Confronting Abuse of Power Buddhism Sangha Guru Buddhadharma Lion's Roar

No More Secrets

We took our time getting to the issue of abuse in Buddhist sanghas—perhaps too long. In hindsight, I wish we had talked sooner.

By Tynette Deveaux

We took our time getting to the issue of abuse in Buddhist sanghas—perhaps too long. We feared fanning the flames as communities grappled with painful scandals that were making headlines in the mainstream press. Still, in hindsight, I wish we had talked sooner.

Over the past few months, as we’ve delved into the subject of abuse, I’ve found myself incredulous at times that the abuse by mostly male Buddhist teachers has been shrouded in such secrecy for so long. I expect that from cults and gangs, but not from people like you and me—practitioners on the path who have taken a vow to save all sentient beings.

The real heroes in all of this are the whistleblowers who’ve risked incurring the wrath of their teachers and being ostracized by their dharma brothers and sisters. The task must be all the more painful for those who are victims of abuse.

This isn’t a unique story, of course. Every religion has seen its share of ethical misconduct and even gross abuse. In Canada, where I grew up, we are still dealing with the legacy of abuse of children by Catholic priests, decades after the fact. It’s heartbreaking to see the now middle-aged men and women brought to tears as they recount their experiences of abuse—abuse facilitated by a culture of deference toward the church.

Somehow, many of us thought Buddhism would be different. We wouldn’t succumb to the blind faith asked of our parents by traditional religion; our temples and centers would not become corrupt bureaucracies or havens for abuse. To be fair, most Buddhist teachers are ethical and caring. Most sanghas do offer safety and support. But it’s worth reflecting on how you would react if allegations of abuse or unethical conduct were made against your beloved teacher. Would you be quick to defend and deny? Would you try to find fault with the victim? Would you turn a blind eye?

In this issue, Rob Preece explores how we may need to rethink our relationship to our teachers in order to protect ourselves and others from abuse. In the Forum, our panel discusses the role that communities can and must play to foster ethical conduct and address wrongdoing. You’ll also find step-by-step recommendations for establishing ethical guidelines and procedures from An Olive Branch, an organization that offers its services as a neutral third party to help sanghas navigate conflict and upheaval brought on by ethical misconduct.

In the coming months, we’ll be posting interviews with practitioners who work in the trenches in the battle against abuse and violence against women, people who have lots of real-life wisdom to share. Come back to this page for regular updates and special features. Please share your thoughts and comments with us. On Twitter, join the conversation, tweeting to @LionsRoar, with the hashtag #ConfrontingAbuse. And talk with us on Facebook and Google Plus, or in the comments section, below. I hope you, too, will share your thoughts with us.

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Tynette Deveaux

Tynette Deveaux

Tynette Deveaux is the former editor of Buddhadharma.