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.

*   *   *


• 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.

*   *   *

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!

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144 Responses

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  1. buzzard3000
    buzzard3000 February 26, 2013 at 1:07 pm |

    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.

    I don’t want that. I do not know of any grown person anywhere who would want that.

  2. Jen
    Jen February 26, 2013 at 1:16 pm |

    I think this is the truest thing that I’ve read yet regarding the implications of this scandal. I cringe every time I hear the phrase “a safe space”.

  3. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin February 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm |

    Buzzard, were you in this country for the last election? Did you see the “Julia” slide set?

    Or have you watched any of the big Christian megachurches with TV shows?

    Or did you see the movie “Life of Brian”?

  4. skatemurai
    skatemurai February 26, 2013 at 1:33 pm |

    I believe it was Phillipe Couppey, disciple od Taisen Deshimaru who said that Americans don’t take master-disciple relationship on 100%. And that is why Americans often use more teacher-student words than master-disciple. Master as someone who master his field, not ”master of somebody”. Brad, please read SIT – teachings Of Master Taisen Deshimaru, great Kusens.

  5. chasrmartin
    chasrmartin February 26, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

    Brad, as often, this is another post where my basic reaction is “yes, yes, yes!”

    The only place I’d quibble is this: yes does mean yes. If we’re insisting — as we should as Buddhists — that the final responsibility for actions comes down to the person, then someone who says “yes” has acted, and bears the responsibility — has the karma and vipaka — of that action. That also doesn’t excuse the other person; it might have been more compassionate if the Old Man hadn’t messed around with some of these people, and as a result he has that karma, and is now playing out that vipaka. But saying “yes doesn’t always mean yes” means you’re asking the Old Man to have had supernatural knowledge of the future, so that he knew that 30 years later someone would have after the fact qualms about something, and you’re infantilizing the other people, saying they weren’t able to make an adult decision and live with the consequences.

  6. jparsons
    jparsons February 26, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

    What’s wrong with a million tattoos?

  7. ronin
    ronin February 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm |

    Thanks Brad, and don’t drink the kool aid!

  8. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel February 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm |

    I think Buzzard3000 has a point.

    Anyway, that reminds me of a couple of things.
    The first being a personal anecdote. My apprenticeship’s master was some kind of a madman. A noble Roman, baptised in StPeter of Rome with two cardinals for godmothers, a baron father who was also an admiral, and a genealogy in which a brother of a direct ancestor was a saint with a church in the center of Rome. I know all this because he was always saying it aloud. He was also a violent person and I was very impressed by him. One day, he started ranting against my dad because my dad wouldn’t pay him to teach me violin making. I thought that this was enough and told him coldly, “Please leave my father out of this.” And, miracle!, he shut his trap up.

    The second is Nero. Nero is the arch villain in our history. Everyone KNOWS that Nero was mad, a bloodthirsty villain and so on. A whole building would not suffice to hold all the books that have been printed on the subject. Yet, all those books, ALL of them ar base on two short items in the books of two Roman historians who wrote 150 years after. If you read these short items carfully, you get to realise the man was NOT in Rome when the fire started (he was 40 miles away). He came back as soon as he could in order to organise the emergency relief, and the noblemen hated him because he had a lot of fancy houses demolished in order to stop the fire. He opened his gardens to the disaster victims and did all he could to relieve them. Paul, in one of his epistles, writes “I send you the regards of Caesar and of all his household”. And when he died, he was indeed raving mad, believing himself to be some kind of god.

    Many Roman emperors were much worse than he was: Tiberius, Caligula. But Nero is THE villain figure, precisely because he started so good, and ended so bad.

    The third is what we hear and feel, here in Europe, at some of the extremes of the “safe environment” that some want to have in the USA: a University professor obliged to resign and make public excuses for having touched the shoulder of a student whom he tried to console after she had lost her mother, the near impossibility of courtship in some of those “safe environments” because the merest sensual allusion would be interpreted as harassment. Those may well not be true, or entirely exact, but that’s what is conveyed across the pond.

    So, in line with what I transmitted the other day about authority, I’ll repeat that responsibility is the key word.

  9. drocloc
    drocloc February 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm |

    It is ‘Flavour-Aid’. Reverend Jones can’t afford ‘ ‘Kool-Aid’.
    Not safe is safe to me.

  10. Newleaf
    Newleaf February 26, 2013 at 3:19 pm |

    Your comparison with Jim Jones resonated with me. I knew him, his church was down the road when I lived in Redwood Valley, Ca. I lost neighbors in Jonestown. I met him, visited his church and I found both him and his church scene terrifying from the beginning. They practiced heavy intimidation, even amongst non members. There were rumors of beatings, and in the last year before they left for the jungle they had guards with big guns standing behind their 10′ wire fence compound.

    Although Roshi (allegedly) behaved like a jerk and if anything happened it surely shouldn’t have, it’s a long long way from Jonestown. I suspect it’s the expectation that Zen practice should be aloof from real life that makes this looks like a bigger problem than it is. Real people do real things, and it’s suspected that Sasaki Roshi got out of line, which is trashy at best. But the practice and the teacher are not the same.

  11. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    ” I told you I don’t like it.
    I asked you why you do this?
    You said, “nonattachment, nonattachment, you nonattachment”

    It is possible that a dreamy-eyed aspirant might see that having sex with Joshu
    is a demonstration of non-attachment, and a requirement of being a student.

    Even though that person might be a responsible adult, a real person in the real

  12. gniz
    gniz February 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm |

    Brad, This is a good post.

    I think you are also having a hard time, as other people are, to continue to defend the trappings of Buddhism, knowing that many of the things which makes “Zen Buddhism” “Zen” or even “Buddhist” are the very things which lead to guru worship and Jonestown-like activities.

    It seems that you and many others are very attached to the concept of Zen, and even some of the trappings, rituals, and hero-worship of Zen. While at the same time, you have to acknowledge that there are many ingrained problems with the practice of it.

    I am not a Zen Buddhist, although I think I am the type of person who would have been if I hadn’t constantly run across the kind of corrupt attitudes and teachings that permeate Zen in actual reality.

    My practice is my own and I’m exceedingly happy to have realized my own responsibility to my own life. I think Zen Buddhism cheats many people out of having that realization, sadly.

    1. Hoetsu
      Hoetsu February 27, 2013 at 2:02 pm |

      aniz — you are making some pretty huge assumptions about Zen Buddhism for someone who isn’t a Zen Buddhist. What it looks like from the outside bears little resemblance to the actual experience of it.

      I first became a formal Zen student the late 1980s, and I’ve worked closely with a couple of prominent American teachers, and I personally haven’t run across the corrupt attitudes and teachings of which you speak. I know they are out there, because I read about them also, but they aren’t the whole of western Zen. They aren’t even the norm in western Zen.

      There must be a few hundred Zen teachers in North America now, and I can count the genuinely corrupt ones on my fingers. It’s just that the corruption gets all the press. These leads to a kind of false generalization logical fallacy that most of western Zen is corrupt, when from where I sit most of it is sincere teachers and students sincerely practicing.

      The formalisms have their purpose, and it isn’t teacher worship. I’ve found that when practiced in the right spirit, the formalities actually create a neutral container for practice that doesn’t belong to any one person, including the teacher. The protocols promote a kind of equality; in time, shy people are nudged out of their shells, and assertive people learn to shut up and sit down. I have witnessed this.

      I think of the ceremonies and rituals as dances of sunyata. There are no masters and students, just practice. There is han striking, time keeping, candle lighting, incense offering. No one possesses the hands doing these things.

      Attachment to forms is always an issue, but if you keep practicing you get over it. And avoiding things you don’t understand is another form of attachment, btw.

  13. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 5:34 pm |

    “While at the same time, you have to acknowledge that there are many ingrained problems with the practice of it.”

    What are the many ingrained problems with the practice of Zen?

    You don’t need very much to just sit and watch thoughts come and go,
    or to not think, or to enter even emptiness.

  14. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 5:42 pm |

    “I am not a Zen Buddhist, although I think I am the type of person who would have been if I hadn’t constantly run across the kind of corrupt attitudes and teachings that permeate Zen in actual reality.”

    Everything in life is corrupted by something or other. Iron is corrupted by the
    oxygen in the air, no thought is corrupted by thought which tries to define it,
    DNA is corrupted by free radicals.

  15. Kogen
    Kogen February 26, 2013 at 6:15 pm |

    It’s hard being right all the time.

  16. gniz
    gniz February 26, 2013 at 6:33 pm |

    Hi Fred, I think you and I both know that a lot more is taught in most Zen circles than watching thoughts come and go.

    And if that is all there is to zen, than one need not be a zen buddhist to do it, and one need not wear the robes or read the sutras or hold the titles…

    The corruption comes from the misrepresentation of the heart of the teachings, and as such, in most places, it would seem that it might inhibit any true practice rather than help.

    In any case, I enjoy the likeminded souls who frequent some zen blogs, but I have little use for the rest of it. I wonder, if Brad was being totally honest–whether he would not say the same…

  17. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 6:38 pm |

    Can you explain this:

    “This morning, I got to the part where the Lanka gives 4 reasons that the purification of the mind takes place in degrees, 2 reasons it happens suddenly, and 2 that are neither nor, and emphasize personal realization as the means of purification”

  18. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm |

    Gniz, the only thing I know about Zen is what I read here and what I see or
    experience sitting ( but that could just be a dream, reverie or hallucination ).

  19. Michael
    Michael February 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm |

    This desire to give your responsibility over to a “master” occurs in many other fields. I experienced it first-hand with a martial arts teacher I trained with. Our group started out looking for good training, but got caught up in what was, to me, a type of hero worship. Promises of “I can make you better/stronger/faster/more special,” backed up with just enough cool technique kept us all hooked. In the end money was stolen, two marriages were broken, and a lot of us were disillusioned. But looking back, all the signs were there. We just didn’t want to believe.

  20. gniz
    gniz February 26, 2013 at 6:52 pm |

    Brad, I would also be interested on your take about whether or not most people involved in Zen even really have a true interest in “awakening” or understanding, or seeing reality, etc etc.

    It seems to me that most folks involved in Zen, or in almost any religious pursuit, are mostly attempting to find some sort of comfort and answer, some kind of book of rules, or perhaps a doctrine to live by.

    Yes, I want those things too–it’s very seductive to “have the magic secret to the universe.” I admit that I want that. But I keep moving past that want because ultimately I am searching for my own “truth”, my own experience, my own knowledge that can’t be satisfied by a book of rules or sayings.

    Although Zen promises much more, wouldn’t you say that in reality, most of the practitioners and even the teachers are actually not very interested in finding truth for themselves?

    1. Hoetsu
      Hoetsu February 27, 2013 at 3:40 pm |

      “Although Zen promises much more, wouldn’t you say that in reality, most of the practitioners and even the teachers are actually not very interested in finding truth for themselves?”

      I would say anyone who wallows in deprecating generalizations about thousands of people he has never met, while thumping his chest and declaring “My practice is my own” (in another comment) doesn’t know Buddhism from drain cleaner and has no interest in awakening unless it’s to a bigger ego.

      Seriously, dude, that whole comment reeked of ego-attachment from beginning to end. You appear to want to believe that you, with your “My practice is for ME ME ME ME ME glorious ME” are superior to those poor saps who actually show up at the Zen center and go through the traditional training. Which, btw, is about awakening to emptiness of intrinsic self. How can you realize that ME is a delusion when that’s all you practice for?

      One of the things the traditional practice, teacher and all, is good for (when done properly) is helping you get over your own bullshit. I recommend it.

  21. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 6:58 pm |

    Thank you Kogen.

    The Lankavatara

    “Because of the folly they do not understand that all things are like maya,
    like the reflection of the moon in water, that there is no self-substance to be imagined
    as an ego-soul and its belongings, and that all their definitive ideas rise from
    their false discriminations of what exists only as it is seen of the mind itself. “

  22. Fred
    Fred February 26, 2013 at 7:02 pm |

    “that there is no self-substance to be imagined
    as an ego-soul and its belongings”

    Did the Buddha say this?

  23. gniz
    gniz February 26, 2013 at 8:00 pm |

    Hey Fred,

    Re: That last link…Am I still allowed to say “I told you so” to Jundo?

    1. Zing
      Zing February 26, 2013 at 10:35 pm |

      Jundo said (2009)

      … lasts about until you get to the parking lot and drive home. I have had other forms of guided meditation have a similar effect, Shikantaza (what I sit) does the same fairly easily … but BM is good for people who are new to meditating and need to be led by the hand to a small taste of suchness (and only have a few hours to spare).

      Beyond that, by itself, it is pretty worthless. This practice we practice is a lifetime of integrating practice into life. ^^^

      However, if it encourages some of the people taking the seminar to begin real Buddhist practice … in other words, if it gets some butts on zafus … then I think it is good. I believe (I may be wrong) that Genpo has said that BM is meant to encourage folks to begin practice (and is not meant as a substitute).

      I think the whole way it is marketed is cheezy … and it is now mixed up with all kinds of Ken Wilber psycho-babble and new age crapiness … (On the other hand, I believe that Genpo has kids to put through college and no retirement plan, and running a Zen Center takes money). I understand that getting rich people to make bigger contributions than poor people is true since the Buddha’s time … and some rich guy (or a heck of a lot of poor peasants) had to pay to put a roof on the Potala or Eihei-ji. (I do not accept contributions for Treeleaf, but that is only because my work as a translator of Japanese is sufficient for that and to get my own kids through college).

  24. Zing
    Zing February 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm |

    My point is that you should have probably read what Jundo said.

    Jundo Surrogate.

  25. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi February 27, 2013 at 1:12 am |

    Personally, I have always felt that spiritual life should be dangerous, should be full of risk and the threat of loss, should be a gamble you often lose, and should leave you wishing you had never started, but nevertheless thankful you did. Gurus can’t protect anyone, even those who might try. One has to walk that razor’s edge, and risk cutting oneself badly. Otherwise, what exactly is the point?

  26. selfbuddha
    selfbuddha February 27, 2013 at 2:14 am |

    The problem, as I see it, is that buddhist prctice as it is currently understood, is a fundementally selfish pursuit. This goes back to the founding myth of Buddha abandoning his family in order to go off and seek enlightenment. There is still the idea that people who do something as mudane as having stable, monagamous relationships and raising children are somehow avoiding “real practice”, hence we put people such as sasaki on a pedestal.

    It seems to me that Sasaki (with many others) put everything beneath his personal practice, so can we be surprised if his relationships turn out the way they did? It’s not so different to Tiger Woods IMO.

    It’s no coincidence that buddhism has thrived in cultures that celebrate self centred behaviour (such as California). Look at leading buddhist practicioners. How many of them have stable families and children? If they can’t maintain this fundemental human quality, why should we “ordinary” people defer to them? If you want buddhism to expand from this ghetto, the whole attitude needs to change IMO

  27. Buddha Buddy-Dude
    Buddha Buddy-Dude February 27, 2013 at 5:55 am |

    Have you seen Compliance? It’s a pretty good movie about what happens when people who call themselves “authority figures” are taken at their word. This is just speculation but I suspect the teachers most susceptible to abuse their power are the ones who, in one way or another, demand others see them as an authority or transmitter of the true dharma.

    Also, a term that might help clarify this issue is pluralistic ignorance. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the alternative version of the emperor’s robes, but after the child exposed the emperor as naked a woman walked up and shrieked, “this child is obviously not fit for royalty!” To which the whole town burst into laughter at the child’s so-called ignorance.

  28. Fred
    Fred February 27, 2013 at 6:37 am |

    “pluralistic ignorance” = samsara

    “If you want buddhism to expand from this ghetto”

  29. AnneMH
    AnneMH February 27, 2013 at 7:27 am |

    I think this clear perspective is very important. There is a point, at least for me, when all the comforts we crave are momentarily seen as just as impermanent as anything else. Then that is a scary time, there is no longer any big guy in the sky who will take care of you, and the material things are lovely but not permanent so that is unsatisfying. At this moment it seems that although we are adults we are especially vulnerable to a strong teacher and someone who would take an inappropriate role. That is very human, and something to be aware of by having a teacher who knows this and takes the frustrating path of refusing to be that type of figure.

  30. Steve
    Steve February 27, 2013 at 7:41 am |

    If it makes you feel better, I wish I could face myself as honestly as you seem to be able to face yourself. And I am very compelled to learn from you. But I still don’t trust you 100%.

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 27, 2013 at 8:12 am |

    I think part of what’s going on here is a difficulty inherent in the transition of Zen from a patriarchal Asian training centered on a particular posture known long before Gautama the Buddha (the lotus appears in an illustration on the walls of the pyramids, for example) to a Western practice that is not only shared between men and women but is also seen as family-friendly. Teachers from Japan and China are usually physically very balanced and adept, and the initial wave of teachers in America have been likewise physically balanced and adept at the posture, but not so impressive as their Asian counterparts. This sets up a tension in the American teachers, as their students compare them to their counterparts from Asia. The American teachers look for ways to make clear to their compatriots and students that they may have every bit as much to offer as their Asian counterparts, even if they don’t exhibit quite the same physical grace.

    I think this leads to a lot of attempts on the part of Americans to elucidate why there is this difference, and what they might have to offer that is perhaps new in the midst of ancient tradition. Part of what is new is the inclusion, from the first Zen monastery at Tassajara, of women in the practice place alongside men, and of families in a practice place. Part is the ideal of equality and understanding in relationships, that bristles at master-disciple training or top-down authority.

    When Brad points to B&D relationships and compares them to top-down authority and students in the Zen world, quite rightly I think. Grace points to some of the things that our society has learned in the last thirty years as women have fought for and attained some right to control their circumstance and their treatment in our society. Both Brad and Grace are making a case as to why a teacher who appears very different in carriage and manner from someone out of the Asian training systems should be respected as a teacher in an Asian tradition here in America.

    And me, with no authority and only an incomplete understanding, what chance have I got to be heard if I describe the relationships at the heart of the practice of zazen in terms that anyone can see for themselves? I’m sure not going to impress anybody with my posture and grace, and everyone has read enough Zen and enough of Taoist literature to know that the Zen that can be described in words is not the real Zen. Besides, that takes all the fun out of it, and we all know that anyone can succeed in this without any training or understanding.

    Here in the West we mostly rely on science for our ability to destroy the planet in minutes or in decades (and make a lot of money while we’re at it); it’s very foreign, though, to think that science might have anything to offer us about what it is to be a human part of the experience of the universe.

  32. Fred
    Fred February 27, 2013 at 9:20 am |

    Steve, facing yourself is easy if you are not holding on to yourself. And that’s
    probably the real issue – I am afraid to let go of my grasp of this self, when
    emptiness has nothing tangible to hold onto.

    ““A monk asked Joshu: “Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?” Joshu said: “Mu”.
    Can you appreciate this Mu? Can you contain it?
    There is no place where you can get hold of its nose.
    There is entirely nothing to hold on to.”

  33. Fred
    Fred February 27, 2013 at 9:28 am |

    So the teacher comes with handles that you can hold onto while jumping off
    into Mu, a safety parachute for the body-mind jumpers.

  34. Steve
    Steve February 27, 2013 at 10:25 am |

    Fred – I’m pretty sure I don’t want to hold Brad’s handles. But in all seriousness, thank you for that. I like that.

  35. Andy
    Andy February 27, 2013 at 10:46 am |

    “The corruption comes from the misrepresentation of the heart of the teachings, and as such, in most places, it would seem that it might inhibit any true practice rather than help.

    In any case, I enjoy the likeminded souls who frequent some zen blogs, but I have little use for the rest of it. I wonder, if Brad was being totally honest–whether he would not say the same…”

    Hi Gniz,

    Did you read Brad’s “I Am Not A Zen Buddhist… OK. I Am.” a few posts back?

    Whether you did or not, I think it’s important to highlight that fiendish friend, ambiguity. And in this instance I wonder how much the positions we adhere to derive from how this can seem like a straight-jacket. No corruption/No ending to corruption might be what we’re processing into this ‘Zen Buddhism’ package to either reject or defend – having discovered perhaps that so often, so much gets beefed up, or we ourselves beef things these things up, only to find that they and we were chewing on plenty toad of horse-meat, since time immemorial.

    I myself am going through a phase where much of what in the past I’ve identified, rejected or railed at is coming back to me like attributes I always had too, or attributes I’ve similarly given expression to.

    For example, how much Zen Buddhism might irredeemably constitute one’s non-Zen Buddhist practice after all; and how much of the same ‘corruptions’ or decadent seeds will exist in our own independent practices. For us to reject or constantly resolve?

    What historical, socio-cultural, or wired-in tendencies are going to keep re-flowering and re-pollinating themselves in some homo-sapiens sapiens’ post-reformation, post-enlightenment, post-modern road-trip to the western cliff-edge of the world, only to find our own backsides greeting us and the dark knight’s boots swapped for a shiny pair of red Prada shoes atop a doddery old fool?

    I suspect that, whether we see ourselves as on the outside or inside of such things as ‘Zen Buddhism’ or not, we’re always, in some way, negotiating a circumstance better described as ‘one foot in and one foot out’ whether we like it or not, or whether we think it or not.

    With this well in the mix, it might be that those who see themselves on the outside or inside end up, through hook or by crook, better serving both their own way and the way others have chosen.

    We do appear to live in times when the idealisms inherent in honest inquiry, skepticism, and social engagement often sling-shot us, via encounters with our own and others’ complicitiness in the murky and muddy affairs of human life, into a wholesale rejection of what, at every juncture in history, always needed and will always need reassessing and reshaping, rather than merely rejecting.

    After all, I would have thought it incumbent on those who enter into any kind of practice to have some sense of where it comes from and in which direction they are leading it and it is leading them. And that this should always involve re-assessments of the past in light of present failings.

    That so many might fail to realise that they are and always will be met with this challenge, to my mind, is par-for-the-course in all human affairs – of which the authentic few will always be misrepresented by. And this even if we ascribe to the view that ‘the authentic few’ are defined as those, like us, who are and were always susceptible to those lowest common denominators that make all of us who we are, and that even these folk are/were really those who achieved expressions of authenticity, amidst so much other ape-like foibles.

  36. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 11:35 am |

    Hi Andy,

    Well you have tapped into a certain black and white thinking I tend to gravitate towards. I don’t like to exist in the “gray areas” (as my wife puts it).

    You are pointing towards the gray, and I appreciate that. We are all, perhaps, in this stew together. Me, the zennists, the evangelicals, all of us–we are cooking together whether we like it or not.

    Reading this and other blogs, I read and see “zen folks” and their thoughts become my thoughts, and vice versa, and we continue this way. We take in each other’s thoughts, we engage in this endless version of ESP through osmosis, and even so watching FOX News.

    There is no escape from that, it seems.

    We cannot help but to continue to boomerang back on ourselves and our own flies in our own ointment.

    But beyond those things–and those are inescapable and bitter pills to swallow for me–there is this notion of “true practice.” That is my own responsibility. That, it seems, might be the one area where nobody can give me anything. My teacher’s thoughts do not allow me to see what he sees–not really. I have to do the work.

    When I talk about corruption, it is in the idea that much of religion (and I include Zen Buddhists in that realm) consists of people trying desperately to hand their responsibility over to someone else. It becomes corrupt when it codifies that handing over of responsibility.

    Of course, ultimately we cannot even give away our responsibility–even if our religion tells us that we can. So again it falls back on me.

    But that is still why I stand, in my intellectual, biased mind–outside of Zen. However, that said, I’ve found some kind of kinship with the folks who frequent some of these stations on the internet. But in meatspace, I have very little need for Zen as of now…

  37. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra February 27, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

    I think one of the most “compassionate” things I’ve learned to do is to respect each person’s “autonomy,” even if that means allowing them to make decisions that I think are stupid. I may try to persuade or convince them to see things from my perspective, and sometimes with some success, but ultimately I have to allow them to have the freedom to make their own decisions and the freedom to deal with their own consequences, but to also be there as a continued source of support if they so need one. (Often times they don’t need one, because their decision ended up working out for them in a way my suggestion probably would not have.)

    And I may be wrong, but I think this is the gist of what Mr. Warner is saying. As tempting as it is, we can’t go around protecting people from themselves. That’s really not a compassionate thing to do, even if it often feels like it is. To some extant risk and danger are totally necessary in our lives. It’s how we learn and how we grow. I’m an extremely lazy person, but even I’ve managed to learn that most things worth doing aren’t easy.

  38. Zafu
    Zafu February 27, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

    “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.” – Brad Warner

    Odd reasoning. If students didn’t already enter the relationship with baby-like trust they wouldn’t allow themselves to be groped (when they didn’t want to be).

    I think what we want is for Zen to mean something, and not just be a place where horny old men can fondle women while being jerked off.

    It seems the only way to create a safe environment in this situation is to show Zen teacher for what they really are. The problem with this approach is that once everyone sees that the emperor has no cloths, no one will want to look at an ugly naked old man.

  39. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 3:22 pm |

    I agree with your sentiment, Zafu. There is an inescapable logic here that the religious folk don’t want to really admit to.

    The reason people are attracted to religion (be it Zen, Christianity, Islam) is that they want answers and they look towards people who have supposedly learned or gained those answers.

    If you tell people who are seeking religious instruction, “hey, we’re really just like you and a lot of us have the same anxiety, sexual hangups, power issues as you” then the masses will have almost zero interest in being part of that religion.

    What Brad is offering, people do NOT want en masse. What my teacher offers, almost nobody is interested.

    I think the people who want to continue to prop up Zen as a religious institution really are after, is a way to continue to perpetuate the religion without dealing with this basic fact. So they put bandaids on things (like creating oversight committees “with teeth”) in order to keep the ruse going. Without that promise of a “fully enlightened master,” or a priest who is divinely connected to god, Zendos and churches and mosques and would start to crumble and fade away.

    The fact that our own enlightenment depends on each of us is an open secret that the religious simply won’t own up to. They can’t because their very identities and jobs and community life depends on keeping it going, along with the enlightened authority figure at the helm.

    So the abuses will continue, and the power struggles, and the victims.

    It’s all good though–people wouldn’t have it any other way really.

  40. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 3:30 pm |

    And I will even be more plain. Teachers are necessary.

    But good teachers are readily available to the willing and the interested, and they come in all stripes, from many traditions (and no traditions, too).

    The reason it seems like there are so many fakes is because people want fakes. Supply and demand, baby.

    Also, some people want “safe” teachers, the professorial types who have read a lot of books but basically have never tasted the special sauce.

    However, for those who actually are interested in tasting that sauce, the teachers who have done so are around and available (and not just from the zen community).

    Finding teachers isn’t really the issue. Zen is not even the issue. The issue is that most of us really really really don’t want to have to shoulder the burden of doing this work and scraping and clawing our way through this mess on our own sweat and blood and tears. It can feel hard and scary and useless.

    We want someone to put us in a little comfy taxi cab and whisper sweet nothings in our ear while they drive us to the destination where the real food is made.

    Unfortunately, there is no comfy cab. There is just putting one foot in front of the other and doing the work all alone, with maybe a little direction here or there from a slightly interested party who is watching us make the trek. That is all.

    But 99.999999 percent of people want NO part of that kind of journey. And they don’t want to admit it, either. So here we are again.

    1. Zafu
      Zafu February 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm |

      “And I will even be more plain. Teachers are necessary.”

      The plain truth, that I suspect even Brad is not ready to acknowledge, is that teachers are not necessary. God is long dead. Trying to make the antiquated concept of Zen teachers work in any modern culture will only continue to be an exercise in frustration and embarrassment.

  41. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm |

    Hey Zafu, I guess I can’t say that teachers are strictly necessary. But for me, having a guide has been invaluable. It has absolutely nothing to do with God and nothing to do with my teacher being superhuman, divine, or otherwise specially endowed.

    However, unless we come into contact with someone who has done the work, it is difficult to see how the whole ball of wax makes any sense.

  42. Zafu
    Zafu February 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm |

    Sasaki and others like him did all the work.

    Don’t believe that they are needed. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

    Here’s a movie for the modern age that you might find amusing:

  43. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

    Hey Zafu, I already saw Kumare. it was a great flick and definitely had some interesting lessons.

    I don’t know Sasaki at all. I don’t care what he did or did not attain.

    I am not drinking kool-aid, because for me, I am aware that each moment of this experience I’m having is my responsibility and nobody else’s.

    That being said, I am not one who believes that consciousness is all bullshit and life is empty or nihilistic in nature. My understandings are based on my own realizations, which I earned by my own efforts.

    That’s not to say I never had guidance, however. My teacher has no lineage and no religious affiliation, he was just a guy, a regular guy, who had understood a few things. Those people do exist, IMO. The problem is that in the end, they cannot do the work for you–and that’s what most people want.

    It’s people who abuse the reality that end up turning off people to the true possibilities. But that’s okay too. Those who want to understand will keep going despite themselves and despite those rotten apples.

  44. Zafu
    Zafu February 27, 2013 at 5:22 pm |

    I’m just facing the reality of it, gniz, cuz I’m not child-like, anymore.

  45. gniz
    gniz February 27, 2013 at 5:44 pm |

    That’s good.

    1. Zafu
      Zafu February 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm |

      Zen masters even marginally living up to the hype would be good. Facing reality is just necessary.

  46. Pistil Pete
    Pistil Pete February 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm |

    I was wondering when (and if) you would ever get around to this.
    We really do need to accept responsibility for ourselves.We are not children and it can be a hard old world.When shit starts to feel weird we need to wake up.Getting groped is the least of it,you could end up on someone’s dinner plate.So,if you are looking for pure safety you might check into some kind of prison,because out here in life there are dangers where we least expect them…It is our job to be awake and alert.If that is beyond us anything even remotely like “Enlightenment” is beyond us…

  47. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote February 27, 2013 at 8:43 pm |

    “It becomes corrupt when it codifies that handing over of responsibility.”

    Wolfe the economist is interesting, when he points out that the economic regulation doesn’t get us out of the mess either, because eventually the regulations get rescinded.

    Walking around last night, I thought about a couple of things. One is the tight connection between the eyes and the sense of location in space. Here’s a good one:

    So I’m walking in the dark, exercising my sense of proprioception and location. In the video, the feeling of being stroked on the back and the information from the eyes on where the stroking is taking place in space combine in a peculiar way to deceive the subject about where they are located in space, where what they are feeling is located in space.

    I realized that I can exercise my sense of proprioception, and that when I do so I feel imbalanced unless I am listening consistently to whatever part is speaking, and what I feel is not that pleasant until a hypnogogic sense of continuity kicks in, which it seems to do as I relax and breath. Maybe I am proprioceptively challenged, I think so, as I have always tried to control my balance instead of letting the fireflys lift me up.

  48. SoF
    SoF February 27, 2013 at 8:52 pm |

    I would say: “NEXT.”

  49. Fred
    Fred February 28, 2013 at 4:30 am |

    Sweeping Zen

    Genjo Marinello

    “I trained for twenty years with Genki Takabayashi, fourteen years with Eido Shimano and did several sesshins with Joshu Sasaki. In my opinion, all three penetrated deeply the depth of unknowing and could clearly speak from this depth. I also think they all would be the first to admit they are human with real flaws. You see we are all Buddhas and bumpkins, no way around it.”

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