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 Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?

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Diana



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Location : New Mexico

PostSubject: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jun 19, 2010 9:57 pm

Note: this was previously posted under another topic sometime last week:

Is the OBC/Shasta Abbey a cult? In my personal and professional opinion the answer to that question is “yes”. Let’s start by giving the most often quoted and accepted useful definition of the word cult:

“A cult is a group or movement that, to a significant degree, (a) exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, (b) uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members(i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices), (c) systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members, (d) exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and (e) causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community” (Langone, 1993, p.5)

Now let’s break it down:
(a) Devotion to person, idea, or thing.
In general: It is obvious that in the early days, devotion to Jiyu was absolutely necessary. She is the central figure as founder of the organization. After her death, it could be stated that any of her disciples, abbots, abbesses, or priors who were in a position of power and authority, would also demand devotion. Apart from people, devotion to ideas or things is also central when one looks at the goal of training being enlightenment or becoming one with the Buddha himself. It is obvious that devotion is central to this organization to anyone who has ever attended a ceremony or morning service.
In my experience: I was taught early on at the Abbey to devote myself to the masters and later on that intensified as I became a lay disciple. Through many means and circumstances such as meditation and thought-reform, I did submit and take on the learned-behavior of bowing, devotion, contrition, etc… The Buddha, the Abbey, and my master became central to my life and I became dependent upon them.

(b) Thought-reform as a means to persuade, control, and social members.
In general: The term “thought-reform” must be defined here. There are certain conditions that a thought-reform program can practice and they are:
“-Keeping the person unaware of what is going on and how she is being changed one step at a time.
-Controlling the person’s social and/or physical environment, especially the person’s time.
-Systematically creating a sense of powerlessness.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former identity.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote the group’s ideology, belief systems, and group-approved behaviors.
-Putting forward a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and cannot be modified except by leadership approval or executive order” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 40-41).

The methods used to ensure the success of the process are as follows:
“-Induced dissociation and other altered states (speaking in tongues, chanting, trance induction via repeated affirmations, extended periods of meditation, lengthy denunciation sessions, public trials, “hot seat” criticisms focusing on the individual, sexual abuse, torture, etc.)
-Control of information going in and out of the group environment.
-Isolation from family and friends.
-Control of member’s financial resources.
-Sleep and food deprivation.
-Peer and leadership pressure.
-Extensive indoctrination sessions.
-Rigid security regulations and daily rules” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 41).
In general, many, if not all, of these conditions are met by the OBC. Personally, I have been exposed to too many of them to mention.

(c) Inducing states of dependency.
In general: It is obvious that the monks are dependent on the laity, the abbot/ess or prior, and to the order. These people give up their lives; their identity, careers, partners, family, money… They have the most at stake and the most to lose. The power differential is set up to use, abuse, and exploit them.
In my experience: I was literally told to never speak of my experiences or training to anyone, monk or lay, except for my master and two other monks. I was in a state of psychological emergency when I was told this. I was immediately dependent on a few select monks for my survival. I gave up my relationship, my friends, and other things not associated with the Abbey. I barely functioned in the world. When I was “let go” by my master I was totally lost. It took me 5 years to regain the autonomy and independence I had before beginning “training”.

(d) Exploits members to advance the organizations goals.
In general: This is both a simple and complex issue. First one has to look at “what are the goals of the OBC?” It could be stated that any financial support given to the OBC and its affiliates is a form of exploitation. One example of this could be the decision of Shasta Abbey to discontinue its “Buddhist Supply Shop” with the goal that the monks had better thing to do than run a business. The local congregation took the business over and of course, continued to support the Abbey. The Abbey found other resources to support their livelihood and could therefore spend more time on their own training. At this time, the Abbey also started shutting down access to the Abbey to the laity and public for more time for their own training. So not only did they successfully get rid of having to work, they also raised more money than ever before and reduced their religious services by closing the facilities.
In my experience: Did I feel exploited? That’s a tough one. The only form of exploitation that I could have possibly been exposed to was psychological and spiritual. I do feel that I was manipulated, but it is too personal a recollection to share.

(e) Causing psychological harm.
In general: There have been too many to mention, hundreds of people, that have left the OBC that have claimed psychological harm. One person in particular comes to mind in this. If you have not heard of the physical and psychological abuse that happened at North Cascades priory, I urge you to seek out this information. Rev. Koshin is implicated as being responsible for the almost-death of a novice monk. It is also well known that some monks have become mentally ill and others have even committed suicide. I know many congregation members that are mentally ill and damaged from training with the OBC.
In my experience: I was psychologically harmed in many different ways. Many of my issues should have been addressed by a trained therapist or psychologist. At the time, I was told to take “refuge in the three treasures” and that would help me, but it was insufficient and I suffered for years.
I hope this helps everybody, and I hope to continue this discussion and hear of other’s experiences.

Peace,
Diana
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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:00 pm

I'll first cut-and-paste Kozan's reply (also in another topic):

Diana, thank you for your previous post, the introduction of Langone's conceptual framework, and for your valuable perspective in general!

Before I respond to some of your points, I would like to reiterate that even though I do not believe that the OBC is a cult, and I am perfectly happy to debate the issue, I have no objection whatsoever with the use of the word cult by anyone who finds it appropriate in describing and making sense of their own experience. I think that reclaiming the integrity of our perception and experience is essential for each of us in general, and I think that supporting diverse viewpoints is a primary purpose of this forum, which Lise has established and so skillfully maintains!

I think that Langone's framework, and others that I have seen, are extremely useful in identifying the destructive dynamics that take place within some institutions, relationships, and of course, cults--especially because a significant aspect of the dynamic is to make it invisible to those being exploited! I would propose however, that if we look carefully, we can find many of the dynamics that Langone has identified in virtually all religious institutions. The only distinction hinges on Langone's phrase, "to a significant degree"--and what this actually signifies for each of the five areas of concern.

Although I do not believe that the OBC qualifies as a cult, I do have concerns, including the fact that you and others have reported experiences of abuse and trauma. Accordingly, I prefer to use the term cult-like because I think that it facilitates the recognition of problems without having to first decide whether or not the organization qualifies as a cult per se; and because I am concerned that the anti-cult movement sometimes seems to show a dynamic that can appear to be all too similar to that of the Inquisition and the Witch Trials.

To respond to just a few of the comments that you have made in the lettered catagories:

(a) Devotion. An attitude of respect is certainly emphasized, but RM Jiyu never required devotion--and continually pointed out the importance of not putting the teacher on a pedestal. Devotion itself is used as a path in some schools of Buddhism and Hinduism, and in some form in most other religions--but Zen primarily uses the analytical approach.

Enlightenment never involves "becoming one with the Buddha himself." It does involve returning home to that which is the transcendent ground of (our own) Awareness itself--traditionally referred to in many ways, including, to become one with the Buddha Nature (which, strictly speaking, we are always one with anyway--since it is the ground of our own awareness).

(b) Thought Reform. After Langone's list of conditions and methods, you state that "many if not all of these conditions are met by the OBC." I did not experience any of these conditions--with three exceptions. All OBC monestaries, priories, and meditation groups utilize daily schedules (time control) and rules ("daily rules"). I am also concerned, as I have commented before, with what I see as the institutional culture of teaching and practice--but this, I believe, is at a far more subtle level than what Langone is describing.

(c) Dependency. A concern of mine as well--confirmed by your own experience.

(d) Exploitation. You comment that, "It could be stated that any financial support given to the OBC and its affiliates is a form of exploitation." The tradition in Buddhism, and in most if not all other religions, is dependency on donations as a primary means of financial support.

My concern with exploitation (which, again, I have commented on in other posts) is that to the extent that the institutional culture remains unrecognized, it exploits everyone at a subtle level. RM Jiyu-Kennett herself made this point (in my opinion) when she titled her first book: Selling Water by the River (later published as Zen is Eternal Life).

(e) Psychological Harm. You have stated your opinion that: "...hundreds of people, that have left the OBC that have claimed psychological harm."; and that, "It is also well known that some monks have become mentally ill and others have even committed suicide. I know many congregation members that are mentally ill and damaged from training with the OBC."

Really? This has not been my observation, experience, or understanding at all. How have you collected this data?

The final point that you make, based on your experience, I fully agree with. Spiritual practice alone is no substitute for professional psychological help when dealing with serious psychological issues--and when it is, the outcome can be tragic. From the little that I have been able to gleen about the event that you refer to at the North Cascades Buddhist Priory, the trauma experienced by RM Koshin's disciple may well have been the result of an effort to use spiritual practice to treat a possibly unrecognized psychological issue. Clearly, the outcome was tragic for all concerned.

Again, I greatly respect the work that you have done and are doing, and the perspective that you provide!
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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jun 19, 2010 10:09 pm

And lastly, here's my reply from today:

Hi everyone,
This post is in response to Kozan’s last one. Thanks for the feedback Kozan. Here are my thoughts:

You wrote: “Accordingly, I prefer to use the term cult-like because I think that it facilitates the recognition of problems without having to first decide whether or not the organization qualifies as a cult per se; and because I am concerned that the anti-cult movement sometimes seems to show a dynamic that can appear to be all too similar to that of the Inquisition and the Witch Trials.”

That’s cool. If you would rather use “cult-like” or another word to describe it, you probably stand with many others; even the psychological community has a difficult time defining it. The “anti-cult movement”, however, doesn’t exist in psychological circles. It may still exist in some Christian associations. I’m assuming you’re referring to the “deprogramming” and such that happened in the 70’s- that doesn’t happen anymore.

You wrote: “RM Jiyu never required devotion”
I can’t recall all the scriptures and doctrine that request the trainee never ask questions or doubt the “Zen master” because there were so many; I heard it time and time again. Of course Jiyu demanded devotion! David Kay (2004) states “Former disciples also recall how Kennett became increasingly exclusive and authoritarian during this period [referring to the “Lotus Blossom Period]. Alongside her emphasis on having faith in the Cosmic Buddha, she now stressed that faithful acceptance of the teacher’s authority was ‘the essence of the teaching’. One former monk found ‘the single minded devotion’ Kennett demanded ‘exhausting’, another reflected that despite having ‘those first intimations which would become the foundation of my interior life under her guidance’, he ‘learned much about capricious leadership and the excesses of power that a roshi can exercise” (p. 169).
Every Zen master requires devotion. The problem is, they don’t explicitly say so, in fact they set up a double-bind situation. My master used to tell me that it was completely my choice to become a monk or not. He then would tell me that “the world” didn’t compare to the monk’s life and how much better it would be and how I shouldn’t have relationships or doing anything that might tarnish my new pure self. And when I was half-tranced out and high on meditation and vulnerable, I took that to mean that I had to become a monk! If you read Dogen’s take on it, he clearly discriminates against lay-people and speaks of the purity of being a monk and the importance of the kesa. Here are some good ones from Dogen:

“Breaking of the precepts having left family life is better than keeping the precepts as a lay person, because with the precepts of a lay person we do not realize liberation”.
“That which has not left family life is not the Buddha-Dharma”.
“…because the habits we form and the influence that our family has on us tend to prevent us from seeing clearly what the truth is”.
“If they waste precious time amid greed, and fail to leave family life, they may regret it in future ages”.

I could go on and on. This is why I reject Zen. The Buddha didn’t teach this. I think Dogen’s teaching is one of the big influences on monks and manifests as a cold and detached attitude towards lay people that I find personally offensive. I often felt like the monks thought I was infected and if I stood too close to them they would catch my disease.

Regarding thought reform: “I did not experience any of these conditions”.
I can understand if you don’t think you experienced thought-reform and it’s not my place to say that you did. I would argue, however, that anyone who has ever dedicated their life to the OBC has experienced it. The term “thought reform” replaces the old terms “brainwashing” and “mind control”. If you have ever sat in meditation and then listened to a dharma talk, you have been exposed to thought-reform/brainwashing/mind control. Sometimes the word “coercive persuasion” is also used. Pick a term that’s useful for you!

You wrote: “The tradition in Buddhism, and in most if not all other religions, is dependency on donations as a primary means of financial support. My concern with exploitation (which, again, I have commented on in other posts) is that to the extent that the institutional culture remains unrecognized, it exploits everyone at a subtle level. RM Jiyu-Kennett herself made this point (in my opinion) when she titled her first book: Selling Water by the River (later published as Zen is Eternal Life).”

I agree with you on that one. And yes, pretty much all religious institutions rely on donations. I’m much more inclined to give donations that support the homeless or a hospice than to Zen master’s, though. It would be nice if the monks actually did something with their time. I’ve been thinking about “exploitation”. I know of certain people who felt psychologically and spiritually exploited as well as financially. It would be great to hear people’s stories about how they felt exploited with the OBC. My main concern about finances is watching my friends give up all their money and possessions only to be asked to leave training. They were essentially thrown out and had to start all over again in life. And they were not young!

With regards to psychological harm you replied: “Really? This has not been my observation, experience, or understanding at all. How have you collected this data?”

I’m glad you haven’t suffered any psychological harm. I have known of MANY who have. I have heard personal accounts and have observed monks and laity from 1998 to 2008. Even today, a new member of the forum commented on her experience as having left her feeling depressed and isolated. When I was a “good little disciple” I was privy to a lot of information, that looking back was a clear violation of people’s (monks and lay) privacy and confidentiality. I did hear of mental illness, alcoholism, and suicide. As far as actual numbers, it’s a total guess on my part, but what I did was start from 1970 and look at the last 40 years.

You were there, Kozan, during the turbulent times, were you not? You should remember. David Kay (2004) estimates that “…over thirty ex-disciples of Kennett” left in America alone after the “Lotus Blossom” came out (p. 167). These people formed the group "Sorting it Out"; basically an exit-counseling/group therapy group, to transition back in society. I assume that because they had to do this, they were obviously psychologically challenged and needed help. That’s not even counting what happened in England. And that was only over a one year period. Basically, the whole congregation abandoned Jiyu and the OBC in England. So I figure, maybe 50 or so people left in just one year, and counting all the people I know, there’s another 30 or so, and there has to be more than that! Whether or not they were psychologically harmed or not is a question. I would love to get a count. Honestly though, I think any monk that was trained by Jiyu or any monk trained by her disciples has been exposed to thought reform and therefore has undergone psychological manipulation. I think any form of psychological manipulation is harmful. But that’s just my opinion. My logic is sound, though.

Any retorts, replies, thoughts, opinions, or actual experiences are welcome here. Thanks for listening and letting me get all this out of my head. I’m here for me too; I’m still healing and working through my own stuff.
Peace,
Diana
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sugin

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jun 20, 2010 9:29 pm

You are loosing me...can you stick you 20 words or less ? I obviously have a lot less verbage available to me and I don't think I am brain washed.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:24 pm

Diana, I'm going to jump over to the Celibacy thread & respond there to your comment about being told to avoid relationships --
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jun 27, 2010 10:38 pm

Diana, thank you for the information from David Kay. I had never heard any of that before. Secrecy protects this sort of information from getting out to the lay people.
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PostSubject: David Kay's book   Mon Jun 28, 2010 9:33 am

Amazon has it but it's pretty expensive -- I may try eBay. If I can get a copy at a reasonable price I will loan it to anyone interested. Some of the material available for preview makes me think it does contain useful info on Shasta, Throssel, etc.

"Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation (Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism)"
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 28, 2010 12:32 pm

Interlibrary loan is another option.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 28, 2010 3:35 pm

Good idea Rachel -

Here's the details all together --


Title: Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation (Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism)

• Author: David Kay
• Publisher: Routledge; annotated edition edition (January 15, 2004)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0415297656
• ISBN-13: 978-0415297653
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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 28, 2010 9:25 pm

Thanks for putting up the info. on Kay's book, Lise.

It is expensive. I would share mine if I could, but I study from it and use it as a reference too much to let it go for now.

For those who want to know: Kay's book is divided in two parts; the first half is devoted to the New Kadampa Tradition and the second half is on the OBC. It's a very good history of these two controversial traditions.

I have to say, I wish that I would have read this before I ever started going to the Abbey. They do a good job at the Abbey of keeping everyone in the dark. They are a closed system and one of the advantages of this is that are able to control information coming in and out. By making the past a taboo subject, the objective truth and history of the OBC is well hidden. Kay's book gives an interesting account of the early years and the forming of the OBC. This is essential stuff since that's why everyone is there right now! I bet if a person read Kay's book and then "How to Grow a Lotus Blossom", they would think Jiyu was absolutely insane.

I have to say that I was never into Jiyu's books or style. I never liked her and I found her writing to be too arrogant and careless to be taken seriously. I could say more, but I won't right now.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:20 pm

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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jun 28, 2010 10:33 pm

I wouldn't judge a whole book by reading just one page, but that's just me. Sounds like you're really not into reading, Sugin.
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PostSubject: All religions are somewhat a cult   Tue Jun 29, 2010 10:13 am

Cult has taken on a bad name in our society. Cult is almost by definition a word used to characterize a development of a culture separate from that of the majority culture. It is word now used to slam anything different, anything that runs against the grain of cultural norms. So I find it very hard to get usefully upset about someone's allegation that this or that is a cult.

The OBC has problems. It is not flourishing. New monks are not joining in droves; priories are small rather than large, and are in general not expanding. The number of OBC monks has yet to exceed a hundred, and in many years the number dying or leaving exceeds the number joining.

I've been a lay member only, held a lay position of responsibility in the small priory I attended. I left for a variety of reasons which I'll describe later, but it was my choice both to attend and leave. There was absolutely nothing the monk, the OBC could do about my decision to leave. Nor was I subject to any threatened or imposed sanction of any significance, except he monk severed his friendship. So be it.

I did for those 5 years learn something about Buddhism and Zen. It was a transition period for me both spiritually and in real life. I came to the realization after 5 years, that the monk had nothing more to teach. His words became simple repetitions of what had already been expressed. And I fundamentally doubted that he understood for himself the words he had been taught to say by both training and his own indoctrination. He often did not behave as an enlightened being who had realized for himself the lack of self that could have freed him from his very human faults and ordinary immaturity about life outside a monastic environment. He wished very much to have a disciple to serve him and make his life easier. I imagine many ordinary people would like to have a personal servant who thanked them for the opportunity to serve them. To his disappointment, none of the lay members were interested in that, and he did not find any disciples willing to fulfill that wish.

There was a strong inclination in the OBC to set the founder up as an unchallengeable authority on everything, down to the minutest detail of ceremonial practice. And there was often genuine fear at any thought of deviating from anything she taught or had put in the liturgy. I bought the OBC journal for a while, but discarded the subscription because it seemed to be a requirement for publication of every article to herald the wisdom of the founder. It almost had a twist of propaganda about it, though I'm sure that was not the intent.

If one can freely join and leave an organization, where is the coercion? If one chooses freely to live in a prison, it seems to be substantial immaturity to complain about prison conditions, the meanness of the guards, etc.

There were two primary reasons I left the priory and the OBC at the end of 5 years. It had nothing more to offer me. I could find no one within the OBC who I had any confidence that they knew from their own deep experience what they were talking about, or much about Buddhism in general, beyond that which their founder had taught. Kindergarten and grade school are wonderful, useful things. But one hopefully moves beyond them quickly. The second reason is that I was unwilling to pretend that immaturity and human failings worse than my own as a non-Buddhist were spiritual beacons because the OBC had somehow magically invested superior wisdom in someone by means of ordination. In short, I needed something better to aspire to, some higher goal to reach than anything I saw offered or likely to be offered.

I do not regret discipline, particularly under the circumstance that I freely choose it as a means of accomplishing a goal. I feel to be worthwhile. As Maharishi Ramana once said, "The mind is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant." I have now found that to be so. It was helpful during those 5 years to begin to see that my mind could be mastered.

I am also grateful for the 5 years I attended. It did get me started in Buddhism. And it helped to leave, to see clearly for the first time that training was my responsibility, not that of a monk, the OBC, or anyone else. In this age, there are a huge amount of books, teachers, etc. readily accessible to someone who truly wants to learn. A master may in fact be a relic of a past time when such media and access was not readily available at all. There are some immature expectations on the part of some trainees about what Buddhism is about, that one needs to find the right teacher quickly, that the first teacher to be accessible is the right teacher for them, that the word Master is a warranty that the teacher understands the truth for himself, etc. It is a limiting immaturity that will remain an impediment until it is transcended.

Buddhism and meditation is for reasonably healthy minds, not those who are seriously mentally wounded or crippled. Zen is probably not a good path for those who suffer depression. Monks are not skilled clinicians; many remain wounded themselves. And sometimes people need secular help, rather than just spiritual prescriptions, before they can start useful Zen training. Freedom from an ego is not at all the same thing as an impoverished painful one. The OBC should really come to grips with this. I doubt their insight to do this.

So, though I don't think the OBC represents a particularly good path, I also can't see slapping the cult label on the OBC, particularly as a pejorative swipe. We are not children. As the OBC acknowledges, Buddhism is for adults.

In this world of choice, we are responsible for our choices and actions. Whether or not OBC offers something useful or not is just another choice.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jun 29, 2010 5:37 pm

Jack, welcome to the forum. I imagine your first posts have woken up anyone who might have been napping Wink It's good to have you here. You sound like a straight shooter who calls 'em like he sees 'em. I like that.

I'm with you on certain points you've made, maybe not so much on others, and will have to basically diagram my next post in order to respond efficiently.

One thing I can say without preamble is that I too am grateful to the OBC for the good stuff I learned about Buddhism and still carry with me. That won't change.

More later.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Jun 30, 2010 8:26 am

Diana wrote:
I wouldn't judge a whole book by reading just one page, but that's just me. Sounds like you're really not into reading, Sugin.

Diana, I actually read a fair amount and when I said Kay's book reads the way I would have expected, I was referring to its scholarly nature. I did read 9 pages of it that were concerning the OBC development and practices and found them pretty much accurate as far as my reading and studying of the order affirms.
I am currently rereading or should I say really reading "Zen Buddhism: a History" by Heinrich Dumoulin. We have had the two volumes on hand in our library and I have used them as a reference books for 20 odd years but now I am going to give them serious attention.
Maybe we should have a reading club on this forum?
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Jun 30, 2010 8:33 am

A reading club is a good idea -- you might start a new thread on it so that the idea isn't buried here under this topic heading.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Jul 01, 2010 10:33 am

jack wrote:
. . . If one can freely join and leave an organization, where is the coercion? If one chooses freely to live in a prison, it seems to be substantial immaturity to complain about prison conditions, the meanness of the guards, etc. . . .

I think this is the crux -- what it means to be free to leave. Anyone is physically free to walk out a gate and not come back. I always felt in charge of my choices with the OBC; in time, I voted with my feet & didn't go back. But I want to know how and why some peoples' involvement gets to a stage where they did not, or do not, feel mentally able to leave -- a locked mind is the most exit-proof gate, clearly. What causes people to suspend judgment and decision-making, and hand over their personal power to someone else? I agree it's a voluntary act and a choice. I just don't understand how they don't see/feel the risks when it starts to happen.

Random thoughts -- in the group counseling sessions I attend there's a lot of talk about what makes something a cult to some but not others. The counselor posits a spectrum of personality construction that runs from "cult-resistant" on one end to "cult-receptive" on the other, such that some people could possibly turn any group-joining-event into a cult-like experience for themselves. This could include other religious organizations, civic service groups, even Amway. I'm not saying this theory holds water any more so than others, but it's an interesting way of looking at the question.

The counselor pushes hard sometimes, asking people "What did you join this group hoping or insisting to get? Did you want them to take over responsibility for your next steps in life? Did you want this teacher/master/leader to recognize you as special, spiritually gifted, too good for "normal" life? Are you calling it a cult now only because you didn't get what you wanted, and you won't take ownership of your part in this?" I mean, some of these questions have caused people to blow up, walk out . . . sometimes they come back, sometimes not. Tough questions but I think they have value.

No question in my mind that some groups use very undesirable techniques to attempt to control followers. And yet -- my thought is that people have to understand why they place all or most of the responsibility for their experience with the group that they feel is a cult. If they don't see their own part in what happened, how will they be protected from the next thing that comes along and trips the right triggers for them to get "drawn in" and repeat the "cult" experience?


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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Jul 01, 2010 5:43 pm

I have the "Take Back Your Life" book on order through the library. I hope reading this will shed some light on the "how and why" aspect of people perceiving something as a cult, or whether those questions actually matter --
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jul 03, 2010 6:48 pm

OBC Connect has been an excellent forum for helping me see the OBC through new eyes. People have suggested that the OBC organization and teachings are basically benign, but that the institution (like other mature organizations) has gone off track. Others like Diana put forth the idea that the OBC is a cult that uses inappropriate means to deprive its followers of their independent minds and sometimes their money. Still others think the OBC and its teachings are good but that its view of Buddhism is too narrow or shallow. To some extent I agree with all of this.

I spent over 12 years deeply connected to the OBC, its rituals, its monks, and their teachings. I now believe that the heart of the problem is that the OBC lets senior monks get away with conduct that no one would ever tolerate in the "real" world outside the monastary. That behavior includes petty things like which monk gets which cup and exactly how to cut the carrots. (Imagine how things would go at YOUR workplace if people acted that way.)

But the OBC's refusal to stop bad conduct by senior monks includes some cases of serious abuse against people whose care has been entrusted to the monks. Senior monks are allowed pretty much free reign to control every detail of the work, the diet, the health (including the ability to seek medical care), the ability to exercise, the freedom to read and think, the opportunity to see family (much less marry or have a relationship with another human being), and in some cases the very life of disciples who submit to their monastic discipline. This is especially true when a senior monk is viewed by the OBC leadership as being spiritually advanced or "enlightened."

Now I wonder why I stayed with the OBC so long. It was partly because I thought I had friends among the monks (although almost no one has said a word to me since I left). But the real reason was fear. I bought into the teaching that everything taught by an "enlightened" senior monk was true. If a teaching made no sense, I was taught to "put it on the back burner" until I was far enough along to understand.

The senior monk I trained with said that if you stop training, deep negative karma will arise. Even though I was angry about a lot of things, I didn't dare speak up and didn't dare quit. The fear of those dark karmic consequences hung heavy over my head.

It took a horrific first-hand observation to make me question the OBC and finally to resign. (Since the experience belongs to someone else, I'll respect their privacy and not go into details.)

The OBC Connect has given me a chance to look at my own conduct and my own attitudes toward authority -- in this case, the Final Authority (the Eternal, the Unborn, etc.) and the monks who taught what the Final Authority meant. It is liberating to read the spectrum of ideas in this forum. It's refreshing that some of the participants still practice and train according to the OBC teachings but others have no use whatsoever for it. It's fresh air to look with an open mind and open heart at the results of the OBC's teachings and practices.

Many, many thanks to Lise for starting and watching over the form.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jul 03, 2010 7:55 pm

To Sugin:

My computer didn't load more than one page on that link at first. I just went back to check it out and saw more pages. That is a good taste for how the book reads; scholarly indeed. I like the book club idea!

To Violet:

It's people like you that make leaving the sangha difficult. I miss you and all the great friends I met during my years at the Abbey. I can say I truly love some of you guys and I'll never forget you. Part of the reason why I'm here on the forum I guess is to somehow protest what the OBC is doing because it has harmed my friends. I don't understand how they let Koshin keep running the priory and I don't understand why they don't see the harm they are creating. I'm so glad to hear from you, Violet. I know that you, like many of us, had a pure and open heart for "training" and it's a shame that the training we found couldn't help us in the way we wanted. This is the part of me that grieves in a way; I just get really bummed out that it turned out the way it did. I also get pretty angry about it sometimes. Anyway, so glad to hear from you:-)

To Jack:

Right on, Dude. Thanks for your input. Definitely interesting points. I will say that I have a soft spot for the people who did experience any harm, so even though I respect the fact you are obviously psychologically sound and strong, I will always be thinking about those who were harmed more than me or are still involved with the organization. I think it's important to tell our stories, but I also think it's important to respect everyone's points.

To Lise:

Yeah, that's a good book. I hope you can get something out of it. :-)
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jul 03, 2010 10:15 pm

violet wrote:
The senior monk I trained with said that if you stop training, deep negative karma will arise. Even though I was angry about a lot of things, I didn't dare speak up and didn't dare quit. The fear of those dark karmic consequences hung heavy over my head.

diana wrote:
I will say that I have a soft spot for the people who did experience any harm, so even though I respect the fact you are obviously psychologically sound and strong, I will always be thinking about those who were harmed more than me or are still involved with the organization.

Since starting this forum I have heard from a couple of people who warned of terrible things happening to me (now or in later lives) if I kept this forum up and continued talking about Shasta Abbey and the OBC. I don't know who they are --there are 32 forum members now, most of whom don't post -- but I assume the ones sending me the messages are current OBC members who are upset with these discussions. If their comments are not just empty blustering and they genuinely believe I will fall prey to some supernatural force bent on vengeance, then I ask everybody reading this to offer merit for them, if your belief system encompasses that concept. Anyone who is so enslaved to an idea like that needs all the help and merit that he or she can get.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jul 04, 2010 12:49 am

Lise--I firmly believe that Shasta Abbey and the OBC is deeply in your debt for your founding of this forum. Of course, they may not realize this yet!

And likewise, the OBC is deeply indebted (in my opinion) to all who post comments here--including, on this thread alone, Lise, Diana, Violet, Sugin, Jack, Rachel--and of course, to all others who have posted on other threads as well.

Being honest about what we have experienced, each in our own way, is what we each need to do in order to heal.

It is also what the OBC needs to hear, in order for it to heal and transform itself--which it desperately needs to do--if it is to remain true to the essence of Rev. Master's teaching, and the essence of the Dharma itself.

To respond more specifically to your comment Violet: leaving the OBC does not mean that you, or we, have stoped training!;

And to yours Lise: speaking the truth honestly (as we perceive it) and carefully (as in my opinion, you ALWAYS do), never bears negative karmic consequences!!!

(Of course, there may be negative consequences, karmic and otherwise, if we are crafting our expression of the truth for the purpose of harming others--but this is entirely unnecessary for the purpose of facilitating changes that benefit everyone!)

In my opinion, there is no force in the universe stronger than that of honest, compassionate, truth-saying! And it becomes even more powerful when sung by a wide diversity of voices!!
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jul 04, 2010 11:51 am

Well said, Kozan--well said. Rather than seeing anger and vindictiveness on this forum, I see dismay and distress. Even though most of us seem to be separated from the OBC and from Shasta Abbey, we still care about the institutions and the people within them. I only began with them in the late 1990s and I don't know "what was," but I do have a feeling for what "might be," and I would be very joyful to see the OBC reach its true potential.
This forum is made up of people who care about the OBC and who have thought seriously about what they are posting. The OBC would do well to look closely at each and every heartfelt post here, even to the point of replying. As it is, we are two groups (forum and OBC) speaking separately about the same topic. A genuine dialogue would be difficult and painful but could prove incredibly useful.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jul 04, 2010 1:39 pm

Thanks to all for your replies. Koshin once gave a dharma talk on how DOUBT is a big hindrance to training. How can a follower speak up and express doubt after being told not to doubt???? This kind of craziness paralyzes us.

The whole point of the outdoor ceremony where you follow the master in a line when you become a Buddhist (can't remember its name) is to follow the master on his or her crazy path through the Abby grounds. No matter where he or she goes, the disciples follow.
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PostSubject: Thankful.   Sun Jul 04, 2010 2:54 pm

I'm also very thankful for this forum. I think it is very important that it exists for people to at least be aware of the criticisms and concerns many former long-time members have. Current OBC members can CHOOSE to question or ignore the info. that is posted here and not let it affect their perception. That is the beauty of an open discussion.

I was 23 years old when I got heavily involved in the Shasta Abbey. Shortly thereafter, I was told by 2 senior monks that I had a "calling" and that if I ignored it, I would be unhappy. As you can imagine, whenever I felt any dissatisfaction in life I just assumed it was because I hadn't become a monk. An illogical and erroneous conclusion based on ideas about fate, not choice.

I only wish the forum had been around back then (1999). I even remember searching exhaustively on the net for criticisms of the Abbey. I was craving another viewpoint from people who understood religion, Buddhism, and the like.

It is liberating to finally see a forum like this come into existence. It has helped me to clarify and resolve the short-sighted and bad advice I was given and to finally feel comfortable and confident in who I am. In my opinion, that is good karma, not bad. I am very grateful to Lise and to everyone else who has the courage to post both pro and con opinions here. Thank you.


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PostSubject: Doubt   Sun Jul 04, 2010 5:02 pm

There is a good book by Stephen Batchelor called, "The Faith to Doubt." And that seems much more Buddhist than having "faith" ever was. I've read many of the sutras from the Pali Canon. Faith is neither praised nor emphasized. Of the many steps to finding enlightenment, the only time faith is mentioned is as that necessary faith to seek out and find a teacher. Once that step is taken, it's all about understanding, etc.

I think the faith to doubt reality as our normal minds have presented it to us as a result of our culture, learning, etc. is a critical part of Zen training. Doubt everything, and see for yourself what is true, blameless, and worthy of the Way. Investigate wisely, but see for yourself. I think most new Buddhists make the mistake of doubting too little rather than too much. One of the things that has to be shed is that Buddhism is about faithfully believing the "right" thing. Buddhism is about faithfully "doing" the right things.

The OBC does seem to exhort people to believe and have faith, very much like our Christian brothers with the inference that belief is somehow key to salvation. I don't know if that's a carryover from the founder's Christian rearing or not, but I've not found the "faith" emphasis in any other significant Buddhist teaching I've come across. "Find out for yourself" is the Buddhist approach. Doubt all your notions about reality, including religion, and grasp it directly" is core Zen training.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jul 04, 2010 7:05 pm

I so agree with you Jack. I've always had a secret envy of people who had a deep faith because I just could never get it and it seemed to be so reassuring to be a true believer. Ever since the Santa Claus let down I have become very cynical.


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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Jul 04, 2010 10:18 pm

I appreciate what folks have said here -- the forum helps me too. I'm glad we can come together to talk.

Mary, welcome, and thanks for joining us. And thank you for describing your experience. There could be another 23-year-old out in cyber-land, maybe more than one, who is feeling the pressure from monks and looking for info now as you were in '99.

I believe every story shared here helps someone -- and most of us will never know how much.

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 05, 2010 12:05 am

Thanks Jack for the insight concerning faith. I have had a struggle with faith and wanted to have faith but I do not have faith. I am going to check the book out that you mentioned. At times it seemed I could not go on with the OBC practice because I did not have faith. Now I know I only need to meditate and my practice will be mine etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 05, 2010 12:52 am

oops, Mary, I got you mixed up with another Mary who joined recently -- I can see you've been here awhile. I should learn to slow down Smile

Hi Helen -- welcome.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 05, 2010 10:20 am

One person who helped me work through my issues was Kobutsu Malone. He has taught me that there are honest and devoted monks out there in the world, even though there are really only very few “true masters”. He told me there is no “faith” in Buddhism and that it was my duty to question and to prove the teachings true for myself. He told me to “be a light unto myself”. I admire him greatly; he is a great man. He also is an activist. Here is a great quote from him, one of the many, that I have found on the net to share with you all:

“A Buddhist priest is responsible for presenting truth that can be examined, questioned and digested, not magical, megalomaniacal thinking. Dialog and communication are vital to communication, alleged “truth” presented from on high as unquestionable is extremely suspect if just in its manner of presentation. If a Buddhist priest is truly serving people he or she is obligated to encourage questioning and meticulous examination. To question a former teacher is perhaps “controversial” but to say nothing while people are being led astray into the self-serving delusion of another is criminal. The Buddhist priest would far prefer to enter into controversy than to remain silent in conspiracy to delude.”
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 05, 2010 10:49 am

Some more thoughts... I'm trying to find a copy of the Kalama Sutta that Kobutsu sent me, but I can't find it. I urge EVERYONE to study that sutta!

Here is a great link from one of Kobutsu's articles "Bodhisatva as Revolutionary" that talks a little bit about the Kalama Sutta and is in line with what we have been talking about here:

http://www.engaged-zen.org/articles/Kobutsu-Bodhisattva_as_Revolutionary.html

Hope you all get a chance to explore this at your leisure....

Peace,
Diana
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 05, 2010 7:54 pm

Diana, thanks for introducing me to Kobutsu Malone. One of my issues with the OBC priory I attended to was the lack of any teaching on social and moral issues or any action on "worldly" issues like the death penalty and prison reform and war/peace.

I'm interested in learning about other strains of Buddhist thinking. My whole life as a Buddhist has been shaped by OBC practice and training -- that is, Buddhism based on Dogen's teaching. It's time for me to break out of that narrow shell.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 26, 2010 5:34 pm

Hi Mary

I tried PM-ing you this but there seems to be a problem with the PM system - the message just kept ending up in my drafts box instead of my sent box...so I'll just post it publicly... probably a good thing anyway!

Hi Mary

I just read your post on the forumotion site about the OBC. I think your post may have been from some time ago, but you mentioned some advice you got from monks about having a "calling" and your being convinced that every bit of dissatisfaction you felt in your life was down to you not having become a monk.

That's pretty much exactly how I feel at the moment... not due to erroneous advice given from a monk, but from some misunderstandings of my own about Buddhism (and life in general, I think!) - I've recently become involved with the OBC, though have been involved with Buddhism for a couple of years, trying out different traditions and sanghas and so on. I've had positive experiences with the OBC so far, but too have a kind of hangup about the whole "monk" thing - I don't want to be a monk - I want to have a happy lay life, with relationship, job, maybe kids etc... but I feel this pull towards monastic life and I don't know whether it's some kind of "calling" or a result of previous misunderstandings / misconceptions that I've developed out of reading too much rubbish on the internet and in badly thought out Buddhist books about the unsatisfying nature of desire, the idea that there's no point in relationships and kids etc because it's just perpetuating the cycle of birth and death, attachment and dissatisfaction etc...

I've not been able to talk to anyone properly about this - I had some spiritual counseling at Throssel Hole abbey a few weeks ago on an introductory retreat I went on, and the monk I spoke to was nice but didn't say what I wanted to hear (!!) - she said I pretty much had to follow what my deep inner self called out for me to do, even though it didn't feel like a choice, and that in fact it would feel uncomfortable and like a "nagging feeling"... kind of surrendering to the flow of it rather than trying to control it with the idea of choice and what "I" want etc... sounds pretty convincing, but I'm just deeply confused about the whole thing and not sure what I want...

Anyway - I guess I'm not exactly expecting you to tell me what I should do with my life - I'm just wondering if what I'm going through at the moment rings true at all with any of your experience - from what you said in your short post on the topic, it sounds fairly similar.

Hope you are well now and enjoying your life, whatever you happen to be doing! And hope you're not regretting not becoming a monk!

Katy

Mary wrote:
I'm also very thankful for this forum. I think it is very important that it exists for people to at least be aware of the criticisms and concerns many former long-time members have. Current OBC members can CHOOSE to question or ignore the info. that is posted here and not let it affect their perception. That is the beauty of an open discussion.

I was 23 years old when I got heavily involved in the Shasta Abbey. Shortly thereafter, I was told by 2 senior monks that I had a "calling" and that if I ignored it, I would be unhappy. As you can imagine, whenever I felt any dissatisfaction in life I just assumed it was because I hadn't become a monk. An illogical and erroneous conclusion based on ideas about fate, not choice.

I only wish the forum had been around back then (1999). I even remember searching exhaustively on the net for criticisms of the Abbey. I was craving another viewpoint from people who understood religion, Buddhism, and the like.

It is liberating to finally see a forum like this come into existence. It has helped me to clarify and resolve the short-sighted and bad advice I was given and to finally feel comfortable and confident in who I am. In my opinion, that is good karma, not bad. I am very grateful to Lise and to everyone else who has the courage to post both pro and con opinions here. Thank you.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Jul 26, 2010 9:19 pm

When I started out in Buddhism, I had a tendency to want to be more Buddhist than I am now. It's as if I were somehow trying to develop an identity around the the idea that "I am Buddhist." I'm sure I annoyed a few of my friends with my preoccupation with the subject for a year or two.

As part of the period of "enchantment" with Buddhism, I also considered that eventually being some sort of lay minister might "deepen" my practice so to speak.

Partly because of other previous life experiences and circumstances, I did not hastily follow those inclinations which seemed at the time to be oh so spiritual. I am now glad I did not, because I avoided a lot of confusion and wandering.

One thing I observed was that the monks I came to know were not examples of what I was seeking. Another was that I was trying to accomplish something or seize something by direct effort rather than establishing the conditions for insights to arise on their own. And by being patient, I didn't have to override any doubts; I gave myself the time to look honestly and openly without feeling the crush of having to believe what the OBC or others taught.

I am very glad I was patient (for a few years) to give myself time to come to with the truth of Buddhism such that I no longer need others to prop up my faith, practice, or beliefs. One way people prop up beliefs against doubt is by becoming a member of a culture that reinforces what they are trying to believe, and that assails any outside influence that would cause them to question the message of the culture. That happens in both secular and religious cultures; it's not unique to the OBC. I had a conversation one day with a monk, and explained that I wanted to find truth, whether or not it conflicted with Buddhism, whether or not it was in agreement with the OBC. He hesitated for a moment, and then said something like "his commitment was to what the OBC taught and how the OBC taught it." He was not interested in any wider search for truth. My doubt that OBC truth is final Buddhist truth has turned out to be correct.

In our small local Buddhist group (no official teacher, and more than one lineage), newcomers often are anxious to decide on a teacher to follow. I give them the same advice the Dalai Lama gave. He said people were foolish to just follow the first teacher they encountered, particularly when they were an enchanted new Buddhist. He advised letting the search continue for a least 2 or 3 years, -- longer if needed, that the student observe the teacher, his behavior, his integrity, his wisdom, and his ability to help and teach. The point is "there's no rush." If Buddhism is right, we've all been doing this rebirth thing for eons. There's no contextual Buddhist basis for making decisions quickly or rashly.

Some of the OBC monks seemed a bit too interested in disciples for me, as if that provided them proof of their calling. I'm wasn't at all interested in fulfilling any wish for them.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jul 27, 2010 1:36 pm

Anyone who wonders if the OBC is a cult (or "cult-like") must read Amalia's link posted today.

Her experience shows what the authoritarian, ask-no-questions, discipline-above-all system taught by Dogen can lead to. Amalia's total trust and obedience to TS, the senior monk who still runs the North Cascades priory today, led her to the brink of death. This was in the name of religion????

The monks who blindly and cruelly followed TS's s orders are still respected monks of the OBC. The one monk who treated Amalia kindly and tried to care for her was disciplined by TS. How could senior monks show so little compassion toward Amalia and even blame her for the horrible experience?

Kyogen Carlson's links to his recollections of Jiyu Kennet are also revealing. Lack of consideration for the well-being and comfort of others to the point of cruelty seem to be an acceptable part of the Dogen tradition.

If this is Zen Buddhism, I want no part of it.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Aug 06, 2010 12:05 pm

Regarding the definition of a cult, one specific aspect that hasn't been mentioned is a supported exit process. I participated (from a safe distance) in a spiritual organization a few years ago and observed that it was actually possible for the members who lived in the centers to leave in an orderly and supported fashion. The organization actually helped people with housing and employment, and generally getting re-established in the mainstream culture. Now, these folks were not perfect. There was too much going on there that felt like what I had already experienced in the OBC for me to stay involved, but nonetheless this aspect alone made them significantly different from the OBC.

The OBC is clearly a one way organization; there is a way in but no way out. A couple of fictions that were regularly verbalized at Shasta Abbey were "we are all volunteers" and "it's normal in Buddhism to enter and leave the priesthood multiple times". Holding these beliefs enabled us to perceive the OBC as a healthy organization and not a cult, but they were simply lies.

If someone asks whether or not a group is a cult this is a pretty simple litmus test - is it a "one way" organization or a "two way" organization?
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Aug 06, 2010 3:47 pm


1. Faith & Doubt
I do have a great faith and that includes the faith to doubt. I remain a very "religious" Buddhist. In fact, it would be true to say that I am religious first and Buddhist second, since that is the order that it happened in my life. I think that we should be careful not to over-readily equate "religious" with "cultish". Some atheists can be very cultish and some religious people are very open. Stephen Batchelor (a friend of mine) has been mentioned here and he is certainly an open-minded chap, as, I hope, I am too, even though we would be on opposite sides of the debate on this kind of issue. Actually, the idea of "faith to doubt" is a very good one. In order to doubt, one needs faith, otherwise it is too scary. In this respect, I agree with the Japanese group that are called Critical Buddhists (see: Hubbard & Swanson, "Pruning the Bodhi Tree")

2. Cultism & Harm Done
I do not really care whether OBC fits a definition of being a cult or not. I do care about specific abuses - the kind of thing listed by Violet above. I personally gained a great deal more than I suffered while I was involved in OBC, but the way that I was expelled for standing by my conscience has left me with a pile of grief that even today is not far below the surface. There certainly was no assisted exit process.It does not really matter how much "progress" one oneself makes subsequently, that kind of hurt stays with one for ever. Some clearing of these past hurts is important and those who set up and maintain this site are doing a great service by providing a step in this direction.

3. What Really Matters
What really matters even more, however, is the future. Can we find a way to rise from this pile of trauma and mixed experience without losing the good things - for which I do remain hugely grateful - and make a better future in which we can extend loving support to one another, become friends, whichever side of this or that debate we have been on, and create something for the future that is not cult-like? Can we do that? Probably not completely because we are all faulty human beings too, but I hope we can make a start.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Aug 06, 2010 8:10 pm

Like many long-term serious practitioners, I struggled at length with the sense of a vocation for monasticism. For myself, I did feel and still feel a powerful draw to the simplicity and coherence of a well-lived monastic life in community. (Easier imagined than found, of course.) I felt this even - and to some extent, because - I had lay responsibilities that prohibited me from making that choice.

I had the benefit, however, of teachers and a community which honors lay practice as well, and (with some human moments of confusion, inevitably), equally. I have found many examples in our history of lay men and women of great awakening and wisdom. Most of all, I've experienced it - "it" - It - whatever - in this form. Nothing special. Form is emptiness - emptiness is form - and that HAS to be true of monks and lay people.

At this point in my life, after much back and forth and coming to accept my circumstances more deeply, I am the senior Lay Teacher at Dharma Rain. I know now how vital it is for people to see empowered lay practitioners, lay models of many kinds, lay people functioning deeply within the Dharma, as teachers, as students, as leaders and simply as Buddhists.

Having both models visible is so important, and I think we all need to be conscious of our subtle messages and beliefs about "better" and "worse" ways to practice.
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Diana



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Aug 08, 2010 6:16 pm

Is this the thread you meant to comment on, Jiko? Did you have a point about the OBC being or not being a cult? Sorry, but I thought we were supposed to be staying on topic from now on.

~Diana
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Jiko



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sun Aug 08, 2010 7:11 pm

Ah, Diana, it was intended as a response to the comments about people being told they had a vocation, or in other ways being pushed toward monasticism even if it wasn't appropriate.

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Kyogen

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:13 am

Dear Forum Friends,

This may be a breach of etiquette, but I would like to bring this conversation from Sansho Runyan's Introduction thread over here as it is relevant, I think. You can pick up the whole of Sansho's post over there. I answered quoting part of that post.

--------------------

Hello Sansho,
Quote:
Quote :
I left in the summer of 86 because I felt the atmosphere was wrong, there was just too much religious politics and I objected to some of what RM Jiyu was doing. I have since come to the conclusion (realization?) that, at the core of it, the error was mine. Mine in that to truly give up everything, I should also have given up my opinions of the correctness or incorrectness of what others were doing.

I’ve been thinking about this passage quite a lot since you first posted. I think it is such an excellent description of an important part of practice emphasized at Shasta. You mentioned later that it was easier to see it after you left. I think that is because the other half of Zen practice was getting squeezed out of the Abbey culture.

There are two sides to transmission, the nine bows of the vertical tradition in which the disciple stands beneath the master's feet. That was about giving up everything, all opinions and self attachment.

The other side is the nine bows of the horizontal tradition, in which the disciple stands upon the master’s head. It is emphasized that a real heir to a master must surpass the master to do credit to the master. All that really means is that we have to simply be ourselves, and express the Dharma in our own, unique way. To do that we cannot rely upon the master. This is independence and autonomy, and that is the other half of Zen practice.

Balancing the two sides, holding no fixed views, while taking positions and expressing oneself is what mature practice is about. That became impossible at the Abbey, and in my view it’s why we both had to leave to find that balance.

There is a book that has been referred to on this site called Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain – Transplantation, development and adaptation by David N. Kay. I picked up a copy for just over $165. It’s a scholarly treatise with a very limited press run. It focuses on the New Kadampa Tradition and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. It is fascinating to read what a scholar of the sociology of religion has to say about what we all experienced, particularly because he makes no judgments about anything being right or wrong. He just analyses the development and changes according to sociological theory.

On page 189, in the section on “Kennett’s later teachings,” he makes this observation:

“The major themes dominating Kennett’s later teachings reflected and continued the impulse towards rountinisation, systematization and stability that characterized her presentation following the conflict and instability of the innovative early Lotus Blossom period. One way in which Kennett responded to the conflict and instability of this period was to elevate the role of faith – in the credentials and experience of the Zen master – above the role of personal confirmatory experience of the teachings. During the later period, this shift hardened and the early emphasis on individual authority was almost completely eclipsed by teachings stressing faithful obedience and measures aimed at regulating religious experience with the Order:”
Quote:
Quote :
Buddhism is a religion – and a religion requires faith and trust, not destructive discussion – it requires faith in the Eternal, faith in the Teaching, faith in its priesthood and trust in one’s master. If there is not absolute faith and trust in these, spiritual grown is an impossibility. (from “The Great Heresies” in the Journal 1986)

Kay then continue:

“Kennett’s early characterization of Zen as ‘a religion for spiritual adults’ was thus reformulated; instead of signifying the priority of personal authority, ‘spiritual adulthood’ now described those who ‘understand the position from which master, as head of the Order, speaks in relation to the horizontal Transmission.’ (from the Journal 1985)”

Kay analyzed JKs writings over the years. He could clearly see that in the early years the emphasis was on taking refuge in one’s inherent Buddha Nature, in one’s own heart. In the end, taking refuge was in the teacher, with final authority resting in one person – the head of the order. That is not the Zen tradition I know. It is not what she taught me as a junior monk. Kay makes no judgement on the shift in emphasis, and I will allow that those who wish to follow such a tradition can choose to do so. Just now, I first wrote "they are free to do so." The thing is, once you agree to it, you are no longer free.

With palms joined,

Kyogen
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cmpnwtr

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Aug 17, 2010 12:38 am

Kyogen-"in the early years the emphasis was on taking refuge in one’s inherent Buddha Nature, in one’s own heart. In the end, taking refuge was in the teacher, with final authority resting in one person – the head of the order."

Friends,
Just a brief comment. I will post an introduction shortly. I was a lay minister with the OBC and resigned from the order in 1987. I think this statement above best explains my reasons for that decision. I began with Shasta Abbey and the Zen Mission Society in 1971 and left the OBC in 1987 and witnessed this transition described above, rather, participated in it as a lay practitioner. I recognize many persons here as former Sangha brothers and sisters and it delights me to hear their stories and witness their growth.
Blessings,
Bill
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amalia



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Aug 17, 2010 3:46 am

Welcome to the forum, Bill. It will be interesting to hear what you can say about the early years.



Quote :
Kay makes no judgement on the shift in emphasis, and I will allow that those who wish to follow such a tradition can choose to do so. Just now, I first wrote "they are free to do so." The thing is, once you agree to it, you are no longer free.
@Kyogen

Well put. Also what I have to assume came later was the fire and brimstone teachings. Or was this just a speciality of my master? The continual warnings from my earliest Sanzen talks that I had an "especially heavy karmic load". Again and again the talks on what happens when we don't do the "work" necessary to "clean up the mess we came with in this lifetime". This can only be done in a temple - his temple- and as a monk. The dire warnings of what would happen if we didn't: we all knew that a washed out monk was going to be hit by very evil karma and probably go crazy or die.
The theory which he gave many, many monastic talks on was that by becoming a monk, you call up all that karma to come due in this lifetime. So it will come up whether you keep your commitment or not, so if you are not a good little monk then it will come and hit you out in the world, and that will be very unpleasant.

Funny, there sure are a lot of washed out monks on this site who seem to be doing just fine!


Last edited by amalia on Tue Aug 17, 2010 10:07 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typo)
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Kyogen

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:12 pm

Hi Amalia,

There were some early threads along the lines you mention here, but they were mostly pretty benign, for the most part. In particular, there was recognition that when you stop trying to outrun your karma, it catches up with you in a pretty clear way, and when you are still enough, you can see what's going on. I've observed this in my own life, and I've seen it happen with others. This is a subtle matter, however. All this emphasis on how "dire karma" will come up, and that you need to be a monk to deal with it seems to be taking that early teaching and going over the edge. I don't know if that developed at Shasta, or if it was unique to NCBP.

With palms joined,

Kyogen
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 18, 2010 10:25 pm

Hello to all,
I know or have known at one time most of the people who have contributed to this particular thread of the OBC connect forum. As I am in the unique position (so far) of being an active monk and master of the OBC, one who survived the decade of the 80s and came out the other side, I have much to say about this thread, although it might take me a while to put it out there.

For a start, I know for myself that to be a mature spiritual adult it is necessary to have the faith and courage to doubt the teaching you have been given if it is not proven out by your own experience in practice. Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett herself taught this, and so I took her at her word on this matter. If, in her actions on subsequent occasions, it appeared that she was not living up to her earlier teaching on the matter of having the faith to question the teaching, of having the faith to examine your own experience carefully to see if it tallied up with the teaching of the Buddha--or, in some cases, her teaching--then that appearance of things would put the disciple or student of hers in a position of having to sort the matter out for themselves. Personally, during the 1980s, I would often talk with Rev. Master Daizui privately to get his take on things, in other words, I took refuge in the Sangha.

Taking refuge in the Sangha was something that RMJK taught us to do. She did it herself on a regular basis with her disciples. It is a practice, within a monastic environment or culture, which enhances communication, creates trust, and gives one a broader perspective on what might be going on. Isolation defeats people, and I have witnessed many, many cases of this, a cause of deep sadness for me. In light of seeing what did and did not work within the context of monastic training, I made a strong effort to put the positive teachings that my Master had given into practice.

There were times, especially in that difficult decade of the 1980s, when I made up my own mind about things within Shasta Abbey, and chose not to be confrontational about them. Some might say that this strategy was unhealthy from a psychological persepctive, but for me, given that my practice was concerned with the cultivation of a very deep faith, I was willing to put up with a level of cognitive dissonance. Further, I loved and respected RMJK, and as time passed and I became closer to her, my own experience of unhappiness, or of cognitive dissonance diminished, and was converted into a pure, loving acceptance of things as they are (or, at that time, were). I loved and accepted her as she was, and gave up my expectations that she be a perfect Zen Master, or fit my preconceived notions of what a Zen Master ought to be like.

RMJK taught that the "truth does not insist upon the truth". To some people, it seemed that she was insisting upon her personal definition of the truth, but I sensed that it was not that simple. In my experience, as long as there was a confrontational atmosphere, and as long as any disciple thought they knew better than her, there would be no resolution to any difficulty. On the other hand, if you came to her with an attitude of wanting to understand what had gone wrong in a situation, an attitude of wanting to resolve things, and a willingness to talk about it without any insisting, she would always respond positively to such an approach.

Every one who became a disciple of RMJK had their own unique experience of what it was like to learn from her and be her disciple. My experience of that lasted 19 years, and did not actually end on the day she died; she is still with me on some sort of very subtle, spiritual level which is hard to articulate. If nothing else, her teaching is alive in my heart, and continues to teach me. In that respect, the transmission of the Dharma is alive and well in me and other monks who are still active in the OBC.

Respectfully submitted, Rev. Seikai
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Aug 19, 2010 12:56 am

Well said Rev. Seikai!

I too went through the same process (beginning some years earlier than you report for yourself) of coming to simultaneously accept Rev. Master Jiyu-Kennett's teaching--and the fact that she was who she was, with all of her occasional shortcomings. And most importantly--that whatever personal shortcomings she might have had, did not stand in the way of her deep insight or her support of her disciples. Like you, I continue to experience the essence of her presence and teaching, to this day, with enormous gratitude.

It is for this reason, that I would propose that it is incumbent upon us, as grateful disciples, to heed the horizontal tradition within the Transmission, in which, as we know (and as Kyogen pointed out previously), it is the disciple's responsibility to stand on the shoulders of the teacher--in order to preserve the essence of her teaching--without repeating her mistakes!

I think it is essential to recognize that doing so entails no disrespect--indeed, just the opposite. I would propose that the process should be one of careful, compassionate, and loving consideration of the possible fears and biases that RMJK may have introduced into the institutional culture and structure of Shasta Abbey and the OBC.

I am convinced that this is precisely what she would want us to do--what all teachers hope their disciples will do! There is no better way to honor one's teacher than to act on the best of what she taught in order to continue the Transmission.

This matter gains increased urgency, in the light of the many heartfelt postings on this forum, by people who have experienced distress and trauma in the course of pursuing spiritual practice within the OBC.

Once again, I would emphasize that this is not an issue of adversarial confrontation--but of basic acknowledgement!

I think, Rev. Seikai, that you may have (however implicitly) already tendered a basic acknowledgement of the root issue.

I would love to hear your further thoughts on this matter!

With deep respect,
Kozan
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Oshin



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Aug 24, 2010 10:53 pm

Greeetings friends,

This forum is a little unsettling. Jiryu and I were recently advised by several friends to take a look at it and it’s left us a little perplexed and with a lot of questions. Like: it's interesting to see all the perspectives, but is the re-hashing and speculation on definitions what it's all about, or is it going, going, going on from our own experiences? Do we take responsibility for our choices? Do we stick with appearances?

It seems evident to me that if you want to solve a problem it’s not the best idea to keep the same mind-set that created the problem. If it’s a Buddhist issue, maybe it’s not best to come at it from the modern culture righteousness point of view. Might as well complain that the Shasta Abbey monks didn’t live up to Christian ideals.

And who is it that is being so offended? If we just look, as the Buddha might have suggested (probably a staunch, disciplinary, my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy, considering all their rules), we can ask: Are we the person to whom all these slings and arrows are attaching, or are we the Awareness that is conscious of that person; the Awareness (Buddha-Nature) behind it all? That to which nothing can stick. All it takes is a stepping back one more step.

And when and where did this all happen? In the past, or course. Now there are no problems, and there never is in the Now. "Problem" translated to Buddha-speak is "opportunity." Stories are a good way to communicate and entertain, but they're just a memory. The only thing all stories have in common is that they are about the past. And the trouble with stories is that sometime we start to believe that's who we really are, instead of the awareness of them. So why not simply choose to let go of that memory and baggage and move on to create more memories Now?

And what do people think religious training is if not an assault, gently or forcefully, on the self/ego? Listen, no one had it harder at Shasta Abbey than I did (and no one suffers as much as me; and no one has such a huge load of karma in this life as me; and no one gets cut off in traffic as much as I do. That's my story...). But all I had to do was pay attention--not get caught up in judgment, attachment or aversion; or at least notice when I did. And learning and growth just seemed to come about on their own, regardless of the person, process or content involved. Paying attention still seems like a successful way to navigate these days in the "real world."

And isn't Buddhism and Zen history full of miscreants and screw-ups (humans)? Even in WWII there were Japanese Zen masters and abbots who had attained a high state, but were at such a lower growth stage that they willingly offered up their centuries old temple bells to be made into ammunition for an ethnocentric war. Shasta Abbey had its share of monks who had experienced a high spiritual state, but still had a lot of spiritual growth to do to reach the stage that many other monks were at. So is there any wonder that there was so much stumbling, fumbling, and grumbling by senior monks? With such unrecognized and unacknowledged confusion because of this in their lives, it seemed at the time that the only course of action was compassion towards them. Ditto for now in the real world.

We have a friend, also connected to the Abbey, whose whole life's work was trashed by two top monks because of a silly, outdated but popular
prejudice. But he's carried on with greater understanding and compassion, and has become outstanding in his field.

I'll probably be criticized for defending Shasta Abbey, but that is certainly not my intention. What do I know to defend? During our 4-5 years total there in the 70's and 80's. I would grow more senior with time, but never was I considered a "senior monk", in the loop, in the know. (I can probably blame most of this on my wife, Jiryu. Because of her I was a "married", a category not too highly regarded at the time. [Just kidding, honey.]) And it seemed like I was always getting reprimanded for my approach to things. Then it became time for us to move on, and we stressed moving on more than leaving. Nevermind that I learned more Buddhism and had my spiritual experiences after the Abbey, I will always be grateful to Jiyu Kennet and Shasta Abbey for keeping me on the path during that phase of my evolution, despite all the missteps and other things that come with humanity. (That too is my story...)

...And I'm sticking to it. Just wanted to present another view. Gotta get off this soapbox...

With loving kindness,
Oshin & Jiryu

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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 25, 2010 12:32 am

Oshin and Jiryu,

You have made my day, month, year--and perhaps decade, by posting here--WELCOME!!

And GREAT COMMENTS!! As you say, "Paying attention still seems like a successful way to navigate these days in the 'real world' ".

I would love to hear how you have been, and are doing now--either by public post and/or private message.

(Hint--I know that there are many others viewing this forum who I, and many others, already here, would LOVE to here from!!!)

Best Regards,
Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Aug 25, 2010 7:58 am

Dear Oshin and Jiryu,
I remember you both from my early days at the Abbey. Wonderful post. Thank you.
Sophia
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