.
The statement makes the distinction that the conclusion “is not a finding of guilt or liability by a court; it is our conclusion based on our own evaluation of the evidence presented to us.”
According to the statement, Levine denies the allegations. He has been removed from his position on the board and as a teacher at ATS.
The statement says that the allegations have been “devastating” for ATS — with large donations and grants lost — and that ATS’s centers will shut down on September 30.
According to the statement, four board members, a co-guiding teacher, and the organization’s executive director have announced departures from the organization, and the affiliate centers in Boston and Nashville have dissociated from ATS. The statement also says that “Each member of our Teachers Council has expressed a wish to dissociate themselves from Mr. Levine – to begin again and share teachings in a new form with students.”
Levine is a best-selling author and the founder of ATS and two separate organizations, both called Refuge Recovery. One is a nonprofit that supports recovery groups and the other is a for-profit drug and alcohol treatment center.
Here is the letter in its entirety:
We are writing to inform you of the outcome of the investigation into Noah Levine’s conduct and the future of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society (ATS). We regret the delay and lengthy period of silence that contributed to uncertainty, confusion and pain. We have worked hard to conduct the process thoroughly and in a manner that protected the rights of all involved, including strict requirements for confidentiality required by the Grievance Council Procedures. Members of ATS governance have been deliberate and volunteered hundreds of hours to ensure the trustworthiness of the investigation. We retained expert consultants and an attorney to guide us. All of this has taken time. We ask for your understanding for the ways in which the process has been painful for you.
The ATS Grievance Council received allegations of sexual assault involving Noah Levine on March 27th 2018. Pending an investigation, Mr. Levine was temporarily suspended from teaching at ATS on March 29th. Soon thereafter, Roberta Yang, an experienced attorney and investigator of workplace harassment, was hired to conduct an independent investigation of the initial allegation and other allegations of misconduct that surfaced shortly thereafter.
Ms. Yang’s task was to determine if the ATS Teachers Code of Ethics was violated by Mr. Levine and convey her conclusions to the ATS Grievance Council. The standard Ms. Yang used was the preponderance of evidence, which means that she considered if the allegations were more likely than not to be true based on her evaluation of statements from witnesses and other evidence. Ms. Yang interviewed, or offered to interview, all affected parties and reached her conclusions independently and without any influence by ATS. Ms. Yang concluded that with multiple women, Mr. Levine violated the Third Precept of the Teacher’s Code of Ethics, namely, “to avoid creating harm through sexuality.” That is to say, Ms. Yang concluded that, based on her evaluation of the evidence she reviewed, the preponderance of that evidence showed such violations.
These findings were carefully considered by the ATS Grievance Council and recommendations were made to the ATS Board of Directors in consultation with an independent ethics consultant. The standard for evaluating a Buddhist teacher’s actions are not the same as the criminal or even the civil standards of proof. Spiritual leaders are held to a higher ethical standard than the public at large and higher than other community leaders. However, ATS’ conclusion is not a finding of guilt or liability by a court; it is our conclusion based on our own evaluation of the evidence presented to us. Mr. Levine denied, and continues to deny, wrongdoing.
At the conclusion of the process, the Board decided to remove Mr. Levine from the Board and from teaching at ATS. The Board further recommends that he seek all necessary support to transform his understanding and conduct, especially as it relates to his relation to power dynamics.
Firstly, to the women directly impacted, we wish to remain available to you and to provide whatever support we can that you might find helpful. We consider this another critical moment to study the way that different treatment based on gender constellates in the ATS community specifically, and society more generally. Events such as this have the power to shake one’s confidence in the refuge of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We hope that the pain of this moment actually leads us back towards the heart and that we might all find true refuge.
Effects on Organization and ATS Future
The effect of the controversy arising from these events has been devastating for ATS. While ATS has previously experienced precarious financial moments, this period has eroded core capacities of the organization. Fiscal impacts were immediate. A 10th anniversary fundraiser was postponed; a large foundation grant was returned because we could not meet our objectives; other forms of giving contracted. Monthly expenses significantly outpace revenue and our savings have been drawn down. Four Board members resigned, a co-guiding teacher departed, two affiliate centers – Boston and Nashville – are dissociating from ATS, and our Executive Director is planning to depart at the end of his contract period. Each member of our Teachers Council has expressed a wish to dissociate themselves from Mr. Levine – to begin again and share teachings in a new form with students.
During the course of the investigation, the Board of Directors, Teachers Council and Executive Leadership explored a number of financial models and collaborative arrangements that would allow ATS to remain a viable, healthy organization. We were unable to find a solution.
With deep sadness, we announce that ATS will close the doors to its Melrose, Santa Monica and San Francisco centers on Sept 30, 2018. Know that the impact of losing a spiritual community has been given every possible consideration. We understand that many of you have been sangha members from the very beginning. Our commitment moving forward is to be available and be present for the grief or anger or confusion that may arise.
While we have tried to navigate this time with as much skill as we have, we know that these events are a lot and land in different ways for you. To the extent that we can be of support, we wish to be available for you. We will be holding community sessions in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the teachers will use class time, when appropriate, to help digest all of this. Please know that we’re also part of the sangha – none of this has been easy and we’re experiencing our own forms of loss.
The refuge of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is supported by people and places, but is never dependent on a person or a place. Though ATS is ending, the Dharma, as always, continues. The ripples and resonances of goodness and sincerity continue.
Our teachers and facilitators are actively transitioning to new offerings, groups and spaces to ensure that former ATS communities across the country are supported going forward. In Los Angeles, JoAnna Hardy has announced the formation of the Meditation Coalition, which Mary Stancavage, Cheryl Slean and some ATS facilitators will be joining. In San Francisco, Vinny Ferraro is in process looking to rent space for the Friday night class. Matthew Brensilver will remain accessible and is committed to serving the sangha in a sustained way. Nashville ATS will continue in the same location as Wild Heart Meditation Center. In Boston, Chris Crotty is committed to ensuring long-term sustainability of sangha in that city and on the east coast. We will announce more details as they come.
For the next months, Vinny Ferraro’s September weekend retreat will continue as planned, the New Years’ retreat with Cheryl Slean and Dave Smith will be held again in Malibu, and the Women’s Retreat with Mary and JoAnna will be held once again at Joshua Tree in January 2019.
We will update you as details are finalized.
To our beloved community, we are humbled, we are heartbroken, and we grieve with you.
ATS Board of Directors
ATS Grievance Council
ATS Teachers Council