The Scarlet Letter “Z” for “Zen”

Ryushin Sensei

Ryushin Sensei

I find it odd that I am sitting here at my kitchen table on a sunny Wednesday morning in Los Angeles working very hard to compose a response to something that, to me, hardly even merits a casual glance.

A guy who calls himself Ryushin Sensei has stepped down as abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery because he was having an extra-marital affair. The news is on the Lion’s Roar website if you want to read it. My initial response to this story, when people started forwarding it to me on Facebook and what-not was, fine, whatever. I don’t know this Ryushin Sensei fellow or his wife and I don’t know whoever he was having an affair with. I’m not part of their sangha. It’s really none of my business.

Then I started seeing this news get shared and commented on and shared again and commented on some more… That’s when I started trying to figure out if I could understand what the fuss was about.

We have a statement by someone who calls him or herself Shugen Sensei, who carries the title “head of the Mountains and Rivers Order” who says, “Ryushin’s infidelity — his betrayal of… his intimate partner, and thus his marriage and monastic vows — is a most serious breach for a person in a position of spiritual and ethical authority and leadership.”

And we have a statement by Ryushin Sensei in which he says, “Over the last six months, I formed an intimate relationship with someone outside our sangha, betraying Hojin [Ryushin Sensei’s partner], not being honest and forthright with her, and breaking our spiritual union vows and ending our marriage… These actions are also a betrayal of your trust in me.”

Maybe I’m the weirdo here. Maybe I’m just wired differently from nearly everybody else. I will accept that as a possibility.

Yet I am not  certain I can understand what a “position of spiritual and ethical authority and leadership” actually is. Why is it we need to be lead by people in positions of authority when it comes to spirituality and ethics? Why is this stated in such a way that it appears to be beyond questioning?

I’ll see if I can explain a little of my own reaction. To pick just one item, even in spite of Ryushin’s comments, I don’t see any reason to be completely certain this wasn’t a case in which he and his partner had an open relationship which was discovered by the members of the community and found to be unacceptable to them. It would not be the first time someone has lied about the nature of their sexual relationships in order to save the myth of the heteronormative monogamy. For that reason among many others, I don’t feel any need to rush to conclusions.

I do see a few things going on here that I’m not sure too many others are seeing. For one thing, demanding Ryushin Sensei to step down from his position is a very Christian and very American response. It is impossible for me to imagine a married Japanese temple abbot being asked to step down from his post following the discovery of an extra-marital affair.

I am not saying the Japanese are right and the Americans are wrong. But to me, it’s sort of like when there was all that furor over Bill Clinton getting a blow job from his intern. Everyone in the United States was ripping their own hair out. I was in Japan when that was going on and my friends over there found the American reaction mostly weird and funny. Like that, this is also a culturally based reaction. I think it’s useful to understand that.

I get that it’s probably best for Mr. Ryushin to step down from his post. It’s probably even best for this Shugen person to demand he do that. However, this is not because of some Universal Truth out there somewhere in the vastness of space that says that someone who commits adultery cannot be trusted to teach people how to sit and stare at walls or to handle the administrative duties necessary to keep a Zen center running. Nor is it best because someone who has committed adultery can never counsel people about the difficulties that occur in their practice. That would be absurd.

It’s best because so many people are freaking the fuck out and it’s good to try to get people to stop freaking the fuck out – although clearly people are still freaking the fuck out anyway. Personally, if you want me to freak out over something, you’re gonna have to give me a more compelling reason than this.

If I had found out one of my teachers had had an extra-marital affair I can’t imagine it would bother me even a tenth as much as this news seems to be bothering people who didn’t even know anyone involved. It would be like finding out my guitar teacher had an affair. Fine. Now show me how to do that thing Jimi Hendrix does with the wah-wah pedal in the middle of Voodoo Child (Slight Return). It’s difficult for me to see the relevance.

I guess maybe the problem is ethics. A Zen teacher is supposed to be someone who has taken a vow to uphold a certain ethical code. This same set of vows is generally also taken by that teacher’s students as well. In fact, it is a common practice at Zen temples for everyone to gather once a month and publicly re-take those vows as a group – teachers and students all chant them in unison.

My best guess is that people are looking for someone to follow. They want to be lead. They want to be sheep following a shepherd, just like it says in the New Testament. A shepherd leadeth his sheep to lie down in green pastures. He scares away the wolves. He shows the sheep where the food and the water is and keeps them from going into dangerous places.

More importantly, the shepherd is a different kind of animal from the sheep. You wouldn’t want a fellow sheep to be your shepherd. And we certainly don’t want to have to be our own shepherds!

Perhaps my difficulty is that I have never seen things this way. I never saw my Zen teachers as shepherds whose duty it was to provide an example of moral perfection and to protect me from harm. I always saw them as fellow travelers on what was a difficult and dangerous journey. I figured they had just a little bit more understanding of the terrain than I did. But I never demanded that they be free of error or unable to make mistakes. Expecting anyone to be like that would be to believe in a kind of person that clearly does not exist. It would be stupid.

I get that a teacher is different from a student. But I tend to look at this from the literal meaning of that much beloved Japanese word sensei. The two Chinese characters used to spell that word are 先生. The character å…ˆ means “previous” or “before.” The character ç”Ÿ means “born” or “alive.” A sensei is not a different sort of creature from you, she is a creature like you who has had more experience at whatever it is you’re trying to learn from her.

If you want to get your undergarments in a knot about things like this story, there’s not much I can do to stop you. I just thought I’d take a moment to express that there may be a different way to respond.


Someone sent me a link to the article upon which the Lion’s Roar pieced was based. It is here. Interestingly, there’s a lot in the original article about Ryushin Sensei’s introduction of shamanic practice and philosophy into his Zen activities and all the confusion and objections that brought about. Lion’s Roar completely omitted this aspect as if it was entirely irrelevant. Fascinating.

*   *   *

Every Monday at 8pm I lead zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. All are welcome!

Every Saturday at 9:30 am I lead zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. All are welcome!

Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website,

*   *   *

This blog is supported by your kind donations. Every little bit helps. Thank you!




179 Responses

Page 1 of 2
  1. Shodo
    Shodo January 28, 2015 at 12:12 pm |
    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 28, 2015 at 12:34 pm |


  2. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer January 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm |

    Depending on how I choose to look at this news it either makes a lot of sense or no sense whatsoever.

    One of the most persistent illusions that I have about zen practice is that it is somehow going to make me a better person. I think this is a fairly common hope that people bring to practice.

    If this is true, then when we see a teacher who puts themselves in an ethically challenging situation, we naturally start to wonder what’s the point of practice. Isn’t is supposed to turn me into shiny perfect person? Why didn’t it work for my all wise teacher?

    In this particular case I’d agree with the view that whatever happened is an issue between the teacher, his wife and the third party. It has no bearing on what is happening between the teacher and his students.

    I also believe that this is a very idealistic viewpoint.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair number of the sangha members are pretty disturbed by the news of their teachers affair. The question is, do you do more damage by staying as the teacher or by leaving?

    It’s pretty much an unanswerable question so I can’t criticize a decision either way. I am sorry that the Zen Mountain Monastery is being put through this particular grinder and wish them the best of luck (and skill).


    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 28, 2015 at 12:35 pm |


  3. mtto
    mtto January 28, 2015 at 1:25 pm |

    “To pick just one item, even in spite of Ryushin’s comments, I don’t see any reason to be completely certain this wasn’t a case in which he and his partner had an open relationship which was discovered by the members of the community and found to be unacceptable to them. It would not be the first time someone has lied about the nature of their sexual relationships in order to save the myth of the heteronormative monogamy. For that reason among many others, I don’t feel any need to rush to conclusions.”

  4. mtto
    mtto January 28, 2015 at 1:32 pm |

    Other than the conspiracy theory, interesting points.

    This particular situation is a violation of the precept not to misuse sexuality. What if he’d robbed a 7-11? Or killed someone? Or lied? Or gotten WASTED?

    If you cheat on your spouse, you should probably move out. If you live together in a monastery, that means moving out of the monastery.

  5. Michel
    Michel January 28, 2015 at 1:34 pm |

    As I said elsewhere, it sometimes seems to me that, for Americans, the 5th Xtian comandment is “Thou shalt not fuck”. Most of the time, for any non-American, looking at films and tele, murder and gore seems much more acceptable than sex.

    From a french point of view, anyway, sex is not really anything to write home about. Murder is unacceptable…

    But, anyway…

  6. Shodo
    Shodo January 28, 2015 at 1:43 pm |

    I think the most frustrating thing about Brad’s essay is just the incredible, unapologetic ignorance that he forms his opinions on… He doesn’t know the place, or what it’s about, or the importance of Vow, and precepts to a group of people who actually ARE monks… Not just own the robes.

    It’s all from Brad’s point of view of someone who comes from a tradition that is VERY different… Without any understanding of the thing he is writing about.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 28, 2015 at 1:49 pm |

      (╯°â–¡°ï¼‰â•¯ï¸µ ┻━┻

  7. Harlan
    Harlan January 28, 2015 at 2:06 pm |

    Brad, I don’t get your “the myth of the heteronormative monogamy” talk along with your occasional “the one great love of my life” talk. The two just don’t seem to go together. Of course I don’t get your god talk either so it’s probably me..

    But I think this idea of romantic love is the great cultural myth that some people can’t seem to shake. If marriage wasn’t built around that myth it might be a much
    healthier institution. Two adults living together with eyes wide open.. That shit ain’t easy.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 28, 2015 at 2:14 pm |

      “It seems there were also a lot of questions about Ryushin’s involvement in shamanic practices and confusion among the group when he would try to mix those with Zen.”

      Ah ha, a heretic. Burn him at the stake.

    2. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu January 28, 2015 at 2:44 pm |

      The Love-of-your-life thing and the open marriage/sex with different people aren’t mutually exclusive.

  8. buzzard3000
    buzzard3000 January 28, 2015 at 2:18 pm |

    The bigger problem was his unauthorized absences from the Monastery to delve into Peruvian Shamanic practices which are certainly not Zen. Even neophytes could see him straying from the path and as the person basically in charge of what has become over many years a pretty big operation with a bunch of fiduciary obligations no way he could remain as Abbot. I wish him well hope he finds his true path but that stuff is not Zen. Nor Buddhism.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 28, 2015 at 2:38 pm |

      Peru + Shaman = Ayahuasca

      1. Shodo
        Shodo January 28, 2015 at 2:53 pm |


  9. Fred
    Fred January 28, 2015 at 2:29 pm |

    “Ryushin came to the dharma through Vipassana meditation, eventually shifting to Zen practice and taking Daido Roshi as his teacher. Prior to ordination, Ryushin was a pediatrician and a psychiatrist”

    I guess that he could go back to his old gig.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 28, 2015 at 2:44 pm |

      From psychiatry to mindfulness to zen to shamanism. Something was calling him, and I’ll bet the 6 months of sex in a new relationship was part of it.


      “The shaman may have or acquire many spirit guides, who often guide and direct the shaman in his/her travels in the spirit world. These spirit guides are always present within the shaman though others only encounter them when the shaman is in a trance. The spirit guide energizes the shaman, enabling him/her to enter the spiritual dimension. The shaman heals within the spiritual dimension by returning ‘lost’ parts of the human soul from wherever they have gone.”

  10. leoboiko
    leoboiko January 28, 2015 at 2:38 pm |

    For the record, I’m someone in a 14-year relationship which has been open for the last 8. Though we’re quite happy this way, we have more than once lied about being heterosexual monogamists. It’s mind-boggingly, but it’s easier for our grandmas to think that I have the occasional affair, than to understand that my wife is cool with it and a personal friend of my other significant others.

    I think it would be best, for social progress, to be open about everything and try to expand people’s minds. But sometimes swimming against the current is just too hard, and sometimes we keep our relationship choices private just because it hurts less people.

    I don’t think Mr Ryushin seems like a poly person, though. If we were outed like that, we’d take up the opportunity to speak for the value of open relationships.

    As for the argument… I agree with Brad’s position: that sexual infidelity, while unethical, doesn’t necessarily mean one’s a bad teacher; and that, in general, we should be our own moral compasses, not to expect teachers to serve as living ideals. However, I’m not very sure that blogging about it will do any good, to Ryushin or Brad or anyone else. That is, I’m not sure that the Internet needs even more discussions about this incident. We, people who agree with Brad, are the choir; we gain nothing by being preached to. And those people who disagree are not likely to change their minds after reading this post; they’ll just think it’s apology for unethical sexual behavior, and that will only reinforce their indignation.

  11. Yoshiyahu
    Yoshiyahu January 28, 2015 at 2:41 pm |

    I know it’s unfair and irrational, but it makes sense to me that these people are in Maezumi Roshi’s lineage.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 28, 2015 at 3:12 pm |

      ” To them it is a medicine that has been used by the tribes of the Amazon Basin for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, demanding respect and right intention. The main chemical in the brew, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), accounts for ayahuasca’s illegality in the United States; DMT, though chemically distant from LSD, has hallucinogenic properties. But it is ayahuasca’s many plant ingredients cooperating ingeniously to allow DMT to circulate freely in the body that produce the unique ayahuasca experience. “

  12. waterflowsdownhill
    waterflowsdownhill January 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm |

    ZMM is a religious institution. Religions sets their own moral and ethical code, which doesn’t really hold up to any rational analysis from the outside; they are community standards. Frankly, I’ve never seen a moral code from a religion really make any sense. So, if this is their reaction, it literally makes no sense at all to analyse it from an outside point of view. Of course it makes no sense.

    1. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 2:55 pm |

      This is a good point.

  13. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 3:10 pm |

    Brad’s basic point about the sheeple wanting perfect spiritual and ethical leaders, and how that’s stupid, is a good one. Like him, I am not at all interested in controlling the sexual behaviour of consenting adults… that would be a waste of time and energy.

    But this situation seems to have been handled with grace and dignity by all involved. If your marital home is a monastery [the concept of being both a live-in zen monastic and married at the same time baffles me], and you have an affair and then divorce, you should leave. It’s just common sense – don’t hurt the partner who didn’t break whatever vows were agreed even more. Brad may be big into pansexual polyamory, but not everyone is. People are allowed to get married, and jointly set whatever other weird rules and precepts they want to live by – and have other agreed rules for what to do if those rules get broken. They can be as hetero-normatively monogamous as they like in the confines of their own zen ranch. Heck, they can even choose to elect one of their number as a living buddha statue, and crack him open like a pinata as soon as he has sex – as long as they all agree on it. I have no right to interfere in the buddho-masochistic lifestyle of others.

    What Brad has missed in all of this is that the guy Ryushin got fired from his job as abbot not because of adultery, but for something much, much worse: Shamanism! :-O … it seems that he had started studying shamanic traditions, and making it the subject of his teaching. And so it’s perfectly natural that he got the boot. If an academic in the physics department spends all his time lecturing on the Kardashians: sack him! If the Pope comes out on the balcony wearing a gimp mask: sack him! Shamanism is an interesting topic – but if I shave my head and join a Zen Temple, I want to learn zen, not shamanism. So, obviously, fire him!

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm |

      OK, about five other people had made all the points I wanted to, in the time it took me to write the comment. I give up. Argue amongst yourselves… I’m going to stare at the wall for a bit.

    2. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 3:49 pm |

      “What Brad has missed in all of this is that the guy Ryushin got fired from his job as abbot not because of adultery, but for something much, much worse: Shamanism! ”

      I agree with a lot of what you said except for the above.
      His Affair had just as much to do with his leaving as the Shamanism… In fact, you would probably see the exact same result if the affair had been the only thing that had happened.

      It is a breaking of his monastic vows, his marriage vows and the Doshinji Code. He would have been asked to leave.

      1. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 4:17 pm |

        Sorry, should have written: “not JUST because of adultery”. Also, I should have said that I wish him all the best for the future. He has every right to pursue an interest in whatever tradition he thinks might be good for him, or make him more able to help others. And every right to change his relationship partner(s). … but of course that’s not compatible with his former position, and the rules he’d signed up to.

      2. Fred
        Fred January 28, 2015 at 4:40 pm |

        Ryushin Sensei
        “On leave”

        “It is a breaking of his monastic vows, his marriage vows and the Doshinji Code. He would have been asked to leave.”

        So if you are a Buddhist Abbot, you are obligated to spend your entire life
        in a marriage to the same person?

        His wife was there since 1990, and well integrated within the group. How
        should he have gone about leaving his marriage?

        1. Shodo
          Shodo January 28, 2015 at 4:49 pm |

          I’m not sure what your question is Fred.

          im sure marriages have been dissolved without one partner cheating on the other.

          1. Fred
            Fred January 28, 2015 at 5:01 pm |

            Sometimes two people live together, but there is nothing there anymore. Yet they continue on, or one continues on out of inertia. There isn’t enough free energy available to break the bond.

            Then someone new comes along and there is energy there to
            end it.

            But at the same time, the organizational group dynamics act as a damper.

            Where is the way out?

          2. Shodo
            Shodo January 28, 2015 at 5:26 pm |

            “where is the way out?”

            What is so hard about being forthright and honest?
            Sure the truth is difficult, and people will be hurt when a relationship ends… But there was a way to do it that was in line with Ryushin’s vows, and then there was the way he did it.

  14. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon January 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm |

    Buddhism + Shamanism = Vajrayana

  15. Justlikethis
    Justlikethis January 28, 2015 at 5:20 pm |

    I guess my thoughts on all of above is simply.


    If we hide our actions from ‘others’ it seems to me to be less than wholesome, not sure leaders of any kind can sustain respect of those they are leading!

    Then they can be damaging to the intentions of the community they ‘claim’ to serve!

    1. Fred
      Fred January 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm |

      “If we hide our actions from ‘others’ it seems to me to be less than wholesome, not sure leaders of any kind can sustain respect of those they are leading! ”

      Read his words. Where was he leading you to? To a place that has nothing to do
      with relationships, marriage, attachment to form, hierarchy of personalities, etc.

      Respect was not necessary.

  16. The Gospel of Guan Yin
    The Gospel of Guan Yin January 28, 2015 at 5:45 pm |

    A terrorist who was guilty of planning several attacks which had taken the lives of many people in a certain country was finally captured after years of hiding. The terrorist was put on trial and, to no one’s surprise, was found guilty. The court sentenced him to death.

    The terrorist eventually felt remorse about his wicked deeds. On the day of his execution, he requested to meet Guan Yin. The prison authorities granted the request and Guan Yin was allowed to enter the maximum security prison to visit the terrorist.

    The terrorist said to Guan Yin: “I repent.” Guan Yin blessed him and said some comforting words to him. The terrorist was executed soon after that.

    As Guan Yin was leaving the prison, a journalist who was covering the execution of the terrorist asked the Bodhisattva: “What did you say to the terrorist when he said that he had repented?”

    Guan Yin said to the journalist: “I told him: ‘There is a place in the Pure Land for you.’”

    The journalist was outraged: “What? This man is thoroughly wicked. He has killed so many innocent people. How is it that he will be reborn in the Pure Land?”

    Guan Yin said to the prison director: “The Pure Land was created for people just like him. If he cannot go to the Pure Land, who can?”

  17. minkfoot
    minkfoot January 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm |

    I have three points, and hope I don’t think of more before I finish this comment.

    1) The monastics at ZMM live under a Rule. That’s what makes them monastics. Unlike most Buddhist monastics, they are not celibate. I believe Daido-roshi felt it was an unnecessary hardship to impose sexual abstinence on practitioners, but, at the same time, one-night stands, frivolous flings, and multiple partners were unnecessary distractions. So he made it a rule that monastics (and non-vowed residents, too, I think) could have only one partner at a time.
    The people in the monastery all consent to live under this rule, and it includes the abbot. So, it was not really about adultery, or a moral judgment, but about breaking the monastic agreement.
    I think Shodo can correct any inaccuracy it this.

    2) “Heteronormative”? I have seen nothing by you to indicate you’re bi. Do you mean “mononormative”?
    Poly people have an orientation connected to a mindset that is incomprehensible to most mononormative and polygamous (people who would like to have multiple partners who are all exclusive to themselves) people. Say there is a soap opera with the following dialogue:
    John: I have fallen in love with Cynthia!
    Mary: Then . . . that means you’ll be leaving me!
    Poly Person: It does!?
    People tend to make assumptions based on their own biases, and believe everyone else feels the same as they do . . . except for willful perverts, of course.
    The poly mindset is not so much about having multiple partners, as being able to enjoy your partner’s pleasure with other people. Can you wrap your head around that?
    Making moral judgments about polyamory or cisheteromonowhatever is a bad idea if you’re outside that orientation, because you simply do not know the other person’s mindset on the inside.
    Moral considerations in sexuality come from culturally relative customs and more basic, real morality. Just going contrary to generally acceptable social conventions is not terribly immoral, imo; the real immorality is in causing harm, lying, stealing affection, inciting strife, breaking promises . . . all covered already by other precepts, but sex is such a strong drive, Buddha felt like reinforcing “sexual morality” with its own major precept, albeit without defining it for laity very much.

    3) I dispute that shamanism is incompatible with Zen or Buddhism, in general. It is experiential rather than doctrinal. Walking in either far enough, the landscape begins to look very much familiar. The pitfalls in either can get you stuck, thinking you’ve gone all the way when you’ve barely started.
    Ryushin has stated he taught undigested shamanism with Zen. Combining traditions is fraught with danger, anyway, as you’re dealing with things that took many generations to develop. It may be that his exploration with radically different methods opened unsuspected doors. Takes some time to get settled again, sometimes.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm |

      “People tend to make assumptions based on their own biases, and believe everyone else feels the same as they do . . . except for willful perverts, of course.”

      1. Fred
        Fred January 28, 2015 at 6:22 pm |

        I suppose that if you need DMT to dissolve the illusion of self, you might have
        some work to do.

      2. Shinchan Ohara
        Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 10:31 pm |

        “People tend to make assumptions based on their own biases, and believe everyone else feels the same as they do . . . except for willful perverts, of course.”

        Nah, as a willful pervert, I can assure you that all my assumptions are based on my own biases, and everyone else feels the same way I do (or they should)

    2. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 6:06 pm |

      Yes minkfoot, you are essentially right.
      Well said.

  18. fregas
    fregas January 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm |

    so a couple of things here.

    I definitely think that we are Christianizing Zen when people have a huge fuss over infidelity or other consensual sexual indiscretions. I have to say that if my teacher cheated on his wife (who is also a teacher) I would be disappointed, but it wouldn’t mean to me that he was a failure as a teacher. Still, adultery is very much a suffering inflicting behavior.

    I also don’t get the issue with the Shamanic stuff. I mean, maybe he shouldn’t confuse people by incorporating them into zen, but I don’t see any issue with him looking into it. I don’t personally have any interest in shamanism, so i don’t have a horse in that race, but I think many practitioners mistakenly think of Zen as the One True Way(TM).

  19. Shodo
    Shodo January 28, 2015 at 6:07 pm |

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

    1. Shodo
      Shodo January 28, 2015 at 7:22 pm |

      Brad, I was pissed off earlier. Please listen to the link at least once.
      It is my hope that you may think differently about some of your assumptions you take and the conclusions you draw about ZMM.

      This is a very raw thing for me to deal with.
      This is happening to a place that I call my home, with people who I consider my family, and all of them are my friends. Ryushin is more than my teacher, he is my friend. I’ve known him for over 23 years, since when he wore grey robes and had hair… and I was only a kid… Same with Hojin and Shugen.

      Brad said:
      “I do see a few things going on here that I’m not sure too many others are seeing. For one thing, demanding Ryushin Sensei to step down from his position is a very Christian and very American response. It is impossible for me to imagine a married Japanese temple abbot being asked to step down from his post following the discovery of an extra-marital affair.”

      The monks at ZMM have more in common with Christians monastics as far as than they have with Japanese “monks”… this is a vocation for them, and as minkfoot said, they have rules that everyone in the community is held to, even the abbots.

  20. waterflowsdownhill
    waterflowsdownhill January 28, 2015 at 6:58 pm |

    My own personal, anecdotal reaction is just that, so it doesn’t necessarily extend much beyond me. But I’ve spent several extended retreats at ZMM with Shugen Sensei, Ryushin, and Daido Loori as well. I find the place so intensely regimented and without humor about its rules that, despite it being a very convenient and accessible place for me to do retreats, I can never quite bring myself to go back. I have found that at other Zen centers too. Brad makes this point, about people needing shepherds, which is what makes the issue of ethics so central. These teachers are then construed to be “more than” me. I’ve practiced daily for a decade, but can’t seem to find my way around this issue at Zen centers. Weirdly, having also done retreats at Catholic monasteries (only men, of course!), I tend to find them more relaxed about their own up-tightness.

    As for shamanic practices mixing with Zen and South American drugs, don’t tell me that whoever wrote the Diamond Sutra wasn’t mixing it up with something. 🙂

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot January 28, 2015 at 7:21 pm |

      Occasionally people have complained about some of the rules at the retreat center I’m most familiar with. The center takes silence seriously, for example. People that come there who are used to other places are sometimes surprised, sometimes shocked to the point they run away. But experience shows that you can’t build up a good head of steam if you engage in social interaction even just a few times a day.

      The one 3-day I did at ZMM seemed like pretty standard fare, though the liturgy was pretty ornate and impressive – it helps to have lots of people familiar with the routines to put on a good show!

      I did rather get harshly whispered at, when I asked for the stick at a regular Sunday morning sit, for not taking off my rakusu for the hitting 😬

  21. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid January 28, 2015 at 7:13 pm |

    Personally I think either monogamy or celibacy works for Zen or Ch’an. Monogamy in a heteronormative or homosexual context is fine, but under no conditions do I feel monks should be permitted to engage in swinging, polyamory, polygamy, bestiality, polyandry, or etc.

    It is not possible within the ethos of Buddhism to promote sexual promiscuity. It leads to more attachments to ‘dust’ (i.e., desire for sensation) and bodily attachments. Lay practitioners are free to do whatever they want, but for more serious practitioners, either monogamy or celibacy is required. Personally I think celibacy makes more sense for long-term monks considering the kind of stuff Nan Huai-Chin says, but I think monogamy could work too when sexually deviant thoughts are avoided.

    Brad, I’m confused by what you’re saying here. Do you want a reformation of Buddhist ethics that’s more open to alternative sexual lifestyles like polyamory? Personally, I don’t think they’re compatible considering how people like Shiwu (Stonehouse), who was definitely enlightened or had a large frequency of kensho experiences, remained celibate. I agree monogamy is an okay compromise, but stuff like swinging or polyamory just don’t work in a Buddhist context wherein all desire for sensual indulgence or pleasure are viewed as deeper forms of Dukkha.

    1. zenheathen
      zenheathen January 29, 2015 at 9:01 am |

      Just as a side note, I find your apparent identification between swinging, polyamory and *bestiality* highly offensive. Further, you go on to identify anything other than monogamy and celibacy as “sexually deviant”. With respect: Get stuffed.

      1. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid January 29, 2015 at 10:51 am |

        Anything other than monogamy and celibacy as “sexually deviant” *within the context* of Chinese/Korean Ch’an, but Japanese Zen schools have been a bit more diverse in what they permit.

        You’re the one projecting offensiveness here. I’m talking about within the context of conducive Buddhist practice. I even said lay practitioners could be more lax on it, but monks are best off either celibate or monogamous for reasons I listed. Celibacy is of course better.

        1. zenheathen
          zenheathen January 30, 2015 at 8:50 am |

          Way to *completely* ignore the actual content of what I said.

          Do you conflate swinging, polyamory and bestiality, or was it a poor choice of wording, in which case perhaps you’d apologize about it?

          I think taking the same position as anyone from thousand years ago on what is “sexually deviant” is foolish. I’m pretty sure old texts said that homosexual relations are deviant, too, didn’t they? If they could be wrong about that, why should we accept their opions about any of the rest of it? There is risk to taking gospel as gospel. Buddha said we should believe what we can prove for ourselves.

  22. theNursePath
    theNursePath January 28, 2015 at 7:13 pm |

    A broken finger may no longer point at the moon.
    And if we wanted tone the finger, this would be a terrible situation.

    But there are plenty of other fingers.
    And besides, we all have a pretty good idea where the moon is anyways.

    1. theNursePath
      theNursePath January 28, 2015 at 7:15 pm |

      * to be. Not ‘tone’.

  23. The Idiot
    The Idiot January 28, 2015 at 7:45 pm |

    Brad, what are your thoughts on “morality” as a Buddhist practice? I get the impression that you’re not interested in this area.

    1. mtto
      mtto January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm |

      Brad wrote a whole book about it:

  24. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 28, 2015 at 8:18 pm |

    “Everyone who practices in this Order is expected to act in accord with the Buddhist Precepts–the Buddhist teachings on moral and ethical living–which outline an awakened path to living in harmony with all beings. For this to be genuine, each of us must be committed to facing and taking full responsibility for our own conditioned ways of seeing, and the inclination for this conditioning to promote fear and the sense of “other” which then leads to prejudicial views and actions.”

    (from the ZMM website.)

    They should make it a rule not to mix Western psychology with Buddhist teachings, as though they were the same thing- IMHO.

    My first impression of Ryushin’s letter of apology is that he is happy to be leaving. Where I get that, I couldn’t say.

    Maybe it’s because there’s nothing about what comes next for him (apart some soul and personal searching). If I were part of the sangha, and I cared about someone who was a member of the sangha, I would want to hear what their thoughts were about their practice under the circumstances.

    And why the “six month leave of absence”? That’s the strangest part, to me. They don’t want to lose him as a teacher at ZMM, in spite of the infractions, so Hojin might want to make other arrangements? Am I being unkind?

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 9:24 pm |

      “They should make it a rule not to mix Western psychology with Buddhist teachings, as though they were the same thing- IMHO.”

      I couldn’t agree more Mark.

      An understanding of external thought-forms may be useful for practice (ideas from science and psych have definitely helped my zen practice at times, and I know you’re interested in cranio-sacral work, etc).

      But, totally, I get the impression that many influential people in Western Zen see psychology as a privileged discourse – a solid container that can be used to analyse and understand dharma practice. That’s got to be a hindrance to sincere and full practice, and to realization.

      For me, an outcome of regular zazen has been becoming a bit more able to use intellectual tools, instead of being dragged around by them.

  25. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 28, 2015 at 8:21 pm |

    Maybe Ryushin spoke about his practice under the circumstances, and his plans going forward in that regard, in the question and answer audio- I lack patience for that. Shodo, maybe you can fill me in?…

  26. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid January 28, 2015 at 8:43 pm |

    I think the Zen scene is breaking down in disagreements.

    I think part of the reason is because of Japanese Zen leaving behind the Manichean roots found in Chinese Ch’an.

    Manichaeism was huge in China for some time, and many have hypothesized it influenced Pure Land Buddhism’s development. I also think it influenced Ch’an to some extent. I hypothesize Manichaeism helped give more incentive to Buddhist practitioners in China to practice “opening the hand of thought” because it synthesized Gnostic, Zoroastrian, and Buddhist belief in such a manner to view Samsara as evil even though it is Nirvana, the bodily fleshy world of matter being Samsara in action.

    If you read Chinese Ch’an figures like Stonehouse/Shiwu, Hsu Yun, Nan Huai-Chin, and countless others, you’d see they characterize clinging to the flesh, or desire for sensations (‘dust’), and its visceral, sensual pleasures as obstacles to “turning the light inward”. This is very Manichaeist in its descriptions with its emphasis on gnosis and escaping the evil world of matter. Celibacy is a requirement for awakening because the flesh is an embodiment of all that is carnal and evil in this world.

    Evolution is one movement, one megalomaniac flow.

    In other words what I’m saying is Zen/Ch’an was originally more about acosmism than it was about Wu Wei like Daoism. This is the gist of what I’m saying. Schopenhauer also discusses it with denial of the will through compassion as leading to liberation.

    Lately I have been thinking how Nature is like an ignorant, egotistical child that draws diagrams on the wall wanting to see itself everything, like a recursive algorithm of some sort. Both death and life are false states of existence when one views a beginning or end to this life. Kind of like this:
    by Ivan Titor

    In this sense, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist is not completely off cue. Nature truly is “Satan’s Church” and Will of Carbon is malignant. Prior to thinking, there is a stillness that is unmanifest and infinite, meaning Buddhism distinguishes itself from Daoism which is about flowing with the Dao while Ch’an is about leaving the worldly realm behind into the Dharmakaya. It is best for one to be celibate for complete liberation to the unfathomable (‘Tathagata’). It is about the cessation of Dao into parinirvana. This is why I think Theravada comes off as more dualistic than much of Mahayana lately…

    Sorry for my Gnostic spiel. I’ve just been thinking about trying out Sallekhana one of these days. The Planescape faction of Dustmen argue for such views:

    “Passions carry weight. As long as one clings to emotion they will be continually reborn into this life, forever suffering, never knowing the purity of True Death. To achieve True Death you must kill your passions and strip yourself of the need for sensation. When you achieve this you achieve peace, past the Eternal Boundary lies the peace all souls seek.?” – Dhall

    1. SamsaricHelicoid
      SamsaricHelicoid January 28, 2015 at 9:38 pm |

      There is no life without pain or suffering.

      However, there is life without luxury or pleasure.

      That’s the catch.

      Celibacy and antinatalism are required by the Buddhist!

  27. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 9:04 pm |

    You know, I’m really glad this stuff is being discussed openly. Thanks Brad for all your recent posts.

    Sex and Power are the real live issues for humanity when it comes to mass suffering. For many other things like starvation and a lot of diseases, we know the answers, but don’t always implement them. For the suffering caused by sexual behaviour and power-hunger, nobody has good answers yet. With sex, people have tried everything from celibacy, to enforced monogamy, to ‘anything goes’ – they all have their problems.

    It seems to me that what’s going on in American Zen recently could end up becoming a journey into openness and reality, rather than the dawn of authoritarianism that Brad fears. But only if people keep talking about it. I want to throw a few more ideas into the mix.

    1) Sex and power will always be intimately linked: it’s a fact of our biological inheritance. For most social mammals, physical dominance is the key to sexual success, and the more dominant individuals decide if and when the less dominant individuals have sex. In these species there is hierarchy among the males AND among the females. Humans (generally) have a mixed approach to sexual attraction, based on a blend of dominance and display/skills (so puny guys get laid if they can master Voodoo Chile, and hulking brutes get laid too, but without needing a skill).

    2) Religions have always known this connection between sex and power. If the church or sangha is allowed to tell you when and how you can express your sex instinct, it comes to serve the instinctual role of the dominant mammal. The unconscious connection is so strong that you become utterly docile, and willing to submit to all demands of the religious hierarchy, once you’ve already handed over your libido to them.

    3) In a community like a co-ed US Zen Temple, the Abbot represents the dominant alpha position, and (s)he becomes sexually desirable, regardless of physical appearance, or the group ideology or anything. This is a fact of biology, students’ glands will start excreting all sorts of hormones in his/her presence. This can have a positive, group bonding effect on one level, but is dangerous. If the Abbot or teacher is not very mature, or not very good at transcending thoughts of power and I-thou, he/she will smell the adoration hormones from the sangha and swell into an angry silverback. That can only be avoided (I believe) if the teacher has gone beyond self in a truly drastic way.

    4) When I consider those points, I think SamsaricHelicoid might be right. Full-time monastic communities probably should be celibate – and anyone who can’t keep the rule should leave. I never thought I’d say that. But how else can it work? Maybe the tradition was right all along? The only other option could be a totally non-structured community of hermits living an austere life, who only get together for zazen? And for non-monastics, including zen priests who live in the ordinary world and go to work etc. – I think the best option is to openly drop sex as an ethical issue (except when it comes to staying within the local laws, and the basic morality of not harming).

    5) The last thing I want to say (Phew!), is on a slightly different note. Modern Western society sees a sexual relationship as only concerning the people in the relationship. I think if we want to be Buddhists we must take a broader view. Every time we make or break an intimate relationship, there are ripples to everyone in our social circle. If the relationship involves the start or end of a household, or if any member of the relationship has emotionally dependent children, or a financially dependent spouse, we can do a lot of harm just by following our “heart’s desire” or our gonads’ desire: so good old fashioned suppression of urges may be the middle way a lot of the time. (I guess that’s an obvious point, but no one has raised it yet). There’s no easy answer – I’ve known miserable marriages, and miserable polyamory setups, and miserable celibates. But the time has come for a fuller discussion of sex among Zen people than just “don’t misuse it”.

  28. Shinchan Ohara
    Shinchan Ohara January 28, 2015 at 9:26 pm |

    Please sign my petition on “Hojin for Abbot of ZMM”

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 5:44 am |

      Please sign my petition on “Ryushin Sensei for Dalai Lama in 2016.”

  29. minkfoot
    minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 3:53 am |

    Shinchan, I believe your avatar says “Ancient Moon.” Is there a story to that? For that matter, what does “Shinchan” mean? And is Ohara Irish or Japanese? (Remember Pat Morita’s cop series? Nice to have a detective who meditated.)

    1. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara January 29, 2015 at 7:29 am |

      Hi minkfoot, the avatar says “western barbarian”, it’s originally a pictogram showing a man playing a Mongolian horsehead fiddle (also used for the Chinese surname Hu 胡). There’s no hidden meaning: I just thought it reflected my personality very slightly: I like to play music, and I can be uncouth at times.

      Shinchan Nohara is a petulant brat from a Japanese cartoon series. I borrowed his name as a pseudonym for making comments on Brad’s blog, not knowing that there was an ‘N’ at the start of his surname. Here’s a link to Shinchan in action:

      1. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid January 29, 2015 at 7:39 am |

        The English dub on Shinchan that appeared on Adult Swim is not faithful to the original material and it’s disgusting.

        I don’t consider what you linked Shinchan because it bastardized beyond recognition.

        1. Shinchan Ohara
          Shinchan Ohara January 29, 2015 at 8:33 am |

          Oops! I had the audio muted when I found that link. First Shinchan video I found on youtube.

          1. SamsaricHelicoid
            SamsaricHelicoid January 29, 2015 at 8:39 am |

            Oh that’s good.

            I have rather unfortunate news btw. Doraemon was also bastardized in its new dub:


            Check out #11. They change a first-aid kit to a pizza. #15 and #16 are kind of disgusting too. It’s like they don’t want kids to learn about different cultures.

            There’s a lot more stupid changes like that.

    2. Shinchan Ohara
      Shinchan Ohara January 29, 2015 at 8:30 am |

      Oh yeah, I see what you mean, 胡 looks similar to the two characters for ‘ancient moon’ – 古月- I hadn’t noticed that.

      I believe that 胡 is also the character that’s used in the old koan stories when the masters are jokingly calling Bodhidharma a “gap-toothed, red-bearded foreigner”, so it’s interesting to imagine that there may have been some sort of pun going on based on the similar appearance of characters? He’s a “gap-toothed barbarian”, but at the same time on another level, he’s the “ancient moon”? … but I’m speculating wildly here!

  30. minkfoot
    minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 4:36 am |

    SH, two words: not always so.

    And James Ford points to some interesting stuff:


    Now, what are the Four Essential Laws of the Dharma?

    The first is no wanting. If your heart is obsessed with something,
    It manifests in all kinds of distorted ways.
    Distorted thoughts are the root of negative behavior . . .

    The second is no doing. Don’t put on a mask and pretend to be what you’re not . . .
    The effort needed to hold a direction is abandoned,
    And there is simply action and reaction.
    So walk the Way of No Action.

    The third is no piousness. And what that means
    Is not wanting to have your good deeds broadcast to the nation.
    Do what’s right to bring people to the truth
    But not for your own reputation’s sake.
    So anyone who teaches the Triumphant Law,
    Practicing the Way of Light to bring life to the truth,
    Will know Peace and Happiness in company.
    But don’t talk it away. This is the Way of No Virtue.

    The fourth is no absolute. Don’t try to control everything,
    Don’t take sides in arguments about right and wrong.
    Treat everyone equally, and live from day to day.
    It’s like a clear mirror that reflects everything anyway:
    Green or yellow or in any combination-
    It shows everything, as well as the smallest of details.
    What does the mirror do? It reflects without judgment.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 5:37 am |

      If you want to speculate about alternate reality Jesuses…
      Did Jesus become a rice farmer in Japan?

      *Spoiler Alert! No. There is no good reason to believe that. Don’t be silly.*

  31. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 5:22 am |

    If it is “wrong” for an abbot to include Shamanism when he teaches Zen, would it not also be wrong for an author and teacher to combine Zen with pantheism, panentheism, and panpsychism and teach it as “Zen”? If that author and teacher planned to open a teaching and practice center, shouldn’t he call it something other than a “Zen center,” just to be more accurate and honest and to avoid misleading potential students?

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:40 am |

      The fundamental ground, the original face does not equal pantheism or
      panpsychic idealism.

      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 7:07 am |

        Are you saying that he should NOT call it a Zen center? Because your ersatz Zen pseudo-profundities are usually difficult to interpret. And your
        random formatting of lines
        does not make it
        any easier.

        1. Fred
          Fred January 29, 2015 at 8:33 am |

          The random formatting is a function of this computer.

          He can call it whatever he wants.

          Face a wall, certain things happen over time, these happenings are
          expressed in words, and the words resonate with others.

          1. The Grand Canyon
            The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 9:33 am |

            Protip: A computer is different from the mechanical typewriters on which you learned typing. You do not have to press “Enter” at the end of each line as you are typing. The computer automatically advances to the next line as you type. The length of each line after you post your comment will usually be different than when you were typing it, so many of your “Enters” that you thought were at the end of lines actually appear in the middle of lines.
            Thank you for calling tech support and have a pleasant day.

      2. SamsaricHelicoid
        SamsaricHelicoid January 29, 2015 at 7:40 am |

        I think the fundamental ground is somewhat panpsychic but not idealism or pantheism.

        Panentheism is a bit better than pantheism.

        1. The Grand Canyon
          The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 8:00 am |

          fun·da·ment (fÅ­n”²dÉ™-mÉ™nt)
          1. a. The buttocks.
          1. b. The anus.

  32. Michel
    Michel January 29, 2015 at 5:40 am |

    I did not have the impression that Brad condemned Ryushin for going into shamanism. My impression was that he thought that that had been a more important feature in the events.

    But then, I might be wrong.

    Whatever, as someone mentioned elsewhere, vajrayana always had a lot of shamanism in it, and Japanese Zen has had a lot of vajrayana influences. Hell! Tokei-in was founded as a vajrayana place!

  33. Michel
    Michel January 29, 2015 at 5:41 am |

    It’s just that East Asia shamanism never relied on hallucinogenic drugs for that.

    1. The Grand Canyon
      The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 5:58 am |

      Some people might disagree about there being no historical usage of hallucinogens in esoteric Buddhism. But that was probably just the sort of heteropraxy or even heresy that frequently occurs in esoteric religions.

    2. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:09 am |

      “They should make it a rule not to mix Western psychology with Buddhist teachings, as though they were the same thing- IMHO.”

      That goes for Grace as well.

      “My first impression of Ryushin’s letter of apology is that he is happy to be leaving. Where I get that, I couldn’t say.”

      I had that feeling as well.

      1. Fred
        Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:14 am |


        “Sway your body from the right to the left, and sit, without moving, in this stable posture.

        Think from the depths of non-thinking.

        How do you think from the depths of non-thinking?

        Hishiryo-beyond thinking and non-thinking.

        This in itself is the essential art of zazen.

        This zazen is not step-by-step meditation, it is nothing other than the dharma of peace and happiness, the practice-realization of perfect awakening.

        Zazen is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Snares and nets can never catch it.

        Once you have grasped its heart, you are like the dragon when he enters the water and like the tiger when he enters the mountain.”

        1. Fred
          Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:22 am |

          Fly agaric:
          “The effects of muscimol are substantially different from psilocybin and psilocin, as the chemicals target separate parts of the brain. Muscimol has been shown to lack “structured” hallucinations in most cases, and the effects are frequently compared to a lucid dream state. The hallucinogenic effect produced by muscimol is most closely comparable to the hallucinogenic side effects produced by some other GABAergic drugs such as zolpidem.”

          The effects are not the same as those produced by LSD or DMT

  34. zenheathen
    zenheathen January 29, 2015 at 9:14 am |

    (I should make it clear that my comments here are only tangentially about this particular case and more about the general trend, and about Brad’s post, which in turn is, I believe, more about the general trend.)

    I generally agree with Brad on most things Zen. This is unsurprising, as he was the first serious teacher/author I read on the subject, the one who really inspired me to keep digging for more. And on this, I don’t disagree, but I am somewhat of two minds on the subject.

    Partly, I think it comes from my inner searching work about what real Buddhism is/was, and what different cultures’ understanding and adaptation of and to it has been. We’re still just getting our feet wet, trying to figure out what Zen and Buddhism will and/or should be in North America; it hasn’t yet adapted to our culture, much less our culture to it, and so there are many little cultural disconnects that happen frequently.

    Brad alludes to this when he talks about how American and Japanese reactions to things like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were different, how a similar “scandal” to this one taking place in Japan would probably be quite different, and that maybe this is part of why his own reaction to this particular situation is different than what he’s seeing from much of the American Zen community.

    I think he’s right about that. I think the others are reacting as Americans—and let’s face it, through much of American history and in some ways even more so right now, “the American Way” has meant “the Christian Way”—and he is reacting as Japanese, in that he lived there for a time and did much of his Zen training there.

    But as much as I do personally think that much of the reaction to this may be overblown, at the same time, I have to wonder if this sort of thing is American Zen. That is, maybe these sorts of differences are exactly what is coming in the North American cultural incarnation of Zen.

    Every time Zen/Buddhism has entered a new country or people or culture, it has been adapted to that culture. The general teachings, the style of “traditional” dress, the ritual styles—all of it ends up reflecting almost more of the culture and belief systems which existed in that time and place *before* Buddhism arrived than they do Buddhism itself. This has been true through China, Vietnam, Korea, Tibet, Japan… and now Buddhism has come to “the West” (i.e. North America and Europe), and perhaps we’re starting to see what North American Zen is going to look like, affected very strongly by Christian beliefs and mores.

    I could think of better influences, personally. And I certainly agree that holding our teachers to higher standards and expecting them to be perfect supermen and -women is ridiculous. Doesn’t Zen teach us to understand and accept the fact that we’re all human, and have foibles and failings, and that that is normal and okay—that that, itself, is life? Why do some of us try not to allow that to be true of our teachers? If something your teacher does causes you to lose confidence in him or her, then seek a new teacher. If you feel it’s necessary, tell others so that—if that particular failing is of consequence to that particular student—they can seek another teacher, too. But to vilify that teacher as a person, cast them as useless or dangerous in every way, may or may not be going too far. They are supposed to be more knowledgeable and more experienced than you, but no less human. If they weren’t human, there’s nothing you can learn from them.

    At the same time, though, maybe this is just the form that Zen will take in America. Maybe that, too, is something we need to just understand and accept. Though I’m not quite sure I’m ready.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 9:34 am |

      “When DMT is inhaled, depending on the dose, its subjective effects can range from short-lived milder psychedelic states to powerful immersive experiences, which include a total loss of connection to conventional reality, which may be so extreme that it becomes ineffable.”

      Ryushin can come back from his six month sabbatical and teach, as long as he
      adheres to the party line. And the party line reflects conventional reality. The
      sheep like their conventions.

      1. The Grand Canyon
        The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 9:46 am |

        Protip: A computer is different from the mechanical typewriters on which you learned typing. On a computer, you do not have to press “Enter” at the end of each line as you are typing. The computer automatically advances to the next line as you type. The length of each line after you post your comment will usually be different than when you were typing it, so many of your “Enters” that you thought were at the end of lines actually appear in the middle of lines.
        Thank you for calling tech support and have a pleasant day.

        1. justlui
          justlui January 29, 2015 at 2:09 pm |


    2. Yoshiyahu
      Yoshiyahu January 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm |

      With an estimated 15-20 percent of American Zen folks identifying as Jewish, it’s also important to understand that American Zen is strongly influenced and shaped by American Jewish belief, practice, and culture. The Jewish influence may be even more than the Christian influence, really.

  35. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon January 29, 2015 at 9:43 am |
  36. lubob
    lubob January 29, 2015 at 9:54 am |

    I think it was Michel from France who already pointed this out and I like to support him:

    The discussion about sexual misbehavior is VERY American. In Europe most people had not been bothered about this at all.

    Let me give you one example. There is a very large temple in France and there was a well know big shot Godo who was more than 50 years old. He once felt in love with a twenty something student and he was so badly in love that during the breaks between Zazen they spent their time walking around hand in hand.

    From all what I read about American Zen communities, this had been the perfect scandal in the US. Old guy + young girl, teacher + student …

    However, the way the story was conveyed to me by a European Zen monk had a completely different twist. He thought this was fucking great. There was a Zen Master who was publicly making a fool of him self – and that made him just very human.

    It again brought a teaching to live which Taisen Deshimaru, a highly influancual Zen Master who set up a lot of Zen dojos in France once told his students:
    “You must follow me, your master in every detail. You must watch me and copy my behaviour – but only when it is a good one!”

    Zen is a practice for adults and those who expect their Zen teacher to be super human demonstrate two things: Neither have they understood what it really means to accept our humanity nor are they willing to be adults.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 10:36 am |

      Konrad, you’ve been a very, very bad boy

  37. SamsaricHelicoid
    SamsaricHelicoid January 29, 2015 at 11:00 am |

    I think Christian Gnosticism, that generally emphasized acosmism, jibes well with Ch’an/Zen. Other monotheistic forms of Christianity do not really fit well with it. St. Augustine kind of ruined Christianity with his “Original Sin” response toward Manichaeists in debates.

    Christianity was originally very Zoroastrian like. Frashokereti = day of judgment and Saoshyant = Jesus as savior. I believe the rumors of how St. Paul was of Zoroastrian influence. The Zoroastrians had very similar ascetic practices amongst the magi, especially the Zurvanites, which the early Gnostics continued.

    It would be better for Christianity to go back to its pessimistic Gnostic roots. As much as people hate to acknowledge, Ch’an and Zen are pessimistic religions that deal predominantly with losing: “Losing is satori. Winning is illusion.” – Kodo Sawaki . There is a fatalistic element to this practice especially when we “seek” lusts, satisfaction, or so forth. Celibacy is a requirement for deeper levels of awakening, but for serious lay practitioners monogamy is a decent substitute.

    All forms of attachment to bodily lusts and the desire for continuance in any relationship (with the illusion of security), will lead to suffering. It is only through the denial of all flesh and concepts that the “light can be turned inwards”.

    1. zenheathen
      zenheathen January 30, 2015 at 8:57 am |

      “It is only through the denial of all flesh and concepts that the “light can be turned inwards”.

      Isn’t this basically the aesceticism which Buddha rejected before enlightenment? Not the Middle Way, at all.

  38. david s
    david s January 29, 2015 at 11:14 am |

    I diverge… In all this discussion I am most interested in the mention of Peruvian shamanism. I’d like to share some quotes from a book I read about Ayahuasca written by Benny Shanon, a professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who has studied the effects through his own participation in ceremonies in various groups mainly in Brazil. I am intrigued by how some of the experiences overlap with aspects within Buddhism. For me, these shared qualities represent features involved in the alteration of mind, and the differences between them represented by the differing methods used in altering the mind.

    The Antipodes Of The Mind
    “In the teachings of the Uniao Do Vegetal (Brazillian Christain Church) it is emphasized that concentration is the key to advancement in the school of Ayahuasca. Likewise, on one of the very few occasions on which I was given specific instructions on how to handle myself within a session, the traditional Amazonian healer told me to sit still, breath in a regular manner, maintain my mind quiet and relaxed, and concentrate. ‘If you mind jumps around, so too will the visions,’ he said. ‘It will be as if you are switching from on TV channel to another, but, surely, you want to focus on only one channel.’ When I listened to these instructions, I could not help but note that they were almost identical to ones I received, many years earlier, in the course of a meditation training I was following in a Buddhist monastery.”
    “Under the intoxication, the cleansed mind will see richness whose content is unbounded and whose scope is truly infinite. With this, lucidity will be in its utmost and the power of mentation and reflection will be immensely increased. Yet, in the peaks of the intoxication, a stage will be reached in which the visualizations will no longer be bound by any content or definite form, when neither language, reason, nor memory apply, when no conceptualization of rational reflection is possible. When the light reigns supreme understanding ceases.”
    “When the force of the inebriation is especially strong, drinkers feel that the boundaries between this consciousness and their own individual one are less and less defined. In the limit, I and God become one. All that can be known is part and parcel of the Divine mind, hence also of my mind.”

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 11:57 am |

      You are overloading a receptor in the brain in order to experience the Infinite.

      If you have ever done psychedelics you can know that the process can go off-kilter.

      There are no shortcuts.

  39. david s
    david s January 29, 2015 at 11:17 am |

    Here’s another quote:

    “…instructions on how to behave during a session…identical to…Buddhist meditation – to sit quietly, to maintain a straight bodily posture, to keep the hands in a certain fixed, stable position, to breath in a steady, regular fashion, to contemplate and not be carried away by the flight of one’s mentations. Then, I was told, the visions will not jump from one thing to another, but rather specific, continuous, and stable scenes will be seen.”

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 12:08 pm |

      Many decades ago, I tried an experiment with mescaline and zazen. I had been sitting for a few years and had recently joined a Zen temple and intensified my practice.

      I took three double-doses of mescaline (too much was never enough, in the sixties), and sat on my cushion. After an hour or so, the mescaline came on in a torrent. I don’t remember much about the visions, as I was treating them like makyo and letting them pass without attaching. One thing I do remember: there was a patriarchal bearded figure with his arm around a rock similar to him in size and shape, out in some desert. I understood that both the rock and man were both God and me.

      After three hours tripping, I felt worn out and lay down. I fell asleep for a couple of hours, and when I awoke I was completely straight. Anybody who knows mescaline would know how odd that was, as a good dose keeps you tripping for over a day.

      Maybe ayahuasca, of which I have no experience, is different, but it believe the enhancement of the body’s self-regulatory power from zazen are antagonistic to the effects of psychedelic substances.

      1. minkfoot
        minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 6:01 pm |

        Last paragraph above should be:

        “Maybe ayahuasca, of which I have no experience, is different, but I believe the enhancement of the body’s self-regulatory power from zazen is antagonistic to the effects of psychedelic substances.”

  40. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr January 29, 2015 at 11:32 am |

    This is a very small and rather insignificant part of this entire discussion. However, there is a connection, I believe.

    If I didn’t think or hope that sitting or pursuing Zen would result in becoming a “better person” even if I wasn’t certain what that meant or if I was reasonably certain whatever it meant would not be what I thought it would be in the end, why would I sit?

    If nothing happens as the result of doing something, why do it? I guess I don’t really understand the “goal-less” practice. I’ve thought it meant to allow the practice to go where it goes, but with “faith” as some have called it, that it will “go” somewhere and that that “somewhere” is somewhere worth going.

    I don’t really buy the “paradox” explanation, or the, “it’s true even though it is a contradiction, or appears to be a contradiction”. Most of the time that seems to be just an excuse to believe something even though it makes not sense. Then again that runs up against another “explanation”, that in these cases reason and rational are not criteria for what is true and not true, or perhaps even true and not true are dualistic and inherently, what? untrue?

    At any rate, if something is not going to “make me a better person” and if experience and practice don’t help be “do something better, more consistently, more skillfully” than someone who is just starting, WTF am I doing? This is not about perfection, it’s about progress.

    Perhaps that too is an illusion.

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 11:43 am |

      Dr. Konrad Ryushin Marchaj came to the U.S. from Poland in 1967. He did his undergraduate degree in Anthropology before he became a Psychiatrist.

      His first 14 years of life in Poland shaped his religious sentiments, and part of his psychiatric work was providing for street people.

    2. minkfoot
      minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm |

      One has to want to enter the path to begin practice.

      Practice involves giving up attachment, including to practice.

      Nothing mysterious here.

      Since evil comes from ignorant attachment, one becomes a better person pretty much automatically. Practice and precepts come out of each other.

      1. dwsmithjr
        dwsmithjr January 30, 2015 at 5:38 am |

        So, then, the practice does make one a “better” person.

        I’ve been considering this lately. Can you tease out the two things, knowledge and practice or life? For example, if you coach archery or tennis, can you have significant knowledge to teach others how to be better archers or tennis players without being able to play at that level yourself?

        Can you be a Zen teacher and have sufficient knowledge to teach others Zen practice and not be able to do it yourself? Does the doing have only to do with how to sit, or is it also how to live? If the Buddha indicated that sitting would reduce suffering and suffering was due to attachment, then might you conclude that sitting would assist a person in how to “navigate” life with less suffering both for them and for others around them?

        Are the precepts simply ways of assisting one to practice? Are they simply practical monastic guidelines for people living in groups or do they grow out of and reflect “living well”, navigating life effectively like navigating the Mississippi river without running aground? It doesn’t mean you might not make mistakes. It has nothing to do with being perfect or more than human. It simply means you might possibly avoid the more obvious, grosser mistakes and issues in life.

        I would think that as a person practices, if they are a sensei, as Brad indicates its meaning, someone who was born before and therefore has more practice and experience, they would have more “skill” at navigating life. They would have made some progress along the path and might be expected to avoid the more obvious pitfalls and tell others how they too might avoid them. Spiritual leadership is about being a guide along some particular path based on acquired knowledge, practice and skill, not perfection or infallibility.

        I’m sure some people want to relinquish their authority to someone. However, that’s not, IMO, the only thing Spiritual Leadership is about.

    3. zenheathen
      zenheathen January 30, 2015 at 8:59 am |

      There is a difference, I think, between doing the practice and becoming a better person, and doing the practice *to* become a better person. Just because one is advised not to have the goal as a reason for sitting doesn’t necessarily mean that result won’t still happen as a result of sitting, just that if that’s the way you go into it, you may spoil it.

  41. dwsmithjr
    dwsmithjr January 29, 2015 at 11:53 am |

    I don’t know if this was put in place after or was in place before the events.

    “C. Ordained Teachers and Priests should adhere to the MRO Monastic Rule of Stability. This means to live a solitary life (i.e. without an intimate or sexual partner) or to be in a committed, monogamous relationship. In both cases, all MRO teachers and priests (ordained and lay) should not engage in any explicit or secretive communication or action with a student or trainee which has the intent–or gives the appearance–of initiating some type of sexual encounter or intimate relationship.

    If a Teacher who is not in an intimate relationship wishes to initiate an intimate relationship with another person, they may not do so with any active formal student or practitioner within the Order. They may, however, initiate an intimate relationship with a person outside the practicing MRO sangha. In this case, they should be open and honest with the sangha about their relationship. An exception to this rule would be if both parties formed a relationship as practicing students (i.e. were equals within the MRO training), and consequently one of them completed his or her training and became an authorized Teacher or Priest.

    A teacher who receives sexual advances from a trainee is obligated to directly and unambiguously tell him or her that such actions are detrimental to the student’s spiritual training and will not be allowed. The teacher should also make a written, dated note outlining the advance, which should be stored confidentially in the Training Office. If the student is unable or unwilling to stop such actions, they should be directed to work with another MRO teacher or asked to discontinue their training within the MRO.Any student who feels a teacher is misusing sexuality should follow the Grievance Procedure outlined below.”

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot January 29, 2015 at 12:19 pm |

      I doubt it was put in after. Sounds like standard rules for residential centers after the Baker scandal.

  42. senorchupacabra
    senorchupacabra January 29, 2015 at 12:09 pm |

    For me it’s not the sex aspect that is disturbing. Consenting adults can do whatever the fuck they please. Who really gives a shit?

    The issue in these cases is always hypocrisy. And I know there’s always “zennists are just normal human beings too,” but that’s a cop out because there are plenty of normal human beings who aren’t such abject hypocrites. It’s really not a hard thing to do, and I also don’t think it’s too much to ask for anyone claiming to be a “spiritual” leader to not be a bigger hypocrite than the typical person. One of the whole points of engaging in a spiritual journey is because we believe it will makes better people–often times in the form of being more “authentic” and less hypocritical.

    Regardless of the sexual aspects of this case, this spiritual leader should be taken to task for either not being authentic with his wife or not being authentic with his sangha. It doesn’t take a Buddha to understand that the mores and norms of society are arbitrary and therefore, if he was inauthentic with his Sangha, you have to wonder why. It always suggests to me that this person’s “understanding” was not what he purported it to be. If it were, he could easily say, “Hey, um, Sangha, my wife and I have an open relationship. If you don’t like it, fuck off. It’s none of your business and it has nothing to do with Zen.”

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 29, 2015 at 5:42 pm |

    ‘For me, Buddhist practice is clearly a religion. The Encyclopedia Brittanica agrees with me. I’m not a sociologist or anthropologist, so by religion I mean something along the lines of “a bunch of people getting together to do something they all think is true or want to be true together.” For most Buddhist practitioners in the West, this shared truth might be as simple as “meditation is worth doing.” Even if you don’t believe it from the beginning, you want to, which is why you keep coming back to sit with others who believe meditation is worth doing.

    This kind of group think can mess with your head. Boundary violation can happen in Buddhist sanghas just as much as in a Christian cult. But personally, I’m not going to give up on religion because… I don’t want to live without experiencing grace.

    … I think when people say things like all “religion is stupid and dangerous,” this ignores the fact that most people need to feel some kind of grace in their life to feel whole and satisfied. And I think everyone experiences grace in different ways. It can be in really good sex, in work, and in service. It can be in nature. So I’m not going to rat on anyone else’s grace, as long as they’re not breaking any laws, and as long as it’s between consenting adults.’

    (Gesshin Greenwood, from here)

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:05 pm |

      The self is an illusion, so I guess that you could be an authentic illusion full of grace.

      1. Fred
        Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm |

        An authentic illusion full of grace going down the monkey hole on D.M.T.

  44. The Idiot
    The Idiot January 29, 2015 at 6:03 pm |

    My password is: what

    1. Fred
      Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:06 pm |


      1. Fred
        Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:16 pm |

        What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third.

        1. Fred
          Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:26 pm |

          Down the monkey hole like a Sensai on DMT, then when you arrive at last at towering up like a wall miles high, you will finally know that the authentic self is full of grace.

          1. The Idiot
            The Idiot January 29, 2015 at 6:33 pm |


  45. Fred
    Fred January 29, 2015 at 6:56 pm |

    Here’s what’s what. An authentic enlightened zen master don’t need to be crawling around in any monkey hole on DMT.

    It confuses the sheep and it’s bad for the zen business.

  46. The Idiot
    The Idiot January 29, 2015 at 7:58 pm |


  47. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote January 29, 2015 at 8:49 pm |

    Beauty is as beauty does; so says a friend of mine.

    “People that live their lives caring about what really matters are exciting.”– so said I, on my Facebook page last night. Grace is what really matters.

    I wrote to Gesshin, because she gave an email address on her blog and said “Let me know if you want silly pictures of weird Japanese things, and I can send them to you.”

    After I requested the silly pictures, I said: “Can I confess to you, I took up zazen… because I felt I lacked grace. …Along the way I realized that I was never going to be able to change my graceless way without enjoying the experience of grace in my body and mind enroute. In fact, I still believe that this is so, perhaps because the belief is useful to me in avoiding harm on the cushion.”

    What grace does is verification, isn’t it so?

  48. Harlan
    Harlan January 29, 2015 at 11:18 pm |

Comments are closed.