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