JOSHUTOWN?

BJMAs regular readers know, I have been struggling for quite some time to properly express what I feel concerning the stuff surrounding Joshu Sasaki Roshi and the allegations that he sexually abused a number of his students. It’s not the allegations that concern me. I’m not interested in trying to dig into what happened. Other people are already doing that and they don’t need my help.

What interests me is the reactions people are having. We can’t do anything to change the past and at age 105, Sasaki isn’t even appearing in public anymore let alone fondling anyone. It’s what we do from here-on-out that matters and very little of it has anything at all to do with Sasaki. It’s about us. And that’s a lot harder to deal with than rehashing what happened to somebody else back in the 80s in a cabin in the mountains.

I feel that a lot of the discussion surrounding Sasaki is moving us in a direction of agreeing in principle to things we probably should not be agreeing in principle to.

For example, it is a bad thing to sexually grope people in sanzen (private spiritual discussions between student and teacher). It is a bad thing to take advantage of psychologically vulnerable people. It is a bad thing for for spiritual teachers to abuse the trust placed in them. And consent is not the ultimate trump card that excuses everything. Yes does not always mean yes. I addressed this particular matter in my most recent book Sex Sin and Zen in the discussion about BDSM relationships and related the dynamics of those relationships to the relationships that develop between student and teacher.

All of this is true and I think any sensible person would agree with it.

But a lot of the discussion I’ve seen on the Intertubes appears to me to be using these sensible notions to launch into other areas that I think are not only mistaken but potentially dangerous. I see a lot of talk demanding that Zen students be provided with a “safe environment”. OK. If by that you mean that students ought to not need to worry that they might be groped in the sanzen room or taken advantage of in other ways, I’m all for that.

But there is an unstated undercurrent in this demand for safety that bothers me.

I feel like one of the most important lessons of the Sasaki case is not that students need to be provided with a perfectly safe environment. It’s that responsibility goes both ways.

It is very dangerous to suggest this. If you do you will be accused, as I have been, of excusing the perpetrators and blaming the victims. I do not blame the victims for what they suffered. But we need to always bear in mind that Sasaki’s victims were not rounded up by armed gestapo, herded into box cars and shipped to him for his pleasure. All of them came to him of their own accord. Which is not to excuse what he did or to say that their apparent consent makes everything OK (see above). But it is a very significant aspect of what happened that we need to always remember in any discussion of the matter.

It’s important because what happened with Sasaki was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

I just watched a documentary on the Jonestown Massacre of 1978. One of the most horrifying scenes in the documentary involved one of the survivors describing how he watched his wife make their infant son drink some of the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and then drink the rest of the cup herself. They both died in his arms, frothing at the mouth. That’s when, he says, he knew it was time to leave.

It’s baffling. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “That’s when you knew it was time to leave?” I’m not trying to insult the guy. It’s clear from the way he tells the story that even he has the same question. The documentary does a good job of trying to answer it.

Jonestown did not start off with a madman ordering over 900 people to commit mass suicide. It started with lofty and laudable ideals. Jim Jones was a champion of racial integration and equality. He had a unique talent for implementing positive change in troubled communities, getting people off drugs, getting them to make constructive contributions to their neighborhoods. He was charismatic and charming. It’s easy to see why so many people were drawn to him. Jonestown was a beautiful agricultural community carved out of the jungles of Guyana. It was an impressive achievement. You didn’t have to be insane to want to go there.

Jim Jones didn’t go from charming to bat-shit crazy in one quick movement. It happened by degrees over time. And the people followed along, continuously accepting ever increasing degrees of madness.

Responsibility in the case of the Jonestown Massacre went both ways. Jim Jones didn’t act alone. He needed willing accomplices. He needed willing victims.

Part of what I see going on in the demands for a safe environment that are cropping up in response to the Sasaki scandal is a demand for an environment free from personal responsibility. I wonder if this might be an unconscious demand for a more Jonestown-like environment in our Zen centers.

It seems to me that we want to demand that our teachers be perfectly good so that we can enter into a state of baby-like trust in them. Nobody thinks that’s what they want. They will all protest that they don’t. But I have to wonder. I wonder because I know for certain that I want that. I really do. And I have acted in ways that would have been disastrous if I’d had my own Jonestown to run off to. I would have gone there for sure. No question about it. We all want that, I think.

But our teachers can never be perfectly good. They can be better than Jim Jones or Joshu Sasaki. They ought to be. And we are right to demand at least that much. But I feel like there’s an undercurrent to some of what I’m seeing that wants more than that.

The problem is we can’t have an environment so safe that we adults can ever let go and fall backwards into a fluffy warm state of infant-like trust. Babies have no choice but to place their total trust in their parents. Sometimes this trust is misplaced. But babies are powerless to do anything about that. So society steps in and tries to make sure that all parents treat their babies well.

Adults don’t have that option. No matter how many committees “with teeth” we put into place to try and make it that way. Again, I often wish we did. In Japan, where I lived for 11 years, many adults place a ridiculous amount of trust in the government to be like surrogate parents. After the debacle following the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster a lot of that trust is gone. Which is a good thing. As bad as the disaster was, it did have the effect of making people a lot more realistic about their government. Which is not me saying that Japan ought to have more nuclear melt-downs any more than my recent statements about Sasaki are me saying we ought to have more sexual abuse by Zen masters.

I think it’s crucial that we derive the correct lesson from what happened with Sasaki and his group. It’s that we, as students, have to be very careful about giving up our personal power and responsibility to our teachers. Otherwise things can get a whole lot worse.

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BRAD’S SPRING MICRO-TOUR 2013

• March 5th (Tuesday) 7:00 pm NASHVILLE, TN12 South Dharma Center 2301 12th Ave. South, Suite 202, Nashville, TN 37204 (2nd floor, stairs in back of building). Meditation at 7pm (two 25 min periods with a 5 minute kinhin). Dharma talk following at 8. Newcomers are invited to come 15 minutes early for orientation.

• March 8th (Friday) 10:00 pm CLEVELAND, OHSpitfire Saloon 1539 W 117th St  Cleveland, OH 44107 Zero Defex with Dutch Babies and The Drexels.

• March 13th (Wednesday) 7:00 pm CHICAGO, ILZen Buddhist Temple of Chicago,  608 Dempster St., Evanston (near the Dempster Purple Line station). The event goes from 7-9, and includes one 40-minute period of zazen, 10 minutes of kinhin, after which I’ll give a talk.

•March 14th (Thursday) 7:30 pm CHICAGO, IL  – Logan Theater 2646 N. Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60647 Shoplifting from American Apparel screening. I’ll introduce the film and do a Q&A.

• March 17th (Sunday) 10:20 am MILWAUKEE, WIMilwaukee Zen Center 2825 N. Stowell Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211-3775 My talk will start at 10:20 am but come at 9:30 am if you want to sit zazen with me too.

I will also be in Akron, Ohio from March 6-13 if anybody wants to set up a thing out there.

April 26-28 ZEN RETREAT AT MOUNT BALDY ZEN CENTER F0r more info or to sign up, click here. No groping.

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If this blog entertained you or made you think, please make a donation. The coffee shop I’m writing in is way too expensive and the library is closed this morning. Plus there’s some TV industry dude with a million tattoos shouting to the people at his table about his project and all the famous people he knows. Ugh!

144 Responses

Page 3 of 3
  1. Andy
    Andy March 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm | |

    *** this is a quick clean-up of what I wrote earlier in a feverish funk of not looking at what I wrote.

    Adam, you are being disingenuous at best.

    Look at even that sentence you’ve quoted with the following one:

    “I’m not interested in trying to dig into what happened. Other people are already doing that and they don’t need my help.”

    That second sentence really does modify the first away from the agenda-laden term ‘failure of curiosity’. That term is often used as a critique of those who prop up the support structures of abuse by means of writing their own denials and/or agendas into the gaping spaces left by their own wish not to look.

    Never mind that ‘dig into’ in the context of the following sentence might just be synonymous with ‘dig into it in this or other articles’ (because others are doing that), you really are making a whole lot more than just taking what Brad has written from these few scraps intended to outline what he IS interested in writing about. As though this amounts to Brad having not done enough reading up on the situation regarding Sasaki to the extent that his arguments are not based on a firm grasp and knowledge of the Sasaki affair, and display a denier’s ‘failure of curiosity’. I’m sorry but you are doing some ‘mind reading’ as you defined it in your post.

    Brad later writes: “I feel like one of the most important lessons of the Sasaki case is not that students need to be provided with a perfectly safe environment. It’s that responsibility goes both ways.”

    Did it not occur to you that Brad might have done his homework, and that the dimension of responsibility he is talking about involves in itself a degree of responsibility and sensitivity.

    Do you not understand that, for the very same reasons that it would be harmful and counterproductive if one were to confront a victim with notions of ‘responsibility’ for their abuse, that talk about such in the public arena should pull back from identifying specific instances of ‘responsibility’ that relate to real people coming to terms with a painful issue, right now.

    You write: “All I am trying to suggest is that responsibility is a terrible term to use in reference to someone who has been assaulted.” Yes, to someone specific, someone who could say, Hey that’s me!

    I have been there. You deal with a victim by listening, by encouraging them to air their real knots and and difficulties, by opening up a space. You can make it really clear that you understand that the person, who did what they did to them, did a bad, often terrible thing. That all the shit stuff that’s happening is understandable. That that person is responsible; no scare quotes. And the pain continues, continues to rear its ugly head, things get messy. Often terribly, destructively messy. But you don’t go there, you don’t say ‘maybe in some way you should consider how you are responsible’. Jesus Wept, no!

    But in so many ways that person needs to take responsibility for their lives, for their pain, and for the pain and damage they might be causing themselves and others. They need the facts of their own responsibility then, now, and in the future.

    You might encourage it, you might use the word in this second sense, in all manner of ways, or words that connect to the same notion, and in the end to the same word. Responsibility. Because responsibility is not only the word so commonly used for talking in terms realting blame, or for identifying legal and ethical culpability and judgement, but a word, a notion, which if only used in such a way, in relation to abuse, can perpetuate or create harm of it’s own.

    An abuse of power meted out to another screws with the heart of what an individual is in terms of a healthily functioning, empowered person: what makes us healthy, empowered individuals is our ability not just to trust our own agency, but comes from the trust of a shared, entwined, intimate life with others: our ability to cope with the inescapable fact that others are responsible for what they do to you, AND that you are responsible for what they did that has become you, what you do to yourself and others.

    So, again, don’t you think that if one were to write an article that sought to help people to realise and embrace their own responsibility in the sense that it is used by Brad, or by myself here, that that article might just need to not go digging around, and fronting up to the particulars and specifics of any individual’ss real lives, especially if that dimension of responsibility might just produce reactive anger if a person is singled out.

    It might just be, like so many difficult truths folk have to allow to surface and accept, that a more generalised and oblique reference to how people can behave, might just help some individuals move towards their own often very difficult and mixed up realities, and by not feeling overly ‘confronted’.

    Maybe a general allusion to recent events and a more detailed anaylsis of a distant one could do a better job.

    In fact, maybe all you and others like you are doing in your reinterpretation and slamming of Brad’s views here is effectively encouraging all sorts of individuals to react in the way you seem to think you’re protecting them from: Hey victims of the world, Brad’s talking about you, you in particular, your specific experiences, time to take it real personal and get really angry and outraged. He’s saying that you are to blame for that thing done to you!

    Maybe, just maybe, your line of holier-than-thou actually encourages people to fold themselves back into the same terms, the same old devil.

    You write: “I totally reject the idea of responsibility where someone is the recipient of assault. Isn’t that a legitimate point?” It’s a legitimate point. It’s also a stupid point when referring to an article that also makes that point in different terms, thus agrees with how you mean it here, and contrasts it with another sense of what responsibility also entails.

    It’s also to my mind a nasty point coming from a nasty place. It is, in itself likely to be abuse from abuse, begetting more abuse. One’s own gripes and insecurities are always going to be attracted to and flame up that game.

    I fear that you are yet another person so invested in the identity and status your role affords you that back-tracking on this is too painful to contemplate. And so your antenna’s always on alert form the scent of something to reinforce a position that can only cause you, and quite like others damage you won’t want to see, until it’s way too late.

  2. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 5, 2013 at 3:21 pm | |

    Andy, I do see sense in what you have to say, flu and attitude not withstanding. You helped me see something Brad may have intended, but did not fully express in words.

    I also think that Adam is contributing to the discussion by taking a point of view in sharp contrast to what he perceives to be Brad’s point of view.

    Brad has stated in a response here that his concern is with the action that is proposed in response to Sasaki’s behaviour, namely rules if not laws concerning the relationship of priests and laypeople in Zen practice communities. It’s been pointed out that such rules are SOP in many Buddhist communities, and there are laws on the books in some states about sexual relations between clergy and parishioners.

    I know that there are standards being proposed for training for Zen priests and especially Zen teachers in America. I know that my heart-strings are still with the part of the practice that involves action without volition, the “empty-hand” that Sasaki regarded as a justification of his behaviour; my concern is that rules and regulations not throw the baby out with the bath-water, and that we find ways to communicate this, (what I perceive to be) the heart of the practice of zazen, in ways that more people can recognize the helpless bastards or bitches for what they really are.

    ok I couldn’t resist…

  3. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm | |

    wild and not really quite under control, if they are honest.

  4. Fred
    Fred March 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm | |

    “To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm | |

    be like that.

    I do apologize; as you say, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”, and my life would not be the same without a teacher from Japan who came to the U.S.A. to learn from what was happening here.

    cheers!

  6. Andy
    Andy March 6, 2013 at 4:57 am | |

    Hi Mark

    I appreciate your kind words, and the effort it must have took to trawl through my increasingly out of phase attempt to communicate my views! After I’d hogged space earlier in this thread, I was going to leave things be. But we all have our red rags. I think I should really write somewhere else then copy and paste. This letter-box encourages my tendency to get lost in a flurry of typing.

    My viral visitor has apparently found my head too hot to handle, and has departed for my chest.

  7. floating_abu
    floating_abu March 6, 2013 at 7:41 am | |

    Brad, Mark, my deep respect to you both.

    You honor us all, and honor the practice.

    Thankyou….with tremendous gratitude.

    1. floating_abu
      floating_abu March 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm | |

      Please delete it, got the names mixed up (no offence :))

  8. floating_abu
    floating_abu March 6, 2013 at 7:41 am | |

    Brad, Andy, my deep respect to you both.

    You honor us all, and honor the practice.

    Thankyou….with tremendous gratitude.

  9. floating_abu
    floating_abu March 6, 2013 at 8:21 am | |

    The dimension of responsibility, and this case is, that it does also specifically encourage and put people into a mindset of victimisation where there might not have been any.

    The most classic case is that of the “former inji” who now sees herself as abused, despite what was a evolved, consensual relationship. The fact that Sasaki Roshi may have bedded others does not change a specific context and happenstance of the time. I am sorry but that is the truth, and I am sorry for how she feels. Nevertheless, part of the problem with this issue is Adam/Eshu’s constant flogging – and single minded framing of this issue (although I understand now this is a huge part of their Zen Buddhist resume now) – creates some circumstances where there were none. The single minded harvesting also creates a very specific portrayal. In any case, the situation can be better utilised than this, at this stage of its development.

    I am grateful for the presence and courage of Brad Warner who is able to offer a more holistic, deeper, and considered view…and I have come to see Brad’s practice much more through his words and handling of the situation/attacks on him. I suspect he has also spoken to people who are in the know, and that is where his perspectives come from.
    He has my respect in this regard. He has also provided a forum where comments are more neutrally accepted, as opposed to the widespread vilification on Sweeping Zen whereby a thoughtful, sensitive woman explaining that she did not see Sasaki Roshi’s behaviour as abuse was labelled as a “whore” and another poster called newerwords who spoke for Rinzai Ji was callously labelled a fake – and was actually also double posting as Floating_Abu! This despite me posting many years on online fora. It’s basically an environment which only allows the proper grovelling towards the viewpoints expressed by Mr Martin and Mr Tebbe, and that is unfortunate in my viewpoint.

    Overall, Zen Buddhism (as a PRACTICE, not as an institution or journalistic imagination per se) has genuine fruits to offer – that much I do believe in. But the fruits of this lesson for many of us needs to be extracted and is no longer served by the ongoing flogging and cyclical outrage expressed by certain individuals – although it is also perhaps understandable with their names and donations boosted. Nevertheless, I ask for a more positive consideration of the practice and way forward, and anyway if no-one practices, Zen (the real Zen) is dead in the water anyway. Happy practicing, and best wishes for those who attend Brad’s retreats. May your practice(s) flourish truly.

    Abu

  10. King Kong
    King Kong March 6, 2013 at 8:56 am | |
  11. Fred
    Fred March 6, 2013 at 10:54 am | |

    “The single minded harvesting also creates a very specific portrayal.”

    So paint the picture of a not specific portrayal incorporating dwelling in Mu
    with non-solicited sexual advances and touching with many women

    Everyone has an agenda in this story. What is the source of the agenda?

    Does the Void have an agenda? Do all the various illusions of self have agendas?

  12. Zafu
    Zafu March 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm | |

    “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him”

    Modern translation: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid, numbnuts!

  13. stonemirror
    stonemirror March 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm | |

    “And I find that hard to believe. You really can’t see an actual point being raised on using a term like responsibility in reference to assault victims? You did write the following, didn’t you?”

    Adam, I’d say that no one seems terribly interested in the fight you’d seem to be trying very hard to pick. You’re just going to have to play with yourself, I’m afraid.

    Aren’t there some critical comments that need deleting over on your own web site?

  14. Adam Tebbe
    Adam Tebbe March 8, 2013 at 9:57 am | |

    To Floating Abu, be well.

    To Stone Mirror, be well.

    The Brad, be well.

    True, your comments will never be on my website Stone Mirror. Yeah, I don’t know, maybe it was the my being knifed in two part of your “critical commentaries.” Just be real man. Be real.

  15. Adam Tebbe
    Adam Tebbe March 8, 2013 at 10:14 am | |

    I won’t post it on my website, but I’ll offer what you posted here, instead:

    “Adam —

    I note your participation on Brad Warner’s “Hardcore Zen” site, such as it is.

    I wanted to be sure that you’re aware that I’ve been offered, and have accepted, the role of webmaster over there, and I wanted to reassure you that I have no intention of treating your comments any differently than anyone else’s. As long as they don’t become vituperative and you don’t stoop to the sort of name-calling you’re happy to tolerate around here, you can rest assured that you won’t be subject to any sort of “prior restraint”, unlike what I’ve experienced here.

    In contrast with “Sweeping Zen”, “Hardcore Zen” is not afraid of critical comments and questions. If you ever actually come up with some, feel entirely free to post them.

    Nor do we need to come up with untenable and unsupportable excuses like “an online history of trolling and harassment” in order to silence those who might make uncomfortable observations. Again, if you should ever manage to come up with an “uncomfortable observation” of your own, or even just an actual observation, feel completely free to share it with the rest of us.

    Love,

    Stone Mirror (the Great and Terrible)”

    Good, then that means you’ll begin with Michel Proulx’s comments about Grace Schireson, regarding the name calling. I’m glad to know that you now are a representative of Hardcore Zen, that HZ is a we. I always thought it was Brad Warner’s blog, for some reason. Will you be blogging soon her, or something?

    So, congratulations on your new role here. Feeling the love already. Ha ha!

    Just enjoy yourself man. This is dumb and silly.

  16. Zafu
    Zafu March 8, 2013 at 3:01 pm | |

    Y’all needs some hardcore love’n. Maybe get some at Mount Baldy retreat.

  17. stonemirror
    stonemirror March 8, 2013 at 6:45 pm | |

    “I always thought it was Brad Warner’s blog, for some reason.”

    It is Brad’s blog. I’m managing and maintaining the site, not contributing to it, other than in the occasional comment. Brad’s not a technical guy, and he has better things to do with his time than attend to the vagaries of running and maintaining a web presence.

    On the “Sweeping Zen” Facebook page (prior to your deleting your outbursts there) you accused me — among a variety of other things including but not limited to the suggestion that my nickname “Lefty” had something to do with Satanism, rather than left-handedness — of “hating you”.

    It’s not so, and even if I gave you any particular thought, it wouldn’t be. Seeing as you appear to be quite prone to these “victim fantasies”, I wouldn’t want to afford you any opportunity to ramp up these sorts of imaginings into some sort of idea that I’d somehow be inspired to moderate your comments here out of existence as you did mine on your site.

    Long story short, you can rest assured that I’ll treat your comments here with a little more respect, courtesy and openness than you treat the comments of others on “Sweeping Zen”.

    “…maybe it was the my being knifed in two part of your ‘critical commentaries.’”

    “Knifed”?

    Maybe these are simply more unbelievable, unsupported and completely self-serving claims. Maybe it was that you found yourself confronted with questions that you couldn’t dodge and couldn’t comfortably answer. But we’ll never know, will we?

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 March 9, 2013 at 11:50 am | |

      Italics!? Bold!??

      How, pray, might an ordinary person accomplish such feats?

  18. Jack
    Jack March 9, 2013 at 8:54 am | |

    also my experience, not honest…cut out my comments more than once…sad

    Found this today: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sweeping-Zen-Stink

  19. stonemirror
    stonemirror March 10, 2013 at 3:33 pm | |

    “How, pray, might an ordinary person accomplish such feats?”

    Plain old HTML is all. Surround text you want italicized with <em> and </em>; for bold, use <strong> and </strong>…

    1. anon 108
      anon 108 March 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm | |

      Aah! Thanks.

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