Why are Legitimate Religious Credentials Important?

By the last post one can tell searches for things can be quite diverse. Then again there can be searches for information that can be persistent and multiple. One such situation that I notice coming in at least once and usually several times every day for over a month and a half is related to the situation regarding the credentials of a teacher in Phoenix Arizona, one Mr. Barry Graham.

I was not going to revisit this situation again but new information, questions, links and the like have come up and the places for it are quite scattered. So I am going to make a comment on  why this situation is important. People have expressed the concern that it isn’t really my problem, that it’s “best left alone”  and that it somehow violates right speech among other things. So since I’m taking some heat over this I’ll just turn it up a notch further. Better well-done than medium rare. And evidently there are people who really care about this and who are looking for some kind of information. To that end I will do what I can to assist in clarification.

Why is a bona fide religious credential important?

There are several websites where lists of laws some think are stupid are maintained. One of the laws that is listed is impersonation of a clergy person. Most states (including Texas where it has been in at least one case deemed a felony) as well as most countries (including even Canada and Nigeria) have something similar or case law that supports charges of fraud in such situations. I’m not going to do any further research for specific states but lets just say it’s a prevalent concern.  Here is the example of the specific law from Alabama:

Section 13A-14-4
Fraudulently pretending to be clergyman.
Whoever, being in a public place, fraudulently pretends by garb or outward array to be a minister of any religion, or nun, priest, rabbi or other member of the clergy, is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $500.00 or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both such fine and imprisonment. (Acts 1965, 1st Ex. Sess., No. 273, p. 381; Code 1975, §13-4-99.)

Now some people do find that silly or dumb.And where the law is abused for example trying to punish someone for wearing a nun’s outfit on Halloween (it’s happened!) it is dumb. But for a more purposeful application of this law and in the spirit in which it is no doubt intended I am going to tell you why it is not so dumb.

As well FOX news has just reported a story from Associated Press of a man being arrested for performing marriages with unlawful credentials. See here –

Man Accused of Performing Illegal Weddings in Arizona

Regarding marriage, many states and other jurisdictions do not recognize common-law (living together) partnerships and this may affect everything from job benefits to common property matters. Here’s a list of some of the possible effects.

hospital treatment (re. marriage and re chaplaincy)-Regarding marriage if the spouse is not legal then giving consent for hospital treatments etc. can be challenged. To find another relative or having a relative disagree with treatments and expose a marriage as illegal could put a patients life in jeopardy. As well on the subject of chaplaincy to give aid and comfort to ill people or those in dire circumstances while fraudulently presenting one’s self as a priest violates trust in more ways than I can express here.

inheritances (legitimacy of children)-children could be challenged in matters of inheritance if marriage is fraudulent

life insurance-spousal claims to life or other insurance could be challenged and/or denied

retirement funds-funds left to a spouse could be challenged or denied

divorce-community property laws if marriage are invalid and state does not recognize common law relationships

legal documents (ie passports) and cases (ie character witnesses)-often legal documents require signatures regarding character or verification from persons listed in certain professional categories such as priests, doctors etc. Those persons are assumed to be members of professional organizations and members in good standing. If someone represents themselves with credentials that they do not actually possess the documents in question can become invalid

job benefits-one’s spouse can be disqualified from family job benefits

mortgage applications and loans-co-owners or co-signers to a mortgage or loan when listed as spouse could result in a revocation of mortgage or loan and foreclosure by the bank

criterion for standards re counseling and other chaplaincy type work-often religious figures give counseling and perform similar duties. If unqualified their advice is questionable at best

admittance into high security areas (ie prisons)-persons representing themselves fraudulently who enter high security areas represent a security risk and put a very negative spotlight on any others who might have legitimate business there.

So that’s some of the potential damage that such pretense can incur.

Further to the Graham situation ushiro_geri writes more on his blog. He is a former student of Mr. Graham and has inquired of Soto-Shu as to Mr. Graham’s teacher’s credentials. Apparently Soto-Shu has no information on said teacher, dharma transmission or any temple named by Mr. Graham as a teaching location. Check his blog here.

Further questions:

If, as ushiro_geri writes,  Mr. Graham is using techniques “borrowed”  from Ven. Genpo Denis Merzel (a legitimately registered teacher and Dharma Transmittee) does he have authorization and training to use those techniques? I believe they are patented and copyrighted and trademarked etc. And if he is accepting dana and using those techniques is he a franchisee and paying the franchisee fees?

Why is Mr. Graham revising all his old blog posts to remove any mention of Ven. Kobutsu and his association with him over several years? History, especially Internet history cannot be rewritten. Copies of all related posts no doubt exist in some archive. And once archived they are not subject to rewriting and their removal is not possible without some legal intervention. Actually now the old blog has been deleted. So the revision of history continues I guess.

Hopefully this topic won’t again be revisited but who knows? I hope some of the above information is helpful to those who have been affected by this or any similar situation.

By NellaLou

14 comments on “Why are Legitimate Religious Credentials Important?

  1. http://ushiiro-geri.livejournal.com/5530.html

    Re: Lineage Verification From: “AZTA office”

    March 28th, 15:37

    Re: Lineage Verification
    Saturday, March 28, 2009 7:43 AM
    From: “AZTA office”

    To: “James Atkerson”

    Dear Chugai/James

    As far as I can see – with the help of other AZTA zen teachers – Dogo is not what he told you. There seem to be no Ando Yamashiro Roshi or Butsudo Zen Center. I personally know Kobutsu, so I believe whatever he would say about the matter.

    This unfortunately means that your jukai is officially invalid (but it could of course have meaning for you).

    Zen teachers go incommunicado either because questions put to them are too ridiculous, or they have something to hide. In this case probably the latter.

    I recommend those searching for a legitimate teacher to look at the American Zen Teachers Association’s website. Here you have some good questions to put to a possible teacher: http://americanzenteachers.org/membership.html and you have a list of properly acknowledged and trained zen teachers: http://americanzenteachers.org/AZTAlist.php

    On behalf of AZTA
    Denko John Mortensen

    James Atkerson wrote:
    > Hello,
    > I am Chugai AKA James Atkerson here:
    > I have a quandry I’m trying to solve — as to whether or not my jukai stands —
    > recently my teacher, Dogo Nanshin Barry Graham, has been under scrutiny as to the legitimacy of his claims of Dharma Transmission. I won’t detail it here but you can read this blog —

    look for the entry — It’s a Riddle — 02/03 and another entitled Comment on the Comments 03/05
    > and this one http://the-urban-monk.blogspot.com/ look for Zen Soap Opera is the Bubbliest 02/03
    > My teacher has gone incommunicado on the subject …
    > So I’m on my own …
    > However I’m wondering if you know of his reported monastery or teacher, Butsudo Zen Center in Kyoto, Japan, where he allegedly received Dharma Transmission from Ando Yamashiro Roshi. He has stated it is a Soto lineage. I can not find anything on either of the subjects but I am limited to english language sites.
    > Thank you in advance for any help you might provide,
    > peace and gassho, Chugai

  2. Not interested myself in the controversy in question, but I do see from time to time Buddhists who sort of go off the deep-end, claim lineages they don’t really have, or complain about existing lineages and take it upon themselves to make brand new ones. Both are poisonous not just for them, but for anyone they take along with them.

    Better to be a well-trained, well-respected student, than a questionable teacher.

    • Quite so Doug. It seems the “I’m right and a couple of thousand years of history and millions of individuals are wrong” school of ego is what propels this kind of thing. There’s always reasons things are done a particular way. It is that they are proven. Yes time will tell if some new innovation is as effective but that time is generally very long.
      Your summation is right on the mark. Teaching is not for everyone and anyone who undertakes it better know themselves and their own reasons thoroughly.

  3. Dear Kevin,

    Funnily enough you’re not the first person to try to find out more about Barry Graham. None of the Buddhist organizations in the Glasgow area – some of which have been around for a long time – have any knowledge or memory of him or a ‘River of Dharma Sangha’.

    Sorry not to be of more help.

    Best wishes,

    Karl Kaliski (Cloud Water Zen Group)

  4. there seems to be a rumor out there that Mr. Graham is busy robbing the dharma from little old ladies…. But that’s OK… it public knowledge that Joko Beck isn’t making or endorsing any more teachers or sitting groups… pasting her pic on his website doesn’t give him any more credibility like he thinks it does…

  5. Hey-
    I’ve been discoursing with a well-known Rinzai Zen teacher about this.

    _____ is claimed by Graham as a ‘friend’ and associate. I said to ______ that I thought one should be careful about legitimizing someone who seems to be going to great lengths to avoid providing simple proof that he is not the fraud a number of vocal, pretty convincing people are saying he is, with some proof on their side. Graham is pretending to take the “high road”, refusing to deign to stoop to the likes of his…well, former teacher, sangha brothers, or numbers of disgruntled former students. Meanwhile, BG manages to get some tasty passive aggressive kidney punches in (while declaiming continually how fabulously enlightened he is, katz!) – but he never uses actual *names*, so he’s unblemished. Ah, ok.

    I think there are a lot of nuanced and important issues here, issues that fascinate me, about what constitutes a viable American Buddha/Dharma/Sangha, and how we go about constructing and maintaining it. I’ve realized over time we don’t just sit on our cushions and cultivate samadhi. We have to build and maintain institutions too, and check each other.

    Not without good humor, but with a certain touch of pedantry, in the end _____ essentially told me that we can never know the truth, and to care about the issues around Graham is to simply be egoically deluded, and I must just envy him. The end.

    Well, shut ma mouth (I get a sense of what people must feel like at Dai Bosatsu.)

    Nella, sound familiar?

    Interestingly, this is pretty much the kind of attitude that had me leave a “Rinzai”-style practice in favor of a more “Soto” one. Meaning, you can actually discuss things, and not continually be pushing toward the “hiya chop!” moment where one person finds the definitive mark of ego in the other and wins the compassionate wisdom game with a pithy formulaic koan hip check. “Oh, I was just stuck. I see that YOU have the answer and my response wasn’t properly efficient. Katz! Blue sky, green tree. Ah, thank you thank you.”

    Dogen is a rambler. He blathers on endlessly, even about koans; its a wonderful journey to read him. As it is with most good writers. I think we find ourselves as we find ourselves. We can do it transparently, or we can hide the process until we are ‘enlightened’ and give the hassan chop. I think I don’t want Zen anymore that is about just cutting to the end of the journey, the climax of the movie. I like the scenery, the messy plot, the discourse. See, I’m rambling. Where was I?…

    As for Graham, all respect to the mouth shutters, but I think it’s important that we ask questions, demand answers sometimes, ruffle some feathers, and dare to look like an ass in the process.

    Ok, I am a egoically deluded ass! Now, Graham, pony up some papers already…

    • “Well, shut ma mouth”

      Ha! I’ve heard that more times and in more ways than I can even count any more. What it means is stop bothering us with this stuff we don’t want to know about. The head in the sand. this excuse for not discussing “You must be projecting” or what ever. Convenient and hard to defend against unless one wants to go get a whole psychological workup and post it on the internet. I’ve been working on a post about that very thing recently. Will finish it up and get it out.

      Rather fond of the ramble myself and wonder about the “essentially told me that we can never know the truth, and to care about the issues around Graham is to simply be egoically deluded, and I must just envy him. ” kind of OH-so-above-the-hoipoloi-mess-of-the-world and We-don’t-get-involved-with-that rarefied bubble life. Must be nice to be so privileged.
      Must be nice to be able to live like a Zen zombie.

      Oh clearly I am envious. Riiiggggghhhht.

      The papers—I haven’t forgotten about that either, still waiting to hear that one person in all of the history of Mr. Graham has actually seen them. But am not holding my breath.

  6. yeah, it is a weirdly shaming posture, ‘You are deluded to care about what you care about.’ “Just look at your own practice. Who is that?” That’s a real conversation killer, ain’t it? And kind of a harsh evaluation itself. Anything you say after that, short of shouting or putting your shoe on your head, well, you’re just proving the assertion of your delusion, right? So tired of just hitting the floor…

    I have given way in my psyche and life to perhaps an antiquated sense of writing letters, now emails, and certainly talking, as a generous act of sharing ones thoughts and reflections; crafting phrases and ideas, and being open and discursive, and certainly risking looking foolish.

    I find that there is a real tendency, easy to give in to and almost institutional in most Zen circles (reinforced by speedy modern life), to pooh pooh those who ‘blather.’ Again, hiya chop, word count = level of delusion.

    How I end up jealous of Graham because I am annoyed that he appears to be fraudulently ordaining people and building a career on lies (in a field, activity and study I care deeply about), well, as you say, that’s a nice trick. I am old enough and aware enough of my own entrenched stupidity and ignorance that I feel pretty unmovable on this. “Uh, ok, I may be off the deep end, but I still think Graham is pretty douche-y.” Even if he ponies up some papers. Which just isn’t going to ever happen, safe to say. I really don’t see a lot of gray area here. But that my just be my delusion talking.

    “Delusion, is that you? It’s me, Shusan…” (I think I’ve stumbled on the title of my ‘punk zen’ memoir)

  7. Religious proselytizing spam will be deleted. Especially if it makes no sense.

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