How I’m Taking A Stand Against Abuse (And Building a Safer Future Too)

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On January 13, 2015, 90 different Zen teachers and community leaders signed an open letter confronting the issue of abuse in the larger Zen community.

After the letter was was published, 9 more Zen teachers asked to have their names added to the list.

I was one of the teachers who asked to be included. (I’m #93 on the list).

You can read the full letter here: http://www.lionsroar.com/openletteronabuse/

Here’s an important quote from the article:

“As Zen Buddhist community leaders we are committed to changing the culture of silence and the idealization of the teacher’s status that has been so detrimental to students.”

I am proud to stand in solidarity with these other Zen teachers and leaders.

The abuse of power in the student/teacher relationship must not be tolerated. As we move forward into the 21st century, we must make massive efforts to prevent this kind of abuse. And if abuse does arise, then we must deal with it openly and effectively.

My school is non-religious, and is thus not strictly a Zen Buddhist community. However, we are connected to an ancient Zen lineage, we practice Zen meditation every day, and we are part of the larger Zen community.

Scott Edelstein is the author of an insightful book called Sex and The Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do. Although the book is specifically about sexual abuse in spiritual communities, it does a great job of outlining the general characteristics of a healthy spiritual organization.

The two essential principles of healthy spiritual communities, according to Edelstein, are as follows:

  • Spiritual teachers are normal human beings. They may be wise, but they are not infallible.
  • Community members are responsible to one another. They trust and respect each other, and agree to not harm one another.

Healthy organizations, according to Edelstein, also have the following attributes:

  • Transparency and openness.
  • Recognition of each member’s humanity— and their individuality.
  • A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to be respectfully challenged, questioned, and criticized— and to respectfully challenge or question others.
  • A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to be wrong, to admit mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes.
  • A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to change and grow.
  • A clear, simple mission that is reflected in what community members actually do and say.

As I move forward with my own teaching, I want all of you to know that I am 100% committed to creating a healthy organization based on the principles outlined by Edelstein above.

The traditional Chinese structure, where the master is always right and must never be questioned, has no place in the 21st century because it creates an environment that is ripe for abuse.

Thus, I am completely reexamining all of the Chinese traditions that I’ve inherited, especially those connected to the teacher/student relationship.

Traditions that I feel are no longer appropriate for 21st century students will either be modified or left behind.

In the spirit of openness, I’d like to start a dialogue with you. Which traditions do you feel we should keep? Which ones should we leave behind? What is your vision of the future of qigong and tai chi?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Help us to shape a safer and brighter future for these arts! 

Mindfully yours,
Sifu Anthony

I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world to use qigong for their own stubborn health issues. I teach online courses, and also lead in-person retreats and workshops.

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18 Responses to How I’m Taking A Stand Against Abuse (And Building a Safer Future Too)

  1. Wendy Elicati February 13, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Nicely said. Perfect. There are so many people — women in particular — who are so used to the undertone of abuse in their everyday lives — abuse that they may have grown to accustomed to up with because of family patterns or traditions of their particular culture — that may not even realize when they’re being abused or taken advantage of. This is wonderful!

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais February 13, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

      Wendy, you’re exactly right about the undertone of abuse. It’s so pervasive, like a background static, that people hardly notice it any more. That’s why it’s so important to handle this issue correctly.

  2. David February 13, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Sifu,

    Qigong and Taiji are Chinese arts and I would hate to see a rich cultural heritage be discarded. With utmost respect, I would like to encourage you not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Chinese traditions aren’t bad, using them to do bad things is bad. I think those traditions are there for a reason.

    Perhaps they produce better results in the students when implemented by a virtuous teacher but make it easier for unscrupulous teachers to take advantage of students. If that potential for increased good or increased evil is something you decide to remove, I trust you. I just don’t want to see good and helpful practices discarded because bad people can abuse them.

    Best wishes!

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais February 13, 2015 at 1:47 pm #

      David, I don’t plan on throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Remember that we’ve already let go of many of those “rich” traditions. For example, I don’t remember you washing my feet before learning from me.

      It’s not that some of the traditions are “bad” per se, but that they no longer fit. The tradition of secrecy, for example, had a time and a place. But I don’t think that secrecy is necessary any more. Do you?

      • David February 14, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

        I agree that some of them don’t fit and I am very grateful you have not asked me to wash your feet. I would have to know a lot more about what you mean by secrecy if I were to pass judgment on it but that’s not what I want to do. I wasn’t trying to offer specific criticism about your plan, it sounds great to me! I just like the idea of retaining traditions.

  3. Jane Delong February 13, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Great work Sifu Anthony. You have addressed a longstanding problem in the spiritual community as well as in many other heirarchical organizations. This is a great blueprint for safety, accountability and high performance for all types of organizations. Thank you for your hard work and clarity!

  4. Robin M. February 13, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    Ah, so important to question traditions! To ask why, to learn the true answer, and to decide if those reasons are still valid–this is what humans must do to evolve past being blind herd animals. I was in the US Navy at a time not long ago, when it was just beginning to be ok to discuss the “why” of orders in general, or the reasons behind the status quo of women being harassed. True, there are times when obedience MUST happen without blinking to accomplish a specific goal, yet reason and intuition must be employed to know when you are being given an “unlawful order” (as we used to call them)… Tricky stuff that takes a brain and courage. THANK YOU for being one who speaks up on these issues.

  5. Chuck B February 14, 2015 at 6:32 pm #

    Thanks for your stand. Abuse of this type can occur in any hierarchical organization when leaders loose sight of the important leadership trait that a great leader will take care of their flock. It is good to see so many who have taken a stand for what is right. Keep up the good work. Chuck

  6. Christoff February 15, 2015 at 3:05 am #

    Hi Sfu Anthony,

    Anything, which includes above all the rights of humans to health, happiness and a life free from suffering.

    The human life should be respected and cherished for what it can give each person, good or bad, young, or old, male or female. There are no divisions.

    Best wishes.

  7. Pak Fu February 15, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Insightful post. You have my respect and support.

  8. Libby Dunn February 15, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Dear Sifu,

    Thank you for taking a stand against abuse in the student/teacher relationship. The principles you describe and the steps you are taking seem to be a very good approach. I don’t know enough about the Chinese traditions to be able to say which ones to keep and which ones to leave behind.

    In reading the Atlantic article that was linked to the open letter you signed, I noticed two conditions that you might want to keep in mind when building protections against abuse at Flowing Zen. First, many people who come to these arts are seeking healing and, therefore, may be especially vulnerable to abuse. Second, much of the cover up and failure to respond was motivated by love of the arts and reluctance to destroy the school offering them.Both of these conditions contribute to an atmosphere in which abuse is more likely to occur and less likely to be immediately exposed.

    I’m not sure if these observations can be translated into stronger protections, but I thought it might be helpful to keep in mind.

  9. Joe February 15, 2015 at 7:44 pm #

    Dear Sifu Anthony,
    The nature of the student teacher relationship has indeed changed. Student’s needs, in the era of firearms, have generally changed. And different schools attract different students with different goals.
    Some students want to learn to fight, others want to lose 10 lbs, others want to overcome a health problem, some want to overcome a mental health problem.
    My sense is that you are as much of a chi kung school as a martial arts school. For that reason, some students will be emotionally sick and want to learn Chi Kung to get better.
    Such students can obviously be unusually vulnerable and/or impressionable.
    Thus where chi kung is taught, and where people are seeking it to heal emotional problems, it is exceptionally important to take a rigid and inflexible stand against abuse.

  10. sheng March 24, 2015 at 1:20 am #

    From what I know. The reason the traditions of student obeying unfailing teacher is that the teacher is regarded as a person of greater wisdom. Also all the trails are to weed out insincere and undetermine people and the authority of the teacher is not to teach people with bad intentions. E.g. greatest chi gong secrets are taught to select students who they deem worthy. This is to prevent bad students from using their skills yo commit crimes or injuring other students or even the teacher himself to be solo owner of such secrets.

    This of course does not address when the teacher is the one comiting crimes. Unfortunately when they abuse these traditions citing it as it is they do not look at the highest code of conduct available. Many of china legendary figures and officials have great integrity yet some chinese citing chinese tradition such as guan xi knowns as relationship in english use it to enrich themselves. Ignoring one important virtue INTEGRITY.

    Chinese art of war basically stresses the important of human rights as well with leaders learning to differentiate right and wrong etc. For a working organisation.

  11. M. from Portugal October 14, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Missing your updates, Sifu. Sometimes when I open this website it comes a kind of “virus alert”. I find your website the most inspiring on the Internet. Best wishes!

    • Sifu Anthony Korahais October 14, 2015 at 10:11 am #

      Thanks, M. I’m working hard to get my site fixed. Don’t worry. I’ll be blogging again soon!

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