Thursday, February 24, 2011

Zen Scandal Dialogues

For those of you who are tired of all this "scandal talk," I beg your indulgence for a little longer. I want to write about other things. There are so many other things to write about, right? However, this morning I saw this letter from Zen teacher Chozen Bays, in response to the letter from Kirsten Maezumi I wrote about in the last post. Not only is Chozen's letter a great teaching for us all, but below it is a heartfelt response from Kirsten Maezumi which illustrates the fact that the internet is, indeed, a real space with real impact.

Chozen writes:

Zen teaching is a profession. Professionals have an obligation not to betray the trust of their students/clients/patients, trust that is essential to the work of spiritual teaching or therapy. When we take on the profession, we take on the responsibility to maintain proper boundaries with those we are caring for. If a patient tries to kiss a doctor or a minister or a therapist, it is the professional’s responsibility to stop the behavior. A doctor or even a lawyer who has repeated sexual contact with clients can lose their license to practice permanently.

The American Zen teachers also have written letters to the Board of Kanzeon — and before that, to the Zen Studies Society — because we have a special concern about women. When male teachers have sexual relationships with women students, it creates a very difficult situation for these women. They are enrolled in the secrecy that is so corrosive within a sangha. Or within a partnership — one woman told me that her marriage was failing because her husband blamed her for her relationship with a teacher. Also, when a teacher sleeps with a woman and then transmits to her, it puts her credentials in doubt. “Horizontal transmission” it’s jokingly called. If women are to have a respected place as teachers of Zen, this behavior has to stop.

The experiences you described so vividly in your letter struck me and many others to the heart. This is exactly why the Zen teachers acted, so that wives, husbands, children, and students don’t have to experience the kind of suffering you described. And so that your father’s legacy, his wife, you and your brother and sister, and his many Zen descendants, can continue to bring benefit to the world.

I am very sorry for any suffering my role in these events caused in yours or your family’s life. In an earlier letter you asked me how I could have behaved in this way? What have I done about it? I will give you the simplest answers first. Then some longer explanations.

I took my own role in the events at ZCLA very seriously.

I did specifically focused therapy.

I did specific repentance work.

I realized that the best form of repentance was to change my behavior — for good.

I educated myself about clergy misconduct.

My husband and I emphasize the importance of the precepts in their literal form in our Zen teaching.

We have helped other Buddhist groups that requested assistance with issues of ethics and misconduct by teachers.

I have never had an inappropriate relationship with a student, nor has my husband.

I have been in a faithful marriage for 27 years.

Here are the longer explanations.

I left ZCLA in 1984 with the feeling, “If this is an example of what we have been touting as enlightened behavior (and I include my own), I want no part of it. “ For several years I did not practice Zen. I explored other religions. I got a job and spent more time with my children. I met many people who had never heard of Zen or who had no religion at all, who were kinder and wiser than we had been. Gradually I began to sit again, and rediscovered the purpose and power of practice. I felt renewed gratitude to your father for the invaluable gift of dharma that he had given us all.

I decided to educate myself about what can go wrong in spiritual communities, and I did a lot of reading, for example, about the Rajneesh group – which was then making headlines for all kinds of misconduct – and other communities. From that study I concluded that early warning signs that a group is headed for trouble are these.

1. over-adulation of the teacher
2. too much power residing in the teacher, with lots of “yes” men and women, and no checks and balances
3. believing that the ends justify the means (as in having healthy young people go on welfare at ZCLA so they could be on “staff”)
4. talking about us “inside” who know the truth and the “outside world” who do not
5. resultant loss of outside perspective
6. lack of clear ethical guidelines, maintained first and foremost by the teachers
7. resultant misuse of power – monetary, sexual, etc.
8. secrecy
9. manipulation, intimidation, coercion or threats

I also studied clergy misconduct. I read books such as Sex in the Forbidden Zone: Why Men in Power – Therapists, Doctors, Clergy, Teachers and Others – Betray Women’s Trust by Dr. Peter Rutter, and Is Nothing Sacred?: The Story of a Pastor, the Women He Sexually Abused, and the Congregation He Nearly Destroyed by Dr. Marie Fortune. I invited Dr. Rutter to give a presentation at a White Plum meeting in Palm Desert.

My husband Hogen and I took a professional workshop on clergy misconduct sponsored by the Alban Institute and Faithtrust Institute. We have since been invited to give this training at Buddhist teachers’ conferences and at the invitation of Buddhist groups in crisis. I’ve learned a lot by talking to many survivors of abuse by Buddhist clergy. Their stories are poignant, their wounds long-lasting.

I learned that often, in the chaos of an acute crisis, the wife of the offending teacher gets pushed aside. As I read your letter, I realized that nothing has been written about the suffering of the children. I’m glad you have begun our education about how children in the community are traumatized, too. (I had assumed, wrongly it seems, that when your father went into recovery and your parents reunited and moved out of LA to Idyllwild, that you had eleven years of good family life before your father’s untimely death in 1995.)

There is even more to her letter, but I have offered the bulk of it because it's just so powerful. Personally, the last paragraph rings painfully true. I've seen it in my own sangha, where what happened continues to impact both our former teacher's ex-wife and his children, still part of our community, years later.

Kirsten Maezumi's response is also illuminating, and shows that one point I made in the post yesterday was false.

Dear Chozen,

I was so happy to talk with you the other day and I appreciate the candid way you answered my frank questions.

Honestly the most helpful insight I got out of our illuminating conversation, is the one into the nature of the affair you had with my father as you say, ” It was mostly an affair of the heart, taking intimately about dharma and translating Dogen Zenji.”

That you didn’t feel her victimized you, or that your vulnerability was preyed upon, or that sex was the only reason for the affair.
I think that is important… NOT that it makes it right, or appropriate, but that it was not, in its nature, an abuse of power.

It was a love of the dharma.

I think this could be the case in many of the consensual affairs that happen in sanghas between teacher and students.
Again, NOT that it makes it right at all! ; it is just another shade of grey in the black and white of right and wrong…and of being human.

It makes the line so much more complicated.
That there are other reasons than abuse of power, desire of position, lust or addiction, that cause these lines to be crossed.
How will these be judged?

I am saddened that many responses seemed to think that I thought forgiveness was all that was asked of us in this situation concerning Genpo Roshi.

I was just a shocked and devastated as his family and the Kanzeon sangha, and absolutely something should and is being done.

I was also very happy to hear about your “reformation”, spiritual re-awakening, and the work you are doing at your Zen Center with your husband.
And although it is healing to hear, what compelled me to write my letter, was not a personal attack on you.

It was the fact that I knew no one who was involved in this investigation who was not at one time directly involved in a similar situation. I am not saying they do not exist, just that I don’t know a single one.
And yes, times change, thank god! but could there be something else at play?

Jealousy? Fear? Resentment? Guilt?
Or like a reformed smoker, more sensitive and intolerant to smoke?

It is just such an ironic, dark corner to shine light into.
I am sorry it was seen as a bitter attack on the messenger.

I cannot blame you for my fathers drunken bad behavior, or many affairs, which were the cause of mother to taking us and leaving, but the affair between you and my father stands out in my mind because of the close personal ties you had with our family and the length of the relationship.

I honestly don’t know that names of anyone else.

The point I was doing my best to make was, if my father had been removed from any position of teaching from that time on, indefinitely, and you stripped of your titles as well, even the Inca received from Genpo Roshi, that would not have been justice either.

I am also very happy that you addressed the fact that many of the women that have affairs with teachers also receive transmission.
This is of course a VERY VERY dubious, irresponsible and almost always hurtful way to establish a link in a lineage, but coming back to what you described as the “heart connection” you shared with my father, it may be one of the reasons.
I of course have no answers, its just knowing some of the “victims” myself, well, they don’t seem like victims at all.

It is great that you outline your own reformation for others to consider.
And your safeguards for your delusion and rationalizations. :)
We all need that, and I think that is the role of the Sangha in its truest sense.

I know, with all my heart, that when a person is ready to accept responsibility for their behavior, and have seen where their ego and self will take them, they can change.
Most of the time it seems to take a rock bottom to have this opportunity.

I wish we could have had this conversation years ago; its true as Al Rappaport said in the sweeping zen thread, “Maezumi is dead and gone”, yet this karmic knot is something we are left with to unravel.

I appreciate Kirsten's nuanced view of all of this. (Please go and read the rest of her response here). Even though I have written quite fiercely about the need for teachers to be held accountable, as well as the ways group dynamics reinforce destructive behavior, I agree with Kirsten that seeing all of this in a totally black and white way doesn't aid us in finding the skillful means necessary to develop and maintain healthy spiritual communities.

Beyond this, I'm kind of in awe right now at how the public discussions and offering of letters like these are leading people to do the work of untangling old karmic knots. That Buddhist blogs are offering sites where people might spring board into healing and reconciliation from. Pretty amazing. May it continue to be so.


Anonymous said...

Japanese Zen lost there way a long time ago.Go back and study like the ancient masters.What we take for realization today is nonsense.

Nathan said...

Ah yes, the wise words of a man hiding behind a curtain. Bows to you sly fox.

Genju said...

I must admit this turn of events took me by surprise. Both Chozen Bays and Kristen Maezumi convince me of the power of practice. What is so precious about this whole process - as usrreal as it gets at thimes - is the transparency we are seeing. May that continue and may this empower other voices to speak to their truth.

Thank you for your steady presence in keeping this in sight, Nathan.