Sex and the Spiritual Teacher

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Scott Edelstein

This book is about spiritual teachers who have sex with their students, the suffering that such encounters often cause, and what all of us can do about it.

This is not a book of finger-pointing or whistle-blowing. Nor does it defend or apologize for spiritual teachers who lose their way. In fact, as we will see, the more we attack or defend wayward teachers, the more we encourage their waywardness.

Instead, this book is intended to create greater safety and spiritual intimacy between spiritual teachers and their students, and among members of spiritual communities.

Everything in this book is eminently practical and down-to-Earth. It’s about real human emotions, interactions, and dilemmas—and genuine safety and suffering. Almost nothing in it is academic or theoretical. It’s written for anyone who is (or hopes to become) part of a spiritual community: students, teachers, clergy, lay leaders, and even casual visitors.

Although my hope is that a great many spiritual communities will use this book, it’s not a mere manual or guidebook. It’s a book of inquiry, awareness, and social and spiritual change.

The problem of spiritual teachers seducing or sexually abusing their students tarnishes every spiritual tradition, in seemingly every culture—and recorded cases go back many hundreds of years. These misdeeds damage the lives of women and men, children and adults, the rich and the poor, the foolish and the wise, the gullible and the discerning.

A list of spiritual teachers who have committed sexual transgressions during the past few decades reads almost like a Who’s Who of modern spiritual figures, and includes priests, ministers, rabbis, gurus, yogis, roshis, senseis, swamis, lamas, maggids, and imams. Sometimes their misconduct involves other transgressions as well (misappropriation of money, physical or emotional abuse, attempted brainwashing, etc.). This widespread misconduct has created scandal after scandal for these teachers, and much suffering for their students and spiritual communities.

With very few exceptions, each of these teachers is or was male; each offered something genuinely worthwhile to their students; each knew that sex with their students could have potentially damaging consequences for those students; and each—including those teachers raised in other cultures—understood that the prevailing social norms prohibited such sexual relationships. Many of these teachers were married, and thus had vows of fidelity to uphold, as well as (presumably) willing sexual partners. Some had taken vows of celibacy. So why did they act against the best interests of their students, their own spiritual communities, and, ultimately, themselves?

There are five commonly accepted answers to this question. They are deeply divergent, and in some cases mutually exclusive:

1. These transgressions are rare exceptions—the outcomes of a few troubled teachers’ psychological problems.
2. Men are pigs. Whether they’re spiritual teachers, college professors, or plumbers, men just can’t keep their pants zipped up.
3. Spiritual teachers are all frauds who delude others, themselves, or both.
4. The misconduct is not about sex, but power. The spiritual teachers are power junkies, and sex is simply a means of exercising their power.
5. The previous four positions are all bogus. The teacher and the student are both consenting adults who are responsible for their own actions. These so-called transgressions are legitimate, consensual relationships.

In this book I argue that all five of these explanations are largely off the mark. In part this is because each one lumps all sexual transgressions together, as if they were variations on a single consistent theme (which they are not); in part it is because they assume that all transgressing teachers share a single personality profile (which, of course, they don’t).

In fact, as we look closely, we will see that there are three distinct types of spiritual teachers who lose their way: exploiters, errants, and exceptionalists. In Chapter 2, I look at and define each of these groups; I also discuss the common variations within each group.

Similarly, the catch-all term “sexual misconduct” covers a very wide range of transgressions, from felonies to exploitation to poor judgment. These include (from most to least harmful) sexual assault; role bait-and-switch; sex as a spiritual teaching or tool; power plays; sex as a prize or honor; verbal manipulation; inauthentic professions of love and/or proposals of marriage; sexual dealmaking; ordinary seduction (or attempted seduction); simple, straightforward offers of sex; and giving in to mutual attraction. Teachers who transgress in any of the first ten ways are unlikely to maintain long-term monogamy or celibacy, and should not normally be permitted to continue as teachers. However, for some teachers who give in to mutual attraction, and do so only once, there is considerable hope.

Furthermore, there is much that we can do—as individuals, spiritual communities, and a society—to help prevent our spiritual teachers from losing their way. The last nine chapters of this book offer a wide array of these practical preventive measures.

Scott Edelstein has studied happily and productively with several spiritual teachers, including Toni Packer, Dainin Katagiri, Tim McCarthy, and (currently) Steve Hagen. He has also served as editor and literary agent for two well-known teachers. He is a longtime practitioner of both Buddhism and Judaism, and a committed proponent of serious spirituality in all forms and traditions.

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gfeinstein's picture

Sorry if this next post seems off topic... Im wondering if anyone here knows the stories about Gendun Choepel, and his book about sex/lovemaking. He is know regarded as a accomplished yogi. During his hayday he slept with prostitutes, drank, smoke, and was actually kicked out of his Shedra for questioning the logic of his superior Geshes/teachers. Many contemporary Tibetan teachers view him as a mahasiddha/genius..

Another story i heard from my Tibetan father in law is about a Siddha who tied hid his genitals between his legs and entered a nunnery. Eventually he croons the nuns and makes many of them consorts. So the story goes that, through these Vajrayana practices, he eventually allows these nuns to progress on the path....I am still looking for the name of this siddha.

How does Buddhism today, reconcile with these wild Siddhas? Would we have an article in Tricycle denouncing sex with nuns? How exactly do we really know that someone is a bad teacher or practitioner?

Im not implying that Tibetan Buddhists have exemption from scrutiny, but really, in a tradition where some of the greatest masters have two wives, children (Sakya lineage is passed through family as well)
and many students ,when did all of this start? From what i know about Tibetan culture, some regions and families practice polygamy (amongst non-celibate lay people) ,polyandry is not looked down upon either. I really think that much eventually is lost in translation with the Tibetan tradition; American culture can be puritanical at times. My experience with other traditions are limited, but i think that all of these issues need to be thoroughly discussed. Where exactly do you draw the line? Have you asked different teachers (just curious) ?

Scott Edelstein's picture

This has been a wonderful discussion. On fhe one hand, some folks take me to task for suggesting that a wise spiritual teacher would ever stray sexually; others take me to task for suggesting that straying sexually is necessarily a problem. These comments nicely frame the variety of opinions on the subject in the mahasangha.

I wrote Sex and the Spiritual Teacher to address the issues related to spiritual teachers who have sex with their students, and to help create greater safety and spiritual intimacy between teachers and students, and in spiritual communities. I'm all for whatever promotes these.

In practice, teacher/student sex usually harms these rather than promotes them. There are some exceptions and gray areas, though, and I note these in my book as well.

Polygamy, polyandry, and polyamory are side issues to this, so I've said pretty much all that I plan to say about them earlier in this discussion. (All are indeed somewhat widely practiced--in some places legally, in others informally.)

How exactly do we know that someone is a bad (or good) teacher? We observe them carefully over time; pay attention to our own mind, heart, and gut; and trust our own best judgment. We ask ourselves, Does this person's behavior consistently follow and uphold the essential principles of human connection, compassion, and service?

If we can't or won't trust our own judgment, then we will probably end up as part of a deeply abusive cult. We'll find a very sexy, very charismatic, and thoroughly exploitive (and, perhaps, mentally ill) spiritual teacher. He will tell us that we need to trust everything he says and does, and that we must put ourselves unquestioning in his hands, with the same innocence that children are asked to put their faith in God. And then he will steal our energy, money, and sanity.

And where exactly do I draw the line? My whole book is about relying less on drawing lines and relying more on our own perception, experience, wisdom, and judgment.

khrystene's picture

Thanks for addressing the issue. In the end we're all human but we do have to try to work these matters out.

I personally have a bit of an issue with both student/teacher sexual relationships in school/Uni as I do within the community. I just don't have that attraction, never felt it, even if I liked my student/s. I'm lucky. :) But I wouldn't deny it happens, nor that sometimes it can actually benefit the couple. (Two of my close friends were once student and teacher at Uni and are celebrating nearly 10 years happily together and just had a baby.)

I think sometimes our expectations get in the way of our hearts, hence we judge these people not even knowing what's gone on. I try to watch that in myself.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and best of luck.

Scott Edelstein's picture

Khrystene, you've offered a wonderful piece of wisdom that can help anyone who sincerely lives by it: "In the end we're all human, but we do have to try to work these matters out." If all of us--spiritual teachers, their students, and leaders of spiritual communities--were to keep this closely and consistenly in mind, we'd all be better off for it. We wouldn't put our teachers on pedestals, we wouldn't throw ourselves at their feet, and we wouldn't run away from the sometimes difficult choices that our lives require us to make. Thank you.

wtompepper's picture

gfeinstein,

You really should read Edelstein's book. He does deal with the issues you raise--particularly with distinguishing Tantric practices from sexual misconduct.

I initially thought it was funny to suggest that American culture is "puritanical" in this day and age--we sell everything with sex, and every joke on every sitcom is about sex. We are obsessed with sex, as if sexuality were really the core truth of our selves. But then I realized that maybe it is our repression about sex that makes us so obsessed with it? If we weren't repressed, maybe we could let go of our lust more easily.

Try reading chapters 18 and 19. Great stuff--Edelstein really deals with this issue well.

mgh's picture

I agree with wtompepper. And to follow up on my previous comment, I do not think a teacher should be allowed to give lectures, etc after abusing a student. If a licensed professional abuses a patient/client, they certainly would not be able to maintain their professional title until serious retraining, etc (if they get it back at all). I heard of one case in Canada where the Lama was sent back to his teacher/community for serious retreat time. So if a Buddhist teacher abuses a student (and how do you measure the "degree" and "circumstances"?) where is their teacher, their peers, etc?

wtompepper's picture

There isn't always a teacher or peer to step in in such cases. Many people, particularly in the early years of American Buddhist practices, simply declared themselves Buddhist teachers. Sometimes, the only thing to do is to have open discussion like this, where people can be informed that a teacher who is having sex with his students, or encouraging the use of mind altering substances, is not teaching Buddhism. It may not be possible to stop them, but people should know that such practices are not Buddhist.

Scott Edelstein's picture

This is why each denomination needs a review board that can make such judgments on a case-by-case basis. (In my book I discuss the creation of these boards, peer support groups for spiritual teachers, an on-demand hotline, and other types of support for teachers, students, and communities.)

I'm curious, mgh: how would you propose that Eido Shimano and Genpo Merzel be prevented from giving lectures? (Genpo hasn't abused anyone, so far we we know, but he has admitted sexual misconduct, so I'm using him as an example here.) What specific things would you do? How would such preventative measures work?

wtompepper's picture

Mr. Edelstein,

I think an important distinction needs to be made between a Buddhist teacher and spiritual leaders in other traditions. In your book, you say that "It is entirely possible for a spiritual teacher to be wise, compassionate, empathetic, and inspiring, and at the same time sexually exploitive." This is not the case for a Buddhist teacher; clearly, for any Buddhist, being sexually exploitive demonstrates an absence of wisdom and compassion. What you seem to mean is that it is possible for the teacher to know what wise and compassionate actions are, but be unable to consistently carry them out--he may know he is “sinning,” and feel repentant, but be a flawed human being.

For a Buddhist teacher, however, it is not a matter of knowing what is the right thing to do, but of actually being able to practice it, that makes one qualified to be a teacher. This is not to say a Buddhist teacher will never get angry at the guy who cut her off, or have romantic thoughts about an attractive person, but she will have the wisdom, not just knowledge, to be able to avoid an error as egregious as having sex with a student. Anyone without enough enlightenment to regard lust with detachment should not be pretending to the level of wisdom necessary to teach others. The local priest may have an affair with a parishioner and know it is wrong, and confess, and ask forgiveness. But a Buddhist teacher should not presume to teach if he is still liable to such mistakes. And if he was sincerely in error about his level of attainment, then we should probably doubt him the next time he says he has achieved greater wisdom--and he should learn to doubt his own judgment as well. Buddha was very explicit on the this point: lust is always as source of delusion.

Anyone wanting to learn Buddhism needs to be very careful of popular and charismatic teachers, and your book is a great service to any spiritual seeker. Often, a teacher is “charismatic” to us exactly because he or she seems to fulfill some unexamined desire. Perhaps the teacher who seems more dull and unappealing, but truly seems to have achieved equanimity, is the better source of wisdom. Charismatic appeal has nothing useful to contribute to Buddhist awakening. And it does seem that sometimes the greater the charisma, the more likely it is to mask an alcoholic sexual predator.

Just one more point. Not to get stuck on the first chapter but you also say that “all spiritual teachers—no matter how enlightened (or deluded)—are human beings, with the same physical, mental, and emotional equipment as the rest of us.” This just should not be the case for a Buddhist teacher. Not that they aren’t human, but for most Buddhists it is essential that our mental and emotional “equipment” is corrigible. I would not hope to learn from a teacher who has not made some improvement in her mental clarity and emotional stability; being just like “the rest of us” is fine for my fellow practitioners--we all learn from one another without pretending to superiority. Someone presuming to be a spiritual leader should at least have waded into the stream!

Thanks again for this book. I’m sure this kind of discussion will keep many people from suffering; I’ll keep following this discussion.

Scott Edelstein's picture

(I've been offline for the past several days--a combination of multiple book deadlines, the flu, and a death in the family. I'm glad to be able to rejoin the discussion on 3/21.)

Thanks for your comments, which point to the single most important aspect of my book. It's also the most controversial, the most misunderstood, and, for many readers, the hardest to swallow. I point to it often in the book, but because the volume is ecumenical, I don't deal with it in great detail. Because Tricycle is a Buddhist publication, however, I can--and at this point should--deal with it more carefully here.

Anyone who looks into Buddhism will soon encounter what is typically called the anatta doctrine (though "observation" would be a far better term than "doctrine"). Put simply, this observation says that it's impossible to find (or pin down, or accurately describe) this thing that we call a self. In fact, what we call the self is simply a linguistic convenience whose meaning changes from context to context and moment to moment, not some solidified thing that has unchanging qualities or boundaries. (This is also true of everything else that we name and conceptualize, of course.) In a five-minute conversation, I might say all of the following:
--"Do I look sleepy?"
--"I flew over Boston again in my dreams last night."
--"Do I look more like the current middle-aged me in my bar mitzvah photo or my high school yearbook photo?"
--"I dreamed that I had to pinch myself to make sure I was awake. So I did pinch myself in the dream, but I only dreamed that I woke up."
--"I was so pissed off that I didn't act anything like myself. I leaped up and pulled back my fist."
There are a dozen different "I"s in those sentences. In context, it's clear what each one means--but they mean different things in different contexts. This isn't difficult to see or follow, and it's not mysticism. It's a simple, obvious observation of our normal human behavior.

As students, the single biggest mistake we make with our teachers is turning them them into solid selves. "Roshi couldn't possibly be exploitive because she's deeply enlightened." "Whatever your guru does is always wholesome, no matter how unwholesome it may appear to our deluded eyes." "Anyone who understands the Dharma would know how to avoid such a mistake." Please understand that I am not dissing you when I add three sentences from your own comments to this list: "Anyone without enough enightenment to regard lust with detachment should not be pretending to the level of wisdom necessary to teach others." "...a Buddhist teacher should not presume to teach if he is still liable to such mistakes." "...for any Buddhist, being sexually exploitive demonstrates an absense of wisdom and compassion." (Actually, I'm deeply grateful that you raised the point.)

When we turn anyone or anything into this imaginary solid object, we stop interacting with them as they are, and instead interact with an idea in our head. Ditto for wisdom and compassion. They're not solid things that solid selves acquire and then permanently maintain.

Real people aren't solid. The things we do and say, and the decisions and mistakes we make, occur in specific, unique, fluid situations. A teacher may have wisdom and compassion in one moment, and not in the next. They may have no problem resisting 500 opportunities to sexually transgress--and then lose their way in the 501st because their son just died, their partner recently confessed to an affair, and they are deeply grieving both losses. In what sense is this grieving, lonely person the same self as the teacher of a year earlier, who was the happily partnered father of a healthy, happy son?

Am I saying, then, that any teacher can potentially go astray, given just the wrong circumstances? Almost. I'm saying that we would be foolish to think that anyone--including both our beloved teachers and ourselves--is a solid entity that is immune to change, to difficulties, to circumstances, to what can happen in life. If I had moved to Libya a month ago, I'd probably be carrying a gun instead of writing this. If I had moved to Japan, I might be a corpse. No amount of wisdom or compassion on my part would have stopped the tsunami or Libya's maniacal leader.

The history of Zen is replete with examples of students who broke with their teachers. Sometimes these were friendly breaks, or breaks in which both people continued to respect each other. Often, though, the student felt that the teacher had lost their way, or vice versa.

And sometimes folks who lose their way find it again. Some find it, lose it, find it, lose it. Welcome to life.

In his wonderful book The End of Your World, the spiritual teacher Adyashanti writes of one of his own teachers. By her own admission, as she aged, much of her wisdom vanished. She has no explanation for this--but she stopped teaching as a result, and now volunteers in the office of Adyashanti's organization. The once-wise Joko Beck, who wrote a couple of wonderful books, is getting close to 90 years old and has been losing some of her own mental clarity. This is hardly unusual for someone that old, and it is nothing be ashamed of. Or do we claim this simply isn't possible because she used to be so wise?

This is why our obligation as students is to be awake as much as possible, to question and challenge our teachers as necessary, and to never give anyone a free pass. Trust someone for as long as they are trustworthy; when they stop being trustworthy, stop trusting them. This can change in any moment. Your beloved, trustworthy, honorable, wise, and compassionate teacher may yet lose their way--to your own surprise and their own. They may or may not find it again later.

wtompepper's picture

Sorry to hear about your loss. I hope you're feeling better.

I must say, that your explanation of anatman is about the most convoluted and sophistical I've read. I don't want to be hostile, but I don't think you've understood this concept at all. It is certainly an absurd piece of logic to assume that we are either completely a "linguistic convenience" or a "solid object" incapable of change. Clearly Buddhism accepts that there is the potential for improvement. Otherwise, there would be no need for practice. Obviously, you don't mean we are completely determined by conditions, otherwise who is the "we" making the decisions, doing and saying things, making the mistakes? Having no permanent self is not the same as not existing. We can act to make (relatively) enduring improvements in our "selves" and in the world.

Can you seriously not see the difference between expecting your teacher to feel lust with detachment, and believing that anything he does must be "wholesome" and we are too deluded to see it? These certainly don't belong on the same "list" of errors. Now, I think we are ultimately seeking the same goal here, and this kind of sophistry is not the way to get there.

You continue to misunderstand the distinction I want to make between Buddhism and any other kind of spiritual teaching. Your example of Adyashati's teacher exactly makes my point. She may have lost some of her knowledge, but she did not lose her wisdom--she knew she could not teach skillfully, and moved on to do something else.

The point I want to make is that I usually already know what the right response would be, but am not always able to make it. There is an experiential element to Buddhist wisdom, and if you can't do it, you don't have it. A Buddhist teacher should not only know what to do, but be able to do it herself. If she loses that ability, she should not maintain a leadership role; this does not mean she has become a terrible person, or no longer has anything to offer. To believe that a person's attainment can be lost "in any moment" because of random events is simply, well, not a part of the Buddhist understanding of how things work.

I always struggle to write these posts. I keep revising and cutting things, fearful that I sound hostile. I want to assure you I don't mean to be hostile, and I am finding your book very interesting. I just think there are some things that, as you say, are a result of the ecumenical nature of the book, that don't apply to Buddhism.

Scott Edelstein's picture

Do other readers have thoughts on the subject--i.e., that Buddhism is different from other spiritual traditions in this way?

I appreciate all your thoughts on this and plan to mull and meditate on them further. (BTW, nothing you've said sounds at all hostile.)

Scott Edelstein's picture

There are indeed many tantric practices (both within and outside of Buddhism) that work with sexual energy and/or use sexual imagery. There are also tantric practices that require celibacy.

Tantra is such a complex topic--and one that is so deeply misunderstood here in the West--that my book devotes a full chapter to it. It's called "Tantra and Pseudo-Tantra." The book also has a chapter called "Sex as a Spiritual Teaching." These two chapters explore the issues you raise in some detail.

Sex can certainly be used as a vehicle for waking up. It can also be used to keep us asleep and stuck. Good teachers know the difference. Deluded ones may think they do, but they are asleep and stuck--and often very charismatic and sexy. And as you point out, scrutinizing a teacher can take a long time, sometimes years. (Although, in the case of not-so-good teachers, sometimes you can tell instantly. If I enter a meditation hall and see a big statue of the current head teacher on the altar, I'll have already seen enough.)

gfeinstein's picture

Sex in Buddhism is always a hot topic... Although undoubtedly, there are many instances in our Sangha here in the West where Teachers/Gurus take advantage of students (power,sex,mystique). But this doesnt not mean "Sex" (based on desire) should be confused with Vajrayana practices instructed by countless Buddhas, Lineage Masters etc. Even celibate Gurus like His Holiness the Dalai Lama acknowledge these practices as dangerous, yet powerfu:

"For Buddhists, sexual intercourse can be used in the spiritual path because it causes a strong focusing on consciousness if the practitioner has firm compassion and wisdom. Its purpose is to manifest and prolong deeper levels of mind (described earlier with respect to the process of dying), in order to put their power to use in strengthening the realization of the emptiness. Otherwise, mere intercourse has nothing to do with spiritual cultivation. When a person has achieved a high level of practice in motivation and wisdom, then even the joining of the two sex organs or so-called intercourse, does not detract from the maintenance of that person’s pure behavior..."

Nobody should condemn practitioners who take up these practices, in consensual and positively motivated circumstances. We should also be open about those teachers who do seem untrustworthy. It takes years to examine a teacher...

These days, it is harder to distinguish genuine Masters, sex or no sex. As Buddhists, we also need to be responsible for our relationships with our teachers. We ask questions, we doubt, so that we may find out the real motivations. I want to make it clear that i personally think it is wrong for a Teacher to manipulate and usurp a student into sex but lets be clear about these distinct issues. Fornication/Sex vs. Genuine Buddhist Practices

Scott Edelstein's picture

"Blame the victim" is the oldest form of denial in the book. But its popularity never seems to wane. "You let me abuse you, so it's your fault for not stopping me" may be its most pernicious variation.

Of course, there are options besides accepting abuse and inflicting a punch. There is "Don't touch me or I'll have you arrested." There is filing charges. And there is filing a complaint with community leaders--although in this case I doubt such a complaint would be treated seriously.

BTW, if someone were to grab an exploitive teacher by the balls and punch him in the face, I doubt that the teacher's disciples would all nod and say, "Good work." (I am not suggesting that anyone test this hypothesis.)

Kuya Minogue's picture

I've seen how sexual abuse of one member of a family affects all members of that family and reverberates in the generations that follow. Recently, at the Montreal Zen Poetry Festival I spoke with a disciple of Sasaki Roshi who told me that his teacher "got after the women" and then went on to say that the women should have grabbed Sasaki by the balls and punched him in the face - ie, that it was the womens' fault for the sexual abuse. I talked to another man at the same breakfast table who had left Mt. Baldy to practice with Daido Loori after a woman came running to him for protection from Sasaki. I was shocked - for some reason I hadn't known about Sasaki. In the rush of first and second generation American Zen teachers who have been exposed for this type of thing, I missed the stories about him.

Two hours after I heard these stories, I attended a session of the festival aimed at honouring and revering Sasaki. With great gusto, the speaker, a woman, repeated Sasaki's admonition that "Everything is Zen." (I assume they believe that this also includes sexual exploition and sexual assault.) I was of course, disgusted. But what concerns me most is how deeply most of our American Zen lineages are tainted with the harm that flows from the abuse of power to get sex, to sustain addiction and to accomplish material gain. To hear a man who twice announced that he was an ordained Zen priest use the teachings to blame the women victims is to hear a distorted understanding of those teachings. I wonder -into how many other areas of practice does this poison seep?

mgh's picture

Thanks, Scott, for opening up this shadow material. I do have some thoughts about the following comment you made.
"...For instance, in the case of teachers who have harmed some of their students in one-to-one encounters, we should let them make videos and write books and give public talks--but let's refuse to sponsor or endorse any more one-to-one encounters. (And if they've done something illegal, someone may also need to file charges.) This applies regardless of what form the harm has taken."

For example, if a teacher/leader is involved in helping others with recovery from addiction (anything can be used here), it is assumed that they themselves are in recovery. If they relapse, they then take care of their relapse (or not) before they continue on as leader in this area. Of if you go to a financial adviser and they themselves are in bankruptcy, how can you trust them to advise you? Of course, if they recover from bankruptcy and go on to be financially successful, then they have alot to teach from that experience, as does a teacher in recovery, etc.

Ethics, precepts are the foundation to Buddhism. If a teacher has created serious harm from any kind of abuse, how is it that they can keep teaching, making videos, etc without really owning and looking at their behaviors.... without making amends to their victims and the Sangha? How is it that they can still hold the mantle of a teacher? If you are a monk and break precepts, you disrobe. If a teacher/adviser creates serious harm from abuse, then they need to step aside from that role and go back into retreat!

Thanks again for opening up this discussion!

Scott Edelstein's picture

Another important issue. In an ideal world, teachers who have transgressed would all own up to their misdeeds, make amends, and (if appropriate) trade in their monk's/priest's/nun's robes for ordinary clothing. It sound as if you agree that these folks should be allowed to continue speaking, writing books, etc.

But what about those folks who would keep on exploiting others if they could? How and where do we set the boundary--not in terms of an ideal, but in terms of what can actually work?

Sometimes we can force such folks to don street clothes (and sometimes we can't). We can also--one organization at a time--ban them from teaching one-to-one. But we can't stop them from publishing books or videos. (In the past, the Catholic Church tried banning certain books, which often dramatically increased their sales.)

Public speaking is more of a gray area. Of course, organizations would be wise to not sponsor talks by, say, an unrepenant serial rapist who thinks he's the reincarnation of Buddha or Jesus or Muhammed. But for teachers who have been less exploitive, and less then 100% unrepentant, it's not so obvious where to draw the line re public speaking. The salient principle is keeping people safe, while offering them wise or useful guidance. (Can a teacher who has sexually exploited or abused their students offer wisdom in a public talk? Strange as it sounds, the answer is often--though certainly not always-- yes.)

One-to-one teaching is a different story. It's in these teacher/student relationships where serious harm can be done. That's why it's so important to make these off-limits for teachers who have transgressed.

Should this rule be enforced for the rest of the teacher's life? It depends on the specific teacher and situation, I suppose--but it's better to be too careful than not careful enough.

paddy's picture

That the conversation is happening is the wonderful thing. Things in the dark get mouldy. I agree that the issue of sexual misconduct seem to be more prevalent in Zen and Tibetan areas. Theravada has a strong core of sila or ethics, which is fundamental to its practice. Without it things to fall apart, and they do at times in Theravadan areas. The simple rule on sexual misconduct is that misconduct is when harm is caused which applies both to oneself and the other. In the monastic code, vinaya, laid down early in Buddhism these conduct matters are clearly spelt out. When participating in any monastery one should establish quite clearly what the monastic code is, vinaya applies to all sects, if not the vinaya then some form of monastic code, or statement of ethics is an absolute must. The teaching around Kama is bound to ethical practice.
I am thinking that in Australia where we have a national monastic body, the Australain Sangha Association, they should ( and I will) be asked to have all their members display their satement of ethics for all visitors to see clearly and to have those that stay over sign that they have read it and that the Sangha Associations contact details are displayed for all to see and used if they have queries about any ethical matter. Hopefully this makes the issue transparent. If monks or nuns fall in love or lust, they can disrobe. In the vinaya or monastic code they can disrobe and rerobe up to seven times. As a Buddhist prison chaplain and counsellor boundries are everything and sex is about boundries. I am not celibate and enjoy the intimacy of sexual expression where it is appropriate and does not cause harm. Thanks for creating the space Scott, as always sex is a popular topic. Paddy

Scott Edelstein's picture

We need more American organizations that mirror the Australian Sangha Association, for both monastic centers and lay centers.

We also need review boards. These organizations uphold and enforce standards of conduct among a tradition's spiritual teachers and community leaders. A review board has the power to call a teacher on the carper for misconduct--and, when appropriate, to reprimand them, sanction them, or remove them from their teaching role. Students can also go to this review board if they feel they've been harmed, but their complaints have not been adequately handled within their spiritual communities. (Chapter 29 of my book, Building Support Systems for Spiritual Teachers, discusses these and other organizational structures that support healthy student-teacher relationships. These structures alone aren't sufficient, of course, but they are an important piece of the puzzle.)

ravasb's picture

I wonder whether a contributing factor in sexual abuse within a community partly comes from so few religious traditions having good discussions of what is a healthy relationship, as opposed to always focusing on what is an unhealthy one.

I have seen very little in Buddhist literature about great sexual relationships, or even really loving marriages. I clearly have a limited knowledge of the texts, but it seems to me that there is a gap that is worth addressing.

How can a teacher model a healthy sexual relationship is he or she was never taught what it really means.

I am very grateful for this discussion.

Scott Edelstein's picture

There's a lot of truth to what you say--and, in some traditions, what is promoted as a healthy partnership may not actually be so healthy.

I would hope that spiritual teachers (as well as all of us students) will look for and receive guidance on loving partnerships wherever it might be found--not just in our own tradition, but in other traditions, in entirely secular sources, and from wise people we know.

Chapter 14 of Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, "The Spiritual Teacher's Partner," offers some down-to-earth suggestions to help spiritual teachers have strong, happy partnerships (and juicy sex lives). For all hetero couples (teachers, students, and neither of the above), I also recommend Willard Harley's great book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage.

Cassius23's picture

Mr Edelstein,

I apologize in advance if this is in any way offensive but I feel that I had to say something.

There is a need for a book on this topic and there is a lot of good in this particular book. Your criticism and guidance in regards to these issues is very insightful and I am glad that it is out there.

However, as someone who has been polyamorous for a number of years, I think that you are way off base in regards to the "libertine" type of teacher.

Polyamory is not defined as having multiple sex partners. Polyamory is defined as the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Sexuality is a part of polyamory but it is not the breadth and width of it.

Second, in regards to chapter 16, "Monogamy and Its Skeptics". I won't go into specific detail but here are two things in particular that I noticed. You presented a false dichotomy in regards to monogamy vs "sleeping around". There is an entire type of polyamory, called polyfidelity which changes very little over the years or even decades. There are even poly people who are asexual who are romantically involved with several people but don't "sleep around" with any of them. Furthermore, you don't have to have "porous boundaries" in order to be open to dating in as someone who is polyamorous or monogamous while a member of the Sangha. You just have to resolve not to date within the Sangha.

Also, the insinuation that if someone is polyamorous that they will inevitably give in to "egotism and self-indulgence" is also untrue. If anything, polyamory gives one the chance to develop patience, strength, and love. Just because you haven't encountered people who can do it doesn't mean such people do not or cannot exist.

My friends have asked me in the past why I have never outed myself as polyamorous to any of my Sangha and why I never will. I will point them to this book and they will understand why.

Scott Edelstein's picture

You bring up some important points, at least one of which is dead right, and all of which bear discussion here. Thank you.

First, about definitions. I have seen polyamory (or polymory) widely defined both as I defined it in my book--having multiple sex partners--and as you have--being in more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. I should have included both definitions on page 27, but did not. I will post a correction to this effect on sexandthespiritualteacher.com, and I will fix this in the first update of the book.

As you also correctly suggest, because I define the term for the first time in my discussion of libertine teachers, this can further confuse the issue. I define libertines as teachers who "publicly preach and promote promiscuity among their students--and, usually, between themselves and their students..." Two of the best-known examples of such teachers were the late Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa and the eclectic teacher Rajneesh (who was renamed Osho after his death). Some libertine teachers do refer to themselves as polyamorous (or polymorous), using the libertine definition I provided rather than the one you did. In fact, the very confusion of these two definitions can help them get away with their libertinism. (A spiritual teacher in a polyamorous relationship as you define it would--again, by definition--not be a libertine. )

I can also see how, the way I framed things on this page and in Chapter 16, it looks like human beings' options are limited to monogamy, celibacy, and promiscuity, which (as you rightly point out) is of course not the case.

Which raises the obvious question: Are polyfidelitous relationships wholesome and honorable? In my book I deliberately sidestep the issue and take no position on it. I take no pro or con position on monogamy in general, either. This was quite deliberate. Sex and the Spiritual Teacher is a book about spiritual teachers who have sex with their students, not about human sexual conduct in general.

But what about spiritual teachers in polyfidelitous relationships? On page 204, I write, "This book has examined and addressed some vital questions. Yet many other, adjacent questions remain. None of these have one-size-fits-all answers; all must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, in the here and now. Some examples:...What about a spiritual teacher who has impeccable boundaries within his spritual community, but has multiple lovers from outside it? Is that okay? Okay with whom? What is the community's right, role, or obligation in such a situation? Is it even the community's business? Who is 'the community' in such a case? Its governing body? A consensus of its membership? What if one community leader discovers that the teacher has been in a long and mutually faithful menage-a-trois?"

I don't address such questions (although I obviously raise them) in Sex and the Spiritual Teacher because they seemed both less important than so many other issues, and because they can easily distract readers (and talk-show hosts who interview me) from other, far more important issues.

Still, I should have posed this question in Chapter 16 rather than waited until the end of the book. I'll make this change in the first update of the book as well.

You have been in a polyamorous relationship for some time, Cassius23. Are you a spiritual teacher? I know of three students who (by all appearances) are in a stable, long-term polyamorous relationship, and I see no reason to make noise about it, either to them or others. But what if one of them were to become a spiritual teacher? I'm not sure what I'd say or do, but I do know that I would not consider silence an option. I would probably say to the person, "You need to go public about this, knowing that the results might be painful and difficult. But if you keep it quiet, then the results will surely be far more painful and difficult for far more people."

Thanks again for raising these issues. I'm very glad we're discussing them.

Cassius23's picture

First of all, thank you for your very kind and thoughtful response. I might end up responding again as I think more on your response.

In my tradition(Tibetan) I am by no means qualified to be a teacher and most likely won't be for quite some time(it's the 3 year retreat more than anything). However, that may very well change. If it does and I haven't outed myself long before then(which is the plan, to be honest) I will out myself before assuming such a role.

However, as a student, I would have to borrow a snippet from the Christian Bible, "by their fruits you will know them". If a teacher's relationship with sexuality causes suffering then it is problematic.

I do think that there is a potential argument against even people who are in long term stable polyamorous relationships being teachers but it is more practical than moral. Polyamorous relationships can take more time and mental "bandwith" than either celibacy or monogamous relationships.

One quick question. I told some friends in the poly community about my post here. May I quote your response(I will quote you whole and unaltered and I will be happy to site you as the direct source)? I would like to show people that it ended well.

Scott Edelstein's picture

Yes, please feel free to quote me from this or any other post.

"By your fruits you will know them" is wonderful advice. One of the wisest and most wholesome things we can do is observe a teacher carefully, over a long period of time, before deciding whether to build a close spiritual relationship with them.

I wish more folks would think as you do--i.e., in terms of practicality rather than morality. In fact, one of the central points of my book is that we would do well to place practical concerns such as safety, sanity, and spiritual intimacy above moral codes. (Actually, I would argue that any authentic, living morality is always intensely practical rather than ideological or theoretical, but that's another discussion.)

I also agree with your observation that polyamorous relationships take more mental (and, I would add, emotional) bandwidth than celibacy or monogamy. Indeed, this is the same reason why some religious traditions encourage celibacy over monogamy: having a partner (and a family, in laws, etc.) can take up lots of time and energy that could otherwise be devoted to a spiritual community. This isn't a bad thing, of course. But all of us need to be mindful of what we can and can't handle, based on our skills, experience, physical characteristics, mental and emotional makeup, intimate relationships, and other circumstances.

BTW, I haven't yet made the correction re polyamory on my website, but that's because of the death of one relative and the hospitalization of another. (This makes me a classic example of the principle I describe in the previous paragraph.) I will add the note ASAP once things settle down a bit.)

Scott Edelstein's picture

This is an example of when and how a romantic teacher-student relationship CAN sometimes work, and it has all the important earmarks of a positive outcome: 1) a teacher who deeply respects his students and puts their interests first, 2) a small power differential between the teacher and the student (taking an adult education class in t'ai chi is very different from being someone's formal religious disciple), 3) a relationship that grew mindfully and slowly, and 4) honesty throughout.

It's also a great reminder that (as I say in my book) it doesn't usually help to declare "It's always wrong" or "It's always right." There are some in-betweens, and I'm thrilled that this is one of those in-betweens that worked out well.

That said, anyone contemplating such a relationship needs to look hard and carefully at their own motives and impulses. In my book I talk quite a bit about exceptionalists--people who feel that, because of their seemingly unique situation, the usual dangers or difficulties or risks don't apply to them. These folks may talk themselves (and/or their potential partners) into jumping into an unhealthy relationship--but this talk may be largely justification.

anichime's picture

Hi Scott,
Thanks for the book, so needed, I hope many people read it!
I can' t find the way of downloading the ebook although I bought the book. Thanks

Philip Ryan's picture

Hello anichime, If you send your email address to me (phil@tricycle.com) I'll send you an email containing the download link for the book.

-Philip Ryan
Web Editor
tricycle.com

johncarbonemd's picture

Dear Philip,

After reading Scott's very articulate, compassionate, and wise responses to people on this discussion board, I wish to purchase his book. Unfortunately, when I clicked the "Special Offer" link above in order to do so, it was broken. Could you please remedy this?

-John

Philip Ryan's picture

Dear John,
Sorry about that, click here to purchase the book!
Thanks, Phil

sifumanny56's picture

From an email I sent to Scott, posted now at his request:

Hello, Scott, and thank you for your reply. I see from the way you answer posts on the Tricycle website that you are quite busy, as well as being quite insightful. I'm not looking for advice or approbation, just wanting to share a bit of my story (which ends happily) to see if you believe things were handled skillfully or not.

I have been teaching t'ai chi through adult ed at the local university for 18 years now, and always maintained a cordial distance from my students outside of class. Then, four years ago, Debbie enrolled in my class. There was something intriguing about her shy quietness that I noticed, and it became apparent that she, too, was intrigued. She was 19 years divorced, and I three years. We began to visit over coffee, then over a glass or two of wine, then tentatively entered into a relationship. We were always careful to compartmentalize our in class/out of class behavior, but after three years she wanted more and left the relationship.

We remained friends but the new relationship ended, and she indicated a willingness to come back. When she left, I had done the whole noble thing and wished her every happiness but missed her very much. When she came back, I by then realized that I too wanted more. We were married on New Year's Eve and I cannot imagine being happier.

I never told anyone about all of this, although when we announced to her advance t'ai chi classmates that we were engaged, all reacted wth delight and several of them said thay had always thought we should be together.

I just thought I would share a story that illustrated the possible happy ending such a story may have. Inasmuch as it was a common interest that brought us together, it followed that there were likely some similarities upon which a relationship could be built. I have always encouraged my students not to play "follow the master" and to see me as a friend who has traveled farther along the path and is showing them one possible approach to t'ai chi and personal development.

Thank you for your time and kind consideration.

Scott Edelstein's picture

There's plenty of room for discussion on this. That's why we're here. Please say more.

I agree that we're too stuck on sex. That's why in my book I urge folks to think in terms of safety instead of taboos, and in terms of avoiding harm and reducing karma rather than pointing fingers.

Good teachers should be allowed to teach, but not to do harm. Following this one simple guideline can help us a lot, I think.

For instance, in the case of teachers who have harmed some of their students in one-to-one encounters, we should let them make videos and write books and give public talks--but let's refuse to sponsor or endorse any more one-to-one encounters. (And if they've done something illegal, someone may also need to file charges.) This applies regardless of what form the harm has taken.

BTW, our modern concept of Puritanism is partly imaginary. The actual Puritans condoned pre-marital sex (so long as parents got married before any baby was born) and encouraged couples to live together before marriage. Our so-called Puritan thinking may have actually been imported much later from Victorian England.

WomanMonk's picture

Would you have banned Padmasambhava and various of the 84 Mahasiddhas from teaching then?

Sounds rather puritan and of course, a large part of the extra charge on sex in USA may be that puritan history become unconscious reflex.

The assumption seems to be that, even for a non-celibate, non-married, non-judgmental teacher in a community in which sex is another thing to be neither stuck on nor afraid of, sexual relations are taboo and hence automatic scandal. Is there no room for discussion on that?

Scott Edelstein's picture

When something becomes the norm in a community, it isn't easy to speak out against it. You're not just challenging the specific practice; you're also challenging all of the people in it, their leaders, the agreements among all these folks, and the organization itself.

When we're new to a community, we tend to keep mum because we're still learning about it, and we know that we won't be taken seriously. If we challenge things, we'll probably just be quickly shown to the door.

And once we've become part of the community, the norms may no longer seem so strange or bother us so much. Wittingly or unwittingly, we may have even adopted them ourselves. And now we have things to lose--friendships, commitment to a teacher or tradition, the possibility of future benefit--by speaking out. It's a classic setup.

This doesn't mean we're powerless, however. For starters, we can simply leave. If enough people do this, everything falls apart. Countless unhealthy organizations have collapsed simply because people chose to go elsewhere.

We can also go straight to a community leader (in most cases, not the spiritual teacher) and tell them what we think and what our concerns are. If the organization is healthy, these will be taken seriously and promptly addressed. If it isn't, we'll find out quickly, and we can (and usually should) grab our shoes and go.

When we don't say or do anything, however, we are complicit in maintaining the status quo, no matter how harmful or dysfunctional it may be.

The flip side of this is that we can also be complicit in helping spiritual communities be healthy and sane and intimate, by raising issues, asking questions, and saying no to anything harmful.

That said, in any non-celibate community, students are going to have sex with each other. That's not a bad thing, unless it's indiscriminate (a la how some early tantric practices, many centuries ago, degenerated into orgies) or people cheat on their partners. Let's raise high the flag of sexuality! But let's not use it to harm others, or ourselves.

pozlotus's picture

This makes a lot of sense to me. Eventually, I did leave. One of the things I have learned through my practice has been about the way that relationship (not just relationshipS with people, but relationship in general), or perhaps more accurately interrelationship affects everything. Regardless of the dynamics, I learned a lot about my 'stuff' and the way that I carry it around in me. Ultimately, this was the most valuable part of my involvement there: learning about self and it's patterns so I could eventually work to debunk it (an ongoing thing for sure!).

pozlotus's picture

I was involved at a center in the 1990s that had significant issues with sexual encounters. Not only the teacher having sex with multiple students, but also with many of the students having sex with each other. All of this was occurring within the context of a "mindfulness practice". Not only practice in the shrine room but in dialogue groups and in the practitioners' daily lives. It became a widely acceptable practice for students to get involved with each other and/or the teacher. Eventually, the teacher's teacher came to the US from Asia and there was a long painful process of examination by the sangha under the guidance of the Asian teacher. I believe the situation has since been resolved, but I am no longer involved in this particular sangha.

I am interested in this book and discussion because I would like to take a fresh look at this topic. You see, I never got involved in any of the sexual behavior directly. Not because I chose to abstain. Simply because the opportunity to get involved never came up (for a number of reasons). Even though I felt cynical about what I saw going on, I never said anything about it. I was aware of it and was not surprised when the teacher came from Asia. But since that time, I have often wondered whether I should have said something and what would have happened if I had. I am beginning to wonder if my own inaction in this situation played a part in the bigger picture. It seems that it had to have played some part. After all: I was a part of the community almost every day and interacted with everyone...

I look forward to this book and to this discussion because I think it may help shed some light on these experiences and it may help others who find themselves in a similar situation.

hennessey98's picture

interesting that in Zen and other forms of worship/religion/spiritualism so many "masters" or priest seem to have so many things figured out but sexual desire cannot be tamed. They risk years of building their knowledge and a following only to throw away everything a few moments of sex. Its not rational, but it happens over and over again. NOBODY is perfect.

Scott Edelstein's picture

Yes, indeed--sexual desire cannot be tamed, and most efforts to reduce teacher/student sex by taming sexuality are doomed to failure.

Sex isn't the problem, anyway. Unless the teacher has taken a vow of celibacy, they can do themselves and their students a favor by having lots of great sex with their partner (i.e., someone who isn't their student). They can also talk honestly with their community about sex, personal boundaries, etc. And they can be publicly affectionate with their partner.

BTW, trying to "figure things out" is just as doomed to failure (and comes from some of the same misguided ideas) as trying to tame our sexuality. The wisest teachers I know laugh or shake their heads at such notions. If a teacher tells me they've got life figured out, I head for the door.

paul6316's picture

With respect, "Sexual desire cannot be tamed" is merely an assumption that we've been trained by our hyper-sexualized media/advertising culture to accept. It just seems like a more polite version of your "all men are pigs" axiom. I have no problem taming my sexual desire--in fact, it seems far more easily tamed than, for example, the desire to eat or drink too much, or spend too much money.

Scott Edelstein's picture

I'd argue that sexual desire can routinely be managed, but not usually tamed. As Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki noted, if you want to control a horse, fence him in, but also give him lots of room to run.

I'm not arguing against your own experience, of course. Some folks can and do tame their sexual desire, and you can serve as a legitimate Exhibit A. I do, however, argue that this taming is neither common nor reliable. As I say in my book of many spiritual teachers' situations, "Celibacy generally isn't difficult to maintain when you're a humble monk or nun in a healthy celibate community, where everyone abides by the celibacy rule, dresses modestly, and acts lovingly toward each other. But it is much tougher when you're out in the world with students who dress more or less as they please, some of whom may flirt with you or try to seduce you."

What do other book club members have to say about taming vs. managing sexual desire?

wtompepper's picture

I'm also very interested to know what other members think on this subject. It isn't only about sex, but speaks to the question of whether our desires are controllable at all. I'm not saying that sexual desire will never arise--as you say, when we go out into world, the conditions are present for the arising of desire--but that it is completely possible to recognize the causes of those desires, be aware of them, and not be controlled by them. Of course, perhaps for someone who is enlightened, those desires won't arise at all--but I don't have any experience with that!

Your metaphor of fencing a horse suggests that desire is an essential part of the biological being (which it partly is), while your example of desire not arising in a celibate community suggests that it is a result of conditions (which it partly is). The question is, isn't it possible to identify my biological drives, the cultural causes of my desires, and still not feel that either of those is my essential self that controls my actions.

Incidentally, I was hardly in control of any of my desires when I was a young grad student--I just thought it was morally wrong to have a relationship with a student. I didn't have the same compunctions about drinking, smoking, or relationships with my fellow grad students. I hope I've gained some wisdom since those days!

wtompepper's picture

I absolutely agree with paul3616. Our culture (I mean mainstream American culture) is obsessed with sex as the secret, deepest truth of our subjectivity, and so we think we cannot possibly exist without it. Personally, I never found it so uncontrollable. Even twenty-five years ago, as a grad student just starting out in teaching, when I was young, single, and more attractive than I am today, I never had the least problem avoiding inappropriate relationships with students. My advice is, read some Lacan, and your desires will seem less "essential" and more culturally produced.

We might want to consider why the type of person who is unable to tame their libido is so often the most charismatic in our culture.

chenma's picture

I agree, sex isn't the problem. The problem is pride in my view. It's not about taming sexual desire, it's about consideration for others and practicing mindfulness and moral discipline with our own mind. If a teacher does not have a strong practice of Dharma themselves their own pride will push them into inappropriate behavior.

fairway Linda's picture

Mr. Edelstein, you seem like a very reasonable man who has thought about a very difficult issue! I am curious as to how much of this is a Buddhist problem, vs. a "mainstream religion" problem, and also if this is a problem in more "culty" leader-centered sanghas. While the obvious answer is probably No, it's not just a Buddhist problem and Yes it's a culty problem, I think these are issues many dharma practitioners I know are afraid to look square in the office. And yet, isn't it wonderful to think, what if we could and we cleaned the whole dang thing up? But hierarchy and structure haven't exactly helped the catholic Church! Kudos to you, Mr. Edelstein, thanks for sharing this with us.

Scott Edelstein's picture

You've already intuited a big piece of the answer: yes, the problem appears in all religious traditions, and, yes, the more cult-like an organization is, the more likely its teachers are to sexually transgress.

Another piece of this involves how we treat our teachers and how much power we give them. In America, sexual misconduct is far more common among Zen and Tibetan Buddhist teachers, where teachers are typically given great authority, than in Theravada and Insight Buddhism, where teachers are treated more like older siblings. (Think of your relationship with your doctor vs. your relationship with your mechanic.) I don't think this is an accident.

The mainstream vs. fringe issue adds yet another twist. In Catholicism, sexual misconduct is rampant among ordinary clergy--e.g., parish priests. But among its spiritual teachers--e.g., Joan Chittister, David Stendl-Rast, Thomas Keating, etc.--it is rare. This is very much not the case with Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.

We'll never clean up the muddiness in the water we all live in, but we all have the potential for reducing future misconduct (both others' and our own) one mindful relationship, community, encounter, and decision at a time.

sanderfeinberg's picture

And your book has research backing up your claims on sexual misconduct by form of Buddhism? What does "far more common" mean?

Scott Edelstein's picture

In Chapter 1, I cite Jack Kornfield's groundbreaking study, in which he asked 45 Buddhist teachers and nine Hindu and Jain swamis, "Have you ever had a sexual relationship with at least one of your students?" Of the 39 respondents who were not celibate, 34 (or 87%) admitted to having had at least one such relationship.

That was some years ago. I seriously doubt if these numbers are representative of the situation in America today. More recent studies from FaithTrust Institute across denominations suggest a rate of somewhere between 10-30% of spiritual teachers. My own best guess would be 20% of male teachers, 5% of female teachers.

For discussions on current Buddhist teachers who have transgressed, Visit the Ethics section of the website sweepingzen.com. The site has recently been redesigned; I believe Ethics is now a sub-sub-heading under the sub-heading Dharma Topics, which is under the heading Featured.

sanderfeinberg's picture

Not wanting to harp on the numbers, but these numbers seem fairly meaningless: 87% of non-celibates had at least one relationship? 10-30% of spiritual teachers, 20% of males, 5% of females. No consistency.

More importantly: your respectful and honest answers to people's comments here have encouraged me to buy the book. I may have some more relevant comments after reading that don't involve statistics!

kyoki's picture

Hi Scott,

Where do you get the information that sexual misconduct is rampant among Catholic priests? What percentage and what is your source?