Message from Pema Khandro about the Oath Against Harm
“In the wake of the brave efforts of so many people who contributed to the #metoo movement in Buddhism, I was talking with some dharma sisters about how we could provide education which would be protective and supportive for the Buddhist community. This was in 2019 at the Sakyadhita International Buddhist Women’s Conference in Australia. In that conversation, I became one of the founding members for the Alliance of Buddhist Ethics where I introduced and promoted the goal that we would create to a declaration against abuse that could be endorsed by Buddhist leaders. Later others joined us and now run the organization. But it all started with a few of us talking about a statement against abuse. The purpose of this statement is to proclaim that abuse is unnecessary in Buddhism. It is a reminder of Buddhist ethics of compassion, care and as a repudiation of abuse of any type. I was honored to be a part of a team of a few people who wrote and edited this oath as we worked to promote a culture of responsibility and safety for students of Buddhism.
Shortly after working on the statement, I resigned from the council due to my time commitments. There were so many different ideas about what the Alliance could and should do, that I realized it was unrealistic for me to participate as an organizer given the commitments I already am beholden to. Due to my schedule, it was just not possible for me to put in the time necessary to ensure that all of us on the committee were moving this project forward at the level of consensus and collaboration necessary for such a huge undertaking. My main goal had been the oath and once that was written I felt that I had done what I could and was ready to let the more enthusiastic leaders who were available and willing to carry forward this work to do so. Therefore, I resigned from being an organizer. Yet, despite not being an organizer, since the founding of ABE I have continued to keep the importance of the ABE oath in mind for the future of Buddhism in the global community. Meanwhile, the effort of Alliance for Buddhist Ethics has continued to be developed by the fellow founding members. If you are interested in learning more about their efforts find more information here: https://allianceforbuddhistethics.com/
In order to generate further support for this oath that any teacher could take to make a stance against abuse, I too am taking this oath here below. May it be like a pebble in a pond that send outs waves and waves of awareness, care and compassion. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered abuse in the guise of Buddhism or any spiritual work. Abuse is unnecessary, inappropriate and unethical. May there many more teachers taking this oath in the future, so there will be awareness and protection, so that no one else needs to go through this again in the future. I am not only taking this oath myself but also requiring that all the Meditation Instructors and Group Leaders that I train also take the oath as well. Thus, with great concern in my heart for the future of Buddhism, I pledge the following:
“In the practice of the Dharma, I hold the student-teacher relationship to be a sacred connection which prioritizes the spiritual development, maturation, and well-being of the student.
Similarly, I hold that Dharma organizations exist to provide safe environments which allow those who practice the Dharma to thrive in supportive communities, founded on aspirations of good-will for all, and supported by a strong ethical foundation of non-harming.
I acknowledge that any behavior which would be categorized as abusive—whether emotionally, physically, financially, psychologically or sexually—or which is exploitative, coercive, or an abuse of power, or which attempts to cover-up such behavior, is harmful and unnecessary in the practice of the Dharma. It is unacceptable in all circumstances.
I am aware that harm has been caused by failures to meet these standards in the past, and I declare my commitment to maintaining them for the well-being and benefit of all. May this commitment help the Dharma to flourish, both now and in the future, and may it help to alleviate suffering and create a more compassionate world.”
Some additional resources:
An informative video about recognizing the signs of abuse such as coercive control, grooming, unsolicited advice, no empathy, lowering the self-esteem of the victim, manipulation, drawing attention to every flaw or mistake of the victim and more. Click here for full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ythOTBEkUZM
Links to more resources:
Another Resource From the Pema Khandro Teaching on Five Precepts
3. Avoiding sexual misconduct
The Tibetan phrase is: འདོད་པས་ལོག་པར་གཡེམ་པ་སྤོང་བ- ‘dod pas log par g.yem pa spong ba
“Abandon sexual misconduct.”
“I remain always in respect by treating myself and others with dignity, through respecting the intrinsically complete buddha-nature of myself and others. When I have a partner, I respect my intimate partner at all levels as an equal partner. I recognize that celibacy and non-celibacy have the same principle: to devote the body to liberation of oneself and others. Therefore, I commit my sexuality or celibacy for the realized union of body, mind and emotions, and for the integrity of self, other, community and society. I avoid sexual exploitation, manipulation, deception, discrimination, harassment, and objectification. I undermine misogyny by respecting marriage, relationships and sexuality. I undermine abuse and infidelity by being transparent and honest about my relationship status. I undermine abuse by seeking enthusiastic verbal consent in my romantic relationships. I understand that consent may not be possible in asymmetrical power relationships. I disentangle sexual relationships from asymmetrical power relationships in order to undermine the patriarchal systems that have exploited women, girls, and other vulnerable and marginalized people for centuries. I recognize that causing others to break their vows is the same as breaking vows myself and therefore I abide by the vows of others, refraining for sexual relationships with monastics or those in monogamous relationships. I respect the expression of the spectrum of genders within myself and others as it manifests according to each person’s art of being.” For the full five precepts text visit: https://www.pemakhandro.org/the-five-precepts/
Vajra Sangha Guidebook Zero Tolerance for Abuse Policy
Vajra Sangha are the community of long-term students of Pema Khandro. The following is the zero tolerance for abuse policy in the Vajra Sangha guidebook.
We have a zero tolerance for abuse. This is for two reasons – for Buddhism to flourish in America, in a context of gender equality, we must have a clear zero-tolerance for abuse to nurture a culture of safety and respect for vulnerable people.
Secondly, for Vajrayana pedagogy to evolve in the face of research into learning and attachment, we must have a clear zero-tolerance for abuse.
Zero Tolerance For Abuse Policy
We have a zero tolerance for abuse. There is no reason to justify abuse. Abuse is cause for dismissal from the Vajra Sangha and revocation of authority to teach. Abuse is an ambiguous term and can be subject to interpretation. Here abuse is defined by intentionally harming others or oneself. Abuse includes treating someone with cruelty or violence. We recognize that patterns of abuse may come from deep wounding, trauma or mental illness. However, in order to be a part of the Vajra Sangha, to practice at the Vajrayana level of training, one must be stable, reliable and a safe person to be around. Otherwise, we cannot guarantee the safety of retreatants and members who choose to practice in-depth at the Vajra Sangha events. If one is not yet at that level of stability and safety, then the Vajra Sangha is not appropriate for that person. Abuse may even come from particular interpretations of teachings. However, any interpretation of the teachings which enables abuse is considered to be a misinterpretation of the core principles of Buddhism which we focus on – which is to relieve suffering and avoid harm.
All teachers certifications given by N.I. will be revoked if a student is found to have abused another/others. Some examples of Abuse include:
- Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse (by any one of any gender).
- Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent, including making unwanted advances or repeated advances after being told no. To avoid sexual misconduct, the guideline is that sexual relationships takes place only between equals, between spiritual adults who are clearly and explicitly capable of giving enthusiastic verbal consent. Therefore asymmetrical sexual relationships between teachers and students is not appropriate and is to be avoided. Instructors authorized by Pema Khandro will lose their authorization if they have sexual relationships with students.
- Emotional Abuse: Name-calling, insulting, denigrating, belittling, slandering etc… Undermining an individual’s sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive.
- Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include – but are not limited to – causing fear by intimidation; suggesting or implying threats; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.
- Sexual Harassment: sexual solicitation, physical advances, or verbal or nonverbal conduct that is sexual in nature, that occurs in connection with the members activities or roles and that either (1) is unwelcome, is offensive, or creates a hostile educational environment, and the person knows or is told this or (2) is sufficiently severe or intense to be abusive to a reasonable person in the context. Sexual harassment can consist of a single intense or severe act or of multiple persistent or pervasive acts.
Internal community responses to accusations of abuse will be set in addition to local authorities. When appropriate, accusations of abuse will be determined by local legal officials or third party services. If there are minor ethical infractions, then complaints will be handled by the Council of Elders. However, it is a more serious infraction such as sexual abuse or sexual harassment, then local authorities would be engaged by the Council of Elders or Pema Khandro in consultation with the member who is raising the accusation.
A primary source for this code was the apa code of ethics. See: https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
A Review of What Is Consent from Pema Khandro Letter
One important issue that is being clarified is the topic of what is consent. A clarified notion of content can help to prevent harm in Buddhist contexts as well. Consent refers to enthusiastic verbal consent between two adults who are capable of giving consent. Certain contexts make consent impossible or difficult when there are steep power differentials. For example, if ones boss makes sexual advances, the negative consequences may loom over the employee and more difficult to say no to advances. In the spiritual context, clergy, lamas, priests and pastors may be regarded with a sense of spiritual authority which makes it even more confusing to deal with sexual advances. Also, similar to relationships with therapists, there can be such a deep love and trust in ones therapist, that this also blurs the lines, making consent very difficult. Asymmetrical power relationships are not the only circumstances in which consent may not be properly given. Another example is when someone is intoxicated or when there is a history of trauma (we know that survivors of sexual abuse are more likely to be abused again). For example, in the midst of unwanted sexual advances, one may actually freeze. It is shocking to receive inappropriate advances. And the lack of a ‘no’ can get misinterpreted as a yes. That is why consent is considered enthusiastic verbal consent.