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DY 027 – “Feminism, Sexual Misconduct, and the Guru in Buddhism” with Chandra Easton

Chandra Easton

Chandra Easton and Michael Taft talk about gender and sexual misconduct in Buddhism, why compassion must be a part of spiritual practice, and the place of the guru in modern culture. Chandra shares her personal story of dealing with sexual misconduct at the hands of her teacher, tantric practices as a technology for awakening, internalized patriarchy, and how love and kindness is the whole point of spiritual practice. Also included are guidelines for choosing a teacher, reimagining Tantric practices in non-binary ways, and much more.

Chandra Easton studied Buddhist philosophy, meditation, and Tibetan language at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, and translated Tibetan Buddhist texts on meditation with B. Alan Wallace. Chandra has taught meditation and yoga since 2001. She has studied with many Tibetan and Western Buddhist teachers such as H.H. Dalai Lama, H.H. Karmapa, Lama Tsultrim Allione, B. Alan Wallace,Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, and Jennifer Welwood. She is currently the Assistant Spiritual Director & Head Teacher at the Tara Mandala Retreat Center. To learn more visit and

women buddhism
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The Anam Cara


Show Notes

2:57 – Chandra’s move to Colorado

4:14 – The Tara Mandala retreat center

6:35 – The Chöd practices

11:33 – Namkhai Norbu and “self-secret”

14:33 – The technology of Tantra

20:38 – The motivation of compassion

25:54 – Guru sexual misconduct and The Feminine in Buddhism

34:04 – The Buddha’s views on women

37:38 – The Tantra movement

40:01 – Women in Buddhism and what needs to change

44:41 – Women-run sanghas

47:39 – Gender in Tantric practices

52:16 – Sexual abuse and spiritual leaders

59:05 – How to choose a teacher

1:05:04 – Qualities to look for in a teacher

1:10:11 – Is the guru still needed?

1:13:05 – The Soul Friend

1:15:40 – The story of the Grandma and the Dog’s Tooth

1:19:54 – The teacher vs. the teachings

1:28:35 – Education changing the female experience in Buddhism


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13 thoughts on “DY 027 – “Feminism, Sexual Misconduct, and the Guru in Buddhism” with Chandra Easton”

  1. Can’t stand this talk about not needing a guru. YEs there is some crap out there, but to become spiritual without a guru is intensely hard for westerners who are so full of their self obsesed obsessions. I think the situation is exactly the opposite. Westerners even MORE so need a guru, but they get garbage because they have some BS to work through in these realms and instead of taking responsiblility for their poor decisions they blame it on the whole guru culture.

    1. Umm… so you’re saying it’s the Westerner’s fault and that they attract bad gurus because they have psychological issues? That is complete nonsense.

  2. Hi Michael and Chandra.

    I enjoyed listening to this podcast. Thanks. I have a few thoughts on what was discussed. Some technical stuff first, then some more personal reflections.

    It is worth pointing out that Dr Ute Hüsken has led the effort to revise the idea that the Buddha resisted ordaining women. There is a good deal of evidence that the Buddha (if indeed he was an historical person) had no reluctance to ordain women. The story of Mahāprajapati is clearly a later patriarchal story. Contrast it, for example, with the story of Bhaddhā from the Therīgāthā. She was a wandering Jain ascetic who met the Buddha and he ordained her on the spot with the ancient formula “ehi bhaddā”. This form is thought to predate the more formal two-stage ordination process.

    Ute:(broken link removed)
    My breif account of Bhaddā:

    The whole question of the garudhammas or extra rules for bhikkhunis is another reason to be suspect of traditional monasticism. Being a monk is simply a lifestyle choice. There is nothing special about monks. Most of them a less impressive than series “lay” practitioners. The Buddhist monastic tradition is a power structure, not a practice structure. Revering people who shave their heads and wear robes is a recipe for disaster, because anyone can do these things.

    It’s also worth mentioning that “āryans” as an ethnic term has long been deprecated amongst scholars. It is inaccurate and too strongly associated with the Nazis. Indic is the preferred term these days (though this is a linguistic rather than an ethnic term) – they were an offshoot of the Indo-Iranian group of cultures. Some went west to Anatolia and some went east into greater India. The term “invasion” is associated with Victorian-era colonialist scholars and orientalism. “Āryan” and “invasion” are terms really best avoided (especially together). Which is not to say that Indic-speaking people did not migrate from greater Iran into greater India. Of course they did but where people live, what language they speak, and their ethnicity are not always closely related. Genetics suggests that Indic-language-speaking immigrants were quite small in number, rapidly intermarried, and did not simply take over the north of India. We still don’t fully understand the dynamics.

    Caste is a translation of jāti “birth” and refers to the Indian idea that one is born into an occupation – a quite late development associated with the Dharmasūtras such as the Manusmṛti. It is not a translation of varṇa “colour” which is better translated as “class”. Class developed in India, probably as a hybrid of the social attitudes of incoming Indic speakers and the indigenous people who spoke languages from at least three other major language families: Dravidian, Austro-asiatic, Tibeto-Burman. Which suggests a diverse range of ethnicity as well.

    Why do Buddhists insist that existence equates with permanence? This is out of step with the Western intellectual tradition which has always acknowledged that existence is temporary. Indeed, arguably our intellectual tradition acknowledging impermanence is older than Buddhism since Heraclitus seems to predate the putative dates of the Buddha. I’ve never met anyone who appeared to believe that existence meant permanence. Though of course I’m met many people who desire immortality, which is poignant precisely because we *know* it is impossible.

    With respect to the theme of gurus. I think a sangha is better than a guru. A sangha is an ecosystem of people with a range of different skills. One might teach meditation, but not be so good at study or admin. Another will be very good with beginners, but less able to provide support for deeper practice. When you distribute the reliance you are less likely to make unhelpful psychological projections. And no one person is burdened with too much responsibility or authority; or tasked with taking on something they are ill suited for. We all progress together.

    Hierarchical ecclesiastical titles are just a fiction and a barrier. A title is no guarantee. One has to have some way of signalling membership of one’s community (we are still primates after all) but this should not be too ostentatious or aggressive. Nor so exclusive as to be off-putting.

    You didn’t talk much about chastity (i.e. abstaining from all sexual activity) or celibacy (not having sexual partners). IMO chastity should be voluntary and seen as one practice amongst many that are available to us. it can be beneficial for for periods of time (such as while on retreat). Life long vows of chastity are likely to create mental health problems if the person is not in extremely supportive conditions.

    It is self-evident, to me anyway, that gender is not relevant to being at the forefront of Buddhist practice and/or social organisation. Being against the social power structures that oppress people on any basis (gender or whatever) seems like a natural extension of Buddhism. Seeing that certain social institutions actively promote and exploit social division is an important insight for citizens. I’m far from perfect in this regard, but everyone deserves our best wishes. The best thing that can happen to patriarchs is the destruction of the patriarchy.

    We won’t change things on a larger scale unless we can convert the opinion-makers in society and the policy-makers in politics to our way of thinking/seeing/practicing. And the tide is rising against us at the moment. We’re not far away from being a mere footnote in Western history, awakened teachers notwithstanding. What if all Buddhist teachers were visiting their political representatives on a regular basis and talking to them about the benefits that practice offers? They meet with all kinds of lobbyists, so why not Buddhist lobbyists? But while we present Buddhism as a religion, this job will be much more difficult.

    Best Wishes

  3. Thank you, Jayarava, for this wonderful comment. I learned much from it, and welcome the opportunity to grow in my understanding, always.

  4. Thank you, Chandra, for your wisdom and courage! I found this link on the Buddhist Project Sunshine discussion group, and I am finally finding the courage to come forward about the sexual abuse I have experienced at the hands of Buddhist Lamas. Slowly finding my way back into the mandala, your words speak to my heart. Blessings and gratitude for your devotion to your practice, and for sharing your light with the world.

    1. Dear Arwen, thank you for your comment and I’m touched by your words. I have found it very healing to reflect on my experience in the light of the Buddhist Project Sunshine reports and the #MeToo movement. It’s heartbreaking to read the stories in the report, it’s such important work. Good luck and may your practice help to heal the scars of abuse you’ve experienced, we can’t let bad behavior take our faith and devotion to the teachings away from us. Sending prayers and support.

  5. Thank you Chandra, for your honesty and wisdom. We need all the trailblazers we can get to change the landscape of Buddhism. We need to get all spiritual practices out of the clutches of patriarchy and I am thankful to have a sister in you on the frontline:))

  6. Thanks Katchie, so good to read your words of support. Cheers to moving this forward and ushering in a new era of Dharma in the world.

  7. It was OK interview. What would be nice, especially in the case of tantrics who aren’t interviewed even nearly as much as teachers from other systems, is to have sequels. All these topics remain superficial in just one episode. Dig deeper!

    I enjoyed the way Michael Taft asked questions very directly.

    As a reply to Michael’s statement that tantrism is not needed anymore, it is necessary to understand that buddhist tantra, incl. dzogchen, is very different and has a whole different scale of depth compared to hindu tantra. Knowing hindu tantra doesn’t mean knowing buddhist tantra.

  8. The Legality of Bhikkhuni Ordination by Bhikkhu Analayo is a painstakng setting straight of the record by a recognized, ordained world authority on the Pali canon

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