105-year-old Zen Buddhist master is accused of groping female students

A 105-year-old Zen Buddhist master has been  accused of sexually assaulting his female students during private teaching  sessions.

article-2277401-17877509000005DC-795_306x485Joshu Sasaki, best known for being the  teacher of artist Leonard Cohen, has allegedly groped and sexually harassed  women across the U.S. for over 50 years.

An independent council of Buddhist leaders  recently admitted to ignoring years of accusations against the famously  charismatic ‘roshi’.

Last month, a ‘witnessing council’ of senior  teachers of Mr Sasaki’s Zen Buddhist community published a  statement, admitting  that the have ‘struggled with our teacher Joshu  Sasaki Roshi’s sexual  misconduct for a significant portion of his career in the United  States’.

Originally from Japan, Mr Sasaki moved to the  U.S. in 1962 where he set up the  Rinzai-ji Zen Center in Los Angeles and the  Mount Baldy Zen Center, in  Mt Baldy, California.

As well as heading these facilities, he has  also been teaching at Zen centers across the  United States.

Accusations  have been circulating since the  early 70s and in 1997 members of the Mount  Baldy Zen Center put forward a  letter to the then 90-year-old Mr Sasaki, with no consequences.

It  was not until a letter was published on  the popular practitioners’  website Sweeping Zen in October last year that the  true story of the  abusive Zen master begun to unfold.

Mr Martin wrote: ‘His career of misconduct  has run the gamut from frequent and repeated  non-consensual groping of female  students during interview, to sexually  coercive after hours “tea” meetings, to  affairs and sexual interference  in the marriages and relationships of his  students.’

He also said that those who have  confronted  Mr Sasaki and the Rinzai-ji Zen Center have found themselves alienated or  excommunicated from the center, whilst others have  resigned ‘in frustration’.

‘For decades, Joshu Roshi’s behaviour has  been ignored, hushed up,  downplayed, justified, and defended by the monks and  students that  remain loyal to him.’

The letter rocked the  close-knit Zen Buddhist community where a majority of practitioners  are  aware of and have studied Mr Sasaki.

Shortly afterwards the letter’s  publication senior  teachers of the ‘independent witnessing council’  began to investigate Mr  Sasaki’s behaviour towards his female students.


Zen Buddhism derives from Mahayana Buddhism  and is believed to have originated in China during the 6th century.

The Rinzai-tradition practiced by Mr Sasaki  focuses on ‘kensho’, which is the insight to one’s true nature.

True knowledge and insight into  ‘kensho’ –  finding inner peace –  is reached through meditation and  self-study, as  taught by Mr Sakasi.

Several victims, interviewed by the New York  Times, said they were shunned or ignored when they brought up the abuse.

Nikki Stubbs, who spent three years  studying  under Mr Sasaki in the early 00s, said that when she spoke up  about Mr Sasaki  touching her breasts during private lessons and asking  her to massage his  penis, a monk told her ‘sexualizing was teaching for particular  women’.

His theory, she told the newspaper. was that  ‘such physicality could check a woman’s overly strong ego’.

Another victim, who has been kept  anonymous,  studied under Mr Sasaki at Mount Baldy Zen Centre in the 90s. She said Mr Sasaki  would justify groping her during ‘sanzen’, private  meetings, by saying ‘True  love is giving yourself to everything.’

The witnessing council, part of the American  Zen Teachers Association and have no authoritative powers.

Their statement admitting having knowledge of  the abuse was released in January.

Mr Sasaki retired completely form teaching in  January last year due to ill health.

Bob Mammoser, a resident monk at the  Rinzai-ji Zen Center said Mr Sasaki’s importance to helping Zen Buddhists in  their practice had been overlooked as a result of the allegations, and compared  the abuse to a marriage.

‘It seems to be the kind of thing that, you  get the person as a whole, good and bad, just like you marry somebody and you  get their strengths and wonderful qualities as well as their  weaknesses.’

He said that there are plans to have a  meeting at the center to decide what actions to take, or whether to take any  actions at all.

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