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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
44 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY “It was after the teaching. People were hanging around drinking tea. He came up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘You look delicious.’ ” “He said that if I performed better in bed, it would not last as long. I started to cry and tried to get up. He pushed me down on the bed and tried to insert his limp penis inside me.” These are words of women in the Vipassana, Zen, and Tibetan traditions. Sexual misconduct is found in all schools of Buddhism, and it comes in many varieties. It can be verbal, such as an inappro- priate comment or a proposition. Or it can be physical: kissing, fondling, and touching, all the way up to sexual intercourse. The offending teacher might frame the sex as casual or as spiritual. Secrecy is usually involved, and when it is, the harm is ultimately more egregious. In a recent study by Baylor University, clergy sexual misconduct was defined as sexual advances or propositions made by religious leaders to a person in the congregations they serve who is not their spouse or significant other. This describes a type of conduct that has been demonstrated in research studies to expose individuals and communities to a significant risk of trauma and harm. As a result, a growing number of states (nine to date) have made clergy sexual misconduct a punishable offense. This kind of sexual misconduct is different from other types. What makes something clergy sexual misconduct is not the specifics of the sexuality but rather that sexual activity of any kind is hap- pening between two people who have—by virtue of their respective roles—entered into an implicit agreement. The student has implicitly agreed to trust the teacher with the course and health of their spiri- tual life. The teacher has implicitly agreed to refrain from exploiting their position of power and to respect the student’s trust and honor their vulnerability. This agreement establishes a safety zone in the relationship. The safety zone is a liminal space in which a student can safely be vulner- able and open, and in which a teacher bears witness, embodies com- passion, and imparts guidance. Trust in the safety zone is essential to deep spiritual work. The erosion of physical boundaries is one of several ways this safe space can be violated.