The Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society announced on March 29 that it was investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against their founder, Noah Levine, and suspending his teaching activities.
The following day, Levine responded with his own statement, denying the allegations. The ATS letter “contains an allegation made through a third party regarding a woman I was dating who has apparently made a claim that some of our consensual contact was somehow non-consensual. This never happened,” he wrote.
What has been most striking about this latest instance of alleged sexual impropriety is how little we know. It’s unclear what Levine has been accused of or whether Levine has done anything improper at all. And that uncertainty has left the community wounded, according to Josh Korda, the guiding teacher of the New York branch of Levine’s Dharma Punx group and a student of Levine for 17 years.
“There were some people who immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was some sort of a witch hunt, which to me is a really poor kind of thinking. Some people felt threatened that a teacher they admired could suddenly be disempowered of his ability to teach,” Korda told Tricycle. “Other people took an extreme opposite, which was that Noah was wrong to even deny the allegations, that even that was unskillful in taking away a woman’s voice. But the vast majority was somewhere in between; they were very calm and basically just saying this really hurts.”
To help people cope, Korda held the first of two talks on the unknown and unresolved at Maha Rose in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on April 2.
“This was an opportunity to give a helpful talk about how do we stay with the not known, not jump to conclusions, and keep an open mind,” Korda said.
In addition to the talk, Korda helped organize a safe space for people to discuss how they felt. He put dharma facilitators Kathy Cherry, who is Korda’s wife, and Sydney Rose in charge of this process, saying, “I immediately realized I couldn’t do it, because I’m a man. We do live in a rape culture and male privilege is everywhere, so I can’t create a safe space for women.”
Cherry said she hopes the group, which will meet Thursday, April 5, encourages “people to listen to one another and listen to each other’s hearts rather than have knee-jerk reactions” or resort to “sound bites.” She wants people to ask, “How does this news land? What’s the impact on my heart, my mind? How do I reconcile with the fact that a teacher, who has had such a beneficial impact on my life, is being accused of something?”
At Maha Rose, where strings of exposed bulbs hang over a patchwork of throw rugs and cushions, a diverse group of some 70 onlookers watched as Korda leaned back in a chair.
“The founder of Dharma Punx, Against the Stream, and Refuge Recovery, Noah Levine, was accused of sexual misconduct . . . and of course, this was pretty fucking painful to hear,” he told the group. “My job here is not to make sense of this for you. I would love to if I could, but I don’t have enough information. Frankly, I’m very much in the dark.”
He went on to say, “It is important for this to be a practice of not knowing.”
“Not knowing is one of the most painful experiences for human beings,” said Korda, citing a psychological phenomena called cognitive dread, in which “people find not knowing outcomes to more painful than painful outcomes.”
“It’s a tendency people have when they don’t have enough information to catastrophize, to just try to figure out the worst case scenario as a way to feel prepared,” he said.
Korda then went on to describe four tools for being with not knowing. Distress tolerance, in which we practice neither running from nor obsessing over a negative feeling; expressive writing; cultivating people around us who can listen without offering advice; and a practice of “reflecting on past times when we didn’t know and yet we survived.”
Finally, he led the group through a guided meditation, instructing them—after settling in with a body scan—to think of something that they are uncertain about and sit with it.
After the talk and meditation, Korda opened the floor for questions.
“I’m usually the type of person to assume guilt, especially in the face of #MeToo,” said one woman. She explained how women have been historically silenced and said she was “having trouble reconciling that with the talk.”
“I want women to feel comfortable bringing it up in public,” which she noted is easier if “they are going to be believed.”
Korda responded, “My relationship with Noah makes it hard to believe [the allegations against him], but that doesn’t mean I think [his accuser] is a liar. It just means I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on. I have to be open to the possibility that he did something that was unskillful. That’s hard, but that’s my job, to keep that open mind.
“There has to be some way . . . that we do not in any way doubt the people who have the courage to come out and express their experience, and at the same time, not immediately rush to judgement.”
Update: You can now listen to Josh Korda’s second talk on this subject recorded Tuesday, April 3 along with a guided meditation on not knowing here.