ATS and Sexual Misconduct

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.




7 thoughts on “ATS and Sexual Misconduct

  1. great response. I often listen to Josh Korda and find myself cringing through the parts that seem a bit aggressive Is it aggressive masculinity? Aggressive well-adjustment?
    It’s hard to put a finger on, and I continue to listen, but there is something. Aggressiveness is pervasive in our culture and in me too at times. It comes out at times of insecurity.

  2. a few points of clarity. ken mccleod was specifically asked NOT to teach at ATS following public revelations of sexual misconduct. despite the statement that Frank and Noah have been asked not to teach when allegations of misconduct have been brought to the ATS teacher’s council, you say that ATS has a “serious problem with the role of women.” isn’t that a sign that ATS, unlike generations of other sanghas we could name ad infinitum, has healthy mechanisms in place to deal with a problem that has plagued all spiritual communities?

    you say that ATS is dominated by “macho bullshit” which you define as leadership and facilitators being dominated by men (although Josh is cool i guess). Yet our long-standing director is a woman, the guiding teacher of the original community here in los angeles is a woman, and 29 of the recent 64 recipients of an ATS email to all those in a teaching role within the community were women. not bad for an organization that has focused on recognizing this issue and then addressing it. i think this is an old, easy to rely on critique of the community that fits the current narrative.

    and finally. i am a white, cis-gender, heterosexual male. i like loud, aggressive, punk rock and metal music. i skateboard and wear vans with a backwards trucker hat. i found in my community a place where the dharma was spoken in a way that landed in my heart. and i hope that all beings hear the dharma in a way that speaks to them.

    i am heartbroken by what is transpiring in my community. you are right, it will be good for our organizations. because we are facing it and standing in it with transparency, openness, and compassion. / credentials can be used.

  3. @josephrogers3 (1) thanks for the correcting the record on Ken McCleod and ATS. (2) My point about Josh Korda is that I think the way he is handling the situation is exemplary. Josh recognizes that people are traumatized by situations like this and the response he and DP NYC are taking is the best course of action–setting up a group where people can process the situation.

    Look at what this group is set up to deal with: “especially focusing on issues relating to rape culture, patriarchy, racism and all other forms of systemic oppression and exclusion. Ok? So Dharma Punx NYC is facing these issues head on, both within the sangha and the larger society.

    I listen to Josh’s podcasts almost weekly, and I donate to DP NYC on a regular basis to support his teaching. So I’m not against ATS categorically. Josh’s teaching speaks to me the way that DP/ATS punk culture speaks to you.

  4. I wote the below in referrence to the following article . I’m re-posting here because it’s about the same subject: Noah Levine.

    Wow, love to see how you guys protect the real pervert, the jerk known as Surya Das, and turn on one of your own. Surya Das loss 90% of his sangha because he started screwing one of the women in his sangha during a retreat. During a phone call, Lama Willa Miller told me that she considered the female Das seduced the “most vulnerable” of all the women in the sangha. She also said the female was not what she would “expect” Das to be “attracted too.” That the female wasn’t the “type of women” Das been with before. But of course Lama Miller is speaking of women Das openly dated – oh by the way – that also includes 3 women that I know of from his sangha prior to all this going down. But the women Das sexually took advantage of was hidden away and used for sex during retreats not openly dating. Of course Das was married during all of this and his wife – a non-Buddhist – left him due to his sexual misconduct becoming public. Once Das was done with his victim, she observed another woman heading into Das’ bedroom during another retreat. She then told Lama Miller about the sexual abuse (Oh and by the way, surprise, surprise, Lama Miller is now, once again a supporter of Das!). Lama Miller and ALL the other teachers associated with Das left him behind and took most of the sangha. They formed Natural Dharma Fellowship without Das. Das is a master manipulator and I believe he’s a sociopath.

    You’re all hypocrites! Das tried to bed me for years. Following me. Calling me. Sending me emails pretending to be someone else. They guy’s a mess. He used to literally follow me around. After years of this, his behavior became predictable. So, I have witnesses! He just doesn’t understand no! Nothing deterred him. Year after year, I had to deal with this pig and no one helped me, no one turned on him. He was married during this time. You guys don’t give a crap about women as long as you continue to support Das. Ask yourself, how many other women like me are out there? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been harassed by Das.

    In your article you speak of “Kornfield” and his “investigation.” Kornfield is a close friend of Das. One time I rejected Das’ invitation to give me a ride. I guess he finally realized he was never going to get anywhere with me, it took years to convey this message. The next day, Das sicced Kornfield on me during a Dharma event. In fact, Kornfield singled me out to have a talk with me. I’d never met or had spoken to Kornfield. Kornfield tried to intimidate me and tried to force me to leave the Dharma event. When I stood my ground, Kornfield called me a “demon” and referred to Das as his “close friend.” Kornfield is no saint. ALL YOU PATHETIC HIPPIES protect each other. Maybe it’s all the time you addicts spent/spend consuming drugs together.

    Wake up! Here’s a clue for all you Vipassana teachers. During a 2 week retreat w/Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche he told two thousand attendees to not bother with American Vipassana teachers. He told us you’re all leading your students nowhere. Your students are like lambs to the slaughter.

    Noah’s not my teacher but he’s a good and effective teacher. Look at the amazing sangha he’s created. Think of how many people he’s brought to the Dharma who would never be with us today. There is no way he’s anywhere as bad as Das. Das has a known history of bedding his female AND male students due to his inclination of bi-sexuality. You hypocrites will not escape your Karma.

    1. Thank you for telling your story. It’s quite believable as far as I’m concerned. I saw LSD give a talk at a Buddhist Geeks conference and I saw and heard him make make a sexually suggestive remark at a young woman in the audience who had stood up to ask a question. I was totally shocked—I mean this was in public in front of hundreds of people. So his reputed sexual stalking seems quite plausible.

      The film that shows him making this remark was posted in my blog; see for yourself:

      However, I have never defended Surya Das. I have quoted him a couple of times, early on in my Buddhist studies, because he said something relevant to me. But I have never ‘defended’ him. If I had known what I know about him now, what you’re saying about him, I probably would have never posted anything about him at all. So thanks for bringing this to my attention.

      Also, I’m not a Vipassana teacher. I don’t teach Buddhism. I’m a sociologist; I conduct social research on Buddhism and other New Religious Movements in the West.

  5. @ Anon But just because someone has been a great teacher, like Noah, doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of also doing harm. Chogyam Trungpa almost singlehandedly started Buddhism in the West (outside of the Zen tradition) and yet he sexually abused scores of both women and men. I don’t know what Noah has been accused of, nobody does except the accuser and the LAPD. And I certainly don’t know if he is guilty or innocent of any charges. We won’t know that for months or perhaps years.

    But for me the bigger issue is the whole role of ‘teachers’ in Buddhism. I have written about this numerous times on this blog, that we don’t need teachers except for short periods of time to teach us the dharma. Then once we’ve learned it for ourselves, we don’t need teachers anymore. We most certainly don’t need ‘gurus’, not even punk gurus like Noah. I am categorically against the whole guru phenom in Buddhism.

    Against the Stream/Refuge Recovery calls Noah a ‘Dharmalebrity’, which is a term THEY invented. ATS markets itself and its offshoots like a brand. That’s why they hired a marketing director, to market their Brand and their ‘Dharmalebrity.’ Dharma Punx is a Brand. ATS is a Brand. Refuge Recovery is a Brand, part of the DP/ATS Family of Brands. Lots of other Buddhist sanghas and organizations are Brands, and they all have their Brand Leaders. Like Nalandabodhi is a Brand and its Brand Leader is Dzogchen Ponlop, and believe me, he has a very carefully sculpted Brand Image.

    I’m against this whole phenom of Buddhist Brands in the West. I’m against the hierarchy and the teacher/guru power trips; I’m against the head games and the sexual abuse. THAT’S WHY I LEFT BUDDHISM. I don’t practice with any Buddhist groups any more, and haven’t for years.

  6. @Anon But I do take issue with one thing you said, “hippies”. If this is ‘hippies’ vs. ‘punks’, I’m not interested in that kind of culture war, because I’m neither. First of all I’m not a hippie. I’m a flaming faggot and trans person and advocate for queer lives. I come out of the Drag culture of New York City, which has its own music and fashions. So that puts me in an entirely different culture than either ‘hippie’ or ‘punk.’ That’s why I started Queer Dharma Circle for queers into queer spirituality, which is not just Buddhism, but blends in Radical Faerie culture. I’m as much a Radical Faerie as I am a Buddhist, maybe more so. Maybe I’ll write a blog post on what it’s like to be a fag in an uber straight world like American Buddhism, especially Dharma Punx/ATS. You can start by reading this:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s