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 Why Can't Monks Apologize?

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H Enida



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PostSubject: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 2:05 pm

     I recently had an experience with a senior monk wherein he repeated information I had sent him in an email to the community at tea.  The information he relayed was apparently paraphrased in such a way that many of the monks thought I was angry with them.  When word got back to me of this, I confronted the monk and asked why he had not asked me beforehand what kind of formal announcement, if any, I would like given instead of his just speaking to the whole community about it as he so discerned.  I also asked how he could justify his actions, given the OBC policy, to wit:  “Spiritual communications to a priest of the Order are presumed to be confidential. If, as a result of meditation, a priest feels that silence will cause harm and greater good can be accomplished by revealing confidential information, the priest must follow his or her conscience. Consultations with other senior priests of the Order are not a breach of confidentiality.” (Section II, Rule #8 of the Rules of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives)”


     The Rule is so vague, purposely so it seems, that no one can pin down what is confidential or what is not.  At least that was so in my case.  Again, as many of the Rules, it is arbitrary, and subject to interpretation by the monk to their own interest.  What I wrote to the monk in my email would neither “cause harm” nor would “greater good be accomplished” if revealed and, in fact, his words actually caused harm by needlessly upsetting a bunch of people.  You also could not characterize his announcement to the community as a “consultation with other senior priests of the Order” in conformance with the Rule since he told novices, seniors, etc. – basically the whole group in an informal way.  What I tried to impart upon him was that his actions were actually gossip.
 

See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gossip


     His response to me was to justify his actions by not remembering accurately what he had said and to deflect the blame by stating that monks have a tendency towards Chinese Phone with information (i.e. gossip - which should cause one even more care when talking about others).  He explained that in fact, his inability to remember and his careful response to me could be seen as humility.  (I find the very act of judging your own level of humility, especially when using it as an excuse not to take responsibility for your actions, deeply troubling.  It was the kind of humility I witnessed with my former teacher on many occasions.)  Finally, he said there are times when monks need to talk about lay people – that it is a fact of life and will not change.

     What it came down to was a standoff.  I tried to inquire as to why he would not follow his own Rules and pointed out that he was justifying the harm that was caused to me and others.  He still could not see my concerns with his behavior and finally admonished me to reconsider my view.  End of story.


    It is troubling to me that he could not make a simple apology, or understand and rely on how far that can go to heal human differences that naturally arise.


     This lack of ability for monks to take responsibility for their negative actions was widespread in my experience at the monastery.  I was confronted with egregious behavior from monks on many, many occasions and as a novice was simply instructed to “bow” and take the teaching and not the behavior (the proverbial “it teaches one what not to do”).  I very rarely heard a monk apologize for their actions, but I did hear lots of justifying and using the Dharma as the ultimate teaching, and excuse.


     I would be interested in people’s thoughts and experiences on taking responsibility for your actions and how that develops or not in monastic training.  Some specific questions or food for thought:


            *What is it about Zen training that makes it difficult to apologize?


            *What aspects of the OBC institutional structure reinforce the teacher/senior supremacy?


            *Does being a teacher always mean you are right?


            *How is authority reinforced by the common practice of the student bowing to every teaching?


            *How does the hierarchical structure of the OBC establish this tendency?


            *Does the student/lay person’s questioning a monk’s answer diminish the monk’s credibility in some way?


            *How is the Dharma used as an excuse to escape the consequences of negative actions?


            *What personality type is required of a Zen teacher to develop and employ this type of behavior? What type of personality type is required of a Zen student to accept the behavior?

            *How does the OBC structure compare to other schools of Buddhism in regards to being able to see, admit and take responsibility for one’s own mistakes?
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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 2:43 pm

Enida, as deplorable as the events you describe are, I am not surprised in the least.

The inability of (many though not all) OBC monks to apologize for their mistakes is hardwired into the culture of the OBC. It is a direct reflection of RM Jiyu's inability to apologize for her own shortcomings and mistakes. Her solution to the glaring hypocrisy of not apologizing for harm she caused others was to pass it all off as wise teaching, further implying that anyone unable to perceive her harmful behavior as wise, compassionate, enlightened teaching had failed in their own training.

Ultimately, I think, all monks present were traumatized by this dynamic, which we all should have been able to recognize at the time (some of us did) but were often effectively prevented from doing so by the dynamic itself.

Most current monks in the Order, and perhaps, at Shasta Abbey in particular, are now simply living out their own unrecognized, unhealed trauma, by passing it on to others.

You asked: "*Does the student/lay person’s questioning a monk’s answer diminish the monk’s credibility in some way?"

Yes, this, I think, was one of RM Jiyu's greatest personal fears and (therefore) concerns. She came to perceive almost any questioning of her beliefs or behavior as a threat to her own credibility and integrity. She then tended to interpret this questioning as a form of personal betrayal.

All of this, in turn, was, I believe, the consequence of essentially the same existential trauma that she experienced as a child, in the course of growing up, during her experience of WWII, and at Sojiji.

So, in effect, she passed her own unrecognized, unhealed trauma on to many of her monastic disciples (and less directly to lay practitioners). You have confirmed that the dynamic continues today.

As a footnote, I'm having a related discussion on Bright Moon right now. One monk participating on the discussion thread denies the existence of a collective unconscious Buddhist/ OBC culture altogether. Again, not surprising, since neither Buddhist teaching nor RM Jiyu had any basis for even recognizing the existence of collective or institutional culture.

In consequence, OBC culture is unable to provide a frame of reference for recognizing its own existence.

I think that it will require making just the kind of effort that you have made and described (and which I and others are attempting) before healing and transformation can gain traction.


Last edited by Kozan on Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:03 am; edited 4 times in total
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Howard

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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 4:13 pm

When I don't apologize (when I should) it is because my sense of self is more dominant, than the situation that calls for the apology.
When I gossip, (when I shouldn't) it is because I have not been mindful enough of everyones worth in a situation and have not spoken as I would have had they been present.

I expect this is the same for all humans whether monastic or lay, Zen or other.
Shasta does has a precept against gossip, but often fails to walk the talk with that precept.

I am sure that there are Monks there who don't gossip but I have certainly talked to monastics who cite the ongoing Shasta gossip as one of the main reasons that they left to train elsewhere.
.
I do wonder if that is the natural sieving process that winnows out the precept adhering monks who eventually leave, from those who let them slide...to leave behind the legacy of a precept challenged Sangha.
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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 4:45 pm

Excellent points, Howard.

And interesting final thought: "I do wonder if that is the natural sieving process that winnows out the precept adhering monks who eventually leave, from those who let them slide...to leave behind the legacy of a precept challenged Sangha."

The OBC monastic culture self-image is, of course, that monks who stay are the one's who best keep the precepts. This cultural self-image (like our individual self-image) all too easily prevents us from recognizing the reality.
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mstrathern
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:45 pm

Enida - I fear from an oaf you can only expect oafish behavior. It comes from thinking that monks are better/different from normal people. And when they behave like that they are different from normal people, just not better.
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Kozan
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 10:29 pm

Mark, so true!

I know that this is your own wisdom speaking.

And, it is also a spot on response to the conversation I referred to earlier on Bright Moon, whether you have seen it or not.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:04 am

Enida, I have always wondered if Shasta monks treat laity's confidential info as cocktail party chatter because they simply have so little else of interest to talk about with each other after so many years together, endlessly doing the same things and saying the same things, over and over, every day. Gossiping about lay people, of course under the guise of "consultation", is probably the brightest spot in an average day. I remember how several monks tried to gossip with me about other lay people, on different visits. Their eyes would light up if they thought they were about to get information that no else had yet. We should feel sorry for them, in my opinion. Not to diminish their wrongdoing or your expectation that an apology was appropriate - it was. But I think they cannot help what they are, at this point. No self-awareness.

A little off-topic here, but I notice that most of the very senior monks have nothing new to say in dharma talks either, especially Meian Elbert and Daishin Yalon.  It's the same platitudes and exhortations, just rearranged a bit and given a new title each time. Some of the younger monks deliver fresher material, but the old guard just don't seem to have anything new to say. 

I don't mean to press you for information, but if the monk you're speaking of was Daishin Yalon, he has basically said publicly (in a dharma talk) that he can't remember who says what to him, or the context or when they said it, and he takes no responsibility for even trying to keep it straight in his mind. No best efforts, no acknowledgement of his duty to not betray confidences. It's just not even part of his awareness. I wouldn't be surprised if most of them have adopted that attitude, to keep from ever being held accountable.
 
I wouldn't tell any of them anything.
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H Enida



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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Thu Jul 03, 2014 12:41 pm

Hi Lise,

     In the Wikipedia link I included in my first post, the short version meaning of gossip is described as “idle talk or rumor, especially about personal or private affairs of others.”  I have had many experiences with monks coming up to me and making comments about things I never talked to them about personally.

     The link goes on to describe ways that gossip informs and shapes social groups:  “Gossip has been researched in terms of its evolutionary psychology origins.  This has found gossip to be an important means by which people can monitor cooperative reputations and so maintain widespread indirect reciprocity.  Indirect reciprocity is defined here as "I help you and somebody else helps me." Gossip has also been identified by Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary biologist, as aiding social bonding in large groups.”

     I remember many evening monks’ teas where seniors would report ‘news’ (good and bad) and/or information or instructions to monks about lay people (funny, it always seemed like picking and choosing to me – praise and blame).  It had the effect of reaffirming a sense of cohesiveness when seniors would speak of lay people and everyone would nod in agreement with the senior’s reported assessment – it had kind of a group think element to it.  No one at tea ever directly called the senior’s view as erroneous while I was there that’s for sure.  I wonder now if the community would be so cloistered or like-minded without this type of bonding, particularly in light of the quote above?

     The senior-senior I was referring to in my post was not the one you mention…
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Thu Jul 03, 2014 3:06 pm

I wonder if the monk was a arrogant prat before the many years of secret training, or did he accomplish this after the many years of secret training
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Thu Jul 03, 2014 6:32 pm

funny 

Thanks for that, Michael, I was ready for a chuckle!
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Fri Jul 04, 2014 10:40 am

Denial is not a paramita. 

Kozan's current interchange on Bright Moon nails the core issue.  If you can't even acknowledge what's going on - or at the very least listen and honor the reports of others - which is called basic "empathy" - then how can you ever change?  Not possible.  This is an example of being captured by the bamboozle to such an extent that you can no longer even see it.  For all intents and purposes, you are the living incarnation of the bamboozle.  And this distortion field become impenetrable.. and this can be true of all kinds of groups / cultures / cults.  And every organization which is a coming together of us humans creates a culture, a mind-set, conscious or unconscious, some more or less problematic, but that's basic human nature.  The more denial, the more pain is generated, and the more open you/we are to facing these dynamics, the healthier we and our groups are.  Some groups are essentially lost causes - probably not 100% true, i guess there is always hope somewhere, but practically, change ain't gonna happen and the bubble just gets more ironclad and glorified, rather than seen for what it is.

I am not sure Shasta represents all Zen groups or all monks.  Zen certainly has it's inherent issues, but I think as I've said elsewhere, if you visited and spent time at other Buddhist communities, you might find them somewhat or even very different, with more open communication, seniors/monks can be criticized, issues can be addressed, people acknowledge and apologize - more basic sanity and empathy.  Every group and teacher will vary and we all have our blind spots and there could well  be groups and gurus that might even be worse than OBC, but just saying there is likely a significant variation in cultures and how cultic groups are.  Over the years, at all kinds of events, I have certainly met many Buddhist leaders - Zen, Mindfulness, Tibetan and Theravadan, but have I hung out in their communities?  No.  Mostly not interested.  So I honestly don't know how open or closed, how sane or toxic any of their communities are - whether its Spirit Rock or IMS/Barre or Zen Center or Upaya or Shambhala.  Really no first-hand experience.

And, of course, it is not what these various groups or teachers say or what their ideals or policies or websites say, but it is how they live in ordinary daily life, when issues arise, how people are treated, what happens when they are challenged or questioned, and so on.  That's all that matters in the beginning, middle and end.  Everything else is blah, blah, blah.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Fri Jul 04, 2014 3:05 pm

Hey Josh

A good posting on the Spiritual Borg where assimilation runs roughshod over some of the Buddha's most fundamental teachings, as well as your assessment of what ails the Shasta collective and how to best weigh the fruit of any practice.
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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Mon Jul 07, 2014 11:53 am

Just goes to show that too often in the human condition culture and habit energy trump dharma. Seems like a key teaching too often ignored in the Shasta history was Dogen's commentary on the Precepts about the practice of sange being the gateway to contrition, conversion, and enlightenment. The monastic culture of Shasta has a similarity to Marine Corps training as reported by father (WWII combat veteran). In boot camp training you are taught you are nothing. When you become a full fledged marine you are god and can do anything.
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chisanmichaelhughes

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PostSubject: Re: Why Can't Monks Apologize?   Mon Jul 07, 2014 12:48 pm

But I believe they stick together, and stand by you through thick and thin, to me that is  great quality
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