Error of Power
In the editorial about Joshu Sasaki Roshi (“The Buddha Stain,” Spring 2013), you talk about sexual misconduct as motivated by desire, “the very pulse of life.” Calling sexual misconduct an error of desire makes it sound like merely an error of passion— that the Roshi was swept away by sexual feeling only. But sexual misconduct, when it occurs between those who are not equal—be it a teacher and student, a psychotherapist and a client, or a soldier and a commander—is also an error of power. Current evolutionary psychologists tell us that the very pulse of life in our species contains a strong measure of status striving. We are hardwired to desire dominance. One reading of the daily headlines will confirm the psychologists’ assessment.
The desire to dominate others is as much part of the human condition as sexual passion. A student of Buddhism, by definition, is not equal to a teacher; the student is vulnerable to the teacher’s guidance and authority. It is important that teachers of Buddhism are mindful of their impulses toward power as well as their sexual impulses. It is important that the Buddhist community name misconduct correctly and clearly. I think you began to do this in your editorial comments, but I hope you and the Buddhist community will go deeper.
—Michele Clark, MEd, MA
Faculty in Psychology and Counseling
I found the conclusion that James Shaheen drew in the Spring 2013 editorial on the sexual misconduct allegations of Joshu Sasaki Roshi both strange and disturbing: “Desire, the very pulse of life, is not something to be mastered; it will always be with us . . . And this apparently applies even to enlightened folks.” As a Buddhist, and in accordance with what little I have read and been taught, I find it impossible to believe that an enlightened being could willingly inflict pain upon another being in an effort to satisfy his own lustful passions. I find it equally hard to believe that an enlightened being would have desires at all, let alone urges that cannot be controlled.
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