Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Culadasa Charged with Sexual Misconduct

John Yates, aka Culadasa, author of The Mind Illuminated, has been confronted with charges of sexual misconduct by the Board of Dharma Treasure. The incidents involve adultery with several women, for whom he also allegedly provided financial support.

Dear Dharma Treasure Sangha,

It was recently brought to the attention of Dharma Treasure Board members that John Yates (Upasaka Culadasa) has engaged in ongoing conduct unbecoming of a Spiritual Director and Dharma teacher. He has not followed the upasaka (layperson) precepts of sexual harmlessness, right speech, and taking what is not freely given.

We thoroughly reviewed a substantial body of evidence, contemplated its significance, and sought confidential counsel from senior Western Dharma teachers, who urged transparency. We also sought legal advice and spoke with various non-profit consultants to draw on their expertise and objectivity in handling this matter. As a result of our process, the Board has voted to remove Mr. Yates from all positions with Dharma Treasure.

In a series of Board meetings as well as written correspondences with Mr. Yates, he admitted to being involved in a pattern of sexual misconduct in the form of adultery. There is no evidence that this adultery involved improper interactions with students or any form of unwanted sexual advances.  Rather, adultery with multiple  women, some of whom are sex workers, took place over the past four years. The outcome was extended relationships with a group of about ten women. Relationships with some continue to the present day.

He has provided significant financial support to some of these women, a portion of which was given without the prior knowledge or consent of his wife. Mr. Yates also said he engaged in false speech by responding to his wife’s questions with admissions, partial truths, and lies during these years.

After we brought this misconduct to the attention of Mr. Yates, he agreed to write a letter to the Sangha disclosing his behavior, which would give students informed consent to decide for themselves whether to continue studying with him. However, after weeks of negotiations, we were unable to come to an agreement about the content and degree of transparency of his letter.

At the end of this entire process, we are sadly forced to conclude that Mr. Yates should not be teaching Dharma at this time. Likewise, we are clear that keeping the upasaka (layperson) vows is an absolutely essential foundation for serving as the Spiritual Director of Dharma Treasure. With heavy hearts, the Board has voted to remove him from this role, from the Board, and from all other positions associated with Dharma Treasure.

We also acknowledge the benefit of Mr. Yates’ scholarship, meditation instructions, and the personal guidance he has provided for so many earnest seekers, including ourselves. People from all over the world have been deeply impacted by the Dharma he has presented, and we do not wish to minimize the good he has done. We are forever grateful for the study and practice we have all undertaken together with Mr. Yates.

We know people may feel disbelief and dismay upon learning about this pattern of behavior. However, it is our strong wish that we all use this time as an opportunity to practice patient inquiry, compassion, and discernment. Our goal in sharing this information with the Sangha is to provide each of you with enough information to make your own informed decision about whether or how to work with Mr. Yates as a teacher. We hope this transparency about Mr. Yates’ behavior can help us all move toward a place where we honor teachers for their gifts while acknowledging they are complex human beings who make mistakes.

You can imagine this has been a long, methodical, and distressing process. Moving forward, we feel it is in the best interest of the organization to form a new Board that brings fresh perspectives and energy. The current Board will resign after vetting and electing new qualified Board members to carry on the mission of Dharma Treasure.

Finally, we hope this disclosure about Mr. Yates’ conduct does not shake your confidence in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. The transformative strength of refuge in the triple treasure can sustain us through this challenging time. Many other communities have walked this difficult path and emerged wiser and stronger. The ancient and modern history of Buddhism is filled with examples of the Dharma’s liberating individual and social power and compassion. Let us never forget that.

In service,
The Dharma Treasure Board of Directors
Blake Barton
Jeremy Graves
Matthew Immergut
Eve Smith
Nancy Yates

34 comments on “Culadasa Charged with Sexual Misconduct

  1. Emil

    This is libel. Helping prostitutes is not sexual misconduct.

    I mean… Of course I don’t now the exact details… But that’s true for everyone but Culadasa. And he hasn’t been given a chance to tell his side of the story.

    Anyhow. I think this should be put on pause…

    • Shaun Bartone

      It’s not libel, because what I published in this post were true facts. I said that Culadasa has been ‘confronted with charges of’ sexual misconduct by the Board of Dharma Treasure. That doesn’t mean it’s been proven to be true or that he’s therefore ‘guilty of sexual misconduct.

      • dougt

        “Charged” implies legal proceedings to most people. He was voted off the Board of the Dharma Treasure (DT) and his position of Spiritual Director because of sexual misconduct,

        To me this whole matter seems like it should have stayed between he and his wife, and not involved the DT board. The sexual improprieties did not involve his students nor did they involve his acting in any capacity as a Teacher or Spiritual Director of the Community.

        There is a difference between immoral acts and ethical violations.

        And the fact that his wife, who has a clear conflict of interest in the matter, was on the Board that voted him out and did not recuse herself from the proceedings is totally inappropriate and against the bylaws of the Dharma Treasure.

      • olvegg

        A charge refers to criminal law. Please correct your article to match reality. Mr Yates was not “charged”, he was investigated by the board of Dharma Treasure and subsequently removed as director.

      • Shaun Bartone

        charge /CHärj/ (verb) 2. accuse (someone) of something; 2a. make an accusation or assertion that.
        “opponents charged that below-cost pricing would reduce safety”

      • olvegg

        Thanks for your reply, with all due respect you either did not understand what I meant or did not choose to look any further at this point in time. I would assume the latter as someone else did comment something similar.

        A “criminal charge” is a criminal legal document that starts a case in court. Stating that Mr Yates was charged is not factual and could damage further individual reputations which I am sure was not your intention. Mr Yates was investigated within the Dharma Treasure organization and not under the law.

        While it is true that Mr Yates was found to have conducted himself inappropriately and subsequently removed from his teaching and leadership position, all of this happened within the Dharma Treasure organization.

        Thanks for correcting your article unless you believe that a charge is not a legal term.

      • Emil

        Ok. Got you in full. Metta

      • Phil

        There are many more than two definitions of “charge.” However, since it precedes “sexual misconduct” — denoting a serious type of wrongdoing that is increasingly the subject of legal proceedings — in your headline, it seems unreasonable for you not to acknowledge that, at the very least, you risked creating the mistaken impression that Culadasa was criminally charged for sexual misconduct. The mere possibility of that occuring, and the damage that could cause to Culadasa’s reputation seems more than enough reason for you, and Dharma Treasure, to choose a more appropriate and accurate word, like “accused,” an alternative suggested by your dictionary excerpt. One would think you’d want to be very careful and ethical about such an inflammatory topic, Shaun, and I don’t believe you were.

        As a lawyer, I also agree with dougt that it would have been quite inappropriate for the Dharma Treasure board to allow his accuser and wife, Nancy Yates, who had a clear personal financial interest in the matter, to take part in any of the board’s discussions or decisions about this issue, which the appearance of her signature below the board’s statement on the matter suggests occurred.

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  3. DougT

    “Charged” implies legal proceedings to most people. He was voted off the Board of the Dharma Treasure (DT) and his position of Spiritual Director because of sexual misconduct with people outside of his spiritual community.

    To me this whole matter seems like it should have stayed between him and his wife, and not involved the DT board. The sexual improprieties did not involve his students nor did they involve his acting in any capacity as a Teacher or Spiritual Director of the Community.

    There is a difference between immoral acts and ethical violations.

    And the fact that his wife, who has a clear conflict of interest in the matter, was on the Board that voted him out and did not recuse herself from the proceedings is totally inappropriate and against the bylaws of the Dharma Treasure.

    • Shaun Bartone

      “The sexual improprieties did not involve his students nor did they involve his acting in any capacity as a Teacher or Spiritual Director of the Community.”

      His sexual improprieties–which Culadasa admitted–most certainly do have an impact on his teaching and capacity to lead the organization–and thus they affect his students.

      It was Culadasa who said that ‘awakening’—stream entry to arhantship—which he defined as “traits, not states,” includes ethical behavior and keeping the precepts. In other words, awakening results not in exceptional states of consciousness, but long-lasting character traits that should include ethical behavior and keeping the precepts. The Suttas say many times that a true arhant will not break the precepts or vinaya vows.

      If Culadasa can’t keep the basic 5 Precepts, then he is contradicting his own teaching, and thus not fit to teach.

      • dougt

        Interesting take on it. Did you catch his Deconstructing Yourself podcast with Michael Taft where he “came out” as to meditation never having allowed access to deep psychological conditioning that was affecting his life?

        He said they only came to light and started getting cleared up when he tuned into his emotional system and started explicitly naming and expressing the feelings and feeling believe in there.

        He ended it with a very strong and controversial statement that Michael agreed with, that we have to change how we teach meditation and the Dharma (to more explicitly work with this kind of material).

  4. Sam

    Thank you for this post. I think the board made the right decision.

  5. Paige

    interesting responses to defend such behavior, then get into a mental or circular debates about a word. a bait a switch, to discredit those who had the sad task of cleaning up someone else’s mess. do you really want to study with someone who is not fully congruent in all aspects of their lives?

    • olvegg

      Paige, what is interesting to me if I am following this line of inquiry is how people who claim to adhere to right speech and right action (I believe we all are here adhering to the dharma to some extent) are not interested in speaking the truth.

      The truth is that a charge is a criminal law term and that it has implications on people’s lives including Mr Yates, his wife and his students. None of whom have asked others to go beyond the initial communication and interpret the truth.

      Mr Yates was not charged in the legal sense. This is just not true however you want to twist it in your mind. This is defamation however and as such, and by definition not right speech.

      Is it right to say that he was not charged, it is also right to say that the board made the right decision, including removing him from his teaching and leadership position as he broke the vows of an Upsaka and the bylaws and moral obligations of his organization.

      I was devastated to read the news, but my intention is not to defend Mr Yates, I am happy with the board’s decision and extend my compassion to all of us that have been affected by this situation.

      You can be fair to both the board and Mr Yates, the two are not mutually exclusive.

      With Metta.

      • ani auldon

        It seems that Culadasa admitted his wrongdoings. That is a beginning. A dedication to treatment would be next to ascertain his commitment to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. To quivel over the “charge” is certainly a distraction from the offense.

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  7. MIchael Chu

    Here is a letter from Culadasa acknowledging his wrong doings:

    a thread on reddit, responding to this recent post by culadasa

    This is not an appropriate time for me to respond to the DT Board. Therefore…

    Dear Dharma Friends,

    I’m writing to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the harm and suffering I have caused my wife and family. I engaged in adultery and wrong speech, and failed to honor my commitment to my marriage. I’m also sorry for the pain I have caused the members of the Dharma Treasure Board, who have all been supportive friends for many years. And I’m sorry for the hurt, disappointment, and confusion this revelation has caused you who are learning about it now. (To be clear, I engaged in consensual relationships with adult women, none of whom were my students.)

    Please bear with me as I take time to understand what led me to my choices and address all that’s happened. I intend to enter therapy, and I look forward to hearing and reflecting upon your responses to this letter as a part of my process of cleaning up and growing up. As part of that process I have also begun to work with dharma peers. Please be patient with me as I begin to understand the full impact of what I’ve done. More information to follow, I’ll communicate with you as I’m able.

  8. Michael Chu

    Since this letter from August, he has not address this topic. No accountability from a man without integrity – a sham teacher.

  9. ani auldon

    wow. I was a member of the Sangha and on the Board for about 4 years for a time in its early formation when I lived in Sunsites. When one looks in the rear view mirror, intuited things may begin to make sense. Years later, I practice Zen Buddhism here in New Mexico. Human Beings are complicated. The Patriarchy is strong. I’m sorry for the agony that is felt by ALL impacted by this revelation. I bow to the Four Noble Truths. I send heartfelt Metta to those I knew and had friendship with. Namaste

  10. ani auldon

    Let me add that I feel the Board made the correct decision. When John (Culadasa) takes action by entering therapy we will know that ( he ) is moving in the right direction

  11. Benny

    As a non-American, I see this as typical puritanical hypocritical American bullshit. You pretend to be free and democratic while you try to control every one in the world. My experience of his wife is that she was trying to take control. A female psychopath who has been living off of his brilliance and trying to control the whole operation. She would crawl on the floor during the seminar breaks trying to appear to be a sex goddess I sure wondered what her racket was. It was not a healthy relationship and she was no saint. I think it was probably all about the money she hoped to gain.

    • Shaun Bartone

      I approved this comment because it’s a perfect illustration of exactly everything that’s so messed up with Culadasa and his whole organization. Congratulations, you nailed it.

  12. Robert Heffernan

    Any recent updates about whether he has addressed any of this?

    • Shaun Bartone

      No, I haven’t read anything new about the situation with Culadasa in several months.

  13. Anna Rose

    Golly this is all fascinating! Thank you Mr Bartone for your article and your excellent replies to comments. It’s a shame because I just came across Dr Yates and was hoping to use the scientific parts of his work as a neuroscientist for my research, but now… Interesting how not walking our talk shows up and blows everything away in some fields, but our political leaders get away with it every single day.

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  15. David Jodrey

    Culadasa has just issued a 33 page statement about the events, giving background and information from his own perspective. It’s worth reading, and seems quite plausible to me. He explains the delay in responding and to some extent disavows his previous statement, quoted above.

    It’s too bad that one can have an illuminated mind and yet also deep-seated and unconscious neurotic patterns, resulting in screwed up relationships, and yet it seems that is the way things go. After reading this explanation of the situation by Culadasa I have decided to get serious about meditation practice again, while recognizing that it is by no means a panacea.

    One can find a link to the most recent statement, and a discussion of it, on reddit. The statement itself is currently posted at https://tinyurl.com/CuladasaJan2021

    • Shaun Bartone

      Yes, I received the email too, and I’m about to post an article about it.

    • olvegg

      Thank you, there is also an interview on the Guru Viking podcast. To me, this vindicates that the board and people of this community engaged in unnecessary drama about this in ways that was in fact damaging to the people involved and the community at large.

      The author of this website never corrected himself on using the term “charges” despite numerous people explaining what this means, and in the last blog post about the subject, all the while deeming John Yates’s 33rd pages document “obsessively” long (Nevermind that so many people shamed him for what happened without knowing the circumstances) he is “obsessively” himself continuing to defame John Yates about his affairs […] After getting caught having affairs with multiple women […]

      Remember people that his ex-wife was aware of what was happening. Is this being caught in an affair still?

      To the author of this website, if you believe in right speech, please stop spreading these false allegations and contributing to this drama.

      • olvegg

        I also want to make clear that I still stand by the board’s decision and I am also using his name, not his Upsaka title. I am not here trying to erase what happened orjustify Mr Yates behavior. But what as been most damaging in my experience with this whole ordeal is exemplified by this blog. When people are confused, they read about a subject, try to get a better understanding and perspective. This contributed to much disinformation.

      • Shaun Bartone

        For those who have a couple hours of their life to waste on this whole sordid story, please read the 33-page letter by John Yates in which he describes how he royally screwed himself, Dharma Treasure, his marriage, his students and his teaching career, how the Board and all his students turned on him because he refused to own up to what everybody already knew on some level, based on what Culadasa admitted himself. https://mcusercontent.com/9dd1cbed5cbffd00291a6bdba/files/d7889ce1-77cb-4bbb-ac04-c795fd271e5e/A_Message_from_Culadasa_01_12_21.pdf

      • olvegg

        The Guru Viking podcast can offer a shorter explanation that is probably sufficient to be fair.

  16. Shaun Bartone

    Here’s an even more concise statement, the announcement from the leaders of Dharma Treasure on their website: “We regret to inform you that Culadasa is no longer affiliated with Dharma Treasure. Dharma Treasure will continue to fulfill our mission.” The web page is dated “2021”. https://dharmatreasure.org/upasaka-culadasa-2/

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