Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post in response to the myriad of ways in which others were writing about Big Mind Zen teacher Genpo Merzel. One of the issues I wanted to address was the moralistic blasting Genpo was receiving from Buddhists, particularly those who deemed him in various ways "irredeemable," as if he were a Catholic priest being punished under Catholic doctrine. Buddhist ethics has nothing to do with fixed, finalized narratives about good and evil. And Buddha never taught about such a thing as "irredeemable" persons; in fact, he brought people into the fold that had been firmly rejected under the moral codes of the day, precisely because he saw through the story of such codes.
So, when I received the following comment on the old Genpo post from a reader named Jamie, I had to smile:
I've been on the path since 1978, I'm not a "priest" of any sort, but would like to offer one observation. As Hsin Hsin Ming said in his discourses in The Book of Nothing - Discrimination is the gate to hell. As far as I can tell, there is one discrimination worth making, am I acting consciously or not? If yes, there is no blame, and indeed no karma. If my actions cause others suffering, then it will be their teaching. If no, then I am in hell, because nothing good can come of it. Genpo seems to have acted in a way he regrets. I would ask him, is it because you were acting unconsciously? Or because others have judged you immoral? There is nothing moral or immoral in concsiousness, or conscious actions. The addition of morality in the evaluation of someone's actions comes from interpretations of Buddha's teachings, I can't find it anywhere in his teachings. I do find a lot of teaching on how morality is a set of fixed ideas which have nothing to do with consciousness, in this moment. It has to do with ideas carried constantly over from the past. In short, to act consciously is to act rightly. To act unconsciously is to act in darkness. If Genpo is apologising and feels guilty, then I think he should disrobe as a teacher, not because sleeping with students is immoral, but because he doesn't understand how to be awake and act consciously, so how can he teach others? If one looks cursorily at one of the greatest teachers in the last century, Trungpa, and his actions with his students, one cannot go on and on about morality. He made a huge joke of it, as indeed many other great teachers have done. But no one ever deals with that, it simply is pushed under the rug, while the "priests" talk about morality. So, Genpo, my suggestion is to wake up and act consciously, and if you are consciously sleeping with students then it is right action, but then there will be no question of considering others' opinions, or even suffering. You have a family, perhaps you should ask yourself, am I conscious with these people, awake, completely in the moment? Or behaving according to society's expectactions of what a "family man" is? When Buddha left his wife and child to meditate before his enlightenment, was he behaving as a good family man?
There's obviously a lot to unpack here, much more than I plan to do.
First off, I believe that the Buddha offered the precepts - our ethical teachings - as a method of liberation from the heavy, often life sucking moral codes that exist in every society. Of particular importance is the way in which they are imbedded in overall Buddhist teachings, and the ways in which any given student might work with them. Not misusing sexuality - the third precept - isn't a fixed imperative that must be followed; it's like reed through which we can blow our actions through, until eventually, even the reed itself disappears and there's simply continuous, awakened activity.
Using Jamie's language above, when people are acting in deeply unconscious ways, they don't even think about the precepts. They can't hear the music of the dharma. Others, who are hovering on the edge of conscious living, lift up one of those reeds and attempt to blow their actions through it. They hear the dharma off to the distance and attempt to seduce it into coming home by deliberately employing precepts. And then there are those who are demonstrating awakened action. They have recognized that the music of the dharma is everywhere, and they simply tune into it and act.
This is a much different view of things than what many of us are used to. And it makes assessments of situations like Zen teacher scandals more challenging. I can stand behind calls for someone like Genpo to stop teaching, but at the same time, I can't stand behind totalized rejections of the man himself.
Secondly, there's a danger to treating things simply as a cosmic joke, which Trungpa did seem to do a fair amount. Even if there's truth to such a stance, it can easily become an excuse for saying or doing any old thing under the sun, including things that trigger a hell of a lot of suffering.
There's plenty more I could say here, but I will stop for now. Your thoughts?