First topic message reminder :
I woke up this morning thinking about gratitude. Being grateful is a wonderful feeling. Often when I take a shower or wash my hands, I feel thankful for the abundant clean water that just pours out of the tap. Half the people on this planet don't have easy access to clean water. This feeling about the water is spontaneous. No one tells me to feel this. I am not following some dictum from a teacher or a scripture. And sometimes when I am eating, also feel grateful for healthy food. And when I breath, clean air. There is a lot of talk about how powerful the feeling of gratitude is and how you can even cultivate it deliberately especially when you are focusing on difficulties or potential future troubles.
The many people who post on this site often bring up their gratitude to Kennett or some of the other monks at Shasta. I mentioned this in some of my posts. And on this site, when we are being critical or sharing our personal stories, we also remind people that there are feelings of gratitude in our mix of emotions and memories of Kennett / Shasta. Life is complicated. And obviously, since we were attracted to Kennett and her teachings and we stayed with her for some years, there must have been much positive aspects to keep us there that long. Myozen brought up her gratitude to Kennett for introducing her to Zen in her recent accounts in trying to share a balanced view of her experiences so many years ago. And I would still say that I am grateful to Kennett teaching me shikan-taza and sharing some of the teachings of Dogen - and yes, also grateful for the discipline at Shasta in the early years especially when it was relatively simple and cleanly practiced. That was all useful and important in my life.
But what I was thinking about this morning was about forced gratitude and how this pollutes the whole emotional situation. With Kennett, as with many gurus - what may have started out as reasonable spontaneous feelings that students would have for their teacher, slowly evolved into a demand situation -- gratitude and adoration were required by Kennett and the culture she created. If you weren't sufficiently and expressively grateful, there were seriously negative consequences -- beyond "you're killing your guru" -- pure guilt, banishment, rage, verbal attacks and so on. You better adore her, you better be grateful, or you would be punished. This was part of the process also that turned her devotees into children, took away their spiritual adulthood and autonomy. That was the game - and the rules changed over time.
So simple feelings of true gratitude became distorted through this demand system. And that doesn't work at all. The emotions and feelings then become contrived, artificial, and fake. What you are feeling is fear. You are playing a game, a role, to keep yourself safe, from being attacked, in order to stay in her good graces. And as we all played the game, the distortion field around Kennett became more and more toxic and impenetrable and crazy-making.
There were so many examples of this during my time at Shasta. One simple little story comes to mind. Kennett had built a hot tub in her small bathroom in her house. It was not very big but deep enough so that it worked. Once or twice a week, she would fill it with hot water and invite the senior monks to use it, one after the other. People showered first, but nonetheless, after three or four people that tub was swimming with dead skin and really not that pleasant. I did like using the tub sometimes, but it was hardly voluntary. It was offered to you and you basically had to use it. This was part of the Shasta culture where it was verboten to say No to Kennett about anything.
So one night, when the tub was going, I told Kennett that I would pass on using it, thank you so much for the offer, but i was tired and feeling a bit rundown so I would pass on taking a soak. Well, it was if I had threatened her life, rejected her. I was severely reprimanded, the next day there was some lecture about monks losing their way -- clearly about me but my name was not used --another senior monk was sent to chastise me, and these verbal attacks and public humiliation went on for some weeks. I had done something truly terrible by passing on sitting in the hot tub. I was not sufficiently grateful. Autonomy was NOT an option in this community. And while this incident was cloaked in some kind of dharma teaching, it was clearly Kennett demanding total love, adoration and gratitude and anything less was seen by her as a deep rejection. So this prime lesson was reinforced - for me and everyone -- never, ever express anything but gratitude to Kennett, or suffer the consequences.
So this "gratitude" became polluted by demands, fear, and consequences. What this creates is a culture that is inherently dishonest. And where you give up having any personal feelings other than the ones that Kennett dictates. Now is this some wondrous process to destroy the ego and enlightened us? That's the big Zen story, isn't it. The "master" humiliates you, berates you, purifies you skillfully and you wake up and it's all bliss. But the reality is -- that didn't work that way and her "skillful means" created a culture of submission and fear. Also, keep in mind, the guru / master / the one setting the tone was hardly free from self. Kennett's reactions and responses came from own ego/self, her own unconscious unmet need to be loved and adored, her own fears of being alone or abandoned, her own past. How can she teach egolessness when she had little experience of it?
The hot tub story may seem like a trivial event. In one sense, it was. But actually it was an example of what went on at Shasta, even before the lotus blossom confusions, many times per day. And it wasn't that these were quick quick koan-like responses. Now, there may be some who might say that this kind of "teaching" sometime did work, sometimes people did have breakthroughs or kenshos because of Kennett's approach. I would say that could have happened, but it was rare and in the scheme of things, just one moment. A culture of humiliation creates more humiliation. And it does not lead to a life of kindness, compassion and increased mindfulness. This kind of abusive culture creates constant pressure to find new ways to over react and attack, to be heavy handed and even cruel. Am I exaggerating? You tell me,
Stephen Batchelor gave a talk at the Buddhist Geeks conference yesterday. He is an old friend, but someone I don't see very often. I caught part of his talk on the live video stream. He is a western Buddhist maverick, and someone who I respect enormously. He was talking about when the Buddha died, he did not appoint anyone else the next Buddha. He did not create a guru to lead the Sangha. You know the story about the Buddha holding up a flower and Mahakasyapa smiling and the Buddhs saying he transmitted the dharma to Mahakasyapa. Well, that story was made up in ninth century China to create a sectarian narrative of a secret unbroken mind to mind lineage that never existed. Pure fantasy. The buddha did not appoint anyone to lead the sangha and specifically said, "The dharma is your teacher." Stephen Batchelor was making the point that by doing this, the Buddha was emphasizing spiritual autonomy, not to rely upon any person, any guru, but on your own practice of living the eightfold path, your own mind / mindfulness. The whole point of dharma practice is to create spiritual awake adults, not dependent fearful dishonest children who do everything they can to make sure that the mommy guru doesn't get upset.
Other people have written on this site about Kennett must have loved her disciples - at least in the beginning - or in her own way -- or some have said that she always loved her disciples. The current abbess of Shasta said something to the effect that Kennett always and only did everything for the benefit of her disciples. Really? What about these statements is actually true? or how true are they? and what does this "love" mean in real life? If you make big statements, i think it's fair to ask these questions. Especially if you make this grand claim that this person never did anything selfish in her entire life. Is it true? What is your experience? Forget about giving Kennett the benefit of the doubt. Just be truthful if what you saw and heard and directly experienced.
Here is my take. Kennett's relationship with her devotees was CONDITIONAL. As long as you did what you were told, followed her absolutely and without conditions, never challenged her or doubted her, never spoke back, never disagreed, she did give you her attention and some affection. She was kind to you - sometimes. The requirement was adoration. Now if you didn't follow her rules, she would reject you and even humiliate you. If you followed your own heart and made your decisions based on that, she could cut you off.
I know, she taught over and over again -- follow your own heart. Nice words. In reality, that only worked if you made sure that your "heart" was in total sync with what Kennett wanted. If it was not in sync, first you would probably be told that this wasn't your "heart" but your koan - you were broken and listening to your ego. And if you had the temerity to insist that you were following your own heart, you could be expelled or cut off. If you found a way to leave, then often you were dead to her.
What kind of love is this? It sounds like some version of possessive attachment. There may be all kinds of psychological terms for these kind of relationships. But i am not sure that "love" really applies here. And is it "tough love" or some kind of Zen love? It is certainly tough, but love? And Zen? By the time I followed my heart and walked out, it seemed to me that most of what went on at Shasta had little to do with Dharma or Zen teaching and more to do with the Kennett cult of personality, her demand for loyalty, and her unresolved shadows roaming wild. Love -- I don't think so.
And through my work at SORTING IT OUT and talking to so many ex- members of hundreds of groups, it became crystal clear how these toxic communities and guru relationships develop and even thrive in these cultures of silence and dishonesty and blind obedience and faith. Dharma? not so much. That people do benefit in some ways, that happens in all kinds of situations. People can learn and grow from dysfunctional families, death, cancer, war, accidents - that's fine -- we can turn difficulties into useful lessons - but that doesn't change the character of the events themselves or the need to honestly see what is going on.
This can also take us back to trying to understand Kennett's personality / self - which she is not supposed to have (being an enlightened master and all) - but we all know that her personality was alive and well and barely affected by her kensho. We have talked about this elsewhere on this site. Kennett was a very lonely sad woman who had a fairly loveless life. Underneath it all, I think she desperately wanted love and affection, intimacy, but probably had never experienced it. She was a loner - growing up, in the UK, and in Japan. So I am fairly sure - by how she behaved - that she had no idea how to be in a loving relationship with anyone - even on the level of brother and sister. Didn't she hate her brother or was it her step-brother. So she had no experience at being in long term relationships, in a loving family situation, in working out issues and problems, in caring for someone unconditionally. She knew about survival, about being the boss, about pushing through, about self-protection. We talked a lot about all this elsewhere on the site.
I have babbled enough.