Zen Predator

ZenpredatorOn the recommendation of my friend John Graves, I recently read a Kindle Single called Zen Predator of the Upper East Side by Mark Oppenheimer.

It’s about the sex scandals involving Eido Shimano Roshi, a Japanese Zen teacher who has been living and teaching in New York since the mid-1960s. Before reading this book, all I knew of Shimano’s scandals was what I read in the article I linked to above and this one from Huffington Post.

Shimano’s behavior, as described by Oppenheimer, is reprehensible. I’m always reluctant to accept lurid accusations at face value. But even if there’s a certain degree of misunderstanding or even misrepresentation going on, there’s just such an overwhelming amount of nasty stuff here that it’s hard to see Shimano as anything but a world class jerk.

I’m always careful, though. Because we like to believe in villains and victims. Remember The Wizard of Oz? If you haven’t seen it, what follows is a spoiler. So spoiler alert!

When Dorothy accidentally throws water on the Wicked Witch of the West and melts her, all the nasty green dudes who’d been following her orders are suddenly free from her spell and become good guys. Here’s the scene. This is lazy writing, and innumerable lazy writers have used similar endings countless times. I’m sure it didn’t originate with Wizard of Oz, either. Writers of children’s TV shows and movies are very fond of this kind of ending because it saves them from having to deal with complex, real world issues and gets the story over with quickly and easily.

We all grow up seeing stories like this. We like them because it allows to identify the bad guys and put all the blame on them, thus absolving ourselves for our own role in making them powerful and even doing their bidding. When we grow up, we know better intellectually. But we still want to believe in Wicked Witches of the West.

A story like Shimano’s appears to fit the bill almost perfectly. Oppenheimer tells us that Shimano selected his conquests carefully, targeting insecure young women searching for spiritual fulfillment. Oppenheimer paints Shimano as a master of manipulation, who preyed upon his victims’ insecurities and used his other followers’ desire to protect the dharma, which was then new to America and thus fragile, to cloak himself in virtual invulnerability.

To suggest that any of these women may have been anything other than nearly helpless victim of a master manipulator seems callous and lacking in compassion. To even imply this would seem to be to agree with Shimano’s accusations that these women were the real aggressors, or even crazy people who blame him for seductions that never really happened. I do not agree with Shimano’s lame excuses.

You already noticed that I called Shimano a world class jerk. I very much hold him accountable for his role in what happened. Still, Shimano was not the Wicked Witch of the West. He may have cast a powerful spell, but there was no magic involved. He only had the power that those around him provided. He abused his power. But he shouldn’t have been given such power to begin with.

Master of Seduction?

Master of Seduction?

A complex system formed which both provided Shimano with fodder for his overwhelming appetite for sexual conquest and a legion of co-conspirators who protected him even when they knew he was doing harm. This, in turn, made him seem even more powerful and therefore more attractive. Thus his seductions were even more successful. He must have been hard to resist, even though it’s difficult for me to see him as a very handsome guy. He should have behaved better.

The thing that bugs me about Oppenheimer’s book is the same thing that bugs me about so much of what’s written on the subject of Zen sex scandals. Writers of such pieces rarely know very much about Zen. Like Oppenheimer, they conflate Zen with all kinds of Eastern spiritual traditions. And so Oppenheimer quotes Josh Baran, who he identifies as a “former Zen priest,” who tells him that Zen masters are to be seen as superhuman living Buddhas that one is expected to surrender to, thus becoming childlike and vulnerable.

Amazon’s author page says that Mr. Baran, author The Tao of Now, “was recognized as a teacher in the Soto Zen tradition and received ‘Dharma transmission’.” But I have to wonder what sort of Soto Zen Mr. Baran studied, or perhaps if Oppenheimer heard him right. Every Soto Zen teacher I’ve ever met has behaved quite the opposite of someone who wished to be seen as a superhuman living Buddha and none I know has ever demanded surrender. If Eido Shimano demanded surrender he was going against thousands of years of Zen tradition.

The implication throughout Oppenheimer’s piece is that perhaps there is something intrinsically wrong with Zen which leads to the kind of abuses Shimano indulged in. But it’s not about Zen. It’s about how power-hungry sociopathic megalomaniacs gravitate towards careers as spiritual teachers in order to have a perfect place to operate.

What Shimano did is anything but unique to the Zen tradition. It happens in religious communities of all denominations and sects. In fact, the tradition of not viewing Zen teachers as superhuman living Buddhas is there to try to prevent such things from happening. Shimano’s followers, though, came along at a time when few Westerners knew anything at all about the Zen tradition. So whatever their master told them, they regarded as true.

It is vital that we do not see Zen teachers as superhuman living Buddhas. As the Dalai Lama said, “I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one’s spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. … if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior.”

Respect for one’s teacher is important, and hierarchical structures are often necessary to maintain an organization. But fantasies that one’s teacher is the embodiment of some sort of divine perfection are destructive and dangerous. They allow master manipulators like Shimano to do their business. Otherwise they are powerless.

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And I am powerless to keep this blog going without your donations! Every little bit helps. I’ve even added a Micro Subscription option for those who can’t afford to donate much but want to help out some.

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Here’s my upcoming touring schedule:

Aug. 2 Dogen Sangha Los Angeles

Sept. 5-7 Houston Zen Center (I will probably do events in Austin, El Paso and Dallas around the same time)

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland all events to be determined

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 9-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Possibly in Bonn, Germany (not confirmed)

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany (probably)

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Lecture in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

We Oct 29: Lecture in Rotterdam, Netherlands

Oct 30: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Oct 31: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov 4-6 (or 3-5 possibly) Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 7-8 Something in Manchester, UK (to be determined)

59 Responses

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  1. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 16, 2014 at 11:42 am |


    !! CAUTION !!
    World Class Jerk

    Who wants one ?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence June 18, 2014 at 9:00 am |

      T-shirt should read:

      Enlightened Superbeing

      (World Class Jerk)


  2. mb
    mb June 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm |

    Josh Baran has worn a lot of hats over the years. I actually met him in the late ’70s in his role as “exit counselor” for people leaving abusive spiritual groups. At the time, I lived in a household in Marin County of ex-Adi Da’ers and we opened our house to Josh for a month or two as a place where he could meet and advise other people who were just leaving the group.

    He also spent 20 years at Jiyu Kennett Roshi’s Shasta Abbey, and I suppose that’s where the moniker of “ex-Soto priest” comes from. Apparently that community was quite problematic and Jiyu Kennett, near the end of her life, had earned the reputation of being quite authoritarian and unwilling to accept the slightest bit of criticism. There’s still a quite active internet forum where members of that community are still hashing out their issues and Josh is a big contributor: http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/f6-obc-experiences

    He also wrote the book “Dark Zen” about the collaboration of Japanese Zen Masters with the Nazis in WWII.

    Also, say what you will about who is “more to blame” on the subject of naive disciples projecting their devotion and power onto their all-powerful teacher vs. the megajerk-teacher who takes advantage. Seems to me the teacher holds the advantage of knowing that the disciples are unconsciously projecting, and therefore has the upper hand. And therefore has a larger share of the blame in perpetuating such situations because they oughta know better, but the situation hits their power-lust button in just the right way. Of course, smarter and less-naive disciples would never get themselves into such a situation, so do you just sit back and say it’s a perfect storm for both parties?

  3. woken
    woken June 16, 2014 at 1:43 pm |

    If you’re not able to handle people’s projections and submission, then you shouldn’t set up shop as a “spiritual guide”. If you are as unaware of yourself that you don’t know if you can handle these things, then you shouldn’t teach and your teacher is also at fault for authorisng you to teach. I love when no-nonsense zennies get all Jesuitical when it comes to teachers abusing their authority.

  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 16, 2014 at 2:39 pm |

    mb, thanks for the background and the link.

    “He abused his power. But he shouldn’t have been given such power to begin with.”

    What power was that, exactly?

    Are we talking about power conferred through the document of shame? Or what? Are you saying Shimano shouldn’t have been given that document, or that the rest of the world should not have empowered such behavior based on the fact of his receiving it?

    It’s a wicked world, and since no one can remove Shimano’s ruby slippers while he’s still alive, the witchy types in the Sangha have turned the hour glass over on him.

  5. shade
    shade June 16, 2014 at 3:02 pm |

    Okay, as a member of the fairer sex, this is what I don’t get… if the women in this man’s charge had a problem with the way he was behaving toward them, why didn’t they just high tail it? Although there is a certain mindless reverence toward Buddhism in certain communities in this nation, it has almost no institutional power whatsoever. We’re not talking about the Grand Inquisitor here. It’s not like this guy had the power to have people arrested or evicted from their homes if they didn’t succumb to his advances.

    Right? Or am I missing something? I admit I don’t know all the details.

    1. mb
      mb June 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm |

      Shade, I know absolutely nothing about the Eido Shimano situation, so I’ll just give you a “generic” answer that probably applies:

      Why didn’t they just high-tail it?

      Because they are caught in an emotional spider web called “cognitive dissonance”, which is this weird place where you sublimate the “problem” out of inappropriate and overweening “respect for the teacher”. It’s a classic position to be in for a cultic follower of a power-tripping teacher. The ability to high-tail is curtailed by a fear of losing a valuable connection with a perceived “important wisdom-source”. Not to mention daddy issues which haven’t really been looked at that closely. Once a certain maturity is gained, usually through painful experience, it’s not likely to happen again. But until then, naivety rules the day. And the teacher is a dick for encouraging such an unhealthy relationship.

    2. Dan
      Dan June 17, 2014 at 3:18 pm |

      if the women in this man’s charge had a problem with the way he was behaving toward them, why didn’t they just high tail it?

      From what I gather:

      Because at the time, you’re conflicted; you’re thinking what a creep and it’s so flattering that he’s attracted to me and this is wrong and no, I’m wrong to feel uncomfortable… it might be years before you’re sure which of your feelings were right.

      Because he’s the only Zen teacher you’ve ever met, and he says that practicing Zen involves sleeping with him, and that doesn’t sound right, but you don’t know enough about Zen to dispute it…

      Because he’s the only Zen teacher you’ve ever met, and if you leave now you may never find what you’re looking for…

      Because if you’ve been in the monastic community long enough, it’s not just leaving him, it’s like leaving your whole family. And facing the possibility that you just wasted the past N years of your life on nothing of value.

      Plenty of people do high tail it, eventually. It just sometimes takes a while to have enough clarity and self-confidence to do so.

      All of the above thinking also comes up during perfectly legitimate spiritual practice, which can get quite painful and/or pointless-looking at times (the so-called “dark night”). Or, say, grad school. Or even life. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether bailing is the right choice.

  6. mtto
    mtto June 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm |

    Shimano is Rinzai, so his stance on surrender isn’t related to the Soto tradition. I know very little about Japanese Rinzai, so I won’t comment on whether or not demanding surrender to the teacher is part of that tradition; I don’t know.

    I recommended the book to Brad. I agree it isn’t a good source for learning about zen. It is chock-full of first-hand accounts of Shimano’s 50 year career as a Zen teacher and abuser.

    50 years!

    From my reading, there are more than two categories of people involved: villains and victims.

    There are also a variety of witnesses and enablers. Robert Aiken who sent Shimano to New York from Hawaii, making him someone else’s problem. The students who didn’t care that Shimano was an abuser because he didn’t abuse them, and he “worked for them” as a zen teacher. The women who didn’t feel victimized by their affairs with Shimano, but knew he was molesting women who were harmed. Those who were appalled by Shimano, but didn’t want to harm Zen in the West, so kept quiet. To me, these are the real villains.

    That generations of people that came and went over the 50 years, demonstrates to me that there is something fundamentally human and universal about this story.

    Shimano is currently suing ZSS for his pension. Shimano’s lawyer is my favorite part of the book!

    Highly recommend the book. The Buddhist Geeks podcast interviewed the author, which is available for free if you don’t want to shell out the $2.99 for the e-book.

  7. Fred
    Fred June 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm |

    “As far as Myoshin-ji is concerned, all along it has had no connection with Eido Shimano, his activities or organizations, including Dai Bosatsu Zendo and all affiliated Zen Studies Society institutions, nor is Eido Shimano or any of his successors certified as priests of the Myoshin-ji branch of Zen or recognized as qualified teachers”

  8. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 16, 2014 at 6:48 pm |

    What? mtto is a John also? (John has fallen away in the list of baby names in the last ten years…sigh) And shade is a gurl? Damn, guess the only thing I sorta kinda know is that a predator is a predator is a predator, no matter what affiliation (or lack of one) he or she might claim/hide in/etc.

    They play by their own rules, too complex for us ordinary folk, and nearly too much for the experts.

    So how can anyone be expected to see that shit coming at them until it does, and then what are you supposed to do about it? Rely on your intuitive predator-radar? C’mon.

    1. shade
      shade June 16, 2014 at 7:34 pm |

      Does Shade not sound like a girl’s name? If I’d known from the start I’d be hanging out in this corner of cyberspace so often I wouldn’t have used a pseudonym, cause I’m really way too old for that kind of thing. Oops, guess I’m stuck with it now. (My “real” name is Jessica if anyone cares to know. See, not nearly as poetic).

  9. jiesen
    jiesen June 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm |

    yeah….buddhism is no different then anything else. no more special or different. no better or worse. it depends whose utilizing it for what. it does have medamutation though.
    teachers and students are both human….i keep wondering if the idea of celibacy is good or bad in terms of monasticism. but i keep coming back to the idea that it is just a different way of doing the same thing…sorta…idk…i remember talking to a celibate monastic and asking him if he thought that lay-men could become enlightened. he said may be, if the lay-man was single for awhile during diligent cultivation. but he was uncertain at the same time. having a loving satisfying relationship seems to me to be counter productive on the path of an arhat. and you can’t have the bodhisattva ideal without the arhat. but those are both just pointless discriminations that distract people. like monastic and lay-man. but, accreditation seems important to me in terms of saying that this teacher has been approved by these people. just like a dentist and his dental association. you don’t want to mistake a guru teacher for a zen teacher. (everyone wants to runaway with a cult. it’s been like this since the dawn of time l0l!)

    “The implication throughout Oppenheimer’s piece is that perhaps there is something intrinsically wrong with Zen which leads to the kind of abuses Shimano indulged in. But it’s not about Zen. It’s about how power-hungry sociopathic megalomaniacs gravitate towards careers as spiritual teachers in order to have a perfect place to operate.” in my experience, there is some truth to this. i’ve met a few of those guys. but i can’t imagine they are all like that. it’s like a lesser or greater degree in the few cases i’ve known. i’ve heard rumour of anceint zen teachers beating the shit of students for their own good. like Unmon getting his leg busted in the gate of Bokushu.

    it’s a stereo type, and i hate stereotypes. but it seems that people gravitate towards certain roles because of what they are seeking in terms of fulfillment in life. the rentacop kicks the crap outta someone because that’s what he gets off on. really he wanted to be a cop, but the cops turned him down. some guy takes steroids and pumps iron so that he can be the alpha male of the bar, ie the bouncer. and the bouncer takes lots of opportunities to smash the drunken jerk into every table on the way to the curb where he’ll mount the drunken jerk like photo opportunity until the cops arrive.

    some people want to teach meditation because they see the value in it. they want to share the value of meditation because they see how it can transform people and the world around them.(relatively speaking.) and some people what to be the “Zen Master.”

    “It is vital that we do not see Zen teachers as superhuman living Buddhas. As the Dalai Lama said, “I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one’s spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. … if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior.”> this part, i totally agree with. whether it is the zen teacher, or the zen student that is wrong; they should admit that they are wrong. not just for their own benefit, but for everyone else’s too.

    actually y’know, the dalai lama is pretty rad. i really dig a lot of what that dude says. i should check out more of his stuff.

  10. jiesen
    jiesen June 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm |

    i think though, in the cases of sex offences there is difference between harassment and assault. and while you can split zen hairs there too, typically a person can walk away from harassment, not so much so for assault. usually the victim cowers in assault or even threat of an assault. when there is a big boom, people stop to pay attention to direction of the boom as to decipherer which direction to run. the person is very vulnerable at that point. if suddenly doors start closing in around on them, like say a child and pedophile (don’t tell mommy or i will say that you did this dirty thing, or that bad thing etc); where does the person run? they remain “frozen” in during the victimization because they don’t know which way to turn. men tend to be the dominating figure in these situations.

    then there is another type of assault that boarders harassment. there is the type of assault where another person gets into another person head and screws with their mind. that’s typically when the mental assault crosses the line to physical assault. and then the person who is assaulted is confused. and then the assaulted person is afraid. sometimes the line i never crossed because some people choose only mental or emotional assaults. i don’t need to read the book to know this because i know it happens all the time. a prime example is when two people form a physical relationship, and then the assailant turns the table and starts to physically or emotionally taking advantage of the other person. women tend to be very susceptible to this. and in terms of womens rights and gender equality, things really have changed a fair amount over the last 50yrs. women have more of a voice now. women don’t tend to live in fear like they use to because other people have plowed the path for other people to maintain their human rights. and more people are aware of such situations today, like gender inequality issues.

    and that is not to say that there aren’t nasty controlling women out there who do things like use guilt a weapon to control and manipulate another.

    and with zen, at least with my experience; zen makes a person very vulnerable. when the heart awakens, the mind awakens(and vice versa)…from what i can tell there really is a process of “going insane” before the person “wakes up.” esp in a situation like sesshin. the “self” is held to scrutiny, sometimes the cultivator is reduced to tears for different reasons. sometimes left laughing hysterically. usually there is a transition between the world of sesshin and the “real world.” we start to “break down” in many ways, and about many things…etc etc etc…

    my point being, a person is very vulnerable when practicing zazen/sesshin….that’s prime time for some prick to come along and capitalize upon someone else for whatever it is that gets them off. play with someone’s heart strings. play with someone pocket book…i could totally see playing with someone’s needs and desires as well. i would imagine that someone whose been through many sesshins, had many students, can see it coming a mile away and capitalize upon another quite easily.

    f***u TNH!

    how is that enlightened people go sour? i really wanna know. i could understand how war would do it. may be there is no such thing as enlightenment. not just in the sense that enlightenment is just a waking up to the “reality of all things”, may be there really is no enlightenment. if seeing the “reality of all things” is just mundane…idk…?

  11. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm |

    ‘I concluded in 2010 that “Apparently, Soen Roshi… gave Dharma Transmission to Eido Roshi, but failed to record it properly in Japan. I believe he did this because he was so angry with Eido Roshi for not stopping his bad behavior.”’

    (Genjo Joe Marinello at http://sweepingzen.com/dharma-transmission-2/)

    What do you call a rock musician without a girlfriend?– homeless. I believe I have already related that I served on a jury in a domestic abuse trial, and the defense had an psychologist testify as to why a woman might remain in an abusive relationship; her answer: “great sex.”

    Regarding the notion that “All of us are looking for an authentic way to live”, looking for “a life that is real, that has some sort of value and that will make (us) reasonably happy or at least content most of the time”: naw, just great sex.


  12. jiesen
    jiesen June 16, 2014 at 8:46 pm |

    @woken, too…

    i disagree. who says the “teacher” is the one who controls the “flux” of zen? that is not the case with doctors and healthcare. i would agree that it is true that a good teacher would LIKELY have good students, but does not mean that one teacher can fully cultivate or even emulate another. (and vice versa.)

    as to handling other peoples “projections and submissions”, that depends upon the other person tools at hand. if you are the one who has, verse the one who has not; that does not mean that you have the authority to dictate other peoples lives as their “spiritual guru.” (what kind of salary does one make at that btw?) are you the “alpha ape?” the keeper of the key of humanity?

    you could say a person could handle another persons attempts at manipulation just by walking away, but at what cost? does one person have to submit to another’s “spiritual guidance”(ie egotistical bullshit) because the teacher is the one who has the pulse on another’s “spiritual aspirations.”

    really what you are saying is that if one person cannot withstand another person bullshit, that that is the weaker ones fault…..what plane of exist do you see yourself upon? are the “Mind Ground?”

    really there is no “spiritual guide”, there are just good people and jackasses. people who attempt to put their best foot forward and people who try to play god with those who attempt to put their best foot forward.

    and what does this line even mean?
    “I love when no-nonsense zennies get all Jesuitical when it comes to teachers abusing their authority.”

    if you are one who sees themselves as a “spiritual guide”(from what you write, i think you are implying “spiritual leader”)…how does a “spiritual guide” have authority to abuse? are you the guide, or the law maker?

    i tend to think that you can read a persons true nature of what they say. what people say, and what they do, then to reflect each other, but in a smoke’n’mirrors -side stepping sort of way.
    from what you say, are the one who can handle anything because you are the great Jesuitical spiritual guide who has the authority to make or break others? like god or dictator? you sound pretty egotistical too me. are you a “spiritual leader?” i would stand back and question that one.

    jason farrow

  13. jiesen
    jiesen June 16, 2014 at 8:51 pm |

    whenever i hear someone start doing a guided mediation, i just want to piss on their donation box and run screaming out the front door with my pants down. “spiritual guide.” barf~

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 16, 2014 at 8:56 pm |

    I was trying to express something from my authentic life, though, which is that the dynamics of personal attraction is complicated, the dynamics of personality disorders is also complicated (here’s a good one, courtesy Adam Tebbe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=967Ckat7f98), and the dynamics of study where the kind of enlightenment experience described in “Three Pillars of Zen” is held out as possible I would think must be very complicated indeed.

    Imagine if you run at the sound of a bell to be first in line for a private interview with someone who you believe can help you step into an authentic life, big time. You have invested your belief in that person, if you are willing to run and seek their approval; of course, you do so in part believing that such a person has been certified as able to help people step into an authentic life.

    You don’t realize that their certifier didn’t actually register them because the certifier was disappointed in their behavior. You don’t realize that they have failed to pay dues, and their certification has lapsed. You feel the mojo that helped them receive their initial certification, and maybe that’s the important thing anyway!

    Sekida says it was, “Without abiding anywhere, let the mind work.” Shibayama says it was the line, “No mind, no abode, and here works the mind.”

    “As in a pond of white… or red… or blue lotuses, some white… or red… or blue lotuses are born in the water, grow up in the water, never rising above the surface but flourishing beneath it and from their roots to their tips are drenched, saturated, permeated, suffused by cool water; even so… does (one) drench, saturate, permeate, and suffuse this very body with the joy that has no rapture; there is no part of (the) whole body that is not suffused with the joy that has no rapture.”

    (MN III 92-93, PTS pg 132-134)

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 16, 2014 at 9:00 pm |

    As far as I can tell, freedom of awareness to take place where awareness takes place is synonymous with the “rapture and joy born of aloofness”.

  16. Mumon
    Mumon June 16, 2014 at 9:56 pm |

    Trying to explain Eido Shimano as he relates to the Dharma becoming complete sometimes has all the allure of what I imagine it would be like trying to teach Justin Bieber quantum physics, except for the tabloid luridness.

    Not that I disagree with Brad’s point of view. It’s just… like that theoretical physicist, sometimes there’s no need to *explain* myself because of folks like Shimano.

  17. jiesen
    jiesen June 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm |

    A monk asked , “Before the ram gets it’s horns, what is it?”
    Deshan Yuanmi said, “A rat-shit dog.”
    The monk asked, “What about after it gets its horns?”
    Deshan Yuanmi said, “A rat-shit dog.”
    (Zen’s Chinese Heritage, Andy Ferguson)

  18. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel June 17, 2014 at 1:36 am |

    “or perhaps if Oppenheimer heard him right”

    I know for sure that Oppenheimer read Baran totally queer. Baran says exactly the contrary to the quote.

  19. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost June 17, 2014 at 9:06 am |

    Without trying to blame the victim, it seems like hierarchical groups in some way change leaders – I’ve only experienced this by playing in bands, I played in DIY political punk bands my whole life and always seemed to have some grasp on what kind of person I was, then, I played in a band with a record deal, fan base, worldwide touring and, it didn’t happen immediately, but after a few years of fans and promoters and club owners fawning over us and signing autographs I changed a lot – became entitled, reckless, confrontational – and the weirdest thing is that my autographs became larger and more complex – now I’m not saying I didn’t have the douchebag seed in me all along, but it took adoring fans and obsequious music biz guys for it to grow – the point is, I wonder how many people become Buddhist teachers for authentic and humble reasons and don’t even notice their principles being eroded or their line moving farther back as a result of being in a position of power for years where people treat them as if they’re special?

  20. sri_barence
    sri_barence June 17, 2014 at 9:49 am |

    When I was a teenager, I went in to see Stephen [Gaskin]. He was holding a book, apparently reading it, with the book upside down. So I said, “Stephen, you’re holding the book upside down!.” Without a trace of emabarrassment, he said, “Why, so I have!,” and turning the book over, resumed reading. I took this to mean that a supposedly “wise” teacher can make a mistake, and that the good ones immediately acknowledge and correct their mistakes.

    Even so, I still had a rather naive view of Zen teachers. When I arrived at Providence Zen Center (a Kwan-Um place), I mentally placed the teachers on a high pedestal. That’s probably not unusual for someone in their early twenties (I was 23). I began to question that view when I learned that one of the teachers had been given Inka without apparently having received it. Supposedly the man’s wife had received Inka before him, and he’d made a stink about it, so he was given Inka too. (I don’t know if I have the facts right; this is how I perceived the situation at that time.) So I regained a bit of healthy cynicism.

    On The Farm, we were taught to question authority, and not to believe something just because someone said it was true. But many of us ignored that teaching anyway. Maybe it is something fundamental to human nature, as Brad suggests, to want our teachers to be infallible superbeings.

    After all, if Zen teachers are just like us, what the heck can they teach us?

  21. Dan
    Dan June 17, 2014 at 10:06 am |

    This is your clearest writing on this subject, Brad. Thank you!

  22. woken
    woken June 17, 2014 at 2:10 pm |

    “After all, if Zen teachers are just like us, what the heck can they teach us?”

    A great question. In fairness to most Buddhist organisations, they probably don’t have a great deal to pick from when t comes to promoting teachers. And if they want to make their organisation grow (and make money) they have to be setting up teachers and branches at fairly regular intervals. Basically the pool is not great and teachers are ordained far too quickly. Formal eastern traditions simply can’t survive in the modern . Increasingly, they’re getting knocked out in the east too.

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 17, 2014 at 4:22 pm |

    All my ancient twisted karma,
    From beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
    Borne through body, speech and mind,
    I now fully avow.


  24. jiesen
    jiesen June 18, 2014 at 8:58 pm |

    sorry. i was being troll. (man, i just learnt the def of troll l0l! i am so behind the times l0l!)
    (“Def Le Troll.” That would be an awesome name for a Def Leopard tribute band!)

  25. jiesen
    jiesen June 18, 2014 at 9:08 pm |

    YES! @Hungarian like a Ghost! Why? That’s what I want to know!
    Off the top of my head, I think it is…a)Because they don’t meditate as much anymore. And b) Because douche bag is Relative to the Absolute of Buddha.

    Buddha is the Absolute. Buddha is the Relative. DiBuddhachotomy.

    But then, can you have the Absolute without the Relative? Or would be like a sexless relationship?

    Pls note. Within Dichotomy. There is a Dich. Don’t be a dichotomy l0l!

  26. jiesen
    jiesen June 18, 2014 at 9:13 pm |

    Kwam Um sounds rad. But that famous american-korean Kwamist, who Um’ed a few of his fem’s…when I hear that, I just back away. Unless it is a mod Soto Zen Um’ist. Then it’s acceptable to have a meaningful long term relationship with a student. Wait, am I being a dichotomy?

  27. jiesen
    jiesen June 18, 2014 at 9:16 pm |

    @BradDaddy…yeah…I never thought of that. I’m guilty of that too. Look for someone to play Daddy. huh. Interesting.

  28. jiesen
    jiesen June 18, 2014 at 9:35 pm |

    @Woken….How can Buddhism be “knocked out?” If a person(s) want to practice! What relationship does that have to do with money? Or even establishment? Establishment is just a vice in my opinion. De-establishment…now that is the bomb!!! And why would a Buddhist organization want to make money? How does “making money” and growth of a Buddhist/Buddhism equate? If money is the obstacle of Buddhism, how can that be Buddhism? How does death of Buddhism equate with money? How does “tradition” (ie traditional Buddhism, whatever that is) suffer and die, due to finances?
    I like the moniker of “Hardcore Zen.” So, where is the “Hardcore Zen” in that?
    Even if the “establishment died”, what about lay-people practice?
    Perhaps in the lack of finances, Buddhism flourishes greatly? (Mind you, this is not jab at monastics working via a donation basis.)
    I think you could make an analogy of Soto Zen. Traditional monasticism dying, verse mod Soto Zen lay-monasticism flourishing today. N’est pas?

  29. jiesen
    jiesen June 19, 2014 at 1:43 am |

    Nirvana is not the ultimate enlightenment. The ceasing of stupidity is.

  30. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 19, 2014 at 3:53 am |

    True dat.

    But ‘stupidity’ or ‘not knowing’?

  31. AnneMH
    AnneMH June 19, 2014 at 5:53 am |

    This is very important to keep coming back to, and Brad you have always been so clear on the topic in my opinion. One of the clearest voices on the dynamics of teachers and students and the awareness of what can happen badly. I think I can hear what can happen great when you talk about your own teachers but that may be a good thing to speak about. What does it look like when it is going well. I read a list of signs of spiritual maturity that I liked a lot, one factor was ordinariness. The teachers we have that are great are pretty ordinary in many ways. So that does bring up the point of why have teachers? Precisely to model that we do not need to wear funky robes or quit our job to be a counselor or yoga teacher or eat only vegan-macro-seaweed to do this. Plus every time I start thinking I know some of this I listen to a teacher who has devoted their lives to learning it a lot more than intellectually and I am blown away by the depth of what there is to learn.

    So the teacher thing, I really believe that people bring their own stuff heavily to a teacher. There are a group of us in my area who are peer facilitating our group because we only get a visiting teacher 1-2 times a month when she is not on retreat. We all have decent experience, are pretty stable people, open to things from the group and not ever holding ourselves out to be teachers. Still I am very grateful there are 4 of us who are working together and talking through how to manage conversations and keep the group on track and emotionally safe ( a lot of people come pretty vulnerable ). We have one group member who is spinning her stuff out on all of us, there is a sense that we don’t want to cause her more pain but she is difficult. What she is bringing up is a lot of projection, some valid questions but also making the group on edge of being unsafe for people who are really vulnerable.

    I will be honest. There has been a temptation to believe I know more than I do, to pump myself up emotionally in this role, to maybe twist a little into a role that got more gushy praise. My last talk I led was interesting because I talked about superstition on Friday the 13th and how we can get pretty superstitious about what we think our practice should be. I didn’t have any answers though, only questions, and I felt the pull from some new people to give them an answer instead of some ways to evaluate their practice and some places to study. So this conversation is really important to keep having.

  32. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 1:14 pm |

    “Nirvana is not the ultimate enlightenment. The ceasing of stupidity is.” — Jiesen

    “True dat. But ‘stupidity’ or ‘not knowing’?” — The Idiot

    I confess, I look forward to “not knowing”.

    “So the teacher thing, I really believe that people bring their own stuff heavily to a teacher. ”

    Some stuff from Jack Kornfield (here):

    Some people have come to meditation after working with traditional psychotherapy. Although they found therapy to be of value, its limitations led them to seek a spiritual practice. For me it was the opposite. While I benefited enormously from the training offered in the Thai and Burmese monasteries where I practised, I noticed two striking things. First, there were major areas of difficulty in my life, such as loneliness, intimate relationships, work, childhood wounds, and patterns of fear, that even very deep meditation didn’t touch. Second, among the several dozen Western monks (and lots of Asian meditators) I met during my time in Asia, with a few notable exceptions, most were not helped by meditation in big areas of their lives. Many were deeply wounded, neurotic, frightened, grieving, and often used spiritual practice to hide and avoid problematic parts of themselves.

    When I returned to the West to study clinical psychology and then began to teach meditation, I observed a similar phenomenon. At least half the students who came to three-month retreats couldn’t do the simple “bare attention” practices because they were holding a great deal of unresolved grief, fear, woundedness, and unfinished business from the past. I also had an opportunity to observe the most successful group of meditators – including experienced students of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism – who had developed strong samadhi and deep insight into impermanence and selflessness. Even after many intensive retreats, most of the meditators continued to experience great difficulties and significant areas of attachment and unconsciousness in their lives, including fear, difficulty with work, relationships wounds, and closed hearts. They kept asking how to live the Dharma and kept returning to meditation retreats looking for help and healing. But the sitting practice itself, with its emphasis on concentration and detachment, often provided a way to hide, a way to actually separate the mind from difficult areas of heart and body.”

    I continue to believe that the fundamental difficulty in Buddhist teaching is that a method of approach is traditional, and one is generally offered (although they vary wildly), and yet there are very few who actually practice as they teach. Many excuses can be and are made for this, usually the distinction of a beginner’s path as opposed to an adept’s.

    Gautama stated a practice which he said was his own before enlightenment and which he said was the Tathagatha’s way of life (speaking of himself in the third person, there). The only difficulty in the practice he stated is that I believe the second instruction already requires the induction of a state of trance, and the induction of trance in my experience is never quite the same twice and can’t really be done through the exercise of volition.

    The emphasis on Zen as an everyday practice fools everyone into thinking that trance is not a part of everyday practice, but I believe it is a part of everyday practice as much as trance is a part of everyday life (see Milton Erickson).

    I still don’t comprehend the long or short of in-breath or out-breath, but in his refutation of Gautama’s teaching Dogen’s teacher did offer that the in-breath comes from nowhere to tan-tien, and the out-breath leaves the tan-tien to nowhere; because the sense of location can be experienced as centered in the lower abdomen with the everyday trance occasioned by relaxation in the movement of breath, Rujing’s description does match my practice a lot. It’s still relaxation and the relinquishment of volition in the activity of body and mind when you get right down to it, though.

  33. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 1:18 pm |

    (speaking of himself in the third person, there, so after enlightenment)

  34. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm |

    “…the in-breath comes from nowhere to tan-tien, and the out-breath leaves the tan-tien to nowhere…”

    This is tantamount to the content of a zikr taught to me by my Sufi teacher, ie; the sum of the Totality.

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm |

    only zikr I’ve done is bowing left, straightening the back and bending the knees, bowing right, straightening the back and bending the knees, while chanting (the name of the divine in one form or another)- like the outside circle here:


  36. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm |

    ok, so my question is: what was the posture, what the gesture or movement, if any? Rujing was noted for spending a lot of time in zazen, and you know me, John– always harping on the heart-mind:

    “To unfurl the red flag of victory over your head, whirl the twin swords behind your ears– if not for a discriminating eye and a familiar hand, how could anyone be able to succeed?’


  37. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 19, 2014 at 6:48 pm |


    Posture was/is grueling, I can’t remember what its called in Zen anymore, where you sit with legs folded under you, knees together out front, your butt on your heels. You do this for maybe an hour, hour and a half to two hours. It kills. You can also sit 1/2 lotus, or in a chair (if you’re a pussy, just kidding!!).

    Gesture was important: right hand on left thigh, left hand grasping right wrist. This symbolized the Arabic letter for “La” meaning “negation,” or “nothingness.” The idea was for your Self to move out of the way for the Big _______ (Fred supply the requisite superlative here, even though, I must remind, again, of course, words cannot express “IT” -not even “IT” lol).

    But as far as the zikr goes, it is something carried on each breath no matter what you are doing, meditating in posture/gesture, or no.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles June 19, 2014 at 6:51 pm |

      “I can’t remember what its called in Zen anymore,” Sieza? Something like that?

  38. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 7:58 pm |

    Seiza, yes. I know you’ve heard me recall Kobun saying he could sit the lotus without pain (after 21 days of sesshin, he said this), but not seiza. And Japanese Zen uses seiza for ceremonies, chanting, and I believe meals (no wonder they eat so fast in the zendo!). Hours of seiza. Demian Kwong reported hours of it as he transcribed the chants used in ceremonies at Eiheiji.

    “But as far as the zikr goes, it is something carried on each breath no matter what you are doing, meditating in posture/gesture, or no.”

    Comes back to that, in those spirals Kornfeld talked about. Can’t unfold it, but when it unfolds, somehow the breath is in it. Intimately. Writing on Tao Bums this evening, offering up Jack Kornfeld as a counterbalance to talk of adepts:

    “Not saying there isn’t gnosis and freedom, as it were, just saying not knowing and being is without trace.”

    I know, very zen… zzz

  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 19, 2014 at 7:59 pm |

    Demain reported hours of it on a wood floor.

  40. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 20, 2014 at 8:46 am |

    That’s me, after I had quoted the passage from Jack Kornfeld, about “not knowing and being” (not Jack).

    1. Fred
      Fred June 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm |

      “The idea was for your Self to move out of the way for the Big _______ (Fred supply the requisite superlative here, even though, I must remind, again, of course, words cannot express “IT” -not even “IT” lol).”

      The Big Kahuna.

      1. Fred
        Fred June 20, 2014 at 3:25 pm |

        The Big Kahuna is surfing the breakers of the Void.

        1. Fred
          Fred June 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm |

          The body-mind swims in the trance of conditioning, thinking the slot it finds
          itself in to be real.

          Dropping the body-mind is dropping out of the trance continuum.

          No self upon the Absolute, awakened, sees all that is without the self.

          No self; no trance. Although psychotherapists would like to describe it otherwise.

          1. Fred
            Fred June 20, 2014 at 3:37 pm |

            “not knowing and being”

            Not knowing and just being.

  41. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 21, 2014 at 8:16 am |

    Got a match?

  42. The Idiot
    The Idiot June 21, 2014 at 8:22 am |

    to ignite the fart?

  43. otaku00
    otaku00 August 7, 2014 at 3:49 am |

    “Every Soto Zen teacher (…) and none I know has ever demanded surrender.”

    That was different with me. But it went two ways. The teacher said: “Master and disciple are willing to die for each other.” This is an adequate view, if you go for a more traditional zen.

    The journalist Oppenheimer did almost the same thing with Sasaki. He is also involved in what I call the “helping industry”. For someone who understands German, a lot of the Shimano-Archive’s testimonies were analysed, rather psychologically, in a blog which came to the conclusion that a lot of the accusers are mentally and emotionally imbalanced and cannot be trusted: http://der-asso-blog.blogspot.com/search?q=eido+shimano

    (This blog has on the other hand helped to get a detention order for a fake Vietnamese zen abbot and abuser in Germany.)

    Oppenheimer also left out some of Shimano’s important own explanations of the events and his remorse – but it is documented in the Archive.

    The astonishing thing is that when one watches Shimano’s recent teisho (http://vimeo.com/67508512) on the web, he seems to be almost unaffected by the whole thing. I would suggest to get one of his books (like “Golden Wind: Zen Talks”) to picture him as a teacher and not only a molester.

    It is important to notice that Shimano became the subject of a smear campaign in a newspaper called no less then The New York Times although there is and was no trial pending due to his sexlife. This goes against the ethical code of discerning journalism. The zen community has again beaten itself with what it supposes to be a “higher moral” (than common law).

    Two words about the Rinzai tradition: Everybody may have heard about harsh beatings in traditional monasteries, and there are said to have been deaths occuring (we even find this documented in koan). Those times may be over, if simply for legal reasons, but disciples were willing to do a lot to go through this zen school.

    The other thing: Rinzai in Japan is, in my opinion, surely hiding something. They (Myoshinji) have repeatedly distanced themselves from teachers only AFTER scandals became public.

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