Recently I received an email from a friend, a male Buddhist teacher. He had been asked to counsel a fellow practitioner who had been told to leave his community for sexual abuse. This man, a teacher in his sangha, was a repeat offender.
In the letter my friend remarked that sexual harming was only partly about sex, it is also about male power and privilege. And he asked if this teacher were to be reinstated in his former community would he go back into the 'old boy' network as a man who has learned a great deal about himself and about other men with power and who could therefore be someone who could affect change or would he go back and not speak up?
I thought this a very good question. Then my friend went on to say that he felt that probably women in our Buddhist communities would lead us out of destructive patriarchy. Somehow reading this didn't sit well with me. My immediate reaction was why should women have to help men figure this out? I feel that when there is a problem in our society there is a tendency to cast someone out, to send up a warning that it is not o.k. to behave badly, this happens in Buddhist communities too.. Should we ask people to leave and in essence dump the problem on someone else or should we deal with them inside our sanghas? And isn't it time for men that are sexually abusive and use power over women to sit down and look deeply into themselves and find a way to behave differently?
- Kai Harper Leah is a Buddhist priest from the Soto Zen Lineage. She was ordained by Richard Baker for Issan Dorsey who passed away just before her ordination. She began practicing Buddhism in the Rinzai tradition with Walter Nowick in Surry, ME in the mid-seventies. She moved to San Francisco and began practicing at SFZC in 1976. During her many years there she became close to Issan Dorsey and moved to Hartford St. Zen Ctr. in the Castro when he started Maitri Hospice.
She now practices with a small group in Northern New Mexico. These days she is very interested in practicing Everyday Zen, that is being as mindful and compassionate as she can in everyday life. This consists of sitting with a small group, doing community service and running a tiny bistro with her partner where they employee local teens and try to help them find their way to college while providing good food and friendliness to the people who stop in to eat.
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