Controversial 'Buddhist' Teachers & Groups
- "When teachers break the precepts,
- behaving in ways that are clearly damaging to themselves and others,
- students must face the situation,
- even though this can be challenging, criticize openly, that's the only way."
Having thought long and hard about making this page or not, I decided to go ahead to avoid people getting into trouble with questionable teachers and organizations who claim to be Buddhist, but whose motivation is questioned. For obvious reasons, this page itself is controversial, as people who are involved with such teachers or groups will usually deny the controversy or even claim not to be aware of it.
- On March 16-19, 1993, a meeting was held in Dharamsala, India, between His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama and a group of twenty-two Western dharma teachers from the major Buddhist traditions in Europe and America. Also present were the Tibetan lamas Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Pachen Otrul Rinpoche, and Amchok Rinpoche. The aim of the meeting was to discuss openly a wide range of issues concerning the transmission of Budhadharma to Western lands.
- The following statement ensued from the meeting:
- “Each student must be encouraged to take responsible measures to confront teachers with unethical aspects of their conduct. If the teacher shows no sign of reform, students should not hesitate to publicize any unethical behavior of which there is irrefutable evidence. This should be done irrespective of other beneficial aspects of his or her work and of one's spiritual commitment to that teacher. It should also be made clear in any publicity that such conduct is not in conformity with Buddhist teachings. No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct.”
- Fred von Allmen, Brendan Lee Kennedy, Ven. Ajahn Amaro, Bodhin Kjolhede Sensei, Jack Kornfield, Martine Batchelor, Dharmachari Kulananda, Stephen Batchelor, Jakusho Bill Kwong Roshi, Alex Berzin, Lama Namgyal (Daniel Boschero), Ven. Thubten Chodron (Cherry Greene), Ven. Tenzin Palmo, Lama Drupgyu Crony Chapman), Ven. Thubten Pende (James Dougherty), Lopon Claude aEsnee, Lama Surya Das (Jeffrey Miller), Edie Irwin, Robert Thurman, Junpo Sensei (Denis Kelly), Sylvia Wetzel.
The list below is my own personal list of teachers and groups of which I know that serious questions have been raised. I do not intend to play policeman or judge, and I cannot verify if all these claims are true. I merely hope to warn innocent newcomers about potential problems and controversy. The teachers and groups below are not all criminals or necessarily involved in distorting Buddhism, but serious complaints have been made about their conduct and/or distortion of the teachings of the Buddha.
Especially in China and Taiwan, and teachers from there, I would recommend serious caution when people are called "Living Buddhas". Such kind of title pretty much goes against all Buddhist ideas of modesty. Also when teachers promote practices for wealth and fame, or even promise 'instant enlightenment', it may be good to start asking some serious questions about the main purpose of their own 'Buddhist' practice.
For the rest, please remain aware of the dangers of cults or abusive teachers, and take responsibility for your own life. Especially in Tibetan Buddhism, reliance on a personal teacher is seen as essential for spiritual progress, so better make really, really sure that you chose a genuine master; the more impressive the titles, the more critical one should investigate...
Useful information in English:
- Freedom of Mind Center; quite a collection of information on cults and their page on cults in general, explaining the BITE model
- How to spot a Buddhist cult
- Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffrey D. Falk available in print and as free e-book (see bottom of page)
- Sex and the Spiritual Teacher by Scott Edelstein
- Relating to a Spiritual Teacher: Building a Healthy Relationship by Alex Berzin (also known under its new title: Wise teacher, wise student: Tibetan Approaches to a Healthy Relationship) available in print and as free e-book
Useful information in other languages
- Deutsch: Heilsame und unheilsame Strukturen in Gruppen - Orientierungshilfe der Deutsche Buddhistische Union (pdf)
- Deutsch: BuddhistischeSekten.de - "Seiten zur Aufklärung und zum Schutz"
- Nederlands: openboeddhisme.nl "onafhankelijk journalistiek webmagazine" met kritische artikelen
|Shoko Asahara||Aum Shinrikyo||Group responsible for the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. Asahara also claimed to be the Christ. Probably needless to say this is an insane & dangerous group|
|Alon Bagwan Rinpoche||See Dharmaling forum|
|Dogo Barry Graham||[http://sittingfrogzen.org The Sitting Frog
|Serious questions about not only his references and qualifications as Dharma teacher, but also serious allegations of sexual misconduct and emotional abuse of women, see The Graham Scam and for a quick overview at Smilin Buddha Cabaret|
Dorje Chang Buddha III /
Wan Ko Yee /
|A 'Buddha' without history, flooding the internet with self-referring messages of his coming, using all the possible titles he can find.... 'Highest Buddha', 'Supreme leader of Buddhism', on and on. This makes me quite suspicious, but please check it out yourself.|
|Lama Choedak Rinpoche (Canberra Australia)||Sakya Losal Choe Dzong||Serious allegations of sexual misconduct with his students, which he apparently admits, see this weblog, which also includes other unconfirmed suspicions, and this article on the Buddhist Channel|
|Lama Kelsang Chöpel
|Serious allegatios of sexual abuse, including drugging women can be found at openboeddhisme.nl|
|Andrew Cohen||Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship||See his page on Wikipedia for some controversy links and writings. Cohen creates his own type of 'Buddhism'.|
|Ikeda Daisaku||Soka Gakkai||Website by 'victims'. Especially critique on Ikeda Daisaku|
|Lama Ganchen Rinpoche||Strong supporter of Shugden, not member of NKT (see below), but apparently rejects the views of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, just Google for shugden...|
|'Geshe' Kelsang Gyatso||New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)
Many centers and groups world-wide
|Shugden controversy, rejection of views of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, unauthorized use of the Geshe title, expelled from own monastery, self-invented ordination of monks and nuns, claims of sexual abuse by ordained members high in the organization etc. Just Google for shugden... or a website of its critics and academic research. They have a team that constantly re-writes Wikipedia to erase any critical comments.|
||Contemplative Order of Compassion|
Dharma-teacher, but also archbishop of the autocephalic Eastern Catholic Church , which according to their own website, does not believe in the pope as head of the Catholic church, follows Tibetan Buddhism and he denounces the Dalai Lama (because of his understanding of the Shugden controversy) in a published book.
(Jeffrey S. Brooks)
||Self-ordained monk??? According to his own About me, modesty is not one of his qualities. Whatever he is, it does not appear to be Buddhism to me. This person cannot be a genuine Buddhist monk; probably even less a Buddhist teacher.|
|Lama Jigme||See Dharmaling forum - possibly a fraud begging for money|
|School of Tibetan Healing Chod||Allegations on possibly not being qualified and unethical behavior, see the RickRoss forum.|
|Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo,
(Alyce Louise Zeoli)
|Quite some controversy over this 'first western woman to be recognized as a Tulku' can even be found at Wikipedia - the controversial stuff has been carefully edited out of the page since 2010, so pls. refer to versions from 2009 to see info on restraining orders etc. It is not quite clear to me if the accusations are genuine or just part of a personal feud.|
|Lin Yun||Black Tantric Buddhism||Apparently he admits himself that he is an imposter (see this page). Many signs of this being a cult are being reported.|
|Maitreya||See a long list of 'wanna-be' Maitreyas at <a moz-do-not-send="true" href="http://www3.telus.net/public/sarlo/Ymaitreyas.htm Sarlo's Guru Rating Service]. |
Should I say more?
|Ken McLeod||Unfettered Mind||Accusations of sexual inappropriate behavior in more then one case, see this blog of a victim|
|Lama Christie McNally||Diamond Mountain University||Student and ex-partner of Geshe Michael Roach (see below). Apart from her controversial relationship with a monk (Michael Roach), the way she presents herself is more then questionable, as is explained in Badkarmanews.blogspot.com|
|Rigdzin Namkha Rinpoche||Serious allegations on sexual misconduct with women, including Nepalese nuns. The allegations are not yet officially proven as victims refuse so far to come out in public.|
|Dennis Genpo Merzel||White Plum Asanga||"Disrobed" as a Buddhist priest after admitting to sexual misconduct and resigned from the White Plum Asanga in February 2011. He still wants to continue teaching, but other Zen teachers requested him to stop teaching completely.|
|Ole Nydal||Diamond Way Buddhism||Influential western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, whose sexual behavior and opinions are frowned upon by quite a few Buddhists as 'politically incorrect' or worse, as can be seen at the Wikipedia article about him.|
|Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu||Fake head of Tibetan Buddhism, chosen by the Chinese government. The current Dalai Lama named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on May 14, 1995. The latter vanished from public eye shortly after being named, aged six. (from Wikipedia)|
|Domo Geshe Rinpoche,
|Serious questions on her claims as rebirth of Geshe Domo, her ordination and more, see infinitenetworks.com or on facebook|
Luis Kunga Choedak Riesgo
|Serious allegations noted at: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=147681110732&id=673604575&ref=nf , or even worse, I saw a psychological evaluation that mentions "many serious psychological symptoms", a bad start for any teacher to say the least.|
|Rients Ritskes||zen.nl (Dutch)||His own teacher, Tsushimoto Roshi accuses him of teaching his own, self-invented teachings and unjustly using titles like zen-master, roshi sensei and dai-osho. Zen.nl is a commercial organisation which appears to earn a lot of money by 'educating' Zen teachers. See this Dutch blog. Zen.nl is a commercial organisation rather then religious or non-profit as one would expect.|
|Geshe Michael Roach||He apparently managed to 'qualify' as Geshe by paying donations to a monastery and receiving an honorary geshe-title. Since a few years, he makes outrageous claims of realizations. He also claims to be a monk, but has sexual relations and wears long hair; clear contradictions to the monks vows he has taken. His Dharma teachings appear to go way off in a similar way. See e.g. http://www.diamond-cutter.org and see this letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's office (scroll down the page a little).|
Friends of the
|See http://www.ex-cult.org/fwbo/fwbofiles.htm Most criticism appears directed towards the founder Sangharakshita and his sexual habits. The intentions of the FWBO itself are sometimes questioned as well, but appear generally not serious.|
|Joshu Sasaki||Former Abbot of Rinzai-ji||Serious allegations of fraud and seual misbehavior, see http://sasakiarchive.com/ and http://sweepingzen.com/tag/joshu-sasaki/|
||See: http://www.buddhismaustralia.org/cults.htm or Wikipedia Shen-yen's extravagant claims of authority as a Buddhist master are questionable at best. He even gives Kalachakra initiations based on...who knows... |
aka Tai San
|Former abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo, New York, and
||Severe accusations of sexual harassment and more at shimanoarchive.com, see e.g. this article|
|Edward A. Penney
||Pine Forest Sangha,
Awake to Wisdom
|More then dubious qualifications, see theEdward Penny Archive or EdoShoninArchive.com|
|Sogyal Rinpoche||Rigpa||Although Rinpoche's teachings are generally not questioned, his sexual behavior has caused controversy, as can be found even at Wikipedia *. There are reports claiming that not Sogyal Rinpoche, but Andrew Harvey wrote The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. More on http://dialogueireland.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/briefing-document-on-sogyal-rinpoche/|
|Suma Ching Hai||See: http://www.buddhismaustralia.org/cults.htm , the Rick Ross forum, or this critical article|
|See Dharmaling discussion forum|
|Traktung Rinpoche||Flaming Jewel
||See: http://www3.telus.net/public/sarlo/Ynonice.htm#belowor http://approachingaro.org/hhdlQuite presumptuous claims, little or no proof? Relation with controversial Aro Ter. No major controversy reported though. Sorry, the links appear to change often and may be dead; whether this is a good or a bad sign, I don't know...|
|Some quite heavy accusations vented e.g. in this blog|
|Phra Dhammachayo / Dhammajayo /
||Wat Phra Dhammakaya/ Dhammakaya Foundation||See: http://www.buddhismaustralia.org/cults.htm, Wikipedia, Rick Ross, and Dhammawheel, it seems that the 'World Fellowship of Buddhists in Thailand' has practically become part of the Dhammakaya organisation.|
|I Kuan Tao
|Ani Tenzin Kalsang a.k.a.
|Tengye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple||Very disturbing points listed in http://torontocultexposure.blogspot.ca/, varying from physical and emotional abuse to misuse of funds and unfounded claims of titles and spiritual realizations etc.|
|'Living Buddha' Dechan Jueren
aka Master Yu
|Charges outrageous course fees, focuses on practices for wealth and success - especially his own. He appoints 'Vajracharya's' (tantric masters) after rediculously short trainings. In March 2011 charging £375 for (1 U$) masks supposedly against radiation sickness during the Japanese nuclear disaster after the tsunami|
|Dr. Klaus Zernickow
a.k.a. Sotetsu Yuzen
|First Zen Community of Berlin, Mumon kai||Accused of long-term, systematic abuse of their students, with allegations ranging from sexual predation to financial improprieties. See theZensite.com|
* Please note that with this comment, my intention is to warn western women to not confuse/mix their spiritual practice with having sex with any spiritual teacher, even a famous person like Sogyal Rinpoche, without thinking twice. You can very easily end up in a difficult position. At the same time many people - including myself - find his Dharma teachings inspiring, and you will still find many of his quotes on this website for that reason only.
There are also some teachers and organizations that are being made suspect, but my own limited research has shown them to be OK, here is a short list:
|Li Honqzhi||Falun Gong,
||http://www.buddhismaustralia.org/cults.htm claims distorted Buddhism. However, they only claim to be 'inspired by Buddhism'. |
Please be aware of the truely vicious attitude of the Chinese Govt. against this group, so much of the info available may be distorted beyond recognition. There are reports that the Chinese Govt. have tortured and murdered members of this group for no other reason then being a member.
|Tsem Tulku||Kechara, Malaysia||He is regularly accused of being a Shugden practitioner. However he convincingly explains in the Dharmawheel forum that he does not practice it, and fully supports His Holiness the Dalai Lama. All the accusations I have seen on the internet, including YouTube slide shows and emails to me personally appear to originate from a single person who tries to discredit him via the internet.|