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 Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Sun Feb 17, 2013 11:44 am

Sex in a sacred space - Posted by: Kyogen Carlson on February 17, 2013
from sweepingzen.com


Back in the early 1990s, at a meeting of the American Zen Teachers’ Association, I first heard that a Zen teacher, in this case Dennis Gempo Merzel, had initiated sexual contact with female students during formal sanzen, and in the sanzen room. I can still remember the shock, followed by a sick and sinking feeling in my heart and solar plexus at this revelation. I had heard that teachers had had affairs with students, but this hit me with unexpected force. I was blindsided by it.

I am bringing this up now because in the recent press coverage about the misconduct of Joshu Sasaki in Los Angeles, close on the heels of the revelations about Eido Shimano in New York, this aspect of the matter has not received the attention it deserves. It seems that all three named here committed the same heinous act, and when we look at closely, it casts a particularly harsh and revealing light on the nature of the misconduct, showing it to be much more than philandering or sexual adventurism.

I should explain a little bit about sanzen, or dokusan as it is also called. Imagine a combination of a confessional booth and a therapist’s office, where not just your inadequacies are confronted, but where you take your highest hopes and aspirations. You meet your teacher in a beautiful, specially charged ritual space to explore your highest potential. At first you seek guidance on a path to realize this potential, and over time present your work, your deepest self, to a mentor whose approval means everything. This is exploration, then expression, of Buddha Nature. It is all about the fundamental point, that which comes before and is more important than anything else in our experience. Buddha Nature is more primary than race or gender, even our humanity. It is the intersection of personal identity and highest truth. There is nothing more fundamental. To sexually violate someone who comes to you with such a deep aspiration, to my mind, also violates them in a much deeper and more fundamental way. It reduces the student’s aspiration to something beneath the teacher’s momentary appetite, showing no regard for any boundary and utter disrespect for another human being and for the tradition. That outrage points out with bold, black underlining and exclamation points the callousness and self-centeredness of these so-called teachers. Taking advantage of someone precisely when she (or he) comes to you in this ritualized space was something I could not imagine. It is a perverted and predatory impulse, and just thinking about it now I feel a boulder on chest. The great majority of Zen teachers, on hearing stories like this for the first time, have felt something similar.

In the 39th case of The Iron Flute, the Imperial Teacher Chung-kuo-shih calls to his attendant Ying-chen three times. Each time the attendant answers respectfully. Then the teachers says, “I ought to apologize to you for all this calling, but really, you should apologize to me.” In his commentary, Genro says “Why the apologies? Because human affairs are very uncertain. One should not set himself in any mold of life if he wishes to live freely.” I like this story because it states clearly that even in the rarefied world of enlightened teachers and able students the missteps of human interactions and the uncertainties of communication intrude.

I was ordained as a Soto Zen priest over 40 years ago, and over that time I have entered sanzen rooms as a student many times. I spent ten years at Shasta Abbey with my primary teacher Jiyu Kennett Roshi, and later did many sesshins with Rinzai master Shodo Harda Roshi. As a teacher myself, I have also received many students in sanzen. Difficulties arising from personalities and communication styles, and differences in values and expectations are simply part of the koan that is the master-disciple, teacher-student relationship. At times, particularly at Shasta, I felt there was unwarranted intrusion into personal matters. However, in all that time, the space of the sanzen room was always a place of meticulous attention, of immaculate and upright conduct. If there is any doubt, call three times; if any need, apologize. Even an Imperial Teacher acknowledged this, and ultimately, that is why he is free.

It has been difficult for those of us in the Zen world to create a larger sense of accountability, as individual teachers and temples can, if they choose, function without any oversight at all. The constitutional guarantee of religious freedom is interpreted in such a broad way as to make this unavoidable. It is the down side to what most of us would consider a good principle. I think most people reading this would also agree that the liberalization of sexual mores to give “consenting adults” great legal latitude is a good thing. Until recently, however, that made actions against clergy involved with adult congregation members a difficult issue to address. As public awareness grows, however, civil actions against predatory priests and clergy, and the churches and temples that protect them, have gained significant traction. The internet has created instant national awareness of matters that just 25 years ago were difficult to publicize locally. All of this demonstrates the Buddhist principle that karmic consequences are inevitable at some point in the three periods of time, and that as we refine our understanding of the causes of suffering, we human beings, collectively if not always individually, will tend to move away from that which causes harm. We can be thankful for each small step in that direction. As a priest in the Zen tradition I have been sickened by the abuses that have come to light over the years. I have to add, though, that I am overjoyed at how the efforts of those who have stood up to this over those same years have gained momentum day by day until the balance has tipped and those who have perpetrated these crimes and those who have abetted them are starting to see that the jig is up. So, a tip of the hat to a few that have been on the front lines constantly from the very earliest days: Yvonne Myo-on Rand, Jan Chozen Bays, Alan Hozan Senauke, Grace Myoan Schireson, and, of course, many more. My deep thanks, and let us all remain vigilant.
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Christopher Hamacher



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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:32 am

In the last sentence Carlson mentions many teachers who "have been on the front lines constantly from the very earliest days." And in one of the comments he adds:

"I am pleased that Gyokuko and I have been able to give strong support over the years to those on the front lines for so long. Others include Les Kaye, Bodhin Kholhede, Sunyana Graef, and Hogen Bays. Many others in the AZTA and elsewhere became involved over the years including Kobutsu Malone and this archive project. Another staunch advocate is Josh Baran."

How do you see this statement, Josh? Since both Shimano and Sasaki were able to continue teaching for decades, I am a bit skeptical of how engaged all these people supposedly were all those years. My impression has always been that without Kobutsu Malone, the situation today would have been total status quo. So how much truth is there to this and how much is just after-the-fact spin doctoring?
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:53 am

Christopher Hamacher wrote:


"I am pleased that Gyokuko and I have been able to give strong support over the years to those on the front lines for so long. Others include Les Kaye, Bodhin Kholhede, Sunyana Graef, and Hogen Bays. Many others in the AZTA and elsewhere became involved over the years including Kobutsu Malone and this archive project. Another staunch advocate is Josh Baran."

I am a bit skeptical of how engaged all these people supposedly were all those years. My impression has always been that without Kobutsu Malone, the situation today would have been total status quo. So how much truth is there to this and how much is just after-the-fact spin doctoring?

Chris that's a fair question which I've asked Kyogen in a Facebook thread. I'll post his response here.
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:17 am

I appreciate the work that Kyogen and Gyokuko have done in claiming the treasure of Zen practice while calling out the intrusion and violations of sacred space by those who are are unworthy in intent and behavior to make any claim of either teacher or student in the tradition. As a survivor myself of sexual abuse at a young age at the hands of those claiming religious authority in the sacred space of clergy confidence, I can say that there is life and healing to be found and lived after such violations, and that meditation practice has been an essential element in that healing. The most important service that any spiritual teacher can render is to provide trusted safety to those who enter the space of spiritual practice. The Carlsons have labored hard in that service.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:25 pm

Christopher Hamacher wrote:
I am a bit skeptical of how engaged all these people supposedly were all those years. My impression has always been that without Kobutsu Malone, the situation today would have been total status quo. So how much truth is there to this and how much is just after-the-fact spin doctoring?

Chris, here is Kyogen's response (on Facebook) to my asking why the AZTA couldn't do more to bring these issues to light sooner.

"Hi Isan. To get all the details right I would have to go back and look at the history of all this stuff, but back in the early ninety's the AZTA did a lot of things to try to bring the business with Genpo to light. We had a signed letter published in tricycle. We sent a letter to Maezumi Roshi asking that he revoke the authorization for Genpo to to teach. That created quite a fuss. Eventually there was a meeting at Green Gulch farm involving a number of us with Genpo. We signed a nondisclosure agreement, so the exact details of what went on can't be revealed, but the meeting itself can be. We managed to prevent him from setting up shop in Oregon, but he just went on to Salt Lake City to continue his teaching and misconduct there. Quite a few of us put in many many hours over that issue. While it probably warned off some, the net effect was not very great. It was just more difficult in those days. I am so impressed by how things have changed since then. But the fact that we worked very hard is not generally understood or appreciated. I keep hearing why didn't you do something? The fact of the matter is, we did. It was just very difficult to make a difference."
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Christopher Hamacher



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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:10 am

Thanks Isan. I don't know much about Genpo Merzel's history so I can't comment on those efforts.

With regard to Shimano in any case, I would say that the jury is still out. Quite telling is that James Ford, for example, mentions (there's another thread about that) his being the first to send a letter to the ZSS asking for Eido's removal. Yet that letter came YEARS after the Aitken letters were analyzed by Stuart Lachs and put online by Kobutsu Malone, for example. And even then, most people in the Zen community were ready to accept Shimano's fake apology in September 2010 and forget everything. It was only after his famous NYT letter in December that even the most blind devotee had to agree that Shimano was unrepentant. So my impression is that, if the NYT letter had never been leaked, Shimano might still be in office today despite everything. And who knows if the Sasaki victims would ever have had the courage to speak out under that scenario.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Thu Feb 21, 2013 1:17 pm

Here's what I would say. Every situation with these Zen teachers is different. It might be useful - for those who are very interested in this area - to see how each scandal came to light - how did it become known - who spoke out - what actions were taken - and what were the results. As James noted in his essay, each Zen teacher is mostly independent, they answer to no one except their hand-picked board of directors. They are independent god-kings. This is unlike, for example, a synagogue or most modern churches. In those cases, ministers and rabbis are hired by congregations, have contracts with ethical clauses, can be fired by the board - which is usually independent, and also these temples and churches are part of larger bodies that can take action, step in, apply real pressure.

As far as I know, the American Zen Teachers Association is an advisory group - they have no real power or authority - except they can write letters or meet with people - apply pressure that way. But they can be completely ignored, told to mind their own business. This is not a criticism of the AZTA. And I don't blame them for not doing enough. It can be very challenging to make an impact in these situations.

Kennett answered to no one and she didn't even have a board of directors until I reincorporated Shasta in 1976 and created a board - but even then, the board was made up of three of her disciples. She was the only power. She had cut herself off from Japan and the Soto headquarters. Maezumi answered to no one - he also disconnected from the Soto HQ. Sasaki, Shimano - although they came from big Japanese temples, those temples had no oversight and in any case, those kind of Japanese institutions would do nothing - if they received letters of complaint.

I can't speak to all that went on around Shimano - since i had no personal knowledge of that and was not involved... i had heard rumors but even those were vague.

With regard to Sasaki, how is it possible that this went on for 50 years? I heard about it from a woman who had been to a sesshin in 1980. Over 30 years ago.... but what could I actually do? In reality, nothing. The woman had one negative experience with Sasaki. She did not want to go public in any way, file a lawsuit or go the media. She was fed up with him and Zen and wanted to process / discuss her experience with me and her friends, but that was all. I guess I could have written a letter, but I could not use the person's name, so any letter would have been tossed out. Useless.

What is needed to for multiple victims to come forward and go public -- either by getting some media attention, or now posting on the web, or by filing one or more lawsuits. Lawsuits are rare because they can be expensive, serious, very time consuming, and can take years to work through. That's why you see so few of them. You can't go to the police - unless you clearly feel you have been raped or there was a minor involved. Most women feel like they were seduced or manipulated, but don't often use the word "rape." So there is rarely a criminal case.

Media attention can be somewhat corrective, can bring the issue forward, but journalists need a good relatively simple story, many credible victims or witnesses. And the victims, at least most of them, need to go on the record, use their names, tell their stories. As we know from lots of experience, many people who are sexually molested do not want to go public for a variety of reasons. Also some people have complex or confusing stories and are not credible enough.

With the Sasaki situation, it was sweepingzen that broke the story - through Eshu - a former priest writing about it. He himself was not a direct victim, but he was a strong credible voice and it sounds like he and sweepingzen knew that once he went public, other people, especially victims, would also speak on the record and share their story. And it was a good story for papers like the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times - 105 year old "master" and 50 years of silence and Leonard Cohen's teacher. Not all sex scandals - even when there are enough victims - are picked up by the national media - for example, Genpo - that was covered by a local Salt Lake City paper - but mostly broke on the web. It wasn't interesting enough for national attention.

One thing to point out. When we hear about spiritual leaders abusing their authority, it is only natural to hope they will be exposed and basically shut down, run out of town - that kind of thing. But even when these stories appear - even many stories in the media or on-line, there are still the true believers that will excuse any behavior, and they will hold down the fort and continue the organization. And if they have money in the bank or even one wealthy donors who ignores the misconduct, the organization can keep going for decades, even generations. You think, how could anyone still follow that guy... well, some people can and will.. no matter what.

Just look at how many people are Scientologists - even with dozens of books out exposing their church, thousands of articles - their members just ignore it all. Why? A mixture of denial, enchantment, feeling special, and they are getting something out of it -- usually it involves the community life, a place to go, a circle of friends / congregants, and being told that this is the true path - just follow these rules, go through these steps and all will be well. So they turn a blind eye towards any criticism.

At least in the Shimano case, he has been fired from the group. Genpo continues to lead Big Mind as if nothing happened. And with Sasaki, we shall see. I don't think he named any "dharma successor" and his community is probably in some state of constant trauma with all the allegations coming out in the national media, but that will die down - but will Sasaki's network of groups all fall apart or continue on? Probably some more women will come forward, maybe a book will be written - or not -- but there is no way to know. Denial is a very powerful mental process and after decades of blind obedience and rationalization, change can be hard.

Actually, lawsuits are the best way to have significant impact. They can't be ignored. Depositions require everyone to give detailed testimony under oath. Money speaks loudly. It was all the lawsuits that brought the Catholic Church to account for their silence and actual criminal behavior. Without the lawsuits, they never would have paid any attention. Also lawsuits emphasize a level of accountability that cuts through traditional structures and fantasies - and brings people into the present moment - in this reality - tells them they are not in old Kyoto or Lhasa anymore, that everyone is accountable and everyone has rights - not just the lord gurus, the princes of the church, but every single person has rights and deserves respect under a far greater law than the temple rules.
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Christopher Hamacher



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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Fri Feb 22, 2013 12:20 pm

Thanks Josh. I agree that each case is different, and that much can be learned from a careful analysis of how each finally came to light. As far as Shimano is concerned, the long ZFI thread and the comments to genkaku's and Robert Aitken's respective blogs are very revealing in this regard, e.g. who was in total denial, and for how long. All available and searchable on the Shimano Archive.

By the way, there is a new and unexpected twist in the Shimano case: the allegation that his wife, as treasurer of the ZSS, regularly paid out thousands of dollars in Society funds as hush money to his victims. This brings the case to a whole new level of deceit. See point 48 of the ZSS counterclaim: http://www.shimanoarchive.com/PDFs/20130221_Ammended_Answer.pdf
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Fri Feb 22, 2013 12:40 pm

sometimes there are some legal channels that could be pursued... but this is unusual since the Shimanos have been officially fired. Most cases, the gurus run the show and don't step down. What is needed are strong independent boards of directors who exercise real oversight, yearly audits, accountability.
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:45 pm

Hi Josh
I strongly agree with what you say about legal structures for temples ,retreat centres,all these completely un-regulated places.Of course there is abuse.In one way you can see why it is inevitable.
An anecdote:I saw a little scruffy flyer attached to the timetable at the bus station.The flyer contained a picture and a warning about a person,(described as "a prolific con-man"),who was targeting local churches and community groups.
It made me think about how these ,usually remote, places,such as Zen temples,which behave organisationally as of they were beyond the reach of normal regulations and socially acceptable standards,can be targetted in this way,and, of course,by their own insiders,such as the people you have been discussing.
It seems to me that this state of affairs is doomed to continue.Isn't it impossible to impose a culture of accountability on an established group?
You say you think that a large group of victims taking legal action could have an effect.That scenario,the most persuasive one,also seems an unlikely one,if what you say about US Law is true.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the appropriate document in UK.
Also relevant are the Anti -Harrassment laws.The coercion and harrassment that the victims in the Shimano Case seem to have suffered would be enough justification to report the perpetrator,if the events took place in the UK.
I am also a firm believer in the strategy of persistent repetitive action(eg,reporting the perpetrator's actions to law enforcers).Ok,the first time you report the police may not take you seriously.But in the UK,you would be given an Incident Number,which serves as a record.The next time you report,you refer the police to the previous incident,and so on.
In fact,the above strategy is the one used by most victims of domestic violence.The incidents and actions described in this Shimano saga have features in common with domestic violence:
the crimes are committed "in camera"
the perpetrator relies on an element of enforced collusion by the victim
victims are commonly not believed or taken seriously until several incidents have been reported

The women's movement's success in getting sex and domestic crimes taken seriously is attributable to survivors reporting the crimes and not giving up,and a critical mass of women demanding changes to the culture and the laws.
As to whether it would be possible to impose a culture of accountability on these creepy places.....
My instinct leads me a to a perhaps more achievable goal.
I am interested in developing a code of conduct and standards for retreat centres,temples etc.The code would be portable.Visitors to such places would ask the organistaion if it adhered to the code.The organisation could advertise its adherence to the standards of the code as a way of making it attractive to visitors....expedia.com for the spiritual marketplace.
Another incident:
A friend of mine went to stay at one of these places-(Amaravarty?).
He went on retreat.He wanted to feel minmally comfortable.He said the lay retreat accommodation was filthy.It was unpleasant.
He was taken seriously ill,and collapsed in a toilet cubicle.He was unconscious.When he came to,somebody was breaking down the toilet door.
They had called an ambulance.When the ambulance arrived,it couldn't get through the main gates because nobody knew how to open them.Somebody had the key,but nobody knew who.Eventually the keys were found,my friend got to hospital and was treated for a heart condition.
This centre would NOT meet the standards in my code.
Neither would the Shimano Place.Neither would Shasta.
None of these places demonstrate that the organisers take their Duty of Care seriously.They all have a culture of neglect and disrespect towards their visitors.

To summarise:
Yes,victims will have to continue to report these crimes and not be believed,until they ARE believed
Yes,these scruffy dives should be accountable to normal law -abiding standards of behaviour,Health and Safety,procedures to protect participants and keep them safe,recourse to a code of standards if and when things go wrong,so that participants can seek redress.
The method,the strategy?
Well,I have made a suggestion as above.
Anybody interested in developing some frameworks?
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:45 am

Maisie, I think that your concept is brilliant! It is not unlike Mark's much earlier proposal, except that your's, as you describe it, is 'portable'. Which is to say, that it is something that we each carry, and doesn't require a public institution to implement first!
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maisie field



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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:59 am

Kozan

Great glad you like the idea.

Are you interested in collaborating to drive it forward?

I feel strongly about this,and think the "portable" code of standards is workable.

But I don't want to develop it on my own.For one thing,my knowledge is limited and other people know different and better.For another,I am pretty tired..

So let me know if you want to proceed.
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Wed Mar 06, 2013 11:11 pm

Kozan - I'm still ruminating on my earlier suggestions, but it is a tricky. Often the recent reports describe behavior that is not just a breach of normal standards but is also illegal - but no one is prosecuted. I feel strongly, along with maisie, that we should encourage the reporting of clear breaches of normal standards of behavior. But more importantly I believe that we should be asking the authorities (congressmen, mps, police departments, etc.) to prosecute clear breaches of the law. Offenders are not going to worry about breaches of normal standards when breaches of the law go un-addressed.
And Kozan I agree it would be better without the intervention of public institutions However that is what we have at the moment and it is not working. The vast majority of religious organisations have some form of statement about standards of clergy behavior but it seems they end up being used to protect the offender not the victim. Self-regulation clearly is not working so unfortunately we must call on some form of externally enforceable regulation. And I think that one of the most effective ways to attack this would be to to have an annual 'behavior audit' by an independent auditor, just as there is a an annual independent financial audit. Without a clean bill of behavior health organisations would be publicly put on warning and if infringements continued then their charitable status and tax advantages could be withdrawn and offending persons banned from holding office in charitable institutions for a period.
And what set of standards should be enforced? I would suggest starting with the standards expected of and laid down for the teaching profession. They are in a very similar position of trust especially those in colleges and universities where they are dealing with adults.
I know that this would inevitably lead to a bureaucratic system, but which would you choose - bureaucracy or abuse?
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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Thu Mar 07, 2013 1:44 am

Maisie/ Ikkuko, I am honored by your request! I am over the top busy at the moment, so am not sure that I can devote much time to your wonderful proposal!

And Mark, I am drawn to this issue because of the parallel I see between the OBC issue--and the wider religious institutional issue.

I think that Maisie has suggested a wonderful strategy: work out the details for a "portable" ethic--and use it to make the case for an ever more widely accepted ethic--which is implemented at an ever more collective/institutional level.

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maisie field



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PostSubject: Re: Kyogen Carlson: Sex in a Sacred Space   Sun Mar 10, 2013 4:02 pm

Kozan
Thank you for considering this.I understand it cannot be a priority for you just now-I appreciate the discussion anyway....
Mark
You have given this matter a lot of thought over many years,I think?You headed up a "spiritual" organisation once,and therefore have appropriate experience to dedicate to a possible project.
I appreciate your suggestion of using the template of a teachers'standards:it has occurred to me that the challenge in setting standards for "spiritual" organisations is that the people we are talking about fulfil many roles.
A list of the tasks/roles undertaken by priests and spiritual teachers could read as follows:
Teacher
Counsellor
Mental Health advisor
Hotelier
Caterer
Builder
Carer
My thinking about a "portable" code of standards was along these lines:
Most people visit retreat centres,temples etc. as guests.The parallel which occurs to me therefore,is the situation of a tourist .As a tourist,one would expect the proprietor of any residential establishment to demonstrate a Duty of Care towards guests.
A Duty of Care involves all aspects of the guests' welfare.
The Duty of Care Policy would include such items as ensuring good standards of hygiene, safeguards of personal safety ,(including access to emergency services) ,adherence to the Safety Policies of the Local Authorities in the appropriate locality.
The above is the beginning of a suggestion about how to frame such a code.
I hope other people will join in the project.It is clear and obvious to me that the absence of accountability to external socially acceptable standards is a huge failing in the OBC.
It would be good to develop a code in co-operation with others,drawing on our collective wisdom knowledge and experience.
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