As far as I have seen, this post by Zen teacher James Ford is the only one expressing an explicit support for professionalizing Zen teaching - at least among recent posts in the Buddhoblogosphere. He writes:
Speaking of such, among the Zen blogging commentariate there appears to be near consensus that the idea of professionalizing the status of Zen teachers is a bad thing.
I beg to differ.
Although I have to admit I'm not in fact finding much of a great push for such a thing among the Zen teachers, themselves. Ourselves.
Now, I've run across one or two assertions about the American Zen Teachers Association as trying to become such a thing. Obviously these are assertions from people who have never attended AZTA meetings. As one who has, I can tell anyone interested, it is a very loose gathering, with no officers and no dues, and limited interests beyond being a peer support group. It has a sole committee, a membership committee which with the consent of the larger gathering defines who may be a member of the body. Which has consequences for people who see it simply as the largest gathering of Zen teachers. But it also publicly acknowledges there are many legitimate teachers not affiliated. Possibly, I would add, the majority of the sum total of legitimate Zen teachers in the West.
Maybe I was one of those "asserters" - who knows. Anyway, one thing I'll say is that I have heard the AZTA described in several different manners by people who have been participants over the past few years (before this, I knew nothing about it). So, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not sure what exactly It is, or where It is going. Along those lines, the training guidelines I mentioned in the last post are from the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, for the record.
Ford continues about the AZTA:
This is not a professional organization.
Would that it were...
Ironically, they, we, have been variously dragged over the coals recently for not disciplining errant Zen teachers, one not even a member of the AZTA, the other a founder but not a participant in decades. Then when a number of us, many AZTA, but not exclusively, wrote letters (individually in the first case, forty-four signing a single letter in the second case, chastising them as people while who while flying the Zen flag have committed egregious violations of trust; they, we've been accused of power grabbing, of over reaching.
Come on folks...
Do we want accountability among Zen teachers or not?
I will say it was interesting to see a fair amount of backlash following the public calls from various American Zen teachers for some kind of action in the wake of the Shimano and Genpo scandals. Some of that backlash was clearly directed at members of the teacher group that had their own ethical baggage, but not all of it. In fact, one particularly disturbing case involved a male zen teacher pointedly telling a pair of female zen teachers to butt out of the Shimano case - which basically meant shut the hell up.
So, I agree with Ford that there are lots of mixed messages about accountability floating around.
At the end of Fords post, are a set of interesting questions.
I think we need to reflect on teachers and how they are supported in their work. Do we really think that there is no price to the Dharma means the laborer is not worthy of support? And, if they are, shouldn't there be obvious minimums in preparation for those titles, Zen teacher, Zen abbot? And, shouldn't there be behavior codes that are binding?
One thing that concerns me is the linking between financial support and "obvious minimums in preparation" here. My gut says this is kind of problematic somehow, but I can't - right now - tell you exactly why.
I'm all for some set of binding ethics codes, but how you go about implementing that is another question.
I also do think that Ford is trying to undermine the persistent inking between spiritual teaching and vows of poverty here. Or the view that zen teachers should earn most of their living doing something else. Both of those views seem flawed to me, just as the money raking of folks like Genpo Merzel seems flawed.
Perhaps, as I think Ford himself suggested in another post, there need to be two sets of folks developed. One set of priests trained in a different, but maybe similar way to Christian pastors, and they being in the role of helping to lead dharma centers and ensure that these centers can be open and spread around. And a second group are what we'd consider more traditional Zen teachers - where the paths are less clear cut and more mysterious in some ways.
*Update - I responded to a few questions from Notes in Samsara blogger Mumon below, which help clarify (I think) some of my points above. I'm probably going to refrain from further comments unless something really compels me to jump back in. I'm sensing that I have hit the wall in terms of what I can say right now about this topic in an articulate manner. Anything further would probably just muddy the waters with excess speculation and abstracting, and no one needs that.
But feel free to continue adding comments if you're so interested.