Horror Show Sunday: It’s Not Just the Catholics!

Joshu Sasaki Roshi

I do a fair amount of Horror Show stories on Christianity and Islam, mostly because those are two of the biggest religions in the western world and it’s not that hard to find believers that are doing something sick and evil.  I’ve gotten a little flack for focusing primarily on those two religions, as though I’m purposely ignoring non-Abrahamic religions when they do bad things.  For those people who are convinced I only go after Christians, especially with regard to sex abuse cases, here’s a story for you.

In California, a 105-year old Buddhist teacher who came to the United States 50 years ago to teach the wisdom of Buddha, has been accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse.  I’m not talking about a child molested here or there, a woman raped occasionally, even though individually those cases are horrific on their own.  No, I’m talking about a lifetime of sexual abuse that may involve hundreds upon hundreds of victims.  You’d think that such a thing would have come to light years ago, but, like the Catholic problem, was systematically covered up by the Buddhist community.

A council of Buddhist leaders finally investigated Roshi and not only came to the conclusion that the allegations are largely credible, but said of the community itself: “We see how, knowingly and unknowingly, the community was drawn into an open secret, we have reports that those who chose to speak out were silenced, exiled, ridiculed or otherwise punished.”

Some people, like Shari Young, said Roshi molested her for about a year in the early 1960s, leaving her confused and hurt.  Instead of turning him in to police, she left the Buddhist center to avoid contact.  Others, like Susanna Stewart say that even though she was abused by Roshi, she didn’t report him because she also loved and respected Roshi as a teacher.  This all eventually came to light because of the publication of a letter entitled “Everyone Know” on a Zen website, detailing the abuses that many women had received.

“It’s been sort of a tribal secret for 50 years, and I just wanted to provide an opportunity for people to start talking about this in an open forum that couldn’t be shut up,” Martin said about his letter.

Of course, before anyone starts calling this an isolated case, one seed gone bad among many others, if you poke around in the Buddhist community, it’s no less commonplace than in any other religious group.  Last year, a Buddhist monk in London, Pahalagama Somartana, was convicted of sexually abusing an underage girl, aged between 8-9, at least four times.  In fact, reports out of Sri Lanka suggest that sexual abuse at Buddhist temples there is relatively commonplace.  According to the BBC, more than 110 Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have been charged with sexual abuse in just the last decade alone, but as in the California case, the Buddhist community has actively blocked investigations.  Still, occasionally, monks are convicted and sentenced, such as Bellana Pannaloka Ther who was sentenced for raping a 13 year old girl in 2005, yet took his own life by drinking poison before he could be imprisoned.

These problems come about because people are indoctrinated into believing that their religious leaders can do no wrong, that they must have had a good reason for doing what they did and that reporting such incidents will cause the individual to be ostracized from the community, which in many cases is absolutely true.  I’m not going to place the blame on any particular religion, there are cases from virtually every religion out there, but on religious thinking in general.  When you place your leaders on pedestals and think they are closer to the gods or to wisdom, then when they come down off that pedestal and act in a horrendous manner, true believers have difficulty reconciling that behavior with the image they have in their head of their priests and teachers.  It is difficult to imagine that such things actually happen, they tend to blame themselves for the wrongdoing of the preachers and if it is revealed to the larger community, the community tends to follow suit and blame the victim because, clearly, the teachers belong up on those pedestals.

I urge people, if you are abused by anyone, be it clergy or not, come forward, report it to authorities and see to it that these people are prosecuted to the furthest extent of the law.  There are thousands of victims out there and many of them remain silent.  Please, do not allow yourself to be one of them.



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