Anyone who meditates daily, year after year, anyone who regularly does long retreats, knows that a meditation teacher is indispensable.
Intensive meditation reveals the deepest caves of your mind. Sometimes slowly and surely, sometimes like a hatch that suddenly opens and simply overwhelms you. All sorts of things surface and often those things are also scrutinized and magnified by the mind.
From the idea that you will never be able to develop your mind at all to misplaced arrogance with regard to your own concentration and insight when it finally gets quieter. The most bizarre mental fantasies, deep valleys, high summits, remorse, wishes and desires, you name it. It can all come to the surface during meditation.
On the other hand, if you meditate for a long time, you also know that in your practice much more depth and calm is possible than you initially thought, and this will probably remain so for a long time to come. You simply don’t have the frame of reference to estimate where the end of the road lies.
Contact with a teacher is therefore essential. A teacher who is further down the road, has gone through the mental development process and knows the obstacles on the path from personal experience.
A good teacher guides you on this most intimate and personal path, namely your own path of mental development and liberation. Such a teacher can point out your personal pitfalls, try to lead you around them and if you do tumble head-first into them (and sooner or later we all do) then the teacher can help you to get out again on the basis of your own experience and then, being an experience richer, to continue on the path. You can’t get this kind of guidance from apps, books or YouTube video’s, no matter how inspiring they may be.
When meditating, the last thing you should be concerned about is the moral integrity of your teacher, and by extension your own safety. You should be able to rely 100% on your teacher to behave morally impeccably at all times. You should feel 100% safe.
Nevertheless, there are several known cases of abuse by highly regarded Buddhist teachers. Earlier we wrote a text Sexual Abuse by Buddhist Teachers. In summary: this should not take place under any circumstances and cannot be condoned with any argument. Teachers who are guilty of this or other misconduct destroy their teaching and discredit Buddhism in a very serious way.
This kind of behavior by a teacher goes completely against the very essence of Buddhism, in whichever system or school. The Buddha expressly taught that desire is the cause of all our suffering, and his path is aimed at destroying it.
In that light, it is important to reflect on the relationship between teacher and disciple. The DAR (Dhamma Advies Raad, English: Dharma Advice Councel) of the BUN (Buddhist Union of the Netherlands) has also devoted an extensive text to this. We broadly agree with this text, but the DAR writes among other things:
All instructors and teachers must keep a close eye on the difference between their own role and that of the student. Their role can be compared to that of professionals such as doctors in the sense that there is inequality in the relationship with the student. This means that boundaries in the relationship (e.g. sexual) should be closely guarded. All forms of transgressive behaviour, sexual or other abuse constitute a violation of the integrity of the relationship and are not acceptable.
Although the comparison with, for example, a doctor-patient relationship touches a little on the inequality in the relationship and we are glad that sexual or other abuse is condemned in the text, this piece does not do justice to the depth of the teacher-disciple relationship and thus to the great consequences of abuse in that specific setting.
Perhaps the comparison applies to the many self-appointed teachers, or people who are appointed teachers after payment and a fixed course, but if you have ever been in contact with a meditation teacher who teaches from self-acquired deep concentration and wisdom then you know how intimate sharing your own mind can feel, how powerful and deep such a mental connection is. This goes far beyond the contact with a benevolent professional. And because of that great depth you are very vulnerable.
Precisely for this reason any form of abuse by Buddhist teachers is completely unacceptable and of a completely different order of mangitude than when a professional violates a code of conduct.
Abuse or other misconduct by a meditation teacher can damage the student to the core of his or her being. Not only in the short term, but also in the very long term, the consequences for the student can be disastrous.
That’s why misbehaviour is so grave if conducted by a Buddhist meditation teacher.
Such behavior should always have serious consequences for the abusing teacher.
And it is of the utmost importance to make every effort to make sure that this cannot happen.
Of course, deep concentration is ultimately the best foundation for a pure and clean mind, and the deep insight into the unsatisfactoriness of desire destroys any tendency to misbehavior. But as a student, you cannot look upward, that is to say, you cannot judge the mind of your teacher who is further along the Buddhist path of practice.
Therefore, a teacher must follow clear moral rules of conduct and this has to be visible the outside world.
Ahba, our teacher, follows the Theravāda Vinaya to the letter. For monks, the Vinaya states that the greatest effort must be made to prevent even the emergence of rumors. This means, for example, that Ahba receives people behind a glass door so that everyone outside can see what is going on. Another example is that women are never allowed to be alone with Ahba, let alone have physical contact, and even with men there is usually another monk present. There are many practical examples in his behaviour that examplify morality, even apart from Ahba’s own emphasis on stopping desire through meditation.
We are of the opinion that here in the Netherlands, at least from the BUN as an umbrella association, a clear stand must be taken against all forms of behaviour that endanger the safety of the student.
This means at least that it should be made clear that sexual contact between teacher and student has no place in Buddhism. That explicit distance must be taken from abusers. That public warning should be given about these abusers.
Never give the impression that abuse is acceptable, that it is justified, or that teachers who are guilty of it can still serve as an example.
By taking such a stand, a salutary contribution is made to the two guardians of the world, the inner moral compass (hiri) and moral fear of repercussions (ottappa), and thus to awareness of what is and what is not the path.