Filed in Community

Letters to the Editor

Stephen Butterfields's "Accusing the Tiger" is a provocative and convoluted justification of the abuse of power and sex that is unfortunately encountered in many organized religions and other professions. In spite of Mr. Butterfield's sophisticated invocation of high Buddhist ideals, the bottom line is that one party is exploiting the weakness and insecurity of the other party in these situations. The Five Precepts should not be discarded so easily. Ethical behavior is a vehicle to enlightenment for most of us, not a hindrance. Shakyamuni Buddha was clear in stating: "A wise man should avoid unchastity as if it were a pit of burning cinders."

Montgomery, Alabama

It is to Stephen Butterfield's credit that he was able to glean some liberating insights from his sexual fling with his teacher—just as some exceptional hostages do from their incarceration. And you have to admire the earnestness with which he conducts his apologia for those rascals among Buddhist teachers who sleep with their students. But the effect is rather like that of an eight-year-old doing magic tricks: we may be touched by his sincerity, maybe even entertained, but certainly not fooled.

Although Butterfield makes some good points, his attempt to justify sex between teacher and student must be seen for what it is: rhetorical blue smoke and mirrors.

Rochester, New York

Does anything beat sexual love in its ability to excite ego-response? Not in my experience, although I have never been famous or particularly powerful. Anyway, that is why the issue excites such powerful responses among both principals and by-standers. I want to thank Stephen Butterfield for pointing this out and for making clear to me the basis of my own vaguely censorius judgements. I tended to identify with the victim, and it was my own ego insecurity that I was worried about.

Few of us are yet in a position to "transcend ethics," but the least we can do is not use ethics to buttress our own ego defenses, blaming and accusing when we should be examining ourselves.

Deerfield, Massachusetts

Stephen Butterfield contends that for Buddhists right conduct is based on compassion and wisdom, not on a dualistic rule. His view would indeed make it conceivable, or at least rationalizable, that a teacher choose to use sexual involvement (with him or her) as a way to make the student experience passion as grasping and self-oriented, a step on the spiritual path.

Since its origin Buddhism has recognized the validity of codes regulating behavior because such regulations are necessary to any society, theistic or not. One of the three baskets of the Pali canon, the code of monastic discipline (Vinaya) is just that: precise rules with precise sanctions organizing the social relations inside the sangha and between monastics and laypersons. It is certainly conceptual and dualistic. In his article, Butterfield ignores the social dimension of Buddhist right action and sees in the teacher-student relationship only its spiritual dimension.

The realization of non-duality and non-self is ultimate truth (paramarthasatya) and the social code is conventional truth (samvriti-satya). Conventional truth is conventional but truth, not illusion. To introduce—as Butterfield does—ultimate truth in social codes, where it does not belong, results in confusion and absurdity: If the duality of red and green in traffic lights is illusory, why stop at a red light? If the Buddhist rules for right action are dualistic, why not ignore them, as Rudra, Trungpa, and Tendzin did?

Los Angeles, California

I cannot agree that the "so-called" power disparity (between teacher and student) is an illusion, a function of the student's fear and sense of inadequacy." I was an involved member of the Vajradhatu-Dharmadhatu community for over ten years. Students who questioned actions of teachers and senior students were often given the impression that they were simply not enlightened enough to see the "compassion" supporting the behavior. Often the alcoholism and sexual acting-out of these teachers and senior students was treated as evidence of egolessness and non-attachment.

Members who tried to address these problems through therapy and Twelve-step programs were regarded suspiciously. There was feeling that one should not go outside the community for help.

When it was revealed that Osel Tendzin had lied about having AIDS and had continued to sleep with students, and that those who had known did not speak up—many in the community were stunned. Many people left. Osel Tendzin was a mirror of the serious problems within our community. Problems the community was not addressing openly and honestly. It is not a matter of placing the blame in order to write off the problem. (And I do feel Mr. Butterfield took a blame-the-victim stance.) The issue is: are our Buddhist communities places where we can confront serious habitual patterns like alcoholism, and sexual addiction and victimization in honest fearless ways? It is so important that publications like Tricycle exist so that these issues like this can be discussed openly.

Leaburg, Oregon

Sometimes Stephen Butterfield writes as though his views represent "Buddhism." But although his views are Buddhist, there is no one Buddhism. Some "Buddhisms" emphasize precepts and others don't. The same goes for sexuality: some tantric traditions, like Butterfield's, dance with it actively, others, like the Dalai Lama's, work with it energetically. In the Pali sutras, on the other hand, Buddha describes the expression of sexual desire very negatively—as similar to lepers enjoying roasting their limbs over a charcoal fire.

My point here is not to "vote" for celibacy, tantrism, or roasting one's limbs over charcoal fires. Nor to argue with Butterfield's excellent point—that Buddhist precepts are not imposed by a punishing God or a repressive community. But when he dismisses non-Buddhist ethical systems as "devised by the conceptual mind to protect self-interest and group interest" ... and perpetuating "some kind of division between us and them," his language perpetuates division.

I'd like to offer another equally "Buddhist" point of view: that when we experience that there is no division between "us" and "them," we treat ourselves and others tenderlywhether we call ourselves Buddhists, Christians, or Sufis. Our actions tend to coincide with standards of ethical behavior shared across cultures. We are not caught in a view of the self as overly solid, but we don't cling to emptiness either. We experience others as both transparent and precious. We don't dismiss their pain as therapist-induced victimization, or due to "mutual consent," or as "the ego-responses that Buddhist practice seeks to illuminate and undermine." We hold their pain as our own. We look at the person, the situation, in front of us—not at our ideas about "ego" or "theism." And we don't cause unecessary pain. Some people do better when trust is gradually established and arises out of a meditative practice, a stable life and a quiet mind. You don't want to knock too many holes in your raft before you make it to the other shore.

So some people follow precepts before—and as—they develop deep compassionate wisdom. This doesn't necessarily lead to hating sex or burying monks up to their necks in riverbeds.

San Francisco, California

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