Sex and the Sangha: Letters and Leadership [adds]

Eido Shimano wrote a letter to the New York Times reporter who did the story about him in that newspaper, Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within. It is pretty much an accusation of making up the whole situation he’s engendered. Blaming others is one of the hallmarks of those in denial. Everyone’s fault but his own.

Al Billings has outlined the circumstances and put a copy of that letter on his blog in the post Eido Shimano kinda sorta denies it all and chastises the New York Times This includes a quotation of the recent comments of realization by Genjo Marinello Osho a ZSS board member.

The reporter, Mark Oppenheimer has responded to Shimano’s “charges” on his blog with A Buddhist vs. Me Some comments from people close to the situation also are interesting.

James Ford Roshi of the American Zen Teacher’s Association has written the following today An Open Letter to the Board of the Zen Studies Society Regarding Eido Roshi requesting action be taken to remove Shimano from power. Maybe a few others finally won’t be so scared to step up and address the situation.

[add] Joan Halifax Roshi has written a powerful letter which she posted on Facebook. Letter from Roshi Joan regarding Eido Shimano

[add] James Ford Roshi is now posting letters from teachers on his blog and will be updating them as they come in.  Letters from Zen Teachers to the Zen Studies Society Looks like the levee is breaking.  Finally.

Thus far letters have appeared from:

  • James Ford, Roshi
  • Joan Halifax, Roshi
  • Myoan Grace Schireson, Sensei
  • Dosho Port, Sensei
  • Nonin Chowaney, Roshi
  • Sallie Jiko Tisdale, Sensei
  • Taigen Leighton, Sensei
  • Susan Ji-on Postal, Sensei
  • Barry Magid, Sensei
  • Hogen Bays, Sensei & Chozen Bays, Roshi
  • Wendy Egyoku Nakao, Roshi
  • Bodhin Kjolhede, Roshi
  • Zoketsu Norman Fischer, Roshi
  • Les Keido Kaye, Roshi
  • Eido Frances Carney, Roshi
  • Zenki Mary Mocine, Sensei
  • Ruben Habito, Roshi
  • Chikudo Lew Richmond, Sensei

As well Hozan Alan Senauke, one of the original signatories to the letter of concern that went to ZSS in 1995 (PDF) on this same issue,  has written a letter and posted it at the Clear View blog

Quite a number of teachers had signed the petition to the same end months ago as well. The list of those teachers are available in a previous post.

Now it should be noted that many more have recently signed up on the petition as well.

As well Grace Shireson has linked to a picture on her Facebook note about the letter she wrote, of some participants in the Dec. 8 protest against Shimano which I mentioned here.


The Issue of Leadership

One commenter to the reporter’s blog wrote “The leadership models of Asian Buddhism were contained by a cohesive communal structure that simply does not exist here. “ Then he goes on about Trungpa’s situation as if Trungpa, the evil genius and Dharma corrupter [allegedly], had some kind of master plan to dupe the innocent, do-gooder Americans all along.   That’s a very convenient way to absolve the naïve Americans for any responsibility for their own situation. Seems to be the most prevalent way for many people to assuage their own consciences and disguise their own participation in events when they turn to shit. Maybe spending all his time with such a bunch of crybabies is what drove him [& Maezumi & …] to drink. It would me.

The participation of those around as enablers is fairly undeniable. And for their own ends. In Maezumi’s case for example, Jan Chozen Bays Roshi said, “”We in subtle ways encouraged his alcoholism. We thought it was enlightened behavior that when he would drink, elements of Roshi would come out we had never seen before. He would become piercingly honest. People would deliberately go—everybody did this—and see what he would say and do when he was drunk, and how he could skewer you against the wall.”(from Wikipedia)

If people would only be able to admit their complicity, hidden agendas and personal motives perhaps such situations would either not occur or be resolved in a timely fashion. But instead we get “It’s the victim’s fault”, “It’s the Asians fault.”, “It’s Saddam’s fault”, “It’s bin Laden’s fault”, “It’s Obama’s fault”, “It’s the left’s fault”, “It’s the right’s fault”, “It’s the Internet’s fault”, “It’s the parent’s fault”, “It’s the blogger’s fault”, “It’s television’s fault”, “It’s rock music’s fault”,  “It’s Aitken’s fault”, “It’s the reporter’s fault”

Clearly Shimano’s learned a lot more from the Americans than people give credit for.

So the leadership models of Asian Buddhism have failed. There certainly isn’t much in the way of leadership models in American Buddhism as these kinds of situations occur in American led sanghas as well.

The issue isn’t one of Asian, American or other structures. It is one of leadership.

Leadership in general, in every realm, globally is sorely lacking.

Everyone hoarding their little piece of the pie, reluctant to risk even a crumb.



OH, dear God, what if I lose my stuff! And some kind of God is generally invoked in these situations even by some Buddhists.  Why not blame him/her/it while we’re trying to shift blame away from ourselves both individually and collectively.

At the very least the fear is about losing our stuff. Either actual capital through lawsuits and the like or social capital in terms of reputation, position and of course importance. It’s important to be important. That seems to be the biggest deal of all.

Importance does not equal leadership.

Visibility does not equal leadership.

Position does not equal leadership.

Title does not equal leadership.

Accomplishment does not equal leadership.

Awards do not equal leadership.

Accumulation does not equal leadership.

Attention does not equal leadership.

History does not equal leadership.

Influence does not equal leadership.

What then does characterize leadership?

Inspiration Respect
Risk Concern
Compassion Confidence
Trustworthiness Reliability
Intelligence Honesty
Participation Competence
Responsibility Clarity
Humility Wisdom
Dedication Vision
Ethics Ability to admit to and place self-interest second
Communication Generosity
Patience Integrity
Fairness Assertiveness
Openness Creativity

Those all come from various business and management websites. Interesting how so many overlap with such things as the Paramitas and how most are mentioned numerous times in so much of the Buddhist canon.

So if Buddhist leaders don’t want to bother with the Buddhist literature then at least a course in management or better still management ethics might be in order.


9 comments on “Sex and the Sangha: Letters and Leadership [adds]

  1. Yes, seeking to assign blame is a bit backward-looking. Having survived a schism in a major Nichirenist organization (and emerging, strangely, as a bit of a Shingonista), I now think that for many, dealing with leadership/teacher problems is unavoidably a part of the learning process. The student has a certain responsibility. The Asian-style student with unquestioning devotion to the teacher might need to maintain a bit of caution, while the western student who wants to confirm the teacher’s enlightenment, or whatever, might need to be a bit more trusting. Jump in with both feet, revere your teacher, emulate the ‘model’ students. But also monitor quietly for warning signs, in case you need to get out before it is too late!

  2. thankyou again for your clear speaking and excellent summary of this situation. You have nailed it when you say that leadership is needed. I think it is good too to have voices like yours.

  3. This is a repost from the discussion, “What is a Dharma Teacher”, on the Facebook page, Buddhism in America, in response to the question of how to recognize an authentic teacher. I thought it might be worthwhile:

    I am glad that a respected Zen teacher was in agreement with that statement of Jung’s. I’ve been quoting it to people for years, usually to their bafflement. It’s in the introduction to Suzuki’s Introduction to Zen Buddhism:

    “Great as is the value of Zen Buddhism for understanding the religious transformation process, its use among Western people is very problematical. The mental education necessary for Zen is lacking in the West. Who among us would place such inplicit trust in a superior Master and his incomprehensible ways? this respect for the greater human personality is found only in the East. Could any of us boast that he believes in the possibility of an boundlessly paradoxical transformation experience, to the extent, moreover of sacrificing many years of his life in the wearisome pursuit of such a goal? And finally, who would dare to take uon himself the authority for such an unorthodox transformation experience — except a man who was little to be trusted, one who, maybe for pathological reasons, has too much to say for himself? Just such a person would have no cause to complain of any lack of following among us. But let a “Master” set us a hard task, which requires more than mere parrot-talk, and the European begins to have doubts, for the steep path of self-development is to him as mournful and gloomy as the path to hell.”

    It’s my own theory, which is hinted at in Jung’s work, that the Eastern ego is simply differently constructed from the Western one, that it is communally held and communally experienced, rather than the singularly individual experience of Westerners. My own favorite metaphor is that of the often posed similarity of the Samurai, particularly the Ronin, figure, and the Wandering Cowboy figure. On the face of things, they seem to be very similar types, and the stories that grow about them usually portray the same kind of plot; that of the idealistic wandering individual, doing good only for its own sake. but they’re actually very apposite figures. The Samurai is valued for the extent to which he has denied or sacrificed every personal desire and need for the sake of the group, or code. The cowboy, on the other hand, is valued for the extent to which he has denied or refused every demand of society, or of any exterior code, to honor only his own individuality. They’re not really on the same bus at all, but so opposite that they look identical. i think a great deal of the trouble that foreign teachers get into in America (mostly sex, but money and power issues also) stem from a failure to recognize this false identity. No one seems aware that these guys are practically operating with a sort of psychological lobotomy, without the intuitive influence that the other members of their society have on them. The Tibetans have always seemed the sanest as a group to me, partly I’m sure, because they stay in close contact with each other and don’t, literally, lose their minds. The Japanese seem the most prone to the kind of isolation and breakdown that causes trouble, partly because they tend to operate as isolated individuals without a great deal of regular contact with each other.
    And that’s kind of the ground of misunderstanding on THEIR side. We Americans all have our own stew of ignorance and projection which we blithely project into the situation, until, really, all the communication on a general level becomes hopelessly befouled. Personal interaction can rise above this, of course, but it certainly isn’t guaranteed to, and in my experience it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort for both parties to transcend their cultural confusions and clearly communicate at last. And we all tend to fill in the space of non-communication with various rituals, costumes, articles of faith, and so on. Read the essay by Stuart Lachs, “The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves” .
    In conclusion, I would say that the beginning seeker can NOT know. That’s almost the definition of a beginning seeker, after all. But he can know THAT, and remember it, and remember that it is his own soul, or ass, on the line and that no one else can take responsiblity for it. Credentials of whatever sort can be weighed accordingly, even as academic credentials are, but they will not be definitive. I just usually recommend to people that they find someone that they just genuinely respect and like. That’s usually a sign of some kind of affinity which can usually bear fruit, with cultivation.

    • I have had some more extensive experience with the Tibetans since originally writing this piece, and have to say that their sanity as a group is no longer nearly as impressive to me as it once was. I think I might grant that honor to the Theravadins, instead. The strict adherence to the Vinaya tradition gives them a frame of reference independent of their cultural references, and most of the Theravadin traditions, coming from the cultural complexity of India rather than monocultural China, seem more flexible in encountering alien corn.

      • But I would direct your attention to the cultural homogeneity of a nation using one written language and conceptual structure, all considering themselves children of the Son of Heaven. I don’t deny the cultural variations within this, the various ethnic sub-groups, the differing religions appoaches (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism (later), Islam (even later), or even Christianity, as recent an influence as it might be), but I think the basic culture of China is pretty much defined by the Five Classics.

  4. Pingback: Death in the Desert in an American Buddhist Cult

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