An Olive Branch Be Proactive Abuse of Power Confronting Buddhism Sangha Teachers Misconduct Controversy

Confronting Abuse: Be Proactive

An Olive Branch presents an action plan for putting the necessary supports in place to protect sangha members from abuse

By An Olive Branch

An Olive Branch presents an action plan for putting the necessary supports in place to protect sangha members from abuse and for creating procedures to deal with it if it happens.

Buddhist groups in the United States have been rocked in recent years by misconduct on the part of honored teachers—misconduct that in some cases had been going on for many years but was kept secret by teachers, boards, sanghas, and the victims themselves. Unfortunately, many Buddhist organizations lack policies and procedures related to misconduct. Teachers, students, and governing boards seem unaware of their governance responsibilities and potential liability when misconduct occurs. Without robust guidelines, misconduct usually results in chaos and long-lasting damage to individuals and organizations. When a trusted leader is accused, the stability of the organization is threatened and its ability to pursue its mission is compromised.

Before Misconduct Arises

Regardless of whether a Buddhist group in the United States is incorporated as a nonprofit organization or organized informally around a single teacher, leaders have a responsibility to establish a community of practice in which students and teachers understand and adhere to an agreed-upon code of conduct. This code should include an ethics policy defining standards of behavior, a whistleblower policy protecting the rights of any person who reports wrongdoing, and a grievance procedure specifying steps to be taken when policies are violated.

Proactive Tasks for Boards/Leaders/Teachers

Proactive Tasks for Individuals/Students

When Misconduct Is Alleged

Rage, disbelief, shock, grief, and departure are just some of the reactions to misconduct. Even with a grievance procedure in place, the emotionally charged components of allegations and the human relationships involved challenge everyone to follow the procedure rationally.

The most effective way to calm the turmoil arising from an allegation of misconduct is to engage a neutral third party. An objective person is skilled at listening and facilitating a fair process for the accused, the accuser, and the surrounding community. Individuals must feel that they are heard and something is being done to address the allegations.

Recommended Responses for Boards/Leaders/Teachers

Recommended Responses for Individuals/Students

More on Confronting Abuse of Power:

An Olive Branch

An Olive Branch

An Olive Branch is a Buddhist-inspired organization that helps communities resolve conflicts and design ethical governance procedures. It is directed by Kyoki Roberts, Katheryn Wiedman, and Leslie Hospodar. Visit for more information.