Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eido Shimano and Genpo Roshi and the blogosphere and questioning teachers

By now, everyone's heard about the Eido Shimano scandal being written up in the Times.  As an ex-New Yorker, I can tell you this is a bigger deal than you think, because Eido Shimano was quoted when they needed "the NY  Zen Buddhist" viewpoint (there was at least one more article in which his name appears but doesn't in the search, if memory serves me.).  Though the Zen Mountain Monastery folks got in too, sometimes.

And as I've said, that's all well and good, and I wish them all the best.  If you want a more candid opinion, from those in the know, there are podcasts of Genjo Marinello of late that  are worth hearing.  I have never met Genjo, but I have great respect for his teaching.

Back to the Times article.  These part struck me a little:

The Aitken papers were soon circulating on the Internet. On June 15, Mr. Shimano’s board of directors, which exercises ultimate authority in the society, met to discuss the allegations. Mr. Shimano, who was then on the board, was not present, but most board members concurred that the charges most likely had some validity...
First, this more recent affair occurred in a different news media culture. Clerical impropriety is a hot topic, of course. And on the Internet, where several bloggers were scrutinizing the Aitken papers, the new affair was sure to be mentioned. “The Internet was turning the heat up,” one member said. Board members had to act; they could not afford to be seen as indifferent. 

Second, there has been a shift within the American Buddhist community, which has become more concerned about relations between teachers and students. 

Historically, because that relationship is considered sacrosanct, affairs were not always condemned, or even disapproved of. 

“Unlike the therapeutic environment with analysis, with Buddhist teachers and students there are debates about what is appropriate and what isn’t,” says James Shaheen, editor of Tricycle. As to sexual relationships between teacher and student, “most people would come down on the side of ‘Let’s just not do it.’
What is interesting to me is that on the internets, my impression was there was a general wave of questioning of the ethics and motives of teachers.    Stuart Lachs' groundbreaking work in this area is completely ignored in the Times article.  Brian Victoria's work, while not relevant to the article (and Victoria has been mentioned in the Times before) is also relevant here too.

But the idea that there should be ethical and fiduciary responsibilities for Buddhist teachers is kind of a no-brainer, especially to those of us who saw the Catholic Church disintegrate over pedophilia scandals.  

And the other thing that's ignored in this article is the "Genpo Roshi "controversy.  Now  Dennis Genpo Merzel I'm sure doesn't put himself in the same category as Eido Shimano.   But if he doesn't then he should at least put himself in the category of LGAT guys.  In terms of the number of people who are misguided, in terms of mischaracterization of the Dharma, Dennis Genpo Roshi's "Big Mind" is leaving I think a substantial footprint.

In fact, I'd say the "Big Mind" scandal is actually a bigger scandal in terms of number of people involved than the Eido Shimano scandal. That's an opinion, of course, but I would maintain that the Times has, at least until now, let a big fish get away when it comes to Zen Buddhist internet scandals in the blogosphere.   That's their perogative of course.  And for all I know Dennis Merzel featured in an earlier version of the story.

Regardless, I hope these scandals get resolved to everyone's benefit.

Right now I'm glad I practice in a tradition that has taken,  steps to resolve its own issues here, even if they're too late.


Anonymous said...

Genpo Roshi, AKA Dennis Merzel, has been caught having sex with yet another student - KC "Kyozen Sato" Gerpheide, now one of his 'successors'. He finally had to publicly admit it in January:

This is not the last time either. He was thrown out of Bar Harbor in the nineties for his behavior. He's also fond of pretending that he hasn't ordained monks of his that have dared to speak out about him. A thoroughly unsavory individual and no Zen Master.

Anonymous said...

He has resigned today

Anonymous said...

Not really. He has said he will disrobe, and stop teaching Zen. He will continue to teach Big Mind, which happens to bring in a lot more money than Zen. He has not really resigned from anything, and might still be abbot. It is all very unclear. KC has been removed from the Center in SLC and is not teaching there anymore. Genpo also admitted to having sex with more students.

Mumon said...

I can't believe that this is what brought the guy down.

But I'm not really surprised.

Renegade said...

By the way, as an aside on the original article - those cushions that Zen Mountain Monastery were crowing about and mention 'hand sewing,' all come from sweatshops in China. They aren't made at the monastery at all.

Sankai said...

I am not sure where Renegade gets his information, but it is wrong. All the meditation cushions sold by Dharma Communications/Zen Mountain Monastery are made right here in the Catskills in upstate New York.