I'm feeling a bit disturbed today. My great grandmother, at almost 102, is probably on the way out of this life. It's amazing that this spunky, sassy woman has lived so long, and mostly in pretty good health, so it's hard to feel to down about it. But there's still some sadness.
Secondly, I was thoroughly dressed down on the thread of this post from a prominent feminist website. I enjoy learning about new issues and theories, especially when they might aid me in seeing through some of the warped cultural conditioning I have inherited. My only comments about what happened there was that my mistake was not shutting up earlier, and that I feel this kind of behavior amongst people "on the left" for lack of a better term is one of the main reasons social movements have gone nowhere in recent decades here in the U.S. (Please, no feminist bashing in response to these comments; it's not about that, it's about how people struggle to work together across differences, and end up tearing each other to shreds in the most uncompassionate ways.)
Finally, this Zen teacher scandal business moved from wherever it had been down to my gut this morning. An anonymous commenter left a comment on my recent Genpo Roshi post that basically defended Genpo through absolutism, and I kind of went off on that person.
This whole defend the "victims" at the total expense of the "victimizer", or defend the "victimizer" at the total expense of the "victims" is a pair of sick delusions that we all need to wake up from.
James Ford over at Monkey Mind has some great comments this morning about the state of "Western Zen":
There are those who say we need to grow up and walk away from Zen teachers.
I respectfully say you can. And you may well find a true and useful and healthful path. It won’t, however, be Zen.
The Zen way has evolved within a system of training, or rather a cluster of training systems, all of which require spiritual direction.
The way Zen came west, through individual teachers with limited supervision, and then establishing centers that are more or less isolated from each other has created a cultish system. That’s the problem, aggravated, of course, by the inflated language of transmission. I’ve explored both of these issues before.
I’m confident we are also at the edge of a time where people are no longer dependent upon keeping a relationship with a specific teacher or giving up the practice. In some ways the scandals reflect that reality. We don’t have to put up with the inappropriate in order to have access to the way.
Over at Sweeping Zen, Erik Storlie has an even more provocative essay about Lineage, Dharma Transmission, and teacher scandals.
So long as American Zen relies on dharma transmission as a credential, there will be one Shimano after another – and dharma heirs who will go to great lengths to protect the master that conferred authority upon them. For if the master who has declared me awakened has erred, if he does not, indeed, “dwell in the Absolute,” then my own credential is called into question – along with my prestige and authority in the community and my ability to confer this power upon others.
Even if the magical claims of dharma transmission are discarded and it is recognized as an ordinary human institution, it still should not be retained as a method of training Zen meditation teachers. No truly meaningful credential can be conferred simply at the pleasure of one person. Indeed, as a method, it creates toxic interpersonal dynamics in communities, for the future recognition or preferment of a student is entirely dependent upon pleasing a dharma heir, or a presumptive dharma heir. If I wish to rise in this hierarchical system, I must pay court to the dharma heir and his or her favorites, and as a courtier in such a system, I can never openly acknowledge my self-interested pursuit of attention, for my goal is always, theoretically, “spiritual” development. Yet, of course, my ability to please a dharma heir and receive, in my turn, recognition and/or authorization will give me status and even employment opportunities. The dynamics of court, courtier, and courtship create endless distortions of human behavior even in ordinary institutions – a business, political party, or college. These run wild when the king, queen, pope, or dharma heir has imputed “special” powers. Anyone connected for a length of time to a Zen Center can cite examples.
This is perhaps a bit cynical. I don't think that dharma transmission has created "a toxic" environment in all the "Western Zen centers" out there. Or even a majority. However, the delusions around the student/teacher relationship on both sides of the equation are certainly exploding all around us, and I agree that attachment to stories about lineage, dharma transmission, and teachers as mostly perfected bodhisattvas are major concerns that need to be addressed.
Anyway, it's all very swamp-like to me today. I'll be heading over to see my friends at the local college meditation group this afternoon, which seems like good timing. Take care everyone.