Aug 28th, 2012
I want to wag my finger, not just at the Zen teachers caught in scandals recently (although at most of them too), but at the reactions of some folks to the scandals. Particularly, I want to call out:
Those folks ... some of them fellow Buddhist priests or moderators of Buddhist forums ... who would seek to ignore, hide or explain away some of these scandals, like sweeping dirt under a rug. Shame on them, shame on all of us, and we are contributing in part to these things if we do not look them square on.
But at the same time, I wish to question those folks who would lump all these so called "sex scandals" together ... both the few (very few!) true predators, date rapists, serial seducers and other abusers who misuse their role, trust and influence as "teachers" and clergy ... and those other folks who may have fallen into a very ordinary intimate affair between grown, mature consenting adults. All are not cut from the same cloth, and the second group should not be treated the same as the first. I most certainly agree that a teacher should almost never commence a sexual relationship with a student ... much as a psychologist should never have a sexual relationship with a patient ... because of the potential disparity in power, reliance, psychological influence and vulnerability between the parties. I also agree that those married clergy who fall into extra-marital affairs have cause to reflect on their actions in light of their marriage vows and the Precepts on honesty. But the fact of the matter is that Japanese Lineage clergy are not generally celibate, and there will be cases truly between consenting adults with no misuse or important trigger in the power, position or influence of the teacher as teacher or serious moral offense beyond someone breaking their marriage vows. While I see every reason to criticize ... and suspend or punish or defrock ... the real predators and power abusers, I see little reason to treat the same way every case of sexual doings, and let's be careful in distinguishing which is which.
I also wag my finger at those folks who profess to have lost their trust in all Zen or Buddhist Teachers because of the missteps of a few. Baloney! A few bad apples do not spoil the whole apple orchard, and the fact is that most ... the vast majority of ... Buddhist Teachers I know are sincere, honest, dedicated, committed folks who generally would not hurt a fly.
I also tisk tisk those folks who think that, because a Zen Master shows any failing at all ... from losing his cool from time to time, showing some weakness in personality, having some vice ... that completely disqualifies the teacher from all right and entitlement to teach (let along teach well!). Such a view is typical of the ZEN IDEALISTS AND ROMANTICS out there, looking for perfect Zen teachers without a fault or failing, who think that "Enlightenment" means never making a mistake in the words out of one's mouth, and never having a "bad hair day" again. TIME TO COME DOWN FROM THE CLOUDS! I would say that, if you are looking for a good Zen guide, find a man or woman who sometimes falls down, makes mistakes, makes a donkey's ass of him or herself... and observe closely what happens, watch how he or she does it. Oh, don't get me wrong... probably you do not want as a teacher someone who falls down each and every day, nor someone who falls down too BIG (robbing banks, lying profusely and intentionally starting fires, for example ... nor the few aforesaid predators or serial seducers). No, I mean someone who... every so often, now and then, like everyone... makes a fool of him/herself, loses his Zen Master cool, over-indulges, yields to temptation, does a real face-flop, says something she regrets, breaks some (hopefully not too big) Precepts in some very human way. Observe how does this person recover their balance? With what grace do they fall and, more importantly, get back up on their feet? Do they profoundly reflect on their mistakes, learn from them, apologize sincerely to anyone hurt (hopefully not too badly) ... and move on? As a matter of fact, since this crazy practice is greatly about living with some grace in this imperfect, often disappointing, trap and temptation filled world, a teacher with a couple of serious imperfections may be a good guide on how to avoid, lessen or escape the worst of it!
That leads me, finally, to cluck cluck at two corollary misconceptions about Zen Teachers:
The first misconception is that Zen Teachers ... Zen Masters ... are ever supposed to be as perfect as a Buddha, beyond all error and mistake, totally one with the universe, always doing what is to be done in every situation, always speaking with a Buddha's tongue, never possibly to trip or fall, at total peace and harmony and wholeness with all this self-life-world, each and all Golden Buddhas and Perfect Jewels. Hockey-pucks! That is the view of some overly idealistic folks who have read too many Lineage Legends and Sutra story books in which our religious heroes and icons ... after being dead and gone ... are dipped in gold and polished up into super-human characters. Sure, as in any religion, we have many TRULY saintly and inspired, enlightened and enlightening folks in our Tradition, living and dead. However, most of the image of "Zen Master" is a bit of religious hype and propaganda.
In my view, a "master" is someone with some "mastery" in an art or tradition to practice, pass on and pass down ... from carpentry to medicine to martial arts to Zen Buddhary. It need not mean the "master" is perfect and never errs. One can be a "master carpenter", yet not every corner will always be smooth; a "master surgeon" and lifesaver of thousands, yet sometimes make a bad cut, bungled diagnosis or deadly error. However, one should be pretty darn skilled in applying the art in life, and much more skilled and competent than those without the skills required. As in mastery in the martial arts, there is no technique in Zen for never being hit or never losing one's footing ... let alone for winning every battle ... there is no training offered on how to never fall, but rather, endless training on how to fall well. Show me the man or woman who encounters life's obstacles, sunny and rainy days, loops and losses, ups and downs ... all the mess and mayhem of Samsara ... who may be sometimes knocked sideways or down ... but who demonstrates how to be hit well and recover one's footing ... and I will show you a great Zen teacher.
One of the unfortunate aspects of religion is the tendency to put the leader or "guru" on a pedestal as being perfect, beyond any and all human failing ... always wise, never saying the wrong thing, always balanced and in control. The Lineage legends and Sutra story books tend to dip in gold and place on pedestals all our long dead ancestors, scrubbing them of every human failing. I think that unfortunate. Plenty of wannabe cult leaders are ready to play to such an image even now ... and plenty of "need a daddy to tell me what to do" students are ever willing to buy into it. That is a shame.
In fact, there are really no "Zen Teachers" ... for Zen cannot be taught. The "Teachers" are more like experienced "Dharma Friends" offering tips and coaching to help the seeker do all the heavy lifting ... and sitting ... and living ... on their own.
No, there are no Zen masters who are as perfect as a Buddha, beyond all error and mistake, totally one with the universe, always doing what is to be done in every situation, always speaking with a Buddha's tongue, never possibly to trip or fall, at total peace and harmony and wholeness with all this self-life-world, each and all a Golden Buddha and Perfect Jewel.
But that leads to the last misconception:
For, in fact, ALL Zen masters (even the predators and abusers!) are as perfect as a Buddha, beyond all error and mistake, totally one with the universe, always doing what is to be done in every situation, always speaking with a Buddha's tongue, never possibly to trip or fall, at total peace and harmony and wholeness with all this self-life-world, each and all Golden Buddhas and Perfect Jewels. TRULY! I KID YOU NOT!
Sound like a contradiction? (Zen had lots of those!)
You see, so are you ... and all people ... and every mountain and tree and star! Each and All Buddha, Beyond Error and Mistake, totally at one piece and harmony and wholeness with the universe, all preaching with a Buddha's tongue, with no place possibly to fall etc. etc. "Enlightenment" is a realization that there is no place to fall, ultimately no self to stumble, no "mistake" that can ever be made. All things are Perfect Jewels in their way, Whole. That is true. But it is just as true that there is no place to fall, no stumbling or possible mistake... even as we may fall and stumble and make mistakes!
The Zen Master should simply realize (know and embody) that fact more than the average bloke ... and hopefully have some skill in helping her students realize such too in their lives.