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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
LAMA WILLA MILLER 45 To understand why violating a safety zone is problematic, we have to understand something about power. Like psychotherapists, high school teachers, and professors, clergy (this includes dharma teachers, lamas, roshis, ajahns, spiritual friends, etc.) hold sway over their students simply by virtue of their rank and position in the com- munity. They are powerful, but that power is often invisible; you can’t hold it in your hand or show someone its dimensions with a measuring tape. Nevertheless, it’s a highly influential force in our lives and the signs of it are there, if you know how to look for them. You can determine a person’s status, for example, by where they are seated in a room. Conventional professional ethics posit that the person who holds the greater power in a relationship holds more responsibility for maintaining the integrity of the boundary. This means that Buddhist teachers are the ones primarily responsible for maintaining clear boundaries with their students. If the boundary erodes and the safety zone is compromised, the spiritual health and well-being of both parties is jeopardized. But the less powerful individual in the relationship is much more vulner- able, psychologically and spiritually. Like incest survivors, survivors of clergy sexual misconduct start out with a deep sense of trust in their abuser that decays into feelings of confusion and betrayal. And survivors of clergy misconduct face many of the same risks: depres- sion, anxiety, suicidal ideation, feelings of guilt and shame, and dif- ficulty establishing trust in future relationships. These symptoms can descend gradually or suddenly and may go on for years. viCtims, survivors, thrivers Soon after being approached by this young woman, I reached out to three other women in my community whom I either suspected or knew had been in a sexual relationship with my teacher. Eventually, My dharma teacher told me to keep our relationship a secret. At the time, I believed there was nothing more karmically risky than making my teacher angry.