Sexual Assault Allegations Leveled at Zen Master

105-year-old Buddhist teacher Joshu Sasaki has been running more than 30 global Zen centers and is something of a legend in his community.  Evidently he is also a sexual harasser of the highest order.

Well, I suppose it would have been naïve to think that spiritual leaders taking advantage of those who follow them is a phenomenon limited to just the Catholic Church.

Oh, and also there’s been quite the cover-up in place for at least 25 years — students have been writing to the board of one of Sasaki’s centers since 1991 but nothing came to light until this past November:

Yet it was only last November, when Eshu Martin, a Zen priest who studied under Mr. Sasaki from 1997 to 2008, posted a letter to SweepingZen.com, a popular Web site, that the wider Zen world noticed.

The New York Times interviewed seven former students who are finally coming forward with their stories. The women say that Sasaki told them that a part of their Zen training was to allow him to touch them.

Here are some more examples:

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

During that time, she said, Mr. Sasaki would fondle her breasts during sanzen, or private meeting; he also asked her to massage his penis. She would wonder, she said, “Was this teaching?”

Susanna Stewart began studying with Mr. Sasaki about 40 years ago. Within six months, she said, Mr. Sasaki began to touch her during sanzen. This sexualizing of their relationship “led to years of confusion and pain,” Ms. Stewart said, “eventually resulting in my becoming unable to practice Zen.” And when she married one of his priests, Mr. Sasaki tried to break them up, she said, even encouraging her husband to have an affair.

It makes me sick to my stomach to see people in positions of authority take advantage of those who trust them.  But it’s a million times worse to see a systemic cover-up of this nature.  We’ve all seen it in the Catholic Church, but I have to say I wasn’t expecting to see it in the Buddhist community. I guess I just didn’t realize that it had such a structured hierarchy that would lend itself to something like this.

But I was foolishly wrong. I guess any community that puts the worship of a God or man over the mental, physical, and sexual health of its individuals is vulnerable:

The Zen group, or sangha, can become one’s close family, and that aspect of Zen may account for why women and men have been reluctant to speak out for so long.

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

….

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

Oh, women are intrinsically bad or evil?  That sounds familiar…

(It’s like I’ve learned nothing from Lisa Simpson!)

I just really hope something is done about this.  Or that this issue sees some exposure. I really hope that the fact that Sasaki is 105 doesn’t keep people from coming after him with whatever he has coming. It’s obvious that he’s not the only offender and hopefully more victims will be able to come forward.

(Via Jezebel)

About Jessica Bluemke

Jessica Bluemke grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Ball State University in 2008 with a BA in Literature. She currently works as a writer and resides on the North side of Chicago.


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