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|Subject: from Sweeping Zen - The Shadow of the Roshi - and details of some new research 9/17/2015, 2:59 pm|| |
Photo by Adam TebbeThe Shadow of the Roshi: Sex, Scandal and Secrecy in American Zen BuddhismAnn Gleig September 14, 2015 Articles, Critiques of Zen, Ethics & Precepts, Featured, Zen3 CommentsThanks for inviting me to talk about my research on the sexual scandals in American Zen Buddhism. Sweeping Zen has played a big role in drawing attention to them so it seems very fitting to share my work here. I thought I’d start with sharing a little background to the project, then summarize what I’ve produced so far, and conclude with some reflections on my on-going research process.
To begin with, given the impact they have had on Buddhism in American, It’s quite curious to me that there hasn’t been more academic work done on the scandals. Probably the two most-well known books on them are Michael Downing’s Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center (2002) and Mark Oppenheimers’s The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side (2013), which are both written for a popular rather than scholarly audience. There are a few academic articles but only two books, and whilst both of these texts use the scandals revealed in the 80s as their starting point, they don’t directly deal with them. One is Bernard Faure’s The Red Thread: Buddhist Approaches to Sexuality (1998), which examines the doctrinal elements of unethical and transgressive sexuality within Buddhism, particularly medieval Zen. Faure is interested in how Mahayana teachings such as nonduality, the two truths of relative and ultimate reality, and upaya have been historically employed in Buddhism, particularly Zen, to explain and legitimate highly controversial sexual behavior. The other comes from June Campbell who was a translator for the Tibetan Buddhist Lama Kalu Rinpoche before revealing that she had been his secret tantric consort and lover for many years. Campbell left Tibetan Buddhism and trained as an academic and it seems like she worked through her own personal experience by placing it in a wider cultural and historic context. The result was her powerful book Traveller in Space: In Search of Female Identity in Tibetan Buddhism (2002), which draws on French feminist theory and psychoanalysis to deliver a powerful critique of the multiple levels of patriarchy in Tibetan Buddhism and the potential abuses in Tantric sexual ritual with its historic dynamics of secrecy and power.
Whilst these are both excellent texts that give wider historical context to unethical sexual practice and abuses of power in traditional Buddhism, neither addresses the contemporary scandals in any detail and I wanted to fill that lacuna. However, I wasn’t so interested in thinking about what caused the scandals mainly because I think that self-reflexive practitioners have done a really good job of articulating that themselves. The journalist Katy Butler, for example, who was at theSan Francisco Zen Center in the 80s and experienced the Richard Baker Roshi crisis first-hand published two insightful and nuanced analysis of the scandals that cut across Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in America—“Events are the Teacher” (1983) and “Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America” (2000)—which taken together identify nearly all of the interacting factors that resulted in scandals. If you look at later reflections coming from Zen practitioners—especially after the Eido Shimano revelations—some of which are posted on Sweeping Zen, others on the lively Buddhist blogosphere, they are essentially repeating and refining much of what Butler articulated thirty years ago.
So with my own research, I wanted to try and approach the scandals from a different angle, focusing less on their causes and more at their effects. I began with three questions: 1. What non-Buddhist interpretive frameworks (e.g. feminism, psychology) have Zen practitioners themselves most commonly drawn upon to make sense of the scandals? 2. How have they combined these with Buddhist discourses? 3. What are the generative effects of this? In other words, what new forms of Buddhist thought, practices, ethics, authorities or institutions have resulted from them?
These questions produced a lot of data so I decided to split the results into two separate projects. The first is part of my current book project and the second will be the subject of my next book project. In terms of the first, this is a chapter called “In the Shadow of the Roshi: From Reductive to Dialogical Approaches in the Buddhist-Psychoanalytic Encounter ” which will appear in my upcoming book with Yale University Press tentatively titled Enlightenment Beyond the Enlightenment: American Buddhism in a Postmodern Age. The book is a socio-cultural history that aims to trace and contextualize the main developments and patterns emerging in American Buddhist meditation-based convert lineages, particularly Zen and the Insight community. I think the sexual scandals certainly qualify as one of these events. Not only have they led to a lot of sober, and I think very necessary, reflections on the negative consequences of the idealization and romanticism of Buddhism in the 60s and 70s, they have also been instrumental in legitimatizing some new Buddhist modalities such as including psychological components in Buddhist teacher training programs and the reshaping for Buddhist centers along more transparent and democratic institutional structures. And, I think that they’ve also really affected how many American Buddhists understand the soteriological goal of Buddhism itself. Jack Kornfield’s call for a more integrative “embodied enlightenment” would be a good example of this.
I open this chapter with an analysis of 2014 winter edition of Buddhadharma on “Confronting Abuse of Power,” and the Internet letter that followed it, which was signed by 99 American Zen teachers, and which thanked the magazine for exposing the scandals and declared the signatories own commitment to ending the culture of silence and the idealization of the teacher that had enabled them. I note that in both Buddhadharma and the letter, the scandals are framed in therapeutic language: these incidents were abuses of power, committed by narcissists and sociopaths, partly enabled by students’ idealizations, and occurring in Buddhist sanghas that resembled dysfunctional families with poor interpersonal boundaries. So to go back to one of my original research questions, I argue that depth psychology has been the dominant discourse used by participants to interpret the scandals. And, then using three case studies—Grace Schireson and the Shogaku Institute, Barry Magid and Joko Beck’s Ordinary Mind lineage, and Diane Hamilton’s Integral Zen—I trace the ways in which psychotherapeutic insights have been legitimated within a wider Buddhist framework, and how this has produced new Buddhist discourse, practices, authorities, organizational structures, and even soteriological models.
The chapter then parses out the main objections to psychologically informed approaches to Zen—one example is the argument that Zen is sufficient on its own and doesn’t need any help from Western psychology; another is that therapy has domesticated the radicalness of Zen. In short, I offer a map of the landscape of the encounter between Zen and depth psychology in the wake of the scandals. Then finally, I reflect on the significance of this dialogue in terms of the unfolding of Buddhism in the West or what scholars refer to as “Buddhist modernism.”
My second project shifts focus from the role of depth psychology in the scandals and look instead at the theme of transparency. Here I basically argue that whilst there have been different responses to the scandals, some more psychologically influenced than others and some more culturally sexually normative than others, they nearly all advance what I’m calling “an ethic of transparency.” This transparency ethic is enacted on multiple ways: ritually, rhetorically, ethical and organizationally. And, of course, one of the major ways transparency has operated is through the publication of open Internet letters directed at and written by both individuals and communities. I then consider this new American Buddhist ethic of transparency in relationship to three distinct streams: (i) notions of secrecy and “confession” in a traditional Buddhist context; (ii) transparency as an ideal of participatory democracy vis-a-vis the Enlightenment lineage of Jürgen Habermas; (iii) transparency as a tool of self-regulation and governance in the work of Michel Foucault. So, my second piece is more theoretical than my first and takes up dominant questions within the field of sexuality studies such as how power operates within normative sexual ethics ect.
In terms of reflections about this research, one thing that you asked me was whether I had learnt anything from my research that I might not have expected. One thing I have been a little surprised at is how internally disconnected American Zen appears to be. Often during interviews, for example, I would be surprised that one prominent American Zen figure didn’t know about the work of another. Interestingly, I had the same experience when interviewing Insight teachers atSpirit Rock back in 2006 for a different project. I wonder if some of this is a generational pattern because for another chapter in Enlightenment Beyond the Enlightenment I have interviewed nearly thirty Gen X American Buddhist teachers and they all felt that one of the features of Gen X teachers that distinguishes them as a group from the baby boomer teachers is both a strong desire and the pragmatically means by which to connect within and across American Buddhist lineages.
The de-centralized nature of American Zen also made it difficult to collect large-scale data for the projects, which is a shortcoming of them. But the biggest challenge for me writing academically was how to name the scandals for what they in the overwhelming majority of cases were—sexual abuse—and recognize and fully validate the incredibly damaging experiences of their many victims, whilst also acknowledging a diversity of experiences within them. By the latter, I mean not erasing—and inadvertently doing violence of a different type—to people, particularly women, who had different experiences and feel their voices haven’t been heard. I think the Buddhist Peace Fellowship captured some of this when they asked both “how can we undo rape culture” within Buddhist sanghas and “ how does the language of sexual misconduct resonate uncomfortably with the label deviant applied to queer people and whose practices of love, relationships, and sex lie outside hetero-monogamous norms?” I think some of this is also connected to a generational shift and differences between second to third wave feminism, which tend to have very different perspectives on questions such as what constitutes female agency and “healthy” sexual practices. Whilst this tension doesn’t apply to the most egregious of offenders such as Eido Shimano, I do think these are questions that need to be explored in relationship to wider considerations of sexual ethics in American Buddhist communities.
Similarly with the topic of transparency, whilst I am a fan and advocate of transparency, I also think we need to keep a space open to question the more insidious ways in which power reconfigures and operates within transparency. As with Buddhism itself, thinkers like Foucault have showed us that transparency can have a “shadow side” so it’s useful to ask questions such as: transparency for whom, by whom and for what ends? Now, it might be premature to expect practitioners to be concerned with these questions when so much work still needs to be done on multiple levels from teacher training to institutional structures to minimize the reoccurrence of sexual abuse and misconduct. But as an academic rather than a practitioner, my ongoing ethical challenge is to consider these questions without deflecting attention from the tremendous suffering of the sexual abuse victims and without undermining the general value and importance of an ethic of transparency within American Buddhism.