Sex and the buddha

Did Grand Master Lu take indecent liberties with one of his disciples?

AS ONE OF HIS SPIRITUAL followers remembers it, the crimson-robed Buddhist leader insisted he was performing an ancient healing ceremony called "twin body blessing," allegedly undertaken in his temple bedroom to ward off illness and death.

To the follower, however, it was a lot more like oral sex and intercourse for three years and not the inner awakening she had in mind. So she sued.

But Grand Master Sheng-Yen Lu, a 56-year-old "Living Buddha" who claims to lead four million Tantric Buddhist faithful from his temple in Redmond, has now won the first round without even showing up in court.

Citing constitutional issues and without directly ruling on the allegations, King County Superior Court Judge Kathleen Learned last month dismissed the follower's sexual misconduct claim against Lu, who left town before the civil lawsuit was filed in December. (Officials at the Ling Shen Ching Tze Temple in Redmond say their founder and spiritual leader is on one of his frequent extended retreats, spreading the karma in Australia and Southeast Asia.)

However, attorneys for the follower, a 41-year-old Malaysian immigrant, have asked the court to reconsider its ruling favoring Lu—perhaps best remembered for his questionable contributions to the Gary Locke campaign in 1996.

If Learned reaffirms her decision—likely this week—attorney Rebecca Roe says she will appeal to the state Court of Appeals.

Temple attorney Colleen Barrett says she expects the follower's motion for reconsideration to be denied.

Lu's accuser in court goes only by her initials, SHC, for fear of retaliation from Lu's supporters, she says. SHC claims the grand master committed negligent pastoral counseling by persuading her that repeated body blessings were part of the Buddhist doctrine of faith and would cure her illness, later diagnosed as panic disorder.

SHC claims that Lu said the disorder could be fatal. It was have sex or die, she says.

Later, says SHC, she determined the grand master was "a fake monk" and wanted him exposed.

Prior to the lawsuit, she filed a criminal complaint with Redmond police last year. Police said they felt they could prove a charge of indecent liberties, but King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng declined to file charges for lack of evidence.

Master Teck Hui Teng, a monk and president of the temple, doubts SHC's claims. "Neither I, nor any other officers of the temple, have any personal knowledge that Grand Master Lu and the plaintiff were engaging in the twin body blessing," he says.

Teng also indicated that even if Lu's conduct was improper, "there exists no mechanism by which the board of the temple has the power to control, supervise, or terminate Grand Master Lu."

The grand master, married with children, is generally expected to remain celibate, according to doctrine. The twin body blessing is an ancient practice now prohibited. Lu, according to his writings, has discussed the validity of such practices with other religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama but has not publicly advocated them.

SHC, also married with children, became a Lu follower in 1991 and first received Lu's "blessings" at the Redmond temple in 1996. She lived in the women's dorm during eight trips she made to the temple between 1997 and 1999. Next door was Lu's office and living quarters with a bedroom.

When Lu hugged her during one meeting, SHC says, she could feel he had an erection. It was then he allegedly mentioned the body blessing as a potential cure.

Lu had SHC perform oral sex on him and a week later had sexual intercourse with her, insisting he was saving her life, SHC claims. She had sex with him at least six more times in 1997, she says, and numerous times in 1999.

Lu's "cure" was having the opposite effect, however, she claims. Hearing Lu repeatedly speak of her possible death, SHC believed she was indeed going to die and began acting irrationally and taking out life insurance policies.

DEPOSITIONS FROM temple leaders indicate Lu may have been propositioning other women, according to Roe. But Teng says the temple is unaware of such incidents. "There has never been a complaint of sexual misconduct" against Lu until this one, he says.

Noting that state law is silent on sexual relationships between religious leaders and followers, Judge Learned concluded July 16 that the case would also pose church and state conflicts, such as deciding "who is a 'false' guru." She ruled that this "is territory that the Constitution cannot allow the courts to enter."

Lu and other temple leaders were reluctant defendants and sought not to reveal much about Lu's True Buddha School, with its 300 international chapters and 30 temples in addition to the Redmond headquarters.

But all was not mellow at the master's temple, says SHC. She claims that monks beat up one of Lu's less faithful followers in a turf dispute with another temple. She also says she turned over a donation of 136,000 Malaysian dollars (U.S.$35,000) to the temple at the behest of an officer and Lu's wife.

A onetime surveying engineer who immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan (where he is now the revered leader of Dharma Drum Mountain Foundation), Lu founded the temple in 1982 and opened the Chinese-style building three years later after a prolonged land-code battle with the city and neighbors, including 12 court hearings. The temple entrance is guarded by concrete lions, sports red pillars and golden roof tiles, and is contained in a walled-off compound above Lake Sammamish.

Lu's devoted Western followers believe he has exalted status as the temple's guru and True Buddha. (Buddhists do not worship a god but seek spiritual enlightenment and Dharma bliss in part through meditation and mantras. Those who falter can be killed by snakes, demons, and plagues, according to some doctrines.)

The five-foot-tall, shaved-headed grand master, a poet and author of 120 books who has what some observers call a playful sense of humor, says he picked the Redmond locale because "the chosen geography had 'dragon energies' at the back, mountains in front, and a lake before the mountain." Some temple events draw up to 3,000 attendees.

Tax exempt, the temple also has a retreat in the Cascades, and Lu owns a 10-acre North Bend site where monks and nuns reside. Attorney Roe says Lu has a residence in Bellevue besides his Redmond quarters, and he owns assorted private properties.

Lu last made headlines during a state Public Disclosure Commission probe of the grand master's $5,000 cash donations to Gary Locke, the nation's top Asian-American officeholder. Though questions about alleged money laundering were left unanswered, the commission cleared Locke of any wrongdoing in 1998. (Locke felt the complaint was racially motivated.) Lu, who said he hoped Locke would someday run for the White House, invoked his lofty temple standing back then, too, and was not interviewed by state probers. A spokesperson denied the temple acted illegally.

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