Sex and the Sangha: The Abbot Resigns (but not quite yet)

Tricycle blog got the word that Eido Tai Shimano will be stepping down as Abbot of the Zen Studies Society. He sent a letter of tepid apology to “Friends”.  However it will not come into effect until after Rohatsu.

Al has a post about it which is how I discovered the news.

I’ve just been bringing the news of that situation here without much commentary in the past couple of posts on the topic. What can really be said? Mr. Shimano will do what he wants to in his own good time seems to be the attitude. Now that his dharma heirs, victims, students who’ve been there for quite some time are finding their voices he’s finally acceding to the push. (See recent comments on Robert Aitken’s blog post on this topic)

Some time in the future, when I’ve digested the whole situation a little more, I’ll try to express something about it here. But for now….

Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.  And that is not a wholly un-compassionate statement.


5 comments on “Sex and the Sangha: The Abbot Resigns (but not quite yet)

  1. If anyone desires some historical context, obtain and read Lawrence Shainberg’s memoir, Ambivalent Zen, published back in the 1990s.

    Shainberg studied with Eido Roshi, and in Ambivalent Zen there is mention of some troubles, even that long ago.

    Troubled behavior does not come out of nothing. Causes and conditions are always present.

    It all starts with the delusion of self vs other, subtle cravings one ignores, and there is always secrecy, which also involves the delusion of self vs other.

    To me, and this is private opinion, differences in rank, hierarchy, institutions serve but one purpose: to support the practice of all in the sangha, and that there is to be no favoritism.

    Whether rich or poor, regardless of ethnicity, social class, whether fully ambulatory, or in a wheelchair, whether young or old, whether a member is physically interesting to the teacher or is not physically interesting to the teacher, whether that member is intellectually pleasing to the teacher or instead questions or advances differneces of perspective to the teacher, whether a member soothes the teachers ego, or challenges that teachers ego, whether a member is socially famous and glamorous or is not so, whether a member has useful social connections or none at all, any difference in rank between teacher and sangha is meant to support the practice of all, equally.

    The point of all forms and ceremonies, whether bowing, making prostrations, titles of distinction, are meant to support the practice of all, not facilitate favoritism of any kind.

    The point of rank and gradations of rank is never to eroticize power or conceal abuses of power, but to facilitate insight into cuases and conditions and support the practice of all and make the snagha a democracy where the Buddha nature of all can be respected, not support and conceal a teacher’s favoritism toward those who are interesting to the leader and feed a leaders ongoing delusions of self vs others.

  2. A topic for discussion: deference and veneration may be two different things, but disaster follows if we lack discernment and equate the two.

    An article from Foreign Policy in Focus

    “The Worst of Both Worlds: The “Shimano Problem” Underscores Clash of Cultures When Buddhism Spread to West
    By Russ Wellen, September 10, 2010

    The “Shimano Problem” and its recent resolution make this an opportune time to briefly explore the subject of Buddhism’s integration into the West. Eido Shimano Roshi had been the abbot of the New York Zen Studies Society, one of the oldest Buddhist institutions in the West, and its 1,400-acre Dai Bosatsu retreat in the Catkills until he resigned from both earlier this week. Even though he’s headed the former since 1965 and is 77 years old, he isn’t retiring. This comment below, posted at the Tricycle Buddhist magazine blog in reaction to the apology that accompanied his announcement, gives you an idea of what transpired. ”

    For more, read here:

    “Upon arriving in the United States, Eastern teachers found a nation already predisposed to hero worship and religious hucksterism. Here Ms. Butler writes about what keeps Eastern teachers in line back home until they arrive on these shores and act like a kid in a candy store.

    “Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities,” said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social . . . who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans. . . . “In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedes­tal . . . if such a scandal [as Osel Tendzin’s] had happened in Tibet [he] might have been driven from the valley.”

    Furthermore, Aziz pointed out, Tibetans may “demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a [teacher], but they won’t necessarily do what he says. I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends,” she concluded, “than among Westerners.”

    Alan Roland, a psychoanalyst and author of In Search of Self in India and Japan . . . . believes that Asian students approach the teacher-student relation­ships more subtly than Americans-who often commit rapidly and completely, or not at all. Asian students may display deference, but withhold veneration, until they have studied with a teacher for years. They seem to have a “private self” unknown to many Americans, which is capable of reserving judgement even while scrupulously following the forms. When a teacher fails, Asians may con­tinue to defer to his superior rank but silently withdraw affection and respect.

    In America, it’s often the reverse. Some Vajradhatu students could forgive Osel Tendzin as a human being, but could not treat him as a leader. . . . few Americans can show deference to some­one they don’t venerate without feeling hypocritical. Faced with this cognitive dissonance, they either abandon deference and leave, or they deny inner feelings.”

    for more, read here

    (Noodlebowl notes, contrary to the remark that women led sanghas have fewer problems, this does not mean that there are no problems.

    Mary Garden, who wrote a searing memoir entitled Serpent Rising, noted that the female gurus she saw in India were less likely act out sexually but in her words tended to take refuge in eating.

    However in the US, some women gurus have shown themselves as able to forget causes and conditions and fallen into loneliness and power abuse as well.

    The core of the matter is that we have to learn that veneration is different from showing public deference.

    Psychoanalyst Theodor Reik grew up in Austria long before World War I, and reported that Catholic peasants in one part of Austria had a stock comment concerning priests who failed to abide by the ten commandments:

    “Our parson is a bum–save for his holy ordination”. In other words, these country persons could go to mass, bow, receive the sacraments with the utmost respect, all the while aware that the same priest who adminstered those sacraments was not to be left alone with their wives or young female relatives.

    By contrast, naive persons would convince themselves that if they bowed to a priest and kissed his hand, the man HAD to be holy, or why bother.

    The peasants could kiss that priests hand, call him Father, while being aware that yes, he could administer valid sacraments and teach the catechism–and still be a bum.

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