Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Why Convert Buddhist Churches Act Like Incestuous Families

In light of recent revelations of alleged sexual assault by Sakyong Mipham, spiritual leader of Shambhala International, of some of his female students (see reports in Buddhist magazines Tricycle and Lion’s Roar) I am reposting this series of articles on how and why sexual assault, emotional and spiritual abuse happens in Buddhist communities.
Please read through the list of  behaviors and relationship dynamics identified by David L. Calof as characteristics of incestuous and abusive families. Ask yourself this question: I have I seen or heard of this particular behavior or relationship dynamic in my Buddhist sangha? If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of them, then you have identified the conditions that generate and allow for emotional, spiritual and sexual abuse of members of Buddhist communities.

A Five-Part Series on Sexual Exploitation in Buddhist Communities

Part 3: Why Convert Buddhist Churches Act Like Incestuous Families

Part 1: BPF Rising Up to End Sexual Abuse in Buddhist Communities

Part 2: Studies of Sexual Exploitation in Buddhist Communities

Part 4: What a Shame! The Social Psychology of Convert Buddhist Churches



David L. Calof has identified a number of family proscriptions, injunctions, and victims scripts in an incestuous family. I have personally witnessed all of these rules enforced in convert Buddhist churches. They are in effect either explicitly, as actual teachings, or implicitly, as rules of behaviour imposed on members through practices of emotional manipulation and shame. In convert Buddhist churches, most of these rules are in effect most of the time.

They are listed here in a somewhat abbreviated form:


2. Rules and norms of the incestuous family: The family maintains its homeostasis through rigid rules/norms and family members take on adaptive but dysfunctional roles.

Denial and Dissociation are the fundamental organizing principles of family life. (Calof, 1988, pgs. 3-4)

“The most important attribute of a social system is the social norms which hold it together. Norms consist of all the agreements, formal or informal, explicit or implicit, which regulate and give order and purpose to a system.. In order for a marriage to be healthy there has to be some compromise and eventual consensus about which rules and norms will be used by the family. Children readily accept most rules and norms because they want and need to belong to their family. Children are considered “good” if they obey. To disobey is to “rock the boat” and to risk being considered “bad” or “crazy”. In dysfunctional family systems, members often have to sacrifice their individual identities and relinquish boundaries to maintain the survival of the system.

A. Such family systems of denial create certain unconscious rules, family messages, internalizations or scripts of behavior in victims that are virtually universal. Without benefit of recovery, adult survivors tend to function more or less according to these same rules in adulthood…Below are some of the major assumptions which underlie dysfunctional and abusive family process and also operate in the adult survivor: 
B. Deny – Certainly the injunction to deny one’s actual experience is the crux of the matter… 
1. Do not think, see, hear, feel, reflect or question your experience. 
2. Do not believe the obvious; accept the impossible. 
C. Don’t trust self or others. 
D. Be loyal. 
1. You must protect the family. 
2. Keep the secrets. 
3. Obey. 
4. You must not fight back, disagree or get angry. 
E. Don’t have needs. 
F. Love means being hurt or used. 
G. Don’t ask for help. 
H. Don’t show pain. 
1. minimization 
2. symbolic somatic manifestations and complaints 
3. self-injury/mutilation 
I. Don’t be a child. 
1. There is no capacity for innocent, curious developmental exploration. 
2. Don’t play. 
3. Don’t make mistakes. 
4. Be adult-like but without power or authority. 
5. Be responsible for everyone else. 
J. It is your fault. 
1. There is an underlying systemic assumption that while others do the best they can and can’t help themselves, you don’t ever do the best you can and you do what you do on purpose. 
2. Scapegoating. 
K. You are bad, evil, immoral, to blame (`guilty’). 
L. You are responsible for others’ behaviors. 
1. They are not responsible for their own behavior. 
2. It is not their fault. 
3. You must help them. 
M. Stay in control of yourself and those around you. 
1. Stay on guard. 
2. Hyper-vigilance. 
3. Anything bad that may happen is your fault and thus your responsibility to prevent. 
N. You are incompetent. 
O. Don’t reflect; question; process. 
1. External orientation. 
2. No time or safe place (safe harbor) to reflect or process (especially traumatic) experience. 
3. Because the rules of logic in such families depends on unquestioning loyalty and the capacity of members to behave in as-if (hypnotic) realities, there is a powerful injunction to keep all transactions on the surface without analysis or critical judgement.
4. Leads to extreme leaps of unquestioning interpersonal faith and resulting frequent retraumatization characteristic of adult survivors. 


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This entry was posted on 2018/06/28 by .


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