Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

This Is Abuse

Artist and former nun Damcho Dyson delivered the following speech about her experience with disgraced Buddhist teacher Sogyal Rinpoche, who has been accused of sexual and physical abuse by many members of the Rigpa community that he founded, at the Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women’s 16th biennial conference. She spoke alongside editor and author Tahlia Newland, who recalls the moment she learned about her teacher’s abuse in the excerpt below from her book, Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism (Escarpment Publishing, July 20, 2019). Buddhist chaplain Jack Wicks coordinated and introduced the talk at the June event in Blue Mountains, Australia, which you can listen to here.

This Is Abuse

By Damcho Dyson

Sogyal Rinpoche was the first Buddhist teacher that I came into contact with.

Continue reading
  32 Hits
  0 Comments
32 Hits
0 Comments

Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women Holds First Post-#MeToo Conference 

The Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women hosted its 16th conference in late June, gathering over 800 Buddhist nuns and laywomen from 29 countries in the city of Blue Mountains, Australia—returning for the first time since the #MeToo movement started making headlines and marking the first time the event was held outside Asia. 

Since its inception in 1987, Sakyadhita has pushed against the injustices affecting lay and ordained women from around the world, organizing biennial summits where women and men from diverse Buddhist traditions meet to present papers, dharma talks, workshops, meditation and chanting sessions, and roundtable discussions.  

In the past, Sakyadhita has hosted its conferences in Asia (the previous four took place in Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, and Thailand). This was partly intended to ensure that the meetings were accessible to as many nuns and laywomen as possible—the majority of whom live in Asian countries. 

Nuns chant at the 16th Sakyadhita Conference. | Olivier Adam

But this year the Buddhist women’s organization had a unique opportunity to hold a gathering in a region with a less-established Buddhist history. Fittingly, the theme of the conference was “New Horizons in Buddhism.” 

“I think the idea [behind the theme] was that the Australian venue would encourage new directions for discussion,” Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo told Tricycle. Ven. Lekshe is one of the founders of Sakyadhita and was a central organizer of the conference from its start through the last meeting in the summer of 2017. (That fall #MeToo would start trending on Twitter.) 

Continue reading
  15 Hits
  0 Comments
15 Hits
0 Comments

Buddha Buzz Weekly: Refuge Recovery Splits

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Refuge Recovery Splits as Board and Noah Levine Form New Groups

The board of directors of Refuge Recovery and the one of their founding members, the embattled Buddhist teacher Noah Levine, are both establishing new nonprofit organizations to oversee the network of peer-led addiction support groups, according to a joint statement emailed to Refuge Recovery members. Levine’s team is creating the nonprofit Refuge Recovery World Services while the board is forming their own nonprofit called Recovery Dharma Collective. “Sanghas wishing to remain in Refuge Recovery will be supported by RRWS. Those wishing an alternative may choose to affiliate with RDC,” the statement said. With the establishment of the two new groups, Levine and the board have agreed to drop the lawsuits that they had filed against each other in January. Both groups will help create meetings that are peer-led and democratically run, the statement said, but Refuge Recovery World Services “also includes associated teacher-led meditation retreats and professional treatment options” while the Collective will not.

Levine resigned from the Refuge Recovery board in 2018 following allegations of sexual harm at his other organization, Against the Stream (ATS). An independent investigation commissioned by the ATS teacher’s council later determined that he likely violated their code of conduct’s rules against “creating harm through sexuality,” resulting in the council’s decision to remove him from teaching and shut down ATS. Levine stepped down from the Refuge Recovery board but continued to run his for-profit Refuge Recovery Treatment Centers up until their closure last year, remained the sole member of the LLCs Refuge Recovery House and Refuge Recovery Clinical Services, and maintained the rights to his book Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction. The Refuge Recovery board later asked Levine to relinquish the name, and when he refused, they sued. Levine then countersued.  

In February, the Spirit Rock Meditation Center and its founder, Jack Kornfield, who empowered Levine to teach in the Theravada tradition, indefinitely revoked his authorization to teach, saying in a statement that his “misapprehensions and delusion have led him away from the wisdom and compassion necessary to be a teacher of the dharma.” In an interview with LA Magazine published this week, Levine dismissed the Spirit Rock decision as resulting from a distaste for his demeanor, saying, “Basically, they didn’t like the irreverence, the swearing, the smoking, the motorcycles.” He also told the magazine that JoAnna Hardy, a former guiding teaching at ATS who is biracial, pushed for his ouster because she wanted to “get rid of the white guy . . . She got the support of the rest of the teachers to do it, you know, because nobody’s going to say no to the angry black woman in charge.” Hardy told the magazine, “He came to us saying, ‘I slept with a student.’” She denied the charge of racism. 

Protest Planned at Migrant Detention Center and Former Japanese Internment Camp

A protest at a migrant detention center in Fort Sill, Oklahoma will be held on Saturday, July 20, organized by Dream Action Oklahoma, a non-profit that advocates for immigrant youth. They are supported by Tsuru for Solidarity, a Japanese American and Japanese Latin American-led project that protested at Fort Sill in June and at two detention centers in Texas in March, hanging thousands of origami cranes on the fences surrounding the Dilley detention site (South Texas Family Residential Center). Fort Sill is the location of a Japanese internment camp that held 700 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, 90 of whom were Buddhist priests. In the 1890s the camp was used to incarcerate Chiricahua Apache tribal members who were taken as prisoners-of-war after being forcibly relocated from their homes in the Southwest, and was used as a boarding school for Native American children separated from their families, according to a report from Democracy Now!

Continue reading
  28 Hits
  0 Comments
28 Hits
0 Comments

Why Some Buddhist Teachers Don’t Ordain

A few years after receiving inka, the highest seal of approval in his lineage of Zen Buddhism, Bernie Glassman—one of the earliest and most prominent Americans to receive dharma transmission—did a peculiar thing: he gave up his priestly vows, disrobed, and lived as a layperson until his death last year. Glassman was known for his unconventional ways, but his decision perplexed many in the Zen world. He continued to function as the senior teacher in his White Plum lineage and a sangha leader, and his monastic vows did not appear to have been a hindrance to his personal freedom. So why did he give up his robes?

Glassman was one of my early teachers, and this question has stuck with me throughout the years—even as, after many years of practice, I was named a lay dharma holder by Roshi Gerry Shishin Wick in 2016, and again this January as I attended my first conference of the Lay Zen Teachers Association (LZTA). 

Those who gathered for the meeting at Joshua Tree Retreat Center in California chose to become lay Zen teachers for various reasons, but many shared a concern that, at times, students and sangha leaders regarded them as being of lesser stature than ordained teachers. Like many of my peers in the early days of my training, I had some initial confusion about the difference between ordained clergy—also called monks, nuns, priests, and at some centers, priestesses—and lay practitioners. To make the issue more confusing, some US centers—particularly those with a live-in monastic community, as at Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, where I trained for many years, make no particular distinction between monastics (also called monks or nuns in some centers) and priests. Their monastic community serves both functions.

In most of Asia, these roles are more clearly defined, as laypeople don’t generally practice meditation; rather, they support the local temple or the practice of those in the monasteries, who, in turn, perform ceremonial functions for the lay community while generally keeping the traditional vinaya precepts. In Japan, laypeople are rarely involved in traditional meditation, and many Japanese temple priests do not continue to practice meditation after their initial training. Despite being home to thousands of temples, Japan has comparatively few live-in permanent monastic communities, and the priests commonly marry, have families, and may work jobs outside of temple functions—further obscuring the distinction between ordained life and lay life. 

In America, on the other hand, Buddhism has appealed primarily to laypeople wishing to pursue the central practices of meditation and mindfulness. Later in my training, while traveling to different communities to gather stories for  my book, One Bird, One Stone: 108 Contemporary Zen Stories, I discovered that defining the difference between ordained sangha members and laypeople was an ongoing issue in the West. This line becomes particularly blurry when many or most of the monastics or priests in some communities have outside jobs and families while some laypeople may live and work at their centers and train full-time. In some Western centers therefore, priestly ordination seems to have become primarily a mark of deepened commitment to the path and deeper responsibility to one’s center and teacher.

Continue reading
  29 Hits
  0 Comments
29 Hits
0 Comments

Buddha Buzz Weekly: Shambhala “Assault” Arrest

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Former Shambhala Member Arrested on Charges of Sexual Assault 

An ex-Shambhala International member has been arrested in Colorado on suspicion of child sexual assault, the latest in a string of abuse allegations involving the Buddhist group. On June 28, the Boulder police department arrested Michael Smith, 54, on charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. Smith allegedly assaulted the victim multiple times, beginning in 1997 when she was 13 years old, according to the police. They had met through his involvement with the Shambhala Mountain Center in the nearby Red Feather Lakes area. A second woman also told police that Smith assaulted her when she was 11 years old at Karme Choling, a Shambhala meditation center in Barnet, Vermont. The second case will be investigated by local authorities in Vermont. Both victims contacted the Boulder police department after learning of the arrest of former Shambhala teacher William Karelis, also on charges of child sexual assault, earlier this year. In February 2018, the advocacy group Buddhist Project Sunshine began publishing reports on allegations of sexual assault against teachers and senior members at Shambhala International, including their leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. The Sakyong later stepped away from teaching after a law firm hired by Shambhala, Wickwire Holm, investigated the claims and concluded that the Sakyong “more than likely” engaged in sexual conduct in at least two cases. 

The Boulder center’s executive director, Melanie Klein, told Think Progress that her group has a member named Michael Smith, but he is not the same person who was taken into police custody. “There may have been another Michael Smith who was a member of the Boulder Shambhala community 22 years ago, but we have no information about that,” she said in an email to the site. “His alleged crimes should be prosecuted vigorously.”

In Historic First, Two Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Are Hired to Teach Buddhist Philosophy

For the first time, two Tibetan Buddhist nuns with geshema degrees, the equivalent of a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, have been hired to teach at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Dharamsala, India. In the past, these topics were taught exclusively by monks. In a message to supporters, Elizabeth Napper, the board chair and US founder of the nonprofit Tibetan Nuns Project, announced that Delek Wangmo and Tenzin Kunsel are the first nuns to teach other nuns Buddhist philosophy. Training for Tibetan Buddhism’s highest degree, which has historically been limited to monks as the geshe degree, only became available to female monastics in recent decades. At least 37 women in the exile community have earned the title of geshema, after completing a course that involves at least 17 years of intensive study. 

Related: A conversation with the founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project

Continue reading
  43 Hits
  0 Comments
43 Hits
0 Comments