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 Sex and the Spiritual Teacher

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Mar 12, 2011 12:40 am

First topic message reminder :

[Admin] This has been split from 'OBC Experiences / Latest Zen "Scandal" and let's rethink the "master" story......'

The Boot and the Door: Preventing Future Scandals


By Scott Edelstein

In 1974, as a 19-year-old student at Oberlin College, I took a class
called Zen Meditation. In an informal discussion with the instructor of
this course, I learned that a prominent Zen teacher named Eido Shimano
had been having sex with his students—as it turned out, for some years. I
figured that if a college sophomore in rural Ohio knew about this
problem, then surely folks in the Zen establishment also knew, and—being
wise and influential—would quickly take the necessary steps to correct
it.

Now, over 36 years later, the Zen establishment—i.e., other Zen
teachers and we Zen students—are still wrestling with the same teacher
and the same problem. Eido himself continues to publicly declare his
innocence. And we are still dealing with the problem in largely the same
way: with admonitions and recommendations and demands, all of them
focused on Eido Shimano.

Folks who have been to Twelve Step meetings can legitimately
characterize our collective behavior as codependence, a spiritual and
mental illness in which we compulsively try to fix someone else instead
of standing up for ourselves and our own best interests.

Paradoxically, codependents’ attempts to fix a person enable addicts
(including sex addicts and power addicts) to stay addicted. Together, an
addict and codependents can keep an addictive system in place for
years, decades, or generations. Codependence also has another essential
feature: the compulsive rejection of reality and the equally compulsive
clinging to hopes and thoughts.

For 40 years, Zen teachers tried to fix Eido. We students tried to
fix Eido. We lectured him, pleaded with him, condemned him, and scolded
him. We obsessively focused on him.

We need to do things differently.

Roko Sherry Chayat and the folks in her (formerly Eido’s) sangha
appear to understand this. They have begun the very difficult but
necessary work of collective examination, dissolution, reinvention, and
healing. Chayat and her community have wisely chosen to bring in a
consultant from FaithTrust Institute to help guide this process. It will
likely take years, but it can be done. Two such cases of successful
reinvention in the wake of scandal include San Francisco Zen Center and
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. (A detailed account of SFZC’s
dissolution and rehabilitation appears in Michael Downing’s book, The Shoes Outside the Door;
an account of Kripalu’s scandals, implosion, and reinvention appears at
kripalu.org/about_us/491. Briefer accounts of both organizations’
reinvention appear in my forthcoming book Sex and the Spiritual Teacher.)

But what about the rest of us Zen students and teachers? What can we do?
We can begin by changing our focus, from Eido to ourselves and our communities.
We can, of course, continue to read Eido’s books, articles,
transcribed talks, etc. and accept the genuine and significant wisdom
many of them offer. Why shouldn’t we? Wisdom isn’t about the mouth, or
pen, or keyboard it comes out of. But for our own sanity, we can stop
throwing our attention and energy in Eido’s direction.

We can also stop imagining that Eido is the rare bad apple in the
Dharma barrel—and that by removing him from the barrel, we’ll have
nothing but pristine, healthy fruit. We can let go of the delusion that
we can reach into the barrel and, without exercising our powers of
observation or discernment, bite safely into anything we pull out.

Since Zen (and Buddhism in general) first sunk roots into American
soil, we students have trusted our teachers to consistently look out for
our best interests and our safety. Most have done so, but many haven’t.
Some still don’t. We need to stop imagining that this state of affairs has changed—or will change someday.
When we suspect that a teacher has not acted in our best
interests, we need to question them, challenge them, and speak publicly
about them. When we see that they’ve not acted in our best
interests, we may need to separate from them.

Instead of trying to fix them, we can put on our shoes, walk away, and find another teacher. (We
should also report instances of a teacher’s injustice or exploitation to
people in positions of authority, of course.)

All spiritual teachers teach at our discretion. Without us, they
would have nobody to teach. At every moment, we have the power to
abandon any teacher, simply by turning away. If enough of us do this, we
put a teacher out of business—unless and until they change their ways.

The history of Zen is replete with examples of folks who did just
this. Many of these folks went on to become some of Zen’s greatest
teachers. Your own history is equally replete with instances in which
you did just this. Think of the relationships with lovers, doctors,
mechanics, teachers, shops, and restaurants that you ended because they
failed to look out for your best interests.

We also need to look closely at ourselves as communities. As Jack Kornfield notes in his book A Path With Heart,
“The problems of teachers cannot be easily separated from the
communities around them. A spiritual community will reflect the values
and behavior of its teachers and will participate in the problems as
well. Because spiritual community is so important, only when our
community life is made a conscious part of our practice can our own
heart and spiritual life become integrated and whole.”

The converse is also true: a spiritual teacher needs to reflect the
values and behavior of his or her spiritual community. If our teacher
fails to act according to our values, then we need to meet as a
community to collectively examine and reflect on those values. If we
agree to reaffirm those values, then it is in our best interests to boot
the teacher out. In such cases, this is usually the wisest and most
compassionate thing we can do.

Scott Edelstein has practiced Zen since 1974. He is the author of 15 books and has served as editor for two spiritual teachers. This
article is partly adapted from the book
Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do, to be published in March 2011 by Wisdom Publications. His website is sexandthespiritualteacher.com.
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polly



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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 12:19 pm

As I said, the message to Josh was A. private and B. sent in error. I would add that I did not actually tell him to shut up, I did ask him if he ever did.

This forum has been a valuable experience for me but it has lost it's purpose and its way, at least for me. I have very warm feelings toward many of the participants and wish them well and thank them.

Signing off,
Polly
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:04 pm

Perhaps of interest...

http://monkeymindonline.blogspot.com/2011/04/sixty-six-zen-teachers-write-to-dennis.html
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 2:52 pm

James, thank you for posting this.

I wish something more appropriate would come to mind as a comment, but thanks to Josh, all I have for Denny and Co. is:

Shenanigans! I declare shenanigans!

And we don't even have an Officer Barbrady to come and haul him away.

L.
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Howard



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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 4:23 pm

Hey "signing off" Polly

I'm not sure that I've seen a consistent purpose or way on the OBC connect. Some of the most strident responses to my postings have come from folks who are rightly peeved that I've bundled them up once again in some proclamation or another.

For me the discussions on the OBC connect have been a masters program on accelerated sacred cow deflation. Corporate religious supports that are continually exposed as just another twisted human frailty seeking solid ground in contradiction to the most fundamental Buddhist teachings.


I'm still sorting through years of self induced Buddhist conditioning which means re evaluating what seems like a limitless plethora of assumptions. I do this not to reject or embrace anything in particular but to see what remains standing free of my own fiddlings. Where I am still unable to allow phenomena a life independent of my own ideas, they remain highlighted as "spam" , probably corrupted and in need of more attention..

Many of your postings have helped me with this. Because of this I wonder if the purpose and way of this forum are not what you can get from the OBC connect but more of what your unique perspective can bring to everyone else.

Cheers as usual
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Howard



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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 5:12 pm

Hey Diana

I love it. Everytime you slam Zen I hear it like your telling my grandmother to ----- off.
Before I know it I'm up on my horse charging another windmill.

What I call Zen is supposed to be ridiculous. That this term has been hijacked by everyone trying to assert some legitimacy to their platform doesn't make it Zen. The organization you were trained in, very consciously removed the term Zen from it's label many years ago. I give them points for intent on this one even if they continued to sling the term around.

Yeah, I know, I sound like a Christian calling the other 2000 forms of Christianity miss labelled. Like that Christian, I've met some trainees that actually practise what they preach, experience doubt & questioning as valuable, see that there is no one to take or leave seriously and express a lived fluidity that my own meditation can resonate with.
They have made me think that there might only be two forms of Zen. These would be Zen and posing, or Zen and salesmen, or Zen and control, or maybe Zen and those using that label as a cover for behaving poorly.

Well, back to the barn!

Cheers
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 21, 2011 9:08 pm

We are all human, there are no gods, we all make mistakes but when we deliberately hide our mistakes pretending they are not there, or even clothing them as virtues, then we are hypocrites and surely we deserve to be mocked and if the mistakes are serious enough then it would seem to me that they deserve ridicule. It is true though that ridicule can be a powerful weapon and one that can be used to enslave through humiliation, a favourite ploy of the abuser, we have all seen it used by the playground bully and the abusive boss, inside and outside of the monastery. But equally it is the weapon of choice of the downtrodden in totalitarian states. They used to say in the Soviet Union where five year plans were always fulfilled and history was constantly rewritten: 'In the old days the past was certain and the future uncertain but now under the great leadership of Stalin that has all been transformed and it is the future is certain and the past that is uncertain.' It is all a matter of intent and position. In Genpo's case if even half of what has been said is true than contemptuous mockery is the least he deserves. Under those circumstances if it helps just one person to free themselves from his thrall, or prevents just one person for being suckered in by him by showing him up in his true light then it will have been very worthwhile. The fact tha it may wound his pride is surely of lesser consequence. We all need to be able to accept and laugh at our own frailties and pomposity, it's a way of getting them into perspective, and sometimes we can be helped by a little mockery - at least that's what my wife tells me!
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Apr 22, 2011 7:55 pm

Okay, I know I said I was going to take my toys and go home but there is something more that needs to be explored here.

While I certainly agree that Genpo needs to be stopped, I don't believe that "contemptuous mockery" is the way to do it, and no, not even if it saves one person from being in his thrall. There's an odd set of weights and measures there that I don't think belongs in human interaction. Jamesiford gave us a link to a dignified, utterly clear condemnation of Genpo's actions and a request for him to step down. There was no hint of contempt or derision in it whatsoever. That carries a great deal of weight with me. Mockery, public humiliation on the other hand, is immediately suspect because it is a crude and unprincipled tool. You can do miraculous surgery with a scalpel, and a butcher knife in its place will destroy everything. I can't place any faith in someone who uses ridicule, regardless of the recipient. There are wiser, more sophisticated tools. Despicable behavior can be confronted effectively without using despicable behavior in the process. Otherwise you have war, on one scale or another.

I thought most of the people on this forum were Buddhist? Am I wrong? Isn't compassion the basis of all Buddhist interaction? How can public humiliation be compassionate? Oh, I know the arguement about how sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, the greater good, all that. There is just no getting around the fact that if you sneer at someone, and attempt to convince others to sneer at them, you have put yourself on another, higher level than that person. Most if not all of the Buddhist precepts are geared toward steering us away from just that. Because it is deluded.

Self-mockery, well, we do benefit from a sense of humor about our own frailties. Absolutely. But that can be overdone or misdone as well, we can be cruel to ourselves to no good end. Again, compassion. We may fail at the attempt toward compassion countless times, but to dismiss it, well, we do that at our peril.

And Mark, "there are no gods."? That's a pretty big statement. I have always respected your opinion but this one has to be challenged, since I feel every bit as strongly as you do that the opposite is true. For you there may be no gods, but for me, God is all there is.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Apr 22, 2011 9:58 pm

Yup, the discussions get pretty "lively" here and there, and the posts stack up quickly, so many people talking from so many differing viewpoints, perspectives. I had a feeling I too would get some "feedback" on something up above too, and, no, we "can't just all get along" sometimes, we are all talking from our current understanding, whatever that might be at the moment, and all have some validity or are at least thoughtprovoking. I have often found myself agreeing with those I usually do not agree with, and disagreeing with those I usually do. And, who can define "GOD" or explain "GOD" ? Polly, just stick with it, don't go away, somewhere, somehow, it all balances out.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Apr 22, 2011 10:19 pm

I agree with Brigitte --

And Polly, you asked if most people on this forum are Buddhist -- it's hard to know since a majority of our members don't post. But I can say, the forum was set up on the premise that no one is expected to adhere to Buddhist principles in their messages, in any way, and actually we expect that most people probably won't. I don't, and I don't even think about it. This is not "a Buddhist forum" in terms of allowed/expected behaviours. It is a place to be open (using civil (not OBC "right" speech) about what we've seen and done, and how we feel about it. It started out with an OBC focus, but to be honest, I don't care much about that anymore. OBC isn't a part of my life, but Buddhism is.

I'm one who was absolutely tickled in every way by the Merzel video on YouTube. It was restrained, targeted, well-performed, and absolutely spot-on. I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy a good skit on Saturday Night Live, the Colbert Report, a PJ O'Rourke article, and any number of other satirical endeavours. All of them use ridicule, and for myself, I see nothing wrong with it.

I hope that you are not signing off for good. It's okay that people disagree with and challenge each other, and it's okay to say so. Doesn't mean that anyone is wrong or that another is right.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:06 pm

Ah Polly, I agree with much of what you said But I would have to disagree with some. When I referred to there being no gods I was referring to the human realm. We are all frail and fallible humans, not gods. Within a theistic tradition it would be blasphemous to say otherwise surely. The whole of being may be grounded in God, but that does not make us gods. Though the latter is a difficult argument for me personally to make as I am an atheist, however many people who I greatly admire were/are theists and I have often stolen their clothes.
On compassion you are of course quite right we should always strive to be compassionate, but compassion is for the person not the deed. We can be contemptuous of the deed, and indeed express our contempt, and still be compassionate of the person. Indeed the letter that James Ford linked to seems to express nothing but contempt for Genpo's behaviour even if it is stated in moderate terms. But this moderation is something that Genpo seems well capable of ignoring completely. Mockery and ridicule are just another way of saying the same thing. Both are public warning signs, neither seems very hopeful of changing his apparently despicable behaviour. But both in their different ways may show him in his real light to those who are in contact with him or might come into contact with him in the future. That is compassion for them. I think that both th letter and the movie could be just as hurtful to Genpo but if it brings him to his senses that is compassion for him, however I thnk that they will acually be water of a duck's back. Again I think the important thing is the motive and intent. If it is done just to hurt then yes it is nasty and spiteful but this can be just as true of somber words as ridicule and satire. Sometimes a situation needs both somber words and mockery, I feel that the present one justifies it, though I completely accept may have a different point of view. However much I much admire somber denouncement such Luther's The Ninety-Five Theses or the open letter to Genpo I sometimes get the point better through satire such as Aristophanes The Birds or Charlie Chaplin's Great Dictator, and yes right down to tealeafzen.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Apr 23, 2011 12:43 am

Hey Mark,

I see what you are getting at, and Lise too. There is a place for satire. I think that the sheer quantity of input on that level has been overdone; too much satire (and even a little derision) is a sour bolus to swallow and I choked on it.

Glad you cleared up that point about God/gods. I was, like, Wow, Mark! Them's big words!

Thanks, Brigitte. I do appreciate you.

Okay, onward and upward.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sun Apr 24, 2011 6:24 pm

Glad you're staying on Polly, it's worth it. I was also a bit tired of the continual Genpo references, but, just above, Scott Edelsteins article posted by JC Baran (Josh?) was very good, helpful, in ref. to his thoughts on addicts, power addicts, etc., and the co dependency that results when such go unchecked and unchallenged. Also, who else but Howard could come up with such phrases as "masters program on accelerated sacred cow deflation"?
It's worth it also, Polly, because lots of us, to lesser or greater degree, had dedicated a large part of our lives to this practice, as taught to us by the OBC, and in my case, it has completely changed my life, in ways I never could have imagined, so we have a right or a legitimacy to express all of this somehow and it is quite healing to hear others talk about it too so that you at least understand that some of your "suspicions" of what you perceived as being wrong was not always due to your "mistunderstanding" or your "sensitivity" or your paranoia.

Some of us have completely lost faith in regard to religious matters and become atheists, and yet some keep believing that there is something so vast and incomprehensive that it's beyond imagination, speculation, thought, and whatever name you want to ascribe to this, God, emptiness, or whatever, doesn't matter, we are all in it together. Nobody is more "worthy" nobody is more "unworthy", we all need the basic necessities, and when you practice just a little "mindfulness" you realize compassion and offering a little understanding and assistance to those around you at critical times goes a long way in making this a better world. I believe we are doing this right here somehow, by just talking it out as best we can.

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:31 am

Dear Brigitte, I have come to the same conclusion. One of the things that OBC treated me to was an increased level of self-doubt and it comes up a lot here since we are so open. Sometimes it runs away with me although it may not look like it since I generally tend to erupt when it does. So much just comes down to fear. I came from a violent household and learned young how to hide. But when I got older I discovered that to attack worked pretty well too, even though I am but 5 feet tall. My tongue can pack a heck of a wallop when I'm threatened, which is not what I want. These are patterns that I don't know will ever change (in this lifetime).

Yes, we can help each other, and we do. And we will.

Goodnight and God bless. (Who said that? Besides me?)
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:11 am

wanted to share a few things -- in the news -- that might be of interest to some people:

Believing the Story: The famous Indian god-man/guru Satya Sai Baba just died. He was worshiped as an avatar, God incarnate, performed lots of "miracles." There were literally hundreds of stories that he had molested boys and men for decades and that many of his supposed miracles were just slight of hand tricks, some of which were captured on video. But his devotees couldn't care less about these challenges to his divinity. India has its fair share of these kind of god-men and i am sure there will be a million people at his funeral. People desperately want spiritual heroes, perfect saints, miracle workers -- and no matter what evidence arises to the contrary, they will continue to believe. Facts are irrelevant. Critics are dismissed or demonized. His devotees wanted a God and that's what they saw no matter what.

Confabulation. A very popular recent book was "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. The book is all about the author's great work in raising money and building schools of girls in the Pakistan, etc. Well, last Sunday, 60 Minutes broke the story that much of what Greg claimed was false, significantly exaggerated, fabricated, and that millions of dollars had been used to support his lifestyle. It is not that he hadn't done some good work, but much of how he talked about his activities never happened. Where he built three schools he bragged about building eleven schools. Many of his schools were never built or were just brick shells with no students.

The reason I bring this up here is that i feel that this kind of mental disorder - confabulation -- creating a grand myth, a false narrative about yourself and your accomplishments - wanting to be bigger and greater than you actually are - manipulating your image so you are praised and worshiped -- this process is widely lived in spiritual groups and with various teacher and gurus. It is a psychological or spiritual disorder, a pathology, an inability to simply accept ordinary life as it is and the need to greatly enhance your story, your status, who you are or want to be - rather than just being who you are. The ego in action, the desperate need for external love, approval and appreciation.

Mortenson had done some good work. Many people saw this. But he seems to also have an addiction to fabrication and grandiosity. And he got caught, so all his work will probably come tumbling down.

I guess the reason I bring this up is that so many spiritual teachers - not just in the Zen tradition - but in many others -- have this need to confabulate, to take their insights and blow them up into great enlightenment, to seem wiser and holier and more accomplished than they area - and then they get caught up in self-promotion and then the demand to be adored, worshiped, obeyed, and all the rest. Now if they could just be themselves, share their authentic insights and wisdom and stop trying to be other than they area -- now that would be refreshing. Honest, Sane. Workable.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:11 am

Hey Josh

I don't know about you but the seductive caress of fame and gain for me is never far from my zafu.

Cheers
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:36 am

Anyone else have difficulties trying to edit their own post. Sometimes I have to log out, refresh and resubmit and even then it can have quite a delay?
This morning it's just locked in.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:19 pm

Greetings

So true, Howard, good reminder, we are "all" so susceptible to the seductive caress of fame and gain, whether on a large scale or on a small one, it takes vigilance and constant self assessment to see it at work, it's a lifelong task . Good to see you with that morning cup of "tea".!!

Polly

Who else said that? you ask, I think it is usually Isan who signs off with "blessings".
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:27 pm

OH. And here I was thinking it was maybe Winston Churchill. Embarassed Yeah that old desire for fame and gain creeps in at the oddest times. Me and Winnie.

P.S. I didn't have any trouble with editing but I sure did have trouble with deleting!
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:26 pm

of course, the greatest confabulation we all do -- this "I" story we all have running, so everything is on top of that persistent illusion, icing on that cake.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Tue Apr 26, 2011 8:13 pm

Polly


Since you mentioned "Winston" it remimded me of something. When I first walked into the Priory in S.B. back now more than twelve years ago, the firsst thing I noticed was that rather large and well known picture of R.M. Jiyu, with her Hossu in hand and it immediately reminded me of Winston Churchill, a great similarity. Perhaps more so than the physical features was the look of great determination, will and overall presence of certainty, and for a moment I thought I detected a strain of dominence, domineering, ?. I let go of my thoughts of that this was "not" what a Zen Master should look like, and didn't know then that she had only died two months earlier. I soon learned that "Zen Masters" come in all shapes, sizes and persuasions and was greatly "impressed" with what was a rather devotional practice. All of my practice from that time on, until now, and the twists and turns this practice took, up to the time I finally walked away, too, could fill a rather large book if it were going to go into all the details, but could never adequately describe the varying aspects of personalities that I met along the way and that all taught me something, both in positive and in negative ways. I feel that all of this, somehow, was exactly what I needed and I am grateful for the positive and , as time goes on, will hopefully be able to process the negative into something positive, as well. I still miss the communal aspect of the practice greatly, but not enough to keep subjecting myself to what at least in my perception, had lost its original intent and meaning.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:30 am

Brigitte,


I too miss the sangha, and having a teacher, and I think I've mentioned before that the devotional aspect of the OBC practice was the part I loved the most. Also still processing. Not angry anymore, just sad. Don't want to go back either but so sad to see it turn out to be just a dream for me. I often suspect that we all get exactly what we need, and it's up to us to figure it out and use it for good. But I'm not sure about that. I wonder if others think that way? ( Should that be on another thread? Maybe it already is.) It was one of RM Jiyu's teachings that I liked, that all things work for the good.

Here's a question for Josh. Do you think that spiritual leaders/teachers are a bad thing in principle? I know you've seen the worst of it, but have you seen some good too?

Polly
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:45 am

You mentioned above your reactions when you saw the formidable photo of Kennett - her determination, and what you refer to as "the overall presence of certainty." So some thought on this state of "certainty."

In the book, BEING WRONG, the author Kathryn Schulz devotes a chapter to "The Allure of Certainty." She quotes the writer Charles Renouvier: "Properly speaking,,, there is no certainty; there are only people who are certain."

This book and especially this chapter is worth reading.

"What zealots have in common is the absolute conviction that they are right. In fact, in all of the symbolic ones and zeros that extremist use to write the ideological binary codes-- us/them, same/different, good/evil -- the fundamental one is right/wrong. Zealotry demands a complete rejection of the possibility of error."

We see this with many gurus, religious and authoritarian leaders, with kings and dictators - this state of infinitehim certainty where these folks thunder their certainty, their knowing, their absolute conviction that they know and live truth. So seductive. Error is impossible, inconceivable, heretical. For most of us, who have doubts, uncertainty, this state of certainty is very appealing, seems so powerful. We believe that such certainty must be a sure sign of divinity, enlightenment, truth. After all, what else could it possibly be?

"The conviction that we cannot possibly be wrong: this is certainty. We've seen a lot of this conviction already; in the form of people who are sure they can see, or sure what they do see, or sure of what they believe or predict or recall. Most of the time, this garden–variety certainty seems far removed from zealotry – and in a sense, it is. There is a very big difference between say, insisting that you are right about Orion and, say, murdering the Protestants, Muslims, Jews, bigamist, blasphemers, sodomites, and witches who are defiling your country. Not everyone who is filled with passionate certitude is Torquemada.

"In another sense, though, certainty and zealotry are not far removed from each other at all. We got a glimpse of the close association between them, briefly, in the form of the Evil Assumption. If I believe unshakably in the righteousness of my own convictions, it follows that those who hold opposing views are denying the truth and luring others in the falsehood. From there, it is a short step to thinking that I am morally entitled – or even morally obliged – to silence such people anyway I can, including through conversion, coercion, and if necessary, murder. It is such a short step, in fact, that history is rife with instances where absolute convictions fomented and rationalize violence. We typically associate these spasms of ideologically motivated bloodshed with certain institutions: extremist religions (the Crusades, the Inquisition), superiority-minded racial or ethnic clans (the Rwandan genocide, the Third Reich), and totalitarian states like Stalinism or the Khmer Rouge. But institutions are not superhuman entities, manipulating people to serve their own own ends. Institutions have no ends. Top to bottom, they are conceived created, and maintained by human beings. The certainty they exploit is the certainty – or the longing for it – already present inside each of us.

"Zealotry, in other words, begins at home.

"The unshakable conviction of rightness represents the logical outcome of everything we've read about so far. Our sense of certainty is kindled by the feeling of knowing – that inner sensation that something just is, with all of the solidity and self evidence suggested by the most basic of verbs. Viewed in some lights, in fact, the idea of knowledge and the idea of certainty seem indistinguishable. But to most of us, certainly suggests something bigger and more forceful and knowledge. The great American satirist Ambrose Bierce defined it as "being mistaken at the top of one's voice" and it is this shouted from the roof top quality that makes certainty distinctive. Compared to the feeling of knowing which is by definition a feeling or an inner state, certainty seems both amped up and externalized. It is, we might say, a more public, action oriented analogue to knowledge."

Schulz makes some great points: the feeling of knowing is NOT a reliable indicator of accuracy or truth. Strong feeling does not equal truth. Our senses can fail us. Our minds can mislead us. Our communities can blind us. Certainty can be a moral catastrophe waiting to happen.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 2:38 am

Hey Polly
Don't want to go back either but so sad to see it turn out to be just a dream for me.

This is probably stuff you are already aware of but.....

The dream was that you would be able to hang out in the nest for as long as you'd like.
That dream was true until you were willing to try out your wings.
It seems you picked flying over huddling in a dream.
You don't have to look for the good in it, you are it.

Cheers
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:54 am

Polly asked -- "Here's a question for Josh. Do you think that spiritual
leaders/teachers are a bad thing in principle? I know you've seen the
worst of it, but have you seen some good too"

Yes, i have met spiritual teachers who I feel were / are quite extraordinary - mostly Tibetan lamas and a few Theravadan monks. And, i approach all of them as an adult. I don't assume they are perfect of "fully enlightened." I would not be surprised if faults / issues emerged. I keep my distance in some key ways from their organizations or scene. I also feel that I can learn a lot from a teacher who does have human "flaws", isn't perfect or fully awake. The Dalai Lama says straight out that he is not enlightened - and I don't think this is some kind of false humility.

Being disillusioned was a painful experience for me - in the immediate post-Shasta period. It took me some years to process through my anger, my disappointment, my sadness. How could this have happened? How could things have gotten so messed up and confused? What was going on? And I did avoid spiritual teachers and groups for many years. But years later, i did seek out connections and wanted to reconnect.

I think part of my journey was the developing the ability to integrate and accept human nature as it is, not to be caught up in thinking people and groups should be other than they are, they should be more perfect. The Genpo situation -- no surprise there. It is an example of blind faith and abuse of power, but there was nothing new in his behavior and the behavior of his merry band of followers. Predictable.

Actually, what happened was just the inevitable consequence of their ingrained beliefs / stories about masters, enlightenment, transmission, kensho, and so on. Believe myths as truth and suffering will follow, one way or another. He was a perfect master, he was fully enlightened, because he received this "transmission" - he was superhuman, because he had a few experiences, he was so much better and wiser than everyone else. Because he was a master, he could do no wrong, everything he did or said was teaching, he was beyond conventional morality or rules, and criticism is unacceptable. After all, he lived the Big Mind. Was was the Big Mind. He was so awesome that people would pay $50,000 to hang out with him for a few days.

We know all these stories / ideas / beliefs - and they lead to cultic organizations, blind obedience, error blindness, and all the rest. Talk about karma. When you believe these stories, how do you live your life?

So let's imagine a relationship with spiritual mentor / teacher / friend - where we don't believe these stories. What would that be like? In fact, where we assume the opposite. We assume imperfection. We assume humanity. We assume that the teacher is going to mess up occasionally. We assume that they might be very wise about meditation and Buddhist philosophy, but ignorant about other matters. We assume that their organizations could have internal issues / problems - that will need to be addressed regularly and openly. Where we take refuge in the Buddha, but not the teacher. Where our devotion is towards truth / reality not towards persons.

And where we are in a relationship as adults, where we can speak up, can question. Where we and they are accountable. Where myths are not important. And where organizations are open enough to hear criticism, to deal with problems of communication, where critics are not demonized, where members are loved and honored. Where compassion is not just some vague idea.

The Dharma to me is the greatest treasure...... as i actualize or see it with my own eyes. The fact that the official story about the Zen transmission - for 85 generations - the unbroken lineage - from master to disciple - is essentially a myth created in 10th century China - that fact is not a problem for me. There is no sense of betrayal or disillusionment. The Dharma does not depend on such a story. the Dharma does not come from the past in any case- how could that be? It is now or never. And without all these stories and myths, when you just sit on your cushion or walk down the street, who are you? Who am I? What is this I?

end of my morning babel
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 10:36 am

Good answer, Josh! And good advice. I appreciated you speaking about your own feelings as well, your own sorrow.

Howard...well thanks.

Happy days to all,

Polly
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 11:20 am

Jcbaran wrote:

Being disillusioned was a painful experience for me - in the immediate post-Shasta period. It took me some years to process through my anger, my disappointment, my sadness. How could this have happened? How could things have gotten so messed up and confused? What was going on? And I did avoid spiritual teachers and groups for many years. But years later, i did seek out connections and wanted to reconnect

Given that you and I and a great many others have had a version of this experience I'm starting to think of it as a stage we all need to go through. It seems that almost everyone creates this experience to one degree or another, and we find whomever we need to act it out with. After the fact we tend to think of it as a terrible and avoidable mistake, but apparently it isn't.

Jcbaran wrote:

Actually, what happened was just the inevitable consequence of their ingrained beliefs / stories about masters, enlightenment, transmission, kensho, and so on. Believe myths as truth and suffering will follow, one way or another.

So let's imagine a relationship with spiritual mentor / teacher / friend - where we don't believe these stories. What would that be like? In fact, where we assume the opposite. We assume imperfection. We assume humanity. We assume that the teacher is going to mess up occasionally. We assume that they might be very wise about meditation and Buddhist philosophy, but ignorant about other matters. We assume that their organizations could have internal issues / problems - that will need to be addressed regularly and openly. Where we take refuge in the Buddha, but not the teacher. Where our devotion is towards truth / reality not towards persons

This is a much more mature vision, but didn't it grow from a less mature one?
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 12:00 pm

Josh wrote (quoted by Isan in previous post):

Where we take refuge in the Buddha, but not the teacher. Where our
devotion is towards truth / reality not towards persons
...

Isn't Buddha also but a teacher? And a person? And, furthermore, one that you can't test, observe in daily life, ask questions...

Ol'ga
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 4:12 pm

to Isan's point, you might be totally right. I found being disillusioned to be one of the most maturing / learning experiences of my life, maybe a rite of passage. So, yes..... that you, Kennett and Shasta for that.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 8:10 pm

This comes perilously close to justifying exploitation on the grounds of skilful means. No, if it is wrong, it is wrong. If you learn from it great but you DO NOT NEED to be exploited in order to learn. Life will gives enough hard knocks to test you without someone whose wrapped themselves in holiness taking advantage of you. We may start off in a confused state and need some guidance from those who have learnt to sometimes see a little more clearly, but as you say Josh, O'lga they will only ever be human. When you learn maths at school you don't expect your teacher to be a perfect mathematician, let alone a perfect human being, so too in religion. We have companions on our journey who can help and support us sometimes and stuff handed down by people who have journeyed before us, our companions of the past, but they too were only ordinary humans. There is no truth in lineage or apostolic succession. If you look into their histories you find that they were invented to bolster the authority and importance of some later organisation or person. And your quite right O'lga the Buddha was only human not some perfect God, but then he did not claim to be, that came later foisted on his memory by his later followers to bolster their own selfimportance.We seem naturally make heroes and worship them, and then are disillusioned when they turnout to be human after all, just like us. And if they are dead, ahh! then we can really go to town and raise them up to be perfect. That's one of the reasons I liked Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattvas were not human but personifications of idealised attributes. I can put my faith and trust in Avalokitesvara (Kanzeon) he never exised so he can never let me down, but he can still teach me through inspiration and by drawing out the best from me. When someone purports to be some kind of realisation of bohdisattvahood, run and run fast.


Last edited by mstrathern on Wed Apr 27, 2011 8:28 pm; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 8:26 pm

Mark wrote:
No, if it is wrong, it is wrong.

Very true. Of course, one has the option of learning, but this kind of 'teaching' was not Roshi's job. There was a power differential, and so she had added responsibility to treat us well. In fact, the treatment we got impeeds one's ability to learn. One needs a modicum of peace and inner leasure to learn. It is not all that different from learning maths, or taking in some beautiful piece of music. It's not a good idea to attempt these while being bashed over the head.
I think the problem is also in the Zen lore (I don't know if it extends to all of Buddhism) of some final enlightenment which makes one exempt from error. I simply don't believe that, any more than I believe that there are some wise men in China who never die. What is even more important is, that we can be fallible, and still be free.
I indulged myself in writing more on this (more or less) under Josh's Introduction. (End of commercial).
Ol'ga
P.S. Yes, I very much liked, what you wrote, Mark, about Avalokitesvara, and the inspiration..., as I would put it, helping one find compassion in one's own heart. It is there, and it is real. And because it is already there, there is nothing special about it, no heroism, no saintliness, which are a drag.


Last edited by Ol'ga on Wed Apr 27, 2011 8:40 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : adding some more pearls of wisdom)
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:23 pm

Just to expand a little on the theme of infalibility. Remember how one's performance anywhere, the toolshed, or the kitchen, was supposed to reflect one's 'spiritual' (ban that word!) advancement?
Well, I screwed up in the kitchen (in fact, I obediently followed screwy instructions by a more senior monk), and so was nearly thrown out of the monastery - because something was obviously wrong with my training, it was concluded.
Also, a senior monk HAD to be right, even when it came to building stone walls in the cloister. And so it happened, that once Josh-guestmaster, and I, his assistant, and some lay people were building these walls; and Josh was telling us which (huge!!!) stone to pick up, and where to put it. Well, Roshi was a genius at this :"Take this stone, and put it here, in this gap, the other way, you oaf!" And the stone would fit perfectly, like a bum on the chamberpot (a saying of my friend, a pastor's wife, so it's clean!), firmly, no wobbling...Roshi was quite fabulous in this - she was in league with the devil, I tell ya! Marvellous. Well, Josh, on the other hand, a great guy though he is, and I love him to bits, has not a shadow of this knack. We would be asked to pick up these unwieldy rocks, getting our hands covered with the red stuff that circulates in our veins (had to avoid a banned term), and try to put them where they could not possibly fit. I could see it in advance - again and again I would be asked to do the impossible, break my back doing it...I was expected to totally meekly accept Josh's guidance, because he was much senior to me, and so was in possession of this arcane knowledge, and I was not. Dear reader, I could not remain silent, started objecting...Roshi went by, observed my deviant behaviour, called me aside and gave me hell. That is when I turned on my heal, and went packing my things. This was emphatically NOT teaching. Rather, it was done to break my will, stifle my common sense; and I just had had enough. (As I said elsewhere, Eko was sent to dissuade me from leaving, and I stayed on a few more days, and then left.)
I don't believe the teaching should be against common sense. Of course, one must examine this 'common sense', because truth is often counter-intuitive. In the end, we still use our common sense, though, perhaps after taking more facts into consideration.
There is a certain mysteriousness, mysticism, in Zen, and it hides a multitude of sins. And it is a lie.
Gotta go, you'll be relieved to hear.
Ol'ga
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Wed Apr 27, 2011 9:36 pm

A lot of the zen mystery O'lga is tied up in the koans and often they are just very simple and straightforward statements of the truth but we in our confusion can't see that and deck them out in mysterious meaning and importance.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Apr 28, 2011 12:05 pm

Agreed that we don't need to be exploited in order to learn. But I remember announcing to my friends at an early age (maybe 21) that the trouble with the world was that there were no heros. I wanted, and I think many young people want, to find someone who embodies the virtues that have been impressed upon them from childhood but which, when reaching adulthood, are so distressingly hard to find. I remember well the shock I received when it dawned on me that not all adults were fair and honest. That not all "religious" people were wise. Why the surprise I don't know, since considering my upbringing it should have been obvious. Well, I do know why, I had convinced myself that my parents were perfect (they were very religious) and I was flawed, which was what they told me, after all. It's such a common theme. So we set out, some of us, with the strong desire to connect with someone who will be all the things we believe to be virtuous, wise and good. And we are therefore set up perfectly for such experiences that the OBC or Genpo, or the Rajneesh have to offer. Highly idealistic but not yet wise enough or experienced enough to discriminate, it is easy to fall into that trap of being exploited by someone who tells us they are infallible. After all, that's what we were looking for, wasn't it, someone who was infallible? And yes, afterward, I did feel that "it was a terrible and avoidable mistake on my part". The word "sap" comes to mind.

Isan's words were comforting to me, in that they confirmed that this is common ground for a lot of us. Not that I think things have to play out this way, only that they so often do. But I have to love it about those of us who did have this experience, that at least we were looking, we were trying to find the best in the world and in ourselves. And we were serious enough about it to throw ourselves into it wholeheartedly.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu May 05, 2011 5:03 am

Essay - May 1, 2011 –
from Religion Dispatches

Death of a Self-Proclaimed God Man - Sathya Sai Baba by Andrea R. Jain


On April 24 the global guru Sathya Sai Baba died at the age
of 86 near his ashram in his home village of Puttaparti in Andhra Pradesh. Sai
Baba had been admitted to the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical
Sciences on March 28 and was on life support and dialysis as his condition
gradually deteriorated until his eventual death from multiple organ failure.


Reflecting on Sai Baba’s life, one encounters moments of divine transformation, devotion, and
public service as well as pain, death, and heinous accusations. Millions of
devotees believed in and worshiped Sai Baba as a god-man, an avatar of God.
Many also despised him as a charlatan, a sexual abuser, and even an accessory
to murder.


Becoming God


Sai Baba was born as Sathyanarayana Raju on November 23,
1926 in Puttaparthi. In 1940, after recovering from seizures caused by a
scorpion bite, his character transformed, and he claimed to be an incarnation
of the turn of the century Muslim saint Shirdi Sai Baba. He renounced all
normal social relationships and performed miracles that quickly attracted large
crowds.


And so Sai Baba became a guru.


In 1963 Sai Baba disclosed that not only was he the
incarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, but he was also the incarnation of God himself,
a God that transcends all religious boundaries. His ecumenical teaching
maintained that all religions are true paths to God, and since Sai Baba is God,
he is also is Shiva, Vishnu, Jesus, and Allah.


Sai Baba’s ability to attract devotees—whether attributed to
his personal charisma, marketing skills, or both—was extraordinary. Today the
International Sathya Sai Organization disseminates Sai Baba’s teachings and
manages a network of over 1,200 Sathya Sai Baba centers in 126 countries. Most
of his devotees came to acknowledge him as god-man without ever meeting him in
person.


Sai Baba’s devotees include powerful politicians (including
former prime ministers of India), celebrities, and entrepreneurs. Following his
death, a wave of public condolences arose from powerful Indian politicians
eager to confirm their associations with the god-man. (Although a separate
article would be required to explain the dynamics of contemporary Indian
politics when it comes to a controversial figure like Sai Baba.)


As Sai Baba’s devotees grew in numbers and influence so did
his financial worth. In 1972 the Satya Sai Central Trust was set up. Today the
trust is estimated to be worth at least $8.9 billion. It has funded water
supply projects in poor areas of southern India as well as ashrams, hospitals,
universities, and several schools across India and globally.


Sai Baba was most famous for his miracles—mainly
materializations of valuable objects. He is believed to have had the power to
conjure jewelry as gifts as well as sacred ash, which devotees applied to their
tongues, throats, and foreheads. The guru was believed to miraculously heal the
sick and to leave his body in order to visit people all over the world. For
devotees, such miracles confirmed that Sai Baba was God incarnate.


Others disagreed.


Serious Scandal


Sai Baba’s reputation was tinged by accusations that he was
a charlatan. Skeptics argued that his ability to materialize objects was not
miraculous but the sign of a skilled conjuring magician.


Perhaps the most notable controversy surrounding the guru
arose in 1993 when the police killed six young male devotees in Sai Baba’s
bedroom and claimed that they did so in self-defense. The case remains
controversial because many details of the incident are unknown. Some speculate
that the men were not killed in self-defense but were murdered after they
arrived to confront Sai Baba or perhaps kill him in retribution.


In retribution for what?


There are accusations that Sai Baba sexually abused some of
his young male devotees. Such accusations received global attention when in
2004 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired Secret Swami, a
documentary featuring interviews with American male devotees who claimed that
Sai Baba had coerced them as young men into sexual relationships. They
described how he initiated them into such relationships by rubbing oil on their
genitals and then proceeded to demand sexual favors, in some cases for years.
One accuser described how Sai Baba threatened him, arguing that his failure to
succumb to the guru’s demands would amount to a rejection of God himself—and
that if he told his family about the sexual encounters, they would ostracize
him in the name of Sai Baba.


Sai Baba denied the allegations and was never officially
investigated nor charged with any crime in India.


Sai Baba’s life was a complex one to say the least, and it
calls into question how we use the term guru in our popular discourse. Terms
for religious exemplars, such as saint or guru, occur widely in the popular
media and in popular culture generally in reference to figures assumed to
embody ethical virtue. I encounter this assumption often in my undergraduate
courses when I teach about saints or gurus and discuss the all too frequent
accusations of sexual abuse that surround such figures.


Many students inevitably ask, in shock and horror, how such
figures can be both religious exemplars and abusers.


So how can Sai Baba, a global guru loved by many and
simultaneously marred by controversy, be both a religious exemplar as guru and
god-man and an abuser, a cheat, and/or an accessory to murder?


On the one hand, devotees claim that their charitable
service to less fortunate communities is substantial and is a direct
consequence of Sai Baba’s teachings and transformative effects in their lives.
And money from the Satya Sai Central Trust has been used to improve the lives
of hundreds of thousands of people living in poor conditions.


On the other hand, accusations that he used fraudulent magic
to coerce devotees, threatened young men to have sex with him lest they disobey
God himself, and perhaps even participated as an accessory to murder are
impossible to ignore.


If any one of these accusations is true it is difficult to
consider Sai Baba a guru— assuming that term has something to do with ethical
virtue.


But the history of religions is tinged by religious
exemplars with questionable ethics. By destabilizing popular assumptions about
gurus, it becomes possible to adequately evaluate Sai Baba’s life and to
bracket—and even denounce—his ethics while still acknowledging the
transformative effects he had on his devotees. In this case the term guru would
point not to individuals with exceptional virtue, but rather to those who have
the power to convince, to lead, and to instigate transformation among
disciples.


In Sai Baba’s case, this much, at least, is true.





Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Andrea’s primary areas of
research and teaching are South Asian religions and the social-scientific study
of religion, with a focus on religion and the body. More specifically, her
research interests include the transnational construction and global popular
dissemination of Hindu and Jain schools of modern yoga, as well as the
comparative study of ascetic dimensions of yoga, especially with regard to food
and sexuality. Andrea’s current projects include studies on the intersection of
contemporary capitalist culture and modern yoga as well as the role of food practices
and guru figures in modern yoga traditions.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Tue May 31, 2011 8:33 am

Returning again to the topic of this thread, the new book - SEX AND THE SPIRITUAL TEACHER by Scott Edelstein. Have been reading the book and I highly recommend it. It takes on many issues that are relevant to Shasta, OBC, and any spiritual community really - issues of abuse of authority, group mind, rationalization, and so on. Simple, clear and one thing I actually appreciate is that Scott does not name names - does not single out any particular teachers or groups, so he presents a very open and broad mirror.

I may post some quotes from the book when I get a chance - to trigger some discussions.

I actually emailed the Faith Trust people about this book a few months back, urging them to read it - in case they had not seen it. They emailed me back last week, saying they knew the book well and actually had recommend that all the folks at Shasta read the book.

I met Scott and his wife a few weeks ago in New York. He was on a simple book / speaking tour and I invited him to join me at the book party for my friend Mark Matousek's new book, THE ETHICAL BRAIN. Another wonderful book to check out.

New York is getting very warm and a busy week and summer ahead.......
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Jun 06, 2011 1:09 am

White Plum Asanga Announcement

The following is announcement from the White Plum Asanga (http://www.whiteplum.org/announcements.html) with a statement on their values and an update on Dennis Genpo Merzel.

June 02, 2011

The White Plum Asanga affirms integrity, honesty, and humility as central to the practice of our Dharma teaching. We affirm non-harming in our relations with all those whom we encounter. We collectively vow to maintain our lineage as a vital branch of the Dharma tree, and to keep it as clear as possible from harmful actions.

We also recognize that, from the very root of our lineage, we have experienced misconduct in the areas of sex and alcohol. And, there have been occasions of abuse of power, sex and money in succeeding generations. We express our sincere apology to all those who have been harmed in any way by these actions. We resolve to act affirmatively to transform our collective karma by censure, healing and restitution.

In light of the above, a delegation of WPA members met with Dennis Genpo Merzel , and together discussed the current circumstances relating to his abuse of his position of teacher and Abbot. We sought to participate with him in a process of discernment to address his issues. He has indicated that he does not want to be accountable to his peers in the White Plum Asanga, and that he will follow his own path in addressing his personal issues and their impact on the Kanzeon Sangha. Since Genpo has resigned his membership in the White Plum organization, we have no authority over him. We appeal to him to address his issues and to take responsibility for healing the harmful effects they have had on his students, successors, and Sangha.

signed by the Board of The White Plum Asanga

Roshi Gerry Shishin Wick, President

Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Vice-President

Roshi Anne Seisen Saunders, Secretary-Treasurer

Sensei Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

Sensei Michael Mugaku Zimmerman
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Jun 06, 2011 1:14 am

Sex and the Spiritual Teacher, an interview with Scott Edelstein - from the Sweeping Zen website.

Scott Edelstein recently sat down to discuss his book, Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do. He has studied happily and productively with several spiritual teachers, including Toni Packer, Dainin Katagiri, Tim McCarthy , and (currently) Steve Hagen. As the friend of several spiritual teachers, he has also spent much time with them “off duty,” sometimes serving as confidant. He is a longtime practitioner of both Buddhism and Judaism, and a committed proponent of serious spirituality in all forms and traditions. Scott’s short work on spiritual topics has appeared in Shambhala Sun, American Jewish World, The Writer, the anthology What About God? (Upper Room Books), and elsewhere. He is also the author of 15 other books on a wide range of subjects.

SZ: Tell us a bit about how you came to write Sex and the Spiritual Teacher. What is your background, why did you decide to write it, and when did you start to write?

SE: I’ve been a Zen student since 1974. That’s when I first took a class in Zen meditation at Oberlin College . This was taught by another student, Tim McCarthy. At Oberlin there is something called the Experimental College. Some of the classes are taught by students, and they are on things that would not normally be part of the curriculum. You can get up to five credits toward graduation for these classes. Tim McCarthy is now a Zen teacher.

In 1978, after I graduated, I studied with Katagiri Roshi and a variety of other Zen teachers. I’ve been interested in anything that could be called spiritual or religious since my freshman year in college.

I was young and foolish. I still remember telling a friend, “Oh, in Zen we don’t have any of those kinds of problems that the Catholic Church has.” (Laughs.)

SZ: Zen was never involved in any wars either, right? (Laughs.)

SE: You can read Brian Victoria‘s Zen at War about that. I first learned about some of the sex stuff from a book called Sexy Laughing Stories of Old Japan by Andrew Dykstra. The book talked about the wakashu. Zen priests had these wakashu, or houseboys. Their job was to take care of the priests’ homes and to provide them with sexual services. These boys were, you know, 12 to 16.

SZ: Classy.

SE: That was a normal job in Japan. That’s when I first started saying, “Maybe these teacher-student relationships are not what I thought.” After Katagiri Roshi ’s death we learned about his transgressions. And, of course, stuff had gone down with Trungpa and Ösel Tendzin, with Richard Baker and San Francisco Zen Center—and I had known about Eido Shimano since back in 1974. Of course, there were many, many others. Not just in Zen. You can pretty much go to any tradition. Catholic priests. Sathya Sai Baba . It just went on and on and on.

In the 1990s, the Minnesota Zen Center let go of their administrator, Alice Erickson—they couldn’t afford to pay her anymore—and I hired her as my assistant. She wanted to write a book about this and I said it sounded like a great book.

At the time I was a quarter-time literary agent. (I still am a very part-time agent.) I encouraged her to write it, but she lost interest and steam and was happy to let me run with the idea.

As I heard more stories, I realized, “No one seems to be doing anything terribly useful about this.” There was a good little book called Safe Harbor put out by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF) and edited by Alan Senauke . Thank you for reprinting Jan Chozen Bays‘ great little piece from that.

SZ: We also created a resource for communities looking for information on how to safeguard themselves and their members. In that we include a link to Alan Senauke’s Clear View Project website, where visitors can find the full PDF available (see: http://www.clearviewproject.org/safeharborethics.html). You might be interested in linking to that also from your website, come to think of it.

SE: That’s a good idea. Thank you. When I was writing my book, the person I most wanted to talk to was Jan. She was very gracious and gave me a couple of interviews. Then, when I turned the book in, Wisdom Publications had a policy of getting an outside reader. They also, wisely, chose her. So I got her comments at every point in the process.

SZ: I think she’s received a lot of unfair criticism in this latest debacle with Dennis Genpo Merzel. I saw the point raised, and more than once, that she had no room to talk since she had been in relationships with both Genpo and Maezumi. That didn’t sit well with me. To say that a person with experience directly relating to a certain topic should not share their experience and all that they have learned from it with others – that doesn’t ring true for me. I feel we must continuously monitor people and situations and reassess our perceptions of them. It seems to me that Chozen is exactly the person you want talking about these sorts of issues.

SE: Exactly. She was very clear with me, when I was writing the book, that she had had an affair with Maezumi and that she had had one with Genpo.

One of the things I hope we can talk about today is this whole issue of how we reify the teacher and how we try to solidify them into this hard-and-fast object. As if we’d never heard Gautama’s words. As if we’d never heard of the Anatta doctrine. As if we’d never heard about how you cannot pin down a self – as if we were just kind of kidding about that.

But we look at someone like Jan Bays and then say, “Well, look what she did many years ago, so she has no right to say anything of value about it today.” We see that with Eido Shimano. People are still saying, “Oh, my God, he is so wonderful. He helped me so much. He has this great wisdom. He can’t possibly be doing these other things.” And then we also reify him in the other direction. “He did these terrible things, so he can’t possibly have any wisdom.”

Life just doesn’t work that way. If you look at the Anatta doctrine, it’s saying that we cannot look at some face and perfectly predict, or explain, who or what that person is.

SZ: Very true. Yeah.

SE: They could be one way in the morning and another way in the afternoon. That’s what we see over and over and over. Trungpa was the best example of this. People go on and on and on about how wonderful he was and what great things he did. Other people go on and on and on about what a sociopath he was and what a narcissist he was.

People feel like they have to resolve that. As long as we feel we have to resolve that, we just make the problem worse. What we need is to allow this to be that hot iron ball in our throats and understand that we can’t swallow it, we can’t spit it out. And that hot iron ball will give us the faith and the doubt that we need in dealing with our teachers.

SZ: In your book, you write about crazy wisdom. You said that it is a slippery slope and that it is difficult for the beginning, inexperienced practitioner to distinguish between genuine crazy wisdom and what I think you called scam wisdom. How can the student distinguish between the two?

SE: Sometimes I call it crazy-making wisdom. Or, crazy-making non-wisdom, I guess (laughs). There is a really simple way to differentiate between the two, although it may not always be easy to tell from the get-go. If it is for the student’s benefit, it is usually wisdom. And by “the student’s benefit,” I don’t mean the teacher is deluding themselves about it – I mean when the teacher genuinely puts the student’s best interests first. Then it becomes wisdom. That’s assuming that the teacher has wisdom to give. But, of course, there are always complete charlatans. There are always people who are mentally ill. There are always people who have little or no wisdom and think that they do.

When the teacher is putting anything other than the student’s best interests first, then it isn’t wisdom, crazy or otherwise. Then it isn’t service. That applies whether we’re talking about crazy wisdom or anything else that the teacher does. So, that’s the way I would look at it from the inside.

SZ: That’s more of the teacher’s observation. But, for a new and inexperienced student, it’s hard to identify that. Perhaps it’s even impossible for such a person to discern that.

SE: I actually would argue against that. But I’m so glad you brought it up. I would say that there is no rulebook by which you can identify it. But there are lots of measures that you can use.

First of all, how does it look? How does it sound? How does it feel? If it feels creepy, you should probably either say no or get out. Now, of course you might be wrong about it. But that’s fine. We make mistakes all the time. That’s how we learn (laughs). That’s how we grow and how we open up. We can also question the teacher.

So, we have to use our own best judgment – even when our best judgment is wrong.

I had that experience again recently – I got a new cell phone. Before that I had a geezer phone – all it did was make calls. So I got a real cell phone with all the different functions, and I dutifully pulled out the instruction booklet and started trying to apply the instructions to the phone. By the time I got to the third page, I realized that the instructions had absolutely nothing to do with the phone.

So I called customer service and the guy said, “You know what? None of us knows. It’s a new phone and we don’t really know how it works, either.” I finally understood that what I had to do was just go in and play with the phone, not knowing how or knowing what. Just having to learn.

It felt very familiar. That’s of course how we come into this world. Not knowing the rules, not knowing what, not knowing how, not knowing anything—but having to learn.

When we come to any kind of spiritual tradition or discipline or teacher, we have to come at it in that same way. We have to make mistakes.

SZ: And we have to allow others to make mistakes.

SE: Yeah. But I would say we do ourselves a favor when we err on the side of sanity, care, and doubt. Because, after all, over time faith will grow if it’s justified. But that’s the wonderful thing about Zen: no other religious tradition I know of emphasizes that combination of faith and doubt.

So, we need to come to a teacher with faith, letting that faith grow as they earn it, while at the same time knowing that at any moment doubt needs to be ready.

SZ: I would assume you would say, then, that it is healthy for students to not allow the teacher to become fixed as an idea. Going in, they should have no set concept of who this person is—and at every point thereafter. Certainly we have expectations, but part of it is being present in every new encounter we make in life. If we put someone on a pedestal first, we’re a bit blinded.

SE: Or if we dig a hole and toss them in the hole. Either way. Yeah, I think you said it really well. We have to go in with a combination of innocence, carefulness, self-protection, faith and doubt.

I’m so glad you talked about how we do this with everyone, because that is exactly right. If we didn’t have that combination in meeting new people – I mean, we all know people who either have no doubt or no faith. The ones who have no doubt are going to get taken before the day is out. Not necessarily sexually, but, you know, they’ll be taken by a car salesman.

We also see people who have no faith and we feel bad for them. They have no life.

SZ: They can’t trust anyone. They can’t submit to anyone or anything. That I think is a big issue within the Western Zen community. It may explain a bit about all of the solitary practice that goes on in this country.

I think Zen Buddhism attracts the kind of person who is maybe rebellious and has issues with authority. Part of that initial draw are all these accounts of iconoclasts. You think Zen has no rules! Then you come to find out Zen has many rules (laughs). That’s why this conversation we’re having is so interesting to me, because I know that any teacher I go to is just another human being like me. I always think, “I wouldn’t want someone to submit to me.” So I have a problem submitting to others.

SE: Right (laughs). I would argue that everyone who thinks about these issues or wrestles with them has big-time authority issues. Certainly we may have them with other human beings. But we particularly have them with God, the Absolute, the Divine, whatever you want to call it.

I think this is a big piece of the problem. Ultimately, all of us have to resolve the issue of whether or not we are in control of our lives. The answer, it seems to me, is quite self-evidently, “Hell, no!”

We sell to one another this really dysfunctional bill of goods. My wife brought home a magazine called Self. That title tells you a lot. The cover of it said, “How to Be Calm, Confident and in Control of Your Life.” I just had to laugh! We are never in control of our lives. Our lives don’t even belong to us and, at some point, we see that. What we call our life – we made that up and at some level that is a fiction. We don’t run it. We participate in it and we have responsibilities, but it doesn’t belong to us. When we see this, that’s when we can really be of service. We stop trying to build a life in the way that we usually think.

Of course, any teacher who has lost that awareness is headed for trouble, and so are their students.

SZ: That segues into my next question. When a spiritual teacher transgresses, who in the sangha remains with them? I would assume that the people who would stick by such a teacher would either sympathize with what they had done or be enablers. If the teacher lacks the humility to step back after transgressing and people stick by them regardless, it seems to me a community can go from unhealthy to mortally ill.

In basic human interactions we are drawn to others who we can identify with in a personal way. So, I would think that a student who stands by a transgressing teacher, at least at some level, must sympathize with what they had done. It may very well be an issue for them, as well, and if the role model is not investigating it, then it must be okay for them not to investigate, either.

So, what of the community survives after one of these transgressions occurs? San Francisco Zen Center did well and they survived.

SE: It’s a tough question to answer because every community is different. The San Francisco Zen Center had to completely reinvent themselves from the ground up. They almost didn’t make it.

Another good example is Kripalu – you know, Amrit Desai’s place in the Berkshires. Desai is down in Florida now. That community was essentially dead, and a handful of people decided they would keep the name and reinvent it. Almost from scratch.

I think we need to look at our fellow community members and organizations—as well as ourselves, of course—with faith and doubt. Everybody has to decide for themselves what their own relationship is with the teacher, with their teachings, and so on.

But, of course it’s true that every spiritual community plays out family dynamics. When you have a dysfunctional teacher, they tend to attract dysfunctional students, and so on.

SZ: In your examples of places which have recovered from the transgressions of a teacher, the San Francisco Zen Center and Kripalu, a key factor seems to be a complete removal of the teacher who transgressed.

SE: The more you have a community built around one particular person, the more danger there is that the atmosphere will become cultlike.

The whole purpose of spiritual community is to help people grow up. If it’s not helping people do that – helping them to grow up and open up, to be more fully human and be more aware, more open, more compassionate, more loving, more discerning, more intelligent – if it’s not doing that, then it is not serving the purposes of a spiritual community.

SZ: In your book you write, “Spiritual teachers should never hide their flaws, nor indulge in them to the point where they harm their students. We students in turn should neither expect our teachers to be perfect, nor give them so much slack that we encourage them to lose their way.” This goes back a bit to that either/or thing we were talking about – do you think that spiritual insight and one’s personal conduct can be separated or compartmentalized?

SE: Boy, that’s a good question. If you don’t mind, I’m going to come at this in multiple ways, because the question has so many layers.

Ideally, when we say we want to be a full human being, we try to grow up into a fully integrated package where we own up to our mistakes, and where we routinely treat people wisely and lovingly. And there may or may not be something we call “spirituality” attached to that. So, ideally, we just try to keep developing in all those ways. The paradox is that part of this development is having one foot in an understanding that development is ridiculous. It’s both essential and ridiculous at the same time. We develop from what into what?

I don’t know how you do it, Adam, but I find myself asking myself, over and over, “Okay, what would an adult do in this situation?” Because, at any given moment, I often have multiple impulses. Usually, the adult one is the one I am least interested in doing, but that is the one that I choose (laughs).

Every day I get up in the morning and start by saying, “There are so many things that I don’t know. I have so many limitations.” And I say to the universe—or as 12-Step people would say, my Higher Power or God—”I’m gonna need your help. I can’t do this alone.” Well, of course in Buddhism we know that this notion of “I am alone” is ridiculous. It just isn’t true. Still, this is how it gets framed in my head.

We understand that we are part of this whole universe interacting at once, and we try to be as adult as we can in everything. In practice, of course, we don’t all develop in straight lines and we don’t all develop the same faculties in the same ways. So, there are people out there—and spiritual teachers have proven this true time after time after time—who will be very well developed, very accepting, very adult, very loving and kind, very perceptive in one direction, and quite stunted in another.

I just think we have to accept that this is how some people are. Of course, we would hope that they would be developing along as many lines as possible. I mean, all of us never stop developing if we are serious about this spirituality stuff.

It’s one of those many things where you have to be in two worlds at once. We try to not cut ourselves off to any lessons, to any growth, to any learning. And then, when looking at others, we understand that in that moment they’ll manifest a combination of flaws and of greatness, and they may manifest a completely different set of attributes in the next moment.

We have the tough work of having to make that moment-by-moment judgment based on who and what is in front of us.

SZ: Yeah, and we definitely have to give people the room to develop. I think we need to be willing to see each moment and situation freshly.

As someone with my own history, immersed in drugs and criminal activity in my youth, I’ve learned the hard way that you really need to give a person a chance. It doesn’t come overnight, but at some point, it is helpful to acknowledge and recognize when positive changes take place. Every once in a while it may be helpful to revisit a person or situation to acknowledge this. Perhaps we need to reassess our previous judgment.

SE: I think we would do well to do less judging and more discerning. By that I mean that discerning is about seeing in the moment what is going on, whereas judgment is usually creating some hard-and-fast thing. Now, that doesn’t mean that we might not have to say, at a particular moment, “Stop touching me, Jack”—or you may even have to call the police. You need to discern based on that particular person in that particular moment, based on those particular circumstances. And I know this sounds hard—and it is—but I think we have to be constantly reassessing everything.

I don’t know if you have a family. With our partner or with our children or with our parents, we are constantly reassessing in every moment and deciding how we respond and what we say and what we do. I’m sure you’re learning that as you become a chemical dependency counselor.

SZ: Sure.

SE: What they are really training you to do is to assess that particular person in that particular moment.

SZ: The flip side to this—or the paradox, I should say—is that the more we get to know our spouse, our children, our parents, the less and less we reassess them, moment to moment.

SE: Yeah, right (laughs). Well said. We don’t even know who we are. Right now, I’m a completely law-abiding citizen. But, if you were to put me on a plane and dump me in Libya, I would be taking up arms – I would be participating in the revolt. I’d be trying to take out Qadhafi and I would consider that the right thing to do.

Every situation is different, and depending on what we encounter, we have to make our own best assessment based on what we perceive.

Spiritual teachers get old and they can get Alzheimer’s – well, you don’t go to somebody who has Alzheimer’s and say, “Here – I’m going to give you the keys to my car, because you are so wise you couldn’t possibly have a problem driving a car.” The next thing you know, they’ve wrecked your car. Maybe they’ve even hurt themselves.

So, all these things where we try to find refuge—in some idea, some picture that we paint, or some story that we tell—it is just destined to blow up in our faces, and sometimes in other people’s faces, too. I think we have to keep coming back to what Toni Packer would call the work of this moment, where you just have to be present and say, “This is what it looks like to me right now, so this is how I’m going to respond.” I may have to apologize; I may have to do a reverse. I may have to double reverse. Often, at least in my case, I have to go internally for help.

SZ: Don’t allow yourself to get fixed in any one position. Actually, we shouldn’t have a position!

SE: And, at the same time, this is not antithetical to setting boundaries. If someone is crossing one of those boundaries, you still get to say, in that moment, “Stop!” Maybe at that point the person says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. That was a terrible idea and I apologize.” At that point things might be 90% better, and maybe they can win your trust back over the next weeks or months.

SZ: There is a video online of a talk Gil Fronsdal gave in which he talks about doing what is appropriate.

SE: Yeah. Although I would add that the word “appropriate” is also used by prudes and power addicts to control people. It’s used in our school systems, it is used by psychologists – they just tell you that something would not be “appropriate” behavior. Now, suddenly, you are in a box. Challenge their idea of “appropriate” and that only demonstrates that you have a problem. Not only that, but they’ve put themselves up and have put you down. The word “appropriate” has been, as it were, appropriated by folks who misuse it.

SZ: Sure. And Gil wasn’t talking about appropriate as in any kind of value judgment. As I remember it, he is talking about having returned from a retreat and being in New York City, slowly, mindfully opening the doors to a bank while everybody else bustles by. Finally, it occurred to him that retreat mode wasn’t exactly appropriate in New York City. So, the talk revolved around doing what is appropriate in any given situation. But yes, I do have authority issues and it is something that I actively work with.

SE: I think that having authority issues is a good thing and working on them is a good thing. People who don’t have authority issues have a giant authority issue because they’ve never really wrestled with such things.

SZ: They just hand authority over unquestionably.

SE: Yeah. They have the biggest authority issue of all.

SZ: I think that perhaps my issues with authority revolve around an inability to truly embrace the possibility of great development in others and in myself. They’re just a human being, after all! They [banned term] and [banned term] just as I do and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not looking for someone who doesn’t [banned term] and [banned term] like the rest of us. But then, that’s kind of the paradox. I’m looking for someone who is special and who has these powers of intuition. But if they express those powers, I then have this tendency to not believe it.

SE: (laughs) Well, it seems to me that what we all look for is someone who expresses those qualities that we most admire and most want to develop within ourselves. That actually gives us a real opportunity, because when you are drawn to somebody because they look or act a certain way, when they do a certain thing, that tells us, “Oh, this is what I want to develop into or be. I recognize my own potential for that.” At least if we are healthy we can do that. We can then go, “This is great. This is the direction in which I want to point myself.”

SZ: I think the problem for a lot of the people who do have authority issues is that maybe they haven’t met that teacher yet. One teacher I recently spoke to said, “You’ll never find the one, Adam. There is no perfect teacher out there.”

At least at the intellectual level, I know that I am not looking for the perfect teacher. The ones that I have come in contact with, while I respect them and feel that they are doing great work, there just wasn’t that connection there. I just don’t think that anybody can fake that connection. Finding a teacher who you wish to emulate is kind of rare – many teachers out there you might come to see as a friend or buddy, even.

SE: You are in a unique position, Adam, because you are sort of the communication crossroads of American Zen right now. So, you are probably the most knowledgeable person about things going on in American Zen today. And you have probably talked to more Zen teachers than anyone else in the country, if not on the planet. Do you have any reflections on that? You have seen so many teachers, talked to them, heard so many people talking, sometimes off the record, having seen their warts and what they are capable of and what they are not capable of. Is there anything you would want to say to the people reading this interview, or any observations you have that other people, including me, seem to have missed?

SZ: I wish everyone had the opportunity to see these teachers in the way that I have been able to observe them. I think it’s also been an asset for me that I’m not actually a formal student of anyone – I have no allegiance to any one party.

But, really, the best thing about running this website is having this opportunity to interact with and get to know a good portion of the teachers here in the West. Having a very wide view of your options can be very helpful. So, I guess I would say, educate yourselves on teachers and practice centers, before or soon after arriving at a Zen center to practice under a teacher.

I hear teachers tell me that all I have to do is find a teacher – that all a student has to do is find a teacher and stick with it. I know that I am not of that persuasion. I think it might be a good idea to get as broad a sample of who the teachers are before you make that decision. Because it can be a lifetime decision. Who you practice with follows you throughout your lifetime.

One of the best pieces of advice I have received is that if you have trouble finding a teacher, then perhaps it is better to select a lineage. That advice rings true for me. In my case, for whatever reason, I find myself attracted to the lineage of Kobun Chino Otogawa.

SE: In general, I discourage people from pathologizing or lionizing any one option. Yeah, there are people who have studied all of their lives with one teacher; there are some who move from teacher to teacher; there are some who have been thrown out by their teachers. There are some who absolutely refuse to have a teacher. There are some who will drop in and listen to multiple teachers. There are people who have woken up suddenly with no teacher.

I think that, as with so many other things on this planet, there is pretty much every variation. I’m very hesitant to either say that one is best for everybody, or to diss one as always being wrong. Of course, there is a natural tendency for people to assume that their experience is universal.

But, you know, I have no hair. I need to put sunscreen on my head when I go out in the sun. But that is not advice I would give to anybody but another bald person.

SZ: It’s so difficult to just read a website or an interview with the teacher and really know whether they are a good fit. I would just try to get as much information as you can on places and people beforehand. I think too often people come to the practice without having done any homework. Since they don’t know too much, they just dive right in and get their feet wet. The only problem is that if they start taking everything in, they might also start swallowing water. It’s probably good advice for people to jump right into the practice, but the other side is that it really isn’t like opening up a phone book and selecting someone at random. I think that there is more to it than that.

SE: Well, now, of course, we can Google Zen teachers and come up with hundreds. You can Google spiritual teachers and find thousands.

But I want to go back to Kobun Chino and this notion of a kind of personal recognition. When I met Tim McCarthy, Tim was not a Zen teacher – I think I was 19 and he was 20. He was living in my dorm, but one thing I recognized immediately about him was that he was living a completely different life from anyone I had ever met. That included every minister, priest or rabbi. There was some internal compass that was behaving differently.

It was really obvious—to me, anyway. I wasn’t necessarily drawn to him, but I was very drawn to whatever it was that he was seeing, whatever it was that he was focused on. It was something I had kind of been sensing all of my life and had never seen anywhere. He became my first Zen teacher.

Tim sensed something similar in Kobun Chino. He had a sense, around 1980, that he needed to go to Naropa and sit this sesshin with Kobun Chino, whom he had never met. He called me and asked to borrow some money to make the trip. So he went and he met Kobun Chino and in that sesshin there was also a real meeting of minds. Later on, Tim went out to California to study with Chino.

Then later on Tim and I both moved to Taos, New Mexico and we lived very close to Kobun. I got to know Kobun reasonably well. He was a nice man, but I felt absolutely nothing in particular about him. I also didn’t see any particular wisdom about him. There you have an example of how sometimes it is very personal and sometimes it is inexplicable.

Do you mind if I say something about dharma transmission?

SZ: Yes. Please do.

SE: In pretty much anything, if you lean in one direction it creates problems, and if you lean in another direction, it creates problems. Erik Storlie has written on your site about the dangers of dharma transmission. Any time you set up any attempt to control who is in and who is out, you create a set of potential problems and all kinds of opportunities for sleaziness.

But as soon as you remove that, you create a different set of opportunities for sleaziness, because then you have everybody just declaring, a la Joseph Smith and Eckhart Tolle , “Oh, guess what? I’m a spiritual teacher or leader.” I’m not dissing Eckhart Tolle at all – I’m just saying that he did not come out of any particular tradition and was not given any kind of seal of approval. Of course, neither was Buddha – the Buddha walked away from everybody and said he didn’t think any of them had the right stuff.

So, I think we just all need to remember that we are never going to somehow figure out a system that will make it all right for us – whether that system is external or whether it’s a set of ideas in our heads. We’re all constantly being forced back on our own best judgment.

SZ: There will never be a system in place where everything is in alignment.

SE: Yeah. Exactly.

SZ: What makes teacher-student sexual relationships so toxic?

SE: Anyone can make a relationship toxic if they bring to it bad faith or narcissism, mental illness, and so on. I wouldn’t even use the word toxic. I would say problematic. The two big things are always role confusion and power differentials. The role confusion is what makes the relationship so difficult to maintain. When you have that dual role of teacher and student, which is one up and one down, while also being sexual and/or romantic partners who are equals (or, at least should be equals), you have to navigate this very difficult terrain where your role is simultaneously both. You are simultaneously equal and not equal.

Can it be done? Well, theoretically it can be done. In practice, it’s very difficult.

SZ: It’s very rare. I can’t think of many examples within the Zen community.

SE: One way it does sometimes happen, not terribly uncommonly, is when the romantic relationship predates the teacher-student relationship – where you start off as equals, maybe both as Zen students. Then, over time, one of you becomes a spiritual teacher. Then, your partner says that they want to be one of your students.

I’ve seen that work.

The reason this can work is that you already have that equality (assuming you have been together for a while, not just six weeks or something). You might be married, for example. At that point, you know each other’s flaws, you know each other’s drawbacks, you know each other’s weak points. And, if you are both sane and healthy, then it is not impossible to build a student-teacher relationship on top of it.

That’s the role confusion piece. But the power differential piece is where you can have the most problems—moreso in Zen than in almost any other spiritual tradition because of the close one-on-one work and the very spiritually intimate stuff that goes on. If the teacher is sharp and the student is sincere, the teacher can see deeply into the student’s heart and mind. So, it is a kind of stripping naked of everything that student is. There is nothing wrong with that as long as sex does not enter into it.

When sex enters into it, then you have this great vulnerability that can be taken advantage of. Now, again, in theory it would be possible for this to work if everybody is loving and honest and transparent and nobody’s taking advantage of the other. So, I am very hesitant to say it is always wrong. But I would bet against it every time.

Of course, as the power differential decreases, the situation is less potentially problematic. I had somebody write me and say, “I taught a tai chi class through a community education program at the local high school, and I started going out with one of my students, and now we are partners who are very happy. Is this okay?” Well, I would argue there is a huge difference between teaching a community education course on tai chi and being someone’s Zen teacher. This couple’s relationship sounded fine to me.

SZ: Sure.

SE: It’s just like when people say, “Don’t sleep with your professors when you’re going to college.” Good advice if you are in their class and they have the power to flunk you. But if you are just auditing the class, where is the power differential?

I’ve been married for a dozen years, but before that I had a student (who was my age) in a college class I was teaching. I could tell from the vibes that something was happening. It was a writing class, and in our final one-to-one meeting, I reviewed her work and her final grade with her. We finished that and I said, “You’re done; congratulations. Is there anything else about the class?” She said no. I said, “Okay, we’re done talking about the class. Would you have dinner with me?” She said, ””I’d love to.”

SZ: Awesome (laughs).

SE: So, you know, there was no conflict. As soon as the power relationship ended, it was no big deal.

SZ: I believe in your book, one of the prescriptions you give for teachers or students or communities in this predicament, where there is this power differential between the teacher and student and also a romantic component, that it is probably best to disclose it to your community and end that teacher-student relationship. Hopefully there is someone else in that particular center who can take on that role.

In sanghas where this happens, there is sometimes this feeling that the sexual partner of the teacher receives special treatment. However, in some cases, it’s exactly the opposite. Because the teacher does not want to give off that impression, they perhaps do not recognize as often as they should their partner’s progression. It becomes a situation where you almost cannot acknowledge their spiritual attainments because to do so would raise eyebrows.

SE: I also think it is important that say there are always going to be people who are essentially prudes or control freaks who will want to wag their fingers. I think we also need to be watchful for those folks, too. And when they wag those fingers at us, we can push those fingers out of the way.

I like what the Boundless Way group of Zen sanghas does. They have a very clear policy that says if a student and teacher are attracted to each other, then they will have to choose one relationship or the other. They can’t have both. What’s so nice about that is it isn’t about morality – it isn’t about finger wagging or guilt. It’s just – this is the metaphor that comes to mind – you can’t eat bacon and stay kosher. You just can’t do it!

It’s a bit like how you can embrace celibacy or you can embrace sexuality. But you can’t claim to be celibate while humping people. So you make the choice.

SZ: And of course most of the Zen teachers in the United States do not claim celibacy, although you talk about all kinds of spiritual teachers in your book.

SE: But there have been some people, like Seung Sahn, the Korean Zen master who led the Providence Zen Center, who did claim celibacy. But with Seung Sahn it wasn’t true.

SZ: Right. Well, he also worked different things into his teaching curriculum which, when one reads them, sort of creates an outlet for that possibility. For instance, he used to talk about something that I actually found very helpful about how the only way you’re going to help a demon is to become a demon.

Let me say that Dae Soen sa Nim was my first introduction to Zen Buddhism – his body of writings, anyway. So, I am forever grateful for having encountered what I feel are some really wonderful teachings from him. But, you know, in his case I remember it being framed in such a way where supposedly the sex that he had had with some students was for their own benefit. That didn’t ring true – not to me.

SE: Well, Seung Sahn is another good example of someone who had quite a bit of wisdom. At least to my knowledge, he was one of the first American Zen teachers to talk in depth about what he called “don’t know mind” – about not knowing. Which, of course, goes all the way back to Bodhidharma. Seung Sahn was able to talk about it in a way that was really helpful. So here’s another guy who, on the one hand claimed celibacy and broke his vows, and on the other hand, had a lot of real wisdom to offer people.

SZ: Yep. It’s a tough call. I suppose at some point you have to trust your own intuition.

SE: You can let the person be both those ways, just as we do with our friends and our families. It’s all on a case-by-case basis.

Let’s say that your sister tells a racist joke – you might let it go by. But if she goes out on the street and yells a racial epithet at someone, you’re going to do something. You’re not just going to let it go by.

We have to keep resisting the impulse to reify things or to make them only one way – to make them one-dimensional. Ultimately, we need to be willing to show up, to pay attention, to trust ourselves, and rely on the perception of the present moment, as opposed to the stories and ideas and lineages and certifications and all that other stuff. Just as you wisely said, Adam, we need to approach it just as we do with our friends, our professors, and our relatives, on a moment-by-moment basis.

SZ: Absolutely. Why should the spiritual teacher be exempt from how we approach any other relationships in our lives? Students should feel free to, as you have said, speak up when they see something damaging going on.

I mean, really, we can’t reasonably expect the teachers who are committing the transgressions to police themselves.

SE: Right! Exactly.

Also, we don’t know what’s going on in their lives. They may be going through circumstances that make them act in a way that they would not normally act.

Just in these last two months, my wife and I have been acting in ways we normally wouldn’t. Her mother has been very ill; I had an uncle die. I wound up dropping all kinds of balls that I would never normally drop.

Now, I am picking them up again and telling people that I am sorry, while explaining what happened. There were things I was not doing that I would normally do, just because there wasn’t enough time in the day.

Imagine a spiritual teacher who has always had good boundaries. Let’s say that his partner leaves him and his child is killed in an auto accident, maybe in the same week. So, he is grieving, and his longtime student walks into the dokusan room, takes one look at him, and says, “Sensei, you look sad. Would you like me to give you a [bannned term?”

SZ: (laughs)

SE: Who knows? Maybe he’ll say yes.

SZ: (laughs) That’s quite the example!

SE: There is one more thing I want to say about power differentials. A Zen teacher in particular has to manage this very wisely, and there are very few who do it well, in my opinion. Steve Hagen does it relatively well. He talks constantly about how the teacher can’t give you anything. He says, “Stop trying to get something from the teacher, because that is not how it works. With a good teacher, if you try to project these things on them, they will just refuse them and hand them right back to you.” He talks about these things very specifically and overtly. I think for three quarters of the people it works.

Now, let me tell you how Tim McCarthy does it – which is a completely different way. He separates the power differential from the wisdom differential. What he will do is be super friendly, very welcoming and tell you bad jokes. He’ll make funny noises. He’ll set up silly things on the altar.

So, he will try to make you very comfortable, which leaves you kind of wondering, “God, this guy is kind of profane.” But, then, he’ll sit down and have a conversation with you that’s very serious and very wise. And so his way of doing it is dissolving much of the power differential, but you can see the differential in the wisdom. That works for about two out of three people. With one out of three, it scares the heck out of them and they go away.

So, it’s a choice you have to make, and I think it’s one of the things that a good teacher has to learn to navigate.

SZ: It’s interesting that you put it that way because, while I never thought of it precisely in those terms, I think that in part accounts for my being drawn to Kobun’s lineage. The quality that you spoke of in Tim McCarthy. I sense that in a lot of Kobun’s successors, as well. There’s no putting on airs or any kind of pretense with them.

Scott, I really enjoyed this interview. Are there any books that you would recommend as supplementary materials to Sex and the Spiritual Teacher?

SE: The back of the book is full of specific resources. But if I had to pick a few, here is what they would be:

The Nine Stages of Spiritual Apprenticeship: Understanding the Student-Teacher Relationship by Greg Bogart (Dawn Mountain Press, 1997)
A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Working with a Spiritual Teacher by John Kain (Bell Tower, 2006)
Halfway Up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment by Mariana Caplan (Hohm Press, 1999)
Understanding Clergy Misconduct in Religious Systems by Candace R. Benyei (Routledge, 1998)
Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations by Karen A. McClintock (The Alban Institute, 2004)
Safe Harbor: Guidelines, Process and Resources for Ethics and Right Conduct in Buddhist Communities edited by Alan Senauke (Buddhist Peace Fellowship, 2004)
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john

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Jun 06, 2011 6:31 am

Thanks for the posting Josh, interesting reading.

Had to laugh at the BJ reference, supprised it wasnt banned.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Jun 06, 2011 8:57 am

It is now. The list is an ever-expanding work in progress.

Honestly, Josh, it would be nice if you'd proofread this stuff before popping it onto the forum. Some words I could do without reading before I've even had a coffee.

That said, what a fantastic interview. So many good points, one being the need to keep in mind that people are not fixed in time as one thing or another -- in some aspects they may be completely offbase yet in other ways they have something beneficial to offer. A time or two I've wondered why Michael Little's online teachings continue to be recognised and given prominence on Shasta Abbey's website -- I guess this is an example of being able to hold the good and bad together in your hands, as they say. It still leaves a question for me though, not just in regard to M. Little but to other teachers. Once you know they're capable of concealing things and speaking untruthfully about very big issues, I can't help but wonder what else might not have been the way they said it was -
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Mon Jun 06, 2011 11:55 am

I think that is rather pertinent wondering what else might not have been the way they said it was.

I was at ZCLA I think a week after maezumi Roshi admitted during zazen to being an alcoholic,and that he would only drink at the week ends. he apologised to the sanga.

It certainly touched everybody his admission ,his humbleness, and his desire to try to change his behaviour.

I do not feel a teacher neccesary has to be super human, but here is the big question of where lines are drawn, I certainly have been critical of maezumi Roshi, I even had a tussle with him but I did also like him ! These are very fine lines about human failings with people and what one learns, and if one learns a deeper truth.
I guess it is personal. Ikko Roshi was dead straight, pretty strict, and set a very high standard, that worked for me, but I was the only westerner, so I may have a lame puritanical streak, if so what a pain for all my friends!
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:08 pm

For those who have some interest in the Dai Bostatsu / Edo Roshi situation, here is an update recently and openly shared on-line:

Zen Studies Society Update from Genjo Marinello Osho

This was an internal message to members of Chobo-Ji from Genjo Marinello Osho. He writes, “Here is an update to my Chobo-Ji Sangha about my take of recent events in NY. I don’t usually make these internal Chobo-Ji updates available to the general public, but I thought in the interest of transparency, if you think it is worth posting in some fashion at Sweeping Zen, you may do so.”

Dear Chobo-Ji Sangha,

Here is an update on my recent visit to New York.

June 5th the Board met with Dai Bosatsu Zendo (DBZ) monks, residents and often attending sangha from 2:30PM to 8:30PM with a dinner break.

We heard mostly how many wanted Eido Roshi (ER) to be able to do a limited teaching schedule over the next two years. We also heard from some how my recent Dharma Talks have felt offensive to them, “slandering the father in the father’s house” sort of thing.

The Board made good arguments for why ER is retired and must stay retired, with little or no chance of any continued teaching at Zen Studies Society (ZSS) because of little understanding, remorse or any real redemptive efforts.

Shinge Roshi related that not enough people at DBZ were coming to dokusan with her. Most people responded that they either were still grieving and not ready for a new dokusan relationship or were still hoping for ER’s return, or simply didn’t want to offend ER by writing him that they no longer wanted him as their teacher (which has been a requirement up to now).

June 6th the Board met with DBZ monks and heard of ER’s response (or really lack of it) to a proposed joint statement with the board that asked for many concessions in exchange for some limited access to former students requesting it. This response was relayed by Shinge Roshi, but not advocated by her. Because it was clear that ER was either not willing or not capable of coming close to the steps the board outlined as minimally necessary for some partial reconciliation, it was concluded that a new statement would be drafted that reiterated the Board’s stance that ER is fully retired and will not be doing any teaching under ZSS auspices. The board also concluded that ER would not be invited to Obon ceremony, nor would the new DBZ front gate have any opening ceremony when completed. The Board also worked long and hard on a retirement agreement for ER, we are still feeling hemmed in by the unfunded 95 Deferred Compensation Agreements. A retirement proposal was developed that we hope to have ER sign at a meeting towards the end of the month, at this meeting he will also be informed that we will continue our policy of full retirement and no teaching under ZSS auspices.

I then went down with others for an all day sit, June 7th, at New York Zendo (NYZ) attended by 16 people. I gave the Teisho and tried to be a bit more PC, but still got complaints that I was too judgmental of ER. However, most of those at NYZ supported me and the efforts of the Board to keep ER fully retired.

After the all day sit, I had dinner with a former senior student of ER and heard some tales of further indiscretions that exceeded “consensual” sexual relations with students. Consequently, I have become even more convinced that we cannot have ER return to teaching in any way at ZSS.

In other ZSS news, we have finally gotten all documents, records and seals from ER. Our lawyer has gone over them and on first few there are many discrepancies, but no indication of fraud or gross mismanagement. We are now working with a couple of accountants to try and bring both NYZ and DBZ up to a level where an ordinary audit can be done. Our treasurer, is a volunteer, doing a great job, but is not an accountant himself. Once the books are ready for ordinary audits then we will begin work on a more detailed historical review of past years. The locks at NYZ have been changed, so now there should be no unannounced meetings or activities at NYZ that aren’t part of scheduled events.

There will be a mediation meeting the weekend of August 27th for the ZSS Sangha at DBZ. This will be a chance for all students to speak from their hearts, and I hope many who have concerns about the future of ZSS will attend. We plan to include an envisioning method called Open Space, led by Shoshana Susanne Triner. There will be no overnight or conference fee, but dana will be gratefully accepted to help cover costs.

Well, that is it for now, much more work to be done.

With gassho, ~Genj0
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Jun 11, 2011 1:19 pm

Did Genjo move from Seattle to New York?
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Jun 11, 2011 2:29 pm

don't know him or his background.......
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Jun 11, 2011 3:01 pm

I can understand the pain and confusion.
However there is always an however .
Eido roshi, should have been teaching people to be completely independant of him, the basis of the practice here seems to be the teacher is just as dependant on the 'students' as the students are of the teacher.
be a light unto yourself,if things do not feel right trust your own heart, if you sit for long hours or have done, follow your heart ,when things get tough ,which they will in life, following your heart this will help get you through. A real teacher has nothing to give you and nothing to teach,simply because we are the realization
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Thu Jun 16, 2011 5:31 pm

I understand the self-reliance spoken about here. But I also believe in the Sangha as the third jewel, and now have a more realistic vision thanks to Josh.

For me, the recent problems I've had with training have been with the organizations that develop around the teachers and their teachings. Josh has beautifully described an inspiring alternative to what I have witnessed. In his April 27th post on this topic he wrote, "...where we are in a relationship as adults, where we can speak up, can question. Where we and they are accountable. Where myths are not important. And where organizations are open enough to hear criticism, to deal with problems of communication, where critics are not demonized, where members are loved and honored. Where compassion is not just some vague idea..."

Thanks Josh for your beautiful articulation of what real sangha could look like.
Machik
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:43 pm

Machik, unfortunately 'with the ideal comes the actual'. What you quote from Josh is certainly how things should be, but when someone is naive and just starting out they are often not looking for, or in a position to have, an adult to adult relationship. This is what the teacher - pupil, master - disciple relationship is about, or should be; leading someone to an adult to adult relationship where they can stand on their own feet and take full responsibility. In the mean time the pupil/disciple is often open to being exploited or abused. It is this that we need to be on our guard for and expose wherever we find it. It is why I think we need transparency and openness in such relationships laid out from the start. Then the disciple can see what is expected of them, and the outside world can judge if how the behaviour of the master measures up.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Jun 18, 2011 12:50 pm

Mark,

I agree that in the beginning of a teacher/mentor/spiritual friend/ relationship, we students are quite naive and vulnerable to exploitation. Then later on, as the relationship evolves over time, it could become more adult/adult as we begin to stand more and more on our own two feet. .

The role of the teacher is to help us grow up, to learn to stand on our own two feet, and to always act in the students' best interests. That's a pretty challenging job, in my opinion. Still, if the teacher isn't fulfilling his/her job it does need to be openly discussed with the teacher. It could be intimidating to do because of the power differential, but a necessary thing to discuss openly.

Thanks again for your comments.

machic
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Fri Jul 01, 2011 5:21 am

This is a longer interview - part of which was used in a relatively recent documentary that aired about Sex scandals in spiritual organizations - IN THE NAME OF ENLIGHTENMENT.

These are the interviews with both Stephen and Martine Batchelor. Worth watching:

http://www.earthbook.tv/religion/channelhome/channelvideos/148/661/

http://www.earthbook.tv/religion/channelhome/channelvideos/148/660/

http://www.earthbook.tv/religion/channelhome/channelvideos/148/659/
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Sep 10, 2011 12:16 pm

Sharing this:

Open Letter to the Zen Studies Society - posted on the Sweeping Zen website:

Dear Board,

The question is how can the ZSS board demonstrate plainly that any impasse has cleared. I think the answer is relatively simple. I know a sincere effort was made at the Sangha Meeting, August 26-28, to bring the two factions together to hear each other so that movement could be made to arrive on the same page towards a healthy future, but it seems clear from the little I’ve heard of the meeting that the staunch supporters of Eido Roshi cannot even concede that there was sexual misconduct (See: http://www.zenforuminternational.org/viewtopic.php?f=73&t=3584&start=1341). Therefore, it is time to move on; please let the majority of those present be assured by your prompt actions that you heard them.

If together you can manage to quickly, 1) declare that under no circumstances will any ZSS property be sold to either Eido Roshi or some consortium that supports him (See: http://www.zenforuminternational.org/viewtopic.php?f=73&t=3584&start=1350), 2) exclude Eido Roshi from being on ZSS property indefinitely, 3) remind staunch supporters of Eido Roshi that they can train elsewhere, 4) offer an organizational apology to those the organization was not able to protect from serial abuses over decades, 5) adopt bylaws that allow for significant democratization of the board and the limiting of the role of abbot to conducting practice style and schedule, 6) announce that significant resources will be devoted to healing the deep wounds of those directly and indirectly harmed during Eido Roshi’s tenure as Abbot, then and only then will this board be able to established the credibility it needs to chart a healthy recovery and future. Take at least the first two steps immediately and I will rescind my resignation from the ZSS Board. The construction of the new Chobo-Ji Practice Center is nearly complete, and I have confidence that the root being planted will grow even if I remain a bit distracted by events in New York. However, if you are unable to take at least these two steps, then I will be approaching Chobo-Ji’s board to end all affiliation with ZSS, at least until this impasse has cleared.

In my mind, only by taking these steps can the current board and abbot offer any evidence that the organization is capable of honoring the good Eido Roshi has done. I know many critics will say that he could not have done any good given his flaws, but I will continue to adamantly disagree and say unequivocally that anyone who thinks only in black and white or good or bad has learned nothing about what Zen Buddhism has to offer. He was for me and many others a significant catalyst in our own unfolding, and for this I will be forever grateful. However, since he has proven himself incapable of discerning the great damage he has done, it falls to the current abbot and board to do it for him. This is truly the only way the gifts he has given have any possibility of being appreciated over time. It was an error not to have any mention of why Eido Roshi retired so precipitously at his retirement Dec. 8th, at Shinge Roshi’s installation Jan. 1st, at the “special announcement” July 2nd, or even in the recently released ZSS newsletter. I completely agree with Seigan (See: http://www.zenforuminternational.org/viewtopic.php?f=73&t=3584&start=1333) that there should be repeated acknowledgment of the terrible pain caused by both Eido Shimano Roshi and the organizational structure that allowed his abuses to go on for decades. May we all work concertedly to see that the wheel of Dharma turns with deep self-reflection and openheartedness at the practice centers we are associated with.

With palms together,

Genjo
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Sep 10, 2011 2:57 pm

'but it seems clear from the little I’ve heard of the meeting that the staunch supporters of Eido Roshi cannot even concede that there was sexual misconduct '

Seems amazingly familiar Josh
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Sep 10, 2011 3:29 pm

willful blindness - the exact opposite of seeing things as they are. Also a good example of what happens when people get totally enchanted by an ideal, by a big narrative - it becomes so overwhelming, they live in a kind of trance state -- and reality has no place to enter. In this case, it's the story of the perfectly enlightened Zen master who only acts from a place of awakening -- and with that story, he can do absolutely anything, break any rules or precepts, and it is all perceived as skillful means or brilliant dharma teaching or maybe even "mirroring" of some sort by his enchanted followers. Old story. Same circus, different clowns.
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Sat Sep 10, 2011 4:19 pm

I think an underlying issue is that the Sanga here have had it instilled in them that they need the teacher. It seems the one thing that was not taught was how to be spiritualy independant, perhaps better mature or adult,as I like the expression no body is an island.
Part of what is conveyed by Eido Roshi is understanding or awakening or realisation is dependant on him.I do not think he ever said that, or even thought of saying thatm it is what is conveyed to me
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:54 am

And on it goes...

Today the BBC reported that the senior Theravadin monk Pahalagama Somaratana Thera, chief monk of Thames Buddhist Vihara, Croydon, near London, has been charged with a rape and three cases of indecent assault in 1977/78 whilst at the London Buddhist Vihara.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-14977807
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:32 am

How appalling, he was at the Chiswick Vihara, which I visited at this sort of time. It was a Vihara mainly for the Shri Lankan community,but was having more and more English people attending.

Despite being appalled I am still a bit stunned and very saddened by this news.

There are many problems concerning religious teachers ,the main one I think is the problem of abusing the generosity of innocent followers and laity who naturally elevate monks and priests and put them on pedestals, give them respect. Personal pride and egotism creeps in and naughty monks and priests allow this attitude to exist and sometimes even encourage it. You know; walk with an air of enlightenment; hint at ones deep experiences;allow others the privilage of ones wisdom... Oh dear a young person suffers the misery of sexual assaualt, someone that was trusted by themselves and their society violated and penetrated their innocent being , under the disgusie of respect and compassion.

How Sick
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PostSubject: Re: Sex and the Spiritual Teacher   Tue Sep 20, 2011 10:11 am

@chisan

I think you hit a vital point in defining how new practitioners become vulnerable to sexual predation and assault, promoting the idea that dependency on a teacher is a goal and necessity of spiritual practice and attainment. Spiritual maturity, in my view, is defined by the degree of autonomy of practice and ethical behavior, not by a dependence on a sangha or teacher.

I must speak a word about the occurrence of sexual assault on a spiritual practitioner by a teacher. A sexual assault or predation of any sort outside of a spiritual relationship is already a terrible and traumatic occurrence, inflicting immeasurable harm to our psyche. Our sexuality is linked to our vulnerability and sense of inner personhood and identity. When this assault or predation is done by a spiritual teacher, it additionally causes the survivor to develop an aversion and a doubting towards their own interior spirituality and pathway towards realization, hence potentially cutting them off from the very source of healing and well-being in life. Hardly anything could be worse. Anyone who suggests that there can be anything like a volitional, freely consenting sexual union between a spiritual teacher and an active student is not considering the violation of sacred trust and its consequences nor the power differential that makes free consent impossible.

What would help tremendously is deconstructing the power differentials between practitioners and teachers, and deconstructing the mythology of the omniscient teacher and the necessity to have one or depend on one for spiritual attainment. For me the path of meditation, now over 40 years, has helped me claim the reality and authenticity of my own inner light as an autonomous inviolable inheritance and interior refuge, while simultaneously claiming the utter limitlessness of the vulnerability and fallibility of my own humanity, and the need to exercise an ever present vigilance against causing needless harm to myself or others. For me that is a more healthy view of spiritual growth and maturity.

The full integration of every-moment meditation praxis is the spiritual path for me, not forming a dependent relationship or submission to an identified spiritual teacher.
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Sex and the Spiritual Teacher
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