What happens when your spiritual leader also takes advantage of the women who come to him for enlightenment? What happens when tyour spiritual leader spends a lifetime collecting sexual conquests? What happens when the movement’s leadership finds out?
Mark Oppenheimer explores these questions in the New York Times article Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within.
The root of the problem, some experts say, is that the teacher/student relationship in Buddhism has no obvious Western analogy. Priests and rabbis know the boundaries, even if some do not always respect them. Doctors, too, have ethical canons they are supposed to honor. A spiritual figure like a priest, an authority figure like a teacher, a therapeutic figure like an analyst — the Buddhist teacher may be all of those, but is not really like any one of them. Even sanghas, or Buddhist communities, that discourage such relationships often have no process for enforcing a ban, and as one Zen society in New York is learning, that can lead to problems.
No process means somebody will figure out a way to exploit the system. In this case, somebody was the spiritual leader of the movement. Eido Shimano is the head spiritual teacher of the Zen Studies Society. His sexual conquests were documented in the personal papers of Robert Aitken. Mr. Shimano liked the ladies, a lot.
When confronted with Shimano’s transgression and breach of trust, the board of the Zen Studies Society opted to let him continue to teach as his transgressions were in the past. Of course, they soon discovered their faith was misplaced when word of another affair surfaced.
Why should Buddhism be any different? Give a man power with no accountability and you create the environment for abuse. How hard is that to understand?