Sex pest: a Buddhist master, aged 105

Sex pest: a Buddhist master, aged 105

THE ZEN Buddhist community in in the US are said to be shocked and distressed by revelations that a prominent teacher – Joshu Sasaki, 105 –  is being investigated for having groped and sexually harassed female students for decades.

Since arriving in Los Angeles from Japan in 1962, Sasaki has taught thousands of Americans at his two Zen centers in Los Angeles and New Mexico. According to the New York Times, he has influenced thousands more of “enlightenment seekers” through a chain of some 30 affiliated Zen centers from the Puget Sound to Princeton to Berlin.

And he is known as a Buddhist teacher of Leonard Cohen, the poet and songwriter.

Sasaki is being investigated by an independent council of Buddhist leaders. The allegations against him have upset and obsessed Zen Buddhists across the country, who are part of a close-knit world in which many participants seem to know, or at least know of, the principal teachers.

Because Sasaki has founded or sponsored so many Zen centers, and because he has the prestige of having trained in Japan, the charges that he behaved unethically — and that his supporters looked the other way — have implications for an entire way of life.

Such charges, said the NY Times, have become more frequent in Zen Buddhism.

Several other teachers have been accused of misconduct recently, notably Eido Shimano, who in 2010 was asked to resign from the Zen Studies Society in Manhattan over allegations that he had sex with students.

Critics and victims have pointed to a Zen culture of secrecy, patriarchy and sexism, and to the quasi-religious worship of the Zen master, who can easily abuse his status.

Disaffected students wrote letters to the board of one of Sasaki’s Zen centers as early as 1991. Yet it was only last November, when Eshu Martin, a Zen priest who studied under Sasaki from 1997 to 2008, posted a letter to, a popular Web site, that the wider Zen world noticed.

Martin, now a Zen abbot in Victoria, British Columbia, accused Sasaki of a “career of misconduct,” from “frequent and repeated non-consensual groping of female students” to “sexually coercive after-hours ‘tea’ meetings, to affairs,” as well as interfering in his students’ marriages.

Soon thereafter, the independent “witnessing council” of noted Zen teachers began interviewing 25 current or former students of Sasaki.

Some former students are now speaking out, including seven interviewed by the NY Times, and their stories provide insight into the culture of Rinzai-ji and the other places where Sasaki taught.

Women say they were encouraged to believe that being touched by Sasaki was part of their Zen training.

Nikki Stubbs, who now lives in Vancouver, and who studied and worked at Mount Baldy – Sasaki’s Zen center 50 miles east of Los Angeles – from 2003 to 2006, said that during that time  Sasaki would fondle her breasts during sanzen, or private meeting

He also asked her to massage his penis. She would wonder, she said:

Was this teaching?

One monk, whom Stubbs said she told about the touching, was unsympathetic.

He that sexualizing was teaching for particular women.

The monk’s theory, common in Sasaki’s circle, was that such physicality could check a woman’s overly strong ego.

A former student of Sasaki’s now living in the San Francisco area, who asked that her name be withheld to protect her privacy, said that at Mount Baldy in the late 1990s:

The monks confronted Sasaki and said, ‘This behavior is unacceptable and has to stop.’

However, she said, “nothing changed.” After a time, Sasaki used Zen teaching to justify touching her, too.

20 responses to “Sex pest: a Buddhist master, aged 105”

  1. Trevor Blake says:

    Exhaustive archive of clergy sex in Buddhism…

  2. Broga says:

    I had some lingering regard for Zen Buddhism. The remaining shreds of that have now gone. Just left with the bedrock of atheism which cannot be eroded. I don’t need a guru, a priest or a figurhead. Just an enquiring open mind and the exercise of reason.

  3. RabbitOnAStick says:


    when in a hotel in Singapore many years ago I was intrigued to find a Zen book inside the bedside drawer (together with the usual pig- gideons pamphlets and a nice green pointer in which direction mud-slambs ought to bow down). [i like the most they just don’t get the possibility they worship the sun.HA!]

    Flicking through the zen book I thought it very nice it had a section on how to deal with one’s slaves. And how they ought to obey etc.

    A very nice way of lie as it isn’t a religion.

  4. Broga says:

    ROAS: Zen first caught my interest when I read that no God was involved. Then I came across a saying, “When you meet the Buddha on the road kill him” which I took to meet to find one’s own truth and not that offered by someone else. I was also intrigued by the idea of “no mind” as I remain intrigued by current scientific writing and research on the illusion of self. This last point I find offers me, the more I read about it, a sense of release and freedom.

    Like Christianity Buddhism has led so many into leading pointless lives and becoming engaged in nonsensical task: e.g. staring at a wall for years seeking enlightenment. I think meditation offers benefits but I’m talking about minutes not years staring at a wall.

  5. Barry Duke says:

    Who the hell has time to meditate? These days I find I don’t even have time to properly masticate 🙁

  6. barriejohn says:

    I wondered what you were going to say there, Barry!

  7. barriejohn says:

    There have been examples of gurus from all religions and philosophies taking advantage of their followers in one way or another. They like the power that they have over people, that’s all.

  8. Broga says:

    @barriejohn/Barry Duke: Honi soit qui mal y pense.

  9. RabbitOnAStick says:

    “Critics and victims have pointed to a Zen culture of secrecy, patriarchy and sexism, and to the quasi-religious worship of the Zen master, who can easily abuse his status.”

    How does that work. This isn’t the all powerful cafflick paedo-ring is it.
    This is a bunch of quiet meditators wearing saffron robes and chanting etc. And a doddery old tw*t so called teacher. Should he not have had a heart attack with all that sexual activity.

    I am quite surprised at these ladies to say the least.

    Sexual harassment and sexual abuse is sexual harassment and abuse irrespective this is a doddery tw*t who is over 100 years old.

    These are offences. They are crimes. The police have a duty to investigate and deal with these things. Were these crimes reported outside of this centre? I wonder.

    Are these people devoid of all thought of what exists in the real world outside of these centres that if harassment or abuse occurs that these are crimes that can be properly reported. How do they somehow consider the proper authorities cannot penetrate inside the centre to investigate such crimes. [No penile-pun intended]. There have been huge advances in police understanding of women’s allegations of such sexual harassment and abuse that surely they should have been involved?

    And I am presuming these women weren’t stupid enough to think that massaging that doddery old git’s penis was a zen technique!!

  10. Stonyground says:

    I think that it was in Christopher Hitchens’ book ‘God is not Great’ that some guru was mentioned. This guy had hit on the golden egg that was conning gullible rich westerners out of their cash and, as a consequence, had amassed a pretty huge fortune. One thing struck me that wasn’t emphasised in the book, that he had spent his money on a collection of Rolls-Royces. Someone hits success and buys himself a Roller, I get that. It’s a status symbol, it’s a really luxurious way to travel. The thing that I don’t get is that as the money continues to roll in, this guy is so wise and enlightened that the only thing that he can think of to spend it on is another Rolls-Royce.

  11. Stephen Mynett says:

    Stonyground, I think this is the conman:

  12. ZombieHunter says:

    I think a lot of people seem to forget that bhuddism is just another religion that puts faith above reason despite those who claim it’s more of a philosophy than a religion (to which I reply “it’s a religion when it comes to avoiding taxes”) and like any other religion bhuddism has it’s share of attrocities and scandals.

    Example there are abuse claims, the recent war crimes in sri lanka (also carried out bu hindus which people also seem to view with rose tinted specs the same way as they do bhuddism)and during world war 2 members of Unit 731 were bhuddists and being bhuddists didnt get in the way of them testing biological and chemical weapons on human beings and it didn’t stop the rest of the imperial japanese army carrying out the attrocities that they did.

  13. remigius says:

    ZombieHunter, the Imperial Japanese Army were actually followers of the Shinto religion rather than Buddhists. Their main tenet was the divinity of the emperor.

    An altogether different kind of crazy.

  14. Marky Mark says:

    (He also asked her to massage his penis. She would wonder, she said)

    …ahhh, wiener whack, ah wiener whack, ah wiener whack, ah wiener whack, ah wiener whack.
    In the village, Sasaki’s Zen village, his wiener was whacked at night.
    In this village, a quite village, the Lion preys on fright.
    Ohh ho ohh, his weiner’s on display.

    (sing to The Lion Sleeps Tonight)

  15. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    @StonyGround: Even now, even though he’s dead and gone, even though he’s been discredited many times over, there are still those who think Osho was a great man with an important message for the human race.

    Back to this article, it just shows that it doesn’t matter which religion is being talked about, they’re all the same.

  16. John A says:

    Joshu Sasaki, as a Zen Buddhist has spent a lifetime learning about meditation (doesn’t look that difficult to me, should it take that long?) and personal awareness (pity some of his pupils weren’t that aware of the old wrong un’s wiles); which begs the question, what was he really thinking about when he was spending all of that time deep in thought? When wrong doing is done with religious conviction then indecency has no boundaries.