In 2008, the Zen Studies Society in New York reeled with a revelation: Eido Shimano, the community’s abbott (head teacher) had sex with various students and other women over a period of 40 years. (See the New York Times article here.)
In 2002, Michael Downing published his classic Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center. It’s a spiritual page-turner—the story of Richard Baker Roshi, a visionary and charismatic abbott who had sex with students and staff members at the Center.
For years, I devoured the books of J. Krishnamurti—only to find that he had a decades-long affair with Rosalind Williams Rajagopal, a married woman. Radha Rajagopal Sloss (Rajagopal’s daughter) reveals the details in Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti.
I also admired Trungpa Tulku Chogyam Trungpa, author of Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and a major teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. In Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment, however, Geoffrey D. Falk makes the case that Trungpa was an alcoholic.
If meditation is such a powerful practice, then how are these stories possible?
Downing credibly estimates that Baker logged over 10,000 hours of sitting meditation. And still Baker violated numerous boundaries.
I’m getting some useful answers from Scott Edelstein’s book, Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do.
For now, I conclude that:
- Genuine insight, decades of meditation experience, and unethical behavior can coexist in the same person. Students need to be discerning. Don’t put any teacher on a pedestal.
- There’s more to the spiritual life than meditation. Ethical behavior is not necessarily the fruit of meditation. Rather, it’s a pre-requisite.