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Barbara O'Brien

Priests and Propriety

By August 21, 2010

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Awhile back I wrote a post called "Zen Police" that alluded to the Eido Shimano scandal. Well, now there's a detailed article about it in the New York Times, by Mark Oppenheimer, "Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within."

The details of the Eido Shimano scandal, as far as I know them, are accurately presented in the article. Oppenheimer also correctly points out that many Buddhist institutions in the West are in an awkward phase -- they aren't really Asian any more, but neither do they fit standard western models of religious institutions.

The issue discussed in "Zen Police" and in the Oppenheimer article is, basically, what does a lay sangha do when the head teacher is misbehaving -- sexually, financially, or any other way?

If there's one clear lesson from the Eido Shimano scandal, to me, it's that a dharma center's management should have some independence from the head priests and teachers. A board of directors elected by members ought to be able to decide "what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed," in Oppenheimer's words. I don't know if temples/centers in Asia ever operate that way, but in the West there are models for this in many Jewish synagogues and Protestant Christian churches.

One quibble I have with Oppenheimer's article is that he suggests the student/teacher relationship in Buddhism doesn't operate with the same boundaries common to, say, psychotherapists or doctors. In Zen, there really are some boundaries that have long been part of the tradition. The face-to-face work between student and teacher is not supposed to delve into every private detail of the student's life, for example, but to remain focused on spiritual issues.

I understand that one of the many issues underlying the Richard Baker Roshi scandal at the San Francisco Zen Center was that Baker Roshi didn't keep those boundaries and knew everybody's secrets. That in turn created many subtle ties that made reining in the wayward teacher all the more difficult.

As others quoted in the article pointed out, part of the awkwardness in Zen came about because Asian teachers were not accustomed to teaching women. Perhaps. I've been told also that in paternalistic Japan, sexual relationships between male teachers and female students are politely ignored. But I've never lived in Japan, and I cannot say from my own experience that is true.

However, I do think Zen in the U.S. has matured to the point that teachers are no longer looked up to as magical, perfect beings. Many are remarkable, but they are still human.

Comments
August 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm
(1) Mumon says:

I think the article over-generalizes – from the title itself what American Buddhists are doing, feeling, thinking, and responding in this area.

It is also very, very reductive of what has happened in this area within the Rinzai Zen community in the United States.

If you have not heard Genjo Marinello’s recent Dharma talks on the issue (especially “Neither Mind nor Buddha” and “Kanchiketsu”) it would be good to hear them. You can hear it from his heart what must have been transpiring.

Of course, the other thing the article doesn’t quite point out is that there’s other issues in the American Buddhist world that are controversial as well, and are regularly brought up in the blogosphere.

August 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm
(2) Barbara O'Brien says:

Of course, the other thing the article doesn’t quite point out is that there’s other issues in the American Buddhist world that are controversial as well, and are regularly brought up in the blogosphere.

Oppenheimer was writing for a general audience, most of whom don’t know Buddhism from toasters and whose interest in Buddhist issues is limited. I think he did a reasonably good job at presenting this one issue to non-Buddhists in a focused and concise way. If he were a Buddhist writing for Buddhists I’d expect something different, but he’s not, so I don’t.

I sometimes write pieces for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free website, and I’m usually given a limit of somewhere between 500 to 700 words. And ever other comment to each piece amounts to why the piece is crap because I didn’t explain X in more detail. Of course, explaining X in more detail would have required a couple thousand more words than The Guardian editors allowed. I figure the Guardian editors have their reasons for the limits, probably that most of their readers don’t like to read longer pieces. So it goes. But the point is that writers aren’t always allowed to throw the kitchen sink into everything they write.

August 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm
(3) Barbara O'Brien says:

BTW, I found Genjo Marinello’s dharma talk audio archive — the links work better in iTunes — and listened to the first teisho, on “Neither Mind Nor Buddha.” I thought it was a pretty good teisho on shunyata that also addressed the issue of why teachers screw up. However, what was missing was an admission of the severity of Eido Shimano’s “transgressions,” and there was no acknowledgment of the suffering he caused. I’ve talked to people with first-hand knowledge of the situation who said the young women were genuinely damaged. The sensei made it sound as if Eido Shimano had just stumbled over some quibbling technicality.

August 22, 2010 at 7:39 am
(4) Chana says:

I have been a monk for 24 years in a small Buddhist monastery in the mid-west. People may want to believe that there is no problem in the Zen hierarchy that has transplanted itself into America from Japan. The Soto Zen sect is in real trouble. I was trying to tell members on a Zen forum that this news is going to to hit the newspapers soon. All i got was denials. Trying to mix traditional Japanese Zen with American life is not going to work. It is like mixing oil and vinegar. You do not need to sit Zazen to realize your own self nature. You do not need to go expensive retreats/sessions to realize your own true nature. Hui-neng an illeterate man realized his original nature simply by hearing a few words from the Diamond sutra. And then knew so accurately what Buddhism really teaches that he became the sixth patriarch of Zen, and started the sudden enlightenment understanding of Buddhism. Those who teach and preach a gradual awakening are fooling them selves and others and usually do it because of their own ego domination and the need to make money from selling the Dharma. It will suffice to add the thoughts of the famous Zen master Bankei to illustrate my points…..
As Bankei saw it, the whole approach of koan Zen was hopelessly contrived. He rejected the need for familiarity with classical Chinese as an unnecessary encumbrance, and rejected the koan itself as artificial technique. The original koans, he argued, were not “models” but actual living events. The old masters had simply responded to particular situations that confronted them, naturally accomadating themselves to the needs of the students involved. That was the business of any Zen teacher, to meet each situation on its own terms. There was no need to make people study the words of ancient Chinese monks when you could simply have them look at their own “cases”, the way in which the Unborn was at work here and now in the actual circumstances of there lives. This is what Bankei called his “direct” teaching, as opposed to koan practice, which he referred disparagingly as “studying old waste paper.” The koan, Bankei said, was merely a device, and teachers who relied on it, or on any other technique, were practicing “Devices Zen” Why rely on a device, he argued, when you could have the thing itself?

Chana

August 22, 2010 at 8:56 am
(5) Barbara O'Brien says:

Chana — two words for you, son. Buji Zen. I trust you’re familiar with that phrase.

Also, I find it curious that you switch from criticizing Soto Zen to criticizing Rinzai koan study. You do realize, being a monk of all those years and all, that in recent centuries the Soto school on the whole (with a few exceptions) doesn’t do koan Zen? You cite Bankei, but Bankei was a Rinzai master (albeit one who rejected koan study) who is said to have had his own greatest breakthrough while meditating.

The thing is, it’s all fine to say that we can have the thing itself. Indeed, we are the thing itself. However, how does one do that? The legend of Huineng, which may or may not be true, is a great story, but the fact remains that at this point millions of people have had the Diamond Sutra recited at them without realizing anything so much as indigestion. So, by what means will you realize the thing itself? By what means will you manifest it? If you find something that works better for you than shikantaza, by all means, practice that. Maybe shikantaza is the wrong practice for you. But Buddhism is all about upaya, so what is your upaya?

Not everyone needs to be doing the same thing. What “works” for some people might not work for someone else. Not everyone has to be sitting shikantaza or working on koans. In some schools of Buddhism a concentrated chanting practice stands in for “right concentration.” But Zen is still Buddhism, and it’s unwise to chuck any part of the Eightfold Path out the window entirely.

Regarding gradual awakening, I believe I will trust Dogen’s word and my own experience with shikantaza over your arguments. It may not work for everyone, but I have seen for myself that gradual awakening is not just a sales pitch.

August 22, 2010 at 10:34 am
(6) Mumon says:

Barbara:

Two responses:

1) I’m not sure those Dharma talks I mentioned represent the sum and substance of what Genjo Osho has said to Cho Bo Ji’s sangha, and moreover, I’m not sure that a dharma talk would necessarily be the appropriate venue to do so. I was only saying you could see where his heart was from that.

2) I think you missed Chana’s point entirely. I’m no fan of Bankei by any means, but the point of Chana’s post was that all the great teachers have emphasized that zazen alone won’t cut it.

August 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm
(7) Barbara O'Brien says:

I was only saying you could see where his heart was from that.

I suppose. It still troubles me that he didn’t plainly acknowledge what was done.

2) I think you missed Chanas point entirely. Im no fan of Bankei by any means, but the point of Chanas post was that all the great teachers have emphasized that zazen alone wont cut it.

I think you missed Chana’s point entirely. He said, “You do not need to sit Zazen to realize your own self nature.” He didn’t say, “Zazen alone won’t help you realize your own self nature.” Chana seems to think no expedient means are necessary; we can just will ourselves to be realized. And maybe some people can do that, but I think it’s rare.

August 23, 2010 at 6:11 am
(8) Chana says:

I quoted Bankei’s statement because it included “The koan, Bankei said, was merely a device, and teachers who relied on it, or on any other technique, were practicing Devices Zen Why rely on a device, he argued, when you could have the thing itself?”
Or any other device, is the message he was conveying. You can sit for 50 years and never have a realization. My view is that one needs to develop a hunger for awakening that supersedes any other desire. Then the appropriate means will come about. It might not even be Buddhism. It is the awakening of the deepest human understanding, and can happen through myriads of different means.
Your reliance and belief in “shikantaza” or sitting Zazen is based on indoctrination, and will never work to reveal your true nature. You have stopped your progress by “finding” a religious device, and believe it is the way. Therefore you have stopped the necessary hunger in your whole being to truly be realized. This is the great danger with the Soto school and the Zen schools in general that are popping up all over America. They are imitations or symbols of the process of awakening, not the real thing. You find more of the group religious experience and knowing that others are doing this gives one peer support, but it does not cut through spiritual materialism. Dogen speaks with a forked tongue, and it takes a scholar to even decipher which part of his tongue he is speaking from. :) I have discussed this same subject on a Zen forum with a Soto priest who declared that I knew NOTHING of Zen Buddhism. Isn’t that a marvelous declaration and so full of compassion? I would say the adherents to the Soto Zen school ( which has a very checkered history as being legitimate as it claims to be ) are religious devotees. That is important in the beginning stages of awakening as is said…
The Buddha’s use of upaya-kosalla is illustrated in the Upali Sutta:
“Then the Blessed One gave the householder Upali the gradual Teaching starting with giving gifts, becoming virtuous, about the heavenly states, the dangers of sensuality, the vileness of defiling things, and benefits of giving up. Then the Blessed One knew that the mind of the householder Upali was ready, malleable, free of hindrances, lofty and pleased and the Blessed One gave the special message of the Enlightened Ones: Unpleasantness, its arising, its cessation and the path to the cessation of unpleasantness. Like a pure, clean cloth would take a dye evenly. In that same manner, the dustless, stainless eye of the Teaching arose to the householder Upali, seated there itself. Whatever rises has the nature of ceasing. The householder Upali, then and there mastered that Teaching, knew and penetrated it. Doubts dispelled become self confident attained that state where he did not want a teacher, any more, in the Dispensation of the Blessed One. He said.Venerable sir, we will go now, there is much work to be done.Househoder, do as you think it fit.”
Bankei had his first greatest “breakthrough” while hocking up some black mucus onto a wall, and realized the “the unborn”. No one ever says what kind of “meditation” he was engaged in when he had a deeper realization. It could have been walking, standing, eating or just living meditation. Your assumption that it was Zazen is wishful thinking and promotes Soto Zen which is reorganizing as fast as we are writing this stuff, because it is archaic religious practice, and institutional ritual.
Of course my point about Hui-neng is that he needed no “Zazen” practice to awaken. It is not for me to prepare any ones mind and heart to understand awakening. That is up to each individual. Stopping off at a religious shrine or institution to do some bows or sit Zazen, is fine if that is where your at, but do not fool your self into believing that it will do anything for you.

August 23, 2010 at 10:03 am
(9) Barbara O'Brien says:

Your reliance and belief in “shikantaza” or sitting Zazen is based on indoctrination, and will never work to reveal your true nature. You have stopped your progress by “finding” a religious device, and believe it is the way. Therefore you have stopped the necessary hunger in your whole being to truly be realized. This is the great danger with the Soto school and the Zen schools in general that are popping up all over America.

That makes absolutely no sense. It takes a great deal of “hunger” to maintain a shikantaza practice. And meditation practice has awakened a great many people.

If your point is that there are many different skillful means, and they all aren’t necessarily “Buddhist,” then I agree with you. But you clearly have some kind of agenda regarding Soto Zen that is ignorant and ugly, and I invite you to take it somewhere else.

August 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm
(10) steve har says:

Barbara,

There is something in this sex scandal topic that brings out anxious commenters
full of themselves,
full of left-over complaints, resentments, pretentious piety
full of my-way-or-the-highway computer screen road rage

There are few questions, many opinions directed at making others wrong

There is
-little fact-finding but a lot of hearsay fear mongering
-little sensitivity to the particular situation and those who suffer
-little interest in truth, healing, recovery, reconciliation
-not a stick of loving kindness or compassion in the face of suffering

Reminds me of
fundamentalists condemning drunks before AA or
fox network commentators who goose their ratings by poking at the misery of victim viewers.

Time to call-out this computer screen pietism and ask such commenters to stop drinking their own juice.

August 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm
(11) Barbara O'Brien says:

Thank you, Steve. It’s still not clear to me where Chana is coming from, particularly since Chana is dumping on Soto Zen and Eido Shimano is a Rinzai master. Further, any reaction at all seems a bit odd, because very little about the Eido Shimano scandal is really “news.” I’d been hearing about it for years, and I’m hardly privy to anything secret. Just the usual Zen student gossip. :-) At the very least, the very well known story of how the late Maurine Stuart Roshi burned the rakusu Eido Shimano had given her was a big clue there was a problem somewhere, and that happened some decades ago.

In many ways, I think the Richard Baker Roshi blowup of some years back probably was a bigger deal, or at least had more far-reaching effects, and American Zen has had years to process that. We shouldn’t be getting the vapors about such things at this point.

Clearly, we’ve still got some kinks to work out regarding how to deal with a teacher who needs dealing with, as it were, in a way that expresses compassion to both the teacher and those who might have been damaged by the teacher, but this is an ongoing issue of long standing. And not confined to Zen, I might add.

August 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm
(12) Chana says:

Well, it seems that I have misspoken here, and have been misunderstood. That is quite common for me. We are non-traditional and do not try mix Asian Buddhist practice with our practice here in the monastery. We do not refer to our practice in any Asian terms. We study the history of religions and the history of people who have awakened and do not rely on any (east ) Asian rituals. So I will quit posting here, seeing that you are sold on mixing the cultures together and think that is somehow profound. It is a futile exercise that I have ran into time and again with true believers of any religious faith. You have failed to understand what I have posted and only read what you can debate. Which is quite typical with the true believer mentality. It is also the mentality that gets people in shocking circumstances like the ones that the original article goes into details about. It might not be the same circumstance but it will be an eye opener when it hits. True believers follow leaders and ideas blindly, and they are shocked when something “bad” happens. It is in this ignorance that lies the shock. So all those who read this and are perplexed by a voice that is anti-complacent, best of luck to you. I would suggest that you get out of your Zen centers and any other religious oriented group, and begin the human journey of waking up by yourself. The Asian religious machine will eat you alive here in America.
I have no axe to grind here about the sexual misconduct or the mixing of cultures to be “spiritual”. I am only trying to tell others how deceived they are and how much time they are wasting by trying to be a “Buddhist” by wearing Asian coats. If one tries to make the case that this has to do with some kind of prejudice against Asian people, forget it. We have had many Asian people in the monastery. And a couple of my best friends have been Asian. You think that the challenges presented by practicing Zazen are noble. Meditation has existed in ever culture on earth for 4000 years. Nothing very special about it.
Good bye, i wont be coming back.

August 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm
(13) Mila says:

Chana — If you truly have left for good, I’m sorry. I appreciated much of what you said, and would have enjoyed an exchange. If you’re reading this, could you share what monastery you’re affiliated with?

Much of what you said resonated strongly with contemporary Advaita Vedanta teaching, and the notion that in a certain sense “it’s up to each of us, individually” to awaken, is one that I can understand. Though, from a Buddhist perspective, it’s paradoxical, because what’s realized, ultimately, is that there is no separate egoic “me,” i.e. Enlightenment is the realization that there is no separate “me” to claim it (which I’m assuming to already know …)

So when you write –

I would suggest that you get out of your Zen centers and any other religious oriented group, and begin the human journey of waking up by yourself

– it seems that you’re not relating fully to this paradox. You seem to have some quite rigidly-held and generalized notions about “true believers” — which preclude an understanding of how practice within a ritual container — related to intelligently, of course — can indeed support, in all kinds of ways, the Awakening process that all of us here are devoted to.

August 23, 2010 at 7:59 pm
(14) steve har says:

Mila,

I agree about creating a space for dialog and inviting people into the space.

Better to begin clarifying slippery questions than quarreling over jealous certitudes.

slippery question: is there anything to improve in Soto or Rinzai Zen? What?

jealous ceritude: Dogen [or anyone else's revered teacher] speaks with “forked tongue”

But I suspect Chana is more acquainted with instruction, perhaps self-instruction and an open and respectful exchange of ideas is not so easy for him/her.

His/her words provoke readers, and the readers who write responses provoke him/her in return, so understanding diminishes.

It is so easy to go astray with blog posts & comments. There is no eye contact, no real way to smile or laugh, not much human grace and a lot of resentment and confusion.

August 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm
(15) Barbara O'Brien says:

Much of what you said resonated strongly with contemporary Advaita Vedanta teaching, and the notion that in a certain sense its up to each of us, individually to awaken, is one that I can understand.

“It’s up to each of us, individually” is important in Zen, also, although at the same time it can’t be done individually. Zen does love paradoxes.

However, you’re giving Chana way too much credit. The stuff about the “mixing of cultures” and “The Asian religious machine will eat you alive here in America” suggests to me that this diatribe is more about Chana’s unresolved personal issues than with Buddhism.

August 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm
(16) genkaku says:

I strongly commend http://www.shimanoarchive.com to anyone interested in more than a proper and superficial analysis of both Mr. Shimano’s activities and the activities of Zen Studies Society, which oversees a Zen center in New York (Sho Bo Ji) and a monastery in the Catskill Mountains (Konggo-ji, also known as Dai Bosatsu Monastery).

Broad-brush approaches to the issues involved are no doubt inevitable in any complex situation, but broad-brush approaches have singularly little ability to help the people who were honestly, and in some cases profoundly, hurt. This kind of hurt is not acceptable to any Buddhism I know of.

As always, “the devil’s in the details” and the details require some willingness and attention. But without such a willingness, the issues are likely to remain glossy and moral and distant and, inevitably, unresolved.

Again, for those who care: http://www.shimanoarchive.com

August 27, 2010 at 12:54 am
(17) KIsai says:

Barbara,

When you wrote “A board of directors elected by members ought to be able to decide ‘what sins are too great to countenance, and what kind of discipline is needed.’…”, you brought out an importance point: many fail to even briefly consider as they become involved in a spiritual group: governance.

The students training at one of the temples of Zen Studies Society probably do not realize at first that that ZSS is _not_ a membership organization. They do gradually learn that they have no direct voice in anything, nor do they the right to elect representative board members.

The Zen Studies Society was originally set up as a membership corporation. However, over the years, that changed. In 1970 ZSS was a membership corporation, but by1993 ZSS was NO LONGER an organization that even recognizes a membership!
See

Then see
“The Corporation (herein sometimes referred to as the Society) shall have no members.”

Essentially, the board of ZSS is collection of individuals handpicked by the abbot, Rev. Shimano. As anyone involved in running any type of group knows practices such as this eventually can open doors to all manner of trouble.

The move from a membership corporation to a non-membership corporation means that there could never be a relatively democratic or even a legal way for the sangha membership to implement change in an orderly manner. An actual rebellion might be effective in forcing change, but beyond it being out of character, it most likely might not hold any water if taken to court unless beyond improper actions, there is actually something illegal in the way the by laws are written.

This poor governance is in part why, in 40+ years, ZSS no board could ever find enough votes to discipline Shimano for continued violations of the precepts and of common decency and it really over the top by any definition.
See

Further examination of the ZSS by laws shows that the abbot managed to have himself appointed abbot for life, and gave himself the sole right to pick his successor.
See

August 27, 2010 at 10:13 am
(18) Barbara O'Brien says:

Essentially, the board of ZSS is collection of individuals handpicked by the abbot, Rev. Shimano.

Than you for explaining that. I didn’t know anything about how the ZSS was administrated. It struck me as odd that the Rev. Shimano resigned from the board, because in Zen centers I know of the head teacher or abbot doesn’t sit on the board.

August 27, 2010 at 1:18 pm
(19) Kisai says:

Sorry about the missing links. I didn’t realize I needed to use html for them to appear.

I’ll link here to by laws. Request it and I’ll provide the other links.

Zen Studies Society Bylaws Revised 1998

September 16, 2010 at 5:58 am
(20) Chana says:

It seems this controversy about Eido Shimano will not go away. It is still an unresolved problem for the Zen community.
I found an interesting video at YouTube on this this very subject, it is located at……

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDiN1-aGPSk

Chana

September 16, 2010 at 8:33 am
(21) Barbara O'Brien says:

Chana — IMO the video is sexist and juvenile. And I think for most of Soto Zen, the scandal was “resolved” when Shimano resigned from the Zen Studies Society. Zen in the U.S. is mature enough to handle these episodes without going into meltdown.

September 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm
(22) Chana says:

The video is sexist and juvenile. That is the point. Shimano is sexiest and juvenile. How can you not get it? Do you intend to hide behind your “job” so that all this disappears. How can you support his behavior? It is baffling. Zen does not need priests that treat people like objects. His behavior is criminal.
The whole hierarchical system in the Zen tradition needs a total overhaul. The transmission, and the lineage mess that is being perpetuated even as I type this. Just think you can be ordained online now. It is becoming so ridiculous that the Zen institution is crumbling right before our eyes. People better start learning to practice on their own or with some trusted friends, because this priest and teacher nonsense is on the way out.

September 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm
(23) Barbara O'Brien says:

Do you intend to hide behind your “job” so that all this disappears. How can you support his behavior? It is baffling. Zen does not need priests that treat people like objects. His behavior is criminal.

Excuse me? Before Eido Shimano resigned I said very bluntly and plainly, and more than once, that he ought to be removed from his position. I recently criticized one of Shimano’s male students for glossing over what Shimano did. I have been hearing for years that what Shimano did caused serious harm to several women, and the video offended me because it seemed to make light of that.

So what’s wrong with you? I guess it’s all right with you to objectify women, if it’s all for fun. But I think sexual predation is a serious matter, not a joke.

The whole hierarchical system in the Zen tradition needs a total overhaul.

No more so than it ever did. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but I don’t agree with you that it’s crumbling and on the way out. I am not seeing that at all, and I get news of lineages all over the Western Hemisphere.

To go back to your original charge — I do not at all care for people (such as yourself) who objectify women and think sexism and sexual exploitation are funny jokes that we should laugh at. I don’t know what your problem is, but please take it elsewhere. Thanks much.

September 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm
(24) Friday says:

Barbara, you seem more offended by this silly video than you are by the horrific allegations it mocks. (Will the real misogynist please stand up?) If Shimano himself deigned to comment on your blog, would you be bold enough to tell Him to “take it elsewhere”?

September 16, 2010 at 7:48 pm
(25) Barbara O'Brien says:

Barbara, you seem more offended by this silly video than you are by the horrific allegations it mocks.

It is because I feel deeply for Shimano’s victims that I was offended by the silly video. Rape and other forms of sexual predation are not funny.

You and Chano are eager to bash the Zen teacher, but you obviously have no compassion for the women he damaged. It’s the attitude exemplified in the video, making women into sexual objects and sexual predation into a smarmy joke, that enables sexual predators. So whatever I might seem to you, I assure you that you don’t want to hear what you seem to me. Go away.

Oh, and in answer to your question — if Eido Shimano commented here with the same shallow, sexist, juvenile attitude shown by you and Chano, you can bet your smarmy little butt that I’d tell him to take it elsewhere.

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