These Many Takings: Let Us End Spiritual Extremism.
Written in response to the allegations of sexual misconduct by spiritual leaders within the Buddhist, meditation and Yoga communities. These trusted teachers include: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Sri K Pattabhi Jois, Bikram Choudhury, Sogyal Rinpoche, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Eido Shimano Roshi, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and others yet to surface.
Shoved out of complacency, I am a fire hydrant with its top pushed off. These waters of betrayal, shock and outrage demand to be pushed out of me. Some breaking point inside, yet another story of abuse from a guru-king, has propelled me into a fiery awakening.
My heart roars for you, dear sisters, the ones who trusted fiercely. You had every right to love. My throat aches along with you, the years of words held back, lying as an inert heap. My guts twist with the enormity of this violence, a feeling of sickness swelling upwards. Wishing to vomit, to clear the bile of demoralization. If only the hurt could come up as a hairball, neat and round about the edges.
But no, the totality of these godified predators is a confusing, noxious beast, resisting its fall from the golden pedestal.
Spiritual deception is its own kind of special treachery. It is when the heart is most open that you strike. These violations could be big or they could be small. It is the frequency and repetition of the wee gropings that contribute to a culture of silence. This comes in the form of the lightning-fast body-boundary crossed.
It is the snicker of a power grab, budding breasts touched about while taking my books out of my locker in the sixth grade. The laughing boy skipping down the hallway.
It is the genitals stroked while in a Yoga pose, unguarded and in trust.
It is the hand sliding up the thigh in the small, community kitchen, cornered and alone.
It is the firm cradling of the buttocks while walking by the senior teacher, a look of assumption plastered on his face.
Every single day this happens, not just in zen hallways and Yoga classes, but in offices and factories and planes and classrooms and churches. These hidden violations make us question ourselves, these little stealings of dignity. Sometimes there may be time to speak, other times shock binds us mute. So destructive in its seeming innocence. And we think,
“You don’t want to be a complainer, do you?”
“I must be the only one.”
This is the poisonous trough of self-doubt, isolation and shame that we begin to drink from. All these many takings are a threshold trampled. A trespassing on sacred land.
And these violations were shared by all of the people who knew and covered up their guru’s actions. Stop making excuses, you giant organizations, you governing bodies, you council of kings. Your language, if any, is vague and guilty. I feel shadows lurking in corners. You want to know what you should be saying?
We stand with the women.
Period. Stop rationalizing the behaviors of these deeply confused, sham masters. Cut through all of the proppings of bureaucracy, all of the smoke and mirrors. How can you, all you senior teachers and leadership holders, come out from hiding to be part of the healing?
This healing is for all of us. It is not just for women. It is also for all of men whose partners, sisters and mothers have been raped, assaulted or harmed. Let us be outraged together so that the bitterness can drain out of us, leaving more strength, clarity and understanding. Let us take the pointed comb of discernment to our spiritual lives, an invitation to befriend our own dismissed intuition.
Don’t tell us to be kind or compassionate or forgiving. This is not the time. Let our feelings speak, let them be a bundle of divinity unto themselves. Enough holding ourselves in and back, it is time for our own precious autonomy to lead.
Let us put an end to spiritual extremism or any other holy trappings that force us to obediently lay our power down at the feet of any guru. Let our hackles go up when we sense our own inner desperation to be spiritually acknowledged, accepted, or loved. Let us catch when self-blame overtakes our own divine knowing.
As we sift through what is left, we find the beautiful strands of guidance that still vibrate truth. We discover what philosophical gems continue to shine brightly, despite the clouded betrayals. We return to the root principles that remain untouched, untainted. This is a homecoming, a revisiting to what magnetized us to these teachings in the first place. There may be many questions along the way.
What should true, wholesome, loving devotion look like?
What do you possess, still, that can never be taken away by another human being?
What does your vision of a healthy, trustworthy, spiritual community look like?
Let us use this time of healing to swim deeper into the waters of our own unconditional worthiness. Let us trust in the sacred teacher who lies within. With the energy of the dakini, let us dance on the rumble of these broken power structures.
Let the ugliness of this spiritual violence come out into the light so that all of us, including future generations of spiritual seekers, know what is means to experience trust in opening our radiant, tender hearts.
Dedicated to all of the many women directly and indirectly hurt by these teachers, who have courageously come forward. And to all those who are still tending their wounds quietly, gathering their wholeness, may they carry no shame.
Kendra Ward is a writer/teacher/healer, braiding these roles like sweetgrass to wear as a crown on her head. She stirs a black cauldron that holds her loves of energy medicine, eco-spirituality, and shamanism. She is currently finishing her first book, Mystic’s Revolution: Freedom in Feminine Confidence, taking your inner rebellion into the outer world. For the last 15 years, she has taken joy in her work as an acupuncturist and herbalist, in mossy Portland, OR. Learn more about Kendra at her website, or connect with her on Facebook or Instagram.