Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Action Plan for Guru Abuse

1. All sanghas should enact teacher rules of conduct along the lines of the model of Spirit Rock, and require all teachers to sign it as a binding contract. Breach of contract will result in dismissal without pay for the remaining teaching-contract period.

2. If the offense is a felony (rape or attempted rape), criminal charges should be filed and if teacher is a foreign national, deportation proceedings should be initiated. After criminal charges are filed, a press release can be sent to media outlets regarding the incident. Posting on the internet to alert others to the risks involved in inviting a particular teacher to their community is a compassionate act.

3. Each sangha should appoint a minimum of 2 ombudsmen/women for abuse victims. These people will offer emotional support and advice, and will conduct an investigation to determine the veracity of the accusation, the extent of the problem, and the details of the incident. The ombudsmen must be trained in recognizing the signs of trauma, and in applying emergency trauma treatments. The ombudsmen are charged with rallying other sangha members around the aggrieved student, to offer emotional support and comfort. This is how a compassionate sangha or community behaves, and this is what a traumatized individual needs.

4. Reports of any incidents should be sent to the national governing body of the sangha, if such exists. Teachers who chronically harm students should have their qualification or eligibility to teach revoked. Anyone who facilitates in any way the continuation of a repeat offender in his teaching or ministry career should be considered as aiding and abetting misconduct and abuse, and should be removed from the national oversight board, from the directorship of the sangha or the relevant governing body. The appointment procedures and criteria for membership in the national oversight body or sangha board should be re-examined if the board isn't responding in a timely and appropriate manner to abuse complaints. The appropriate oversight board should be answerable to constituents, and should maintain clear communication with the sangha in question regarding the matter under scrutiny. Sangha directors or members can organize in order to demand accountability from the national oversight board, or other appropriate entity.

In the case of teachers whose actions potentially can result in disturbing the integrity and equanimity of the sangha, speaking out and raising discussion of the problem is Right Speech. Any teacher who breaches his vows (including marriage vows, if applicable) and Buddhist precepts, as well as universally accepted norms of behavior for spiritual teachers and guides, should be denounced, as the Dalai Lama has advised on numerous occasions, and should be removed from his position. Spiritual guides are in a position of trust and power in relation to their flock of disciples. Breach of fiduciary trust is culpable in most developed countries and in honorable societies the world over.

Adopting specific measures to avoid future harm and wrong-doing is compassionate Buddhism in action. Protecting the Holy Dharma from miscreants and those who would distort the teachings and vows for their own personal gain is meritorious. Any teacher who says otherwise is usually the guilty party in behavior not befitting his station, and in causing divisiveness in the sangha.

from Dharma Protector


  1. The Cloudwalking Owl wrote:

    Aug 8, 2011 02:29 PM
    Actually, while I think that these are good ideas, I think it would be more useful to rethink the whole concept of the "guru" in the first place. I simply do not think that there should be any place for "guru-centric" spiritual practice in the modern world. We no longer have liege lords, etc. I think that the guru thing has more to do with medieval culture than authentic spiritual practice.

  2. Thank you for making a great point,CW Owl. I agree that "guru yoga", reverence of the guru as Buddha or infallible bodhisattva, is outmoded. Many informed sources tell me that guru yoga is only for the most advanced practices anyway, and doesn't apply to the ordinary teacher-disciple relationship. So any teachers, lamas, roshis or gurus who tell students that this is traditional practice are deliberately setting up students for future inappropriate activity. "Guru" here was used as a catch-all term to include meditation instructors, monks teaching basic Buddhist principles, Western lamas, anyone teaching an Eastern spiritual tradition on any level.

    Abuses happen not only due to viewing the teacher as an enlightened being. Abuse can happen (as it does in Christian churches) simply when a teacher or spiritual guide of any sort crosses the boundary from professional to all-too-personal. Harassment of women students or congregants happens without any special guru status, it can arise even on the first day of a student's attendance at sangha, when a "grooming" process may begin. This is an abuse of power and trust. Steps need to be taken to prevent that from occurring. That's why step #1 of the Action Plan is key: spell out the limits to professional behavior on paper, explain it to the teacher if necessary, have them sign the document as a binding contract.

    And additionally, get the word out to newcomers to Buddhism that the teacher or "guru" is not a god or Buddha, he's just a guy who took a lot of philosophy courses to get a geshe degree, or some equivalent. Thanks again for reminding us to throw out the pedestal some tend to put the teacher on (a pedestal that some teachers require).

  3. josey wrote:

    Aug 13, 2011 02:57 AM
    I would think that a person would need a teacher if they are going to continue to meditate, but then again, there are students who have a teacher, and the teacher can't do a thing about their meditation experiences if they are negative.

    What I do find helpful is reading books by teachers that inspire me, but what I find unhelpful is having a teacher because of the potential for guru abuse.