I am sharing a link here so that this account is locatable to members of this community from which the Monastic Academy actively recruits. This account describes my personal experiences, observations of organizational practices and misconduct, and knowledge of other accounts of ongoing negligence, emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse which have been present over the past 10 years. This account is not written in the style or language commonly used in this community. If choose to comment please exercise mindfulness regarding the highly sensitive and complex nature of this information. My hope is that this information and perspective will be helpful to a least one person in this community in making better informed decisions about how to engage with the risks of training and/or associating with the Monastic Academy. 

To read more you can visit this link:  https://medium.com/@shekinahalegra/dear-monastic-academy-and-community-members-49c25d9646a4

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I do appreciate the account being public. At the same time I would have liked more details about the experiences. 

Saying "there was a consent issue" is one level of abstraction over a straight recounting of experience. There's a huge difference between kissing someone with whom you are in mutual love without asking them for permission for it and rape in sense of the criminal code.

Having an account of what happened exactly would be useful to put the incident into practice.

I have since updated this account with more detail about the incidents. Thank you for your feedback. 

As someone who upvoted ChristianKI's above comment, I want to state that when I read updated version, the behavior you describe seems indefensible to me and morally bad. I'm sorry this happened to you!

(I really hope it was indeed comparatively more forgivable cluelessness rather than malicious intent or the more sinister type of "cluelessness" that comes from certain people not having any empathy, high impulsivity, and no fear of bad consequences.) 

Thank you Lukas; it was incredibly hurtful and it is my experience that the organizations unethical response to this incident caused far greater harm and retraumatizion to myself than even the original incident.

You bring up a good point about intent vs. "cluelessness". These are my thoughts. It is difficult to me know how much of this was a result of inexperienced leadership trying to cover up what they may have thought was a consensual experience at the direction of their head teacher (who no doubt was well aware of the risks this posed to the organization) vs. they recognize the issue of consent and the power dynamics were a serious issue and intentionally collaborated to cover this up. Either way I believe that OAKs leadership knew that these actions were unethical.

I do believe that much of the organization's response was in many ways due to having a high risk program model which places people in positions of nonprofit leadership they are not prepared for while also undergoing intensive psychospiritual training. Because everyone is simultaneously having a very intense experience it becomes much more likely that both minor and major organizational oversights and mismanagement will occur. There is a real need for restructuring in the organization and program including separation of key roles like ED and Care Director to avoid future harm and adequate support for participants in training and grounded organizational management. Additionally, in an environment where many unaware and inexperienced (in nonprofit management) leaders look up to and idolize a beloved teacher (Soryu) who they believe to be trustworthy; many of these leaders are acting under the direction of a headteacher whose motives I believe to were driven by seeking to protect the organization at whatever cost necessary. I have never spoken to this head teacher despite multiple requests for a meditating conversation with this man.

Because this program has been running for so long despite many reports of harm and other mishandled situations I ultimately hold the Head Teacher and the board of directors responsible for the decisions they made and instructions they gave to OAKs leaders. While I do think much of OAKs leaders cluelessness maybe forgiveable; there are other leaders in this organization whom are well aware of the substantial harm caused to many people over the years as a result of maintaining this program model. It was and is upsetting to me that this Head teacher and organization knew I was deeply hurt and did not address the harm they had caused through their actions. It is also upsetting to me to see the organization and various members continually justify and support a program model which I believe to have been a significant contributor to the many organizational oversights and unethical actions that created my experience. Experiences like mine should not be considered a justifiable risk of intensive training or simply a "mistake"; especially when the organization does not take steps towards accountability and making repairs with people like myself.

Thank you. The updated version does make it clear to me that there are serious problems with MAPLE.

Would you be wiling to share what specifically updated you in that direction? 

The sexual assault is serious. It's not just that someone was in an altered state after some meditation than where they couldn't properly consent while being in the "no sexual interaction" retreat container or a variety of similar actions that might be called consent violations. There was also no gradual buildup of physical intimacy (no foreplay/kissing) were going along with that could be seen as a form of implicit consent. 

As far as the reaction goes, going 2 1/2 weeks without talking to her and getting her side of the story of what happened seems pretty bad. Both for reasons of lacking the information and because it results in her not getting support to process the experience.

Having an environment where trainees feel like they don't have the resources to walk out and go home seems very problematic.

It seems like people are pressured to sign documents about adhering to standards about which there's no information before applying to be a resident. If you expect residents to follow a specific ethics code, asking for that after the people are there for more then a week, instead of being open about that ethical code on the website that advertises the program seems strange.

Writing a document that speaks about clarifying the mission while being secretive about the ethical code that's followed seems strange.

Thanks, that's helpful. I think you're mostly right in that MAPLE / Oak messed up in some big ways. 

  • Including: Oak not sending the right apprenticeship agreement form to begin with. One was sent, but it didn't include the clause about no romantic or sexual contact with other trainees. This was a major lapse. (I believe it said to avoid sexual harassment.) Somehow this hadn't really become an issue before this. In any case, the form has been corrected.
  • MAPLE leadership doesn't put the onus on Shekinah to have known about this missing clause. Also she didn't sign the agreement until later, so there's no blame toward her for not following those particular rules.
  • Note the agreement signed by apprentices is different from the ones residents sign, with the resident agreement being much longer and more extensive. The excerpts are from the resident agreement, not the apprentice agreement. I don't think there is an intention to hide the agreements? I at least didn't consider publishing them, just didn't cross my mind.¯\_(ツ)_/¯ If we published the current version, it wouldn't match the ones Oak signed anyway because those are now a year out of date, so I don't know if that would be confusing? The excerpts were parts that haven't changed.
  • MAPLE is currently working on, but still generally lacks robust systems, for ensuring branches all have the same protocols for things like the admissions process. This project is in the works, and slow improvements are being made. In the meantime, Oak has been on hiatus for about a year.
  • When it became clear that Oak was not in a good place a year ago, Oak was shut down and has been more or less closed ever since. MAPLE / CEDAR acted relatively quickly to take power away from Oak.
  • The teacher of Oak is no longer teaching or in the program. He is out in the world, his own person. The Director of Oak was removed from power. He left the program for most of 2021 and is now back at MAPLE for continued training and has only the responsibility of handling IT.  He helps cook and clean too. The Acting Director is also not in the program. Oak was pretty much disassembled.
  • Oak is unlikely to reopen anytime soon, but the current plan is to reopen in 2022 with much more CEDAR oversight. It also wouldn't be a monastic training container, but more of a community center / group house where people live, work, and meditate together. There wouldn't really be a 'teacher' involved as far as I understand. Many things would be different.
  • (The reason Shekinah says Oak 'reinstated' the Director is that ... well at first, Oak independently decided to remove him from his position as soon as they knew any sexual encounter had happened—although the details hadn't really been investigated since this was soon after. They made an internal announcement about it. Then they realized they needed to wait for the Board's decision, and so did a rewind. The Board then later officially took him out of power.)

The internal investigation mentioned in the document is not to investigate Oak. Oak was already dealt with. None of those people have power in the org. The sexual assault allegation needs to be handled separately, and we are still seeking sane ways for doing that. If you have specific ideas, we're open to them. 

The internal investigation mentioned in the doc is mainly around gathering surveys and stories from former trainees—to collect data about their time in the training and what kinds of things they experienced during and after. Much of the actual work of this will be conducted by people other than Keshin Dee. Keshin will be overseeing the work. 

We will eventually publish a letter about this part. The details are still being decided. 

Thank you Unreal for acknowledging that OAK and MAPLE messed up in some big ways.

  • OAK shutdown in March of 2021 several months later

  • It is my understanding that the Acting Director spent much of this past year on tour in collaboration with the MA's mobile tour and recruiting potential participants for the MA. I recently learned that OAKs teacher has since left the organization. I had also heard that he is still active in the community, supports it, and intends to build a cabin as part of MAPLEs village. As you have addressed OAKs former director is training at MAPLE.

  • It nice to know the MA doesn't blame me for NOT following rules and agreements that weren't clearly communicated to me. The statement that you don't blame me for breaking the rules feels out of place considering I did not have a choice in the incident that occured. This is news to me. This still brings up the question as to why I was asked to leave with 24 hrs notice; in combination with the Director stepping back into his position.

  • None of the statements I've seen made address that Soryu directed what to me seems like a poorly executed coverup (i.e. telling OAKs leaders to secure this document, get rid of me, and having the Executive Director returned to power). This is issue is not resolved; Soryu's role in directing actions at OAK and the response of MAPLE to these events is the PRIMARY thing I would like to see addressed. The boards later removal of this man from power does not change the impact that these events had on me. It is not helpful to simply chalk this up to a mistake and a learning experience when ones actions have serious consequences and cause real suffering for others. Not seeking and integrating my perspective during or after events was a serious error, and reflects poorly on the organizations ethics and intentions. When the organization was very aware that I was deeply hurt and impacted by how it handled issues it still did not reach out or make amends. This organization seems to think they adequately handled OAK while take zero responsibility for it's unethical actions, organizational negligence and practices that created these events, and it's harmful impact on myself and others. These statements also do not account for the fact that many such "mistakes" resulting in real hurt and harm have happened repeatedly in this training environment over the last 10 years . This organization actively ignored, dismissed, failed to respond appropriately to my attempts to communicate grievances and respond to allegations until I said I would be making a public statement. Even now this organization has not made a public apology or taken responsibility for the actions that caused this suffering - or made any other attempts to make amends in over a year.

  • Based on this MA report I was under the impression the OAK was rebooted this fall: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1mfx3hzhy9k9fe8/quarterlyreport-maple-fall2021-web.pdf?dl=0

  • Opening lines for feedback on grievances is important; especially now. I was glad to see that there is anonymous link for giving feedback. However, ALL reports of harm, misconduct, and abuse need to investigated by a 3rd party investigator. I personally would be best supported by this organization if an extensive 3rd investigation happened regarding Soryu's conduct and treatment of students. I believe many others would be to. If indeed Soryu is willing to be accountable and responsible in the way he speaks to in his teaching this should not be an isssue. If there is a pattern of abuse and harm it will be made clear through a 3rd party investigation; if there is not a pattern of harm and abuse affecting many parties than this will also be made clear. However, based on my current awareness these patterns have been ongoing over the past 10 years. The justification of risks and denial of responsibility in the MA response to my letter further alienates people like myself who have legitimate grievances and whom have been deeply hurt by this organization and community. The current actions bring taken make it difficult to trust or engage with the organization.The vast majority of people I am aware of whom have been harmed or had very negative experiences in this training do NOT feel safe engaging directly with the MAs leadership and/or persons whom have obvious conflicts of interest in an investigation. It seems unlikely that the current approach being utilized will actually yield the kind of honest feedback that is needed.

  • Please also note my recommendation for an outside evaluation of board governance, program model/risks/outcomes, organizational policies, and organizational health, ect. I believe doing so would have tremendous benefits for everyone.

The statement that you don't blame me for breaking the rules feels out of place considering I did not have a choice in the incident that occured. 

Without having access to the ethics code myself, I would expect that going swimming together and then lying on the beach together while having romantic feelings for each other would have been already enough to be in violation of the policy.

The problem with what you just said is that the proper ethic code and agreements were never shared with me until after this incident occurred, were not reviewed with me when I arrived as was supposed to happen, and were never signed by me. All major organizational oversights. The definition of sexual misconduct that I was aware of when I entered the training was that sexual misconduct was defined as sexual harassment and sexual assault. I'd be more than happy to share a copy of the agreements I received; though according to what Unreal has posted those agreements are not up to date.

These are the agreements I received: https://www.dropbox.com/s/62fexgtupgzt6a6/agreement%2C liability%2C media release docs_maple.pdf?dl=0

When I had difficulty viewing and printing these agreements which were sent appx. week prior I contacted the people running the program to inform them of this issue. I was told we would review and talk about these agreements when I arrived at the center at that time. This never happened - largely in part because of their disorganization and the reshuffling of residents between centers.

The first page of this document with a different definition of sexual misconduct which included romantic and sexual relationship was presented to me after the incident. the second page was presented to me as I was running to catch a train as an "injury waiver" after being injured. I did not intend to pursue any legal action regarding the facial injury experienced while training. I regret not reviewing this document in depth. In retrospect this document reads to me like the organization is well aware of serious risks to participants. These risks are not disclosed to participants anywhere; not on the website, not on this document, these risks were not discussed when I was being recruited or considering training. In now way, shape, or form did I have any indication that there was some serious messed up stuff happening to people that was causing long-term damage. It is concerning to me that apprentices and residents have been asked to sign away liability without being notified of risks. From my viewpoint this compromises a persons ability to make informed decisions about their safety and participation; and compromises their agency and ability to consent to the training.

I had not agreed to any of these conditions prior to entered the container due to organizational oversight. And frankly even if I had been aware of the agreements; a violation of the policy does not make me responsible for or excuse sexual assualt or the organization for covering up this incident. It really does not matter what I said or did in this situation he was the Executive Director and he was aware of the Ethics code and had signed agreements regarding his own conduct. Whatever feelings or action had did not change the fact that this was a serious ethical breech; and that covering up this incident was also a serious ethical issue.

I find having access to the relevant ethics code important when it comes to having public discussions about misbehavior in an organization. 

It makes it possible to say "hey you are violating your ethics code" and it also makes it possible to say "your ethics code is flawed in aspect X".

If we published the current version, it wouldn't match the ones Oak signed anyway because those are now a year out of date, so I don't know if that would be confusing? The excerpts were parts that haven't changed.

There's an easy solution to this, just put all ethics codes with the dates where they were active online.

MAPLE leadership doesn't put the onus on Shekinah to have known about this missing clause. Also she didn't sign the agreement until later, so there's no blame toward her for not following those particular rules.

When she writes about being pressured to sign a letter because that's what "everyone in the organization needed to relax and feel safe" that makes sense in the context of blaming her for violating rules and having to make up for the rules violation. 

Outside of that framing that seems to me like a clear abuse of power. 

The sexual assault allegation needs to be handled separately, and we are still seeking sane ways for doing that. If you have specific ideas, we're open to them. 

To me, it seems that having the mediation with the meditator that Shekinah asked for is a reasonable step forward. If you agree that she didn't violate rules and is the victim here it seems to me reasonable to have her make the choice about the mediator.

The demand to withdraw public criticism as a precondition for a mediation seems to me unwarranted.

The reason why I was being pressured to sign a letter (which is another seperate document then the agreements) so that "everyone can relax and feel safe" was in the context of that the organization was afraid I might attempt to sue them or speak up publicly. To me this indicates that they were aware to some extent of serious ethical breeches. It is difficult for me to know to what extent the board and Soryu were aware of these breeches; were they covering things up because they realized the breech between an ED and student in the program was a serious ethical breech and liability OR were they covering things up because something he said indicated to the leadership that there were other clear indicators that this was not consensual interaction. Why did Soryu send is girlfriend to investigate these issues? Why was I exclude from all these conversations? Why did no one ask for my account?

If they don't put the onus on me for breaking the rules as stated above - the context of the letter being about " in the context of blaming me for breaking the rules and making up for violations of rules" (which is not the context) doesn't exist.

At this point in time I would not withdraw public statements without extensive organizational change and accountability including Soryu Forall stepping down from leadership while a third party investigation looks at ALL reports of harm and abuse for myself and others - and accountability for the results of such an investigation. It is standard in many practicing communities to do so when these claims come forward. The organization stands to lose a lot of support and credibility by not having a 3rd party investigation of ALL incidents of abuse and harm. These issues are much deeper than just my experience - those whom have been harmed, current and future prospective students, donors and other major stakeholders should all have access to this information and the steps the MA is taking to address these issues so that they can make informed decisions about there support and participation. The fact that they are conducting an "internal investigation" is telling; if they do not believe there are significant issues regarding harm and abuse then why has the organization not taken steps in this direction. I hope they will.

The reason why I was being pressured to sign a letter (which is another seperate document then the agreements) so that "everyone can relax and feel safe" was in the context of that the organization was afraid I might attempt to sue them or speak up publicly.

That makes sense as a motivation, but to me, it seems clearly unethical without further justification of why you owe them signing such a letter.

I would like to see from MA either a statement of why they believe, pressuring you into signing the letter was justified or a statement that they believe it wasn't justified. 

Note: While I'm a resident at the Vermont branch of Monastic Academy, I'm not representing them here, nor am I stating a final position as obviously there's ongoing sensemaking and investigating going on.

My understanding of this was that after they found out that a relationship had started between two participants in the training (which is explicitly against the agreement one of the participants signed, although not the OP), they wanted to make sure that the relationship was indeed ethical and consensual (which involved two people getting into a relationship that was against the organizational rules, AND a significant power differential. Obviously it's possible for such a relationship to be coercive so it's good to be incredibly clear that it is indeed consensual)

Given these unusual circumstances, they wanted to make sure the organization and everyone involved was clear up front that both people had entered into the relationship consensually.

My understanding is that from the CEDAR side (leadership based in Vermont), there wasn't intended to be any pressure to sign the document - more like double checking, crossing i's, dotting t's -  I'm unsure of how that got communicated on the OAK side.

I can tell you how it played out from my perspective. The man I was in love with came to me and said Soryu asked me to do write this letter stating that this was loving and consensual and we are abiding by the rules of the Monastic container ( all of which was true except for the consent piece) because the board of directors is worried you might sue the organization or speak up publicly (something I had no intention of at the time); he then repeatedly brought this up to me despite my hesitancy and tried to get me to sign this letter. Finally I was told not asked told we would sign this in front of the whole community. I felt extremely pressured both by him and by the community and other leaders to do so. It seems pretty messed up to me that Soryu personally asked the man I was in love with and whom had sexually assaulted me to write this letter and get me to sign it - followed by immediately instructing OAKs leadership to send me away with 24 hrs notice while this man resumed leadership. All of these to my knowledge were decisions made by Soryu and MAPLE leadership NOT OAK's leadership though they are certainly responsible for their participation. Sending this person was problematic for many reasons not only was I more vulnerable to this person because we had fallen in love; already feeling confused about my experience because nobody was talking to me about what happened or available to walk through the incident with me; but this person had more power in the community as the recently removed ED, had been in the community far longer, and as a donor who had pledged 200,000 to the organization which still hadn't been received and whose personal and professional ties were key in the organization receiving a 300,000 grant from BERI that they were being considered for - all of these are power dynamics; and ultimately he stood the most to gain from securing a letter that stated consent. If there is a question about whether an interaction was consensual or not you don't send the involved party to secure a letter that state consent - that's messed up. That's a great way to end up with coercion. The idea that they didn't know is also bullshit - their leadership should have spoken directly to me about what happened. There should have been a third party investigation then but instead Soryu sent his girlfriend to sort it out during which she spoke to me only only and then only to briefly acknowledge my presence. According to this man - he told me that after we signed this letter the Acting Director who had orders from Soryu told him what was going to happen with me; he objected and said this is unethical and was told that he didn't have a choice about sending me away and resuming his position as director that was also messed up. It would have been messed up even if the sexual interaction had been consensual given that I had not broken any agreements. So yeah I am hella critical of Soryu - because what kind of trustworthy teacher would ask his students to do something like that. what kind of teacher instructs a student/an executive director to cover up his sexual misconduct and get rid of the woman without ever speaking to her? What kind of person tells a man to betray the woman he loves? The man in question never should have participated in those actions but he did - and it broke him, and it broke us completely. I doubt you or very few others will ever understand the depths of betrayal and heartache between myself and this man, myself and this organization. What happened at OAK destroyed any trust between us and we never recovered. The initial incident was not ok and it never should have happened for many different reasons; but the sense of betrayal, being coerced and silenced, and then being kicked out of and basically ignored by a whole community and it's leadership over the next year that was really fucked up.

I think they are trying to spin it like they didn't know and it maybe that they intentionally did not speak to me because they were already afraid it might not be consensual. There is no excuse for this organizations board, OAK and MAPLEs leaders to not speak to me directly about the incident - which frankly I need support to even process it. Which btw many people would say consent isn't possible within a power dynamic. I simply would have liked to be treated with some basic respect and compassion - instead of being mistreated by an entire community for an incident that I did not choose. I loved this man; but I should have had a choice about when, how, where, and under what circumstances I wanted to engage in a sexual relationship. Ultimately, the response of OAK AND MAPLEs leaders and this man's participation in covering this up caused far greater suffering and harm to me personally than even the original incident did. I would like for the person whom directed these actions to be responsible and accountabile.

So yeah, I think the response of this organization is bullshit and I do not trust this organizations leaders whom have failed to make an repairs with me in over a year since all this occured. I doubt that is just a big "mistake". An internal investigation into these events is a massive conflict of interest, it was a year ago and still is today. The fact that Soryu hasn't stepped down while a third party investigation takes places is telling and could have serious consequences for the organization. If there legitimately was a misconception or breakdown in communication or legitimate error made by leadership then that further points to the fact that there are serious error in the program design and model that needs to be corrected. These are not the kinds of actions or "mistakes" that should be happening in ANY organization; they cause real damage and if incidents continue to be mishandled causing serious harm to others it will likely lead to the organization losing credibility, donors, and collapsing.

The organization should not be putting this responsibility on to residents but should be enlisting support from experienced third parties about how to address past reports of abuse and harm from multiple parties and how to navigate crisis.

That maybe your understanding. But that's actually bullshit on so many levels.

I would like to see them take responsibility for their organizational negligence and/or ethical misconduct of it's leaders - and be honest about knowing about these allegations in their public statement. Their public statement is appalling for many reasons - but their lying about not knowing about these allegations is especially upsetting when I shared my grievances in an email exchange in May. I would also like to see 3rd party investigation and a 3rd party nonprofit evaluation of their systems and program - if they are serious about integrating feedback and transparency these are obvious next steps for any organization with a headteacher facing multiple reports and allegations of harm and abuse (many of which are not public.)

Further justification would just be adding insult to injury. I get that you are just a skeptical stranger on the internet whom isn't personally affected by this situation (unless you have an undisclosed affiliation.) But there have been serious abuses of power and breeches of ethics here that are seriously fucked up and have caused deep suffering and heartache that still affects me personally. So at this point in time I'm done sharing information. I'm done engaging. This is too complex of a situation to address in this forum. 🙏

As far as the reaction goes, going 2 1/2 weeks without talking to her and getting her side of the story of what happened seems pretty bad. Both for reasons of lacking the information and because it results in her not getting support to process the experience.

I straightforwardly agree. 

Having an environment where trainees feel like they don't have the resources to walk out and go home seems very problematic.

I straightforwardly agree. Although ... I'm not sure what you're referring to by bringing this up. 

In general we try to avoid taking in apprentices who are low on resources or lack places to go if they need to leave. 

Although ... I'm not sure what you're referring to by bringing this up. 

Because of the sentence in the article:

If I had the resources and support to get home at that point in time I might have simply walked out

Thanks for your response.

For the record I think people usually do recieve these documents, ethics code, and are asked to sign a liability waiver for all risks associated with training (without being informed of the specific risks and some of the negative outcomes which also becomes an issue of informed consent) before and apprenticeship and residency. This is definitely a specific case where OAK dropped the ball on providing the correct documentation and orientation to the training. I would not be surprised if others may have encountered similar issues. I hope that future onboarding will be more transparent about training risks; the organizations history, goals, and teachings; and transparency about the lack of training and prior experience in organizational management and monastic practice/ training of teachers.

It is concerning to me that an organization that aspires to create "the most intensive training environment in North America" as so little regard for common and best practices of monastic training environment and of nonprofits. There seems to be a practice of "throwing one's self in" to areas of responsibility and power that have a serious impact on others without previous knowledge or being equipped to hold such a role and a lack of accountability that produces and justifies harm. It is my observation that this produces an environment where mismanagement, harm, and abuse of power is more likely to happen - additionally I believe this training does not produce leaders who are equipped to have a positive impact; but ones who in fact have a lot of healing, deprogramming, and unpacking to do before they can show up responsibly to a leadership position.

It's also worth noting the person appointing to do an "internal investigation" into grievances is a board member who was recently added after she and her husband purchased and invested substantial finances into MAPLEs village (potential conflict of interest) and whom is the mother of one of the four men (OAKs teacher) implicated in covering up this incident in my letter (definite conflict of interest) and I believe she may also be student of Soryu's whom is regarded is a beloved teacher.

There needs to be a 3rd party investigation into ALL the reports of harm and abuse.

I think it's worth noting that the writer here has never been to MAPLE and never talked to Soryu Forall. I think the author is really only qualified to give First hand opinions on the training and leadership at OAK.

As the OP points out Soryu asserts that he has an organizational structure that makes him responsible for what happens in his organization. Are you arguing that Soryu is not a guru in the sense he describes in his talk and thus does not carry the responsibilities he describes?

I haven't watched the video, but the way that responsibility works is that if you have the ability to respond to a situation to change the outcome, then you have response-ability.  So yes, Soryu does have responsibility for this situation, as does every other person involved in the situation.

If what Soryu is talking about in the video is blame, not responsibility, then sure he could set up an organizational structure where he takes all the blame. In some sense, he has done this (hence him getting blamed here despite never having met), but if so I don't have to buy into that structure. Blame is a moral and social claim and others don't get to dictate my morals or social choices.

  I think in terms of the actual dynamics of how to ensure that the situation doesn't happen again and that there is restorative justice, putting the blame all on him isn't the best way to get changes made.  I think he should take a significant proportion of the blame as leader of the CEDAR organization, but that there were many people more directly involved that should also take much of the blame.

I think it's quite problematic to see responsibility not about upholding promises that one makes and responsibility being about social roles one has. 

If I throw a party, then I have a special responsibility that the room is warm enough as the host that my guests don't have even when everyone can turn the thermostat. 

Soryu is actually talking about responsibility in the video. He claims that a guru-lead organization is ethically superior to a joint-stock corporation because that while in a joint-stock corporation nobody is really responsible for what the organization does in a guru-lead organization responsibility is clear.

By his own standards, he's more responsible for what happens here than the CEO of a major corporation is when something problematic happens in that organization.

Responsibility is about neither it's about counterfactual causality. Accountability on the other hand is about promises and maybe that's what we're talking about here?

If I look at the dictionary, one of the meanings of responsibility is:

​a duty to deal with or take care of somebody/something, so that you may be blamed if something goes wrong

In the video there the claim that in contrast to a CEO who's power is limited and thus does not have a duty to solve all ethical misdeeds of his organization a guru has more power and more duty to deal with significant ethical problems in his organization and is supposed to be blamed if things go wrong. 

Yeah, I think that a leader who has more power should probably be assigned more blame (as stated above), but not sole blame, unless there's some sort of bizarre structure where they have absolute power.

You are right, others also need to be accountable for their actions and participation. I do think, that there is a dynamic at the MA in which Soryu has a lot of power over people in the space in ways that are unique to this kind of group that needs to be accounted for and that Soryu and the board need to be accountable for maintaining a program design that is known to cause serious harm. I suspect that if everyone involved in causing harm or in acting unethically to cover harm up in this organization were held accountable there wouldn't be any or there would be very few core leaders left. Nearly everyone has been complicit, and there is a lot of deep learning and healing needed between many community members.

Actually Matt you don't seem to understand what the actual definition of what responsibility is.

Here are a few links:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/responsibility

https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/responsibility#:~:text=1[uncountable%2C countable] a,responsibility for the European market.

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/responsibility

I personally think it is extremely problematic for people to be given positions of greater responsibility in a role without behaving responsibly or being accountable for their impact. Hence the dozens of people that exist whose lives have been very fucked up as a result of engaging with Soryu. Many of whom do know him personally and whom know him better then you do and who spent much longer working and training with Soryu then you have. Some for over 5 years. Some who helped start the organization and have since seen many people leave broken and traumatized as a result of Soryu's abuse and irresponsibility. As founder and head teacher Soryu is responsible and should be held accountable for many things within the organization but specifically for his actions and the actions he has instructed his students to carry out thereby abusing his position of influence and power as a spiritual teacher.

It's funny to me that you can even talk about responsibility or anything else this organization supposedly stands for. Yet you don't seem to think Soryu is responsible for literally instructing his students to coverup an incident sexual assault by an executive director, and telling that director that he doesn't not have a choice except to participate, get rid of the woman he is in love with, and resume a position of power. Yes that man should also be held accountable for his choices as well as others who participated - but that does not mean Soryu should be given a free pass on the harm he personally caused in my life (it doesn't matter if I met him) through his actions and his decisions. Which were then carried out by his students. Either he is brainwashing and indoctrinating people or everyone in the organization also has questionable ethics and morals. Which one is it? You have a real point though that he is not the only responsible party here - in fact the other three main responsible parties in this situation in my sexual assault and in covering it up have all gone out of their way to block any communication with me so that might tell you a thing or two about the how responsible and compassionate they have become as a result of being a part of MAPLE.

Lastly, I know for a fact from speaking to many other women about what they experienced that these sorts of things have happened multiple times. This is far from the first situation where Soryu has been involved in covering up sexual harassment and sexual abuse most of which has happened at MAPLE when incidents were reported directly to him - he has followed the same patterns and script almost to a T to suppress, silence, and deny issues of sexual misconduct. I have zero doubts in my mind that if Soryu continues to be a teacher without radically becoming a different person which I don't think he is capable of as many people have attempted to address issues directly with Soryu over the last decade - that more people will be harmed in many different ways including more incidents of sexual harassment and abuse bring mishandled. But maybe you are one of those followers who seem to believe that it is ok for him to harm others because he is doing "good", because the risks are justifiable, or because you personally get to benefit from it.

No real or legitimate restorative justice will be possible without Soryu also being held responsible and accountabile for his actions; and stepping down from teaching and the board of directors while a third party investigation happens. If you truly cared for the suffering that I and so many other past students have endured you would be asking for the same thing and asking for real responsibility, accountability, growth, increased awareness, compassion for suffering, and integrity in the organization you support and are a party of instead of attempting to defend the organization's irrepressible behavior in online forum. The reality is you don't know the stories I do, you don't know the history of this organization as indicated by your incorrect reference to OAK being less then a year old on your comment on Medium which has since been updated, and you are not seeing these issues clearly.

It's the state of being the person who caused something to happen, it's a causal definition. E.g., Merriam Webster on this: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/responsibility

I clearly stated that I see Soryu as responsible as he could have counterfacrually caused something else to happen. Of course, everyone else in that situation is also responsible.

Accountability and responsibility are two separate things of course, both useful concepts.

At this point though this conversation isn't feeling truth seeking or mutually respectful/loving to me so I'll quite likely stop responding in this thread.

[+][comment deleted]4mo -3

In response to ChristianK, I hear that you would like more details and feel strait accounting would be useful. You are right that there is a difference between kissing someone without consent ( would also be messed up to get thrown out of a monastery for being kissed without consent) and the legal definition of rape. I believe my statement was that "consent was assumed without the practice of consent in a sexual encounter" which would indicate more than say being kissed. I will sit with whether or not I wish to give more details about this account. Thanks for bringing to my attention that this feels ambiguous.

In my original account written in a document that will soon be shared with the organizations board when finalized account covers 10 pages of play by play my experience at OAK plus 20 pages of interpretation and organizational feedback. A 30 page document is not an effective way to community to the general public. And I do not currently feel inclined to share that information with those whom do not have a direct leadership role or have an established relationship with myself at this time.

Please consider that my account is attempting to hold someone whom I once loved (as stated in my letter) and with whom I shared deep relationship with as gently as possible despite the impact of his and others actions on myself. And that crossing boundaries, sexual assault, and rape can happen in relationship at any time regardless of ones connection to an individual. The issue of consent is an incredibly difficult one to navigate given that many people have not been adequately taught. I may or may not choose to share further details about this initial encounter for a number of reasons as it is ultimately my personal story and a source of deep pain.

My account is meant to primarily focus on my broader concerns about the training as well as the response of the organization to this incident rather then the initial incident itself. Please consider that in any situation or degree of consent being violated that the subsequent response of the Monastic Academy to this incident was wildly inappropriate, sexist, excluded my voice and participation, and caused damage to emotionally, physically, and relationally. My story is ultimately one of a much broader conversation about safety and harm that needs to happen with the Monastic Academy's broader community.

I believe my statement was that "consent was assumed without the practice of consent in a sexual encounter" which would indicate more than say being kissed. 

It's quite typical to assume in normal society consent based on implicit cues in many situations. 

There are people who would say that having sex with someone on a first date after the person being really drunk would be a consent violation.

My account is meant to primarily focus on my broader concerns about the training as well as the response of the organization to this incident rather then the initial incident itself. 

I don't think it's possible to discuss broader concerns well without grounding them in hard facts. You for example write "I experienced this environment as being designed to break me and as seriously impairing the agency and judgment of those involved. "

This is again a layer of abstraction that doesn't allow the reader to form his own view to what extend the enviroment is designed well but only allows the reader access to your judgement. 

As I said I appreciate that you put the information in the open that you did (and personally weakly upvoted the post). If you intent is however 

A 30 page document is not an effective way to community to the general public.

I disagree. I would appreciate more details out in the public. In the Leverage case having Zoe's very detailed account out in public was very valuable for facilitating a good discussion about the harms of Leverage.

Thinking in public about organizational issues is also helpful to people to the broader community. There are other organizations that could face similar issues and publically talking about issues helps create common knowledge about what patterns are important when it comes to running organizations.

The letter could probably use greater clarity on events. There however is a substantial amount of information in the letter regarding recruitment practices, lack of informed consent, training risks and impacts, and lack of teacher/"staff" experience that I am guessing you didn't have a few days ago. You are right that it can be helpful to think in public about organizational issues and that strategic focused documents can be helpful. You have stated your preferences for more detail and thorough documentation about what the environment is like are noted and maybe helpful in future statements.There are already collaborative efforts that have been and are working on this kind of documented effort to which I have contributed substantially that will be available when they are available.

That however, is NOT the purpose for THIS letter. It would be helpful to remember that you are NOT the primary audience for this letter (unless you have an undisclosed affiliation here.) It would also be helpful to remember that we are not entitled to people's stories or more than they wish to share. Please notice that you are engaging with me and with events that were incredibly abusive and traumatic to me. As stated above this style if writing and response is not geared towards less wrong but I none the less thought it would be useful info to some people who maybe on the fence in this community. I am writing in a way that feels heartfelt, clear, and authentic for me. This is a extremely personal and emotional letter about my experience (and one that has been very painful and still is) and a call to action to the Monastic Academy and broader community members. Most of whom do have context for this environment and will not be surprised by statements such as "I experienced this environment as trying to break me..." This letter is very much for those community members who are out there hurting and feeling alone; whom already know what I'm talking about. I want them to know they are not alone. You have no idea what kind of messages I've been getting in ptivate. There are people whom have been waiting a decade for someone to speak out. Someone had to go first. Hopefully more will come forward when they are ready. The silence is over.

Based on your previous comments around consent I suggest you further engage with your own inner work and further education about how to better navigate consent.

Thank you for your input and you're welcome 🙏

Agree. I've gotten some communication about my top level comment on this post with regards to there being some additional context around this, and would like to see a more detailed, multiparty account of what happened in order to better assess and decide how to respond.

Thank you for your earlier response. Re: Soryu's ability to safely lead these trainings which I think is a much bigger question that impacts many people. Multiple accounts from others studying at Sogenji with Soryu also raise red flags and conflict with Soryu's own account. There is not really a way I can prove this to you other than asking others if they are willing to converse with you about this. The training Soryu is teaching does not even closely resemble Shinzen Young's system who has given him permission to teach within his system and to my knowledge he doesn't have adequate training or permission to teach the style of training he does which most resembles intensive Zen practice. Soryu is operating outside of any Zen lineage and as such does not have the kind of accountability that would come from a lineage. Many accounts of negative psychological breakdowns and long-term symptoms of cPTSD amongst former members also seems to support the idea that he does not have the capacity to offer this training safely (despite whatever good intentions he may have.) This intensity combined with the lack of experience, a grandiose vision that justifies harm, hierarchal authoritarian guru structure without accountability is an especially concerning combination laden with compounding risk factors. The fact that my experience and the organizations actions took place at his direction (according to what I have been told by those given these instructions) also does not reflect well on his character or ability to lead. The board of the organization is primarily made up of current/former students with Soryu as Head Teacher, Founder and Board President which presents a substantial conflict of interest in effective board governance. Issues of transparency with those recruited and with donors are key areas I am concerned about.

Of course, there is greater context than what can be offered in a letter. However, please consider that what and whom most benefits from denying these events and/or attempts to discredit being that nearly every other person involved in these events is still actively involved and the great lengths they have previously gone to protect their "reputation" which has ultimately led to this statement. If it were not for months of frustration and attempts to connect via a mediation process this would not be here. If apologies and amends had been made for these actions along with a demonstration of genuine integration and learning from these events to promote great safety for future students I would not be making a public statement. I would also take note of others comments and accounts that maybe forth coming. There will likely continue to be many details of people's experiences that they do not feel comfortable sharing in these venues.

My attempts to communicate with the organization directly since last Dec, and primarily since last May have been unsuccessful. This organizations leaders were only willing to engage in a mediated conversation under the conditions of all public criticisms being removed so unfortunately the possibility of creating a multi-party statement did not exist. This account is obviously a highly condensed version of the events. My account primarily focuses on the practices of, other details of my experience, and the response of the organization (i.e. pressure to sign documentation, exclusion from conversations about the events, immediate removal following the inappropriate actions of a leader, shunning) which would be highly inappropriate, sexist, and hurtful under any circumstances but is further compounded by my lack of consent and choice in this encounter.

I would welcome the man involved and possibly others involved into co-creating a multi-party account in the presence of a nuetral 3rd party mediator with acceptable conditions as long as it was truthful and accurate - and did not continue to perpetuate longstanding patterns of sexism, silence and complicity. It is possible I may share more details in the future or may choose to more details with certain people within the Monastic Academy's community. It is also possible that I may decide not to.

Again my story is part of a bigger story; one in which many people of all genders have experienced significant harm as a result of either the training or unethical actions of leadership- most of which detail accounts of psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse rather than sexual misconduct. Though I am aware of other accounts of this as well.

Here is a Facebook response posted by the former Assistant Director, whom previously was a part of MAPLE for 3 years and a core leadership member https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10109115376589050&id=900287&m_entstream_source=timeline

Thanks for sharing. I've not been 100% on top of what's been happening with MAPLE et al., but this makes me quite worried given you seem to be familiar with what high-intensity spiritual training should look like. I'm generally willing to give teachers with charismatic authority the benefit of the doubt (after all, Shakyamuni had only charismatic authority if you don't believe the stories about his past lives), but this seems like clear evidence that Soryu may not be sufficiently skilled to do what he's doing, and that carries through to those he's trained to lead.

I've previously been somewhat willing to defend MAPLE as a high-intensity monastic experience. And as such I've previously reasoned that many of people's concerns about it where due to unfamiliarity with that type of environment, but this seems like clear evidence that even given that framing something wrong is going on.

Re: my familiarity with high intensity training. I am primarily familiar with nonprofit structures, nonprofit leadership, organizational development, common and best practices, common challenges, and the solutions and practices that would be vital in such a space. From this viewpoint I can see many things that are creating issues that impact individuals and the organization that could be addressed with 3rd party input and guidance but overall I think the organization lacks an appropriate level of training and experience collectively to be able to be able to function safely as an intensive training environment. In order for this to happen substantial outside support would need to be brought in both on the organizational side and the Monastic side to hold the space. Since my training at OAK I have taken time to research, speak to Buddhist teachers and visit other Monastic centers to see how they operate and ask questions. Those interactions have been profoundly beneficial and healing for me. Knowing what I know now I would never train in an environment like MAPLE/OAKs again and I would substantially vet any monastic or other spiritual practice/retreat/community that engages in intensive practices including speaking to a number of former students before attending myself. From these conversations I have gathered much of what is happening there is not in alignment with common or best practices for monastic trainings - and maybe considered inappropriate and dangerous by other legitimate Buddhist practicing community standards. I am not an expert and continue to familiarize myself with Buddhist practice and Dharma as someone interested in learning from this path and practicing meditation. There are others whom are better sources of insight regarding these traditions, practices and risks. What I have learned through a couple of monastery visits and a half a dozen conversations with other experienced practitioners and teachers is enough for me to feel this training is not safe.

The Monastic Academy has released a Q&A to clarify some claims mentioned in the post.  Feel free to take a look. I'm happy to personally field questions. You can also email me at renshin@monasticacademy.org. 

https://monasticacademy.notion.site/Response-to-Community-Concerns-04d7e9761a0a4fdd94602ae5e6c7bd85 

Thanks for sharing. There is a big difference between clarification and denial of claims. Based on my own experience and that of many other former residents I've spoke to I find this response appalling and misrepresentative of the events and the organization.

It also does not address or list the specific risks of the training either here or on the website. Without which statements such as " We expect people who come here to take personal agency for their mental and emotional well-being" are unreasonable.

For the record, Kenshin Dee who recently joined the board is listed as the head of an Ethics Committee and the person who will be overseeing an "internal investigation" both has major financial investments in MAPLEs village and is the mother of OAKs former teacher, whom is one of the four men whose ethical conduct is implicated in my letter. This is an obvious conflict of interest.

There 100% should be a 3rd party investigation into ALL claims of unethical misconduct and abuse done by a reputable and unaffiliated investigator.

Copying a comment from the other deleted post on the topic as I think it helps provide context for what MAPLE is now doing to address some of these issues and how the OP's experience at our OAK branch applies to MAPLE.

Hey HS2021,

(For others reading, the context of this is that Shekinah attended an experimental new location of Monastic Academy called OAK. She was asking questions about how her experience at OAK applied to the main center, MAPLE, and other questions about the organizational response. )

I want to acknowledge that I have multiple competing goals in engaging here. I want to engage with you with compassion and understanding. I also want to do my best to answer honestly and clarify what I see is happening for both you and others, and finally I want to personally understand what did happen and clarify if I'm seeing the organization clearly and if we need to make changes (or in the extreme case do I need to distance myself from the organization).

So I likely won't make anyone completely happy with this response, including you, myself, or my friends here at MAPLE.

I also want to state that this isn't an official response from the organization, it's my own personal sensemaking and understanding having done a lot of work to critically examine the organization and understand how it works.

So all that being said, here's my best attempt to answer the questions I think I have insight on:

Does the program structure significantly differ from OAK?

Yes. The program here in Vermont is quite different from what you described. For instance, we are discouraged from fasting during retreats, and typically maintain a much tighter container for them (such as reading out the rules before beginning them).

Is there separation between staff and participant roles?

During awakening periods (silent retreats), MAPLE has people running the retreat center, and others doing the meditation, and there is a clear separation (aside from a couple roles - Head Monk, and Care, which do both). During "responsibility" periods (off retreat) of course the residents and apprentices are expected to take on non-profit responsibilities, that's a key part of the training, and there's less of a separation.

Is MAPLE practicing informed consent?

As far as I can tell MAPLE does a fairly good job of this. For instance the guest management typically is very clear with people what a retreat entails before they attend, and then a very clear speech is given the day before retreat about what it will be like, and people are once again given the opportunity to leave. Finally, every participant reads out loud a retreat agreement the moment before the retreat starts, so that everyone is crystal clear on the expectations.

I've seen MAPLE continue to get better and clearer about this over the time I've been here.

What about oversight and accountability?

My understanding is MAPLE has 3 decision making roles at the org - head teacher, executive director, and love role. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that there's checks and balances to power, and I've seen those checks and balances effectively used to make sure no one in the organization has too much power.

In addition, there's also the board, which provides external oversight. To my understanding one way they could improve is to get a bit more of an active board.

What is the onboarding process?

MAPLE has a number of different ways people can attend the center, and the onboarding process is different for each of them. They have short term guests, long term residential members, service guests, apprentices, residents, and retreat guests. Can give more specifics here based on what you'd like to know.


I would like to know what the organization is doing to "investigate" and improve based on my post and other feedback.

In the year that I've been here, I've seen clear and consistent efforts to improve along the dimensions that people have mentioned they have issues with. I've already mentioned the improvements in informed consent above, and I'll include several more below. Note of course that all of the initiatives below are new and may change or be ceased as MAPLE learns more.

Removing Leaders that Made Mistakes

On the immediate and obvious level, as far as I can tell, the leaders at OAK that made some admitted mistakes are no longer in leadership roles within the organization. That's not to say none of them will be in leadership roles in the future, but to my eye at least they weren't ready and the organization sensibly removed them from those roles.

Changing How They Approach New Centers

The organization as far as I can tell has also drastically changed the way it approaches launching new centers. I had an opportunity to experience the new OAK container for a month when they were experimenting with it, and the leader there is deliberately NOT trying to hold a "teacher" role. Instead, he is simply there to hold the container/rules, and may in time step into the teacher role if he feels ready.

Meanwhile our sister center Willow is ran an even more radical experiment, trying to mostly do away with hierarchical structure all together and run a 3 month experiment with a more collective/holocratic structure.

Implementing a Formal Teacher Training Program

The organization has now created and implemented a formal teacher training program, which replaces the previous less formal method of teacher training. My hope is that this training program will help to standardize the process and quality of teachers at new centers.

Creating a Standard Rubric for the Training

In addition to standardizing the teacher training, the program is also working to standardize how they measure the core things they're looking to train, and see how effective the teachers and training actually are.

Creating Systems for Better Oversight at New Centers

The organization is developing software for use at all the centers, that can track the aforementioned metrics and provide a standardized system for running centers and allowing anyone at the center to give feedback. This gives better insight into what's happening at centers for leaders of the organization, and can help prevent issues before they become very large.

Better Communicating What to Expect from the Training

The organization has continually improved how it describes what the organization is and what to expect as an apprentice, including updating the website, updating the resident/apprenticeship agreement, as well as giving very clear talks/conversations early on in apprenticeship about what to expect.

That's just a sample, and there's a lot more improvements I haven't mentioned here.


In terms of investigation, there's a number of things going on. All of this is of course subject to change as they learn more and adapt:

Research

MAPLE is taking a look at best practices that other similar organizations have and recommend, and seeing how we can model our policies, practices, and process after successful investigations/policies of others.

Interviews

We're starting to interview previous residents and apprentices (hopefully quite a few of them), and better understand their experience in and after the training. This will help us to better understand and improve where we can.

Conversations

Leadership here is having many conversations with others, getting their perspectives and insights and seeing what MAPLE can learn from others.

Warmth,

Matt

Thank you for sharing, from my conversations and discussions with 20+ folks who have trained at the center and my own personal training experience at the Monastic Academy almost everything you said seems spot on about the organization. Of course this is only based on my own experiences and stories I've heard from others who have lived there, but I am highly concerned about the direction and current status of the OAK/MAPLE/WILLOW training environments and would caution folks against going given the information I have heard and direct experiences I had with the center.

I had a highly adverse experience at this center as well but wish to not reveal more to stay anonymous.

Dharma Overground post about the subject: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/23453365

Thank you for sharing this. Yes, this public awareness is needed. I am sorry that you also had a highly adverse experience with the center. Sending you well wishes for support and integration 🙏