Mila provided a link to an article by Bob O'Hearn called "Zen and the Emotional/Sexual Contraction." O'Hearn is a former (1971-1974) student of Joshu Saskai Roshi, the 105-year-old Zen teacher involved in sex scandals.
I agree with some of what O'Hearn says, such as --
"Most so-called spiritual practitioners don't ever inspect, much less resolve, the emotional/sexual contraction at the core of their psychological make-up, and so tend as a rule to indulge the classic "spiritual by-pass", which is a form of avoidance and even a strategic denial of a critical aspect of human development. . . .
. . . What's clear and apparent is this: the "spiritual" practice itself, even most if not all religion itself (both esoteric and exoteric) as it is practiced today, has become one big exercise in misdirection. When it comes to sexuality, it represents nothing but a habitual form of avoidance, played out on a cultural and institutional level for centuries. However, there is no enlightenment, no liberation, salvation, redemption, or transcendence outside of the way we behave right here, in the very midst of this life, which includes sexuality at the very core of who and what we are as human beings."
I'm not sure that sexuality is at the very core of who we are, etc., although maybe it is. I'll reflect on that. But otherwise I think this is true, and I would add that this is one big, fat reason religion (and religious people) get tripped up by sexuality.
I have a few "howevers," however. One, non-religious people get tripped up by sexuality, also, because of cultural mores and attitudes. I don't think it's clear whether religious ideas have been imposed on culture, or whether cultural ideas have been imposed on religion. Or maybe this is a chicken-and-egg issue, in which culture and religion are locked into a really funky feedback loop where sex is concerned, but there's no way to know which came first.
Two, I don't know whether sexual predation is more or less common among clergy than among non-clergy. For example, O'Hearn mentions the "Catholic Predator-Priest Scandals" and suggests the predatory behavior was generated by Catholic teachings on sexuality. That's kind of a leap, IMO.
I believe I have heard that the ratio of predators to non-predators among Catholic priests is probably about the same as in the general population. If true, this indicates that Catholicism doesn't turn people into predators. The more interesting question is why the institutional Church is so colossally inept at dealing with sexual predation among priests. Just so, regarding Sasaki Roshi I am less interested in what winds him up than in the way senior students apparently refused to deal honestly with Roshi's behavior.
Three, there's sexuality, and then there's sexuality. I wrote in the comments to my last post on Sasaki,
"I don't give a hoo-haw what anybody does with himself or other fully consenting adults. I'm not even that negative about teacher-student relationships as long as both partners are mature and self-aware enough to know what they're getting into. But sexual assault or exploitation even in its milder forms is not an issue of sexual morality but rather of objectifying women as something like ambulatory sexual appliances. It's the gender bias that's the main issue here, not sex."
O'Hearn writes, "He [Roshi] told me that I wanted to attach to the Absolute, but needed to first totally throw myself into the objective world, which included sexuality. I understood his point." I am hoping that O'Hearn mis-remembers this, or else that Roshi has problems with English, because no Zen teacher of my acquaintance advocates attaching to the absolute. But let's go on ... if he's trying to say that one must become thoroughly intimate with oneself to realize enlightenment, then OK. I agree.
[Note: I want to clarify here that Roshi argues that releasing sexual inhibitions is useful for realizing enlightenment. O'Hearn writes, "Roshi was quite the horny old fellow, and that sanzen [private interview with the teacher] for many female students consisted of a lot of fondling and sex play." Traditionally, the interview is limited to spiritual matters.]
Maybe I'm projecting, but it seems to me that both O'Hearn (reading his whole essay) and Roshi are looking at sexuality from an entirely male perspective. Meaning, the consideration begins and ends with how men come to grips with the demands of testosterone, without noticing that women, and sometimes boys, are being used like disposable handi-wipes in the process.
Which takes me [O'Hearn again] ...
"In any case, this practice [Zen], with few exceptions, attempts to bypass the heart, because it is confused by and even fearful of what lurks there (the emotional/sexual contraction), so instead it by-passes it, in pursuit of a conceptual ideal of enlightenment, where emotions themselves are commonly shrugged off as something akin to delusional poisons."
Ah HAH, say I.
It's true that practice/teaching can be like that in some western Zen centers. But from what I've seen, the "there's no crying in Zen" attitude was more common 20 or 30 years ago than it is now. Years ago many western Zen centers felt a bit like Marine boot camp, except with oryoki bowls instead of mess kits and marathon zazen instead of distance running in full combat gear. Seniors monks often behaved a lot like drill sergeant, even.
Put another way, in 1970s-era western Zen lots of teachers and students were thoroughly armored with cultural maleness. And the women among them were conditioned to be OK with that. I can't speak to how much of the armoring might have been imported from postwar Japan, and how much of it came out of an American culture that made John Wayne an icon of manhood. But cultural maleness of the day fostered emotional insensitivity in men to an extreme degree. (I encourage you to find and read a book from the early 1990s, I believe, called Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen. Keen wrote at length about how culture armors males from their own emotions.)
I have observed that people who are sexually randy often are using sex as a substitute for emotions they don't allow themselves to feel. As I once read of the operatic character Don Giovanni, he loved many women because he couldn't love one. Rather than being the door to liberation, sometimes "liberated" sex is just another distraction from what's really going on at the core of our beings.
These days, men are less armored and women are receiving transmission, and I have seen entire zendos full of students and teachers weeping and laughing and otherwise being unabashedly emotional. Yet it's still rigorous Zen.
In other words, maybe the real problem isn't repressed sexuality. Maybe it's too much concentrated yang.What's needed isn't more sex but a stronger counterbalance of yin.
[Update: I want to add that if you've been keeping score, the serial offenders were/are either Japanese teachers who came to the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s or their U.S.-born male students of the same era. If my theory is correct, there will be much less of this nonsense in the following generations.]
More in the next post.