Youtube Channel: The Compassion Network



On Civil Rights Demands

            From alleged government espionage programs to religious scandals of assault or abuse – where among this barrage of Lord of the Flies scenes do Buddhist observers find confirmation of the belief that people are inherently good?
            When the historical Buddha Shakyamuni founded his order of ascetic monks, he established no rules. I presume he did not lay down any because he and Buddhists in general consider every being wise and compassionate by nature. However, even this enlightened soul developed precepts for transgressions that people committed.
            As Buddhism migrates westward to countries with explicitly stated natural rights, a general regard for human rights and more comprehensive sets of constitutional laws, and legal systems based ideally on the pursuit of liberty, justice and happiness, how should the religious demand civil treatment, if at all? How should the religious assure that civil rights begin from within their institutions?
Whereas fundamentalist Buddhists may argue for an essentialist transference of Buddhism to the west -- everything should proceed as it had in Asia. Karma will take care of everything, regardless of human nature. Those deserving of support or condemnation will receive them accordingly. Monastics are to swim upstream (metaphorically speaking) and pursue not liberty, justice or happiness but only ultimate freedom from cyclic existence. And for such goals, monastics of a Buddhist order must be obedient and docile, there are no inalienable rights to speak of.
            Buddhism acculturates into the culture that it enters. Inevitably, western culture will change Buddhism as Buddhism will change this culture. Cultural and ideological differences should be cause for Buddhist orders to reconsider and incorporate at least the principles of fairness, procedural due process, and equality. Hence, I as a Buddhist nun, would advocate that monastics in the U.S. and beyond be accorded certain basic rights, and best if these were put in writing.

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Presuming a different cultural context and few enlightened teachers in the U.S., it is especially important to institute fair and standardized due process. For example, to avoid or prevent different standards and lack of clarity so that neither ecumenical nor secular authorities may manipulate or miscommunicate the interpretations of law.
            In an increasingly litigious society, religious organizations ought to consider more preventative measures and remedial resources. Offering confidential counsel to listen and to advise those faced with frustration, developing ombudsman and mediator roles to ameliorate charges and improve relations are a few possibilities. Otherwise, in cases of alleged abuse, victims usually remain silent for a long time and finally report in less than amicable circumstances. The same applies to cases of alleged transgressions. Counseling, advising, and mediation are better ways to improve any individual or system issues.
            Principles east and west can be misused anywhere. Therefore it is important, for one, to recognize that karma is not the same as punishment. No one in a position of authority may oppress in the name of karma. The law of cause and effect is also agency for creating our future and that is exactly what we are to do. Two, democracy is not to be imitated and warped into a game of win or loss, and certainly not a propaganda ploy for anyone and everyone to scrutinize some target as if she were an election candidate while the voting grounds shift continuously. Three, silence and homogeneity are not harmony. Minority voices ought not be squashed in the name of harmony. And four, absolute docility and obedience can bring out the worst in people. The 1971 Stanford prison project showed that whereby absolute power was granted the wardens (assumed by college students), decent college students turned sadistic and destructive in a short span of a few days. Prison inmates (also assumed by college students, unbeknownst to the wardens) were harmed to such an extent that the originally planned two-week experiment had to terminate abruptly on its sixth day.

            In short, as religious orders adapt and assimilate in the West, they cannot help but evolve. I hope, however, the direction in which they move will encourage the pursuit of both democratic and spiritual ideals.


The Private Confessions of a Mad Nun

           Dear Father, forgive me, for I have sinned.
I continue to sin, simmering in anger, blame and hatred.
I continue to sin, being unable to forgive long enough to survive the next bout of provocation.
I continue to sin, being haunted by a dream, and what may very well have been a dream.

One dream is that of a dark dungeon. In its dusty rotunda with creaky floors and walls that must hold many ominous tales at bay, people are in motion but eerily quiet. I look about as I stand there, lost for a moment. Suddenly, someone comes from behind me and slides a razor-thin slice of glass into my neck. Bloodless and undetected, I became one of the many zombie-like figures around – deathly and mute. . .
If you recall, Father, it has been about 17 years since I last attempted a confession of sorts. That Buddhist confession did not turn out so well. Ensnared unaware in a storm of political infighting, renditions of my confession were made public in a way that made me the target of mockery, humiliation, and hostility. For the last decade I swore to myself that I will never reveal anything again to anyone in that religious institution, or perhaps, to anyone at all.
I come to you again, Father, because I am troubled -- troubled that the cuts to the neck and other parts of me continue despite my eviction from my former Buddhist order nearly five years ago. As you see in the documents I have preserved, I was chided for a list of faults that range from not wearing a nun's booties to not smiling enough, from missing meditation to having a female neighbor enter my room. In essence, I was told that I was unfit for their community. Compromises such as stays at subsidiary branches and short-term absences were rejected outright. Forced out within two hours, I grabbed what little I could of my belongings and stepped onto the next flight, for which my family purchased the ticket. What else was I to assume other than a complete severance of my relationship with that Association?
What I consider to be trouble did not stop though. Unless I am insane, it is sometimes too obvious to me that strangers and strangers I wish to befriend would deliver to me demeaning messages, cravings in memes, and morbid wishes. I feel powerless about not being able to communicate directly, in normal uncoded language so that meaning is not left to interpretation and re-interpretation. I want to tell those behind-the-scenes puppet-manipulators to knock it off! How arrogant of them to play themselves as if they were God, omnipotent and omnipresent! How cowardly of them to be hiding behind a veil, leaving me with no opportunity to respond -- or to strangle them (oh sorry)! Is this what so-called religious “leaders” must do -- repeatedly throw unspoken accusations at you as if to brainwash you until you become their insults? I refuse to adopt even their labels, not to mention responding to them.
Dear Father, I recognize my weaknesses, imperfections and neuroses, but it is too cheap and contrived to explain toying with someone's mind as lessons in Buddhist koans (meditation riddles) or tests. It is particularly dangerous, as has been shown in cases past and present, when standards vary because of an individual's status, positional power, gender, potential as a threat etc., not to mention there are cases of gross misbehavior on the part of the religious who are never addressed, and certainly those alleged are never slapped with the big stick of expulsion.
For someone who has never been through an ousting of any sort, this experience was and continues to be unpleasant. One of the major challenges is my shakened faith. I now question religious authority and the facade of those so-called “leaders”. Too often they are shrewd politicians more concerned about getting their way and demonstrating their truths in front of people. Especially in cloisters, abuses often occur under the guise of compassion. One senior nun whom I admired very much wrote a letter to this Buddhist Association before she departed about how she was tired of being a two-face and seeing two-faced individuals. There is always an image that they have to prop up for outsiders.
I also remember, for example, how I had Bells’ palsy about eight or nine years ago while in the monastery. Since I was unable to get immediate and regular medical treatment, permanent damage was done to one side of my face. The medical instruction I did receive was to avoid strong winds, but that proscription was dismissed and I was told to brave it. I hear those making excuses for my eviction about how it may have been because I was sick. I cringe at the thought that my judges thought to cure me by inducing extreme stress.
Though I have yet to experience uninterrupted respite, I continue to take things one day at a time and to take advantage of opportunities that I otherwise would not have encountered. For instance, I was able to affirm and organize activities in support of the Charter for Compassion, co-found Women of Spirit and Faith, lead group and online teachings, and serve as an ambassador at the most recent Parliament of World's Religions. I found joy and satisfaction in giving of myself with those past involvements.
I am an optimist after all and I am taking my time to reevaluate my faith and maybe in time reassemble it. I continue to be a devout Buddhist and I am certain I will remain a life-long nun unless I'm physically removed of my robes.

Meanwhile, dear Father, forgive me, and please help me forgive. Please help me rebuild faith in other people and in their inherent goodness. Do not let any figurative ice pricks and dampers make me hard-hearted. Let me take things one step at a time, one breath at a time. May I meet more people who are good through and through, and together, may we live the dream of encouraging one another and more. May we become wise and compassionate for the world.