‘A Call For Enlightened Standards’ (1991)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

The first published reports about sexually abusive Buddhist teachers in the West date back to the 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, the awareness of the rampant sexual abuse in Western Buddhist circles had been much heightened.

In witness thereof, Bodhin Kjolhede, then abbot of the Rochester Zen Centre wrote ‘Zen Teachers and Sex: A Call for Enlightened Standards’ (1991). His call to arms is the likely reason why Kjolhede he was invited to participate in the meeting between Western Buddhist teachers with the Dalai Lama in 1993. You can watch him address the Dalai Lama directly in the documentary ‘Abuse in Buddhism: The Law of Silence‘ by Élodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos (Arte, 2022).

This historical document dates back more than thirty years. It goes to show how fine-grained Kjolhede’s analysis of sexual abuse by Zen Buddhists—and the enabling of sexual abuse by Zen Buddhists—already was at that time.

Kjolhede’s paper exhibits a vivid sense of the harmful effects of sexual violations, as well as the long-term consequences of going the wrong way about the problem—never mind ignoring it altogether. In hindsight, though, his writing betrays a certain naïvité about the criminal nature of sexual harassment and the self-correcting capacity of Western Buddhist communities as well. 

Bodhin Kjolhede - Zen Teachers and Sex-A Call for Enlightened Standards (1991)

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.