Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly

Breaking the Silence on Sexual Misconduct

Victim. Survivor. Consort. Partner. One of “those women.” I stare at these identities on the page, and one by one I try them on. The words feel like button-down shirts that are too small. Yet sometimes they seem to fit, depending on the shifting fragments of memory that make up that time in my life.

A young woman called me on the phone in October of 2016. We shared the same dharma teacher. We also shared a history, without our knowledge. When she first called, she said it was about graduate school—she was thinking of going and wanted to know what my experience was like. Did I remember her, she asked? In the past, she said, people at the monastery have compared us. Like you, I was completely devoted to the teacher, she said.

All in. Yes, I know what it is like to be all in. An image of a young woman in maroon robes at the monastery surfaces; I met her once, in passing, in the interview room upstairs.

We were on the phone for just five minutes before she broke down in tears. She did not tell me why she was crying, not in that first conversation. We talked around it. But I knew why she was crying. I knew why she was speaking in shadow language.

A few days later, I sit in front of my laptop, trying to come up with words to describe the experience of my twenties. I am writing them, as best I can, to communicate what it was like to have one’s heart held hostage—what it was like to be a dharma teacher’s secret sexual partner.

The memories are dammed up in my body: the smell of sewage and cumin in the hot Indian air, the texture of newly ironed cotton on my skin, the whirr of sleepy ceiling fans above, the feeling of being unable to wake from a bad dream. These sense experiences are as accessible to me now as they were that day.

That day was in late January 1988. I was twenty-two years old, and my dharma teacher was the center of my world. I had given up everything—my old friends, my job prospects, my family, my possessions—“for the sake of the dharma.” I had thrown caution to the wind in order to follow this teacher’s vision for my life. All in.

That was the day he first approached me. We were alone in a hotel room in Delhi, for a dharma check-in he had arranged. The check-in lasted just minutes, though,

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