Thursday, February 24, 2011

I'd rather avoid blogging more about this sex scandal stuff, but I guess I have to

Via Nathan at Dangerous Harvests, and with the opportunity of a late-morning opening of my office due to snow (What?!) I have the dubious fortune of writing about this letter from Kirsten Mitsuyo Maezumi. Nathan notes that:

Beyond this post [re: Maezumi's], there have been a fair number of calls for Zen students to take responsibility for themselves, to reclaim their power, etc. I support this, and believe that blind faith and idealization on the part of students have aided in teachers going wrong. However, let's consider the circumstances again. These calls for Zen students to basically grow up are coming as a result of scandals in which female students are the main victims. And yet, sanghas are not all women working with a male teacher. What about all those male students? Why is it taking numerous scandals where women have been the primary visible victims to get us to call for students to "grow up"?...

In my view, it's important to note that these questionable at best gendered lenses are being used by both women and men. That despite all the efforts of numerous women and feminist-minded men in the broader Western Zen community, there are still unexamined patterns of sexism that I would argue are influencing who we consider to be "great teachers" and also how we treat those who have been in abusive situations.

If Genpo Roshi were a women with the same sordid track record, would there be so many people willing to defend his teaching, and offer that he's a "humanitarian" and that his "contributions" to Zen must be continued? Somehow I think not so much. And that should make all of us pause.  

There are a lot of dynamics at play here; not just "sex and power, sex and power."  In some ways, the letter from Kirsten Maezumi is more troubling to me than the Eido Shimano affair, mostly because I have sort of known Chozen and Hogen Bays now somewhat better (though I'm not their student) than I knew Eido and Aiho Shimano.  On the other hand, Chozen and Hogen have been training for years now under Harada-roshi, who is "one of the most respected names in the business," so to speak.  Maezumi speaks poignantly, and certainly humanly, of the pain she suffered as a child, and I think it's cruel to deny or minimize that.

It has taken me the last 7 years of intensive meditation and therapy to make any sense of the toll that “Zen” took on our family, and I realized that my suffering was caused by my expectation of him as a father.
He wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but that did not need to limit me in my life the capacity for forgiveness and understanding.
He was not a good father, or a good husband to my mother, but he was an outstanding teacher with a love for the dharma and a vision of liberation that took precedence in all he did.
As an adult, in my travels and own seeking, I hear testimonials to his awakened Buddha nature and hear and see the proof of it in the difference it has made for so many other gifted beings to step into their place as teachers and facilitators of peace and consciousness.
It is a lineage spanning continents and decades and I am very proud of him. It is the best consolation I can have; seeing and hearing his students teach. Now I see history repeating itself.

 I also think, in a profound way, these affairs of decades back are mistakes people made; big mistakes, but in a way they are none of my business.  Eido Shimano's and Genpo Merzel's situations are recent events, and it's probably not unfair to say that the behavior of Chozen roshi is highly influenced by her experiences of decades back. 

None of the principals involved is a teacher of mine, formally.  None of them ultimately owe me, nor anyone else in the blogosphere any kind of a statement on this.   They don't owe anyone in the blogosphere a convenient narrative fitting into conventional modes of sexual politics and psychology.  Their lives as they live it now is the narrative I suppose.  And if we are to be truly accepting of all people as they are, where they are - it's kind of an ideal of Buddhism, don't you know - it has to include accepting these people where they are, as they are!  It doesn't mean endorsing Genpo Merzel going back to making "Big Mind™" into a cheap fakery of Zen practice; it doesn't mean endorsing Eido Shimano going back to doing nasty things with students.  It does mean being compassionate towards all involved, regardless of "who's right" and "who's wrong," and understanding that there is pain and suffering all around.

And with that said, I think I've said the last of this, with the exception of  the issue of "Big Mind™"  masquerading as a Zen practice.  "Big Mind™" - that's still hogwash, as I've said numerous times.  I think the teachers' lives as they live them is where the rubber meets the road these days, and I wish Chozen and Hogen all the success in the world in their new endeavors in the Portland area, especially the Heart of Wisdom temple.

 Nathan, in the comments, points me to Chozen's reply here.  It is more cogent and appropriate than anything I could have written. 

1 comment:

Nathan said...

Chozen's response letter on Sweeping Zen today is pretty excellent in my opinion, and Kirsten's response in the comments clears up some of the confusion around her letter as well.

For better or worse, the internet is going to be one site of bringing out these issues. I've tried to offer different angles on all of this on my blog because I've seen how many different angles there are, through what happened in my community.