What do you do when your guru falls from grace?
I recently learned that my favorite Buddhist teacher, Noah Levine, has been dismissed from his position at an organization that he created, Against the Stream, due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
Before I go any further, I want you to know that Against the Stream hired an outside person to do the investigation into the allegations and found that they were true.
I know that Against the Stream did not make this decision lightly. In fact, considering the first allegations came out in March, they have definitely taken their time investigating and deciding what to do. Not to mention the money involved and the money lost.
I say money lost because, during those six months of investigation, Against the Stream lost a huge amount of money in canceled grants, donations and canceled fundraisers because of these allegations. Although Noah was one of many teachers at Against the Stream, he was the founder and the face of the organization. The damage was too great and Against the Stream will be closing their doors.
I’m giving you all of this information so that you know I’m not “taking sides” on this issue. This is not rumor. This is not “he said, she said.” This was a serious allegation and a serious investigation with confirmed results. An allegations that has sent shock waves through the community. A community that I donated to and participated in, if only from the fringes through podcasts and a few retreats. I own most of Noah’s books. I believed in what Noah and Against the Stream were doing. I recommended him to anyone interested in Buddhism but not sure where to start. I recommended him to anyone who , or knew someone who, was involved with addiction and trying to get help. This was one of Noah’s passions. He founded Refuge Recovery, both a non-profit and a for-profit center to help others with addiction like he had as a teenager. I believed he had dedicated his life to helping people and making the world a better place.
And so, here I am with a saddened heart knowing that Noah has betrayed a part of my trust and belief in him.
What to do? What to do? Oh Bother…
I’ve been going round and round in my head about this. Because, one of the reasons I loved Noah so much as a teacher was that he was human. He took Buddhism down to the bare bones making it accessible to everyone. He took out the pomp and circumstance that had made Buddhism in to a religion and simply taught the Buddha’s teachings. There was no ceremony. No chanting. There was only meditation and the Eight Fold Path. Noah invited people into Buddhism by being himself, a punk rock loving tattooed man who dropped F-bombs during his talks. He understood that we were all trying to walk this fine line between Buddhism and real life. He understood that it was messy, but urged us to just keep walking. Walking the line.
I don’t want that taken away. It’s too important.
However, I always knew he wasn’t perfect. I knew that he was a man of ego. I believe he had compassion. I believe he truly wanted to help others. I also believe his ego knew he was the face of Against the Stream, and the saint of Refuge Recovery. And here we are, a man with confirmed sexual misconduct allegations.
The Buddha teaches forgiveness. The Buddha teaches that we are all human and fall. Reading comments on Facebook about the allegations, many of his Refuge Recovery community pointed out that if a person in the community fell off the wagon, you didn’t leave them behind. You picked them up. You embraced them more. If they are willing to get back on the wagon, that is. But what if they aren’t? What if you hold that intervention and that person runs away from the wagon shouting that they are fine and they don’t need your f’ing help?
This is where my round and round stops with Noah. I think these allegations were his intervention. And I’m still not sure if he is getting back on the wagon or running away in denial.
Noah may not be addicted to heroin, or alcohol, or even sex. I do think his ego is addicted to power. Power is a slick-tongued demon that can easily seduce you to the dark side. It’s a slippery slope from important person to powerful person. I think it happens so easily that people in power don’t even realize they are abusing their power until it is too late. Especially if you are a guru of some sort. And then it is hard to give that power up. Unfortunately, I think Noah had himself on a bit of a pedestal. I’m not sure he is willing to let this part of his ego go.
I understand that Noah can’t admit guilt and ask forgiveness for legal reasons. The allegations may have been confirmed within his organization but there are no criminal charges. Just like in the corporate world, the punishment of sexual harassment is to be fired. His legal counsel has told him not to talk about it, admit guilt or apologize. But his actions have caused harm to a community of people. Can’t he say that he is working closely with his own spiritual teachers to go within and find what his role was in all of this? Has none of this humbled him?
This is where my forgiveness is difficult. Do I follow a teacher without personal introspection? Do I recommend a teacher that isn’t constantly growing to others looking for a path of spiritual growth?
All of this saddens me. Yet another guru seduced to the power of the dark side.
I guess this is the lesson. It is dangerous to follow one person. To put all your faith into one person. Instead, put your faith in an organization. So it saddens me more that Against the Stream is closing.
What to do? What to do?
On the practical side, I will no longer recommend Noah’s first book, Dharma Punx, to other people. Since it is his memoir, I see no reason for recommendation. I’ve never recommended his documentary, Meditate and Destroy, as it was crap. I will still recommend Noah’s introductory book on Buddhism, Against the Stream. I might even recommend his book on compassion and forgiveness, Heart of the Revolution. I haven’t read Refuge Recovery, his fourth book about addiction, but I see no reason to not recommend it and his recovery organizations, assuming they remain open. I’ve met people at retreats who were once homeless addicts and had found a second chance through Noah’s teachings. The flat truth is, I think the help these books can do outweigh the flaws of the man.
But the man? What to do with the man?
The other comment I read over and over on Facebook from the Refuge Recovery community is this: Do not give all the credit of your recovery to Noah Levine. No one can save you but you. Give yourself the credit. Noah just opened the door to Buddhism for me. He never pushed me through it. I used my own strength to walk through.
I think, more than anything, this situation has made me realize that I care a great deal about Buddhism. I care a great deal about my practice of Buddhism. It should not be taken lightly. I think this whole situation has made me a more dedicated Buddhist.
And so, I am choosing to walk away from Noah Levine. Just like all the other teachers I’ve had in my life, I think I have learned what I needed to learn from him. It is time to move on to another teacher. And I know that teacher, for the most part, is myself through my practice. But, you still need some outside guidance.
My plan is to research what is happening with the other teachers from Against the Stream. Where are they going? Will they join existing organizations or will they create their own? I know I will find other teachers whose podcasts I can listen to when I need inspiration. I just know, now, not to put all my faith in one.
Would you have made the same decision as me? Have you experienced someone you admire falling from grace? How did you handle it? If you feel like sharing your thoughts, comment below or email me at email@example.com.
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