I have been four years a practicing Buddhist in England.

I am struggling now in bringing understanding to my experience, I would be greatful for any insight, and I appreciate that it is hard to communicate fully on the internet.

I know there has been sexual misconduct within this particular Order before. I have within the last five months been a victim of sexual coercion and minor abuse with another Mitra in the Sangha (I use the terms and definitions provided by my communication with the helpline I rang). I am struggling to stay with my own experience now, as my need for safety has become tenfold. And my relationships within the Sangha I find now to be deeply tense, as my friends within the Order who I spoke to about this responded with advice that it would be helpful to bring compassion to this other Mitra in this situation.

I am sorry to say that I feel frightened that this would be the response... Is it helpful, skillful, to give my energy to this Sangha that seems to tolerate sexual miscunduct, up until it is themselves who are experiencing it?

I apologise for my confused sentences, and really, anything you can say that would help to bring light to this I would be very greatful for.

I don't wish to call myself a victim, and for the purpose of bringing compassion to the situation... to get help, it seems that the culture understands my experience to be that of a victim.

Many thanks.

  • 3
    Does "minor abuse" mean "sexual abuse of a child", or does it mean "small and not very harmful instances of mild abuse"?
    – ChrisW
    Jun 6, 2018 at 13:29
  • Perhaps this blog is interesting for you. Here an ordained monk gives space for announcement and discussion of events of sexual abuse. One subpage is this buddhism-controversy-blog.com/2018/07/03/… I don't know how far this could be useful for you because it is not of the style of "victims-helping-each-other" which you might rather find on facebook as closed groups. (But he has links to such facebook-groups) For me, an attempt of abuse as a 13 years-old by an adult, has been a stinking experience which I can recall still today - although I managed to ... Oct 29, 2018 at 10:53
  • ... escape by becoming too resistitive and could chase him away because it was in a cinema and I began to curse him with increasing voice). I can be happy that I could manage it by myself, and stopped him when he tried to touch my genital by opening my trousers - but as I already said: it still "stinks" from the moment I remember this... So I have some "familiar" feeling when reading about the reports in his blog and wish you can overcome your experience better (and possibly accompanied by other victims) Oct 29, 2018 at 10:59

4 Answers 4


There is no way around it. Sexual coercion and abuses (minor or otherwise) are reprehensible and they should be addressed.

For you to have compassion is wholesome, but it should not prevent you from taking the necessary measures. Your compassion should open your eyes on the fact that (1) you might not be the only one victim (2) the person responsible of sexual coercion must be protected from himself, and others and yourself must be protected from this person as well.

You should report to the authorities of the place you stay; and to the actual authorities (i.e. police) and you might consider seeing a psychologist so that the issue will be addressed by someone who is utterly foreign to the Buddhist circle.

The fact that the center does not take it as an issue to begin with shows that they have a blind spot (or selective attention). But sweeping things under the rug is not an option. Healing never comes from escapism, but from shedding the light of understanding and awareness on issues.

In addition, however acquainted with the working of the mind sangha can be, monks are not trained the way psychologists are. They can hardly address serious issues such as depression, suicidal ideations, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and so forth. It is difficult enough to help someone handle average afflictions - for instance if you are angry with your friend who cheated on you with your wife. Dealing with more serious issues is entirely different.

And definitely find yourself another sangha. Do not surrender your personal judgement when you entrust yourself to someone else (be it a sangha or a teacher). To entrust yourself healthily, you must not give up your own judgement and discrimination. Quiet the opposite, the teacher is not "the one who knows" and possesses a magic wand. He is the one true friend who accompanies.

  • 1
    I liked this post except for the part about visiting a psychologist. Any real Buddhist is not "blind" to these issues. It is best to find a new Buddhist group; preferably Theravada. If Mahayana, a group that does not have any history of sexual abuse, such as FPMT. Jun 5, 2018 at 23:48
  • 1
    It's true that there are centers that are not oblivious to these issues, but I see fit to distinguish someone who is "normally afflicted" from someone who is subject to a more severe case (depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc.) What Lin Charles spoke of might lead to PTSD and monks are not trained to deal with these issues even in the event they are supportive. Jun 6, 2018 at 8:13
  • 1
    @Dhammadhatu I did precise my meaning a little, though. Thx for the comment. Jun 6, 2018 at 10:05

I'm sorry that your experience of it wasn't the safe refuge that I think it ought to be.

It may be (by which I mean, "I've read rumours from a perhaps-biased or one-sided source that this is so, but I have no personal experience with it") that the community in question does not have a sufficiently effective institutional mechanism to resolve this sort of problem -- I don't know, for example, whether there's a higher authority you can complain to, nor what the principle motive or policy of that "higher authority" might be, or a way to make a formal complaint with effective resolution.

I'm not sure why your friends are preaching compassion; I can imagine it might be:

  • Parroting doctrine
  • Wanting to sweep negative publicity under the rug
  • Not accepting the way in which you framed the story
  • Trying to ease or appease your mind (e.g. here or here)

Of these, only the fourth seems to me really worthy.

Andrei's answer points to the third (I'm not saying that he's wrong, I think his answer is subsequent to or informed by some of his own training which I'm not familiar with).

I suppose that if and/or when you resolve this experience, then you may review it from other perspectives -- but perhaps doing that is a result of a "cure", not a cause of a cure -- i.e. even if it (the cure or resolution) is desirable, I couldn't recommend "see it from another perspective" as a prescription or therapy. I'm not even saying it's a bad therapy, just that I couldn't meaningfully prescribe it here, and people's trying to casually say that (e.g. "review it with more compassion") might be like saying, unhelpfully, "just get over it, see it differently, from another perspective".

Also, it seems to me that the most important part of any offence-then-apology, i.e. of any apology, is an assurance that the offence won't recur -- for example, "I'm sorry that I hurt you, and I won't do it again, so you can feel safe now." I guess that without (or even with) that kind of reassurance you're in a state of heightened alert, hence your saying "I am struggling to stay with my own experience now, as my need for safety has become tenfold", and Tenzin Dorje's mentioning PTSD.

I think a symptom of PTSD is reliving the experience, and that (past) experience having unwholesome influence on your perception of the present.

Would it help to get advice, are you able to, have you had advice, on what to do to escape or avoid a repeat of that experience?

As for whether it's skilful to continue, I've no easy answer. Are you learning from it, does it benefit you? Does your participation benefit others? If you can't answer whether your input is skilful, can you assess whether it's virtuous? Would it be "praised by the wise"? It seems to me that you can't necessarily control other people's behaviour, you may be able to control your own (see also for example an alcoholic relationship, or abusive domestic/romantic relationships).

Also there's ideal behaviour, for example I think the Punna Sutta is an example of:

  • A semi-enlightened person
  • Going to benefit others (like a Bodhisattva might)
  • Practising the Brahmaviharas (in this case, I think, surprisingly, mudita) if or when assaulted

I find it an admirable story, and find it difficult to see him as an overwhelmed or coerced victim in that situation. On the other hand I don't think it's good to feel like a victim, and it may well be unskillful to remain in (or to seek) a situation in which you do feel like a victim. On the third hand the world is something of a dangerous place, including some unskillful and abusive people. Perhaps you need to find a[ny] way to become more independent (of such people), less subject to coercion.

As the community's reaction to your situation, you said that they advised you to "bring compassion", but you didn't say what their advice or response was to the other Mitra, except that you said that they "seem to tolerate sexual misconduct".

I think your question i.e. "give my energy to this Sangha that seems to tolerate sexual misconduct?" asks for our assessment or judgement on their tolerance.

"Coercion" doesn't sound right to me, even intolerable, an abuse that ought to be addressed. In a normal social context (e.g. the workplace) that even sounds criminal, illegal.

In case you didn't know, it's easy to find published critical commentary (e.g. here or here).

Beware that I found this criticism as a result of searching for it: so I presume it's a one-sided view almost by definition.

As for being a victim, you wrote, "I have within the last five months been a victim of sexual coercion and minor abuse" and "I don't wish to call myself a victim".

I'm not sure what you mean.

On the one hand, I respect it -- I think that calling yourself a victim, "I am a victim", can be an example of a self-view, a view that can lead to long-term suffering -- both in general (e.g. "I don't like my life, life is unfair, and I can't do anything about it") and more specifically (in the case of abuse, violence, post-trauma).

I'm also inclined to agree with Tenzin Dorje's answer -- an enlightened response might include (not be instead of) involving the police and/or a professional counsellor (or, who knows, perhaps your family doctor for advice or a referral).

See also here again -- I think this is one of the reasons for Buddhism's teaching about anatta, though judging by the number of questions on that topic it's not an easy doctrine to teach.


First of all, I must say: your subjective experience can't be denied. If a situation looked a certain way to you, if you have experienced fear, being coerced and/or abused, being a victim in danger of violence etc. - whether that experience was based on valid interpretation or invalid interpretation - there is no denying that you have experienced what you have experienced. I'm sorry you had to go through that. I feel your pain.

Now, you have to understand, that our experience is created by our mind, created from (very skim) sensory input plus (an awful lot of) interpretation. This interpretation is necessarily based on the only other source of information we have in addition to senses: our life(lives) experience up to that moment with all the imprints and memories that it left on us.

My first Buddhist teacher taught me a very good rule of thumb for assessing these. He said, if we experience a strong emotion in response to a situation it is almost certain because we are overgeneralizing based on a preconception and not seeing the situation from all sides. So he taught me that every time I experienced a strong negative emotion in response to a difficult situation, that I take a very good look inside myself and try to see what past experience created some sort of overgeneralizing preconception that manifests as a kind of knee-jerk reaction that now generates this emotion.

Then, when you see that experience=>preconception=>emotion formula, your job is to put that aside temporarily - and say "what other possible interpretations are possible for the same set of sensory inputs?"

In this particular situation: go over the events and try to review "his" exact actions and words. Suspend your interpretation of the meaning and purpose of his action ("he was trying to sexually use me"). Consider alternative possibilities. I can see at least four:

  1. Perhaps the guy was just normally attracted to you, and was innocently (if unskillfully) trying to get close to you. Perhaps another person in another context would find his actions completely and perfectly justifiable and even enjoyable. Perhaps your reaction had to do more with you not wanting this particular type of attention, from this particular person, in this particular situation - than him being "a criminal" and "abuser". Perhaps your experience of "being abused" was an exaggeration that came from your strong emotional aversion to this type of attention (gender-driven) from this type of person (looks, character) in this type of context (Buddhist refuge).
  2. Perhaps the guy was emotionally wounded and hurting while hiding it, and you happened to look to him like you could fill that hole and stop that emotional bleeding. Perhaps he was not driven by an evil intent to use your sexuality, but rather by pain and intuitive (if unjustified) hope that getting close with you could ease that pain. Perhaps what looked like lust to you was actually desperation and pain on his side.
  3. Perhaps the guy incorrectly interpreted your previous behavior as indicative of you wanting and/or accepting attention from him. Perhaps your actions looked ambiguous from his perspective, and his interpretation was based on an element of wishful thinking on his part, but nevertheless in his experience it could have seemed that you want and/or accept his attention.
  4. Finally (very unlikely but not completely impossible in a Buddhist setting) if he was an advanced Vajrayana practitioner or a teacher (Vajra master) - his behavior could have been an application of "liberative technique" in order to trigger your ego's defensive complexes and surface suppressed karmic/emotional issues. The actions of true Vajra master are always authentic and non-dual, so in that case he could have manifested real lust, real abuse etc in order to push you forward. Sounds hard to believe but I know what I'm saying :))) Anyway, this is just one option of many.

-- Once you see that there are multiple alternative interpretations possible - you don't have to convince yourself to take an optimistic interpretation ("make a fool of yourself" or "wear the pink glasses"). Just stay neutral for now.

And then, from inside that space of ambiguity, make a pledge that no matter what happens you will treat the world with the maximum wisdom and maximum compassion. Maximum wisdom means, that you will not overgeneralize and over-infer based on your past experience. Maximum compassion means that you will assume that all people are good inside, and the only reason they do evil/stupid things - is because they get caught up in exactly the same problem with past experiences and overgeneralization. This cycle of bad past experiences => overgeneralizations => wrong actions keeps turning creating victims from one person to another to another.

Once you understand all this, say to yourself: that's it, the cycle stops on me. I will not let my self be driven by this wave of past karma. I will be an adult who will use my wisdom and compassion to stop the cycle.

Ideally at this point you should try to meet with your offender (at a place where you will feel safe but not distracted) and have conversation about your past (and your overgeneralizations) and his past (and his overgeneralizations) pertaining to this situation. You both should try to go beyond your overgeneralizations and see each other's experience and the motives. He should try understand yours and you should try to understand his.

If after doing your 100% best to ensure you really understand his side of the story it still looks to you that his intent was to (knowingly and deliberately) use you for his sexual pleasure, then follow the instructions in Tenzin's answer.

All situations, especially difficult situations, especially painful and scary situations - can be utilized to learn. The most energy you can possibly receive from a situation is by overcoming your victim consciousness and becoming the master that stops the cycle of bad energy traumatizing people.

Based on all this I suggest that you take this situation as a challenge or exercise and try to navigate the above until you resolve it on your own. I promise you will be in a different world altogether if you manage to go through it.

  • 1
    I marked this post down because it seems to try to not offend sexual abusers. It has an amoral flavour to me, that is, confusion about what is morally wrong & right. The Buddhist Path is Three-Fold, namely, Sila Samadhi, Panna. Would you respond the same if sexual abuse occurred to your own children? Jun 6, 2018 at 0:26
  • That is fair, this is your right. Your assertion is based on incorrect understanding, but you are entitled to your opinion.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jun 6, 2018 at 0:32
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 6, 2018 at 0:43

What is called 'Mahayana Buddhism' originally began with certain monks who did not wish to follow the rules (Vinaya) fully. Similar to the Catholic Church and unlike Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana groups tend to not expel sexual abusers and, in fact, often honor them.

For example, Triratna continue to honor Sangharakshita; Sogyal Rinpoche of RIGPA was/is continued to be honored; Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche from the USA is honored; and recently in Australia a very serious sexual & financial exploiter named Lama Choedak Rinpoche (a personal friend and sponsoree of the Dalai Lama) expected immediate forgiveness & continues to masquerade as a Holy Being. The New Kadampa Tradition had many serious sex scandals with consecutive senior monks. The following video: In the Name of Enlightenment - Sex Scandal in Religion is revealing; which includes non-Buddhist ideas about "Tantra" & "Crazy Wisdom".

It is important to know that what is called "Western Buddhism" is often amoral people who wish to believe the Buddha bathes them with His boundless love, acceptance & compassion. This appears to be why most Wseterners are attracted to what they personally regard Buddhism to be, namely, a place completely free from criticism or censure.

My advice is to not be part of these Mahayana groups because this is not Buddhism. In real Buddhism, a sexual abuser is either immediately stripped of any status and rehabilitated; or otherwise expelled from the Community (Sangha).

I suggest to visit the best Theravada groups, such as Amaravati & Chithurst Monasteries, and discuss any issues with a monk there. The monks there are good trustworthy people.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 6, 2018 at 0:47

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