Everybody Knows?

Hello from your roving Zen reporter, reporting to you today from Glasgow, Scotland where the weather is damp and rainy. “That’s nowt rrrain, laddie!” they tell me, “That’s nowt bot smirr!” Yet it seems like rain to me. Or drizzle at least.

Yesterday I visited my old friend Nick Wilding aka Vic Wild Thing the fiddle player of the band My Niece’s Foot for whom I played bass in Japan way back in nineteen-diggity-two or whenever the hell I lived in Japan. Nick’s into human ecology, sustainability, community action and all of that wonderful stuff. He has two lovely children who are extremely energetic. Zing! And a lovely wife Tara and two kitty-cats.

The talk and one-day retreat in Glasgow last weekend were amazing. You should’ve been there! Judi Ferrell of Merchant City Yoga hosted and her friend Cynthia McVey did the first night’s talk in an “In Conversation” format. She interviewed me on stage. This is a lot more fun than the usual thing where I just talk at the audience for a while to try to stimulate them to ask questions or otherwise respond. Part of it was video’d and all of it was audio recorded. As long as I don’t lose the files before I can upload them, maybe you’ll be seeing or hearing the results soon.

There are still a few UK dates left. They are:

Nov. 23-25 (Fri-Sun) Weekend Sesshin at Fawcett Mill Fields, Penrith, Lake District  UK Sponsored by Yoga Manchester

Nov. 25 (Sun) Manchester, England Sponsored by Yoga Manchester

Nov. 27-28 (Tues-Wed) Hebden Bridge Zen Group, UK contact Rebecca at rebeccahabs@googlemail.com

Dec. 2 (Sun) London, England, The Vibast Community Centre, 163 Old Street, EC1V 9NH, for info sacredalchemyevents@hotmail.com

The Lake District thing and the Hebden Bridge thing are both longer retreat type events. Although you can also come on Tuesday night to Hebden Bridge and just hear the talk if you don’t want to commit to sitting all day on Wednesday. The events in Manchester and London are just talks. Easy-peasy! As always, all of my events are on my Events Page.

It’s amazing to me that I can come to places like Glasgow, Berlin, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Warsaw and a host of other (to me) exotic locales and get rooms full of people, while I only seem to be able to attract the same six people to my regular sittings in Los Angeles. What is up with LA people? You can’t sit still for a little while?


In Buddhist news, Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Leonard Cohen’s Zen master and one of my first teacher’s teachers, a guy whose book I often recommend as one of the best on Zen practice, has been outed on Sweeping Zen as a sex pervert by my buddy Eshu Martin up in Victoria, BC.

Like Eshu says, “everybody knows” and has known about this for ages. It’s one of those things you hear about in Zen circles. Yet nobody really knows precisely what went on other than those who were present at the time.

The very first commenter on Eshu’s piece when it appeared on Facebook said, “Glad you’re saying it. It needs to be outed and stopped in every community.” He is a man, by the way*. This is the common response. I don’t find it very interesting or useful. It’s the same old stuff. Everybody loves a lynching. Even you. Trust me. You do. (Yes, I’m talking about you.) So when we find someone who falls into our own personal category of “lynchable” we are ready to go after him. All of us. But is that really where we want to go?

If you are keen to seriously dig into this and not just opt out for the knee-jerk response, there are some comments on Eshu Martin’s Facebook page from a woman who was… Well, what was she exactly? One would generally say she was a “victim” of the Roshi’s abuse. But she doesn’t feel that way at all.

She says, in part, “It’s so easy to make someone wrong. I ‘suffered Roshi’s abuse’ and it was the closest I ever got to god.” She goes on to state that, “Everyone knew about it, everyone talked about it. Oshos (Sasaki Roshi’s higher level assistant priests) were distressed about it. Processes were put in place. We were constantly being offered support around it… well handled I thought.” She says a whole lot more. But I already feel like maybe I’m overstepping some of those unknowable Internet protocols by quoting her here. The post I’m referencing appeared on Eshu’s Facebook profile page on November 16th. Dig for yourself and maybe you’ll find it.

This is very interesting to me. It’s incredibly easy to slip into habitual modes of thinking around hot button issues like this. It’s important to be very careful about that sort of thing. Which isn’t a way of saying that I think hetero male Zen teachers ought to grope their female students so they can get closer to God. There really is such a thing as sexual abuse and some of it happens with Zen teachers. But then there are far more complicated things that also happen for which there is no category.

I feel like our need to slot things into established categories may be one of the deepest problems we have to uproot as human beings pursuing the dharma. It’s a survival skill we need, this categorizing of things. It’s what keeps us alive. If I’m walking down the street in a foreign country at night, as I often am these days, I have to watch people closely. If a group of guys is giving off signals I read as potentially dangerous, I walk down another street.

Maybe they’re perfectly nice people. Maybe they’re just excited about a football match they just saw. But I have no way to know. So I categorize quickly and act accordingly. This is what we all do all the time.

But we also have a tendency to go too far with this. Or to believe that the categories in which we place things are true or absolute. That becomes a problem if our aim is to see all of life just as it is.

I feel like Eshu’s article and the response it is generating are very important and interesting. I’m glad he said what he said. I’m waiting for more.

I’ve always wondered what was really going on around Joshu Sasaki. He is one of the best expounders of what Zen is all about that I have ever encountered. His book Buddha is the Center of Gravity is absolutely one of the best out there. He knows his stuff. His teaching methods in all areas have always been unorthodox. Not just the sex stuff that’s now being talked about, but everything he does.

The female commenter on Eshu’s Facebook clearly states that she does not consider what Sasaki did to her or to the other women at his center that she talked to as “sexual abuse” or even as sex at all.

Curioser and curioser. This deserves a closer look.

* I was wrong. The commeter in question was female.


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101 Responses

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  1. NellaLou
    NellaLou November 20, 2012 at 5:21 am |

    One woman’s experience is of course meant to be generalized to all women. That’s how we women work. All the same, identical. Ask any one of us. We’ll all answer the same. Stepfordlike.

    It’s a bit odd that you dislike the comment about outing the activity, calling it knee jerk and then conclude with “This deserves a closer look.” Bit contradictory. Should it be examined or not? Should it be stopped or not? Do you have an actual answer or opinion? I suppose if you answer either way you put yourself into something of a paradoxical position.

    BTW the comment you didn’t like was mine, under my real name. I’m not a man, at least I wasn’t the last time I checked.

  2. fightclubbuddha
    fightclubbuddha November 20, 2012 at 5:39 am |

    Everybody knows that you love me baby.
    Everybody knows that you really do.
    Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful.
    Give or take a night or two.
    Everybody knows you’ve been discreet.
    So many people you had to meet.
    Without your clothes.
    And everybody knows.

    Leonard Cohen

    I love the cover version of this song by Concrete Blonde. Maybe Leonard was giving us a hint about Joshua many years ago.

  3. fightclubbuddha
    fightclubbuddha November 20, 2012 at 5:42 am |

    “Joshu,” not Joshua. Damned iPad autocorrect. You would think a company run by a Zen Buddhist would create a more patient spell checker in its signature product.

  4. Darkgod
    Darkgod November 20, 2012 at 5:48 am |

    Any idea where I could find a copy of Joshu’s book? I searched Amazon and got nothing, Google search came up blank as well.

  5. NellaLou
    NellaLou November 20, 2012 at 5:57 am |

    Well Brad, I came to know, when I was writing so much about the Shimano situation that some of the women who encountered Sasaki were not of the same opinion. It’s not for me to speak for them however. Perhaps now that it’s in the open they will feel less constrained in telling their stories. But considering others viewpoints (meeting God etc-powerful social narrative-pretty hard to stand up in the face of that) I doubt it.

    Social pressure to maintain the status quo and continue to praise the leader is pretty hard to fight especially if you’re feeling damaged.

    That’s why I said in “every community”. That’s not specific but general. I can’t really comment on the specific because of confidences.

    It also took decades for people to come forward in Shimano’s case. It may be a similar kind of milieu. Not for me to say.

    But consider when adherents start calling the Zen master a conduit to God you do get some idea what you’re dealing with…

  6. HarryB
    HarryB November 20, 2012 at 6:03 am |

    Brad et al,

    On Eshu’s FB page, the woman in question seems to object to the term ‘sexual abuse’, but does state that the behavior is ‘problematic’…

    “There was no “sex”. Unification abuse? Hug abuse? Maybe, but it didn’t feel like “abuse” ever ever…. felt like the purest deepest love. Of course this is still problematic and inappropriate behaviour, make no mistake. The issues of power over are really difficult in these teacher/student relationships, but I feel obliged to provide facts on the ground before you go witch-hunting. There was no non-consensual sex, at least with any of my dharma sisters and we talked about it all the time.”

    …and there were things happening that gave cause to people being appalled…

    “again…no there was no sex and no the Osho’s weren’t facilitating in fact they were mostly baffled and appalled and trying to figure out how to be with it.”

    It seems the woman in question saw the behaviors of Sasaki Roshi as a means of achieving the ‘egoless love’ that she sees as the ‘goal’ of zen…

    “We were developing our hearts and the skill to dissolve or open into myriad experience, pleasant and unpleasant (trees, snow shovelling, roofing, hugging). Love was what we were going for. You were there and you live yr zen daily. Egoless love is number one on the Zen agenda.”

    “I’m deeply grateful for my time at Baldy, for my time with the old man, and even deeply grateful for his indiscretions in helping me find my “no”, and find my “yes”.”

    … at the very least it seems to me that this is based in the adoration of and deference to some ‘other’ power (i.e. the Guru, Master, or whatever) and that that is an unfortunate (and potentially dangerous) movement within Buddhism. The idea that getting felt up by the old man, or whatever, is a means to achieving ‘egoless love’ is a gross distortion of dignified conduct and I look forward to the time when the idea is consigned to the waste bin of 60s ‘enlightened’ misogyny where it belongs. ‘Guru Buddhism’ is bullshit and at its core is contrary to everything that genuinely progressive teachers such as Nishijima Roshi have endeavored to do. It is not a recipe for human freedom where ‘human freedom’ is being ‘free’ to have someone in an organized religious context treat you in a way that would otherwise be deemed highly inappropriate. So, while I certainly am not advocating for a witch hunt, I call DING DING DING on the bullshit detector.



  7. Senjo
    Senjo November 20, 2012 at 6:06 am |

    I do find the Sasaki stuff really depressing. Along with all the other examples of this type of behaviour, it seems to suggest that there is no link at all between spiritual realisation and emotional maturity. I always kind of hoped that one would bolster the other. Otherwise what’s the point?

  8. Mettai
    Mettai November 20, 2012 at 7:35 am |

    I don’t see this as a lynching, but rather the building of momentum to bring transparency and equality into Zen organizations. If these do not become safe places to bring ones suffering then they become cults. Any of us that feel harmed want the most egregious cases outed to bring more pressure to prevent this in the future.

  9. BrightHeart
    BrightHeart November 20, 2012 at 7:38 am |

    Is that so?

  10. Katageek
    Katageek November 20, 2012 at 7:52 am |

    Zen needs to take a lesson from the Raelians and embrace free sex with condoms galore.

    But Zen is too attached to Zen.

    So, instead of “Damn, Roshi gave good sex last week! See you Saturday” It will always be shameful.

    I would love to see a section on zendo walls much like what you see at Wendy’s. But instead of “Employee of the Month” it could read “Who’s Sleepting With Roshi.”

    And each Zendo should have a male and female roshi to allow balance.

    Just kidding. Zen will NEVER be honest enough with itself to do this.

  11. Daniel
    Daniel November 20, 2012 at 8:18 am |

    Well I’m always suprised that people are suprised about when that happens. I mean seriously that guy was a male who was in a situation where women probably were attracted to (power etc.). He’s asian and now had beautiful american girls that he probably to his suprise found out he could have sex with. You really want to blame him if he didn’t say no to that?

    Sure if he forced women to have sex with him in some way or raped them and used his power to make sure they don’t talk then that’s an issue. But if he just did it…cmon if you’re a male you can imagine how difficult it must be to resist!

    Of course there’s the idea out there that if you “get zen” you won’t do such things any more because you’re now in control or something like that. But that idea is unfortunately completely wrong. I’d even say for most the opposite is true. If you’ve had the character who was into sex a lot before…then odds are high that charateristic is lived out much more freely than before…especially if “you” did a good job of supressing that stuff before.

    So what…he is a zen master who liked to fuck a lot. There are other zen masters who don’t like to fuck so much too. Like there are politicans who like to fuck a lot and politicans who don’t. And there are drug dealers out there who like to…uh well guess I made myself clear.

  12. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel November 20, 2012 at 8:21 am |

    I’ll always remember that boy I knew in the ’70ies who, while discussing enlightenment and the various paths, told me he had found his master. And that, in order to help him unleash his kundalini, the master fucked him…

    I was then (and still am!) at a loss on how to explain to him that he was just being… stuffed…

  13. Sai
    Sai November 20, 2012 at 8:47 am |

    Am I missing something here? If people have been sexually abused, assaulted, raped then shouldn’t the law get involved. Aren’t these things supposed to be illegal? What about sexual harassment laws, Do they apply to religious settings? Where are the cops when you need them?

  14. pan con tomate
    pan con tomate November 20, 2012 at 8:51 am |

    I work with sex offenders. It is normal to find people around sex offender that do not want to believe the allegations of the victims or they prefer to focus in the perpetrator fantastic social accomplishments.
    There is a profile of sex offender highly pro social, active member in the community, great charisma, like that guy from the BBC or the guy from Penn state or a church leader or boyscouts volunteers.
    Guys doing great thing for the community, but in close doors they have this little secret.
    Regular folks that do not have contact with sex offenders, act surprise, when a sex offender is discovered after years of abuse, but that is how they operate.
    I am not saying that Sasaki is a sex offender, I have no idea, just saying do not be surprise of the community silent toward one of his leader abusive conduct.

  15. Senjo
    Senjo November 20, 2012 at 8:54 am |

    Well the article Brad has linked to is describing abuse not consensual sex (ie: it refers to groping female students in dokusan etc). Most ‘normal’ males manage to avoid groping their female work colleagues – if only to avoid being fired – so to argue that being a zen master makes it likely that [this] charateristic is lived out much more freely than before” would seem to suggest that spiritual realisation leads to less basic control of your desires than you had before? That seems to run totally contrary to the second and third Noble Truths?

  16. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 9:05 am |

    An enlightened man cannot overide simple biology?

    Fuck your enlightenment.

    1. fightclubbuddha
      fightclubbuddha November 20, 2012 at 9:24 am |

      There is nothing simple about biology. There is a quote attributed to Freud, which is probably apocryphal, that says something like this: “the pleasure of satisfying a savage instinct, undomesticated by the ego, is incomparably much more intense than the one of satisfying a tamed instinct.” This, allegedly from a psychoanalyst whose life work involved the exploration of the so-called ego. Imagine a Zen master who has accepted the idea of no ego, no self. Not offering this as an excuse, obviously. Just suggesting that maybe enlightenment and biology are indeed at odds sometimes.

  17. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 9:39 am |

    “If someone would turn up who can totally abandon their ego and that can manifest that zero state that is neither subject nor object and that is a complete unification of plus and minus then I think I would make them a successor. However such a person has not yet appeared, a person that knows that true democracy is a manifestation of true love and that the manifestation of true love is the manifestation of the state that is neither subject not object”

    Enlightenment is not at odds with biology.

    Enlightenment is nothing. The real work is integrating the insight with the form of every day life.

    The manifestation of true love that is the manifestation of that which is neither subject nor object is not concerned with sexual desire and pressing flesh into flesh for dopamine release.

  18. HarryB
    HarryB November 20, 2012 at 9:41 am |

    That’s a good point, fightclubbuddha. The ‘ego’, in the Freudian model, is actually the ‘good guy’ that mediates between our selfish id impulses and the guilt-creating high morality of the superego. It seems a lot of people use the term ‘ego’ in zen discourse without really knowing what they are talking about, or with some vague notion of the ‘the ego’ being bad. Maybe they mean the selfish, desirous self, but it is clear that we simply could not operate without certain senses of self that arise from our sense perceptions. ‘The ego’ of course, is not a thing. It doesn’t exist as an entity or object or ‘organ of mind’ at all as we can quickly determine in zen practice. Freud observed this and saw his model as a sort of provisional explanation.

    The extreme that is often voiced in zen/Buddhist circles is that we are trying to ‘kill’, ‘destroy’, ‘transcend’ etc the ‘ego’…



  19. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 9:48 am |

    Well, Harry, what did Dogen mean when he said dropping the body-mind?

    Wiggle your way out with words.

  20. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  21. KenSho
    KenSho November 20, 2012 at 9:53 am |

    This whole situation is very interesting to see, since it echoes a problem with sexual “abuse” in another community I’m involved with. I have to use the quotes there because there seems to be some dispute between people who point at the people involved and say “that was abuse” when the individuals involved, like the woman above, say “Huh? It was great!”

    I think you’re very right about the lynch mob, but I also think there’s another factor – the “think of the the children!” idea. It’s the desire we all have (especially those who cultivate compassion) to be caretakers, to protect those who we perceive to be in need.

    I understand that urge – I was a volunteer EMT for two years because of it, because I liked being the “hero” – but at a certain point it becomes rather…well, colonial? Privileged (ew, hate that word)? I’m not saying people don’t need help at times. I’m just not sure that we always are looking closely enough at what they actually need help with, or whether it’s actually our own fears and neuroses coming out.

    In the communities that I’m part of, I try, occasionally, to circumvent the lynching by urging the parties to come to a place of mutual understanding. That can’t happen when names and unconfirmed accusations are being flung around. So…it doesn’t work much. But I agree with you: I’d be interested in seeing people delve deeper into what was going on, before jumping to conclusions about motivations, etc.

    Also: I love the “volunteers” and “Who’s Sleeping With Roshi?” ideas. Hilarious, and frankly, I wish we as a culture were sexually mature enough to handle it…

  22. A-Bob
    A-Bob November 20, 2012 at 9:57 am |

    It is very easy to get caught up in what it must be like to be enlightened, but it’s better to think about what it is like to be a human being with healthy human emotions. We can imagine something inappropriate went on or we can imagine normal human activity in unusual circumstances. All these whisperings are as bad as what is being whispered about. I’m not so sure it’s right to try and heal something if you’re not sure it’s a disease.

    Eshu’s sentence, “I feel obliged to speak the truth about this matter, insofar as I am able to know it” hits to the heart of the matter. In this case he doesn’t ‘know’ anything.

  23. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer November 20, 2012 at 10:09 am |


    First we get the “If you don’t read it carefully you’ll think Brad is a Nazi” post.

    Now we have the “Respected Zen teacher who touched his students in a bad way” post.

    I’d say all we need now is a “Brad tours the De Walletjes district in Amsterdam and finds the dharma” post so we can get poor Jundo all worked up again.


    Same as it ever was.


  24. HarryB
    HarryB November 20, 2012 at 10:14 am |

    Hi Fred,

    I think anyone who has practiced for a while can understand well what Dogen meant by ‘dropping off body and mind’, and can strive to bring the understanding that arises from it into their normal, everyday lives.

    What he didn’t mean was that we should meditate ourselves into a stupefied state of ongoing denial and ethical nothingness. He was very concerned with standards in right conduct.



  25. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra November 20, 2012 at 10:24 am |

    My own personal problem with these sexcapades of various gurus isn’t that sex is evil in and of itself. It’s that in these cases it’s exploitative. Sex, obviously, can be a beautiful thing, or it can be a very, very ugly thing. It can be an expression of love, or it can be an expression of unchecked power and aggression.

    So I suppose I sort of disagree with Mr. Warner. These people who abuse their positions of trust and power should be called out and they should have to deal with the repercussions of their actions, whether those repercussions are “fair” or not.

    Here’s the thing: I’m not a Zen master. I’m not a guru of any sort. I’m not enlightened. I’m not particularly spiritually intelligent. I’ve got nothing to offer the world that would help me accrue a single “follower” much less dozens or hundreds or thousands. I’m just a “normal” person with a “normal” somewhat boring job with a “normal” family, etc. And, yet, I know enough to not go around groping people or coercing them into having sex with me. Imagine that. I know enough to realize the futility of such actions re: my own spiritual health, and I know enough that such acts are destructive towards others. If someone like me–millions of others who also don’t partake in such actions–can realize these things, then why can’t these supposed spiritual gurus realize them?

    My initial reaction is to call them frauds. Then I know people might respond with the “they’re only human” remark. But, again, I’m “only human” and I get that you can’t just go around fucking whoever you want. So I don’t buy that argument.

  26. JimmyZ
    JimmyZ November 20, 2012 at 10:29 am |

    Brad – are you sure the book isn’t “Buddha is the Center of Gravity?” If so, used copy is available on Amazon (albeit for $108). Or here for $32 –


  27. King Kong
    King Kong November 20, 2012 at 10:56 am |


  28. hrtbeat7
    hrtbeat7 November 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm |

    I was a student of Sasaki Roshi from 1971-1974, first at the Los Angeles center, and later at Mt. Baldy, where I lived as one of about a dozen permanent residents for over 2 years. About half were male and the other half female.

    When I arrived at Mt. Baldy, I realized that the Abbess also served as Roshi’s mistress. Soon after my arrival, they apparently had a falling-out due to Roshi’s sexual exploits with another female student. I was to learn soon that Roshi was quite the horny old goat, and that sanzen for most female students consisted of a lot of fondling and sex play. Moreover, several of the students were also sexually active with each other, so it came as no surprise that, when one person contracted a sexually transmitted disease, some of the other students eventually got it. It was even suggested that it had started with Roshi.

    Once in sanzen, Roshi took a good look at me and remarked, “Zen is not the way of the saint.” I guess he was seeing my rather eccentric upbringing, in which I was raised as a Catholic, and had spent 7 years in a Catholic Seminary studying to be a priest. In any case, he told me that I should read “dirty books”. He said he enjoyed them (pornography). I felt that was fine for him, but I was not attracted to that pursuit. He told me that I wanted to attach to the Absolute, but needed to first to totally throw myself into the objective world, which included sexuality. I understood his point.

    Remember, this was during the time of the so-called sexual revolution, and so nobody there made a big deal out of the sex — it was one of the few pleasant diversions in an otherwise very demanding practice, pursued in an environment of rather harsh and primitive circumstance. Furthermore, none of the women complained about Roshi’s antics, some even laughed it off, although in retrospect I can see that we were all ignoring the teacher-student abuse-of-authority angle, especially because it appeared to be consensual (except for some occasional jealousy issues).

    For most of human history, and across most cultures, sex was viewed as a divine gift from the gods. Even in Christian literature, god commanded Abraham and his offspring to populate the world with their seed. To fulfill god’s directive Abraham had many wives and concubine lovers, as did his sons Jacob and Isaac. Only in the west, did sex have a falling out and become a thing of shame. The misunderstanding came in the misinterpretations of biblical accounts/stories about such places as Sodom and Gomorra, where the inhabitants fornicated with multiple “earthly” type deities of no spiritual value. Sex was never the issue concerning sin, but human sacrificing to appease mortal gods, idols, and superstitions, was a sin.

    Sex, that perpetual mystery that we love and hate, is what phenomenal existence is about. Physical matter as well as spiritual matter have a common denominator called creation. Humans, animals, insects and plant life pollinate each other to keep species thriving. Sex is a mechanism of nature, of ecology, and with a cosmic never-ending purpose that is no accident of natural selection.

    Humans are the result of an orgasm; in essence, we are fundamentally an orgasm in the flesh. Love is at the root of our creation. Pure love is a byproduct of orgasm and is what binds those that share the experience. Love by itself does not create as strong a bond as it does when mixed with sex. We love our friends, our parents, our siblings and our children, but the bond between lovers is the strongest bond there is. The attachment with our children, who come into our lives because of sex, and sometimes love, is also strong. Sex is what humans do best, not by fluke of nature but by purposeful design of powers higher than us ourselves. Humans did not create sex nor have we created the urges, desires, and the lust, the intrinsic elements of sex.

    Of all the creatures on Earth, only man has taken the burden upon himself to feel guilt concerning the most natural and essential thing “created” in the universe, sex. Sex was not meant to be a twisted Jekyll and Hide conflagration of ecstasy and damnation. Metaphorically, Adam and Eve were not expelled from the Garden of Eden because of sex. Sex was never a concern in the Garden of Eden (heaven). God told Adam and Eve to enjoy all the fruits of the garden except for the Tree of Knowledge. The search for knowledge (forbidden fruit) was the downfall of Adam and Eve, not sex! Why is “certain” knowledge part of the forbidden fruit? Because such knowledge is key to understanding what this life is “really” about and would spoil the fun and the purpose of this temporary existence if it were known (but that’s another subject).

    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 what has been called “spiritual by-pass”, which is a form of avoidance. They skip over that critical aspect of their being in pursuit of some elusive conceptual “enlightenment”, but inevitably must confront their sexuality at some point, because one cannot transcend what one has never truly understood and resolved in their own life experience.

    Roshi told me that, when the monks were out on Takuhatsu (food begging) back at his Japanese monastery, they carried a stone under their robes with which they would hit their penises when they saw women and began to get aroused. In such a repressive environment, it is no wonder that the opposite reaction would develop once these guys got over to the sexual Disneyland that is modern day America.

    Whether they be Hindu Swamis, Tibetan Rinpoches, Zen masters, or whatever, few if any of them have ever bothered to consciously come to terms with their own sexuality, and so it is no wonder that they pass along that deficit in their communities. Spiritual By-pass.

    Over the course of many decades since my time with Roshi, I have witnessed the same scenes played out ad nauseum in Dharma centers, ashrams, and temples across America, and yet rarely has anyone really addressed the core contraction. Rather, they either look the other way, or wring their hands and talk about oversight committees and so forth — all totally besides the point.

    Listen, folks: the “spiritual” practice itself, even religion itself (both esoteric and exoteric), has become one big exercise in mis-direction. 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.

    Until that is really seen, understood, and integrated, then folks will continue to encounter these apparent “scandals”, which are merely glaring symptoms of a fundamental flaw in the appreciation of the essential role of sexuality in human psychological development and social adaptation, and the consequent epidemic of chronic emotional/sexual contraction that plagues not only the spiritual aspirant, but just about every human walking the earth today who has been influenced by the corruption that most take to be their “religion”.

  29. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel November 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm |

    Señorchupacabra wrote:

    “My initial reaction is to call them frauds. Then I know people might respond with the “they’re only human” remark. But, again, I’m “only human” and I get that you can’t just go around fucking whoever you want. So I don’t buy that argument.”

    That’s what my father’s second wife, a devout catholic, said, one day we were mocking the antics of catholic priests with boys: “They’re only human, after all”…

  30. NellaLou
    NellaLou November 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm |

    Everybody seems to think it’s about the sex. It’s not.

    1. fightclubbuddha
      fightclubbuddha November 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm |

      It’s about power. And not wanting to be ostracized from a community. And about the person in power knowing that you don’t want to be ostracized. It’s about dealing with having your illusions shattered (after being told that all is illusion). It’s about a lot of things. But it’s not about sex.

  31. HarryB
    HarryB November 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm |

    Hi, NellaLou.

    Then what is it about, and how can you be sure?



  32. NellaLou
    NellaLou November 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm |

    Hi Harry.

    How do I know? Read this and figure it out.

    It isn’t about the sex. It’s about power. Specifically differential power relationships and how those can coerce people. Abuses of power in other words.

    It’s also about how rationalizations get applied to these things. Let me illustrate by debunking some of these rationalizations.

    “Just human.” Lots of things are characteristic of humans. Most of them we have in common with other primates. That includes mating behavior. Dominance (primary power positions) tends to rule in those situations. Fortunately humans also have the gift of a large forebrain which allows consequential thinking among other useful things.

    “We’re being prudes.” Does it necessarily mean we must disengage our ethics and let anything fly? I know some people advocate for a hedonistic lifestyle. [I myself advocate for polyamory or any choice of arrangement consenting adults want to make in whatever numbers, pornography and legalized prostitution and drugs.] If that’s what people want then go for it. But that doesn’t give anyone the right to impose their desires upon people who may not be like minded. “Do what thou wilt as long as ye harm none.” is fine with me. If people are uncomfortable, scared to speak up, leaving a sangha, feeling pressured then they are being harmed.

    “They’re all adults. It’s a free choice.” If power relations are equal then I agree. But they’re not. When someone holds your spiritual (and possibly emotional and psychological as well as in terms of livelihood) well being and future in their hands, that is, they are in a position to cut you off, throw you out of the sangha, deny you dharma transmission or a priest’s robes or any number of other things then requests are not free. They come with conditions. The person in the position to impose those conditions is the power holder in the relationship.

    “It’s natural biology. We can’t help ourselves.” Let’s look at aggression rather than sex, since that is so distracting. Humans have a limbic system-fight or flight and all that. Do you punch somebody in the face every time they piss you off? It’s biological. You’d have every right to using that kind of rationalization.

    “It’s our culture. Not an issue elsewhere.” It is an issue elsewhere. Gurus, monks and teachers have been driven out of temples and towns, have even been killed by mobs for misbehavior in many countries. I’ll look up some references if anybody wants them.

    OK that’s some of it. In case some people still don’t get it let me reframe it without the sex.

    Suppose you go into dokusan and your Roshi goes about things in his usual way but suddenly introduces another topic that seems a little bit of a tangent. Suppose he starts telling you about a business idea he has that he wants you to invest in. He starts rationalizing this by talking about engaging with the marketplace in an enlightened way etc. How that’ll help your practice, teach you valuable lessons etc. He’s asking you to kick in 10 grand. You may or may not have that kind of $$ available. He doesn’t seem to care. That’s the going rate.

    He starts telling you that others have invested. That they see the value in his idea. If you don’t see the value then maybe you aren’t as advanced as you think you are. If you don’t give in and come up with the money then maybe you’re not really a good Zen student. Maybe you don’t believe in what you’re being taught. Maybe you’re too contrary and perhaps you don’t belong there.

    What are you going to do? This is a person you adore, or you did until that moment. They have helped you enormously. They have taught you so much. You feel you owe them a debt you can never repay. This sangha has been your home for quite a while. You have friends here, ties that are even closer than family. You can’t contemplate being without all that.

    So you go along.

    And you rationalize it to yourself as you take out a loan at the bank.

    1. senorchupacabra
      senorchupacabra November 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm |

      There are many good points made in this post. But still, I think it is about sex in that sexual behavior is the means of abusing power and exploiting others. There’s a reason these greasy little gremlins use sex to wield their power instead of, oh, I don’t know, games of basketball, or film trivia.

  33. hrtbeat7
    hrtbeat7 November 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |

    Not about sex? Sure it is, that is exactly what it’s about. It’s simply that, when most think of sex, they think of genital intercourse, when in reality, sexuality is all about the essense of human relationships, encompassing our whole emotional field of interpersonal reactivity, which happens to be chronically contracted in the case of just about every human. It’s that very contraction that most practices would just as soon sweep under the rug, but because of its essential nature, it will invariably crawl back out and bite ya until it is confronted, understood, and integrated in the light of Bodhicitta.

    All power games, all games of rejection and so forth, are first spawned in the cauldron of emotional/sexual contraction — the twisting of the prime motive to love and be loved. With some persistent inspection, it will be recognized that failure to appropriately adapt at this very core level of the human experience yields most of the conflicts, both at the micro as well as the macro level, that we see repeating over and over again on this rock, and the so-called spirituality we indulge is basically just a mirror for this maladaptation.

  34. kttynn
    kttynn November 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm |

    Hopefully this will open the door to some interesting conversations about what consent is and whether or not it is possible for what looks like an inappropriate abuse of power from the outside to be consensual from the inside and how a community deals with that when it happens. And high time too, if it does.

    Maybe it’s about love. Maybe it’s about fucking. Maybe it’s about power. Maybe it’s about a rugby game. Maybe it’s all of these things some of the time. Maybe everyone is so ready to name it that we’re missing out on the possibility that once in a while it might just be a perfectly lovely walk through a busy nighttime street. (I hope you get a few of those on your travels, Brad.)

    Knowing yourself, knowing the parameters of what you’re engaging in when you become physically involved with another person, is really hard. Always. I know I wish we were all better at it. And I know I’ve never learned anything of value from someone who wasn’t down in the dirt mucking around with the rest of us.

  35. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 2:47 pm |

    “It’s so easy to make someone wrong. I “suffered Roshi’s abuse” and it was the closest I ever got to god.”

    Yes, but did you reach the zero point?

  36. Fred
    Fred November 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm |

    ““Therefore, O Ananda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves,
    and do not rely on external help. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp.
    Seek salvation alone in the truth. Look not to assistance to anyone
    besides yourselves”

  37. Mumon
    Mumon November 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm |

    To quote Hakuin, “Is that so?” The guy’s over 100 years old.

  38. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon November 20, 2012 at 4:22 pm |

    Is Mount Baldy the name of the Zen center or a description of dokusan with Joshu Sasaki Roshi? Kwatz!

  39. HarryB
    HarryB November 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm |

    hee hee hee, that’s a keeper.

  40. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin November 20, 2012 at 6:45 pm |

    Hm. “Differential power relationships.” “It’s not about sex.” It’s abuse but the “victims” are apparently fine with it. The old man was apparently getting some. (Probably not any longer, he’s what, 104?)

    I was a student of his, briefly. I don’t remember anyone complaining. I studied at Naropa for a while when Rinpoche and Ösel were still alive. I don’t remember any complaining about it then either.

    I agree, it doesn’t appear to be about sex: it seems to be about it being the Master having OMG sex.

    What did Bodhidharma say when the Emperor asked him “who the hell are you then?”

    Is there a lesson here?

    1. chasrmartin
      chasrmartin November 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm |

      Yame da! Yahari gaijin da!

  41. hrtbeat7
    hrtbeat7 November 20, 2012 at 8:18 pm |

    Someone on another Zen forum wrote: “The real question is the misuse of power, using the cloak of bestowing a “Special Teaching” as a pick-up line, saying that crawling into bed with the “Roshi” or being fondled is a necessary spiritual practice and that the seducee is somehow unworthy if she refuses, confusing the aura of “spiritual friend or guide” with the role of lover …”

    Well, as I recall, none of that was true in the case of Sasaki. He was just a horny old guy, and made no excuses about it. If you didn’t like it, you told him to stop, and he would. He never promised the women that there was anything in it for them if they would “comply”, though he warned them that they should watch out for men in general, who came “sniffing around like dogs”. He saw himself as an old dog I guess. He was one with his canine nature, LOL! If you want to get trapped in judgment, be my guest, but remember that humans are the least qualified to judge each other.

    Even when they shipped him over a wife from Japan, he still kept up with his funny business. He made no attempt to hide behind his robes, he just liked to play with girls. He offered them no special favors, he was just like a little kid in a candy shop, and had never outgrown his immature sexual fixations. He was not conflicted internally about that either. He took a lot of ginseng to insure his vigor, and particularly liked an odd fermented soybean concoction called “natto”, which he claimed gave him the strength of wild horses. He never fit into the stereotypical projections we like to superimpose on teachers, because he was and is a rare kind of critter that you don’t see much anymore, a true original (despite his nominal association with Rinzai Zen).

    I met quite a few so-called Roshis after Sasaki, and none of them could even begin to approach his stature or true power. Hell, none of them were even in the same ball park. I had studied with Suzuki Roshi until he passed, and he was a pretty good guy, but Sasaki was a giant, despite his flaws. If your wisdom eye was open, you could sit across from him and really see what he was, and it was unspeakably awesome. I bow down in gratitude for the good fortune to have been able to study with him, where all he really did was to point me back to myself. That is the only teaching, after all.

  42. robert
    robert November 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm |

    To get back to the main point of this post:

    “Nowt”, “Laddie”, “Smirr”? No’ in Glasgow, by the way. Ah *don’t* think so. Whut you mair likely heard was some’in like, “Rain? Naw pal. It’s only spittin'”

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote November 20, 2012 at 8:55 pm |

    hrtbeat7, thanks for the calm appreciation. I’ve never met the guy, but from all accounts he is an amazing and inspiring teacher. Maybe I’ll make Cobb mountain next year, who knows (thanks, Fred!).

    We have laws about unwanted sexual advances, but even without the laws it’s not something that anyone should have to put up with, especially in a setting dedicated to instruction. My opinion.

    Piques my curiosity, that the old man has never seen fit to bestow the mantle of authority in his lineage on anyone in the U.S. of A.- or maybe anywhere, I sure don’t know. I wonder what his followers think of that; does seem like part of the draw in studying with a lineage master is the possibility of becoming a successor. Not giving it no doubt toys with these ambitions in some students, and stands in stark contrast to the many transmissions that have taken place through other teachers since zen first arrived here.

    “The cat walks to the window
    And I hear the key turn in the door
    No one knows and anything goes
    And everything falls on the floor
    The apartment starts shaking
    And the roof opens up to the sun
    The crows flying in parallel lines
    And golly isn’t this great fun?

    Laying in each other’s arms
    We’re sleepy, we begin to nod
    And we start to dream of grandiose things
    Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God
    You gotta keep hanging on”


  44. hrtbeat7
    hrtbeat7 November 20, 2012 at 9:47 pm |

    Mark wrote: “Piques my curiosity, that the old man has never seen fit to bestow the mantle of authority in his lineage on anyone in the U.S. of A.- or maybe anywhere, I sure don’t know. I wonder what his followers think of that; does seem like part of the draw in studying with a lineage master is the possibility of becoming a successor. Not giving it no doubt toys with these ambitions in some students, and stands in stark contrast to the many transmissions that have taken place through other teachers since zen first arrived here.”

    Well, the ones who may have wanted it prove their unworthiness by that very desire, whereas the ones who wanted nothing to do with that whole business — the modern day Han Shans — you will likely never hear about, though they might just be his true heirs in the Dharma.

    On another point, a poster elsewhere was trying to equate the role of a Zen master to that of a therapist. In my experience, therapy is aimed at helping the ego adjust to the world, and that modality certainly has its place.

    On the other hand, real practice will destroy your world, and take your nice ego with it. If it doesn’t, then it’s not worth the bother. If one is not prepared for that, then they should stay away from dangerous folk like Sasaki.

  45. Tattoozen
    Tattoozen November 20, 2012 at 10:42 pm |

    “power” in these relationships is a tricky issue. after all, this isnt the military where you are told who is your “superior” and cant leave without a dismissal. In the news today is the General Petraeus scandal where a politically powerful person had an ‘inappropriate” relationship with a “civilian” and yet by all accounts it was consensual. In political terms the general had a lot more “power” than his mistress and yet she apparently pursued him, should she have been stopped by some outside agency from living her life the way she wished? Should Joshus students have been stopped from allowing the behavior they tacitly approved of? Do any of us have the right to tell them that their choice to allow a septuagenarian monk to fondle them is wrong?

    Im assuming the people around Joshu could have left anytime they liked. They didn’t. The difference in “power” was a fiction which all parties involved created themselves. the plain fact is that sometimes people are attracted to power, sometimes people want to give up their personal responsibility to that power, and while it makes me personally uncomfortable, at the end of the day if there was abuse then those abused bear some responsibility to report it to police, the sangha, and to leave the environment. Apparently none did.

    There will never be a foolproof way to enforce that all relationships are equal power relationships and I highly doubt that everyone would even want it that way. When the relationship is involuntary (prisoner/guard, private/ officer, boss/employee) there needs (and is) strict guidelines and rule to prevent abuse, but outside of these artificial situations, equality is something we take or leave for someone else to take from us.

    Once again, it makes me uncomfortable to see a 100+ year old diddling his students, but they are all adults and bear the responsibility to stop or change a behavior if it makes them feel exploited. Its always tricky, do we have the right to say that Sasakis students should be “protected” even if they don’t feel the need for that protection? how much of this icky feeling I (and others) have is fair for me to project on them?

    Treating everyone involved like an adult with the same rights and freedoms that we expect means having sometimes to (painfully) watch these adults make dumb choices which we would never accept for ourselves. Ultimately zen is about taking your responsibility seriously, not giving it up, not coasting while someone else makes the decisions. I feel bad for those involved who did not appreciate the old guys advances, but at that point isn’t it their responsibility to walk away?

  46. Uku
    Uku November 21, 2012 at 1:05 am |

    Yes, it’s not about the sex, me thinks. I think it’s all about the power. We all are human beings after all and we all have our own demons to struggle with. And the demons can be really devastating in the group context.

    One reason I gave up Zen Buddhism and stop following Buddhism, was the problems in religious groups and the hierarchical context of Zen. I stopped believing in the need of teachers and ceremonies (yes, Buddhism and Zen needs teachers and ceremonies to survive and to keep traditions alive, but I don’t need those anymore). It was so sad to notice all over again and again that almost every problem inside of sanghas all over the world raised from the power issues and hierarchical context, teacher/student relationships.

    Have you read about these recent events in Kapleau’s lineage that happened in Rochester Zen Center and in Sweden/Finland? http://ihmistenpuolesta.blogspot.fi/2012/10/the-imaginarium-of-bodhin-roshi.html Especially the comments in the comment section are really interesting. I found them following the same pattern than in here and other places: power issues, hierarchical context of Zen and teacher/student relationships.

    Is there really something wrong with Zen Buddhism nowadays when people are trying to follow Zen using OLD traditions? I mean, should Zen based on modern times instead of following some ancient Japanese traditions that were created in totally different era than our time? Robes and stuff are fancy, but are they really needed in 21st century world in the urban environment? I wasn’t able to close my eyes anymore about all the crap that has happened and is happening all the time in Zen Buddhism. Yes, most of Zen Buddhism is beautiful and harmless, but I think there’s almost something wrong that these sad stories pops up regularly. And I think the problem is not in human beings. The problem is in the structures.

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