Venerable Xuecheng (学诚), China’s highest-ranking Buddhist monk, yesterday resigned from his leadership of the Buddhist Association of China amid a government investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed several Buddhist nuns and coerced them into sexual relationships.
In a statement published on its website on Wednesday, the Buddhist Association of China stated that it had accepted Ven. Xuecheng’s resignation as the body’s president and other posts and that his duties had been temporarily passed on to the association’s vice president, Ven. Yanjue. The notice did not elaborate on the reasons behind the decision. The powerful State Administration for Religious Affairs, the government body overseeing religious groups and which last week announced an investigation into Ven. Xuecheng, posted the same statement on its own website.
Also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, president of the Buddhist Academy of China, and the abbot of the historic Longquan Monastery in Beijing, Ven. Xuecheng is one of the most high-profile figures to be accused of sexual misconduct as the #MeToo movement has gained traction in China, after a slow start. Ven. Xuecheng is also the latest in a series of prominent Buddhist teachers around the world to be accused of sexual impropriety. Ven. Xuecheng has denied the allegations against him.
The accusations were leveled in a 95-page report sent to the government by two former female monastics, Xianjia (贤佳) and Xianqi (贤启), at Longquan Monastery, where Ven. Xuecheng is based. The document, which was leaked via social media in China on 31 July, alleges that Ven. Xuecheng sexually harassed multiple female monastics over a period of years, and attempted to persuade them that they could be “purified” through physical contact. Other sections of the report allege that Ven. Xuecheng also embezzled funds and oversaw the construction of illegal buildings at Longquan Monastery.
Ven. Xianjia said on 2 August that it was not her intention that the report be circulated publicly “because that would have a negative impact on Buddhism. At first we just showed it to some masters but then it was shared widely [online]. The government has taken some action and I don’t dare to say more.” (South China Morning Post)
Ven. Xianjia and Ven. Xianqi formerly served as discipline inspectors at Longquan Monastery. Ven. Xianjia also worked as a secretary for Ven. Xuecheng. Neither has spoken publicly on the matter since.
The report includes records of explicit text messages allegedly sent by Ven. Xuecheng to female monastics. According to the accusations detailed in the dossier, Ven. Xuecheng coerced or threatened at least six nuns into engaging in sexual relationships, of whom four allegedly gave in to his advances.
The document also contains a written account by one of the alleged victims. The essay states that during a two-month stay at Longquan Monastery this year, the victim received repeated vulgar messages from Ven. Xuecheng, who also made several unwanted advances. “My belief system almost collapsed,” she writes. “I even considered giving up Buddhism and returning to secular life.” (SupChina)
In a statement published on the Chinese social media network Weibo on 1 August, Longquan Monastery refuted the accusations, stating that the two monastics had “forged materials, distorted facts, and spread false information,” with “illegal intentions to maliciously frame Abbot Xuecheng,” and to “mislead the public.” The statement added that the monastery would urge the government to conduct a full investigation into the matter. (Global Times, BBC, SupChina)
Ven. Xuecheng’s Weibo account, which has more than 1 million followers, has been inactive since posting the statement. The leaked report and posts discussing it on social media in China have since been removed or censored.
The #MeToo movement first found traction in China in December last year, and since then a growing number of women have opened up about sexual abuse, in particular on university campuses. While China has no legal definition of sexual harassment or legislation on how to handle incidents in schools and workplaces, changing attitudes among the country’s younger generation have brought the situation under increasing public scrutiny.
The exposé also comes in the wake of accusations of impropriety by a number of Buddhist teachers and leaders in other countries, notably the Nyingma teachers Sogyal Rinpoche,** founder of the Rigpa international network of Buddhist centers, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche,*** former head of the Canada-based Shambhala international Buddhist community. Ven. Seoljeong, the presiding executive of the Jogye Order of South Korea, the country’s largest Buddhist order, is also embroiled in a corruption scandal.****
In a separate statement at the conclusion of its council meeting in Beijing on Wednesday, the Buddhist Association of China urged greater observance of Buddhist ethics and resistance to the commercialization of Buddhism. “Religious ethics have been, and still are, the fundamental issue of Buddhism,” it said in a release, calling on Buddhist communities to correct the weakening of belief and discipline, arrogance, and the pursuit of fame and luxury. (China.org.cn)
* China’s Most Senior Buddhist Monk Denies Allegations of Sexual Abuse (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Sogyal Rinpoche Resigns from Rigpa (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** Ripples of Shambhala Sexual Abuse Scandal Continue to Spread amid New Allegations (Buddhistdoor Global)
**** Head of Korea’s Jogye Order Reverses Decision to Step Down (Buddhistdoor Global)
The Head of Korea’s Largest Buddhist Order Apologizes for Corruption Furor (Buddhistdoor Global)
Top China Buddhist leader quits in sex probe (AFP)
Buddhist monk master in China resigns after sexual misconduct allegations (Reuters)
Top Buddhist Monk Resigns Amid #MeToo Accusations (Caixin)
Chinese monk accused of sexual harassment resigns as chairman of Buddhist Association of China (South China Morning Post)
Buddhists advised to strengthen ethics (China.org.cn)
China’s top monk resigns as Buddhist association head (Global Times)
China’s highest-ranking Buddhist monk accused of sexually harassing nuns (Global Times)
High-ranking Chinese monk accused of sexually harassing nuns (BBC)
Abbot Of Beijing Longquan Temple Denies Sexual Abuse Allegations (SupChina)
中国佛教协会第九届理事会第三次会议决议 (The Buddhist Association of China)
严正声明 (Venerable Xuecheng Weibo)