I'm a bit late commenting on the latest Zen teacher sex scandal. Really, this is getting tiresome. But here goes --
Recently the board of directors of Rinzai-ji Zen Center in Los Angeles met to discuss allegations of sexual impropriety against the abbot, Joshu Sasaki Roshi. This has allegedly been going on for years, and the impropriety allegedly is ongoing in spite of the fact that Roshi is now 105 years old.
If you want to read the last sentence a couple more times, I understand.
I have no personal knowledge of the Sasaki Situation and can only report on what I have read elsewhere, so please take all of this with a really big grain of salt. But here's the story --
Sasaki Roshi, born in 1907, is a Rinzai Zen teacher who came to the United States to found the Rinzai-ji Zen Center. He also is abbot of the Mount Baldy Zen Center, also in California, and a number of affiliated Zen centers. He is best known for being songwriter Leonard Cohen's teacher.
I have only heard a few of the allegations, but allegedly Roshi is a compulsive groper. One former student said he had asked her to bare her breasts to him to help her break out of her mental limitations. There are vague hints of sexual relations with students, although nothing is spelled out. And that's about all I know.
In some ways the question of what Roshi did or didn't do is less interesting to me than the reactions to it. There seems to be a lot of belittling of the allegations going on, especially because of Roshi's advanced age. But the allegations go back many years, when his age was less advanced. Some groped women have testified that when they complained, senior students just laughed off Roshi's odd little habit of grabbing women's breasts at random times. That's just Roshi!
Because of the man's advanced age, I am not so interested in punishing or condemning him as I am in educating others, especially the menfolk, that the groping thing is seriously bad. Yes, worse things can happen. Yes, most of the time being randomly groped doesn't do permanent damage. But when the groper is a man in authority, someone said to be worthy of admiration, being groped, being treated as a sex toy, is deeply humiliating. It tells the woman that the man in authority doesn't take her seriously as a human being, much less as a student.
I think that must be hard for a lot of men to appreciate, but that's how it is. And, of course, if a woman has a history of being sexually abused, being groped by an authority figure stirs up all the shame and self-loathing that so often plagues sexual abuse victims.
The best analogy of awfulness would be to welcome African Americans into the sangha and then tell them they have to clean the kitchen while the white folks meditate. And then tell watermelon jokes. Well, that's what it feels like to a woman when her person is so disrespected by someone in which she has placed her hopes and her trust. It's not the sex; it's the betrayal of trust and the belittling.
And while it's bad enough for Roshi to be a groper; when the senior students of the sangha brush off a woman's complaints and tell her to just get over it, to me, that's even worse.
That said, of course we women are very different creatures and don't all react to the same situation in the same way. Maybe some women don't find it to be a big deal. And maybe there are people with scars who don't mind being called ugly, or elderly people who don't mind being belittled as useless and senile. And since not everybody minds, those who do mind should just get over it, right?
Dosho Port commented on the Sasaki Situation, but what struck me is the first comment, in which someone (with a feminine name) complains that we shouldn't be so judgmental about sex. OK, but we should try to get points, and I say this really isn't about sex.
Adam Tebbe at Sweeping Zen says he got the same reaction when he wrote about Sasaki. "One man contacted me on Facebook to inform me I am the 'Pee Pee Police.' Another angry blogger previously commented that we're Sweeping Sins, now," he writes.
Again, I don't think this has anything to do with conventional or unconventional morality, or sin, or puritanism, or whatever is hanging somebody up. This is about signaling to certain people that they have no value as human beings and that their pain isn't important and won't be taken seriously. This is what the Buddha taught?