Sex and the Sangha:Forgiveness, Retribution or Justice

The “what should be” never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no “what should be,” there is only what is. Lenny Bruce

The subject of Sex and the Sangha has come up again in blog posts and articles (links at the bottom) and on Zen Forum International with regard to Eido Shimano as well as Michael Roach. The latter gets a tangent of his own during the ongoing discussion at ZFI. There have been a lot of further disclosures of the Aitken Roshi papers along with material from the Zen Studies Society itself. These are available in Shimano Archives for your perusal.

And then I read the comments on the various discussions as well. I thought to comment at the forum but with my penchant for thoroughness as well as transgressing forum guidelines wherever I go, this blog is perhaps the  better alternative.

A couple of general things I’ve noted about this and similar situations include:

1) People don’t know how to discuss this sort of thing. There is a lot of evasion/aversion.

2) People who try to discuss it directly get shot down with a lot of indirect, need I say, passive-aggressive comment and innuendo.

3) There are a plethora of responses that are interesting in themselves. Those are what I want to examine here. And in the end to offer a further response that I have not yet seen emerge in these discussions.

Why am I involving myself with this issue in this post?

I don’t know any of the principals involved. Never met them, never studied with them. I owe no allegiances to anyone. I’ve never been coerced by a teacher, anywhere, nor have I coerced anyone in this or any other type of manner that I am aware of. I have nothing to gain and nothing to lose by attempting to delve into the situation and bring up what I think are pertinent points.  And I have the time to do it.

I’m writing about this because I care about the Buddhadharma and it’s implementation in convert communities, because I care about people who have been hurt and still do hurt and because I care about justice. Justice is the one word that has not come up so far in any of these conversations. I will bring it up at length later on.

The events described in the Shimano Archive may have been limited to that corner of the community and they may have occurred some time in the past. They are however part of the history of Zen in America. Zen and Buddhism in America and in general comprise a common interest community. Even if we have not met in the same place at the same time we are all involved in the same endeavor.

This notion of “common interest” is the foundation of our societies, nations, families and other groups. This can even apply to the human community itself: our species. We have at least one common interest with everyone else and that is survival. As we narrow down and differentiate our groups we develop specialized objectives or associations such as religious affiliation. But these sub groupings do not eradicate the larger common interests.

The community is involved with whatever is happening because of the very existence of the community of common interest. The parts are not separable from the whole.

The reactions to this and similar situations vary widely. I’ve scanned the ZFI and other forums as well as blogs, news articles and social media. I don’t want to point to specific comments in any one forum but there are numerous trends that seem to occur. I would like to address these types of responses to the specific situations mentioned as well as others that have occurred and are still contentious. Comments cited are paraphrased or generalized.

Types of Reactions/Responses/Rationalizations

A lot of this is avoidance behavior.

Denial “No way would that happen or did it happen. People aren’t like that.” Whole situations are dismissed as implausible or impossible mostly because one can’t imagine themselves in such a situation. There is an assumption that everyone else thinks and acts the same way we do.

Willful Ignorance “I never saw that therefore it never happened.” This is a bit of a faulty conclusion unless the speaker is omniscient.  The see no evil approach is probably the easiest to take up in the short term. It limits any involvement but is hard to sustain if evidence becomes overwhelming.

Forgetfulness or selective memory “I don’t remember any such thing happening.” This calls into question the veracity of those who do remember or were involved.

Confrontation as a form of retribution “Bring it all out. Video tape the reaction.” Motivations for confrontations often have the purpose to shame/punish which doesn’t really resolve a situation.

Blame the Victim “She shouldn’t have stayed if that was happening.”  “She must have wanted that on some level.” This can get a little complicated. In the section below called Big Daddy Syndrome I go into it more thoroughly.

Blame the Perpetrator “He must have a psychological issue.” “He doesn’t know how to behave in that circumstance.”  These statements  may be true but there are numerous contributing factors in these situations. If the community standards are low or non-existent then a person in power may be operating within those parameters. If someone feels victimized and does not react against their abuser it may be assumed that the behavior is acceptable. Some people are really clueless at reading social cues or empathizing with others. Sometimes they have to be told explicitly.

Idealize “We’re all human. There are no perfect Zen masters any more.” This sets up an illusion of perfection to prove it’s own impossibility thereby in a roundabout way justifying odious behavior. Since a particular standard is impossible, all standards become unattainable.

Personalize “Something like this happened to me. Well not exactly like this but listen…” This is all about me and my issues and derails the discussion into personal history that may or may not be relevant.

Generalize “In our practice we must be mindful of others.” This is spouting platitudes to no useful end.

Idolize Culture “Our Asian teachers should just be left alone.” This kind of worship/aversion distancing which broaches no criticism primarily based on the race of the teacher is both patronizing and a type of avoidance behavior. On the one hand it dismisses the problem and on the other it sometimes assumes an attitude of noblesse oblige that suggests the Asian person must be treated with kid gloves based on race. It suggests a certain “We” who have the power to damage “Them” by dealing with an issue. It’s arrogant, plays into all kinds of racial stereotypes and serves only to reinforce them.

Idolize Gurus “Teachers can do no wrong.” “Anything they do is for our benefit.” This type of response indicates the speaker has abdicated responsibility for their own life and actions. Critical thinking has been suspended and the individual is allowing the guru to do all the work which may or may not be for their benefit. Without critical thinking how would anyone know?  (read this American Guru Andrew Cohen & Allegations of Abuse for an example)

Patronize “Time heals all wounds.” “You’ll get over it.”  These epithets come not from experience but from habits of dismissing other’s experiences as valid.

Transcendentalize “We just have to rise above these incidents.” “We don’t want to stoop to that.”  That works out well if one lives on the moon but glossing over an issue because its a little messy won’t resolve it. It’s a head in the clouds attitude that avoids reality.

Psychologize “Our psyches are this way.” “It’s human nature.” There are many things that comprise human nature. If we dismiss all responsibility for our actions as human nature then the fancy brains we’ve all evolved become fairly useless. Human nature does not equate with animal instinct.

Mystification “These are mystical things.” ” Enlightenment, siddhi powers etc. are beyond our comprehension.” By placing the mystical label on persons or events we are removing them from  on-the-ground reality. These labels presume that we are incapable of understanding therefore to try is futile. It is a superstitious non-rational approach.

Superstition “It will bring bad karma to talk about this.” “There is dark energy in this kind of topic.”  Aside from being a ridiculous misunderstanding of Karma, a fringy New Age kind of assertion and a way to screen out anything we find emotionally uncomfortable it tends to appeal to some kind of atavistic”magic thinking” that would give illusory power to objects, situations and thoughts. “Lord of the Rings” is fiction not documentary.

Sidestepping “This has nothing to do with us.” “It is only the concern of the participants” “MYOB”  If one is an isolated entity living in a vacuum this would be true.

Consign to History “This happened long ago.” “The episode is over.” Well let’s tell that to the Jews, Native Americans, descendents of slaves, Japanese internees, folks at the Reconciliation hearings in South Africa, the International War Crimes Tribunal and see what kind of reaction follows. Vipaka is rarely immediate. Sometimes it takes time for Karma to ripen.

Minimize “There are more important issues to discuss” “What about global warming?” Minimizing the distress of people in a situation by playing on sentiments involving other situations trivializes people’s suffering.

Cheerleading “These points are all valid.” “Everyone’s opinion is great.” By agreeing with most points made, even if they are contradictory one is not really having any opinion at all. Crowd following is one of the more popular approaches.

Silence “I have no opinion on this.” Silence or disengagement from active participation, though not from the spectator role. It may be necessary to lurk in order to become informed enough to have an opinion however it can become voyeuristic to some degree. It may be a manifestation of schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude “I’m just enjoying the spectacle.” Taking pleasure from other people’s difficulties helps some to shore up their own insecurities.

Coercive Silence “We don’t discuss that.” The authoritarian “We” invokes control of the situation and shuts down discussion

Forgiveness “Just forgive and move on.” Forgiveness is a process not a simple statement. This will be addressed further on.

Ad Hominem Dismissal “Somebody has an ax to grind therefore whatever they say is of no consequence.”  We can dredge up all kinds of personal incidents, history or peccadilloes and fling them at those whom we wish to silence. It is coercive and plays to a notion that the speaker is the only one free of such baggage and therefore has the only objective opinion. Objectivity is an illusion.

Textual Insertions “Buddha said…” “Dogen said…” Quotations without explanation appear at random and may or may not be relevant to the discussion. If used to give guidance, further the discussion or clarify a point they may be helpful. But without explanation their utility is often lost.

Animated Emoticons During serious discussions some people are so uncomfortable in their lack of maturity to discuss such topics that they attempt to derail the conversation into a childish playground. There’s a time a place for playfulness. Would you get out a yo-yo at someone’s death penalty being carried out? Maybe some people think this is “Zen” cool. It’s just Stupid! This happens often at ZFI. What are you, 10 years old? [Yes I find these kinds of passive-aggressive things highly irritating!]

Shaming “He should feel ashamed.” These informal emotional expressions of offense are often used to rally spectators to take sides. It can get a little mob-like when that happens. Rational discourse goes out the window.

Guilting “Make him see what he’s done.” “Did you talk to him about it?” Confrontation that attempts to appeal to individual morality and conscience to correct behavior deemed unacceptable is often a suggestion. And often by the time incidents become public knowledge this will have been attempted on numerous occasions.

Analyze and Realize This is what I’m trying to do here with the objective of coming up with a reasonable approach or the beginning of a process of resolution to such problems.

Rationalize This is the putting forth ideas to explain away the behavior rather than deal with it.

The Big Daddy Syndrome Rationalization

[This is a response to the article Women Who Sleep with Their Gurus … and Why They Love It in addition to being one of the responses on the list above.]

There is one reaction that often underlies many of the others. It is embedded in Judeo-Christian culture and generally goes unrecognized. It is a belief that women are by nature dependent upon men in most ways and seek some kind of submissive relationship. It posits women as being weak and inferior as well as conniving and untrustworthy seductresses. Historically, in the sociological context, there is truth to the dependency part. As to whether that is biologically dictated (my position is that it is NOT) is quite another matter. But the rest of this notion is highly contentious. Social mores, religious ideologies and patriarchal structures have long enforced this viewpoint. Enough so that it becomes a bit of “common knowledge” rather than an actual fact. This scenario is played out time and again and is as much of a script as any other of the obedience scripts (scriptures?!) we have learned.

From childhood onward, everyone has a philosophy; everyone cites “scriptures” to defend their beliefs. – Gendun Chöpel

via @tylerdewar on Twitter

The script says women in particular are by nature looking for a Big Daddy to protect them and make them feel secure, special and whole. We allegedly want to stand by our powerful man who is in the spotlight. We wish to bask in the reflected glow. We long to be attached to someone we can worship. We will do whatever is necessary to secure that. Or so Carrie Bradshaw and her ilk would have us believe. But wait! It isn’t only shallow fictional bimbos in designer shoes that purvey this kind of ideal and explanation for women’s behavior. It’s fairly pervasive.

We see versions of it in Hip-Hop and Rock videos, on television, in magazines and on the Internet. In current popular culture it is often labeled as “asserting our femininity”, “reclaiming our sexuality”, “expressing our individuality”, “restoring our power to choose”, “reforming our gender stereotypes”,  “repossessing our images” to make it sell better.  To reclaim or repossess there had to be some point in time when said images and stereotypes were actually under the control of women themselves. I appreciate the irony of manipulating and co-opting gender stereotypes in order to examine their validity or even in service to art but I rather doubt that the majority of instances of these things occurring are ironic. Pole dancing lessons are not usually advertised with the word “irony” attached. The point of this apparently new manifestation of sexual assertion is that it attempts to con women into adopting the very same roles, ideas and social purposes as previously but having them self-police this role in a more active way.

In the past the fear of “losing one’s reputation” or becoming the subject of gossip by both males and females maintained gender role inequity. That process of slut-shaming still occurs however it is gradually being eroded by a more insidious type of loss of reputation. Hyper-sexuality is replacing repressive sexuality but it is as equally role-defined and restrictive. And it equally caters to the male gaze and sexual appetite.  In America this transition is just starting to trend. Sexual power is valued but only in well-defined male-dominated ways. This also informs the Big Daddy/powerful man thesis.

Power, in whatever manifestation, is attractive to some people. Playing power-based games is also attractive to some people. If one goes into a consensual relationship acknowledging that as a factor both to one’s partner and one’s self there’s not much room for a situation to be misconstrued.  However, how many people know exactly why they are in any sort of relationship? How many of us have fully examined the dynamics of our relationship roles? How many of us are that awake? And how many of us would admit being simply a spiritual groupie?

There are numerous accounts of rock star groupies. They get featured in gossip columns, chased by TMZ and even score book deals sometimes. Some are quite proud of their prowess in scoring some big names. Some have even taken plaster casts of body parts as mementos.

What we tend to get on the spiritual side though is quite the opposite. There aren’t any articles that I can come up with, and I do my research, bragging about scoring with 2 Roshis, 1 Sensei and an Abbot over the course of Ango (like Vassa for Zen people) or anything even remotely similar. Instead there have been some woeful accounts of women, and some men, who feel betrayed and hurt by their involvements with their gurus or spiritual teachers.

That is until recently. Jessica Roemischer wrote an article in 2004 in the infamous EnlightenNext magazine about her own spiritual relationship with a past teacher as well as providing some quotations from others who have also participated in these kinds of liaisons.

This article, aside from high irony of it appearing in the Andrew Cohen ego-vehicle EnlightenNext, titled Women Who Sleep with Their Gurus … and Why They Love It,  provides a good deal of background to the arguments of “victimless” situations that come up in comments on the matter of sexual relations between students and teachers. There are many who abide by these arguments whether they are aware of it or not. They can be as outright as “She asked for it” or “There are no innocent victims.” to as subtle as “They are both consenting adults.” There have been controversies around many of Cohen’s friends and associates in the spiritual marketplace including former Rabbi, Marc Gafni who is also affiliated with Integral Zen-a co-production of Big Mind (Genpo) and Integral (Wilber).(More on Gafni here (Wm. Harryman) and here (Integral)) Consider the comments of Nov. 7 2008 on the Integral website. “the dark side of feminine victimology that has raised its ugly head” and “I’ll be looking forward to the “integral feminist” response to the irresponsible paths that Marc’s accusers chose” from Integral insiders.

That is exactly what this article in Cohen’s magazine presupposes.

The article itself is by an elite member of the Integralist/Evolutionary Enlightenment and affiliated communities, which have had numerous very public complaints about abuse of many varieties themselves. The article typifies some of that group’s philosophy, much of which strikes me as borderline sociopathic, which has been co-opted from Buddhism and elsewhere and reprocessed/repackaged and resold under the Integralist/Evolutionary Enlightenment brand. The article goes a long way to try to get perpetrators of abuse off the hook by shifting responsibility from men in powerful positions actively pursuing liaisons to women simply exercising their “power of attraction”. It’s absolutely freaking Biblical in it’s implications. Eve, you bitch it’s all your fault!

Just so you know, I am no fan of the Integralist/Big Mind/Spiral Dynamics/Integral Zen crowd. It strikes me as an expensive charade to present a complicated jargon-laden bundle of rehashed sociological/psychological/religious/marketing/philosophical concepts to a mostly spiritually illiterate crowd expressly for the purpose of filling the bank accounts of it’s elite sales people. So if that gives me an ax to grind well it ought to be sharp enough by now to slice apart some of these fallacious concepts.

The article itself is in part a byproduct of what some label post-feminist or third wave feminism. This was brought to the fore in a big way by Camille Paglia who describes herself as a dissident feminist and by a few others. Now I appreciate Camille’s viewpoint on a number of issues. She’s not a mushy liberal  and doesn’t toe the generic feminist line either. She started several new lines of thinking within the feminist community and shook up a few people outside of it as well. Maybe she touched upon some future feminism that has yet to be realized. Some have called this post-feminism. I disagree. And it sure isn’t feminism if that means more of this shift the blame to the victim thinking.

Post-feminism presupposes that the objectives of first and even second wave feminism have been reached and therefore issues such as inequality and unequal power balances have been addressed. They simply have not on any sort of scale. There may be small individual instances where this is coming true, such as in a college department or some types of small businesses or other fairly closed and controlled environments. But by far the same old issues remain. Maybe they wear new guises, have gone more underground,  but the roots of institutional and systemic gender discrimination have certainly not been eradicated ANYWHERE.

The article about women sleeping with gurus makes many of these presuppositions as well as a few others.

  • It assumes we all know what we are doing and why we are doing it.
  • It assumes we are completely free agents.
  • It assumes we are aware enough to make a fully conscious choice.
  • It assumes we know what we want and why we want it.
  • It assumes we can foresee consequences in their entirety.
  • It assumes our “magic man” also possesses this level of awareness.
  • It assumes the “magic man” can be trusted.
  • It assumes there are no hidden agendas.
  • It assumes everyone is operating on a good faith basis.
  • It assumes sexual relationships are damage free for the most part.
  • It assumes no one has much emotional baggage.
  • It assumes the circumstances support the involvement.
  • It assumes the community will not experience harm by it, although at one point it lauds and glorifies the “special” relationship as a point of causing ego-gratifying envy.
  • It assumes there’s no such thing as jealousy or that cultivating such “special” relationships have no correlation to jealous feelings in others, except in that “good” way of holding the position over everyone else’s head.
  • It assumes we can control circumstances, outcomes and other people.
  • It assumes we operate from a fixed vantage point.
  • It assumes others do as well.
  • It assumes an autonomy that contradicts the reality of interdependence.
  • It assumes we all operate from an orientation of self-centeredness.
  • It assumes all this and more in a fairly naive and idealistic, and egocentric way.

As Andrew Cohen, EnlightenNext founder and current mentor to the author Jessica Roemischer, has stated:

In evolutionary spirituality, we are more interested in the future than we are in the present moment. Why? Because the present moment has already happened, so there is not much that we can do about it. We’ve already arrived there. But the future, which always exists in the next moment, is something we can actually impact. The future is something that we can actually get involved in creating and take responsibility for in the most exciting way possible.

Aside from the strange confusion Andrew Cohen has between the present and the past this statement comes off as highly unrealistic. It contains many of the above assumptions. It views time as a conventional linear reality when linear time itself is a concept simply used to measure change relative to the human scale. Rates of change vary in the universe as do perceptions of time even among human individuals and groups so a single measuring concept is highly unsatisfactory in terms of calibration and usefulness. (I won’t even get into quantum stuff here)

Since the future is only a dream we each have, to maintain such a focus is to let slip the very foundation of our existence. We cannot create in the future, we can only create in the present. To deny the present as valid or useful or consign it to the past leave creative possibility in the dream world.

And we cannot by any means other than some extra-sensory type of cognition predict the outcomes of those creations. By overlooking the present, ignoring the past and living in a dreamlike future we are indulging in utopianism at best or some fancy packaged New Age neo-millinarianism not unlike those awaiting the Rapture.

The article itself, by one of Cohen’s proteges,  seems to be written from this future perspective. Numerous mentions of taking a leap from the past into this new paradigm are present. It doesn’t deal with current reality but with some idealized future in which all of the assumptions have been dealt with. Here is an example of the assumptions dismissed and future orientation:

But many of us women have never been in a better position to make that leap. We have unprecedented freedom to opt for our higher good, for the higher good, having reaped the benefits of the first two stages of feminism—the first of which gave us equal rights, and the second of which gave us a deeper understanding of the truth of women’s victimization at the hands of men. Women now have the freedom to go beyond instinct, beyond social and biological conditioning, a freedom that comes from seeing our deepest drives, motivations, and impulses in a vast anthropological and evolutionary context. (p.5)

What most caught my attention was that the article condemns the viewpoint of women as victim even while mentioning this as in the above quote (in bold). There is the assumption that we have all moved beyond this-a fairly unrealistic assessment of current social conditions, except perhaps for sheltered upper-class white women in America.

This is becoming a popular stance since it lays all the guilt on the women (oh Eve you naughty thing!) and absolves the men of responsibility. It is an abusers dream scenario! This is where I really part ways with the author. One of her interviewees, a semi-anonymous women’s studies professor, “Mary” states:

How can women be victims when we want something?…Enlightenment, security, spiritual power, and affirmation,” she continued. “I mean, sex is a small price to pay. And whatever the extent of the flirtation or sexual involvement, you enter this relationship of intrigue, and you’re the special daughter or the special wife. You experience ‘number one life,’ as they say in the Asian tradition. (p. 2)

Aside from the patronizing racial reference,[What tradition would that be exactly? Charlie Chan?] this basically advocates prostituting for enlightenment. It denigrates women to subordinate beings who do not seem to have enough going for them as individuals and must somehow “pay” a little extra vis a vis men, to obtain the mentioned statuses. And the statuses are always in relation to the powerful status of men. Enlightenment, awakening or whatever you want to call it is not something that can be purchased with money, sex or anything else. And men do not hold all the cards by any means when it comes to wisdom. Although in the majority of cases they do hold the power. That in itself belies the entire argument for the reality of a third wave feminism.

The author then goes on to elaborate:

We women do have a strong and unspoken investment in seeing ourselves as victims,” I observed, “as unsuspecting agents or innocent players in an unfolding event beyond our control.” Mary agreed with me: “And that perspective has, in one form or another, become such a basic tenet of our time and culture, of our postmodern worldview, that we are often unaware of how much it has colored our perceptions at the most fundamental level. But it’s time for women to go beyond that. Because if we are really honest with ourselves, in most cases, there’s a lot more to the picture! (p. 2)

This is both wishful thinking and rationalization. I am not in any way advocating for adopting or maintaining a self-victimizing attitude. Quite the contrary. By the same token I am also not for taking on the guilt trip of lascivious men abusing their positions of power. There is a great deal more to the picture but simplifying it down to some “victim trip” is ridiculously reductionist.

The author and some of her contacts continue by stating:

“You’re seeking to be seen and known to the bottom of your being and to be accepted as you are. And you’re also seeking to transcend who you are as an individual and merge in the only place that true merging is possible, which is in the universal mind, in the universal awareness, where complete intimacy is possible with all things. But we tend to mistake that for the only kind of intimacy we have experienced, which is sexual intimacy.”

The confusion between spiritual aspiration and sexual attraction has a physical origin as well…

“I think spiritual women really need to think about their lives and what’s most important and then take responsibility for everything they do.”

There are biological imperatives at work in terms of reproduction and the evolutionary paradigm, there are physiological changes that appear in both sexual and spiritual endeavors as neurologists have discovered and there is confusion regarding types of intimacy. That is all the more reason not to throw out the victim concept entirely. If someone is confused for whatever reason or not fully knowledgeable of practices and protocols how can they give a truly informed consent to an activity? They are not informed! And where does the responsibility lie to maintain a certain amount of clarity? We each have to ultimately own our portions of any interaction taking into consideration our abilities, power positions, particularly positions of trust and entrustment, knowledge and levels of understanding at such moments. Context and all that implies is crucial to realizing where the balance of power lies.

One other thing that stands out very strongly is that none of the women with the exception of the author apparently wanted to be identified, nor were they identified by name. All spoke under the cloak of anonymity. If the assertions made by the author are valid that should not be necessary. Why not proclaim one’s “accomplishments” from the hilltops? Why feel shame for standing in the vanguard of the new feminism? Even some of the “expert” sources were not named for their alleged opinions given. On the face of it this is highly suspicious. Were 10 women actually interviewed? Are they all really “OK” with their spiritual groupie-ism? Did the named academic and other experts interviewed know for what purpose their quotes were being sought? It is not hard to fashion or influence just about any thesis by juxtaposing quotes.

At other points in the article the author and others quoted discuss the concept of victimization.  The label victim allegedly regresses women to an infantile state, meaning that we are by nature or socialization, helpless beings forever at the mercy of the universe or unscrupulous men. That is taking the victim concept to an absurd level. It is deemed to be playing some “little girl’ role to view one’s self as a victim, yet the author and others quoted advocate instead for a sexualized “little girl” role. There’s not a lot of difference.

People are genuinely hurt in exploitative relationships. Some people are so damaged that they do not recover fully. To ignore that suffering in favor of foisting unwarranted responsibility on to the victim is heartless.

The contrasting theory of women looking for a daddy/big man is far more infantilizing of women than calling predatory sexual activity victimization. And its not only about women. Children and men have been victims in some cases around the world in many religions/philosophical communities as well.

I wrote a bit about the obedience scripts we learn from our cultures a few posts back. The teacher/big man/elder/wise one/leader calls the tune and we have learned the dance steps well during our upbringing. There are those who would exploit that, and I am talking about exploitation not a simple mutual attraction or a consensual conscious relationship.

To use the Eve card as justification for men’s lack of control of their own sexual behavior also puts men into an infantilized state. The poor jerks just can’t keep it zipped apparently. This is as insulting to men on as many levels as it is insulting to women.


The one word that does not seem to emerge in these discussions is the word justice. Justice is about balance. It is about maintaining some kind of social order within a group so that the group can function effectively and fairly.It is the big brother, if you will, of morality, which is an individual inculcation. It is the result of or the action taken when ethics have gone awry in a social context.

Justice always involves more than one person. It is a result of our interconnectedness.

The type of justice most of us are familiar with is retributive justice. This is the “eye for an eye” type of thinking. It is the foundation of the adversarial justice model many American and European and other countries use. It pits two parties in opposition to each other. It was often mentioned in the comments  that these situations are “he said, she said” and that sums up the adversarial system.

Retributive justice and adversarial formats disconnect the effected parties from each other and from the larger community. Yet they are often seen to represent the larger community, particularly the prosecution side of things. Do they really do that? Do you feel any better when prosecutors get convictions? Do you even follow courtroom proceedings? Does it make your community safer, and I don’t just mean feel safer? What are the statistics on it’s effectiveness? Most of us don’t know that but we have a certain amount of blind faith in “The Justice System”. This isn’t just in the fancy buildings, legal jargon or well-educated representatives of that system. It is in the premise of the system itself.

But that system has little room for addressing social healing of common interest groups. And there is no place in it for dealing with emotional pain and social reconciliation.

There are many other models of justice available to address these kinds of situations. The one I’m going to being up is called restorative justice.  The purpose of restorative justice is to address not only an injustice but to allow an offender and victim to be acknowledged by the community, to resolve differences and emotional pain and to provide social healing in the larger context.  This type of approach has a long history.

Consider the practices of reconciliation councils and hearings or aboriginal sentencing circles.

In reflecting on Western justice, James Youngblood Henderson (2004), who is the
research director at the Native Law Center says: “Most aboriginal people have never
understood the exotic passion of Eurocentric society for labeling people criminals and making them suffer.” To indigenous people, our approach to justice is intolerant of human frailties and justifies a theory of social control by violence.

In the Navajo justice making tradition, when there is a dispute, the injured party
approaches the perpetrator to put things right, which means not only material
compensation, but more importantly, relational. A traditional peacemaker, or naat-aanii, is called in. A naata-annii is a well respected figure in the community known for being grounded in wisdom…

Implicit in sentencing circle processes… is a trust in the power of human relatedness and connection — something that is denied in traditional retributive processes.

from On Forgiveness and Social Healing (p.8) by Judith A Thompson (pdf)

For restorative justice to be effective  several things have to happen.

1. Investigation and disclosure-factually identify and acknowledge the injustice

2. Acknowledge the suffering of all individuals involved and the breach caused in the community

3. Acknowledge the responsibility of all parties. All parties must acknowledge their own portion of responsibility. This includes some expression of remorse on the part of the instigator.

4. Mediate-a third party generally will discuss the matters of recompense and restoration with the principal parties.

5. Restoration-amends in an agreed upon format are made

In restorative justice several questions need to be addressed.

…the goals of restorative justice: “1. Do victims experience justice? 2. Do offenders experience justice? (e.g. Are they encouraged to understand and take responsibility for what they have done?) 3. Is the victim-offender relationship addressed? 4. Are community concerns being taken into account? 5. Is the future being addressed?” Because the mediation process applied in restorative justice work requires the consent of both the victim and the offender, it is expected that there will be changes for both parties.

from Before forgiving: cautionary views of forgiveness in psychotherapy (p.96)By Sharon Lamb, Jeffrie G. Murphy


Many of the instances cited have not even gotten past the first issue of investigation and a lot people are calling for forgiveness. This generally can only happen after a process of acknowledgement and restoration.

Forgiveness is the decision to forgo the personal pursuit of punishment for the perpetrator(s) of a perceived injustice, taking action on that decision and experiencing the emotional relief that follows…forgiveness is the process of reacting to an injustice…Forgiveness can be seen as a practical balance between justice and mercy.

from Before forgiving: cautionary views of forgiveness in psychotherapy (p.93)By Sharon Lamb, Jeffrie G. Murphy

Forgiveness is not possible without having wrestled with the justice question. Premature forgiveness is simply repression of events and effects. It is an act to soothe others and does not address the actual suffering involved.

Links to Further Discussions and Information

The Red Thread of Passion: A Few Thoughts on Buddhist Sexuality from Dangerous Harvests

Power Abuse in Spiritual Communities from Dangerous Harvests

The Way, Part Four on Buddhist Precepts from The Order of Clear Mind Zen

Sexual Abuse Isn’t Just a Catholic Issue. from The Buddhist Blog

An Elephant in the Closet of American Zen Buddhism from The Buddhist Channel

Eido Tai Shimano at Genkaku Again

The Shimano Archive at

Eido Tai Shimano Roshi an open letter at Robert Aitken Roshi’s blog

Eido Tai Shimano Wikipedia entry

Stuart Lachs: The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves

Vladimir K. with Stuart Lachs: The Aitken-Shimano Letters

Be Scofield – Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment from Integral Options Cafe

Disease of Conscience: A Response to Pete Bampton and Andrew Cohen Supporters by Be Scofield on God Bless the Whole World:Spiritual Activism for the 21st Century

What Enlightenment? by William Yenner

On Forgiveness and Social Healing by Judith A Thompson -pdf document


It’s not like sex was invented yesterday.

This post has been reprinted by permission on The Buddhist Channel

July 13,2010

NOTE: There is a major update to the situation described in this post

28 comments on “Sex and the Sangha:Forgiveness, Retribution or Justice

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  2. “Premature forgiveness is simply repression of events and effects.”

    I like that.

  3. Wow. Having been involved in such discussions regarding my own Buddhist community over a 15 year period I have seen all of those reactions and then a few more which might well be unclassifiable. I’ve had most of them myself at one time or another. I really appreciate your observations.

    I’ve often been demonized just for associating myself with the name of my organisation or teacher. I’ve been demonized for not going along with the lynch mob. My individual responses have been demonized as “an organised campaign” on behalf of our organisation, or as mindlessly towing the line. Apparently just being involved in that organisation means that I have forfeited my individuality and my intellect, as well as any capacity for good. All of this has made any meaningful dialogue impossible.

    My main conclusion is that the internet is not the place to resolve any difficulty or dispute. That the style and format of the medium is not conducive and it tends to attract people with no direct involvement, who make a disproportionate contribution, often seeking to inflame the situation. Too often the tone is that of the tabloid press – seeking to talk up differences, talk up blame, talk up the anger; and seeking retribution (what place retribution in a Buddhist community?!) The internet is basically a mob.

    While people are still hurt and angry it is difficult to have a conversation. Soothing is called for. Amelioration. Healing. I don’t see how a blaze of publicity will help. Last year a friend pointed me to the website outlining the situation you mention and I felt sad for the people involved.

    Anyway thanks for your point of view – it’s nice to know that someone can stand back from such a situation and write about it rationally and compassionately.

  4. Wow, wonderful insightful post.
    I know that Marc Gafni, a non-repentant sexual predator for decades, often used the “Women Who Sleep With Their Gurus” article to help justify his exploitative and ultimately trauma-inducing seductive behaviors. I’m sure he’s not the only one.
    Sad and frightening.
    Thank you for this post.

  5. Wow! Again, Wow! I, too, have personally had all the responses outlined above, and a few more.

    At this point in my travels, I do think the most compassionate advice for those suffering from abuse, or the sangha fallout and disillusionment and feeling of betrayal that some sangha members feel when their teacher loses his/her halo, is that forgiveness heals that suffering.

    But it may not produce justice, in the sense that the perpetrator may have enough supporters to continue on in his/her role as a “spiritual teacher.” In the specific case of Eido Shimano Roshi that is most evidently the case. The recently released Aitkin papers (and other writers such as Peter Matthiesen, for one) make clear that there have been several confrontations and shakeups over the years and Eido Roshi survived them all.

    There is little reason to believe that an internet campaign of mostly uninvolved parties will have any effect on Eido Roshi or his supporters now, any more than pressure from a number of highly regarded Zen teachers had in the past.

    So, what will heal those carrying the scars if they cannot get “justice?”

    One thing we do know is that this is not new. Trungpa comes to mind. His teaching is still valued, even while his indiscretions are well known and he basically drank himself to death — and the same with Maezumi Roshi. This raises the other side of the coin … what can be done, if anything, to heal the teacher?

    Many thanks for your great comments here.

  6. I’ve been working on the Cetokhila Sutta recently – it’s coming up on my blog soon. There the Buddha describes taking offence, being angry or resentful towards one’s companions in the spiritual life (sabrahmacariṃsu) as a psychological wasteland where no growth is possible. This brings to mind Dhammapada 3 and 4 which say something similar. Any approach to conflict which encourages us to nurse resentment or even indignation is not Buddhist.

    Indeed the prevailing notion of ‘justice’ is Christian – it involves determining guilt, assigning blame, and carrying out punishments (i.e. inflicting some harm on the guilty party). It is only slightly more refined than “an eye for an eye”, but the underlying principle is the same: harm for harm, wrong for wrong. And if you want to see what that system is like in epitome then look to it’s birthplace in the lands between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. Under conditions where someone is looking to harm you, then it is irrational to own-up to a wrong (unless you are a masochist), and it is irrational to expect anyone to be honest under those conditions (unless you are a sadist). Of course some people are courageous and willing to take the harm that the is inflicted on the by the ‘justice’ system, but they are a minority.

    We need a more positive way to deal with this and other types of conflict.

  7. Yes, you’re right. No one in their right mind would …

    There is a profoundly moving interview with Wendy Engokuo Nakao Roshi, the current Abbot at Zen Center of Los Angeles, where she discusses without flinching the damage done when Maezumi Roshi had his sexual affairs and alcohol problems. She also discusses with heartfelt clarity what they did at ZCLA to repair the damage. Deeply moving stuff, especially when she discusses Maezumi Roshi’s years after the scandal.

    Part 1 is the early part of her spiritual development/path.
    Part 2 is a moving discussion of Maezumi Roshi and what happened at ZCLA.
    Part 3 is a very interesting discussion of ZCLA and its horizontal/circle leadership structure … and how the
    healing happened.

    Worth listening, especially parts 2 & 3.

    If anyone’s interested here are the links:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

    However, even though they made courageous efforts towards restorative justice at ZCLA, perhaps Maezumi Roshi most of all, there were some who could not cross that bridge at the time. The hurts were too raw. I do not know if they ever found forgiveness and healing.

    And, so, we’re still left with our task on this path of non-clinging. We can provide each other with much support and good examples, but the work still needs to be done on an individual basis. That’s the deep working of karma towards realization and awakening.

  8. Hi NellaLou,

    I had several thoughts while reading your post (actually I speed-scanned the portion on the Big Daddy rationalization).

    – Given the evidence (and there’s tons of it), the “Big E” does not clear away egoic tendencies and defenses. We should not deceive ourselves in this matter.

    – Many of us continue to think that our teachers have become ego-free beings. When I catch myself engaged in this type of thinking, I can sometimes see how I resist becoming an independent human being. I want the teacher to take care of me.

    – The psychologist and practitioner John Welwood has written extensively about absolute and relative practice, particularly in intimate human relationships. As I said above, absolute practice can deliver the Big E and still leave egoic patterns in place. The relative practice of working in relationship with others – especially within committed interpersonal relationships – can support the breaking down of the ego and its many conditioned defenses and aggressions.

    – In my experience, very few people, including realized teachers, have much insight into sexuality. There are profound reasons for this, some of which probably arise from our genes. For this reason, most spiritual traditions place rigid external controls on sexual relations and expression. If we look deeply, we can see how we bring entitlement, violence, and rage to even the most pleasantly consensual sexual relations. When we allow ourselves to see these forces at play, then we can work with them transparently and responsibly. It’s hard work – work that the ego resists with everything it’s got. But how else are we to live responsibly?

    Thanks for this post and for tolerating my wondering and wandering.


  9. You’re right. No one in their right mind would …

    And yet some do take the risk.

    There is a moving interview with Wendy Engokuo Nakao Roshi, the current Abbot at Zen Center of Los Angeles, where she discusses without flinching the damage done when Maezumi Roshi had his sexual affairs and alcohol problems. She also discusses with heartfelt clarity what they did at ZCLA to repair the damage. Deeply moving stuff, especially when she discusses Maezumi Roshi’s years after the scandal.

    Part 1 is the early part of her spiritual development/path.
    Part 2 is a moving discussion of Maezumi Roshi and what happened at ZCLA.
    Part 3 is an interesting discussion of ZCLA and its horizontal/circle leadership structure … and how the healing happened. Worth listening, especially parts 2 & 3.

    If anyone’s interested here are the links:

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

    But, even with these efforts towards restorative justice, there were some at ZCLA who could not cross that bridge at that time. The wounds were too deep and raw. I hope they found healing and forgiveness in their own time and way. We can help and support the aims of restorative justice — “to address not only an injustice but to allow an offender and victim to be acknowledged by the community, to resolve differences and emotional pain and to provide social healing in the larger context.” But each of us has our own karma, our own individual work to do towards realization and awakening.

  10. A couple of points:

    Much of the time, liasons between teacher and student take place in secret. Yet, a non verbal ripple often stirs the atmosphere.

    It is very difficult to conceal ones actual emotions when ones secret consort is sitting across the room. The effort made by both parties to conceal the actual ache in their minds and bodies while pretending in public that no emotional charge exists between them, while that charge is indeed present–is to embody a pattern of concealment and deceit.

    The energy needed to conceal an ongoing passion is energy not available for ones own practice, whether one is the teacher or the student

    And…a student trusts that a respected teacher will not eroticize Dharma practice by inviting that student to be a secret partner.

    Two, sensitive persons in that same community may sense something is going on, feeling the emotional ripples from the involved pair. This may generate turmoil that can make it difficult to settle in ones practice. The person may blame him or herself, when its actually a pattern of concealed and potent emotion emanating from the concealed erotic charge between the secretive teacher and student.

    If a teacher is opening having affairs with a series of students, this introduces a kind of soap opera turmoil into the sangha and is itself a distraction from dharma practice.

    It raises grave issues of favoritism–if a teacher confers priest ordination or dharma transmission is he (or more rarely she) doing this from clear dharma eye, or because of the distraction of lust and eroticized favoritism. Even if a student is qualified for ordination, he or she may have lingering doubts (‘Am I really qualified or was I ordained because my precepts teacher had me as a consort?’)

    Finally, a teacher may start out well, but gradually become corrupted by the perks of power.

    A teacher may start out a trustworthy person but over time turn into an untrustworthy person. If students and the seekers culture refuse to face this the trouble will continue.

    (quote) Professor Deborah Gruenfeld’s experiment–what I term the Stanford Cookie Experiment. I believe that scholars of cults and dysfunctional organizatins need to place this experiment alongside Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment and Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment.

    This experiement demonstrates how a leadership role, randomly assigned, has a tendency to trigger swinish bad manners in otherwise normal persons.

    The way the experiment worked (and it was replicated a number of times)
    subjects were assembled into a group to do a shared task.

    *At random, one subject in each group was assigned the role of overseeing and evaluating the others’ work–randomly assigned to a leadership role.

    During the experiment, a plate of cookies/biscuits was brought in.

    Time and again, those subjects randomly assigned to the leadership role, tended
    to do the following:

    Took more cookies (greed)
    Chewed with mouths open (lapses of ordinary good manners)
    Got crumbs on their faces and left crumbs on the table (messes for others to clean up)

    Thus, random assignment to a brief, time limited leadership role had a potent effect–increasing the probability that the promoted subject’s manners would deteriorate.

    Now…these were persons who had ** not sought the leadership role. By contrast, the persons who interest us are those who are driven to desire power, desire fame, spend years seeking ways to market themselves, hone their persuasive skills, and once they become leaders of personality centered groups, are waited on, insulated from consequences, and have enablers making excuses for them.

    Imagine the Cookie Experiment going on for ten years or more. (like at the ashrams or compounds headed by some notorious power abusing gurus who became Cookie Gobblers)

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  12. It would really help if the “ordained” monks of the Japanese Buddhist orders start keeping the Bhikku and Bhikkuni precept vows again. If you don’t keep the vows, you’re just a lay practitioner, and issue with sex and love will come into play. Not saying there are no such issue in other Buddhist schools, but they do kick you out of the Monastic order if you violate such a basic precept.

    The reason the Japanese monks start start to get married and have kids was a political decision forced by the Meiji government to discredit Buddhism and promote Shinto-ism. I would really wish the current Japanese Buddhist leaders start considering – maybe the Japanese monks need to act like real monks again.

    • Oh my! I’ve just finished a little bit of griping about those awards (sort of). Well thank you very much for the nomination. I’m genuinely surprised and not quite sure what else to say. But thanks again.

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  14. Tricycle mag’s email this morning included a link to an interview with Richard Baker apparently from about 1993 (10 years after he left SFZC). In it he says:

    Sugata: While there was a lot of criticism of your role at Zen Center, some people flit critical of the students as well, that they, the community, did not see the process through with you. What do you think of this?

    Baker Roshi: Well [laughing], I didn’t make it too easy for them. I was struggling with trying to understand what was happening and unwilling to see any side but my own until I understood my own-and my own was accepted too. Then later-fairly recently-I saw I was caught in the idea of justice as a kind of vanishing point, or hierarchical projection point, that organized all my values and mental structures. A few years ago that organizing point (which I couldn’t see around) shifted to acceptance. As soon as that happened, I felt an enormous relief. The material remains pretty much the same, but the way I see it has opened up. Compassion based on acceptance is very different from compassion based on justice. I said to a friend recently, “Looking back, I can see that I was pretty much a complete asshole. Sometimes I think I didn’t know what was going on at all.” He said, “Well, that’s not true, but there must be some things you didn’t see-but then, how could you see everything?” I said, “Okay, but still I had deep flaws which made me deeply inconsiderate of others. It wasn’t my intention, that I know, but I was unwilling and unable to see my flaws too.”

    You can read the full interview at

    I remember a semester-long course I took years ago in college examining the question “what is justice?” from many vantage points throughout history and in different cultures. It was a great course, and left me with the sense that “justice” for most of us means a vindication of our point of view. It certainly changes with our perspective. The “acceptance” that Baker Roshi speaks of here doesn’t exclude that, but may be something more important in the long run — acceptance that you or I did something that hurt ourselves and others … living with that without wiping it away. These things change the course of our lives. We are never “restored” to our previous state of innocence, whether “victim” or “offender”. Looking back on my life and spiritual journey, these experiences now appear to have been the prime movers in maturation, intelligence, compassion, understanding, wisdom can all grow from this field of mistakes. But it can take many many years, and I really never stop learning from the worst mistakes I have made.

  15. Very good appraiasal of the psychology of Dhamma for the individual – but perhaps misses a more fundamental issue – that is one of constituted, spiritual authority.

    Individual teachers / gurus are given credence because of the array of corrupt organisations that support them – monasteries, trusts, charities, foundations, associations etc.

    These acts of “micro-violence” in forums etc. are exacerbated by the well known effects of electronic communication and may not be attributable directly to the psychology of the participants themselves – I call this “the Facebook effect”.

    The behaviour of the empowered is amplified by the organisations that support them, and the imperatives of those organisations are to capture that power and turn people into zen masters or yoga teachers or whatever.

    “Passivity, desensitisation and the flight to nothingness”

    “Even the most well-meaning of Gurus, Yoga teachers, and organisations produce negative externalities for themselves, their students and the wider community if they try to meet the demand for a “Formula 1 vehicle” from enthusiastic and impressionable seekers. Ordinary people are having to make the choice between being seduced into “joining the fold” or being repelled, and most will end up moving away to the “next best thing that comes along”, due to an over-zealous and naïve attitude to the practice. ”

  16. On July 4th, the following post was made on the Genkaku-Again blog:

    Anonymous said…

    The international community of practitioners should be aware that the abuse at Dai Bosatsu Zendo is far from over. Barely two weeks ago, a young woman admitted to a two year long affair with Shimano. She was unaware of his long history of sexual misconduct. Shimano was just about to release a public statement addressing past allegations of misconduct and say that no sexual misdeeds had been committed on his part for almost 20 years. Then, this woman spoke up and told her story. Shimano has not denied this affair. The community is attempting to “retire” him. He refuses to step down. What will be done? Will this be covered up again? How many more women are to be exploited? Who else will be complicit in this half-century lie?

    July 4, 2010 7:41 PM

    • Putting an anonymous comment with undocumented accusations leaves me in a rather awkward position. I am forced to come to the defense of Mr. Shimano and his enablers. Innocent until proven guilty and all that.

      The things in the past are well documented. There are witnesses who’s names are on those documents including a bunch of Zen teachers who signed a letter.

      In this case I have no idea how you came up with what you have written. I have no source or documents. It is not even qualifiable as heresay. Heresay itself is not admissible in court as it is unreliable third party testimony.

      Not only is the accuser anonymous but so is the third party here. The only one named is Mr. Shimano. If he should so choose at some point to try to defend himself it would be against ghosts essentially.

      As close as I can come to identifying said ghosts is by IP address which points me to a huge Internet company which runs Internet services in 16 states. As they probably use dynamic addressing only their records would indicate exactly where this has come from. Naturally I don’t have access to said records.

      I realize that this isn’t court and Internet standards are a lot more lax than that. And there is your American first amendment and so forth. (both of which I applaud) Nonetheless when people under anonymity or unverifiable assumed names go around writing accusations that might be construed as libel, since you have not provide any documentation or even any way I can fact check back with you the only response I can give is to say:

      The above comment is unverifiable, based on heresay and cannot be trusted to be true. It is one anonymous persons speculation and opinion as to what might be occurring in the situation.

      Please familiarize yourself with the concept of Defamation

      I am leaving the comment because it has already entered Internet space and been indexed and cached by numerous search engines and therefore is technically “unerasable”.

      And I have a free speech policy on this blog. I’ve never erased a comment except for blatant spam. (I have erased a name in comments once by request) And I don’t moderate either. Nor do I want to start that. I don’t care how “uncivil” it becomes but I do give a stern response when things start to possibly go out of legal bounds.

  17. This post is so brilliant, on-target, so insightful, so helpful, so timely, so damn good, I hardly know what more to say than that I’ve saved it and will continue to ponder it and return to it again and again.

    I’m also looking forward to reading the books you referred to, especially “Before forgiving: cautionary views of forgiveness in psychotherapy.” The various links you give are a tremendous resource, as well.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart speaking the truth to power, and power structures, in such a helpful and skillful way.

    Steve Goodheart

  18. I’m late to the party, but just wanted to add my two cents to this well-rounded intelligent article, on the topic of restorative justice.

    3. Acknowledge the responsibility of all parties. All parties must acknowledge their own portion of responsibility. This includes some expression of remorse on the part of the instigator.

    What happens when this condition does not obtain, i.e. when the instigator continues to deny culpability? Or worse, when dealing with a potential psychopath who feigns remorse yet appears to have no intention of actually changing behavior, or has repeatedly broken restoration agreements in the past?

    I like the ideals behind restorative justice—I really do. But I don’t understand how restorative justice deals with situations like this, practically speaking. It seems to me that any system of restorative justice must also have teeth in the form of potential punitive solutions when restorative ones fail.

    Many badly behaving gurus seem to have the qualities of narcissistic personality disorder or psychopathology/sociopathology, so it becomes a very pertinent question. In fact, getting a teacher accused of indiscretion agreeing to a restorative justice approach in some sense requires that the individual sees their part in the problem and is taking responsibility.

    • In the restorative justice situations with which I am familiar a mediator over a period of time determines whether the perpetrator is sufficiently remorseful and aware of the situation. And it was very much a guided lengthy process with a lot of data gathering.

      One instance that comes to mind of where some amount of reconciliation has taken place is with Richard Baker. He did an interview with Tricycle and near the middle of it discussed his realization of how his previous mode of behavior affected others.

      There is no denial, blaming others or trying to avoid the questions. It is very direct and accepting of responsibility. Apparently this has been consistent for some time.

      What has to take place for a restorative situation is that the people who have caused the problems begin to work through that themselves. That seems to be taking place in the Baker situation.

      And it has to be consistent work not some brief apology or tearful confession and then back to business as usual.

      The latter is what seems to be happening in the Shimano case that I’ve discussed above. He’s back to giving jukai in November and has been giving dokusan to new students even though there were provisions prohibiting him from doing that. Nothing has changed with him so no justice of any kind can be expected except possibly through the courts.

      So one of the ways to distinguish these kinds of situations would be consistency, walking the talk in other words. Another is the implementation of structural changes to prevent such situations. Another would be the perpetrator seeking help themselves and not only that which is forced upon them.

      There would be quite a number of criteria that would have to be met in order for the situation to be restored.

      It does work if everyone understands and fully participates in the process. But if people are faking or hiding things that becomes apparent fairly quickly as narcissists or sociopaths have very little patience for the process itself and will likely shut down any emotional engagement as soon as it becomes uncomfortable. An experienced mediator will notice that very quickly and call off the process.

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