Jan 5th, 2013
There is a saying in the news business that "IF IT BLEEDS IT LEADS". An air crash or other tragedy captures the headlines and is endlessly examined by 24 hour news coverage, while the thousands ... hundreds of thousands ... of safe landings and uneventful flights that same day never make the news (Can you even imagine the strange headline ... "BULLETIN: PLANES MAKE NORMAL LANDINGS, NOTHING HAPPENED!!"). That leads to the unfortunate misperception that flying is dangerous, when in fact there have been record low fatalities in recent years, especially given the mushrooming number of flights and millions of passengers filling the skies. Countless folks get where they are heading, safe and sound across the world, and the most perilous part of flying is probably the mad taxi ride to the airport.
It is much the same situation in Western Zen these days, where a handful of crashed Teachers lead some to the falacious impression that there is some wide spread systemic problem in the Zen world. Critics, often foolishly shortsighted or even with an axe to grind, are quick to assert that the whole Zen adventure is dangerous or corrupt based on isolated and extreme situations. Nothing could be farther from the truth! What such doomsayers overlook is the fact of all the other teachers ... hundreds of caring, devoted, wise, compassionate, well trained, illuminating, enlightening folks ... who do not get involved in such things, who range from competent to truly gifted pilots who do not do harm to their students and, in fact, bring illumination and change lives for the better. They are out shadowed by the few (a very few) teachers who have crashed and burned.
This is not to discount the importance of shedding light on, uncovering, openly discussing and analyzing the few cases of abuse, for to do so is the only way to address the problem, help past victims and prevent future incidents in that same Sangha or others. It is much as air crash inspectors dissect every incident with an airliner, finding the cause and proposing a remedy so that like accidents will not repeat (a system that has been very effective to making flying very safe these days). We must not fail to aid even one victim of abuse, we must not turn our eyes the other way. That is why places like Sweeping Zen have done a tremendous service for all of us by reporting these incidents in all their gory detail, tearing away the cover-ups and excuses by "see no evil" types and apologists. Honest reporting is the first step to true healing and reform. Nonetheless, doing so can be misunderstood or misrepresented by some as an attack on all of Zen that focuses only on the negatives. Such is simply not the case.
In Zen flying, ultimately, there is no up or down, no place to fall or need for rescue. We passengers are each Buddha, riding on a jet that is also Buddha, with each engine and wheel, pilot and pillow just Buddha, Buddha, Buddha. It rises from 'Buddha International Airport', into skies and clouds just Buddha, over Buddhamountains, no place in need of going on the way to Buddha somewhere down the line. Buddha, flying Buddha across Buddha to get to Buddha all around. Nonetheless, one of the paradox-non-paradoxes of this Zen Way is that ... though there is no place to fall, no way to die ... fall and die we might! Thus we must be on our guard, careful in flying and maintaining the plane and diligent as the crew with lives in our hands. Thus, yes, there are things that need to be fixed about Buddhism, both in the West and back in the old countries. Some issues are quite serious (I am quite the vocal critic of many things in fact, calling for reform).
But don't let folks use scattered problems and a handful of disasters to distract from all the safe landings. The skies are clear and wide open.