February 12, 2013

Sexual Misconduct in the Rinzai-ji Community

Emma Varvaloucas

Sasaki Roshi

Yesterday the New York Times picked up on the sex scandal currently swirling around the Rinzai-ji association of Zen centers, and more specifically, around their teacher, Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Written by Mark Oppenheimer and Ian Lovett—as their religion columnist, Mark is apparently the Grey Lady's go-to guy for Buddhist sex scandals, and broke the Eido Shimano story into mainstream media in 2010—the piece, "Zen Groups Distressed by Accusations Against Teacher," outlines Joshu Roshi's decades-long pattern of sexually harrassing his female students. Previously, we've heard from senior student Giko David Rubin on Adam Tebbe's site Sweeping Zen, as well as from some of women who were abused in the Sasaki archive, a collection of information about Joshu Roshi and Rinzai-ji. In this article we hear directly from many of the women, some named and some not, who put up with the roshi's groping and other inappropriate sexual behavior:

Many women whom Mr. Sasaki touched were resident monks at his centers. One woman who confronted Mr. Sasaki in the 1980s found herself an outcast afterward. The woman, who asked that her name not be used to protect her privacy, said that afterward “hardly anyone in the sangha, whom I had grown up with for 20 years, would have anything to do with us.”

In the council’s report on Jan. 11, the three members wrote of “Sasaki asking women to show him their breasts, as part of ‘answering’ a koan”—a Zen riddle—“or to demonstrate ‘non-attachment.’

Among those who spoke to the council and for this article was Nikki Stubbs, who now lives in Vancouver, and who studied and worked at Mount Baldy, Mr. Sasaki’s Zen center 50 miles east of Los Angeles, from 2003 to 2006. During that time, she said, Mr. Sasaki would fondle her breasts during sanzen, or private meeting; he also asked her to massage his penis. She would wonder, she said, “Was this teaching?”

One monk, whom Ms. Stubbs said she told about the touching, was unsympathetic. “He believed in Roshi’s style, that sexualizing was teaching for particular women,” Ms. Stubbs said. The monk’s theory, common in Mr. Sasaki’s circle, was that such physicality could check a woman’s overly strong ego.

Tricycle addresses this scandal in our new issue with an editorial by James Shaheen, our editor and publisher. He approaches the matter in terms of what we, as a larger Buddhist community, can do about the pattern of sexual abuse that we've seen arise in many of our communities throughout the years. What is it about the structure of our sanghas that lends itself to repeated sexual abuse and the denial that it is happening? What does it mean for the dharma and our own practice when someone we consider to be enlightened—or as close to it as we've seen—engages in such predatory behavior? These are important and difficult questions, and we want to know what you think about them. Read James' editorial here and join the discussion.

Image: Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Rick Scibelli, Jr. for the New York Times.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
Dot Luce's picture

The Emperor has no clothes; the Roshi has no moral integrity.

Dominic Gomez's picture

"check a woman’s overly strong ego"? How considerate of Mr. Sasaki.