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 Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice

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Christopher Hamacher



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PostSubject: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:33 am

Recent revelations about a number of Zen teachers in the West have been quite unsettling. The many student testimonials and other documents, particularly those in the Shimano Archive, have shown that certain highly-revered, “Buddhist masters” were in fact aggressive, hypocritical, autocratic and narcissistic people - even to the extent of being sexually abusive. And these personal characteristics were apparently freely observable by their students at all times without any obvious improvements.

The question thus arises as to how these situations could have come into being. I suggest that one explanation is that the doctrines of Zen Buddhism itself do not readily condemn any of the behaviour that occurred. For example, Zen practice typically places very little emphasis on justice or morally correct conduct. As one author has put it, “if we search for evidence of substantive interest in morality in the two dimensions of the Zen tradition where we would most expect to find it - in the vast canon of Zen sacred literature and in the full repertoire of Zen practices - we discover that it is largely absent.” And though ethical principles such as wisdom and compassion do exist in the broader Buddhist literature, Zen typically rejects pursuing the scholarly study thereof. Even the interpretation of the Third Buddhist Precept against misusing sexuality has been left deliberately vague in Japanese Zen. Thus much of the behaviour demonstrated by these teachers, which could quite reasonably be qualified as morally wrong, can still be spun as acceptable in the “amoral” Zen realm. And at the same time, one will also not find any condemnation in Zen of characteristics such as autocratic teacher control or enforced secrecy either, given that they are part and parcel of the traditional monastic environment in Japan. As Katherine Masis has observed, this poses a particular problem for Western Zen students, due to their conflating “behaviors peculiar to Japanese authoritarianism and behaviors that supposedly would be a wise and compassionate outgrowth of years of practicing meditation.”

Certain Zen teachings can also easily be used as excuses to justify and thus prolong teacher misconduct. One such doctrine is the view of the “Absolute” as different from the “Relative.” As Caryl Gopfert phrased it in her detailed study of student betrayal by Zen teachers: “in the relative realm, there is betrayal and exploitation, in the realm of the Absolute this is simply the nature of human existence. No one betrays anyone. There is no betrayer and no betrayed, no betrayal.” A teacher can therefore quite plausibly claim that he is merely acting in the so-called Absolute or “unconditioned” realm, where misconduct allegedly does not exist. The student is therefore not only abused, but also made to feel inadequate because she evidently hasn't yet progressed enough in her practice to understand the “true nature” of the situation. The application of this tactic at the Zen Studies Society, for example, was actually pointed out by a student in 1993: “the argument that there is nothing to judge/no one to judge has been used to justify abusive behavior.”

Another uniquely “Zen” method for a teacher to deflect criticism is to respond that the student's own egocentric point of view is to blame: since the student still sees things through the illusory veil of the ego, she cannot appreciate the fact that what might appear to the untrained eye as womanising, lying, exploitation, etc., is in fact the enlightened activity of a Buddhist master. And since the only authority in a position to judge the difference between real criticism and merely “ego-based delusion” is of course the teacher himself, this argument can clearly be used to trump any possible questioning of his misbehaviour. An especially absurd version of this defence, also allegedly used by Eido Shimano, is that “if I didn't accept the sexual advances of female students, I would be creating worse karma than if I agreed to their propositions.”

Stuart Lachs suggests an additional reason why Zen students might be particularly susceptible to accepting teacher behaviour that, in any other context, would be denounced. Lachs argues that, due to the myth of dharma transmission, students' advancement up the “Zen institutional ladder” is completely dependent on the teacher's approval. Therefore, students ambitious to become teachers themselves may be tempted to not see him as he really is, in order to gain his favour. This of course becomes an especially important factor in groups where the teacher himself continually stresses how “authentic” his lineage is, how “legendary” his own dharma teacher was, etc.

Another critical observer, Ralf Halfmann, argues that typical Zen practice can actually promote abusive teacher behaviour. Based on his experience in the French Association Zen Internationale, Halfmann states that since Zen's utopian ideal of selflessness is in reality impossible to achieve, the student will tend to blame herself and her own practice for her less-than-perfect life. She thereby creates an inner psychological schism between her own experience and the unreachable ideal, and the duality thereof contravenes the very goal of “oneness” which caused the problem in the first place. At the same time, the teacher nourishes precisely this impression of the student being herself to blame, by regularly declaring that the felt discrepancy would disappear if she practiced correctly. Eventually the student may herself become a teacher, and be accordingly required to uphold this propagated illusion of selflessness, so that the schism between her reality and the utopia becomes even stronger. She may try to neutralise the conflict, for example via the abuse of alcohol or sex, and the group's problems are thus perpetuated.

A further contributing factor in long-term teacher misconduct, at least within the Rinzai school, is in my opinion the excessive emphasis on kensho. Since kensho can be a life-changing event, the student may accordingly be very grateful to her teacher and thus more forgiving of his shortcomings - especially if the teacher himself constantly stresses the importance of the experience. Though this of course a perfectly natural human reaction, in combination with Zen's lack of a moral stance it can seriously compromise the student's ethical judgement. The case of the ZSS particularly demonstrates that the teacher's “forgivable failings” can evidently be stretched to include even grievous sexual misconduct. In the worst case, the cognitive dissonance between, on the one hand, the student's own positive personal relationship to her teacher, and on the other, his obvious defects, may even lead her to believe that he has the “true Dharma Eye” while being a sexual abuser at the same time. This attitude is of course particularly disturbing since it suggests that student exploitation is not even a shortcoming to be forgiven, but instead is perfectly compatible as such with the ultimate goal of Zen practice.

A final reason why certain abusive people are able to continue teaching unhindered for so long, is that their groups eventually regress from what might have initially been legitimate Buddhist practice into dysfunctional, cult-like behaviour. The types of conduct seen at more conservative Zen centres (e.g. elitism, unaccountable leadership, physically exhausting rituals, discouragement of dissent) are in fact all typical warning signs for cultic groups - and the Western Zen community is starting to realise that a problem in this regard exists. In my opinion, this is an important acknowledgement, since it signals a willingness to frankly examine the deeper causes of long-term teacher abuse, instead of simply papering them over - for instance by implementing more student/teacher “ethical guidelines.” Indeed, though such guidelines may be helpful, they are of course only ever “as good as the freedom to use them is alive and well in the community,” to quote Caryl Gopfert. Again, we need look no further than the ZSS for evidence on this point, since that group did in fact have ethical guidelines in place since 1993 - and one painful instance of their “enforcement” has been well documented in the Archives. A similar example comes from the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, where, according to a report by the FaithTrust Institute, their existing rules would in fact have been sufficient to prevent ten years of abuse by Michael Eko Little, but such rules were simply not invoked - among other things because students feared reprisals if they were.

I therefore concur with all of the aforementioned observers that the structure and teachings of Zen Buddhism itself are the root of the problem, and that the many cases of sexual or other teacher misconduct are merely symptoms thereof. The literature on cult dynamics, for example, is immense - one simply has to accept that Zen is not in fact immune from its prescriptions. For this reason, I hope that further research into the area of cult tendencies in Zen will occur, and applaud initiatives such as the recently inaugurated Shogaku Zen Institute, among the goals of which is “understanding the interpersonal, psychological and spiritual aspects of the [Zen] priest’s role. We especially concentrate on issues of power, transference, projection, idealization, and conflict.” If, on the contrary, perennially abusive teachers are just written off as unrepresentative or extreme, in my opinion Zen Buddhism will eventually fail as a real alternative to the traditional, faith-based religions in the West.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:45 pm

The problems you describe that have happened with Zen have also happened in other traditions, Hindu and Christian(Roman Catholic, Mormon, Proestant). Any situation with the extreme power differential where a teacher, priest, pastor, or guru is not accountable can lead to the abuses mentioned here. In institutional Catholicism we have ample evidence of sexual and emotional abuse that has gone unchallenged, hidden, protected, and covered up. When any religious/spiritual community relies on a model of absolute authority, and without accountability to mature peers who are empowered to criticize and take action, such abuses can occur, where pathological individuals can act out with impunity, and are not unique to Zen. Buddhism does have a strong ethical system which condemns sexual abuse or other misbehavior, so that critique is not a valid one. And many Zen communities in my experience make ethical integration in the study and practice of the precepts a central aspect of the overall paradigm.

My view is that what is needed throughout humankind is a new model of spiritual community where individuals invested with inordinate power over others is not allowed to continue. I favor a peer based, practiced based community, where leadership has limits and accountability,with a strong commitment to ethics and personal boundaries, and have resolved for myself that I will not participate in any community that does not have these attributes. The model of Zen practice that came to the West is certainly a flawed one, and has provided an unfortunate combination of circumstances that allows for narcissistic, strong willed amoral individuals to rise to positions of power over others. I have witnessed and participated in some newer models of community meditation practice both in Buddhism and Christianity that possess healthier, egalitarian qualities, so I believe it can be done. I have stated in other threads that I see the Vipassana model of group practice, as well as the Mindfulness Communities in the U.S. as moving in the direction I speak of.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Wed Feb 22, 2012 2:59 pm

I think I have "some fundamental problems" with the premise of your thesis, Christopher, in the way you define "Zen Practice" along with your conclusions. For me the essentials of Zen practice have always been Zazen(meditation in sitting and daily life), and the precepts (mindful living in ethical harmony with life). Everything else is the historical and cultural superstructure of the religious institutions of the various schools and lineages of Zen (Rinzai, Soto, Cha'n, Korean, whatever). Your critique therefore is about the authority structure and governance of these institutions and communities, and not of Zen practice itself. When I perceived that Jiyu Kennett, Shasta Abbey, and the OBC had gone "off the rails" I did not give up my practice. I simply left my affiliation with the institutional superstructure I had been associated with. My practice was never dependent on that superstructure, and in fact, the teaching i had received and integrated both in reading and from mentors and reading along the way were these essentials, meditation and precepts, which was entirely up to me, and not dependent on any superstructure of governance. Everything else is window dressing, and for me I never considered that Zen was about turning my will and life over to an individual or a group. And I don't to this day.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:48 pm

Christopher - thanks for posting your thoughts and reflections about some of causes of these abuses and distortions. This is a huge topic and there are many dimensions to this. These issues are something that has fascinated me for quite awhile.

I feel a big babble coming out.........

If you read some of my other posts, after I left Shasta, I ran a kind of drop-in counseling / support group in the late 70s and early 80s, for people who had left various spiritual groups / gurus / monasteries / ashrams - many of whom came out of Buddhist and Zen groups. It was called Sorting It Out. One obvious insight that came from talking to something like a thousand leave-takers was that all the kinds of abuses of power, authority, sexuality, verbal and emotional brutality..... all the kinds of grandiosity, inflated mind states, wishful thinking, guru culture and worship, attachment to various "spiritual" experiences -- and how disciples and devotees are created and followers infantalized, and all the forms of rationalization -- what we saw was that these behaviors and group / personal dynamics and thought patterns were universal.

They were happening not only in Zen and Tibetan groups, but in Hindu ashrams, new age communes, Christian cults, new religions, all kinds of self-proclaimed guru scenes, therapy cults, and so many other situations. Each organization / leader had slightly different flavors, but it was striking how similar these dances were. It was more or less the same circus, just with different clowns.

From one vantage point, this looked like expressions of the shadow side of all forms of patriarchal religion. Yes, Zen has a special flavor and a unique way of rationalizing the excesses of the "masters" but it has many of the similar characteristics we saw in so other groups and religions.

What I wrote above is quite breathless - trying to get in a lot of thoughts here quickly, I guess.

At the same time, I think there are fascinating aspects of Japanese Zen teachings that lead to specific kinds of personal, social and spiritual blindness and abuses. A lot has been written about this issue in the last few decades in this new area of Critical Buddhist studies that originally came out of the Soto Zen university in Japan. Many books and articles address how certain aspects of Zen philosophy does lead to the imperial military zen tradition, the samurai culture, and some of the severe social injustices against the lower classes in Japan.

Much of what was called Zen in Japan I think is not Zen Buddhism, but a form of practice that pulled away from the Bodhisattva path, embraced the Imperial and samurai code, the way of the sword, became established as a funeral and memorial cult, glorified the "Japanese spirit" ancestor worship, and so on. That is not to say that there weren't many great mystics, authentic and sincere practitioners, but frankly, they were probably more the exceptions to the general Zen culture -- at least for the last 300 years.

But isn't that what always happen all over the world when religion becomes established and when religion blends with the ruling classes, the government, the military, and so on. Doesn't that happen everywhere - from Byzantium to the Vatican to Kyoto? For Buddhism to survive in Japan, it had no choice but to blend with Shinto, the Imperial system, the Japanese culture. If it didn't, it would have been extinguished. That's what happened with Buddhism in China - it joined with the imperial system. Human nature at play I guess.

I recommend the book ZEN SKIN, ZEN MARROW by Steven Heine. Also, you might want to look through the reading lists I posted elsewhere on this site. if you start to read about Chinese Buddhist and Chan history - not the mythology, but the actual history of what happened, you see quickly that most of what was promoted as Zen history in the past in the West was completely fabricated, mythology, hagiography - it spoke from some imaginary ideal realm. Many of the most famous masters of China probably never lived at all, and those that did, most of the words and deeds attributed to them were written hundreds of years later by committees of government officials and biographers. The entire story of the Zen transmission lineage was created in the 9th century as a promotional or marketing story and it became increasingly magnified to further glorify one particular sect over other sects.

The great story of the Zen school is that it doesn't have any stories. The mythology is that Zen is beyond all religions when in fact it is just as much as religion as any other on this planet. Pure Zen never existed. That is not to say that we can't extract what is the most beneficial from the tradition - the meditation practice, the simple aspects of mindfulness, the most inspired teachings. That's fine. That's what many of us do. That's what I do. But there was never some pure original Zen in India or China or Japan that was outside of Buddhism or outside of the religion as a whole. Except in imagination or in the highly romanticized and promotional mythology evangelized by D.T. Suzuki.

Back to Zen Skin, Zen Marrow, Steven Heine brings up the very issue that you addressed above. He suggests that the Zen practice of repentance changed dramatically in China. While the mass of ordinary monks had to follow strict rules and if they violated them, they had to repent, could be expelled, excommunicated, physically beaten, and their robes burned -- however, the great abbots of the officially approved monasteries (usually appointed by government committees) adhered to the tradition of "formless repentance" - which basically meant that the great "masters" didn't follow any rules, never had to say they were sorry for anything, and existed beyond the laws of karma - or so the story went.....

Back to the bigger picture, however, this general concept of the fully enlightened, perfect master, living Buddha, avatar, permeated Asia -- from the time of the Buddha. We can assume or agree that there were some highly enlightened sages, monks, lay people -- and at the same time, just like now, there were many people who were hugely spiritually ambitious, wanted to be worshiped and adored, and no doubt claimed to be much more enlightened than they actually were.

So when Buddhism came to China, this grand story -- of the perfect Eminent Monk, the great immortal Taoist sage, magical beings that lived for hundreds or thousands of years, who could heal the sick, fly through the air, could read minds, communicated with divine spirits and so on. This was the idealized super man, super sage - and it was the great narrative of Chinese society and was the expectation of anyone who claimed to be enlightened. And so all the biographies of the "masters" conformed to these basic story elements, plot points. Now some of the elements of this grand story changed sometime later when the Chan school came to dominate the Buddhist scene - less magical and immortal stories - but mythology nonetheless. The Chan mythologies began to include lots of irrational enlightened behavior, yelling and screaming, wild antics, illogical koan dialogues, all expressing a kind of transcendental, divine, crazy wisdom. Some of this no doubt originally came out of true insights and experience, but like all religion, these kinds of things became institutionalized, routinized, organized, glorified -- and fabricated. Reality didn't matter. the official stories had to match the set mythology. And I am not exaggerating to say that in Song dynasty China, all the transmission of the lamp biographies of all the great monks were written, edited and rewritten by committees of literati
so that they all conformed to the standard grand narrative. This is hagiography, not history.

What religion shows us is that we human beings prefer stories to reality - stories are so much simpler, cleaner, straight forward, get rid of all the messy bits - we love the stories of Moses and the burning bush, and Padmasambhava coming to Tibet on the back of a flying tiger and Jesus being born of a virgin. And we then assume that because the stories are so great, so wonderful, they must either be wholly or mostly true. Turns out the Jews were never captive in Egypt, there was never an exodus, Moses never lived. Great stories. Huge myths. Tales written hundreds of years after the events supposedly took place - and no, they were not mostly factual or even partially factual, but rather just big honking stories that helped establish a particular tribe in a particular province. Early examples of PR I guess. And they worked, didn't they. These big stories survived the centuries, not because they were true, but because they were good tales, well told, and their believers won the various wars and converted the losers.

So we think the story of the perfect enlightened master is wonderful. It certainly seems that way at first. I devoured those early Zen books and stories. Couldn't get enough of the tales of the Sixth Patriarch and Rinzai. But these stories are devoid of shadows. They inspire us, but they also diminish us because all the humanity is missing. Where is it hiding? Actually in plain sight. Well it turns out that Bodhidharma never existed, there was probably some minor monk named Hui-Neng, but he was certainly no patriarch, sixth or otherwise, and all the words attributed to Rinzai were fabricated 150 years after his death. Rinzai may have been a greatly enlightened being or not, who knows, but the fabricated stories have really nothing to say about it, not really. Now the words and teachings attributed to Rinzai might still inspire, you might still find them thrilling dharma teachings - the platform sutra - much great teaching there - so behind all this, there is still wisdom. compassion, insight that shines through here and there, so what I think, is that it is not all bathwater, not at all, but we need to be an open-eyed adults in the process of facing all this stuff. What is true, now? Not in the past, not based on fictitious transmissions or tales with all their thorns. Do we really need all these stories and fictions and myths? Sometimes they are helpful for children. But sometimes these stories are definitely not useful. Who are we, sitting on our cushion, breathing in and breathing out, without any of these stories?

Now back to the whole enlightened master issue. How can we know how enlightened anyone is? Well, the Zen system is supposed to make a certain guarantee. With the transmission and inka / certification, this "seal" is supposed to be the big divine guarantee that this person is enlightened or "fully" awakened or a "living Buddha" or precisely the same as the previous master - not a weak carbon copy - but is identically enlightened - so this master before you is exactly the same as the historical Buddha and that this enlightened mind has been passed down, hence the term that is used is "transmission." And since this person has this "transmission," this mystical secret seal, you can one hundred percent accept everything he says or does as a perfect expression of the Buddha mind, the absolute. Do not doubt the true dragon, Dogen tells us. Well, dragons don't really exist so can there be a true dragon?

OK, great big story. Huge story. We can fall in love with this story. All we have to do is follow the teaching of this living Buddha and all will be well. He knows. We don't. But is any of this true? And just because this story has been repeated for centuries, does that make it truer? I know, I know, we are not supposed to challenge or question this, but here I go.....

Ok, but here's what we know, for sure. Many of these people - who are "sealed" - who are certified - certainly do not behave as the Buddha did. We see sexual predators, alcoholics, rage-aholics, people who seem to act out of fear or jealousy or anger or greed. Now, there are these grand rationalizations or excuses for their behavior. If it is quacking, its a duck. Maybe Zen has all these excuses, but the Buddha certainly didn't. If you behaved that way, you certainly were not seen as very enlightened and you were kicked out. You could come back, but out you went. So a special title, or a certificate or piece of silk, or the fact that you went through a ceremony, we know that this "seal" is not a very good guarantee of anything. From lots of current evidence. So this title / certificate / ceremony now guarantees nothing except that the person went through some official curriculum in some temple. We could take a romantic position and say that in ancient days, in China in the 5th century, when a monk was recognized as enlightened, he was indeed. In the good old days. Maybe at some point, it was somewhat purer. Certainly in the days of the historical Buddha it was far simpler - or maybe that's my story.

Remember, Buddhism merged with the Japanese imperial system at least from the 18th century. "Masters" were needed by the tens of thousands to run temples, recite daily memorial services, pray for the emperor, do the funerals, protect the country magically, monasteries and lineages became increasingly political, based on family and clan. It was all organized religion and enlightenment became secondary, beside the main point. The imperial religion / military complex needed to function. The Soto Zen sect alone had 15,000 temples to keep staffed and functioning. Transmission seals were given to everyone who ran a temple. They came with the building. And this had been going on in China for a thousand years. Politics.

This romanticized notion of transmission, where did that come from? Good marketing. The mind to mind transmission scheme / story was the great defining difference of the Chan / Zen school. No other school that came through China and then to Korea and Japan could claim this special unbroken mind to mind transmission lineage. The reason no other school could claim it - was that it was just a fabricated story. But it was such a great story that so perfectly fit the Chinese patriarch ancestral ideal, that it became the dominant spiritual narrative that made the Chan school so successful for 1,000 years.

This story of the transmission did not exist in India. There were many people who became awakened around the Buddha, because of his teaching, but there was no "transmission." The concept was foreign to what the Buddha taught. The Buddha certainly acknowledge when a person attained arahantship or stream entry. But that was all. Nothing was transmitted. There was no ceremony, secret or otherwise. No one was given a robe or bowl. It wasn't "mind to mind." Another foreign concept. The Buddha left no successor. Specifically he did not appoint anyone to lead the sangha. Mahakasyapa was NOT his successor. The Buddha said specifically there were no secrets. So there was no secret transmission or secret teachings of any kind. Many hundreds of monks were acknowledged as arahants. There was no mono-lineage, no concept of single patriarchs. That made no sense.

So I do agree that with the big myths of the perfectly enlightened master and the transmission lineage come with thorns and shadows. Fictions create unintended consequences. But actually the intended consequences of the enlightened master and the transmission narratives are to promote a power and authority structure, to promote one sect over another and to claim perfection where it does not exist. All of this creates significant negative consequences.

enough babble for the night. no doubt i have crossed all kinds of lines. No, I am not drunk.....
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 1:36 am

Terrific summation Josh!

And it occurs to me that what makes the Transmission myth so powerful, is that the root experience, which the myth is based on, is real.

To be clear, I fully agree with all of the points that you have made. I especially agree that the concept of Transmission as a "mind to mind" experience is not only completely false, but a sure sign that those who describe "Transmission" in this way have no idea what they are talking about.

I think that what makes powerful myths powerful, is that they often contain an insight, an element of truth. In the case of so many myths devised to exploit, the kernal of truth then serves to conceal the delusion by passing it off as truth.

In this case, I would propose that genuine Transmission is not "mind to mind", but awareness to awareness. That which is Awareness itself, recognizes itself. This is only possible when both people get out of the way.

Shakyamuni held up the flower, and Mahakasyapa smiled. If this was actually an historical event, it had nothing to do with the flower. Awareness recognizes Awareness. Transmission is not historical. It is in this present moment. (And, of course, nothing is transmitted).

The problem arises, I believe, when individuals and institutions begin to modify genuine spiritual teaching to serve personal or institutional purposes. In more extreme cases, which, as you, Bill, and Christopher note are all too common, this can produce dynamics that result in the domination, oppression, abuse, exploitation, or outright enslavement of people--not only in the name of religion--but in the name of liberation!
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 2:57 am

Bill, I love both of your above posts, and would have to quote most of each to identify everything that I am in agreement with!

Therefore, I will quote a portion that I find most compelling:

"My view is that what is needed throughout humankind is a new model of spiritual community where individuals invested with inordinate power over others is not allowed to continue. I favor a peer based, practiced based community, where leadership has limits and accountability,with a strong commitment to ethics and personal boundaries, and have resolved for myself that I will not participate in any community that does not have these attributes."

It seems to me that this will become ever more likely as we facilitate a shift in our collective understanding of the nature of spiritual practice and experience--by continuing to promote the kind of open discussion that we are engaging in on this Forum.

And, as always, by questioning everything! (Except for that which is our innate integrity!!)
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Christopher Hamacher



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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:31 am

First let me say that I think the level of discussion here is amazing: setting up this board was obviously a great idea. You “OBC'ers in exile” seem to be well on your way to dealing intelligently and squarely with what you went through, and creating some positive change. Over at the ZSS, by contrast, there is still a frightening amount of denial and attachment to Shimano.

With that said, thanks also for your comments on my essay so far. I'll start by responding to this one:

cmpnwtr wrote:
I think I have "some fundamental problems" with the premise of your thesis, Christopher, in the way you define "Zen Practice" along with your conclusions. For me the essentials of Zen practice have always been Zazen(meditation in sitting and daily life), and the precepts (mindful living in ethical harmony with life). Everything else is the historical and cultural superstructure of the religious institutions of the various schools and lineages of Zen (Rinzai, Soto, Cha'n, Korean, whatever). Your critique therefore is about the authority structure and governance of these institutions and communities, and not of Zen practice itself.

Dear Bill,

I both agree and disagree. One the one hand, you are right that my critique is about the authority structure, traditional methods, typical excuses for misbehaviour, etc. used by the Zen school, and are not about the practice of Zazen itself - which, like you, I also continue to practice to this day. But on the other hand, your argument that the essentials of Zen practice are really only Zazen and the Precepts is, unfortunately, not shared by the majority of teachers, nor is it the official party line of lineage holders, the American Zen Teachers' Association, etc. Sure it's easy to just ignore all the Japanese authoritarian aspects and sit by yourself with a group of like-minded people, but as certain highly-vocal proponents of the institution (and perhaps also those in charge of the OBC?) will be quick to point out: you are NOT practicing Zen Buddhism. I think your position is like that of many modern Christians, Jews or Muslims, who just ignore all the “bad stuff” and pick and choose what they like. And that is precisely the point of my essay: if Zen Buddhism keeps up the way it is going now, eventually every serious and intelligent practitioner will follow your lead and Zen will end up just like the Christian church: an empty hulk. You might say that would be a good thing, but I'm just trying to point this phenomenon out to those hardliners who are clearly in denial.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:11 am

Jcbaran wrote:


At the same time, I think there are fascinating aspects of Japanese Zen teachings that lead to specific kinds of personal, social and spiritual blindness and abuses.

I recommend the book ZEN SKIN, ZEN MARROW by Steven Heine.

The great story of the Zen school is that it doesn't have any stories. The mythology is that Zen is beyond all religions when in fact it is just as much as religion as any other on this planet. Pure Zen never existed.

So I do agree that with the big myths of the perfectly enlightened master and the transmission lineage come with thorns and shadows. Fictions create unintended consequences. But actually the intended consequences of the enlightened master and the transmission narratives are to promote a power and authority structure, to promote one sect over another and to claim perfection where it does not exist.

Dear Jcbaran,

Thanks for an extensive comment! There is a lot to digest there, and though I essentially agree with everything you write, I picked a few small samples that stuck out for me.

I agree, as Bill said too, that of course abuse happens in every spiritual community, not just Zen. I've been looking into some cult literature too and am also amazed at the similarities. So my point is not to condemn Zen as worse than all the others, but rather to just to encourage people not to make the same mistake I did (and perhaps many on this board?) and think that Zen was somehow BETTER than other religions. Not only is it now clear that Zen is not immune to the same cult risks as any other spiritual group, but I am trying to point out that Zen even puts some especially dangerous weapons at the abusive teacher's disposal, which do not exist in more typical religions, such as the "ego" argument, Japanese authoritarianism, etc. I also agree that "the great story" of the Zen school, that it doesn't have any stories, is a big lie. Zen Buddhism is a religion, period, and should be subject to the same critical examination as Islam, for example.

As far as the myth of dharma transmission is concerned, I asked Stuart Lachs to look at my essay and he of course made the same comment - that I didn't emphasise that point enough! Smile But I certainly do agree that d.t. is one of the more grievous (and exploitable) Zen myths. By the way, Stuart also wrote that he knows you ( I take it you are Josh Baran) and means to get in touch again when he's back in New York City.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll definitely look into it, as well as browse your Reading Recommendations. I'll say again that the Zen Studies Society could well use a place like this for open examination and critique of Shimano. Too bad!
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:47 am

Christopher Hamacher wrote:
. I think your position is like that of many modern Christians, Jews or Muslims, who just ignore all the “bad stuff” and pick and choose what they like. And that is precisely the point of my essay: if Zen Buddhism keeps up the way it is going now, eventually every serious and intelligent practitioner will follow your lead and Zen will end up just like the Christian church: an empty hulk. You might say that would be a good thing, but I'm just trying to point this phenomenon out to those hardliners who are clearly in denial.

I think your characterization of my position is not correct. When the historical buddha discovered his path, it was his divesting himself of a religious overlay of beliefs and culture, and giving himself to a meditational experience he went to spontaneously as a child. Having been on the receiving end of the abuse of religious structures and authority both in the Christian and Zen world I am hardly one who is in a state of denial. I am rather like those persons throughout history who have reached a point of being fed up with "isms" of every type, and their proponents and looked within, and in the words of the historic Yeshua "became as child to enter the kingdom of heaven." The same Yeshua who said, "On the day when you are naked as newborn infants who trample their clothing, then you will see the Son of the Living One, and you will have no more fear." Or as in the words of the Spanish mystic, Juan de la Cruz, who said, "In this nakeness the spirit finds its rest." Or the words of Gautama the Buddha who said "I am enlightened simultaneously with the universe." You can go on and investigate the human behaviors and frailties of Zen institutions and personalities, which will be not unlike those in monastic Christian and other institutions and personalities, (having been a spiritual director to some Christian monastics, I know of that which I speak) but you cannot with any validity say that there is no essential mystic practice or experience by the authentic adherents of these paths. You don't possess the moral or spiritual authority to say that or to judge the validity of these paths. Your statement that you have certain knowledge that what I or others do is not essential Zen or that there is no "essential Zen or Christianity". This claim that you are in a position to know what is essential in these ancient wisdom traditions ,would render me no longer interested in what you might have to say.

Practitioners and reformers of every age have been inspired to return to what is essential in ancient traditions that pre-exist even that tradition, not because they are of a cultural or institutional inheritance, but because they ever ever present and arise naturally from within, the deep heart of the spirit and are not the property of any tradition, institution, or personality, or those who evaluate. That is the pathway to true reform of any tradition that has gone astray. You do not possess the authority to judge that or its validity. For that reason I am leaving the discussion of this thread.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 12:10 pm

Hi Bill,

I believe you misunderstood what I was saying, and upon reading that quote again, I agree that I probably didn't make myself clear. Let me try again, and if you still disagree with me, then please go ahead and ignore the rest of what I have to say!

When I wrote "hardliners in denial" I was not referring to people like you who try to adhere to the good, "essential" parts of Zen and leave the corrupted rest alone. On the contrary, I was referring to those proponents of institutional Zen Buddhism who say that it is all or nothing: that Zen Buddhism is just fine the way it is, thank you very much, and those like you (and me, I might add!) who just practice bare-bones Zazen are welcome to do so but they can forget about calling it Zen Buddhism. Those are the people I am addressing with my essay: I would like to show that Zen Buddhism is NOT fine the way it is, and it is precisely because so many people are (quite understandably) turning their backs on the party-line version that I can say so.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 12:14 pm

Daniel Kahneman's new book Thinking, Fast and Slow has much to say about why we are so prone to want and to accept "stories." (Basically, we're lazy.)
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:55 pm

Haven't read Hamachers book, but basically have to agree with George that we need to be a little more curious when we are about to enter a practice of any kind before committing wholeheartedly; and then decide which aspects of a practice are worth pursuing and which ones to leave alone. The West is so ready to embrace Buddhism, and all of its aspects, mostly because it has the aura of peacefulness, harmony and compassion in its wake. If one looks a bit deeper, Buddhism has its shadow side, just as has Christianity, Islam and others. Aside from the controversies surrounding Zen, if one is to lend credibility to such writers as Michael Parenti, and his paper on "Friendly Feudalism", which dispels the myth that "Shangri La", was a utopian benevolent society that lived in complete harmony, one will be vastly disappointed since it portrays Tibet before the Chinese invasion in a completly different light as what the west is familiar with. The ongoing Shugden controversy, ( a schism in Tibetan Buddhism ) can also be a daunting task for an outsider to decipher, so all in all, to proceed with caution is always a good idea in any case.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 6:01 pm

ps: sorry for the mistake Christopher, I meant to say Kahneman (must have had your previous post in mind), my apologies.

Brigitte
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:11 pm

I just want to second George's recommendation of Dan Kahneman's book.

Thinking, Fast and Slow is like a tremendous software upgrade for your brain, and it presents a conceptual model of how we think that is incredibly useful, coherent, and far-reaching. And while it's terse in places for the most part it is written in everyday English and is more mind-expanding than it is taxing.

Beg, buy, or borrow a copy, and read it...slowly!

(I should write jacket blurbs...)

Great conversation above, folks.
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PostSubject: Accountability   Fri Feb 24, 2012 3:30 pm

I am just going to ramble on about my theme and see where I get to.

I have enjoyed the depth and width of debate on this site.

Also,it is good to know that Jimyo and Mark are both safe and well. I remember them both as people of integrity,who helped me when I trained at Throssel in the seventies and eighties.

I also appreciate the references,by Bill ,Henry and others to other cultures besides "Zen".

I appreciated the Clinical case put forward by Henry,because it fits my prejudice-I am a psychodynamicist-I studied Klein ,and my MA was based on post-Freudian models.

I appreciate Diana getting somewhat frustrated when looking at Attachment and how Attachemnt theory alters your perspective(I came to the conclusion that my prime motivation for doing zazen and seeking a sangha was my Attachment disorder-that only took me thirty years-what's next?Well, next is that I Sit because I Sit)

I didn't ,couldn't,swallow the religious and ritual messages I encountered and still encounter in the OBC.My experience is of many different cultural sites,families,villages,countries,organisations.In each of these sites,my search is for authenticity ,the heart.I agree with Bill in so much of what he contributes,and in particular that the true human to human, heart to heart ,is transcendent of particular cultures.Yet,how rich the differences!How miraculous the particular!Some of my best friends are devout Quakers/Catholics/ Jews/Shamans/Atheists.....

I appreciate the need to look closely and critically at this culture of western zen,western buddhism..

I need in particular to examine how I experience abuse,my perception of abuse,and to be very gentle with what I encounter.

Concurrently,my style,my approach,is to be practical and pragmatic,and to ask "What is to be done?".

For me one answer is in the negative-"Don't run away",and also "Don't run into".

I have steered a somewhat uncomfortable course with this form of training,because I have stayed alongside the OBC,AND NEVER BEEN INSIDE! HOW STRANGE!

Yet this paradoxical position is the only possible position.I laugh too much at the wierdness of it.

I have been asked to precent at a retreat tomorrow morning .And I'm asking why?Why bells and smells,and somehow some kind of mystique around the simplest of theatre/dance....?

So back to "what is to be done?"

I have just decided I need some rest as I have flu and I'm playing lay priest in an amateur dramatic show tomorrow,SO ...Accountability?

Some questions,before I get to sleep and leave this meander to go its way



WHY are religious/spiritual organisations exempt from accountability to the laws of the land?

ARE THEY EXEMPT?

COULD THERE BE A REGULATING,INSPECTORATE BODY -"OFFZEN" to regulate them?

IF SO,WHY NOT CONSTRUCT ONE?

I am being consciously naive here,because I do just want to ask the question.

In the UK,there are amendments going through Parliament to the Law on Harassment -to define Stalking as a separate offence.Michael Little's activities,if I understand the evidence, could be regarded as stalking.(Get back to me to justify that if you will).

There are also new interpretations of the Law on Domestic Violence.

I have participated in consultations about these developments.

I believe they Venn Set onto the alleged abuses at Zen Centres and other spiritual training organisations.

The law of the land is inadequate ,but it is a route for victims.There has to be something one can do!



OK I'm done.Flu has taken over.

Thank you good and great minds and hearts



Ikuko















I didn't swallo
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Anne

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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sat Feb 25, 2012 6:54 am

:-) Completely off-topic but re your mention, Josh, that "the Jews were never captive in Egypt", etc: I may be about to put my rarely present foot in it but I am not sure that story is dead in the water... There is still a lot of controversy mind, and David Rohl may have moved to more enjoyable things than wrangling in high profile over the matter of Egyptian chronology, but...
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Rohl
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Chronology_(Rohl)
* http://philpapers.org/rec/FURAOA
* http://www.impalapublications.com/blog/index.php?/archives/5326-Assyria-and-the-New-Chronology,-by-James-OFee.html
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sobekhotep_IV

Ahh..uhhh...back to the mêlée of domestic and other admin... )-:
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:39 am

Christopher Hamacher wrote:
First let me say that I think the level of discussion here is amazing: setting up this board was obviously a great idea. You “OBC'ers in exile” seem to be well on your way to dealing intelligently and squarely with what you went through, and creating some positive change. Over at the ZSS, by contrast, there is still a frightening amount of denial and attachment to Shimano.

Thanks for the articulate and comprehensive statement. Much of what you've described was acted out in the OBC and is documented in numerous threads here. There are some important differences though. Jiyu Kennett Roshi did believe and teach that understanding and following the Buddhists precepts is an essential part of Zen practice. While there indeed were abuses over the years they were rarely of a sexual nature and what happened with Eko Little was the exception not the rule.

Regarding what is going on with ZSS, why not make those folks aware of this forum?
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 11:51 am

Isan wrote:

Regarding what is going on with ZSS, why not make those folks aware of this forum?

Well one problem is that - precisely because they don't have such a forum - there is no easy way to reach ex-ZSS members. But I did recommend this site on the genkaku-again blog, which is sort of an ad-hoc meeting place for Shimano critics. The Shimano Archive is of course wonderful and a priceless tool in bringing truth to light, but it is not a vehicle for such recommendations.

Another problem (potentially) is that since a lot of the abuse by Shimano was sexual, people are understandably even more reluctant to discuss their stories - unfortunately another reason why abusive teachers have traditionally been able to continue unscathed for so long.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 2:52 pm

Christopher Hamacher wrote:
A further contributing factor in long-term teacher misconduct, at least within the Rinzai school, is in my opinion the excessive emphasis on kensho. Since kensho can be a life-changing event, the student may accordingly be very grateful to her teacher and thus more forgiving of his shortcomings - especially if the teacher himself constantly stresses the importance of the experience. Though this of course a perfectly natural human reaction, in combination with Zen's lack of a moral stance it can seriously compromise the student's ethical judgement.

This is a very thorny koan. Zen teachers can, by virtue of having had the experience themselves, facilitate kensho experience in their students. When that happens it is very difficult to maintain any critical thought about the teacher's behavior and methods used. In the aftermath of the experience it is hard not to believe that the end justified the means, especially if this is the conclusion the teacher demands. The fact of the student's kensho appears to demonstrate that the teacher's behavior is motivated by a deeper understanding and is not bound by the ordinary rules. This justification can be extended to include everything the teacher does all the time - it is all crazy wisdom in action. Manipulation and guilt are brought to bear to keep those who question in line, and the other community members often collude because they must lest they also become outliers. It is very hard to sort out and it took me some years to arrive at a personal understanding. My belief is that while abusive behavior can precipitate kensho experience in a trusting student the abuse nevertheless causes a wound. If the abuse is the status quo and not just a "technique" employed temporarily to push the student through the "barrier" then the wound worsens. Over time the ongoing injury eventually destroys the relationship. It can take years though, and I and others went through all manner of mental gymnastics to avoid coming to this bitter conclusion. There are still those in my former community who must see everything the teacher did as having been good intentioned and as such excusable even when it appeared to cause harm. Perhaps it is the only way they can reconcile the mind boggling conflict. It also necessitates that a barrier be maintained between themselves and those of us who have abandoned this point of view. Any serious discussion of the teacher as a flawed human being (in other words normal like the rest of us) who maybe sometimes made genuinely bad decisions is not possible. As a result the negative behaviors have been perpetuated and the real good that the teacher accomplished has been obscured.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:05 pm

Isan wrote:
My belief is that while abusive behavior can precipitate kensho experience in a trusting student the abuse nevertheless causes a wound. If the abuse is the status quo and not just a "technique" employed temporarily to push the student through the "barrier" then the wound worsens.

Hi Isan,

As far as I understand it, at the ZSS under Shimano, the situation was more clear cut. The abuse namely had nothing to do with precipitating kensho, they were two distinctly separate situations: for example, I understand that many male students didn't feel abused by Shimano at all, yet certain women were evidently nothing but objects for him to play with and then throw away afterwards. So the abuse had nothing to do with "teaching technique".

What you describe is, I take it, more like verbally abusing the student to "free her from ego" and supposedly ripen her for deeper insight. Is that what you mean? If so, although I still wouldn't agree with it, I can understand why a reasonably sincere Zen student might have more difficulty in condemning such methods. That the end justified the means, like you say. That adds a whole other dimension to the problem, but isn't really applicable to an outright sociopath like Shimano.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:09 pm

Incidentally, I thought I'd share this website with you, just to get an idea of the cult of personality that Shimano was able to create and maintain even today:

Warning: the site is not a joke!

http://www.playfulmoon.com/EidoRoshi/page1.html
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 5:19 pm

Christopher et al.

I have just started a thread also in In Theory and Practice called Religious Fundamentalism: A Lack of Emotional Intelligence. It addresses your main point about the misuse of no self in Zen from a particular angle that I'd be interested in hearing yours and others' thoughts on.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Sun Feb 26, 2012 8:53 pm

one point to add to this discussion of "masters" using abusive language or behavior to break down their students egos to push them into an spiritual experience. The historical Buddha, based on Pali texts, at least as far as I've read -- never ever used abusive techniques to awaken his students. Never. He pointed out the nature of suffering and the path to end suffering - he treated his students with great respect -- and many people woke up - to one degree or another. The Buddha never screamed at anyone or lied to anyone or "mirrored" anyone or manipulated anyone. He certainly created rules for the order and guidelines and he reprimanded monks who broke the rules. And there is every indication that he followed all the same rules that he asked his students to follow. All of them. And he on many occasions told his students to scrutinize his behavior to make sure that he was who he said he was.

This abusive Zen style of teaching started in China, probably first coming out of the use of koan style instruction and then evolved into yelling and screaming and even hitting students. This became one of the defining styles of the Chan school - required to demonstrate that you were indeed a great master. None of this probably ever took place in India. And when Zen came to Japan, this style of teaching no doubt became even more pronounced, based on Japanese culture which included corporal punishment, shaming, and so on.

With Kennett, you have the overlay of the shadow sides of her personality out of control and glorified. A toxic intersection of distortion fields. Some people -- a few people - do get pushed into having an experience or two by being abused, but I submit this is limited and comes with its thorns. Abusive behavior is not necessary and is not crazy wisdom, but I see it as a lack of skillful abilities to simply share the Dharma adult to adult. I can appreciate the rare moment where skillful means does include unconventional behavior or words - but those would be rare and should not be a license for addiction to abusing one's students.

With the cases mentioned her of Zen teachers who are sexual predators towards their female students, that is another story. This behavior is very ordinary sexual harassment and obsession dressed up in silk robes. There are always rationalizations and excuses, but it is totally mundane.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:05 pm

Thanks to all of the above for their excellent insights, perspectives and explanations, for Joshs research. Not much to add to all this but to agree with Josh that the Buddha never had a need to use abusive techniques in any way and that those "techniques" seemed to have been incorporated into Zen much later from mainly the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Paradoxically this brought to mind the viewing of a certain photo of the Great Buddha at Kamakura. The certain angle from which this photo was taken was of the back below the left shoulder of this great statue. It seemed to depict so masterfully, so unequivocally of the Buddha having "dropped the self" that any thoughts of abuse or wrong action would have to be completely and utterly impossible.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Fri Mar 02, 2012 5:05 am

Josh wrote:
The historical Buddha, based on Pali texts, at least as far as I've read -- never ever used abusive techniques to awaken his students. Never. He pointed out the nature of suffering and the path to end suffering - he treated his students with great respect -- and many people woke up - to one degree or another.
:-) Hear, hear!

I wonder if, when a teacher has experienced themselves as moving toward the spiritual path and training because of life's difficulties (including others' critical or harsh behaviour), this may prompt the idea that it is necessary to inflict such difficulties as outer forms (shorn of egotism) upon students, as though the natural facts of inconstancy, difficulty and not-self inherent in conditional existence aren't enough grist for the mill.

I think that a teacher who has fully realised not-self, at subtle as well as gross levels, truly does want others to experience this liberation and may feel duty-bound to try to assist. For minor example, from such a sense of obligation soon after this liberation, I became moreorless completely outwardly focused on a couple of people I was wanting to help, nagging at them in the hope of encouraging them toward training, while failing in the aspect that Dogen pointed out to let all things teach and enlighten me...for a time I actually believed that I had to be that way focused. (Fortunately that particular bout was short-lived, perhaps because these were not official 'students' and one retorted back, which was a welcome relief as I had been feeling rather uncomfortable about the situation! It wasn't an ego-thing, it was a caring-and-believing-I-ought-to-do-something-to-help-and-that-I-knew-what-that-something-was-thing. eek Eek...I am sure there is a better way to put this but I am in a bit of a rush!)

Also, facing one's own koans and the great internal hoo-ha that goes with having 'swallowed a red hot iron ball' etc, can prompt the idea that per se stressful techniques are somehow necessary...again the voice of experience (and experience of being that ignorant) speaking! Perceiving/misperceiving a tradition of this adds weight to these notions.

In Mahayana tradition, and I think in Theravadin too in its own way, the Buddha was understood not only to have reached arhat-stage of fully realising the 'emptiness of 'self' imputed upon the skandhas' (form includes the forms apprehended by ones physical senses, not just ones own bodily form) but also to have fully realised the 'emptiness of phenomena' (which includes the emptiness of those skandhas) and the 'emptiness of 'emptiness'' (which includes even subtle concepts of emptiness). I believe it very important that Zen teachers understand that arhat-stage is not the last word and that there is plenty more to do in terms of self-swakening, and that they watch out for getting stuck partway through realising the "emptiness of 'emptiness'". By the time they have completed the third round of 'realising emptiness', it will be ongoing beginner's mind. Before that, one may even feel morally obliged to 'have all the answers' for the sake of others, even when one doesn't...this isn't an ego-thing, it's a caring-thing, but from the outside the difference may not be apparent and it still can make BIG trouble.

I regret that I may be unable to answer complaints on the above as I shall be away with the fairies for a while! Best wishes to everyone. (-:
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Fri Mar 02, 2012 10:46 am

Anne wrote:
I wonder if, when a teacher has experienced themselves as moving toward the spiritual path and training because of life's difficulties (including others' critical or harsh behaviour), this may prompt the idea that it is necessary to inflict such difficulties as outer forms (shorn of egotism) upon students, as though the natural facts of inconstancy, difficulty and not-self inherent in conditional existence aren't enough grist for the mill.

Extraordinary effort can be useful occasionally, ie retreats, but in the long run I feel the challenge is to harmonize practice with the flow of daily life. Zen talks about living an ordinary daily life, then proceeds to turn life into a constant physical and mental marathon. The perceived need to intensify practice - perhaps because ordinary daily life is not seen as enough or people are trying to get somewhere fast - is one of the causes that underlies abusive/manipulative "techniques".

Anne wrote:
I regret that I may be unable to answer complaints on the above as I shall be away with the fairies for a while! Best wishes to everyone. (-:

Off to Avalon are we? sunny


Last edited by Isan on Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:04 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : grammar)
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Mon Mar 05, 2012 11:30 am

One aspect of the master-pointing- to - the -moon aspect of kensho is this: based on my observations, there may be a fine line between a kensho and a psychotic episode. Unless the master is trained in counseling and accepts that knowledge of psychology has value in human experience (which certain OBC masters reject entirely), there is a real danger that encouraging kensho can be dangerous, especially if accompanied by inviting the trainee to delve into past lives and other occult areas. I have seen this first hand and the result can be devastating. Anyone "leading" a person to kensho absolutely must be aware of the signs that things are going into dangerous territory for a trainee. Sounds trivial, but I am reminded of the early days of drug experimentation back in the wild '60s when people who were going on an LSD "trip" for the first time were warned to have a responsible person with them the whole time. Some OBC masters supposedly leading a trainee into a kensho experience simply do not have the training to do this in a responsible way.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Tue Mar 06, 2012 2:30 am

also, there is something very seductive in being in charge, in being the guru, in deciding you have to fix everyone and everything, that you know what's best, that everyone is broken and you and you alone have the answers. So many Zen teachers, even the ones who are not so abusive are addicted to giving advice, to telling you what to do, in having all the answers. What a painful place to be.

One thing I just remembered. One of Kennett's favorite books was The Magus by John Fowles. This story is about a young man who goes to a Greek Island and falls under the spell of an extremely manipulative guru-like character who is constantly staging bizarre situations, dramas, fantasies in order to in some strange way wake this young man up. It is never quite clear what this master manipulator is trying to achieve. I think it's very telling though that Kennett loved this book. There was a terrible film made of the book that made no sense at all. Sure you could find it on Netflix.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Tue Mar 06, 2012 11:30 am

Jcbaran wrote:
One thing I just remembered. One of Kennett's favorite books was The Magus by John Fowles. This story is about a young man who goes to a Greek Island and falls under the spell of an extremely manipulative guru-like character who is constantly staging bizarre situations, dramas, fantasies in order to in some strange way wake this young man up. It is never quite clear what this master manipulator is trying to achieve. I think it's very telling though that Kennett loved this book.

Yes, I remember JK making reference to this book. I felt she used it as a negative example - in other words "we're not like this" - which sounded so ironic to me at the time that I thought it was intentional self parody.

Thanks for the author's name as I want to read it.

Edit: Available from Amazon...

http://www.amazon.com/Magus-John-Fowles/dp/0316296198/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331047185&sr=1-1
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Tue Mar 06, 2012 11:37 am

I don't think she used it as a negative example at all. At least, that was my recollection. A fine novel, I suppose, but truly a very creepy story of control and manipulation. Another example of people being used as dolls, as playthings in the ego's doll house.
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PostSubject: Re: Some Fundamental Problems With Zen Practice   Mon Jul 09, 2012 3:08 pm

[Admin note: Christopher Hamacher's post linking to his "Zen Has No Morals" paper has been moved to a new thread of the same name - linked below]

http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t533-zen-has-no-morals#8571
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