Responding to Sex, lies and the dharma, my interview with two Detroit-area Buddhist teachers (P’arang Geri Larkin of Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple and Rinpoche Nawang Gehlik of Jewel Heart Center) about scandals and improprieties within spiritual teacher-student relationships, a reader offered the following:
I read with interest your article on abuse of authority by Buddhist leaders in the June 26, 2002 edition and it brought to mind this article I came across last year while surfing for info on meditation and retreat centers. I was struck by the basically equivocal nature of the answers given by both Larkin and Gehlik to your questions. It sounded very much like the responses we have heard recently from Catholic Church partisans trying to put the best face possible on a situation that is impossible to defend. In the article you will find that H. H. Dalai Lama has been much more direct in his condemnation of these abuses and has provided the seeker with a simple, easy to remember and apply test for handling the sexual advances of spiritual authority figures. A test that certainly appeals to the pragmatic American puritan in me.
The address is: www.anandainfo.com/new_ethic.html. Or search with key words: Dalai Lama, sex abuse, “one taste.”
The article in question is “Toward a New Spiritual Ethic” by Kate Wheeler, a writer and former Buddhist nun. It first appeared in Yoga Journal and reports on statements made by the Dalai Lama to a symposium of 22 Western Buddhist teachers on the subject of the problems that arise when students give up responsibility for themselves to their dharma guides. The core of the Dalai Lama’s remarks addresses issues of sexual transgression: What to do when Trusted Teacher, a person with authority over your spiritual development, turns into demonic-erotic Mr. Hyde (or Hide, since such advances are usually made in the intimacy of the one-on-one conference — and “Mr.” because the transgressor’s gender is almost always male)?
Wheeler spices up her piece with a few imaginary dialogues between “Not-So-Great Master” and “New Disciple,” in which the neophyte’s questions probe deeper and deeper into the guru’s dishonesty. One of these culminates with the teacher crying out in frustration, “I already told you that I see beyond. No more questions, or you can’t rub my feet any more. In fact, I kick you out of my group.”
These comic vignettes alternate with unblinkingly candid statements by the Dalai Lama on the question of the master’s perfection: “His Holiness replied, ‘I cannot accept the outlook of perceiving all the actions of the guru in purity, and I never rely or depend on such a license.’”
But it’s the “simple, easy to remember and apply test” referred to in our reader’s letter that rocked and shocked the symposium with its radical solution to an age-old dilemma. As Wheeler writes: The discussion turned to teachers who have sex with many women students, claiming to enlighten them. To almost everyone’s horror, His Holiness said there were a few cases where this might be possible. He began musing about that famous yogi of medieval Bhutan, Drukpa Kunley, who used to sleep with other men’s wives and all sorts of inappropriate people. …
Smiling slightly, His Holiness explained that Drukpa Kunley could understand the long-term effects of his actions because he had attained the nondual insight known as “one taste.” All experiences were the same to him: He could enjoy excrement and urine just like the finest food and wine. Traditionally, His Holiness said, the practice of tantric sex is permitted only to practitioners who can match Drukpa Kunley’s insight.
As for the teachers nowadays who sleep with many students, His Holiness laughed and said, “If you put into their mouth some urine, they will not enjoy.”
So if your sensei ever comes on to you, suggesting an enlightened missionary position or a sublime 69, offer him a glass of piss or a plate of shit with this toast, “Bon appétit, O Prurient One.”E-mail George Tysh at firstname.lastname@example.org
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