Western Buddhist Teachers-Activists in Everybody Else’s Backyard

Have been seeing a lot of Western Buddhist Teachers, including the Zen variety, signing on to help free Burma. Good for them.  The brutality of the Burmese junta is an abomination. The captivity of the population as well as the militarily enforced deprivation is certainly an affront to human rights and the dignity of the population. It’s good to see so many willing to put their names out in public, in a letter to President Obama no less.

It’s interesting to run through that list of names. Most are recognizable to anyone familiar with the American convert Buddhist scene. And particularly on the engaged Buddhist front. So this post is not about most of them. But it may be about some of the others. Yes I am deliberately being vague, but only for the moment. Hold on.

There’s plenty of those others running around Rawanda, Thailand, India, holding Peace Conferences, Seminars, big meetings with lots of important people. Changing the world one backward country at a time. Not unlike NATO and it’s allies.

Of course there are always the retreats to the Greek Islands, the Caribbean and lovely Bali, for which attendees are urged to raise funds from friends and strangers, and no one is[edit del n’t] going to sleep on the streets there, although the climate may be quite appropriate for that. There is no end to all the do-gooder campaigns overseas that can be manufactured and lipsticked up to look like “serious political activist work”. But these forays into hedonistic service-something of an oxymoron yes, I can’t think of another term-are also something other than the point here.

So back to that.

Yes, let “them” “over there” all be like us.  Full of knowledge, wisdom and answers. So free, so democratic, so rational, so ethical, so honest, so incorruptible, so holy, so righteous, so compassionate, so caring, so educated, so socially minded, so concerned, so relevant, so clear minded, so intelligent, so right.  So…distracted.

Yes, let’s all go somewhere else and play at politics for a while. And get a nice vacation in to boot. We can put the pictures up on our blogs, tell everyone about our great work and encourage others to sign up as well. We can put out our begging bowls on Twitter and Facebook and get people to support our roles as “facilitators” in this fabulous endeavor. [Never mind actually getting a job to pay our own way.]  And most importantly it allows us the luxury of forgetting whatever is going on “back home”. To even admit anything is going on “back home” would destroy the little escapist bubble we’ve created in that exotic place. OMG, if there really was a MG, please don’t  let me have to deal with that possibility.

Now it needn’t all be quite that elaborate. Escapist social action, with minimal actual work is easily available with the strokes of a computer keyboard. Add one’s name to a petition or letter. The further removed the subjects of the contents of the letter from one’s own situation the better. Looks good on the Internet and feels good too. Now we’re really doing something! And without having to disturb our regular schedule. And you know if there is little to no possibility of any kind of feedback so much the better. Always good to have a safety harness, helicopter and stunt double when one goes out on a limb even metaphorically.

So today I undertook a little compare and contrast exercise of two lists. One is of the letter to Obama regarding the Burmese situation and the other is the list of signees of a petition to remove Eido Shimano from ZSS. [you dear reader can sign it too if you feel so inclined]

Now it seems ZSS-Zen Studies Society is celebrating Eido Shimano by not only continuing his residency but by allowing him to give Jukai to new students. A whole new bucket of fresh meat. How nice for him. My heart’s absolutely bursting with mudita! The generosity of the ZSS board knows no bounds with regard to their leader. Return every slap by turning the other cheek, or even better offering some fresh cheeks for a bit of slap [and tickle] as well.

[Yikes! The snark beast has been rebirthed! Feeling so much better and re-energized after hibernating through the rainy season.]

So back to those lists. I’ll confine this comparison to Zen teachers. [I tell ya it was some work looking all these up too in order to find their affiliations and roles. I was tempted to put the whole AZTA list here in addition to the letter signatories, but I don’t have that kind of time.]

 

Burma letter Affiliation/Role Shimano petition Affiliation/Role
(where not otherwise indicated information is from the petition site)
Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke Soto Zen priest…residing at the Berkeley Zen Center (BZC) in Berkeley, California, where he currently serves as Vice Abbot. He is a former Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship…received Dharma transmission from…Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1998 (from) Rev. Hozan Alan Senauke <—–same as
Robert Joshin Althouse Robert Joshin Althouse  is a Zen teacher in the White Plum Asanga and a dharma heir of Jikyo Nicolee McMahon Roshi. He is the current abbot of Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago in Illinois.(from) Robert Joshin Althouse <—–same as
Rev. Susan Myoyu Anderson spiritual director of Great Plains Zen Center (GPZC) studied for over twenty years with Taizan Maezumi Roshi(from)
Carolyn Atkinson Head Teacher a Dharma Heir and Lineage Holder of the late Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi (from)
Rev. Zentatsu Richard Baker founder and guiding teacher of Dharma Sangha—which consists of Crestone Mountain Zen Center located in Crestone, CO and the Buddhistisches Studienzentrum (Johanneshof) in Germany’s Black Forest. (from)
Ezra Bayda received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck, and presently teaches at the Zen Center San Diego.(from)
Mitra Bishop a Dharma heir of Ven. Philip Kapleau-roshi.
Abbot of Mountain Gate in Northern New Mexico, and Spiritual Director of Hidden Valley Zen Center in San Marcos CA.(from)
Many of her students have signed the petition
Melissa Blacker Zen priest with Boundless Way Zen, a Dharma heir of James Ishmael Ford (from)
Bruce Seiryo Blackman Zen teacher in the White Plum Asanga of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi and a Dharma heir of Sr. Janet Jinne Richardson-roshi (from)
Joe Bobrow a Zen teacher in the Diamond Sangha (from)
Dae Bong Sunim resident Zen Master of Gye Ryong San International Zen Center- Mu Sang Sa in Korea. He became a monk in 1984. He received Inka from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1992 and Dharma Transmission in 1999. (from)
Merle Boyd Zen priest with the White Plum Asanga lineage of Taizan Maezumi…founder and guiding teacher of the Lincroft Zen Sangha located in Lincroft, New Jersey and is a Dharma heir of Wendy Egyoku Nakao (from)
Mitchell Cantor Mitchell Doshin Cantor Sensei has been a student of Peter Muryo Matthiessen Roshi since 1986. Doshin received Denkai from Muryo Roshi in 2002. He additionally studied with Madeline Ko-I Bastis Sensei…and received dharma transmission in 2006. Doshin is the teacher at the Southern Palm Zen Group in Boca Raton FL(from)
John Crook dharma heir of the late Chan Master Sheng-yenof Dharma Drum Mountain, Taiwan, having received dharma transmission in 1993 (from)
James Ford a Soto Zen priest… serving as a guiding teacher at the Boundless Way Zen Network (from)
John M. Gage abbott and sensei of the Vista Zen Center (Hotei-ji) (from)
Elizabeth Hamilton teaches at Zen Center San Diego  She received dharma transmission in 1994 from Joko Beck. (from)
Rev. Zenkei Blanche Hartman a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, a Dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman. Zenkei is a Senior Dharma Teacher at San Francisco Zen Center (from)
Kip Ryodo Hawley Sensei with the White Plum Asanga of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi and a Dharma heir of Wendy Egyoku Nakao-roshi (from)
Taigen Henderson a Dharma heir of Sensei Sunyana Graef (from)
Joan Hoeberichts Zen priest in the White Plum Asanga, the lineage of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi (from)
Amy Hollowell Amy Hollowell Sensei is one of three dharma heirs, or successors, of the French Zen master Catherine Genno Pagès Roshi, who founded Dana Zen Center in Montreuil, France, in 1994. Genno Roshi is the first dharma heir of the American Zen master Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi (from)
Zen Master Soeng Hyang (Barbara Rhodes) is the School Zen Master and Guiding Dharma Teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen. She received dharma transmission from Zen Master Seung Sahn (from)
Rev. Keido Les Kaye Les received Dharma Transmission, authority to teach, from Hoitsu Suzuki son and successor to Shunryu Suzuki. He was appointed teacher at Kannon Do Zen Center (from)
Rev. Taigen Dan Leighton a Soto Zen priest and Dharma successor in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. (from)
Stanley Lombardo was a founding member of the Kansas Zen Center (from)
Barry Magid a Zen teacher of the Ordinary Mind School of Zen..heir of Charlotte Joko Beck (from)
Genjo Marinello Abbot of Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji (from)
Rev. Nicolee Jikyo McMahon received Dharma Transmission from Taizan Maezumi Roshi in 1995. (from)
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakau abbot of the Zen Center of Los Angeles (from)
Rev. Tonen O’Connor Soto Zen Buddhist priest and has been the resident priest at the Milwaukee Zen Center (from)
Rev. Enkyo O’Hara Abbot of The Village Zendo in New York City. A Soto Zen priest, O’Hara, Roshi received Dharma transmission from Tetsugen Bernard Glassman. (from)
Rev. Joen Snyder O’Neal ordained as a Zen priest by Katagiri Roshi in 1980 and received Dharma transmission from him in 1989. (from)
Michael O’Sullivan Senior Dharma Teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen, is the founder and abbot of The Three Treasures Zen Center, located in Oneonta, New York (from)
Ji Hyang Padma currently serves as the Buddhist Advisor at Wellesley College….has served as Abbot of Cambridge Zen Center (from)
Rev. Tony Patchell Zen priest and Dharma heir in the Suzuki-roshi lineage, trained at the San Francisco Zen Center. (from)
Rev. Josho Pat Phelan a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki currently serving as guiding teacher at Chapel Hill Zen Center (from)
Rev. Dosho Port Soto Zen priest and Dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri-roshi (from)
Rev. Susan Jion Postal Susan Ji-on Postal, teacher and founder of the Empty Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, New York (from) Many of her students have signed the petition.
Rev. Taihaku Priest founder of Shao Shan Spiritual Practice Center (from)
Jason Quinn Abbot in the Empty Gate center in Berkley California (from)
Rev. Densho Quintero Soto Zen priest and Dharma heir of Shohaku Okumura-roshi (head teacher of Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington Indiana and Director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center (from)
Sylvan Genko Rainwater Zen Buddhist monk at Dharma Rain Zen Center – Portland, Oregon. (from)
Rev. Zuiko Redding Soto Zen priest and the guiding teacher of Cedar Rapids Zen Center in Iowa. (from)
Caitriona Reed received Lamp Transmission from her teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. She is co-founder of Ordinary Dharma in Los Angeles (from)
Joan Rieck Sanbo Kyodan, Three Treasures Sangha of the Sandias, Bernalillo, NM (from)
Judith Roitman JDPSN began practicing Zen with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1976 at the Cambridge Zen Center. She was one of the founders of the Kansas Zen Center (from)
Rev. Daigaku Rumme Soto Zen priest and resident of City Center (from)
Rev. Seisen Saunders founder and head teacher of Sweetwater Zen Center (from)
Elihu Genmyo Smith first Dharma Heir of Charlotte Joko Beck (from) (more)
Abbot Myogen Steve Stucky received dharma transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1993. He founded Dharma Eye Zen Center in Marin County (from)
Rev. Heng Sure senior disciple of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, and is currently the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery (from)
Rev. Jisho Warner founder of Stone Creek Zen Center (from)
Tom Aitken Family heir & POA for Robert Aitken
Jiro Andy Afable Second Dharma Heir [of Eido Shimano] – Former Vice-Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo (1998 – 2003)

/Rinzai teacher and founder of Early Light Zendo in Southbridge, Massachusetts (from)

Ji Kai Myo-on (Yvonne Rand) a “lay householder” Soto Zen priest and guiding teacher of Goat-in-the-Road (from)-a Dharma heir of the late Dainin Katagiri (from)
Kan-kan (Kurt)
Spellmeyer
Head Teacher, Cold Mountain Sangha
Sante Poromaa Co-Leader of the Zen Buddhist Society of Sweden and Teacher of the Cloud Water Zen Group) (from)
Zuiko enji Angie
Boissevain
Soto Zen roshi and guiding teacher of Floating Zendo (from)
Shodo
Spring
resident priest at Anchorage Zen Community (from)
Amala
Wrightson
sensei at Auckland Zen Centre(from)
Susanna
Stewart
NC Zen Center Founder
Gentei Sandy
Stewart
abbot, North Carolina Zen Center
Sunya
Kjolhede
Sensei at Windhorse Zen Community
Lawson
Sachter
Sensei atWindhorse Zen Community
Jigen
Billings
priest withFive Mountain Sangha
Kojun Jean
Leyshon
Teacher in Kobun Chino lineage
Shusan
O’Brien
Soto priest, formerly Kwan Um/Chogye
Barry
Briggs
Teacher with Kwan Um School of Zen
Patty Jishin
Pecoraro
teacher at Twining Vines Sangha
Jane Genshin
Shuman
teacher at Twining Vines Sangha
James
Frechter
Former Dai Bosatsu Zendo Ordained/Former ZSS Board Member
David
Loy
Sambo Kyodan teacher
Myonen/Eve
Marko
Teacher, Montague Farm Zendo
Marian
Morgan
Diamond Sangha Teachers Circle; Clear Spring Sangha
Daizen Brian Victoria Soto Zen Priest, Author of “Zen at War”
Bodhin Kjolhede Abbot of Rochester Zen Center

 

Interesting contrast between the domestic and foreign policies of these teachers and leaders of the Zen community dontcha think? Not much overlap. Of course there are thousands of other teachers who don’t bother with this kind of thing at all. And many of the above listed are very fine teachers. As are most of the Zen teachers in America. Check the AZTA website and Sweeping Zen for more names. I’m not saying it’s necessary to bother with any of this either. It just seems rather interesting that so many jump on board for these high profile (I mean the President himself will possibly read one’s name! And who knows maybe having one’s name on the same page as the President will sell a few more books. ) international campaigns but few can bother with issues at home.

And another thing that is noticeable is that quite a number of folks who have signed the petition are students of some of the teachers who have signed the letter. (Yeah I looked them all up too) As well there are far more “establishment” teachers on the Burma letter and far more “independents” if you look at lineages, on the petition side.  Another strange dichotomy to be sure. Maybe someone should do a sociological study on risk aversion (or self-examination) among the establishment.

One might consider it to be a matter for the Rinzai sector (a very convenient categorical dodge) or something that doesn’t concern the Zen community as a whole or one that, if kept under wraps, won’t tarnish the convert Buddhist community. Hmm that sounds an awful lot like denial.

I suppose in such instances it is necessary to become gardeners in everyone else’s back yard because of all the Astroturf in the local gardens.

And with the continuation of the cult of Shimano there are more questions to be asked. Of course it is unlikely they will now be asked on ZFI since some heavy hitters have arrived to quash this kind of dissent. So it’s up to bloggers I suppose to keep the bellows pumping. Feet to the fire and all that.

It just strikes me as an exercise in extreme cognitive dissonance to fete someone (see below) with so much baggage as one is simultaneously trying to oust him. The ZSS hired a group to assist with their process of reconciliation and redress, yet completely ignored the group’s recommendation to fire Shimano immediately. And then they have gone on to celebrate this man!?! That is the most ethically vacant situation I can possibly think of.

No coincidence that I am posting this today. From the Zen Studies Society website:

Harvest Jukai Sesshin, Oct. 30–Nov. 7  To commemorate his 50th anniversary living in the United States, Eido Roshi is going to conduct a Jukai Ceremony at Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji on the closing day of Harvest Sesshin, Saturday, November 6.

Congratulations to all those who have vowed to undertake the journey to the cessation of anger, greed and delusion. I can’t think of a better place to learn about that in depth. Don’t forget to check your ethics at the gate.

Musical Accompaniment:

The Who-Won’t Get Fooled Again

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Links:

Here’s a little something extra along the same lines for those in the mood-

Beyond Spiritual Activism: Creating a Just and Sustainable Movement for Change by Be Scofield

And a further discussion-

Off the Mat Vs. the Old New Left: Subverting the Dominant Paradigm, With Love by Carol Horton

A big thanks to Sweeping Zen website for providing so many of the biographical details as well as interviews. It’s a hugely useful resource.

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44 comments on “Western Buddhist Teachers-Activists in Everybody Else’s Backyard

  1. Thank you for writing so directly about this issue, NellaLou. Here’s a comment I left on Rev. Danny Fisher’s post about the teachers’ letter on Burma. I hope you don’t mind if I paste the same comment here.

    Barry

    ===========

    I’m glad to see an ecumenical community of Buddhist teachers take a stand on an important issue.

    However, this group’s stand on Burma contrasts disappointingly with their general silence on ordination of women in the Theravada tradition and their near-total silence on the sexual predations of Eido Shimano.

    It’s quite easy to take a stand on something far away and unconnected to one’s daily life.

    It’s much harder to take a stand on something closer to home, both physically and spiritually.

    I look forward to the time when Buddhist teachers act as moral leaders on a broad range of human issues, within the sangha as well as in the greater community.

  2. Your response to the Eido Shimano affair has an intensely personal tone, and resulted in quite a change to the usually wide ranging and stimulating content of your blog. It’s not clear if you had any personal contact with Shimano, or whether you see simply see him as cause célèbre. Recently you’ve been coming across as quite bitter and cynical, which makes your lecture on ethics and dealing with problems at home sound a bit thin. I’m not sure, but it seems to me that you are inviting us to share your anger?

    If I was a Zen teacher in the USA I would most likely act through personal communication rather than through an internet campaign, which begins to look like a witch hunt and inevitably involves a lot of people with no personal stake in the situation. I’m not a great fan of mob justice.

    • @Jayarava – As I’m sure you know, a number of high-profile Zen teachers, from the late Robert Aitken Roshi on, have attempted to resolve this issue behind the scenes, to no avail. For decades, even. How long should such attempts be allowed to fail before making the matter public?

      Given the history of the Triratna tradition, I can understand how you’d be especially sensitive to situations like this, and the way they are handled, and there is, indeed, a risk of public exposure turning into a lynch mob. It is well to be aware of that.

      But given that the approach you’re suggesting has obviously failed, that the organization in question is still failing to address the situation, and that the abuse perpetrated by Eido Tai Shimano has continued all through the process, I very strongly believe that NellaLou is doing exactly the right thing in doing her bit at bringing it to light.

      (I also think that you’re completely misreading her state of mind—but, naturally, only she can speak for that.)

    • Well Jayarava, things change.

      Petteri has noted that this situation has remained unresolved for many decades despite individual teachers making efforts. Even groups have attempted to bring a halt to the situation to no avail. And just when at the very least problems were being acknowledged and some lip service was being paid to them the whole course is starting to reverse in order to maintain the status quo.

      I’ve always been rather cynical though not bitter. You’re perhaps not reading carefully enough. And what the hell it’s my soap box.

      The anger among those who have been hurt by the situation is palpable. That has been expressed to me on many occasions by quite a number of them. That they are not all coming forward publicly is in part a symptom of some of the distress many are in. So what anger I share is not only my own.

    • And one other thing I do realize is that I am fighting way out of my weight class here. I’m not even a fly-weight in the big American Zen arena. I’ve no authority, no credentials, no big titles, no institution to back me up. But I do have 30 years of Buddhist practice and yes devotion. With some amount of tactical ability, a little intelligence and a passion for justice it still doesn’t amount to a whole lot. In such situations anger and scrappiness may be the only useful tools at hand.

    • Jayarava,

      A few nights ago I went to a talk given by a top University scholar on social justice and non-violent action. Altough my interest is more in line with environmental justice, hers was on the history of racial justice in the US. She’s a vibrant young black woman and used slides of photos to help push through distortions of how many people on different sides of race commonly “see”. One photo was of a large group of white folk actually smiling at the camera while 2 innocent black men are about to be lynched. Horrific, yes, just as is the Burmese situation. The important word here is innocent. This is also true of the word “witch hunt” where innocent people are harmed and even killed. That’s the real history of those words in this country. You probably get my point, but I do understand yours. The trouble is that many people have tried to stop Shimano from causing harm to young women and to the Sangha as a whole. They often did this with much compassion. Instead, they were met with silence, excuses, and outright lies either because he’s unable or unwilling to change. The result becomes a curious kind of reverse lynch mob. I know because I’ve experienced it, and it’s one of the most frightening experiences I’ll ever have. On top of all of this the few who are left (usually a few board members – which keeps him going) spend enormous personal time and energy trying to right the sinking boat, a job that should fully be his own. It’s important to remember that the source of it all is a man who takes no responsibility unless pushed to a point where it’s only in his best interest to say or do the least possible on behalf of his own Sangha. I’m not a lynch mob or part of one. I also get your point, but I can say I’ve been grateful for my ability to feel anger when it’s on behalf of the life of others, including my own. What I do with it is also probably your point, and yes, I’ve learned that too – gratefully.

  3. It’s about time this blight of the “institutional” Zen of the “establishment teachers” was brought to light. They seem to be consolidating their power base over in the ZFI… such a shame that people cannot see these characters with their “credentials” and pomposity for what they really are…. posers.

    • Establishment. When the system starts to run the people rather than the other way around. I think it was those hippies in the 60’s who brought that to people’s attention. Too bad so many have forgotten about it.

  4. As a Buddhist teacher I have a deep and abiding commitment to ethics within our sanghas. As a woman I feel that it is essential to keep our Dharma Centers in alignment, clear of dual relationships since these adversely affect access to the Dharma for all women. Speaking for myself and a few other KUZS teachers on the list, we did not receive the other letter. A direction of practice within American Buddhism in the twenty-first century may be strengthening the lines of communication across sanghas, in these new expressions of Indra’s Net.

    • I do hope Ji Hyang, that inter-sangha communication, cooperation and understanding is in the offing in the future in America. That would make many situations a lot easier for most people. I’m glad you brought up the subject of dual roles as that is one of the most difficult situations to address. Being a spiritual adviser as well as a psychotherapist/lawyer/lover etc. is a path fraught with pitfalls. It is good to note that teachers, such as yourself are taking the pro-active approach.

  5. You wrote: “Of course it is unlikely they will now be asked on ZFI since some heavy hitters have arrived to quash this kind of dissent.”

    This is not true. The Eido Shimano discussion at ZFI has not been moderated to quash any opinion anyone wants to express on this subject.

    • Carol I know you advocate keeping dialogue, even the somewhat inflammatory, open. As you are one of the founders of ZFI of course that mandate must be upheld.

      What I have noted at ZFI is the propensity of some “heavy hitters” such as Abbot Nonin Chowaney to label those who would criticize as “self-righteous and vindictive” or become dismissive with dissenting comments such as “This may appear to be so by people on the outside who know nothing about what Zen Buddhism is today and who like to point fingers at the few and regard their actions as indications that the whole tradition is corrupt” in response to someone who holds a contrary opinion without knowing what that person’s involvement with Zen actually is. It strikes me as dismissive simply because of the fact of disagreement. Between the lines I read “If you disagree you don’t know Zen.” That is orthodoxy and dogmatism. Truly establishment characteristics and tactics for quelling dissent. There are other examples I could bring up as well.

      And as others have noted with Mr. Marinello’s involvement, discussion has somewhat stalled.

      That is not to say these folks shouldn’t have an opinion and even express that opinion vigorously, but for the most part they carry a certain weight of authority that many are uncomfortable confronting. (sound familiar?) And that other Zen teachers will not challenge them in public adds to that mystique.

      I would comment there but for the fact that anything I would likely say would violate forum guidelines. I’m not real good with other people’s rules.

      And I also note that there is a certain change of tenor, in that some of the staunchest critics, for whatever reason, are now willing to give poor misunderstood Eido-san a pat on the head “There, there now, it’ll be OK.” while speculating on the causes, no doubt horrific in some people’s minds, of his psychopathy. As if that gives him a pass.

      Now I am all for contextualizing the situation, but not in such a fashion brought on by a “dharma lens” that is warped to fun house mirror proportions.

      For those unfamiliar with Zen Forum International and the thread in question it is here:

      http://www.zenforuminternational.org//viewtopic.php?f=68&t=3584

      • Well, NellaLou, Nonin is entitled to his opinions — and so is everyone else. We all have personalities that others can react to or not — Nonin included. An open discussion allows for that. But I do try to look more deeply than my reactions, not alway successfully, to see what the intent or perspective of those who disagree with me may be.

        There have been 5 pages of comments since Genjo posted. I think a lot of people are taking a wait and see attitude until Dec 8th when it has been announced that Eido Roshi will step down as Abbot.

        The rules at ZFI are civil discourse, no slander, no trolling, no sect bashing … We enforce them with restraint and, for the most part, people seem to appreciate it.

        If anyone wants to comment on Eido Roshi at ZFI, please come and do so. If you want to personally insult or upbraid other posters at ZFI, please don’t.

  6. I wonder if the differences in scale are part of the equation here as well. There are 50 million people in Burma, whereas the number of people involved in Shimano’s group is what, maybe a few hundred? And I’m not aware that Shimano has actually killed anyone. The sheer amount of suffering in the former case may prompt people to agitate on an international level for relief on the part of the Burmese people, whereas the small, local nature of the Shimano affair may make it seem much less pressing as an issue.

    To be clear, I’m not defending Shimano or saying people shouldn’t speak out about the situation. I’m just saying that time, effort, and resources are perhaps being channeled toward what is perceived as the situation of greater suffering.

    • Jeff I can see the point regarding the magnitude of the various situations. It is certainly valid. On the other hand in which situation would personal involvement *realistically* have an effect? In which situation might one actually have to get their hands dirty? In which situation would a teacher likely have to actually deal with the effects of the wrong doing? By the latter I mean it is far more likely that a Zen teacher in America might come across one of Shimano’s ex-students than a monk from Burma in their Zendo. What are they going to offer that person? “Oh I was too busy fixing Burma to bother with your situation.”

      • True enough. And a further point in this direction is that realistically speaking these American Zen teachers are much more likely to actually make an impact on the Shimano situation, than they are on the Burma one. So I could see an argument for focusing on the issue in their own backyard that has a direct connection to what they do and where they have a certain degree of authority (moral or actual). But (as an outsider to both situations) I can still see why Burma might seem far more urgent than the Shimano situation.

  7. Very interesting post; although I’m not too familiar with Zen politics. I have lived in Thailand for the last decade and it came as a bit of a surprise to find out how little interest there can be about what goes on in Myanmar/Burma. I can sort of understand why the Thai government might see it in their interest to keep out of it but the disinterest is far more widespread than this. When the Burmese monks were being attacked I discussed the issue with some of the local monks here and they didn’t seem too perturbed by it. Sorry for going a bit off topic.

  8. I see this in India too Paul. I’ve been here for the better part of 9 years now.

    On the street the only Buddhist news is either in regard to the Tibetan refugee situation or the conversion of Dalits to the Ambedkar Buddhist movement. What I do note however on higher governmental levels is India’s continued interaction with Burma, since it’s on the eastern border which is a highly unstable area, via ASEAN and other bodies as well as directly, to attempt to “persuade” the junta into implementing some changes. From my perspective that is the only level that such persuasion will work.

    The militarists just don’t care what “common people” (आम आदमी aam admi in Hindi) want. Militarists only understand and communicate on the level of power, particularly repressive violent power. Fear is the currency. For those who have not experienced martial law, government crackdowns, heavy handed political intervention or draconian political rule this is hard to understand. India too has it’s share of these kinds of pressures even while attempting to maintain a democratic basis. I won’t get into that but India is not “free” in the same sense as America or Europe.

    What many don’t realize about this part of Asia is that America, meaning the U.S., doesn’t really matter here very much. Sure there is a big hoopla when Obama visits Mumbai, but a day later the newspaper is far more involved in border issues (Pakistan, China, Burma, Sri Lanka etc. ), trade, terrorism, Asian cooperative bodies, particularly regarding economics and other closer to home issues. There are some days when the only American stories are about various wardrobe malfunctions of celebrities. Even in the recent American elections, if there was a story it was buried deep on page 10 or thereabouts. Europe figures even less in the news here.

    And I think your point about discussing with local monks exemplifies this as well. People know which fights stand a chance and which don’t. It’s just the reality of the situation.

  9. I guess your right NellaLou, historically Thailand prides itself in its ability to play different countries off each other. It has managed to stay independent by doing this; even when the surrounding countries like Burma, Cambodia, and Malaysia fell under foreign control. My impression is that China has far more influence in Thailand than the US – many of the top business people and leaders are Chinese-Thai. I think a lot of their foreign policy is influenced by China; this is why they refused a visa for the Dali Lama. Unfortunately a lot of Thai people are very inward looking as well – they only see Thai Buddhism as being legitimate.

  10. Way to go NellaLou! Just to add a few things, there is a great article about Clark Strand who took over being abbot of the New York Zendo in Eido’s absence. He quit! The interview with him is located here…. http://www.mirabai.com/articles/strand/
    Your comparisons of those signing the petitions is very telling. I think you have expressed the dynamics in the differences very well. What a great idea to show how “birds of a feather flock together.”
    This is also true with ZFI. Nonin was banned from the E_Sangha forum a couple years ago for posting his views on Soto zen ( of which he is a priest ). Now on ZFI he rules the comments on different subjects, and ridicules others who have different views than his. They added an “Ask the Teacher” sub-forum and only allow “authentic” zen teachers to answer questions. Recently they have added two of Eido’s Dharma heirs to those special teachers. ZFI has become more and more rigid in regards to differing views in the past couple of years. What a shame. What started out as an option to close mindedness in zen practice has become a place where only the priests can “trusted”. How ironic.

    • Hi,

      The “Ask a Teacher” section of ZFI is a small part of the whole, and it is purely voluntary as to whether anyone wants to ask a question there or ignore the whole thing. Then, if someone grocks with something a teacher has posted there, that’s great … and if someone does not, that is fine too. Also, the teaching or comments that a “teacher” offers should be appreciated only if they have worth … not because the teacher has a piece of paper that says “teacher”. Same with anyone’s comments. And if they are bullshit, then they should be treated as bullshit even if the Buddha himself is said to have said them.

      On a couple of issues, I regret that I dawdled about adding my name to the Burma petition. I was “sitting with it” and thinking about it for a few days, and the deadline passed (one reason is, back at the time of the Tian-An-Men troubles, I got involved in helping some of the dissidents in a small way, and it did not go well. Long story not worth retelling. However, I think it is right for clergy to speak out about situations around the world). Of course, we should also speak about (not that anyone particularly listens to a letter from a bunch of Buddhists in America) about domestic issues, and get involved in our communities too. We need to be engaged on all fronts. What is more, we need to be engaged in problems in the Greater Sangha too.

      Which leads to the next subject …

      If there is a member of the clergy who has sexually, financially or otherwise abused someone, that person should be made a public spectacle, condemned and removed from a position of authority. If it is something criminal, they should be prosecuted (fortunately, I do not know any case of a Zen priest abusing children, but if that were to happen … toss the fellow in jail and throw away the key). This is precisely why almost all Sangha in the west have instituted some system of internal checks and balances, ethics committees and the like (our Sangha too).

      But I will say … a few bad apples do not spoil the whole orchard. Most Buddhist teachers I know (including about everyone on the list above) are sincere, hard working people who wouldn’t take advantage of anyone, and are sincerely dedicated to spreading the Dharma. One bad doctor who commits malpractice does not mean that all doctors are corrupt … same for Buddhist teachers.

      Gassho, Jundo Cohen

  11. Thank you very much for this post. I, too, shared many of the same sentiments when I read about the Burma letter campaign, but I wouldn’t have begun to put it as clearly as you did.

  12. Allan Watts, the philosopher and entertainer, used to enjoy the shock value of describing Buddhism as “Hinduism to go.” Watts would then go on to explain to his audience that, Hinduism was so rooted in the culture of India that it was difficult for outsiders to grasp it, whereas Buddhism was essentially ‘open-software’ that could be adapted by any culture that took it on, and who would eventually make it their own. In countries like, Tibet and Japan, Buddhism has that ‘invented here’ feel as it has effortlessly shaped itself to local conditions. But to those Americans raised in the mainstream culture, it remains a truly exotic oriental import.

    The Eido Shimano problem is one that reveals that Buddhism has not truly rooted in the West. If Shimano were teaching in an ordinary U.S. University or College; if he was a psychotherapist, doctor, or even the CEO of an American Corporation, frankly, he would have been out on-his-ear years ago, and his supporters know that. Even if we were to ignore his history and deal merely with the last incident in which aged 77, the great sage, has an affair with a pupil in her 20’s, then this is clearly somewhere that an ethics committee would step in.

    But senior members of the American Sangha have failed to act or even speak out against this abuse. They have stood by and watched whilst the victim is blamed for having ‘pursued’ Shimano and in doing so they have become ‘enablers’ of abuse. It has been emphasized that this affair was ‘mutual’, of course it was not rape in a legal sense …but come on! – There is something very wrong here. It has also been argued that Zen has no ethics – that in Zen anything goes, but that’s too clever an idea for me for, with or without ethics, Zen certainly has very, very, clear precepts.

    It’s abuse and if you are not against it – you are for it, because in turning a blind eye you become an enabler of abuse. If you are his dhama heir you inherit that disgrace you are part of a spoilt lineage.

    I am assured that the reason that senior members have not signed the petition is that there is a lot of quiet work going on behind the scenes. But as NellaLou points out these stealthy activists are frothing with public empathy when it comes to petitioning the President about Burma, but heartless and lacking in courage when putting their own house in-order

    If there were to be an American domestic Buddhism what would it look like, this of Eastern Spirituality and American culture? I would say that it would be highly democratic, iconoclastic, deeply involved in society and not afraid to speak up to power. Perhaps American Monks and Nuns would be a little rougher round the edge then their Japanese brothers and sisters, maybe their would wear costumes cut from a plainer cloth, but, by golly, they would be a potent force.

    I would hope that the Eido Shimano problem is the tipping point – a time in which the domestic product takes over from the import, but right now: if I were a gambling man, I would not put my money on it.

    • If people say that in Zen anything goes then why meditate. Just say you are enlightened and end of story. Unfortunately people who say that are blind people deluded by drugs and ego looking at the world through rose glasses without an iota of practice.

  13. Dear Marnie,

    I’ve been reading your blogs for several months now and your ability to drive through fog, remove brambles, and finally arrive at a clear stand of trees is like watching a work of art. Nothing less. And thank you Barry for your comment – “I might add that loving-anger serves compassionate ends just as well as loving-kindness.”

    Reopening my history with Eido Shimano because of the archives, blogs, and articles has been something of a roller coaster, but it’s far from the initial experience of feeling buried alive by others who choose to hide the truth of what was happening. This was the most traumatic. The mistake of being seduced at a vulnerable time in life is possible to heal. For the most part it’s well done. But the lows of this present revisit to the past always coincide with the silence of others who are in the positions of leadership to help end the kind of violence (and it is violence) that Eido Shimano has perpetrated for years.

    At one point (2 months ago) I wrote a short email to five prominent American Zen Roshis. Not one of them responded. Next I wrote to a Japanese Rinzai Zen teacher who is the Abbot of a small monastery in Japan. I had corresponded with him a few years ago about Zen practice in general (I still practice zazen). I wrote him essentially the same letter and received a beautiful, supportive and heart-felt reply that prints out onto three pages. So there you have it.

    I’m sorry if this has been uncomfortable for some people to read. I’ve written it in a calm that should pass Zen International Forum standards. You can always sign the Burmese petition. I did, and I truly hope it has an impact at least on the souls of the people for whom it’s intended to help. Thank you, Carol, for signing both.

  14. Hi,
    The “Ask a Teacher” section of ZFI is a small part of the whole, and it is purely voluntary as to whether anyone wants to ask a question there or ignore the whole thing. Then, if someone grocks with something a teacher has posted there, that’s great … and if someone does not, that is fine too. Also, the teaching or comments that a “teacher” offers should be appreciated only if they have worth … not because the teacher has a piece of paper that says “teacher”. Same with anyone’s comments. And if they are bullshit, then they should be treated as bullshit even if the Buddha himself is said to have said them.

    On a couple of issues, I regret that I dawdled about adding my name to the Burma petition. I was “sitting with it” and thinking about it for a few days, and the deadline passed (one reason is, back at the time of the Tian-An-Men troubles, I got involved in helping some of the dissidents in a small way, and it did not go well. Long story not worth retelling. However, I think it is right for clergy to speak out about situations around the world). Of course, we should also speak about (not that anyone particularly listens to a letter from a bunch of Buddhists in America) about domestic issues, and get involved in our communities too. We need to be engaged on all fronts. What is more, we need to be engaged in problems in the Greater Sangha too.

    Which leads to the next subject …

    If there is a member of the clergy who has sexually, financially or otherwise abused someone, that person should be made a public spectacle, condemned and removed from a position of authority. If it is something criminal, they should be prosecuted (fortunately, I do not know any case of a Zen priest abusing children, but if that were to happen … toss the fellow in jail and throw away the key). This is precisely why almost all Sangha in the west have instituted some system of internal checks and balances, ethics committees and the like (our Sangha too).

    But I will say … a few bad apples do not spoil the whole orchard. Most Buddhist teachers I know (including about everyone on the list above) are sincere, hard working people who wouldn’t take advantage of anyone, and are sincerely dedicated to spreading the Dharma. One bad doctor who commits malpractice does not mean that all doctors are corrupt … same for Buddhist teachers.

    Gassho, Jundo Cohen

    • Jundo,

      Thanks for posting. I thought from reading your comments that you had signed the Shimano petition, but don’t see that you have. If not, I’m very curious to know why you didn’t sign this either. This is not meant as pressure – but genuine curiosity.

      One reason for the question is because when you say “a few bad apples do not spoil the whole orchard”, I have to remember that a few bad apples can do a lot of damage and create major distress to individuals and sanghas. I know you understand this, but the purpose of the petition was to also give voice for those people, like myself, who lost much time and potential.

      On a related note I might add that one bad apple does not destroy what can’t really be destroyed anyway, and what a freedom to discover this. Yet even so, not bringing light and voice is puzzling and still a source of grief in it’s own way. Hope this is understood.

  15. Thanks for posting. I thought from reading your comments that you had signed the Shimano petition, but don’t see that you have.

    You are right. I should have been following the events there closer when they started to come out, and I was not paying attention to the details. If I had been, I would have signed the petition.

    I know now, from discussions within the AZTA, that the folks within that Sangha are finally taking some real steps to deal with this. Horse is already out of the barn, of course. We must also work very hard to make sure that this kind of thing never happens next time.

    Gassho, Jundo

  16. You are not following closely enough Jundo… Shimano is still in power, he has a different title, but he still calls the shots. It is not too late to sign at all, if only to go on record. Don’t let Shimano’s enablers in the AZTA cloud your thinking…. They have their own agenda running.

    • Oh, can we still sign? Okay, DONE!

      By the way, I noticed that the released Suu Kyi this morning. Well, that letter from all those American Zen teachers must have really scared those Burmese generals! Shows the power of the pen.

      Gassho, Jundo

  17. Who cares about “elegant?” “Done” beats “elegant” any day of the week. I think all of us have seen enough “elegance” in this arena to last a lifetime.

  18. I find it interesting that those comments bashing ZFI/and/or the AZTA are always anonymous.

  19. Why are Western Buddhists so obessessed with “seeking for dharma outside the mind” despite claiming to “practice Zen”. Not to mention getting into endless amount of ego and arrogance building arguments and debates.

    Maybe the whole circle is refuses to learn and practice the Dharma, but just just attempts to using “Buddhist knowledge” or “twisted Buddhist knowledge” to further and worsen your existiting problems with self identity, personal values and mind poisons.

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