Let’s Talk About Sex…

Joshu Sasaki Roshi. Photo by Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times.

…Or, rather, let’s talk about sexual assault.

In case you’ve missed it, another sex scandal has come to light in Buddhist America, this time at the Mount Baldy Zen Center here in Southern California. The New York Times first reported the story in the press, and others followed shortly thereafter, including The Los Angeles Times. In a nutshell, according to an investigation by members of the American Zen Teachers Association, the Zen Center’s abbot, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, “groped and sexually harassed female students for decades…[and] his supporters looked the other way.”

There has been a flurry of responses and commentaries, many of them available to read online. Of special note are my friend and Patheos colleague Roshi James Ishmael Ford’s post over at Monkey Mind; three separate posts by Barbara O’Brien at her blog; two posts by Brad Warner at his; two posts by Kusan Peter Schireson at Sweeping Zen; a post by David Loy at Sweeping Zen; and a post by Sweeping Zen’s editor Adam Tebbe (whose work has been very important in bringing this scandal to light).

I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular line in James’ piece: “Sex isn’t the problem.” Over at Tricycle‘s Awake in the World blog, the great Emma Varvaloucas whittles James’ basic argument down to this: “the [real] problem is our glamorization of our spiritual teachers, as well as the lack of institutional and personal accountability.” I agree that these are certainly problems and that everything James says about them is basically right, and in a way I also agree with him that sex isn’t the problem. Sex isn’t the problem because it isn’t what’s being alleged here, is it? What’s being alleged are acts of violence and misogyny.

This is part of the reason I’m surprised that a good bit of the blog-talk elsewhere on this matter has revolved around the perennial question of sexual/romantic relationships between teachers and students and whether this constitutes a kind of sexual misconduct (in the Buddhist sense). This is a somewhat relevant question, to be sure, but not what’s at issue.

I would argue that what’s at issue is, again, violent crime and misogyny.

Like Barbara, I think that the most important next step will be “educating others, especially the menfolk, that the groping thing is seriously bad.” It seems to me from some of the conversation that there might be some confusion about sexual assault, what exactly it is, and how we should respond. (There’s a lot of this sort of confusion going around SoCal, as it turns out…) So let’s have a clarification session, shall we?

What is being accused here (fondling, groping, other unwanted sexual behavior) meets the legal definition of “sexual assault,” which is articulated by the United States Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women in this way:

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

Sexual assault is a crime, and, according to the American Medical Association, “the most rapidly growing violent crime in America.”

RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) reports that someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. In addition, “according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.”

While I appreciate so very much that Barbara brought the conversation back to the issue of sexual assault, she did get one thing wrong not quite right when she said that “most of the time being randomly groped doesn’t do permanent damage.” Again, according to RAINN, victims of sexual assault are in fact “3 times more likely to suffer from depression; 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs; and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.”

RAINN goes on to note that “54% of rapes/sexual assaults are not reported to the police, according to a statistical average of the past 5 years.” Related to this is the striking fact that “73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.”

Sexual assault is not a kind of flirtation. It has nothing to do with romance or even lust per se; it has to do with violence and domination. Furthermore, it’s a criminal act.

If, as my esteemed UWest colleague Dr. Lewis Lancaster has said, “the one thing that all forms of Buddhism hold as their highest ideal is compassion [a deep response to the sufferings of others],” then there can be no room — zero — for sexual assault in our communities. It must be confronted head-on and immediately.

So why do we keep hearing the same stories about abuses of power or sexual assault by teachers, and the subsequent silence or worse in response from the communities in which they happen? In a guest post that she wrote for my personal website back when the Eido Shimano scandal broke, my friend Roshi Joan Halifax said something that I think is still relevant today:

…For too long in the West, and I am sure in the East, gross misogyny has existed in the Buddhist world, a misogyny so deep that it has allowed the disrespect and abuse of women and nuns in our own time, and not only throughout history, and not only in Asia. The misogynistic abuse is not only in terms of the usual gender issues related to who has responsibility and authority (women usually don’t have much, if any), but it is as well expressed through mistreatment of women, through sexual boundary violations of women, and the psychological abuse of women…

It will take a while for us to fully understand why we as Buddhists took so long to act. If [any of these teachers] had been a doctor, lawyer, or psychotherapist, there would have been rapid social and legal consequences. But there is something about our religions, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islam, or Buddhist, that disallows us facing the shame associated with sexual violations and the gross gender issues that plague most, if not all, religions…

It is not only a matter of the sexual violation of women and the painful violation of boundaries that are based in trust between teacher and student, it is as well a matter of the violation of the core of human goodness; for [their] behavior is also a violation of the entire Buddhist community, as well as the teachings of the Buddha which are uncompromising with respect to the unviability of killing, lying, sexual misconduct, wrongful speech, and consuming intoxicants of body, speech and mind. The northstar of goodness has been lost from sight in the long and recent past, and we are all suffering because we cannot see how deep the wound is to the heart of our world and to the coming generations.

Protections, dialogue, education are all necessary at this time. And a commitment to not forgetting……… as well as vowing to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and to practice a compassion that is clear and brave, liberating and just.

Every time one of these scandals breaks, we talk about the power differential, appropriate relationships between teachers and students, and everything else but misogyny. We don’t want to believe that it has crept into Buddhism and our individual communities, I think. We want to believe we’re better than that. But the practice Roshi Joan asks us to undertake here — “compassion that is clear and brave, liberating and just” — is essential. It won’t be easy work, but it will be work that benefits all beings, and, in the end, isn’t that why we’re all practicing?

Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted… That Buddhist teachers contribute to this unacceptable statistic should break all of our hearts and call us to do more, to do better.

Finally, if someone engages in any type of sexual contact or behavior with you without your explicit consent, it is not a teaching. It is an act of violence and it’s against the law. For help or support, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) at 1-877-739-3895.

A New Investigative Report on Wat Phra Dhammakaya for The Bangkok Post
A Roundabout Defense of the “Mandala Form” for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship’s National Gathering
No. 8 (in Absentia)
Don’t Miss Justin Whitaker’s New Interview with the Creators of transbuddhists.org
  • Martin Goldstein

    Other than these types of transgressions do you not see other examples of sytemic misogyny in Buddism?

  • William

    If the woman had made advances on the roshi, would it be a problem?

  • Tom Armstrong

    Danny, It seems to me that you have gotten off-track by, at blogpost’s end, becoming wholly legalistic and absolutist.

    I by no means whatever condone what happened — OF COURSE — but the circumstance for many of the women can have been enough consensual that it was mostly just wildly weird and not traumatizing.

    I mean, give the women some credit! We should not instantly think of them as sheep being led to the slaughter, as woeful victims without a shred of fortitude. Many Buddhist [myself included in this] are able to go into Witness Mode [I think that's Wilber's term for it; can't think of the sanscrit equivalent] and just, kind of, carry their brain ‘above’ the sturm and drang of a weird or terrible period or moment and come out of things OK.

    Sure, what women were harmed should get help. But others, who to their credit fully do not feel harmed, should not be browbeaten into thinking they are victims.

    • Liza Llyn

      Tom, as a Buddhist woman of 40 years, I must say that “going into witness mode” in no way eradicates the harm and heartbreak of being present for the manifestation of this kind of injustice, societal imbalance. This kind of breakdown of pervasive social safety net. This kind of disregard of a person, in this case, one’s self. The credit for not being browbeaten into a political stance also goes to women. It is what it is. Being there fully, if one is not ,by chance, consensual and terrifically ok with everything, does not mean that one is skillful enough to avoid the harm. That kind of experience just does not exist. When injustice happens, harm comes from every direction. Thanks to Danny below for more clarification of this.

  • Andrea

    While I appreciate so very much that Barbara brought the conversation back to the issue of sexual assault, she did get one thing wrong when she said that “most of the time being randomly groped doesn’t do permanent damage.” Again, according to RAINN, victims of sexual assault are in fact “3 times more likely to suffer from depression; 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol; 26 times more likely to abuse drugs; and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.”

    As a woman who has been assaulted numerous times and even raped once, Barbara is right. Your statistics do not contradict what Barbara says. She is right and the statistics are probably also right. Nevertheless, just because one is not traumatised does not make it all right and it does not mean the person was not upset about it and that random groping is acceptable. But a random grope is hardly like to cause depression, alcohol abuse or post traumatic stress disorder.

    • Kimberley McGill

      I wouldn’t be so quick to say that. If the woman being groped has suffered other kinds of sexual abuse, the groping is traumatizing.
      If the person doing the groping is someone a woman has trusted, it’s traumatizing.
      And exactly what is a “random” grope? For that matter, it’s quite impossible to quantify the word “grope” – groping comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and intensity.
      And, after thinking about it a bit, – a woman “randomly” groped by a “random” stranger – geesh, just upset? I would think one would feel violated, unsafe. For instance, as happened to me – a stranger sidles up next to you for a “random” grope of your breast while you are talking the daily walk you so enjoy. Some women might fear going out alone after that.
      To have our sexual body parts groped at anytime anywhere is traumatizing. We can’t put people’s experiences in some kind of hierarchy of – “mine is worse than yours” or “i suffer more than you” therefore you have no right to be traumatized. Which is what you’re saying here.
      I grew up with incest and rape. Yep – traumatizing. But I have no right to tell any woman who has been groped that she should only feel upset and that her depression because of the incident is unwarrented. No right at all.

  • http://wab-i-sab-i.blogspot.com/ Barbara Lenschmidt

    The teacher is not the teaching. He may have the gift to convey the teaching, but this might be the only great thing about him. Idolizing the teacher is succumbing the the “god” principle. It takes you away from your practice and creates attachment.

  • dannyfisher

    Martin: I do. Denying women the opportunity for full ordination in most traditions would be another example to pick just one. There are many examples, actually. This is just one.

    Tom: I’m not sure I’m suggesting anything you mentioned. And I do qualify everything I say about sexual contact/behavior and so on with “without consent” or something similar–that’s sexual assault. Your points do get a good treatment from Kusan Peter Schireson, though. I would agree with him when he says, “Some Zen teachers feel it’s okay to form romantic and sexual relationships with people in their sanghas or classes. I now get that some students and sangha members feel the same way. Some believe it’s not only okay, but that it has been, is, or can be very beneficial to both the student and the teacher involved. If a person testifies that a sexual affair or intimate romantic relationship with a Zen teacher has been a great and wholesome blessing, it’s not my place or business to argue with those feelings. But I continue to believe very strongly that forming such relationships is a mistake. They don’t form in a bubble with only the two individuals involved. Other students, sangha members, teachers, and a larger community inevitably witness what occurs and the effects tend to be confusing and harmful in the aggregate. Harmful to both the immediate and wider communities, and to the Dharma.”

    Andrea: “Not quite right” was probably the more appropriate thing to say there. Barbara too might have benefitted from different phrasing in her piece.

  • Ann

    I’m in academia. There is a power differential between professor and student, even when something is consensual. Longitudinal studies into professor/graduate student relationships have shown that many women come to regret the relationship over time and feel that there was coercion from the power imbalance.

    However, there is nothing consensual in a person “copping a feel”. It is not just some weird moment in that sangha or teaching relationship, it is a violation of personal boundaries. The person on the receiving end of the unwanted touching may not be “traumatized” in the sense some people seem to be using it, but any breach of trust is harm. Do no harm seems to be a core issue here. Who are any of us to say what harm is too much or not enough to merit concern?

  • dannyfisher

    For some reason, Tom Armstrong is having difficulty posting a response without it getting blocked as spam. (I’ll look into the problem.) Here is his second response, which he emailed to me:

    Danny, a part of why I am bummed by your essay is that I think that it carries forward misuse of statistics, and in so doing misrepresents reality.

    Let us begin with something Barbara wisely mentions up top in the first of her pieces:  ‘The roshi is 105 years old.’ The topic in many of the essays, like yours, is the specific case which then gets unwisely meshed into a discussion of the general case.

    I am highly dubious of RAINN’s statistics, by the way — but certainly agree with all who are using that data, that sexual assault is a terrible ongoing problem.  I do note that there is no narrow data coming forward about sexual assault by 105 year olds, however.

    I have been reading about pedophilia of late since many guys I know in Sacramento are Section 290 guys, convicted of sex with children.  Pedophilia — which is now recognized as a sexual orientation — is fundamental to a person’s makeup, like heterosexual or homosexual.  A person does not change his sexual orientation.  But a subset of those convicted of sexual abuse with children are very old guys who have no youthful or middle-aged history of sexual interest in children.  Old age, in itself somehow, can loosen inhibitions and change men such that society gets these stereotypical “dirty old men,” behaving in ways outside who they’d been.

    I submit that the roshi is an outlier — from what I read as the drift of your argument.  I would doubt that he is at all typical of what you put forward as this ravaging threat from rampant unrestrained testosterone.  I would guess, too [since we’re all guessing], that he was experienced by the people up in Baldy as being a too-tolerated weirdo rather than a crafty sexual manipulative predator.  Thus using data relating to the general case of sexual assault does not apply when the instance under discussion has some far-at-the-margins features.

  • dannyfisher

    Tom: First, let’s read carefully what the reports are actually saying. These aren’t allegations thst Roshi committed sexual assault last week, but “over decades.” The Times piece has stories of confrontations and letter-writing in the eighties and nineties, for example. Second, the RAINN statistics aren’t necessarily “theirs”–they pull from findings elsewhere as well. Until you can back up your doubt with anything credible, I’m left thinking that that’s a completely unfounded and incorrect opinion.

    • http://AikifarmsAikikai Robert Bruce Burns

      I know explicitly of a dear friend of mine who was raped by him some eight years ago,it was a brutal and aggressive rape.She was devistated, and chose not to press charges, and holds that scar upon her soul for the rest of her life. What is correct is that we all seek spiritual guidance as the victem, we victemize ourselves, both my Roshi(who is now diceased) and my Abbot could have attestd that my years on the cushion were no more than taking a shit, normal, natrual, and …for me necessary. I didnt “glorify a fucking thing” i still dont, I run a zendo now, and sit every day…I , I eat, I work in the garden. teach Aikido…it is no big thing…however when I was a”virgin” of the spiritual realm I swallowed this crap”Oh Bob you have to be sensitive to these Roshi’s, they lived in temples, and were denied contact with women, they just dont know, you must forgive them” And yes I bought it, in fact I argued with my Abbot SUPPORTING the nasty sons’ of bitches…..today I eat , and swallow my words, and beg forgiveness of my sisters, mothers and daughters for being such a fool. if a Roshi diddles with women, it is up to the men and women to kick him hard in the groin…and eastablish the rules of the zendo with clarity. It is difficult to sit lotus with a sore groin, and does help to clarify the issue, no question about it.Time for a WAKE UP CALL FOR US ALL EH?

  • James

    Danny, at 105, “over decades” still puts him solidly in the “very old man” category, and doesn’t negate Tom’s point.

  • dannyfisher

    James: It doesn’t? It means he committed these acts years before he was 105. And what is the point about his age anyway? He’s not too old to teach dharma, but too old to confront about what he’s being accused of?

  • Tom Armstrong

    Danny, The point about the roshi’s age is that he does not fit YOUR depiction of what went on which is “the most rapidly growing violent crime in America.” His crime, at 105 years old or at 85 years old, is not testosterone fueled. It is not typical of what you broaden into the general case — because the roshi isn’t just really, really, really old; he’s really most sincerely old. To use a general argument based on statistics that aren’t stratified, you have to have a general instance as the case. And THAT you don’t have.

    It makes a difference because you read the issue as there being “a threat” — violence — when the roshi could be pushed over with a feather. This is why the real issue is one of the teacher-student; master-novice relationship being violated and not the ballyhooed sexual-assault crime.

    I mean, What are you supposing needs to happen? You want the roshi to go to prison? We are supposed to remain unmindful of his very advanced age?

    • Kimberley McGill

      You are confusing the word “violent” being used in relation to sexual assault with the standard ideas of what violence is. Stong, virile men forcing themselves on women – not the only kind of violence. Violence can be perpetrated without virility, without physical force — because the force is “power” not “testosterone”. Unless someone is senile or has alzheimers, advanced age should not protect them from being accountable for their actions. Your opinion seems to be saying – gee, what harm could an old man do? Plenty.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Liza Llyn wrote, “Tom, as a Buddhist woman of 40 years, I must say that ‘going into witness mode’ in no way eradicates the harm and heartbreak of being present for the manifestation of this kind of injustice, societal imbalance …”

    Here words of Wilber:

    A steady, calm Witnessing in the midst of turmoil keeps one directly related to Spirit, as Spirit, and anchors one in what really matters and what is ultimately Real. That way, the surface phenomena can continue to simply come and go as they will, but you remain anchored in the unchanging Source and Ground and real Self of it all.

    Do whatever you can to help with the surface phenomena, but remain anchored in their Witness, so that day-to-day realities “hurt you more, but bother you less.” “Hurt more,” because you are more sensitive, more aware of them and let them all in, you don’t turn away or hide from them. But “bother you less” because you have ceased to identify with them, remaining “neti, neti,” or “not this, not that” but the impartial Witness of them all.

    More Wilber on The Witness:

    “The Witness is a huge step forward, and it is a necessary and important step in meditation, but it is not ultimate. When the Witness or the soul is finally undone, then the Witness dissolves into everything that is witnessed. The subject/object duality collapses and there is only pure nondual awareness, which is very simple, very obvious.”

  • dannyfisher

    Tom: You’re right in that it wouldn’t necessarily be “testosterone fueled.” This from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist’s committee opinion on sexual assault: “Sexual assault is a crime of violence and aggression, not passion, and encompasses a continuum of sexual activity that ranges from sexual coercion to contact abuse (unwanted kissing, touching, or fondling) to forcible rape” (emphasis added). These are medical professionals, mind you. You can make it all about biological urges and nothing else if you want to, but it sounds like they’d tell you that you’d be wrong to do so.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Danny, you lose me. You’re (again) saying the roshi was violent and aggressive? I’ve offered no idea about the roshi’s passion.

    Testosterone, by the way, is very often the big factor in each of passion, violence and aggression. As well as manipulative behavior. I’m just sayin’ the guy is old as the hills; a woman can have just walked away from him — EXCEPT that the circumstance of him being the master accorded him power and put women in a submissive role. His power was misused.

    I am unclear on what the roshi’s motives were, except that I think it likely that Robert Bruce Burns’ comment from above is instructive.

    I am repeating myself; so this will be my last comment. My point is that this ancient man is unlikely — HIGHLY unlikely — to have been threatening. And I am hopeful that women who undressed for him are OK. And that those who are not get help.

    But if criminology is the focus, I can say with no legal knowledge, yet with certainty, that the roshi will not be teaching any longer, but he will also not be imprisoned. HE IS 105 YEARS OLD.

    Maybe, instead, something useful can be accomplished re the unhealthy power-submission circumstances that exist in Western Buddhism. But I don’t know how that will happen; this abuse of women by empowered masters and wannabe gurus happens continually.

  • mary

    I cannot figure out why this even has to be negotiated. Did the Buddha talk about sex during the teachings? What is it that people must dissect in a clearly abusive situation?? Abuse of power is abuse of power period. It cannot be tolerated. If it is then Buddhism is not being practiced; delusions are being practiced.

  • Ken Pearson

    I try to look at the Global View, eg. the Catholic Priest situation for a start. The abuse of power is Global and always has been. We are Human beings with the potential to be the very best and equally the very worst ! I,m reminded of that old adage ” But for the grace of god go I”. I am so happy to be Buddhist knowing each of us have our Karma ,this enables me to be nonjudgmental, one of my great difficulties. This seems to be what ultimately it all boils down to. So every day I start again Do no harm.

  • Justin Whitaker

    I agree that this is an abuse of power issue and the fact that it was reported and ignored for 30 years (if I have the dates correct) suggests abuse not only on the Roshi’s part, but also on his inner circle. It suggests a very unhealthy religious group, the kind that could spiral down (in that, if followers were willing to ‘excuse’ or cover up these offenses, what else could they let slide if needed? I have avoided looking too closely into this, as I know one can get lost in the details of the lives of people over several decades, but this is how it appears to me now. I’m grateful to those who spoke out, and to those like you and James Ford who have taken the time to address this. Let us hope that in the future women can come forward with confidence that they won’t be dismissed, ridiculed, shamed, etc and that some semblance of justice will prevail. I don’t think that’s the world we live in right now, but it’s something we need to work toward. Last fall I wrote about one case of a contemporary teacher, Ken McLeod, being accused of similar abuse of power with two of his students and still get comments attacking the credibility of the women (or the one woman who has gone public at least): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2012/10/from-scandal-like-to-just-plain-ugly.html -

  • Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett, BCC

    As usual, you and Roshi Halifax have hit the nail on the head. Sexual assaults by teachers or even “consensual sex” is never right due to the unequal power dynamic involved. And those that take advantage of that—whatever their religious tradition—are unworthy of the trust & faith that have been placed in them.

  • Rae

    The title of this article is innapropriate, as the author said, sex and sexual assault are two different things. The title should read, “Let’s talk about sexual assault”

    • dannyfisher

      Rae: Thank you for making my point for me. The title is “Let’s Talk About Sex…” (notice the ellipsis), and then in the first line I make the course correction (“…Or, rather, let’s talk about sexual assault”). Since others in the blogosphere are talking about sexual relationships within Buddhist communities in the wake of this scandal, it seemed useful to start where they are, and then explain how it’s not about that at all, but what you and I recognize as the real issue: sexual assault. Out of context, the title may seem wrong; but it’s not meant to be taken out of context.

  • dannyfisher

    This from Monica Sanford–the Dharma Cowgirl herself–who also had trouble leaving a comment for some reason:


    I find your focus on Sasaki, the alleged perpetrator of these abuses, to be disturbing. I’m going to be very black and white here, which is quite atypical for me. It does NOT matter if he’s 105, 85, or 25. Sexual assault is defined by the VICTIM. It is any sexual contact which is unwanted by the recipient. The characteristics of the perpetrator are irrelevant. His age, physical ability, sexual orientation, or position of power cannot ameliorate or mitigate the harm of his actions.

    Rather than focusing so strongly on the perpetrator, I would appreciate if we, as the Buddhist community, could focus on 1) caring for the victims regardless of HOW they became victims and 2) caring for our sanghas by ensuring this type of situation is not repeated (this second part includes compassionate care for the perpetrator, but not focus on him/her). One way we can do this is by addressing patriarchy/misogyny. Your focus on how these women could have been overpower by this “old man” is troubling. Is it only assault if it involves physical violence? Does mental/emotional violence not count? The very fact that a 105 old man still had the ability to do this is, in my mind, merely FURTHER proof of patriarchy/misogyny in our culture, without which he could not overpower ANY woman in any situation. To ignore this is to ignore the systemic, social, and cultural pervasiveness of misogyny. And, no, before you ask, this view does not paint all women as helpless victims with no agency of their own – it merely acknowledges frankly which way the river runs.

    I also find your insistence that this experience is abnormal to be troubling when every study, statistic, and fact on the nature of sexual assault suggests that it is horribly normal. How sad is that! It’s NORMAL in our culture for one in every four or five women to be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. It is NORMAL for one in four men to report in confidential surveys that they did something which met the legal definition of rape (without calling it ‘rape’). Perhaps your personal anecdotal experience does not reflect this, but mine does. Who’s view is heeded? We could like people of each viewpoint up on opposite sides of the room until we ran out of people, but to what end? Can we step towards on another and agree that if it happens to ONE person, it is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately by the entire community? Violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We, as Buddhists, should understand that only too well. We should, therefore, comprehend that it will take all of us to work towards the kind of world where this type of violence is, in fact, abnormal, outliers, uncommon.

    PS – Yes, I think he should go to jail. Or I would if I thought our jails were a just punishment, where he could be humanely and compassionately confined in redress for his actions. But given the lack of medical care and pervasiveness of violence in our prisons, I’m not sure I’d sentence any person his age thusly, if I were the judge. At the very least, he’d get house arrest and an ankle tracker. What he did is a crime and should be treated as such.

  • Tom Armstrong

    Monica, In response to your comment directed toward me.

    You fail to read what I have said repeatedly in this thread: That of course women who were harmed should receive help. I am unstinting on that point.

    You write that “sexual assault is defined by the victim.” That sentiment of yours bothers me; I think that, like perhaps Danny, you have crossed the line into an absolutist territory. Suddenly, though you don’t use the terminology, you stumble into seeing everything in blacks and whites: devils and angels. Life is infinitely more complicated and interesting that the rush of words you used — but then I don’t fully believe you are wedded to everything you say and the implications that fall from that.

    My line on this topic relates to the fact that we, in discussing the matter, don’t know everything; that it is misogynistic to tag every woman met by the roshi as a “victim.” In other forums, and maybe soon publicly, they can speak for themselves!

    As a blogger, I have investigated “evil” several times. By ‘evil,’ I mean in terms of the worst of human beings, and the misuses of the term by people who choose to damn their perceived enemies. The amount of venom that can be directed toward the roshi is not and should not be the measure of how evil he was or is. There is also the matter of what he thought he was doing and how aware he was of possible harm he can have been inflicting on others.

    Monica, maybe you and I can agree on this [from Lars Svenson who later wrote A Philosophy of Evil]: “…One problem we face, however, is that the negative possibilities are so much greater than the positive. In terms of causality, it’s always easier to do evil than to do good; easier to hurt another human being in ways that will haunt them for the rest of their lives than to do a comparative amount of good; easier to inflict an enormous amount of suffering on a whole people than to bring about a comparative state of prosperity. In short, there’s an asymmetry between our ability to do good and our ability to do evil. This may be a defining condition for human action, but it’s still our responsibility to do more good than evil. …”

    I am bothered that wanting to do what’s best, you choose to shackle the roshi with an ankle bracelet, just to be hurtful. Ankle bracelets have a purpose in criminal law; they are not a modern-day stockade substitute.

    In reading about Evil in books by Svendsen and Rush Dozier, you learn [quoting myself] “that evil exists in shades of gray, and not in poles of black and white, as Christians are taught to believe. Too, both books find that while evil acts can be horrifying, the motivations underlying evil are just sad, albeit devastatingly so.”

    • dannyfisher

      Another response from Monica, another she had trouble posting here:


      I am glad we agree that the women in this situation, and all victims in all such situations, men and women alike, should receive help. More than merely receiving help, we have a duty to offer and provide help as society and members of this community.

      If you read the widely available definition of sexual assault, you will find it “is an umbrella term that includes physical acts of a sexual nature that take place without a person’s consent.” * In this case, the “victim” is the individual who has not provided consent. Therefore, what is or is not sexual assault is, in fact and law, defined by the victim.

      Never once did I use the words “devil” or “evil.” I find it interesting that you immediately see these connotations. Do you believe I am seeking a villain or a scapegoat here? I did point out at the beginning that I would be fairly black-and-white about my definition of sexual assault and for good reason. I think I have clarified that sufficiently above.

      I have not tagged every woman as a victim, although you have accused me and several others on this forum of doing just that. You state “They can speak for themselves!” yet seem reluctant to listen when THIS particular woman is speaking for herself. In fact, I was quite explicit when I said “this view does not paint all women as helpless victims,” yet you persist in repeating this rhetoric. I do notice it neatly allows you to dismiss my (and others’) arguments.

      Lars Svensen sounds like a smart cookie. I’ll endeavor to read more of his work.

      I do not “choose to shackle the roshi with an ankle bracelet, just to be hurtful.” You are making a rather large assumption about my motives. You’re right that ankle bracelets have a purpose in criminal law. The last time I checked sexual assault is a CRIME. Do you believe otherwise? So, yes, I would choose to “shackle” Sasaki with an ankle bracelet so that he can be restricted to his home and limited from harming others. Research has widely suggested that people with a long history of sexual assault (and Sasaki appears to have a long history, indeed) are unlikely to reform. Therefore, it is compassionate for us to protect others and prevent future victims by restricting their movements, normally through imprisonment. I suggest house arrest for Sasaki due to his advanced age and the appalling conditions in most modern prisons. There is no spite involved and I find it quite unfair of you to suggest otherwise. I have not damned Sasaki; he is human and endowed with buddhanature just like you or I. I have compassion for the suffering he must have undergone to drive him to such actions, if they are indeed true. I merely believe he should be prevented from repeating this habitual behavior.

      Do you believe Sasaki should not be prosecuted for his alleged crimes? If so, why? If he is prosecuted and found guilty, what do you believe would be a fit punishment? What action should we, as society, take to prevent Sasaki from harming others?

      You have called me absolutist, stumbling, not meaning what I say, and willfully hurtful. I would suggest that you look deeply at whatever presuppositions and karma you carry that might lead you to make such broad characterizations without ever having met me, based on a single internet comment. In the future, I ask that you limit your replies to the actual contents of my (and others’) comments, rather than speculating about character. If I say it, feel free to ask for clarification, but do grant me the benefit of the doubt that I do, indeed, mean it. I will do my best to do likewise. May we both practice right speech in discussing this difficult matter.