Book: Buddhist Violence and Religious Authority
Chapter: 13. Error of Eros: Religious Authority and Sexual Violence
In “The Authorization of Religio-political Discourse” (2016), Michael Jerryson argues that the high-context communication culture of the Burmese imbues Buddhist monks like U Wirathu with authority to speak on otherwise political matters and advocate for the preservation of Burmese Buddhism via violent retaliation in the face of a perceived Islamic threat. There need not be any Buddhist ritual performed nor doctrine cited in order to allow U Wirathu to argue for such action, but the symbolic position he holds as the embodiment of the Three Refuges and the entanglement of such a position with the relationship existent between the laity and the sanga grants him the authority to know what is best for Burmese Buddhists and how to effectively resolve the threat(s) at hand.
In my contribution, I would like to extend Jerryson’s argument to demonstrate how the symbolic, religious authority of an individual need not be connected to politics in order to instigate acts of violence nor that said violence be enacted across a large populous, religious or otherwise. By exploring residual, albeit still thriving, Orientalist sentiments that eroticize the East among USAmerican yoga-goers, I will apply Jerryson’s argument and investigate how some gurus traveling from India to the United States abuse their own symbolic, religious authority to enact sexual violences on unsuspecting disciples. Two popular examples I am able to investigate that have reached mainstream media are those of Osho, as portrayed in the popular Netflix documentary Wild America, and the controversial, hot-yoga guru, Bikram.