Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

So lets just talk about sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

I want to just jot something down here, and I'm not going to take too much effort to be subtle about it. I'll just present it like its the ten commandments and then we can talk.

Its OK to:

Be single and promiscuous
Have an open marriage.
Create polyamorous relationships, married or not.

Its not OK to:

Screw your students.
Screw your clients.
Screw the underaged.
Cheat on your commitments to your significant other(s).
Cheat on your commitments to your spiritual community.

Its very easy when talking about sexual ethics to descend into a kind of puritanical response, or to accuse valid critiques of performing this descent. When anyone discusses sexual ethics and spiritual teachers, they're actually talking about power, not sex. A spiritual teacher can have all the sex they want with as many people as they want provided they aren't committed to a tradition that frowns on that. Power, integrity, commitment, responsibility. These are the important topics, not Tab A into Slot B or who falls in love with whom.

Now a separate topic might be whether or not promiscuity, open marriages, polyamory, etc. are spiritually advisable. Are they safe? Are they healthy? But this is a different ethical question than "What are the limits on sexual behavior that one must accept to be a teacher or guide to others?"

I even can allow that there might be spiritual paths that actually do involve teachers and students having sexual relationships. But they would be distinguished by making the sexual relationship a conscious, central part of the practice. I've read there are actually erotic tantric teachers who do this, though I have yet to meet one or know enough about anyone actually doing this to form an opinion. But that is a very different thing than cheating, secrecy, and exploitation.

This obviously has come up because of Genpo and I didn't write this to dog on Genpo. Genpo didn't betray *me*. He betrayed his wife and his sangha and his students, most especially the students with whom he had romantic/erotic relationships. He has a lot to make amends for there - to those people, not to me. I'm writing about this because we can let our shock and outrage run out of control and take irrational positions about sexual misbehavior. When we allow ourselves to just be shocked by the sexual component, which honestly in Genpo's case is pretty tame, we cloud and confound the issue. Its not about who a teacher *screws*. Its about *who* a teacher screws. If I am not careful with this, then any critique I make can be discounted as simple sexual puritanism.

It doesn't matter to me if a spiritual teacher wants to have hot monkey sex with the entire population of Kalamazoo. As long as s/he isn't teaching any of them and as long as that doesn't break any of their commitments to spouse and community.


  1. Thanks, this is one of the saner posts I've seen on this subject. You're right, it is about power and dishonesty, not sex.

    As one of his students, I was more upset that he disrobed, than that he had an affair. I'm glad he admitted it and I still see him as a teacher. But clearly he has a huge issue with boundaries, so I will take care of those, myself.

    The student he had the affair with is someone he named as successor and promoted to Sensei. So I suppose we can add nepotism to his 'sins'.

    What really matters is what one does after the mistake.

  2. This is not something new for Genpo
    see: http://sweepingzen.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Genpo-Letter-August-1992.pdf

  3. Thanks Julia, I'm glad it seemed good to you. We badly need sane discussions about events like these.

    Paul - thanks, I knew about the earlier events. I appreciate the link.


Please keep it civil, folks.