January 11, 2013

An Open Letter to the Buddhist Community from the Osho Council of Rinzai-ji

This morning we received the following open letter to the American Buddhist community from the Osho Council of Rinzai-ji responding to the sexual misconduct of their head Joshu Sasaki Roshi.

Recently there has been the allegation of long-term sexual misconduct by Joshu Sasaki Roshi, as well as the inability on the part of the senior practitioners to appropriately address the problem. 

Sadly, we cannot deny these accusations. This issue has been a sore on the body of our Sangha for decades, and we are eager and relieved to finally open it to the light of day.

The Rinzai-ji community of practitioners has struggled with our teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi’s sexual misconduct for a significant portion of his career in the United States. Senior members of our community have made several earnest and serious attempts over the years to correct this problem. Ultimately, these attempts failed.   Our hearts were not firm enough, our minds were not clear enough, and our practices were not strong enough so that we might persist until the problem was resolved. We fully acknowledge now, without any reservation, and with the heaviest of hearts, that because of our failure to address our teacher’s sexual misconduct, women and also men have been hurt, women and men who trusted us with their Zen practices, and whose trust we failed to honor in a fundamental way.

Joshu Sasaki Roshi is no longer teaching. Senior members of our organization have been busy the past year crafting a document that outlines how our community will move forward without him. A key portion of this document is being dedicated to an ethics policy to ensure that the kind of misconduct that we failed to address properly in the past will not occur again—and will be dealt with properly and swiftly if it does.  Although we sincerely believe that Sasaki Roshi’s teachings have helped a great number of people, and we are profoundly grateful that he brought us this deep and meaningful tradition, clearly we have been doing something fundamentally wrong if harmful behavior could continue for so many years.

It is our deepest and sincerest intention that in directly addressing the issue here, we can begin to contribute in some small way to the larger discussion in American Buddhism about how to manifest the dharma without deceit, dysfunction, unhealthy power imbalances, inappropriate sexual relationships, and, ultimately, the heartbreak that results from all of the above.

Most importantly this means reaching out to those who have suffered from this problem, and doing everything we possibly can to help them heal. As the first step on a long road, we are forming a Bearing Witness Council that will confidentially receive the stories of the women who are hurting, and work with them to move toward healing. (Information about this will be available soon at rinzaijioshos.org.) 

Furthermore, as practitioners tasked with teaching the dharma, we must take a look at ourselves, and the way we relate to each other, and at the question of power in our community, with fresh and unyielding eyes.  It is our profound and immediate responsibility to make sure that this problem never happens again in our community.  Our job now is to face our failures with humility and a firm commitment to change, and as a start, we bow our heads low in apology and ask for the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt over the years through our neglect.

Nine bows,

The Osho Council of Rinzai-ji


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Jim Spencer's picture

(insert loud scream here)

having been through this sangha-destroying behavior and having left said sangha, I feel for the students that are now floundering. to them: don't give up on the practice. the practice is valid and vitally important. keep sitting, by yourself if you have to. find allies in your sangha and run from anybody that gives you justifications for this kind of behavior.

Dominic Gomez's picture

We are in an unfortunate juxtaposition of spiritual hunger in the West and ineffectiveness of Buddhism in the East.

jayanatha76's picture

Having read this open letter my main thoughts are with those who have struggled to deal with complex issue of sexual misconduct by the founders of modern Buddhist movements. I wish a similar statement could be issued by the Triratna Order (Previously known as the Western Buddhist Order), but that is unlikely. I personally was warned that if I continued to openly question the integrity of my teacher about his blatant sexual misconduct, some senior Order members would reveal aspects of my past which were questionable. I know it has happened to other Order members in the past in similar circumstances. In my case I would be an easy target because I’m a recovered alcoholic. Fortunately my family and friends know my history so this threat doesn’t work with me.
I’m particularly struck by this part of the letter: ‘We fully acknowledge now, without any reservation, and with the heaviest of hearts, that because of our failure to address our teacher’s sexual misconduct, women and also men have been hurt, women and men who trusted us with their Zen practices, and whose trust we failed to honor in a fundamental way.’ In our case we have been advised by Subhuti (who is currently acting as Sangharakshita’s spokesperson) to resolve our issues internally. What this leads to is partial truths being passed on to the general public, while most of us know it was much worse than that and there has, and still is, a collusive attempt to conceal or minimise the extent of misconduct which has occurred. For example, I was told something like ‘Bhante is gay, it was the 60s, so what?’ I’m not homophobic so I wasn’t put off by this information. I was told it was simply a period of experimentation. In fact Sangharakshita was sexually active from 1969 to 1987. I didn’t know that he continued to wear the robes of a celibate Theravadin monk when he was already sexually active on a visit to India; that all internal communication through the Order magazine called shabda was edited to ensure that our Indian brothers and sisters were kept in the dark about these facts; or that he had young men sent to his room during retreats who would discover on arrival that he wanted to sleep with them.
I find it distressing to even write this, but I feel obliged to do so in the interests of integrity. I feel like there is a shadow hiding behind good men and women who are trying to teach the dharma in our centres. How can they individually tell those they teach that which is concealed by our Preceptors? Our Public Preceptors are required by the terms of their acceptance to have no issues with Sangharakshita so how can they openly speak as individuals? The protection of Sangharakshita’s reputation cannot take precedence over the teaching of dharma. If it does, we risk turning people who are searching away from dharma, not just away from Triratna.

celticpassage's picture

I don't think these things are "complex issues". She's hot, you're in a position of authority, so you use that to you're advantage.

Regardless of the language of the letter, the senior membership just didn't have the guts to do anything about it...also simple.

muditakaruna's picture

And what about the Shambhala community. Did we ever hear such an apology about Trungpa Rinpoche's sexual misconduct? I once asked a member of their community about this and the answer I received was "You can't understand the mind of an enlightened being," What clap trap! Do they now have a code of ethics regarding teacher student sexual interaction?

johnstrydom's picture

May our hearts go out to this man who was not able to control his impulses - who among us can claim that we have always been in control of our lust and never acted heedlessly upon it? - and may our hearts also go out to those who believe they were harmed and want redress, aka as "justice"? May their hearts open to their victimizer...may his heart open to theirs...

Sarah11.11's picture

I appreciate your compassionate response. The opportunity to forgive someone is a gift. May all our hearts open to this truth.

Doogbbush's picture

Who is the Osho Council of Rinzai-ji? Web searches only bring up news of this scandal. Is osho a zen term? The only information and definition I can find for the term relates to Rajneesh, nothing relating to zen (except Rajneesh books and talks on Zen). I'm seeking some clarity on who/what we're talking about.

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

The Rinzai-ji oshos are teachers in the Zen lineage of Kyozan Joshu, Roshi. If you want more background information on this particular issue of sexual abuse you can take a look at the Sasaki Archive here: http://sasakiarchive.com/.

Rob_'s picture

Japanese term for a Buddhist priest.

Bagdad's picture

This reminds me of reading Jack Kornfield's book, "After the Ecstasy, The Laundry". I recommend this book to aspiring practitioners as a means for developing a well-rounded appreciation for the traps that lie along the path to enlightenment.
It also reminds me of a line one of my teachers shared when the 'audience' was remarking on his advanced state of dharma practice - "My mind is like a dangerous neighborhood - you don't want to go in there alone."
The human mind and it's ability to create delusion, both profound and subtle, should never be underestimated.
My heart goes out to those whose trust was violated - may you be safe from harm, may you find peace, may you be healthy in heart, mind, and body, and may you abide in loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity.
May this serve as a reminder for all of us to be ever vigilant as to our ability to delude ourselves and to be deluded by others.
May all beings be well.

phathed's picture

That seems like a complete apology and as if they've given it serious consideration. I wonder what specific steps are being taken to influence the end of sexual abuse and predation by teachers? I think it's time for Tricycle to do a piece focussed on the issue. Also, if they really want to apologize, I think they should use their real personal names, not "The Osho Council of Rinzai-ji". Who's actually taking responsibility here?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Perhaps the parties involved are operating under the influence of the 3 poisons: greed and belligerence in protecting Mr. Sasaki and others in positions of religious authority, and ignorance, of Title VII of the 1980 Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments.

Alex Caring-Lobel's picture

We've published several pieces on the contentious issue of teacher-student affairs and the exploitation that often underpins those kinds of power relationships. Here are two examples that come to mind:

—Alex Caring-Lobel, Editorial Assistant

clayangelo's picture

I've seen so much damage of this nature done by so many teachers over my 35 years of practice. If the senior students are clearly aware that their teacher is a sexual predator, how can they feed him a buffet of new trusting students for decades? How do they sleep at night?

paul6316's picture

...and why do the dishes on the buffet keep lying down on the bed of lettuce and for slicing and garnishing? There's plenty of information out there about cults, and American Buddhism, especially Zen, is full of cults. How can the victims be so naive?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Can a lawsuit be filed against Mr. Sasaki for such alleged misconduct during his tenure as head of Rinzai-ji?

paul6316's picture

No doubt--anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone for any reason. Someone could file a lawsuit against me for spending too much money on coffee at Starbucks. And it would be equally pointless.
Here's a tip, ladies: when creepy old Roshi starts hitting on you, point and laugh at his funny old willy and then get out of there. No lawsuit required.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Of course it takes two to tango. But it's not a level dance floor when the senior partner is a tonsured priest decked out in holy vestments.