The New York Times
By MARK OPPENHEIMER
Published: August 20, 2010
Sooner or later, every traditional faith has to confront sexual impropriety by its spiritual leaders: extramarital sex, or sex with the wrong people (members of the congregation, minors), or, for supposedly celibate clergy, any sex at all.
But there are great differences in how religions handle these transgressions. For Jews and many Protestants, it is the local congregation that decides what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed. For Catholics, a worldwide hierarchy decides, depending on reports from local representatives. And for Buddhists — well, the answer is not so clear.
The root of the problem, some experts say, is that the teacher/student relationship in Buddhism has no obvious Western analogy. Priests and rabbis know the boundaries, even if some do not always respect them. Doctors, too, have ethical canons they are supposed to honor. A spiritual figure like a priest, an authority figure like a teacher, a therapeutic figure like an analyst — the Buddhist teacher may be all of those, but is not really like any one of them. Even sanghas, or Buddhist communities, that discourage such relationships often have no process for enforcing a ban, and as one Zen society in New York is learning, that can lead to problems.
Since 1965, Eido Shimano has been the abbot, or head spiritual teacher, of the Zen Studies Society, a Japanese Buddhist community with headquarters on East 67th Street in Manhattan and also a 1,400-acre monastery in the Catskills. For much of that time, there have been rumors about the married abbot’s sexual liaisons, with his students and with other women. Such rumors could no longer be ignored when, in 2008, the University of Hawaii at Manoa unsealed some papers donated by Robert Aitken, a leading American Buddhist and founder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.