Sexual abuse in Buddhism

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Celibacy is an important precept in some Buddhist traditions. Lay Buddhists, or "householdersWikipedia," are allowed to marry and to form relationships as long as they don’t commit adultery and don’t harm others in the course of sex. Buddhist monks and nuns are sometimes required to remain celibate while in the monastic community or sangha. Not all Buddhist monks and nuns, however, are required to be celibate, as seen in some sects of Korean Buddhism and in all Japanese Buddhist sects.

Buddhist monks in those traditions that do require celibacy can leave the sangha and return to lay life at any time, at which point celibacy is no longer required. Buddhist monks may even leave the sangha, try out sex as lay Buddhists, and return to the monastic life later, although they forfeit a certain amount of seniority. They must leave before engaging in sexual activity or they will lose the chance to return. A Buddhist can become a monk and leave again up to seven times in a lifetime.


In Tibetan Buddhism, the songyum was the consort ("spiritual wife") of many high-ranking lamas. Such sexual activity by the ostensibly celibate was a closely guarded secret, with only the Lama's closest associates knowing of the woman's existence as a songyum — to all outward appearance, she was just another student or nun.[1]

Some regard the taking of a consort as a legitimate tantric practice.[2]

Kalu Rinpoche's YouTube confessional[edit]

Young Kalu Rinpoche, a man raised as the reincarnation of the Tibetan master Kalu Rinpoche, broke Buddhist tradition in 2011 by relating sexual abuse he had experienced at the age of 12 by older monks in a confessional video on YouTube. His tutor tried to kill him when he refused to obey instructions, and he became disillusioned and disgusted by the monks' obsession with money, power, and control. He became a drug addict and alcoholic after he turned 15 to cope with the trauma.[3][4]

In the West[edit]

A number of Buddhist teachers based in Western countries have been subject to allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sogyal Rinpoche[edit]

In 1994, a $10 million[5] civil lawsuit was filed against Sogyal RinpocheWikipedia (1947-) (Nyingma tradition), author of the popular Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It was alleged that he had used his position as a spiritual leader to induce one of his female students to have sexual relations with him. The complaint included accusations of infliction of emotional distress, breach of fiduciary duty, as well as assault and battery.[6][7] The lawsuit was settled out of court. Related allegations were later introduced by journalist Mary Finnigan, who was also the main author of the original article in 1995.[8][9][10]

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche[edit]

Chögyam Trungpa'sWikipedia (1939-1987) (Kagyu and Nyingma traditions) sexuality has been one of the sources of controversy, as he cultivated relations with a number of his female students. Tenzin PalmoWikipedia, who met him in 1962 while he was still at Oxford, did not become one of his consorts. She mentions that she refused his advances at the time because he had presented himself as "a pure monk". However, she said that had she known that Trungpa had begun having sexual relations with women at age thirteen, she would not have declined, considering that in the higher stages of Tibetan Buddhist tantra, sexual relations (especially with tertönWikipedias) are a means of enhancing spiritual insights.[11] Trungpa formally renounced his monastic vows in 1969.[12]

Sangharakshita and others[edit]

SangharakshitaWikipedia (born Denis Lingwood) (1925-2018) founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (later known as the Tiratana Buddhist order) in Britain, 1967.

He has been accused of pressuring a heterosexual follower, Mark Dunlop, into a sexual relationship, while living under monastic vows. The report described intimate details of what Dunlop characterised as their relationship, and claimed that Sangharakshita, who declined to comment, had told him "that to develop spiritually he had to get over his anti-homosexual conditioning."[13]

Mark Dunlop is not the only alleged victim of sex abuse within the Order. There are allegations dating from the 1960s to the 1980s that there were very many sexual relationships involving ordinary members and Sangharakshita. There were also relationships between ordinary members and other elders of the order. Some allegations involve consensual sex; others involve sex that the ordinary member allegedly did reluctantly under pressure. Vulnerable people were allegedly taken advantage of. The Order claims they have reformed.[14]

Eido Tai Shimano[edit]

Eido Tai ShimanoWikipedia (1932-2018), the founding abbot of New York's Zen Studies Society (Rinzai School of Zen), resigned from its board in 1995 after acknowledging that over 30 years, trust had been "placed in an apparently wise and compassionate teacher, only to have that trust manipulated in the form of his sexual misconduct and abuse."[15][16]

Kyozan Joshu Sasaki[edit]

Kyozan Joshu SasakiWikipedia (1907-2014) was the founder of the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California (Rinzai School of Zen). Awareness of his sexual misconduct was known since the 1970s but was covered up or ignored for decades.[17]

Taizan Maezumi[edit]

Taizan MaezumiWikipedia (1931-1995) co-founded several Zen centers in the United States (Rinzai, Sōtō and Sanbo Kyodan schools of Zen). Maezumi admitted to being an alcoholic and to having sexual relations with his female students while he was still married.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. June Campbell. Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism, chapter 6. Athlone Press. 1996.
  2. Karmamudra.
  3. Confessions of Kalu Rinpoche by spiceyourday (November 28, 2011).
  4. The YouTube confessional sending shockwaves through the Buddhist world by Mary Finnigan (March 9, 2012) The Guardian.
  5. Mary Finnigan. "Sexual healing", The Guardian. 1995 January 10.
  6. Don Lattin. Best-selling Buddhist author accused of sexual abuse, The San Francisco Free Press. 1994 November 10.
  7. Mick Brown. "The Precious One", Telegraph Magazine. 1995 February 2.
  8. Mary Finnigan. Lama sex abuse claims call Buddhist taboos into question. The Guardian. 2011 July 1.
  9. Gabrielle Monaghan. Bad karma: Buddhist leader faces claims of sex exploitation made by woman who was asked to undress. The Sunday Times. 2011 June 12.
  10. Mary Finnigan. Randy Sogyal, Best-Selling Lecher. The Guardian. 1995 October 1.
  11. Vicki MacKenzie. Cave in the Snow: Tendzin Palmo's quest for enlightenment, page 31. Bloomsbury. 1998. ISBN 1-58234-004-8.
  12. The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa, Volume 1. Shambhala Publications. 2004. ISBN 1-59030-025-4.
  14. Fears mount over scale of Buddhist sect sexual abuse The Observer
  15. Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within by Mark Oppenheimer (August 20, 2010) New York Times.
  16. The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side: Nearly 50 years ago, a penniless monk arrived in Manhattan, where he began to build an unrivaled community of followers—and a reputation for sexual abuse. The ongoing accusations against him expose a dark corner of the Buddhist tradition by Mark Oppenheimer (Dec 18, 2014) The Atlantic.
  17. Joshu Sasaki, 107, Tainted Zen Master by Paul Vitelloaug (August 4, 2014) New York Times.
  18. Wright, Dale S. (2010), Humanizing the Image of a Zen master: Taizan Maezumi Roshi. In: Zen Masters, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  19. A Letter from Kirsten Mitsuyo Maezumi (February 19, 2011) Sweeping Zen: A Definitive Guide to Who's Who in Zen.