Tassajara and Joshu Sasaki (Again….)

shambhalaI’m on the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner bound for Ventura. There I will meet my friend Kevin and tomorrow morning we will head out to Tassajara where I will be cloistered for about a week.

I’ve been going to Tassajara every summer for a few years now. Usually I spend about a month. But this year, a week was all I could do. That’s really not enough, but it’s better than not going at all.

Joshu Sasaki’s viewing is tomorrow. I’d like to have been able to go, but I can’t. He has a memorial later this month that I can’t attend either.

After I called Joshu Sasaki “one of the greats” a few people demanded I explain myself. I’ve sat down and tried to write out my feelings about Sasaki a few times, but I failed.

For most of you reading this blog, the very first time you ever heard of Joshu Sasaki in your lives was when the sex scandals broke out. In fact, I doubt very many of you actually read Eshu Martin’s 2012 Sweeping Zen article Everybody Knows, which was the first big public statement about what had been going on in Sasaki’s organization for decades. My guess is most of you first heard of Sasaki through the many much more visible responses to that article in the New York Times and Huffington Post.

The New York Times and Huffington Post represent so-called “responsible journalism.” That means that they are practiced in the art of writing lurid allegations in such a way as to seem tasteful while still pushing all the same emotional hot buttons that writers for the New York Post or the Sun push far less pretentiously.

That’s not where I first heard of Joshu Sasaki.

I first heard of Joshu Sasaki in the early Eighties when I was studying with my first Zen teacher, Tim McCarthy. Tim had sat a few sesshins with Sasaki in the Seventies. As far as I know, he was unaware of any groping going on. In those days it was known only to the inner circle of Sasaki’s students, and Tim was not one of those.

Tim had good things to say about Sasaki back then and he owned Sasaki’s book Buddha is the Center of Gravity. I borrowed that book and read it. I enjoyed it so much that I tracked down a copy for myself and ended up reading it around ten more times. It became one of my favorite Zen books and still is. Later on I started listening to Leonard Cohen and I could hear a lot of Sasaki’s teachings from that book in his music and lyrics.

Not long after I arrived in Los Angeles, I had a chance to see Sasaki give a talk. He was very old by then. The only thing I remember about his talk was that he spoke with the same accent as my then-wife’s dad, who was from the same region of Japan, rural Miyagi Prefecture. The talk wasn’t nearly as good as his book. It was sort of rambling and the translator had a lot of trouble with it. The translator was smooth in his delivery, but since I understood Sasaki’s Japanese (thanks to Yuka’s dad!) I was probably one of the very few in the room who could tell how much he was struggling.

Sometime after that was when I began hearing rumors that Sasaki was a groper. There was no context to any of what I heard. Only one of the people I heard these rumors from had any firsthand knowledge. She was a veteran Zen practitioner in her fifties when she went to one of Sasaki’s sesshins and ended up getting grabbed. She’d been told he might do that, and when it happened she just told him to cut it out. He did.

It was only after this that I read Eshu Martin’s article and some of the rest of the stuff that’s been written. It was all very deeply disappointing.

And yet his book is still good. There was a bit of argument on my Facebook page when a reader pointed out that he liked Sasaki’s book. Someone said, “Re-read in the light of what you know now. How wonderful can it still be? Is it a one-sided fairy tale or the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Maybe, knowing who wrote it and how this person behaved in daily life could influence the way you would read it now.”

He wasn’t asking me that. But if he did I’d say, “I don’t think so.” Nor do I think Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism is a worse book knowing that the guy who wrote it allegedly once forced a couple to participate in an orgy and then drank himself to death at age 47. Hell, I even still like to listen to Ted Nugent. Stranglehold is a better example of early 70s Detroit rock than anything The Stooges or MC5 ever did, great as those bands were. The fact that Nugent is a loudmouth with some truly ridiculous political views can’t change that.

So what was Joshu Sasaki really? I certainly don’t know. I’m not sure how much it matters. He’s dead now. God rest his soul.

The stories about Sasaki are all over the map. I can’t make much coherent sense out of them. So I don’t try. But there is a whole lot more nuance in the actual statements made by the real-life recipients of his boob grabs than are represented in the two or three lines one gets in a NY Times article. I won’t try to defend his actions or to vilify him.

I’ve been vilified myself for not vilifying him. But I won’t. I do think we’d all have been happier if he could have refrained from doing that stuff at all. But who cares what I think?

Sasaki did a lot more than grope, though. He was a pioneering Zen teacher in America. He established several centers that still endure. He taught a lot of people lessons that those people value, including people whose body parts he also grabbed. He wrote a really good book (or someone else wrote it based on transcripts of his talks). He inspired some tremendous songs.

I don’t know why he grabbed people. You don’t either.

*   *   *

Even though I’m in Tassajara, my rent is still due when I come home. Your kind  donations help keep a roof over my head! Thank you!

*   *   *

My on-line retreat at Tricycle.com is still happening. Check it out!

*   *   *

Here’s my upcoming events schedule:

Aug. 16 9:30 AM — Noon at Dogen Sangha Los Angeles in the Veteran’s Memorial Building 4117 Overland Blvd. Culver City, CA 90230

Sept. 6 Houston Zen Center All Day Zazen

Sept. 9 Austin Zen Center

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

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63 Responses

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  1. stonemirror
    stonemirror August 7, 2014 at 8:37 pm |

    This reflects my general views about Sasaki as well. I learned to chant the Heart Sutra from Sasaki’s book, back in the 70s. (And I was the one of whom that question was asked, and my answer is pretty close to yours.)

    People want to burn witches, and call it “zen”. If you won’t burn a witch with them, you must be a witch, too.

  2. dougleader
    dougleader August 7, 2014 at 11:56 pm |

    Oh, Brad. Lord knows I’ve staunchly defended you lo these many years against the slings and arrows of outrage hurled at you here and elsewhere by the knuckleheads of the interwebs. But The Nuge over the Stooges?!?!?!?!?!?!? Blasphemy, Brad, blasphemy!!!! This aggression will not stand, man!!!!

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 8, 2014 at 4:56 am |


  3. mb
    mb August 8, 2014 at 12:42 am |

    I first heard about Sasaki’s misadventures before the NY Times article. Shinzen Young, the Vipassana meditation teacher, also has a blog and a commenter on the blog asked him to make a statement about Sasaki (Shinzen studied under Sasaki for over 2 decades) when the news started going viral in late 2012. His only response was “I’m studying the situation very carefully before I’ll feel comfortable in making any public comment on the situation”. To my knowledge, he’s never commented in public any further on the Sasaki situation. Which may be a very politically savvy decision on his part.

    I’m sure you had to expect to get the reactions that you have because you stuck your neck out and expressed a personal opinion. Which instantly brands you among some as an apologist, tortuously teasing nuance to fit into an uncomfortable “middle” position. Yes, yet another brilliant teacher, but with major human flaws. Who lived to be quite old. Whose sangha was largely complicit in enabling him to continue his bad behavior, mostly in secret.

    And yet he wrote brilliant books which you still value. And Chogyam Trungpa wrote brilliant books which both you and I (and many others) value. Even Adi Da’s first books were brilliant (before he went bonkers with his personal form of megalomania and personality-worship). Alan Watts was an alcoholic at the end of his life, but beloved and respected by many. And on and on and on.

    The debate over whether any kind of morality is the basis upon which a sane spiritual life is built (Buddhist precepts, the yamas and niyamas of Yoga, 10 Commandments, Golden Rule) or whether moral considerations have anything more than a tangential relationship to the “enlightened life” will always have enthusiastic proponents, for both POVs. Certainly a lot of Zen Masters were total rascals, proponents of “crazy wisdom” and the like.

    One can justly criticize the mainstream media for sensationalizing and painting a starkly black-or-white view. On the other hand, where does one draw the line? If Sasaki had been responsible for the death of a student, as opposed to being a persistent horny old goat, he’d have been run out of town (or convicted). Nobody wants to be a Jim Jones or a Marshal Applewhite or a Shoko Asahara. Introducing poison into the local water supply (Rajneesh) wasn’t that cool either.

    But exploiting a power relationship and what most people would consider to be inappropriate sexual behavior (i.e. without the voluntary consent of the target of these behaviors) is…tolerable? Very murky indeed. And so we wind up with many, many brilliant but flawed spiritual teachers who leave a very, very mixed legacy.

  4. A beginner in Texas
    A beginner in Texas August 8, 2014 at 3:39 am |

    Brad, you mention that you heard the rambling within Sasaki’s talk without the smoothing found in the translator’s telling of it.

    We are not party to Sasaki’s medical records, but as one who has been working with the geriatric population for many years I can relate that sometimes the lack of inhibition comes on with dementia. Despite the stereotype of the “dirty old man” there is actually no gender barrier involved in dementia causing people who otherwise do know better to physically grope others.

    While the symptoms of dementia often bring ordinary people to the attention of the medical community and those around them work to treat them as best they can, how might dementia go untreated when one is a revered leader?

    A family might recognize that grandmother/grandfather has lost the capacity to make safe judgements. Even a CEO of a multinational has a board of directors to oversee his actions. Where, in a hierarchy such as the Zen schools, is the responsibility to take away someone’s dignity by giving them a minder?

    Being a great mind doesn’t keep a person from falling prey to dementia. Humans often develop reflexive cover mechanisms for their symptoms when entering into dementia.

    I am not saying that I diagnose Sasaki as having dementia, but I am saying that I have seen elders who underwent the process with some of the same symptoms that now mar Sasaki’s name.

    The grandfather in a dementia ward who grabs another person’s body isn’t thought of as a “predator” so much as one who is suffering from the lack of inhibition brought about by an illness.

    Perhaps if Sasaki had not been at the center of such reverence he, too, might have been diagnosed and cared for in a way that both kept him safe and provided safety for his students. We don’t know if that could have happened, we only know that it didn’t.

    In the latter part of your post you reference separating someone’s work from their personal views/political stances.

    I think that we are living in a time when people are too unwilling to give people’s work a hearing on the merits. We cast out the “unclean” without considering that a person could both make/do something of value while holding personal opinions that we abhor.

    You used Ted Nugent for an example. I think that is a fair one. He says things in a loud manner that many disagree with. Does that mean that one must turn off the radio if his music comes on?

    Those who would insist that his music not be played because of his political views are not that different from the Nazis who burned books simply because the authors were Jewish. Rejecting a message should be separate from rejecting the messenger. We cheat ourselves by conflating the two.

  5. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 8, 2014 at 3:56 am |

    “He’s dead now. God rest his soul.”
    Approximately 100% rubbish.

    What is Sasaki?
    A dry shit stick.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel August 8, 2014 at 7:34 am |

      Haha I also had to smile when I read this. “God rest his soul” said a Zen-Master. But after reading Brads last book about God I wasn’t too suprised. I think Brad has become a christian Zen-Master or some mix I don’t know…these days anything goes anyway and somehow that’s fine I guess.

      1. sri_barence
        sri_barence August 8, 2014 at 11:38 am |

        Daniel said, “…these days anything goes anyway and somehow that’s fine I guess.” This is brilliant! Brad is indeed manifesting some “don’t know mix.” Every day, everything goes. Call it coarse or call it fine, it is just “something ineffable coming to this place.”

    2. sri_barence
      sri_barence August 8, 2014 at 11:34 am |

      Is a dry shit stick alive or dead?

    3. stonemirror
      stonemirror August 9, 2014 at 6:42 pm |

      “A dried shit stick”.

      Heard that one already. Show me the contents of the clipboard you had before you were born.

      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon August 10, 2014 at 3:51 am |

        HTTP Error 404: File Not Found

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles August 8, 2014 at 4:53 am |

    Hey Brad, Now you’ll probably want to go back and (re-?)read Dennis Merzel’s books and re-frame your views on him as well. Here’s a handy library list, I’m sure there are a few laying around Tassajara:

    The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen (1991, Shambhala Publications)
    Beyond Sanity and Madness the Way of Zen Master Dogen (1994, Tuttle Publishing)
    24/7 Dharma: Impermanence, No-Self, Nirvana (2001, Journey Editions)
    The Path of the Human Being: Zen Teachings on the Bodhisattva Way (2005, Shambhala Publications)
    Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way (2007, Big Mind Publishing)
    The Fool Who Thought He Was God (2013, Big Mind Publishing)

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer August 8, 2014 at 9:43 am |


      As I remember, Brad’s beef with Genpo was his advocacy of the Big Mind teaching, which implied a fast track to enlightenment. Genpo also charged huge sums of money for personal access and once again the implication of even faster enlightenment.

      Genpo’s moral transgressions came after Brad’s condemnation of his teaching methods.

      So as far as I can tell Genpo and Joshu Sasaki are different cases. Sasaki appears to be a good teacher with serious moral failings. Genpo, according to Brad, is a poor teacher with serious moral failings.

      I once borrowed a series of Genpo’s audio tapes, an introduction to his Big Mind technique. I stopped listening fairly quickly since they seemed more like a hypnosis seminar than lecture. It just felt off somehow…


      1. Shamany
        Shamany August 8, 2014 at 10:10 am |

        Genpo Roshi reminds me of some of the Christian mega church preachers.
        I had a friend who lived at the Zen Center in Salt Lake. He said Genpo made three things very clear:

        1. Big Mind is the next Big thing in Zen
        2. Genpo was VERY important
        3. Genpo was rich because he deserved it
        4. Never question Genpo

        1. Alan Sailer
          Alan Sailer August 8, 2014 at 10:26 am |


          Interesting. It does sound a lot like a cult of personality.


      2. Mumbles
        Mumbles August 8, 2014 at 10:16 am |

        Hi Alan,
        Actually I think knowledge of Genpo’s sexual infractions go back (at least) to 1988, way before Big Mind.

        But no matter, what you’re saying is basically Brad is more interested in disapproving of the reputations of teachers based on how much more $ they make than he does via philosophical concepts that differ from his own, &their sexual misconduct is not so important?

        [&] Better check w/a professional -Mark? on that hypnosis thing, you may still be under a dread Genpo “spell!” Geez, you’re probably all “enlightened” by now!

        Cheers, where everybody knows your name.

        1. Alan Sailer
          Alan Sailer August 8, 2014 at 10:46 am |


          I’d say that the money issue is a part of it.

          But in addition to the money issue, Gempo suggests that there is a quick way to do this kind of stuff.

          I kind of doubt that. People have been asking these questions for a long, long time. If there was a quick and easy answer I believe that someone would have found it by now. And it would be very obvious that the answer is right.*

          Kind of like the old saw that if someone wrote a self-help book that really worked, the market for new self help books would be gone.

          As far as my enlightenment, it’s already happened. Happens every day for about 30 minutes while I sit. Goes away pretty fast once I stand up…

          Hey Mark, do you have any instant-over-the-internet anti-hypnosis whammies that you can throw my way? I may be a Gempo zombie and not know it.


          * Just for the record I firmly believe that there is no one size fits all answer. Everyone must find their own answer. And once they have found this so-called “answer”, they should just drop it because, by then, the question has changed.

          1. stonemirror
            stonemirror August 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm |

            Genpo will get you enlightened in a long weekend, for a fee ranging from $5000 to $50,000. You pay your own way to Hawaii and back.

            Evidently, the fee’s work on a sliding scale of gullibility or something.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 8, 2014 at 10:07 am |

      Wow. Lots of cool acts.

      I just played a date w/my new band line-up with my old 626 bandmate Bill Goffrier (see schedule, 9/26), Dumptruck’s on the same night, I wonder if his “friends” inc. guys in both Dumptruck and Big Dipper. That will be a fun night. Anyway, enjoy.

  7. seannyob
    seannyob August 8, 2014 at 8:21 am |

    Maybe I’m overly harsh, but my litmus test is always:

    What if he had done it to my wife?

    The answer is easy, for me: if he had done that to my wife, he would immediately have been discarded as a spiritual teacher, and I would have done everything in my power to have him sent to jail.

    Sexual assault is incompatible with Buddhism.

    It’s also evil, and illegal in our society.

    Blaming the media is utterly absurd.

    1. Shamany
      Shamany August 8, 2014 at 10:05 am |

      I agree with you. If someone touched my wife, daughter, friend, or any female the result would be simple and quick.

  8. jason farrow
    jason farrow August 8, 2014 at 8:36 am |

    @brad…I vilify you for vilifying yourself by not vilifying the villain!!!

    but….i sorta get what you are driving at.

    like, as much as i hate TNH, i have to admit that he aided my interest in buddhism. but really he was mixing good wisdom(which, none of it he can be credited for) with poison(brainwashing as to suck money out of your wallet.) if you pick up a THN book, you’ll find something of value in it(unfortunately.)

    i sort of am turned off by Ikkyu. I know lots of guys who, like Leonard Cohen, from the hippy era wanted to have some sort of (idunno the word for it) “low-brow intellectualism.” hippy ethos that stuck it too the system. (which is cool. i can respect that…but, you seriously listened to Cohen? Where did you find the attention span?)

    Form the little I know of Ikkyu, he was molested repeatedly in a monastery by monks and thus was logically rebellious to the system. And promiscuous(which is apparently typical with molestation. That and repeat offenses.) But, that is not to say that Ikkyu didn’t change things for the better.

    Like, who says that if Sasaki was cloistered monastic, that he wouldn’t have done the same, or worse?

    I firmly believe that regardless of religion, these “saints” that we hold up to scrutiny, typically aren’t. It sucks. But that is not say that they weren’t successful in life, it just means that they were human.

    Things manifest in weird ways. Like, I most certainly have had the thought before of things like “Right now, I am in prime position to grab my sexy co-workers ass. How would she react? Boy, I’d love to grab that ass.” May be if I had a lot of stress on my plate, or felt like I never received the respect I deserved, that may be I might even grab that ass as to make a point to everyone else. idk.

    I have no idea about Japanese cultural sexual habits. But, from what I can tell, most Japanese women are fairly mistreated, even culturally. It’s a fairly misogynous culture. And today Japan sells more adult diapers then baby diapers because no one wants to participate in the way relationships are have traditionally been. (That and their economy is continuously plummeting.)So, Japanese aren’t having babies anymore.) In the 90’s Japan had this bizare bars where a girl goes to sit with another girl dressed as a boy, but it was nothing romantic or lesbian’ish(yea right l0l!)…. I have no idea…

    Different culture, different era, different person. Hell, idk….If you find something of value in life grab it I guess. Even if it’s the learning curve of someone else’s mistake.

    If you like the guy’s book so much you read it ten times, I guess I have to put it on my list. Thx.

    Have a good sesshin.

    PS, I sort of get the bigger picture in that you are trying to say that these guys are all human. Saints/Sinners…But are you saying that there weren’t any Patriarchs that were saints? That they were all sinners? What of the guys we don’t know the dirt on? May be there is no dirt?

    1. Daniel
      Daniel August 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm |

      PS, I sort of get the bigger picture in that you are trying to say that these guys are all human. Saints/Sinners…But are you saying that there weren’t any Patriarchs that were saints? That they were all sinners?

      – why should liberation, seeing that There’s no-One there and never was make saints out of a Charakter? i never understand where that idea even comes from – whats the logic? Please explain.

  9. Shamany
    Shamany August 8, 2014 at 10:04 am |

    Having lived in two monasteries ( One Zen One Tibetian ) I have learned to keep , ( for the most part ) my opinions to myself. Frankly, I am tired of all the banter about sex, scandals, teachers, religion, and spirituality. Yet I continue to read about it which is some sort of sick addiction….LOL.

    Anyway, I am quite happy to be a nobody and am glad I didn’t get trapped in the ongoing scandals. I no longer look to a teacher but certainly take in ideas from many sources. Actually, I probably respect writers like Sam Harris as much as I respect most zen teachers. Besides a sesshin ( where no body can talk ) I have non interest in any of the form of any religion.

    Thanks for the blog as I do enjoy keeping up with all the buddhist gossip ( Grin )

  10. jason farrow
    jason farrow August 8, 2014 at 10:17 am |

    It’s really strange. But I feel that HuiNeng was this completely peaceful, calm, real Buddha. I know this seems totally different then the way he is played off in the Platform Sutra…But, idk, I can’t explain it. I think most of the platform sutra is fictitious. It’s like a poorly written stage play.

    I feel like may be HuiNeng was, at very ones disposal. And took no offense by it.

    I could be wrong. But that’s how I perceive it in my head. He may very well have been a saint that got chewed up by the system and left on display. I sort feel like, may be his true claim to fame was being a truly compassionate Buddha….it’s weird. iknow.

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 8, 2014 at 10:18 am |

    “When he first came to America he saw the country as ‘ripe for spiritual revolution, since the young were not prisoners of tradition.’ But he also worried that many of the students who came to him were ‘social failures,’ and that though they were bigger than the Japanese ‘their navels are much more diminished.’ Certainly none of them laughed as he did, and he recommended standing up and laughing out loud, from the belly, first thing in the morning, and once, when he was asked why he came to America he replied, ‘I let other people do the teaching. I came to have a good time. I want Americans to learn how to truly laugh.’ ”

    (“How the Swans Came to the Lake”?, Rick Fields, Sasaki Archive)


  12. sri_barence
    sri_barence August 8, 2014 at 11:47 am |

    I liked ‘Buddha is the Center of Gravity.’ (I read it online.) Never met the man in person, and only heard about him third-hand, so I have no opinion of his character.

    I read Merzel’s ‘Big Mind, Big Heart’ last year. I liked the first part of the book, where he is describing his experiences with Zen practice. The second part of the book, about the Big Mind process, seemed really hokey. I would like to try an actual Big Mind seminar some day, to find out if I could replicate the experience. The idea is tantalizing. Could it be possible that “enlightenment” is nothing more that a kind of shift in perspective? If so, can a person make that shift on purpose? Zen Master Wu Kwang says you can’t; Dennis Merzel says you can. Which one is correct?

    1. Daniel
      Daniel August 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm |

      where did you read it online? i couldnt find it 🙁

      1. sri_barence
        sri_barence August 9, 2014 at 7:25 am |

        I went looking for the book today and couldn’t find it. Maybe the site was taken down? Amazon.com has a few copies available for $47.00 US. Some local university libraries have copies. I wish I had been able to download the book, but that option was not available. I hope you are able to find it.

        1. sri_barence
          sri_barence August 9, 2014 at 7:35 am |

          Found it!! There is a PDF on scribd.com. Don’t know how long it will be there…

  13. Fred
    Fred August 8, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

    “Could it be possible that “enlightenment” is nothing more that a kind of shift in perspective? If so, can a person make that shift on purpose? Zen Master Wu Kwang says you can’t; Dennis Merzel says you can. Which one is correct?”

    Some people don’t like Ken Wilber, but his first book was an eye opener.


    The shift in perspective is an undoing, seeing through, seeing past the various
    splits/dualisms, except there is no one to see it

  14. shade
    shade August 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm |

    This is something that pretty much everyone runs into sooner or later – finding out that some one’s who’s work you admire isn’t too admirable themselves. It’s happened to me so many times I pretty much expect it at this point, though it still continues to confound me, as the disparity is at times, almost beyond belief (At the top of the list would be Frank Baum, who wrote one of the most brilliant and delightful series of children’s books of all time, and also openly advocated the complete genocide of Native American peoples. I mean, what the fuck, right?). And yet this has never made me turn off from the work itself. Even when I was younger I thought that was stupid.

    In the case of “spiritual leaders” the situation is a little more complicated though, because to some degree these person’s lives are their work. The function of a priest, in particular, is to convey certain fundamental truths to others, including those that pertain to morality. Thus they are required to adhere to a certain standard of ethical behavior and honesty themselves. Which is not to say that a priest (or priestess or nun or whatever) automatically betrays their vocation with a single white lie or inappropriate comment, or that a single infraction should be immediate grounds for defrocking (I know, that’s a Christian term, but I don’t know what the Buddhist equivalent would be). I really don’t know where the line should be drawn, but it should be drawn somewhere. A person has no business instructing others on spiritual truths when his own life is consumed with falsehood, or instilling a code of conduct, even informally, that he himself obviously doesn’t follow.

    But at the same time, I think the people following a certain religious figure, the congregation I guess you should say, has a responsibility too. Especially in 21st century America and Europe where we pretty much have complete freedom who we’re gonna worship. Idolators have to answer for their idolatry. I’m no expert on this particular case, but the Sasaki scandal seems to me a classic situation where the degree of shock and outrage expressed was in exact proportion to the degree of reverence impressed upon him in the beginning. And I’m guessing this same reverence is exactly part of the reason he got away with his sleazy doings for so long.

    (I acknowledge that a lot of this outrage has come from outside the Buddhist community and from people who probably never even heard of the guy until he got into trouble. But that’s a whole other thing… there’s nothing more satisfying than pulling down someone ELSE’S idol)

    1. mb
      mb August 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm |

      defrocking (I know, that’s a Christian term, but I don’t know what the Buddhist equivalent would be)
      Disrobing ? Eek…

      1. shade
        shade August 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm |


        Uh, yeah, no. I don’t think that’s gonna fly.

  15. Fred
    Fred August 8, 2014 at 2:39 pm |
    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles August 9, 2014 at 6:52 am |

      Were you the guy in the hat onstage?

      Those boys could put on a show, huh!

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 8, 2014 at 9:08 pm |

    I love listening to selections like MC5 whilst reading this blog. gives it a whole ‘nother dimension. Nice!

    I took a nap this afternoon, got up and had a cup of coffee, then sat. I’m attempting to rework my understanding of Fuxi’s poem, yet again, but with my legs wrapped around my neck (ok, slight exaggeration) very little of what I had written so far came back to me. “Whatever you think it to be, it is otherwise”– close approximation of what Gautama said about trance.

    I looked to my senses for interruption, and I found that helpful. I rewrote to this:

    “The last line of the poem. “The bridge is moving, the water is still” refers to a freedom of the location of awareness to move when volitive activity in the body ceases. When the only action taking place is the movement of breath, and the body is relaxed in each particular and open to awareness, then the location of awareness can shift freely from one place to another- even with the eyes open.

    Close attendance on the movements of inhalation and exhalation and relaxation in each particular of the body is a practice often associated with the experience of movement in the location of awareness, yet any of the methods employed in hypnosis may also be used as an approach to such an experience. In particular, the so-called confusion approach made famous by Milton Erickson is effective, so that any interruption in what is normally a habitual activity can be an approach to such an experience.”

    ok, that may be subject to rewrite, but I hope it will serve for the moment. For the bottom to drop out of the basket, even the sight of plum blossoms will do. Maybe at some point, it’s all blessed interruption!

    Is Genpo right, that it’s not hard, anybody can drop body and mind? I guess. Can anybody drop body and mind, can Genpo? “… it is otherwise.”

  17. otaku00
    otaku00 August 9, 2014 at 2:31 am |

    Thank you for that piece, Brad!

    I do not support the view in one comment here that Sasaki already had dementia when he started to grope women. There were interviews with him much later which gave a different impression.

    One point seems to be different to other cases (like Merzel, Shimano): Sasaki was, as I see it, “only” accused of fondling and the like, not intercourse and ongoing affairs? If this is true, it might be possible that a) he just wanted to get out of the misery of onsetting impotence and replace intercourse by some other “sexual” physical contact, b) he really wanted to teach s.th.: women to say no when they are the most vulnerable (because there are many statements that he accepted the “no” – which would also be unlikely under dementia).

    Here is a question, as his book is rather rare and expensive: Are there copies around and does anyone know if it was translated into German (or has anyone of Sasaki’s relatives/close disciples an interest in a German translation?

  18. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon August 9, 2014 at 5:04 am |

    Dan Harris (ABC news anchor, meditator, author of “10% Happier…”) interviewed on Buddha At The Gas Pump.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel August 9, 2014 at 1:18 pm |

      ah I hope one day he’ll be able to interview the Mairtreya, the Dogen of the 21st century…Sam Harris.

      I still can’t stop recommending http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/taming-the-mind this blog article…it’s more in there than in all books about buddhism. Sam Harris is able to express this in his own words, he doesnt just copy and paste from masters that are dead for centuries….which is a easy and nice thing to do huh – they wont disagree hahaha

  19. Michel
    Michel August 9, 2014 at 6:56 am |

    Jason Farrow: “But I feel that HuiNeng was this completely peaceful, calm, real Buddha”

    Jason, how can you be sure of anything about a semi-legendary man who lived 1300 years ago and whose details are known to us only through hagiography???

  20. Fred
    Fred August 9, 2014 at 7:14 am |

    ‘Sasaki was, as I see it, “only” accused of fondling and the like, not intercourse and ongoing affairs?”

    He fathered several ” illegitimate children ” before they had sperm banks.

  21. Fred
    Fred August 9, 2014 at 7:21 am |

    “The bridge is moving, the water is still”

    The Universe is moving, the human is still

    “In particular, the so-called confusion approach made famous by Milton Erickson is effective, so that any interruption in what is normally a habitual activity can be an approach to such an experience.”

    No Self-upon-the-Absolute is the default program. The habitual activity is the
    reinforcement and conditioning of the illusion of an ego.

    Getting hit in the head with a plum petal is the wake up call.

  22. otaku00
    otaku00 August 9, 2014 at 8:24 am |

    Fred: “He fathered several ” illegitimate children ” before they had sperm banks.”

    Where is that from? Any DNA-tests, any proof?

    1. Fred
      Fred August 9, 2014 at 9:29 am |

      David Rubin on Sweeping Zen:

      “I have also had extensive conversations with two Japanese monks who, for their own reasons had researched Joshu’s history in Japan. They told me Joshu Roshi has biological children in Japan who were not openly acknowledged as his when they were children. I have since met one of them, and I read an email from another. The monk told me that in Japan his sexual activity was a big concern within Myoshin-ji. This is an extremely unscientific “survey,” for which all of the information was randomly and freely given, and 90 percent of the information was obtained after 1997. It is very clear that nobody really knows anything close to everything, and the people who know the most aren’t talking in public.”

      1. stonemirror
        stonemirror August 12, 2014 at 10:00 am |

        That seems something like “a second-hard report of a hearsay retelling of a rumor ostensibly being repeated in Japan”.

        The “Sweeping Zen-ness” of it all doesn’t add to its obvious evidentiary value, which seems close to zero. Maybe less. To hear “Sweeping Zen” tell it, Brad is a sexual “psychopath”.

  23. otaku00
    otaku00 August 9, 2014 at 9:36 am |

    Well, why not ask Myoshinji? I bet no one will get a substantial answer.

  24. Fred
    Fred August 9, 2014 at 9:46 am |
  25. otaku00
    otaku00 August 9, 2014 at 10:54 am |

    This is my favorite sentence in this article: “For so many men, the spiritual path is a road for those who don’t know how to be their own fathers.”

    The description Cohen gives of his teacher could of course be given by anyone who ran into a bitch and justifies her behavior like this.

  26. Fred
    Fred August 9, 2014 at 11:52 am |

    My favorite line is

    ” It’s also a premature eulogy for the end of the poetic voice that for millennia has attempted to aestheticize the barbarism of religious power.”

  27. Daniel
    Daniel August 9, 2014 at 1:10 pm |

    sri_balance: thanks a lot got it!

    read the first few pages until now its the usual macho-zen talk…but at least sasaki understood that he “sat for the first time” after everything dropped and liberation happened. Its a sad thing that so many zen students these days mistake description for a prescription and think theyll get it because of Zazen. Its the other way…you get it and then you’ll sit because its fun then. Thats why bodhidharma sat for years after he got it….he didnt get it because he sat…ah anyway i’ll read a few more pages 🙂

  28. otaku00
    otaku00 August 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm |

    Others did not insist on sitting, like Hui-neng. I doubt that one “who got it” would tend to sit too much. Even Shakyamuni reduced his sitting afterwards. He was busy with other things.

    1. Daniel
      Daniel August 9, 2014 at 1:59 pm |

      “I doubt that one “who got it” would tend to sit too much.”

      there are no rules but I’ve seen a tendency to spend time more quietly than before in some who got it. while sitting for someone who didnt its quite boring to watch a wall, for those who did its really very enjoyable…

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm |

    Fun doesn’t quite get it, in regard to why sit.

    In the first trance, dis-ease ceases. Here’s a lovely saying from a dead guy about that:

    “When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.”

    The fundmental point gets into the stretch, and dis-ease ceases.

    In the second trance, unhappiness ceases. The distinction of the senses, including the vestibular and proprioceptive senses along with the sense of gravity, picks up and unhappiness ceases.

    In the third trance, ease ceases. Stretch past the comfort zone but still healthy.

    In the fourth trance, happiness ceases. The distinction of the senses past the comfort zone but still healthy.

    The states of trance are all simultaneously present to a greater or lesser degree if any is present.


  30. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 9, 2014 at 8:14 pm |

    “We interrupt you now with a sound plum thrashing”– (what Brad liked about punk rock?)

  31. otaku00
    otaku00 August 10, 2014 at 4:23 am |

    Those “trances” pretty much describe the state of quite a lot of people. So they will naturally find no reason to sit.

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm |

    Yes, exactly, thank you otaku00. Consciousness under hypnosis no different than regular consciousness, as Alan pointed out; trance an everyday constant thing, as Milton Erickson asserted. Why practice if everybody has Buddha nature, Dogen’s question when he split for China?

    My answer: stretch and reciprocal activity generated by stretch is renewed in waking up, the resile of the ligaments and fascia is consistent in falling asleep; the distinction of the senses is a function of waking up, relinquishment of volition in the distinction of the senses is a part of falling asleep.

    It’s all waking up and falling asleep, right where I am; “When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.” Now where is that?

    1. Fred
      Fred August 10, 2014 at 3:24 pm |

      The place where you are is where this illusion of self, isn’t

  33. Jason
    Jason August 10, 2014 at 9:10 pm |

    I realize this is a very serious topic, and I have much to say regarding the real motivation of people who cast extreme judgements from afar on situations they have no first hand knowledge of. Still, I just keep thinking “Seriously!? . . . ‘STRANGLEHOLD!?'” I mean, I’m not saying it’s a bad song per se, and I think it would be mentally ill for someone to stop enjoying music because their ideology forbids contact with the musician, but still–“Stranglehold” doesn’t even measure up to “Wango Tango” in my opinion, so to elevated it beyond anything at all from Raw Power or Funhouse is just . . . I’m sorry–I just can’t get past this.

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