Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Caption: Not that I’m into sitting on thrones or anything….buut, if it’s there, why not?
Against the Stream/Refuge Recovery has suspended the teaching activities of Noah Levine for allegations of sexual misconduct. A letter from the Board of Directors says that “Levine has taken a leave of absence from his role as president of the Refuge Recovery board. It also states that the Los Angeles Police Department has conducted an investigation into the allegations, but results have yet to be released.” You can read about the issues with Noah in this Lion’s Roar article, “Refuge Recovery addresses sexual misconduct allegations against founder Noah Levine.”
I found out through this Reddit post that Noah was not the only ATS teacher accused of sexual misconduct. A ‘Frank Uyttebroeck’ teacher was dismissed for sexual misconduct. ATS
has allowed [did not allow, reports vary] Ken McCleod to teach at ATS after alleged sexual misconduct involving two women in earlier teaching roles. ATS has a serious problem with the role of women in these organizations.
In this recording, a woman who worked at Refuge Recovery as the Marketing Director, tells her story about what it was like to work for Noah, the ‘dharmalebrity’ (their term, not hers) and the general disarray of the organization. She was told that Noah doesn’t like “strong women”. It did not end well.
I’ve read Dharma Punx and Against the Stream, both by Noah Levine. Dharma Punx is Noah’s Buddhist autobiography, how he got off drugs in 12-Step programs and early on began practicing Buddhist meditation. I noted in his autobiography that he had a terrible relationship with his mother, and a couple of troubled relationships with women. Details are few, but he explained the difficult relationships in that he tended to be attracted to ’emotionally broken women’, like his mother. Red flag.
I have always had a conflicted relationship with Dharma Punx/Against the Stream and what I call its “macho bullshit” mentality. What I have observed and the vibe I got was that the leadership at the top was dominated by men and most local groups were run by male teachers. These organizations were run by particular kinds of men—men who ascribed to a kind of punk machismo, heterosexist white men who liked punk rock, tattoos and skateboard fashion.
The big exception seems to be Dharma Punx NYC’s Josh Korda, who has stated in many of his talks that he feels really uncomfortable with the macho bullshit of the punk scene that he grew up in, and has a fear of macho men who push him around. Josh also expresses a lot of empathy for homosexual men whose queer masculinity is not tolerated by mainstream heterosexist culture.
Obviously, the scandal involving Noah Levine, spiritual leader of Dharma Punx/ATS/Refuge Recovery is causing tremendous stress and disruption in all three of those organizations. You can hear Josh Korda speak about the tension and distress this causes the sangha in his latest talk: “I just don’t know what to make of it and that’s Ok.”
Josh’s clinical practice and many of his dharma talks deal with the trauma of violence and sexual abuse. He’s aware of how situations like Noah’s can trigger painful feelings of trauma, fear and shame in members of the sangha. To his credit, and the credit of Dharma Punx NYC, Josh has set up a safe space for people to discuss the impact of these traumas. From the Dharma Punx NYC website:
I’ve asked two key facilitators in our sangha, Sydney and Kathy, to lead a ‘safe(r) space’ evening, this Thursday, April 5th, 7pm at 302 Bowery, and then more in the future when they deem worthy, where people can express their experience in the sangha, especially focusing on issues relating to rape culture, patriarchy, racism and all other forms of systemic oppression and exclusion. I hope you’ll support this endeavor.
Although I feel a certain affinity with Dharma Punx and Refuge Recovery (as a sober person), I have always been wary of participating in either organization. As a trans-masculine person, I have always felt that my queer spin on masculinity and gender issues in general is not a good fit with either of those organizations. Although I came of age in the punk generation (70s-80s), I don’t identify with the punk aesthetic, especially its violence and toxic masculinity. I’m really a post-punk, queer-core, closet goth type, which had its heyday in the 90s with the whole explosion of gender queer. I also associate the ‘macho-bullshit’ ethos with a kind of authoritarianism in Buddhism, which I reject completely. So that’s why I started Queer Dharma Circle, with the emphasis on queer genders and spiritualities, with an anarchist peer-led style of governance.
Ultimately, however this works out for Noah personally, this massive shake-up of the leadership will be good for all three organizations. Noah has complained that ATS/RR suffers from ‘founder’s syndrome’, as overly dependent on the charisma of the lead teacher. It would be really good if ATS/RR and affiliated Dharma Punx groups took a good hard look at the macho authoritarian culture that dominates these groups and developed a more feminist, communal approach to group leadership.