On Grace Schireson’s Open Letter

Grace-during-her-Mountain-Seat-ceremony1Grace Schireson doesn’t like me. I think we should get that out of the way right at the top of this page. She read bits and pieces of my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate and decided I was a sexual predator in Zen robes, and even worse than some of the other perps because I openly bragged about it.

This is not true at all.

That book is, in part, an attempt to do precisely what Grace says she wants to do in her recent open letter in which she says that she is “committed to changing … the idealization of the teacher’s status that has been so detrimental to students.” I figured I’d do that more powerfully than those who write books and Internet screeds about the bad things other people do. By revealing the less than stellar aspects of my own life I hoped that people would see all of us in this Zen business in a different light. But that hardly matters since Grace’s 2012 article about me on Sweeping Zen will, it seems, stand forever as a warning to all to beware of Brad Warner and his “self-serving alleged seductions and … promoting [his] right to have sex with any woman who attends [his] teaching.”

This is how it works in the world of institutions and political power.

Which is why, even though I agree with all but one line in Grace’s letter, I think that letter is wrongheaded and potentially destructive simply because of that single line which shows precisely what Grace’s intent really is. It’s not about stopping sexual predators. Not in the least. It uses that hot-button topic as a way to push for an altogether different agenda.

Here is Grace’s letter:

As Zen teachers, we would like to express our gratitude for Buddhadharma’s recent issue on abuse in Buddhist communities. We also appreciated Mr. Oppenheimer’s piece in The Atlantic for “The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side.” We are referring to the discussion and reports on the abuse of power and authority of Zen Teacher Eido Shimano and others. We believe exposing this problem is a positive step in the direction of preventing such abuses in the future. Many women and others in the Zen community have suffered as a result, and we regret and apologize for our collective failure to stop this harm. Thanks to Mr. Oppenheimer’s efforts, women have come forward, some even using their names; we think this kind of courage can only embolden other survivors of abuse to speak out.

We have pledged to look and listen to our communities and to build more visible ethics codes, working toward consensus on national standards on behavior and oversight, and seeking outside consultation to educate and empower students to come forward if they have been abused. Unlike either our Asian counterparts or American Judeo-Christian clergy, the American Zen tradition does not yet have a central authorizing body capable of sanctioning and removing a harmful teacher.

Even so, as Zen Buddhist community leaders we are committed to changing the culture of silence and the idealization of the teacher’s status that has been so detrimental to students. As Mr. Oppenheimer points out, scoundrels and sociopaths will always walk among us—sometimes as teachers and priests. While ethics and changes in the balance of power cannot completely halt these scoundrels, we are working steadily to make our communities more aware of these dangers as a way to prevent abuse. We view the revelations concerning Eido Shimano as a wake-up call to each of us to pay close attention to the safety of the members of our community, and to monitor our own behavior as well as that of others.

It’s signed by 90 prominent Zen teachers, some of whom are close friends of mine. I was sad to see their names on that list.

The line that gives the game away is right in the middle of the piece. It goes, “Unlike either our Asian counterparts or American Judeo-Christian clergy, the American Zen tradition does not yet have a central authorizing body capable of sanctioning and removing a harmful teacher.” This ends paragraph two, and the next paragraph begins with the words “even so,” indicating that the establishment of this authorizing body is how Grace intends to remedy the problem.

I agree with every other line in the letter. I’ll say that again since people sometimes seem to miss these kinds of points when I make them. I agree with every other line in the letter.

I don’t like the tone of some of it. I don’t like the use of the word “scoundrels.” Scoundrels tie pretty Polly to the railroad tracks in old silent movies until the hero in the white hat (Grace?) can come along and save them. I have my doubts about the efficacy of “visible ethics codes,” besides which we already have one, a little thing we like to call the Buddhist Precepts. The idea of “consensus on national standards of behavior and oversight” is pretty chilling too, if you ask me. But still, I agree with what Grace is trying to say in her rather clumsily over-the-top prose.

Even so, I would never sign such a letter (not that Grace would have asked me) because it really boils down to just two messages. 1) Don’t blame the 90 of us who signed this because we’re the good guys, it’s those other bad Zen teachers who did this stuff and 2) The best way to solve the problem is to establish a “central authorizing body capable of sanctioning and removing a harmful teacher,” and, by the way, who do you think should run that organization?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Anyone who might get their skivvies in a twist over what I’m saying here need not worry. I am clearly on the losing side of this argument. Within two decades at the most there will be a central authorizing body capable of sanctioning and removing those it judges to be “harmful” Zen teachers. Some of those it sanctions and removes will genuinely be harmful while others will be people who speak out in ways the central authorizing body does not approve of or simply cannot understand. They’ll be able to do more than just write articles about people they don’t like. They’ll be able to ruin them forever.

We’ve seen this before.

*   *   *

Tomorrow January 17, 2015, just like almost every Saturday, I will be leading zazen starting at 9:30am at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex, 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, California. All are welcome. Beginner’s are encouraged. Come along if you’re not scared of me.

Also, next Monday, January 19, 2015, just like almost every other Monday, I’ll be leading zazen starting at 8:00pm at Silverlake Yoga 2810 1/2 Glendale Blvd. Studio 2, Los Angeles, CA

And, as always, your kind donations are very much appreciated!

 

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235 Responses

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  1. The Gospel of Guan Yin
    The Gospel of Guan Yin January 26, 2015 at 6:42 am |

    A wealthy woman went to Guan Yin’s temple and made a big show of wanting to donate money to a charity organized by the temple. The woman wanted to give the cheque personally to Guan Yin.

    Guan Yin took the cheque and handed it to Sudhana without saying a word.

    The woman expected some praise or at least a word of thank you. But Guan Yin simply ignored her. The woman left the temple angrily.

    Guan Yin asked Sudhana and Dragon Girl with mock puzzlement: “Why was she so upset?” – http://thegospelofguanyin.wordpress.com

    1. Fred
      Fred January 26, 2015 at 10:48 am |

      ” Quan Yin, alone among Buddhist gods, is loved rather than feared and is the model of Chinese beauty”

      1. Fred
        Fred January 26, 2015 at 10:51 am |

        ” Guan means to observe, watch, or monitor; Shi means the world; Yin means sounds, specifically sounds of those who suffer.”

  2. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara January 26, 2015 at 7:49 am |
  3. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 27, 2015 at 9:55 pm |

    So Brad and Grace are both “committed to changing … the idealization of the teacher’s status that has been so detrimental to students.”

    Why would they do that!

    “Women’s Zen teaching laments the loss of loved ones and extols the beauty of life. No matter how deep their practice, their human heart is exposed. This is a wonderfully alive teaching for Western Buddhists, most of whom practice in the midst of family, work, and community rather than in silent monastic settings.”

    It’s the women, being human in a way that doesn’t permit their idealization, who will lead the way for Zen in the U.S.A. (not the supernatural Zen teacher whose presence pegs the Roshi-o-meter). And maybe the guys, who admit to being human in their feelings, and who write about it honestly, seeking to inspire everyday normal people who might actually be suffering on account of their everyday normalacy to give an ancient practice a whirl.. a dip… a slide… a– pogo.

  4. Michel
    Michel January 27, 2015 at 11:41 pm |

    Mark Foote: if
    “It’s the women, being human in a way that doesn’t permit their idealization, who will lead the way for Zen in the U.S.A. (not the supernatural Zen teacher whose presence pegs the Roshi-o-meter). ”

    Well, if this is the case, Grace Shireson is very ill started in that matter… Having been a feminist for almost 50 years, I tend to think that women can be just as stupid as men when idealisation creeps in. Most zennist women I have met in France are just infatuated of their “master” and incredibly dry, stiff and nasty inside. I have recently known of a woman Zen master in Turin, Italy, who just fucked up her own sangha because she thought the members belonged to her. So, long way to go.

    I think what you added about ” the guys, who admit to being human” is much more to the point, but unisex…

  5. minkfoot
    minkfoot January 28, 2015 at 6:51 am |

    Relevant to this thread, from our neighbors in Ulster County, NY:

    http://zmm.mro.org/about/news

    1. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 8:37 am |

      I’m sad have lost my teacher… but I am more sad for Hojin, my friend, and Ryushin’s betrayal of her. 🙁

      But I am also very happy, that my sangha is dealing with it in such an open, decisive and forthright way.

    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot January 28, 2015 at 10:01 am |

      My condolences.

      Because of the meeting on the weekend, my curiosity was aroused. When Ryushin-sensei’s resignation was announced, I felt saddened for him, and for Ven. Hojin, MRO, and Buddhism in general. But I also felt it was handled with about as much grace as possible.

      This incident, however, does not seem like abuse of status so much as an unfortunate affair of the heart. The way the sangha handled it is what makes it relevant.

      1. Shodo
        Shodo January 28, 2015 at 10:58 am |

        Thank you Minkfoot.

        Yeah, the whole situation is sad.
        The big shining light out of all of this was the response, how everyone was called up for this weekend to be made aware of the situation and make their voices heard, the taking of responsibility and asking for forgiveness.
        It was dealt with in as healthy a way as was possible. I’ve read those letters a few times now, and though the subject is a sad one, I was impressed by the level of candor shown.

  6. Michel
    Michel January 28, 2015 at 10:31 am |

    It would seem that some zennists are finally developing some common sense and a sane attitude.

  7. Shodo
    Shodo January 28, 2015 at 11:46 am |

    For those who would like to listen to this…

    http://zmm.mro.org/teachings/post-sangha-meeting-talk-questions/

  8. Shodo
    Shodo January 28, 2015 at 6:04 pm |

    I’m posting this again… Thought folks might like to hear it.

    http://zmm.mro.org/teachings/post-sangha-meeting-talk-questions/

    1. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 6:05 pm |

      shit, wrong comment section…

  9. Zafu
    Zafu February 3, 2015 at 12:57 pm |

    It’s clear that Brad is doing his part in disabusing us gullible imbeciles that Zen teachers are actually wise open hearted people, with all the silly books, articles, and the gay bunny outfit, etc., but what is Gracey and the other doing?

    1. MAPhdBuddhistStudies
      MAPhdBuddhistStudies March 20, 2015 at 5:26 am |

      It’s even CRYSTAL clear that you have some issue(s) with Brad or his presentation of Zen. You constantly take opportunities to go off topic obviously in hopes of making his posts about you by incessantly bullying/flaming/insulting Brad, his work and the others who read these posts. You would become more reputable to keep these types of remarks to yourself thank making yourself out to be a vengeful fool. Yes, you’ve gotten our attention just like a toddler craves – time to move on.

  10. electricelf
    electricelf February 4, 2015 at 11:05 am |

    e.g. Live recording of Ryushin’s disposal by Shugan…. hilarious and tragic, its so well planned, Shugan acting the great protector and hero… and the sense of dependence he cultivates with these people, who are eating it up like cows in the field.

    It is shocking to hear how Shugan has orchestrated these public meetings that make it sound like Ryushin was having sex with his students, rather than poor judgement in embarking upon a single affair outside his teaching duties – a minor event, which could have been handled in a private, nonpublic way.

    Shugan then discusses problems with media coverage – he is kidding himself that any Buddhist magazine would cover having an affair.

    How stupid these Sangha members sound, talking to their kids about it, as if its such a big event that a married man has an extra-marital affair. now they talk at the end of bringing in ‘a therapist’ for teachers, to help them if marital problems arise, for instance. Shugan nulls that automatically, ah Ryushin did not need help, it was just a moral error. He then cuts off the discussion at that point.

    “how do we prevent this from happening again?” one woman asks, and then gushes about how much she love Shugan and all he is doing for the Sangha.

    Then he concludes by advising those who are ‘taking it lightly’ not to make fun of those who are hysterical idiots …. a great performance by Shugan.

Comments are closed.