Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Book Review

I got another advanced reader's copy of this book a while ago and put it off for some time... I was doing a lot of other things, so my apologies for the delay to the kind person at Wisdom who sent this one my way.

This one (Sex and the Spiritual Teacher by Scott Edelstein) is pertinent to our times for sure as cases like Eido Shimano, and Dennis Marzel, do come up and these things can present a challenge to anyone's practice.

My first note is that this is much easier reading than say, the Lotus Sutra... Scott does a good job writing in a readable fashion and after reading a few of Steven Heine's books in a row I really appreciate readability right now.

Despite that bit of praise, even before the introduction section the author states that he is not a spiritual teacher. I call bullshit on that. Seriously, who is not a spiritual teacher? Not me... Actually I know what he is saying but the duality of it irked me as I read it. As an aside, my view is that there is not any thing (or non thing) that is not a spiritual teacher. Even poo.

Mic Hunter, who I have no idea who he is, gives a flowering introduction to the book, and I must say, with good reason.

Chapter one begins with a necessary horror story than goes on to throw out that a surprisingly large percentage of spiritual teachers (from non western traditions) have had sex with at least one of their students...

That kind of blew me away at first, than I thought about how much I like sex, and throw on top of that a little perceived powers, and blamo your doing the William Clinton. I guess it really should not be that surprising at all. The author goes on to make some great points about the nature and responsibility of both Teachers and Students. Latter on in the book I was in a state of disbelief as I read over some of the scenarios and reality hit me hard as I realized that anyone, given the right circumstances, can be that naïve to fall for some of the stuff someone in a position of authority might pull. And I find myself grateful that I have avoided that sticky stuff for the moment...

Anyway, I have decided not to do a chapter by chapter blow by blow of this book, and despite it having a reference to Ken Wilber, I am going to recommend it for anyone with any kind of foundational involvement in a "Spiritual" community. That is if you want to have a good background in how to avoid and or deal with the sticky situations that the title suggests.

Yours in practice,


Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...


This is a very good book, I actually recommended it for an individual I was counseling who was involved in a situation similar to some of the scenarios described in the book. I know some people who are hesitant to believe that anything untoward could ever happen in a "spiritual" or "Dharma" community, but in any community there can be misconduct!
I would also recommend reading "Shoes Outside the Door" and "The Buddha in Brooklyn" about this topic.

SlowZen said...

Thanks for your comment.
I have not heard of The Buddha in Brooklyn. I might look into that when I have cleared my reading cue.

Jeanette Yuinen Shin said...

Whoops the title is actually "The Buddha from Brooklyn" which was about an American woman, formerly a New Age teacher, who was recognized as a Tibetan lama in the Palyul lineage. There is also a book called "Wise Teacher Wise Student" also coming from the Tibetan tradition, about how to choose one's guru (according to how those schools practice).
My reading queue is also in a terminal jam.

Sean said...


I wonder if I could make a respectful suggestion that students also have responsibilities - that (as I think is the case) that it's not all on the teacher. I do not wish to be mistaken as if I was taking a "blame the victim" position, whatsoever, in saying so. I simply wish to ask: That in incidents of such a kind as those which (I presume) would be denoted in that book (I mean: involving sexual relations between teacher and student, and not incidents of forced relation) is the teacher the only one at fault?

(It goes without saying that I think such a relation would be inappropriate, though I'm not particularly a prude about it - I think it's just a matter of keeping a reasonable teacher/student and student/teacher relation.)

I think it's fair that after an incident of sexual misconduct between two persons, that the person with more responsibilities in the context of the incident might typically be the one more called into blame. I don't personally know if I could say such incidents could be too cut-and-dry, however, so oversimplified as might be a position of "The teacher is always [the only one] at fault," were such a position ever suggested.

I understand that if in laying a single place of blame, I can understand that the teacher - the one with the more of public responsibilities, in the context of a teacher/student relation - that the teacher might typically seem to be the one more deserving of blame. I just don't know if I could say it would rest well with my cosmic spidey-sense, what I wonder if that could serve to neglect in regards to the responsibilities of a student - and I mean, as I feel is right, the responsibility to not begin intimate liaisons with a respected teacher (and certainly not to allow forced abuses, by any means).

If I could offer a personal anecdote, on that comment: My German language teacher from high school, she was a certain woman of some Russian descent. I remember, more, her appearance than any matter of the language, except for the song we used to sing, in class - "Ich bin auslander und spreche nicht gut Deutsch," sung to the tune of an old US folk song.

If I had been more responsible, as a student, to curb my own thoughts of my own youthful sense of attraction towards that teacher - if I had been more self-controlled, inasmuch, in so far as if I would think of her as any other than a teacher and, in that context, friend - I honestly think that I might have learned more, then, with that emotional "noise" removed from my views of the teacher - and that my knowledge of the German language, in its grammar and vocabulary, that my beginner's knowledge of the language, at the time, may have stuck with me, longer, and that the knowledge could have been more useful to me, now, simply so.

I understand that a sense of attraction may arrive with all sorts of bubbly emotional connotations. I think it's one thing possible in Zazen, though, to mindfully "move past" or "move away from" or to mindfully "let go of" attachment to such feelings - whether "student" or "teacher", or as if magically, "none of the above".

So, not only do I mean to suggest that (as I see it) that the student shares responsibility, I also wish to denote that the student may be able to actually resolve that sense of responsibility, in Zazen - and, of course, I do not mean "only sitting", as I understand that some things can be good to talk about, to clear the air and take a more objective view on the matter, in any at-least respectfully private context.

Is responsibility such a slippery fish, after all?


- Toad Anura ><

SlowZen said...

Chaps, Thanks, Amazon seemed to know what I was referring too..

Excellent, excellent, yes the book does indeed place responsibility on all parties involved.

But, I would like to caution you that I do not think that Zazen is a magic cure all for all ills. It is an important part of the cultivators practice, however if it is corrupted by even a hairs breadth, one could give rise to all sorts of tragedies.

Reliable friends have been so helpful for me along the way.

SlowZen said...

Sean, one more thing: Old Pond, Frog, Splash!

Thanks for looking!