“When teachers break the precepts,
behaving in ways that are clearly damaging to themselves and others,
students must face the situation,
even though this can be challenging, criticize openly, that’s the only way.”
the Dalai Lama
Having thought long and hard about making this page or not, I decided to go ahead to avoid people getting into trouble with questionable teachers and organizations who claim to be Buddhist, but whose motivation and behavior is questioned. For obvious reasons, this page itself is controversial, as people who are involved with such teachers or groups will usually deny the controversy or even claim not to be aware of it.
On March 16-19, 1993, a meeting was held in Dharamsala, India, between His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and a group of twenty-two Western dharma teachers from the major Buddhist traditions in Europe and America. Also present were the Tibetan lamas Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Pachen Otrul Rinpoche, and Amchok Rinpoche. The aim of the meeting was to discuss openly a wide range of issues concerning the transmission of Budhadharma to Western lands.
The following statement ensued from the meeting:
“Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one’s spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct.”
Fred von Allmen, Brendan Lee Kennedy, Ven. Ajahn Amaro, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei, Jack Kornfield, Martine Batchelor, Dharmachari Kulananda, Stephen Batchelor, Jakusho Bill Kwong Roshi, Alex Berzin, Lama Namgyal (Daniel Boschero), Ven. Thubten Chodron (Cherry Greene), Ven. Tenzin Palmo, Lama Drupgyu Crony Chapman), Ven. Thubten Pende (James Dougherty), Lopon Claude aEsnee, Lama Surya Das (Jeffrey Miller), Edie Irwin, Robert Thurman, Junpo Sensei (Denis Kelly), Sylvia Wetzel.
Similarly, Zen teachers issued an open letter confronting abuse early 2015 to make a clear stance against abuse of power by Buddhist teachers.
The list below is my own personal list of teachers and groups of which I know that serious questions have been raised. I do not intend to play policeman or judge, and I cannot verify if all these claims are true. I merely hope to warn innocent newcomers about potential problems and controversy. The teachers and groups below are not all criminals or necessarily involved in distorting Buddhism, but serious complaints have been made about conduct such as sexual harrassment, abuse, abuse of funds etc., and/or distortion of the teachings of the Buddha.
Especially in China and Taiwan, and teachers from there, I would recommend serious caution when people are called “Living Buddhas”.
Such kind of title pretty much goes against all Buddhist ideas of modesty.
Also when teachers promote practices for wealth and fame, or even promise ‘instant enlightenment’, it may be good to start asking some serious questions about the main purpose of their own ‘Buddhist’ practice. See also this article of the Global Times.
If you are aware of any currently active teacher or group that is controversial, but not on below list, please help other people and email me .
For the rest, please remain aware of the dangers of cults or abusive teachers, and take responsibility for your own life. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, reliance on a personal teacher is seen as essential for spiritual progress, so better make really, really sure that you chose a genuine master; the more impressive the titles, the more critical one should investigate…
Useful information in English:
- Freedom of Mind Center; quite a collection of information on cults and their page on cults in general, explaining the BITE model
- How to spot a Buddhist cult
- Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffrey D. Falk available in print and as free e-book (see bottom of page)
- Sex and the Spiritual Teacher by Scott Edelstein
- Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship by Alex Berzin (also known under its new title: Wise teacher, wise student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship) available in print and as free e-book
- Beyond the temple
Useful information in other languages