An old Hopi proverb says that a man with the red hat will bring wisdom from the East to the West. So in the 1950’s and 60’s, when Tibetan monks were fleeing the Cultural Revolution, burning monasteries behind them, it was natural to set up centers in the Western United States. There in the high dry mountains and deserts not so different from their homelands, they found new followers, the kinds of followers Buddhism had never seen.
They were young and angry. They were looking for answers as far and strange as possible, as distant as could be found from the little white churches, the fire and brimstone, the knee-length skirts of home. The timing was right. For people searching for Free Love, there was the Sutra on Universal Compassion; for people searching for an unbounded universe, there was the Buddhist world map, the timeline of eons instead of millennia. And for the people who hated themselves and wanted to be someone else, there was the simple, delicious fact of reincarnation, the idea that you already had been someone else, and you would be someone else again. You had another shot.
It was not what seemed most true that made you believe; it was what you wanted most to be true.
So they came in droves. They left their shoes, their jeans, their hair. The congregations swelled with losers, outcasts, refugees from other lives.
Some of the monks from old countries did not know what to do with all the women. The tradition of nuns in Sri Lanka, in Japan, in Korea, had all but died out. In Tibet, Chinese soldiers raped the nuns. Now you are not chaste, not you cannot keep your vows, they said.
But here, most of the new followers were women. They wore their Sunday best to meetings. They were young, desperate for worship. It probably didn’t surprise anyone when the monks and roshis began to see not a student, but the curve of a breast beneath a summer blouse. The monks cultivated their aura. The girl slides aside a rice paper door and bows deeply. She is a lay follower, so she does not wear the large red robe; her hair is long. She has renounced nothing of her sexuality; she has not taken any vow. She has only taken refuge in the three jewels, trusting in the sanctuary her master will provide.
Her master could tell her, “You want enlightenment? Then give me a blow job right now.” And she would bend to her work. Some did.
What happened to all those women, when the scandals finally broke? Did they change teachers? Change religions? Did they fumble their way back home? Did they disappear? Was that moment after the command — the surprise, doubt, betrayal — itself its own revelation? Where were you? Where did you go?