A few days ago, Al over at Open Buddha posted a set of letters concerning Zen teacher Eido Shimano Roshi, who has been embroiled in controversy for nearly three decades now. Memebers of the American Buddhist blogosphere, including the late Robert Aitken Roshi, have been pushing hard on the various breach of ethics issues involved in this case for awhile now. Sex and power abuse scandals are not at all unique to Zen Buddhism, so this can be viewed as yet another one of those cases. But it's also one that has, for various reasons, gone public, including in the NY Times article cited in the letter from Eido Roshi that appears on Al's blog.
This morning, Zen teacher James Ford, who has had some recent involvement with the case through general counsel of leadership at the NY Zen Studies Society, issued an open letter on his blog that includes the following:
I was among those who counseled Shinge Roshi and Genjo Sensei to seek outside intervention this past year. I was heartened that you chose to go with the FaithTrust Institute and specifically the Reverend Dr Marie Fortune. I was less sanguine to learn you, the Board, were not willing to follow their counsel precisely. At the same time I wasn’t there and again I felt my task was to support Roko & Genjo as they sought a way through that could bring healing to Eido’s many victims while allowing your sangha and its important mission to go forward.
With Eido Roshi’s letter it is no longer possible to seek a compromise.
I counsel you as strongly as I can to dismiss the Reverend Eido Shimano from any position of authority in the Zen Studies Society or its affiliates.
For the sake of his victims, for the sake of your sangha, for the sake of the Zen Dharma, I hope you will take this action.
Thank you Rev. Ford. May more follow you publicly, in support of those who have gone before.(The two bloggers cited here are amongst many others.)
I have written a little bit about this situation in the past, but have mostly stayed away from it, given that I am not a member of this sangha, nor intimate with the details of the case. But I've seen what happens to a sangha when leadership goes astray and power abuses are committed, and believe that whatever happens in one community can happen in all of them, if we don't take the opportunity to learn from it. In addition, as I suggested in this post, it's imperative that Buddhist sanghas - especially in places of more recent transplant like the U.S. - take a deep look at the power dynamics of their group and the teachings around power, and put in place specific, concrete plans that address power and use of power within the community.
As I said in April, taking someone like Eido Roshi out of his teacher's position is a necessary, but not sufficient step. Each of us is, in a certain way, responsible for upholding the integrity of the sangha. And you can take that in terms of a specific sangha one is involved in, but also the sangha of the world as a whole.It begins with our commitment to practice, and fans outward from there. May we all wake up together, one step at a time.
* Update: Here is an ongoing discussion from the Tricycle blog.
Here is a post from Mumon supporting the removal of Shimano.
And here's a post reminding us a little about Zen history concerning teachers, and the serious consequences that come from trying to protect corrupt or abusive teachers.
And Nella Lou's current post on the commonplace struggle humans seem to have around leadership.
And finally, here's an amazing letter from Zen teacher Joan Halifax Roshi.