1. Religion & Spirituality
Barbara O'Brien

Sexual Abuse Allegations Against U.S. Theravada Sangha

By July 23, 2011

Follow me on:

The Chicago Tribune has a major investigative feature story on sexual abuse allegations in American Theravada temples serving ethnic Asian communities. The reporter, Megan Twohey, says  "A Tribune review of sexual abuse cases involving several Theravada Buddhist temples found minimal accountability and lax oversight of monks accused of preying on vulnerable targets."

In short, monks have been able to skip out of facing charges simply by moving to another temple. This is possible because they are viewed as free agents, not answerable to a higher ecclesiastical authority. If a temple asks a  monk to leave, once he is gone the monks remaining in a  temple probably would not know where he went and cannot help law enforcement find him.

The feature focuses on a Chicago-area monk who allegedly molested at least two adolescent girls and impregnated one of them. The monk confessed to fondling the girls, but not to sexual intercourse. The temple sent a letter to the family saying the matter was "resolved" and the monk had been sent back to Thailand, although in fact he only got as far as another temple in California, where he has access to more adolescent girls.

The reporter tracked the monk down and informed him that DNA evidence had determined he is the father of a child. He appeared happy to hear this but insists he hadn't had sex with the child's mother, but had only given her money and candy. (According to the rules of the Vinaya, a monk who confesses to sexual intercourse is automatically expelled from the order.)

Another monk who had faced criminal charges for sexual assault of a 16-year-old in Texas evaded police with the help of his temple. A California temple was found guilty of negligence after one of its monks was convicted and imprisoned of multiple sexual assaults.

According to one source there are approximately 350 Theravada temples in the U.S., housing more than 1,000 monks. I trust the monks involved in sexual predation are a small minority. Because there is no institutional authority in the U.S. over these temples, it is up to the heads of individual temples to determine what to do about monks accused of wrongdoing. There is also no authority assigning monks to this or that temple. Monks are free to leave as they wish and seek a position in another temple.

A senior monk at the Chicago temple said that a decision was made to keep quiet about the monk's reasons for leaving, in order to not upset the community. But I hope someone can explain to the senior monks in American temples that (a) it is better to upset the community than to keep silent when adolescent children are being abused; and (b) this news story reflects badly on all of western Buddhism. People can understand the occasional bad apple, but institutional enabling of sexual predation is not tolerable.

Comments
July 23, 2011 at 5:01 pm
(1) Kali Yuga says:

This happened very recently with a monk at a US Tibetan Buddhist center, but to their credit, they did not attempt a silent cover-up: http://www.tara.org/about/press/statement-on-sexual-abuse/

July 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm
(2) Palmo says:

This is very sad and, unfortunately mirrors the behavior of the Catholic church in the past. I hope they can rectify this quickly before it becomes a major problem.

July 24, 2011 at 12:42 am
(3) Keerthi Wijayatunga says:

The greatest pleasure for all lay beings (who has not experienced Nirvana) is sexual pleasure.

Therefore, it is true for lay (Pruthagjana) monks too. Lay monks are not Buddhist Sangha or Bhikkhu. They are the “duplicate” or “fake” Sangha The Buddha called as Sangha Prathirupaka which appears after the disappearance of his Sangha.

What is Sangha is best explained in the Gatha used today to worship the Sangha. According to that Sangha means the eight followers who practice Noble Eightfold Path (NEP) and attain the four Buddhist sainthoods. Bold head and yellow robe is not a characteristic feature of Sangha.

What is Bhikkhu is best explained in the Bhikkhu Varga of Damma Pada. There again the Bhikkhu is explained as one who is attached to meditation and practice non attachment (i.e. NEP). No mention of bold head and yellow robes!

The Buddha allowed only Arahaths (the fourth level Buddhist saints who have attained Nirvana by arriving at the destination of the NEP) to teach, preach and make followers.

How can a person who has same desires, experiences and beliefs preach to others against all that and become venerable?

This is the era (last 08 years) of end of all fake acting like that and religions and beliefs. You will witness more of such acts in all religions before they are finally hated, rejected and condemned by the masses.

July 26, 2011 at 10:26 pm
(4) Lih Lee says:

Very good comment, one with the bold head and yellow robes does not represent he is a practitioner of Buddha Dharma.

July 29, 2011 at 8:12 am
(5) Mong M. Thun Marma says:

Yes, I am agree to you explained about Buddhist Monk and their activity.
Yes, not only in the USA but also in another country many “duplicate” or “fake” Sangha. Something is difficult to see real Sangha due to fake Sangha. Most those who are Fake Sangha they do not practice Dhamma but they are bold head and yellow robe. By those Fake Sangha now a days the real Sangha also got discredit. I am so sad for it. I respect the Sangha and others also will be like but respected Sangha should think himself that he should do or not.
Thank you Keerthi Wijayatunga for your details explanation.

July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm
(6) Yeshe says:

I’m glad Ms. Twohey exposed these monks and the temples’ response. All through Buddhist history there is corruption, reform, corruption and reform. We are fortunate to have a free media and concerned people. I once made a donation to a Theravada monk, only to learn later from the Abbot of his temple that he was a ‘bad monk’ who was dating and drinking at clubs, and then showing up at the temple to act like a monk. I was grateful to the esteemed abbot who made no effort to hide this behavior, but to warn me of it. The fake monk was kicked out of the temple, but I’m not sure how much could be done afterward to warn other temples.

July 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm
(7) Yeshe says:

Just want to clarify that the monk I referred to was dating and drinking, and I do not equate this with molesting. Molesters are predators, and actually look for situations where they will have some sort of authority and trust to trick children, and/or young adolescents. My only wish is that Buddhist institutions recognize this, and do not offer any cover for these harm-doers.

July 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm
(8) Shalom Tzeng says:

There are more in relation to the religious abuses, even much worse cases, by far! Please do be very careful in terms of “Buddhism.” There is an European website for your reference:

[Link deleted. The site linked to contained unsubstantiated slander. Not allowed. -- Barbara]

July 28, 2011 at 5:07 pm
(9) Ellen Steadman says:

Re: Sexual Activities in Theravada temples in U.S. –

Visitors should be formally and publicly notified about Buddhist Vinaya rules.
It should also be made clear to all concerned that the Law of the land must ,of necessity, prevail over concerns about preserving the appearance of dignity within any religious order, or Buddhist orders find themselves in the mortifying and embarrassing position that Catholic orders have recently had to experience as a result of moral cowardice and laxity in enforcing Christian standards of behavior in their institutions

July 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(10) Tracy says:

I’m saddened to read about sexual predators in Buddhist Temples. I’m sure there are many women who turn to religion to recover from such abuses in their life, and now they need to meditate with one eye open. It’s sickening to begin with, and the fact that it’s not being managed by higher authorities just adds to the disgust. If these “Monks” or even “Priests” are preying on our children, why aren’t they being aggressively prosecuted??

July 28, 2011 at 11:15 pm
(11) Manu says:

Well this is the very first time I have read about improper behavior of a Buddhist Monk or other wise. I was always asking my self the question about Buddhist you don’t hear much said about them in this way.I was also under the impression that Buddhist did not go to war or make war,for what I have read they don’t kill or murder people or animals for that matter. I have read a great deal about Buddhist teachings and I am very surprised to hear this. On the other hand they are people and I am sure as humans they too can have their frailties and weaknesses. This come as quite a evelation to me. Especially after doing some deep studies with different Buddhist sects. Such as SGI,Nichiren Buddhism. and reading Thich Nhat Hanh,and The Dali Lama. Well weather or not these persons are fake or not that have committed these acts of impropriety and said they were Monks comes at a great shock.So I guess they don’t truly follow the philosophy of Shakyamuni known as Gautama Buddha is no different the those Christian who have also broken there vows who say they follow Jesus Christ,O r those who follow Muhammad (Allah) or the Jews who are say they are of Yaweh or Adonai (Elohim). Oh well man is man and all can fall short of the glory of there Gods or messages or prophets.Well it is written none is perfect and all have fallen short of the glory of God,and that all of their righteousness is like filthy rags. Can I get any comment. Thank you for your kindness.

July 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm
(12) M.c. Elder says:

Well this is the very first time I have read about improper behavior of a Buddhist Monk or other wise. I was always asking my self the question about Buddhist you don’t hear much said about them in this way.I was also under the impression that Buddhist did not go to war or make war,for what I have read they don’t kill or murder people or animals for that matter. I have read a great deal about Buddhist teachings and I am very surprised to hear this. On the other hand they are people and I am sure as humans they too can have their frailties and weaknesses. This come as quite a revelation to me. Especially after doing some deep studies with different Buddhist sects. Such as SGI,Nichiren Buddhism. and reading Thich Nhat Hanh,and The Dali Lama. Well weather or not these persons are fake or not that have committed these acts of impropriety and said they were Monks comes at a great shock.So I guess they don’t truly follow the philosophy of Shakyamuni known as Gautama Buddha is no different then those Christian who have also broken there vows who say they follow Jesus Christ,or those who follow Muhammad (Allah) or the Jews who are say they are of Yaweh or Adonai (Elohim). Oh well man is man and all can fall short of the glory of there Gods or messages or prophets.Well it is written none is perfect and all have fallen short of the glory of God,and that all of their righteousness is like filthy rags. Can I get any comment. Thank you for your kindness.

July 29, 2011 at 6:43 am
(13) Barbara O'Brien says:

M.c. Elder — In the 25-century history of Buddhism lots of monastics have fallen way short of the ideal. Putting on a robe doesn’t instantly cure a person of compulsions and sociopathy, or even just garden variety hate, greed, and ignorance.

July 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm
(14) David Kotschessa says:

The shame is that Buddhism, especially Theravada, has tools with dealing with these sorts of mental effluents directly before they become a problem. If they aren’t using those tools, then just what kind of institutions are these supposed Sanghas?

July 30, 2011 at 10:37 am
(15) Paige says:

Monks involved in sexual abuses are not new. It happens every where and everyday. It is also definitely not “today’s” problems. Many hundreds of cases are not openly reported. Come to Asia and you will understand. Humans are after all selfish creatures. They will do anything to make themselves happy as long as they can answer to their conscience. Buddhism is a very logic religion and can be interpreted scientifically. And yet, it is not free from abuses from humans. Really, it has nothing to do with religion. It is the “broken” humanity in todays’ world. So sad…..

July 31, 2011 at 5:43 am
(16) Fellow Buddhist says:

Here is a good video talking about it for what should happen with monks who break their celibacy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqgUx1dLn3A

August 2, 2011 at 7:18 am
(17) Animalia says:

I have received great hospitality & kindness from a monk in Vietnam (the sole monk at his pagoda until recently.) However, on a number of occasions when I stayed there he had late night visits from pretty young men & also openly drinks beer. I was uncomfortable about this, but never mentioned it to anyone, as I don’t want to defame him (he is well-loved & respected widely.) Here seemed an appropriate place to mention it.

August 8, 2011 at 9:14 am
(18) cenac says:

The article was packed with genralisations and its sourcing amounted to saying one Monk is subject to allegations- which he denies.
It is not logical to conclude the ‘Theravardan’ tradition is riddled with the same problems as the Catholic Church.

Nor can it be claimed that the Theravardan tradition is subject to the same antics, on the same scale, as is usually linked on this website with Zen names and places.

August 8, 2011 at 11:39 am
(19) Barbara O'Brien says:

The article was packed with genralisations and its sourcing amounted to saying one Monk is subject to allegations- which he denies.

Not the article I read. The reporter found several examples of alleged sexual abuse in which the monk slipped away from legal authority and could not be found.

It is not logical to conclude the “Theravardan” tradition is riddled with the same problems as the Catholic Church.

I think the reporter made it clear that the Theravadin tradition in the U.S. is not under any one institutional authority, which makes the circumstance different from the Catholic Church scandals.

Nor can it be claimed that the Theravardan tradition is subject to the same antics, on the same scale, as is usually linked on this website with Zen names and places.

Ouch. Well, I don’t know about scale. There are about a 1,000 Theravadin monks in the U.S., and the article mentioned maybe a half-dozen or fewer “bad apples.” I don’t now how many Zen monks, priests, and teachers there are in the U.S., but I daresay it’s a lot more than a thousand. And I still know of only a half-dozen or so scandals in all of that group, and a couple of those happened 20 or 30 years ago. So if we’re talking about scale, it may be that the Theravadins have an even worse problem than the zennies. And I don’t think denial is helpful, ever.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.