Grace 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.
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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!