Apropos of my last blog entry about Lama Surya Das and his acts of sexual misconduct, I ran across this entry from a forum on Surya Das’ sexual abuse at Against the Stream (ATS) Buddhist Society. Most of this entry is about Surya Das himself. But this paragraph about Jack Kornfield really stuck out to me:
In your article you speak of “Kornfield” and his “investigation.” Kornfield is a close friend of Das. One time I rejected Das’ invitation to give me a ride. I guess he finally realized he was never going to get anywhere with me, it took years to convey this message. The next day, Das sicced Kornfield on me during a Dharma event. In fact, Kornfield singled me out to have a talk with me. I’d never met or had spoken to Kornfield. Kornfield tried to intimidate me and tried to force me to leave the Dharma event. When I stood my ground, Kornfield called me a “demon” and referred to Das as his “close friend.” Kornfield is no saint.
You can read the entire entry at https://engagedharma.net/2018/04/08/ats-and-sexual-misconduct/.
Western Buddhism is full of what I call “celebrity teachers.” They are people who – for the most part – are popular because of their personalities, not their understanding of the Dharma or the depth of their practice. Most Western teachers do not even teach rebirth or jhāna. Very few of them understand dependent co-arising or non-self.
This is not just a modern problem. In the well-known and mostly misunderstood Kālama Sutta [AN 3.65], the Kālama people go to the Buddha and ask him how to know if a teaching or a teacher are authentic:
Come, Kālāmas, do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reasoned cogitation, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence [of a speaker], or because you think: ‘The ascetic is our guru.’ But when, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: ‘These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them. – [AN 3.65]
The passage that stands out to me is the “seeming competence of the speaker.” Some people have dynamic, forceful personalities. They can be very convincing even when trying to sell you a bill of goods. Have you ever had a saleperson sell you something that you did not want or need?
We are particularly vulnerable when it comes to our spiritual practice. Women can be particularly vulnerable to men with dynamic personalities. It is a worst-case scenario.
This is an important issue. When a Buddhist teacher commits an act of sexual misconduct, it reflects badly on the beautiful teachings of the Buddha. I am especially sad that people who could benefit from the Buddha’s teachings turn away from them because they have been sexually mistreated, or simply badly treated in any way. The latter has happened to me many times, and often it was by a celebrity teacher.
The Buddha’s teachings could not be clearer on this topic. The third precept says that a disciple of the Buddha – male or female, lay or monastic – agrees to abstain from sexual misconduct. “Sexual misconduct” is using your sexual energy to harm yourself or others. How much clearer can that be?
As we have learned so many times over the years, first there is the crime, and then there is the coverup. The coverup is always worse. Someone like Jack Kornfield should know better than to engage in juvenile, bullying behavior toward someone who is the victim of sexual assault.
Jack Kornfield… shame on you.