Thursday, April 21, 2011

Genpo Merzel and Soto-Shu Donation Updates

Some news on a few old stories has surfaced on posts from fellow Buddhist bloggers, so I thought I'd share that this more.

First, Jundo Cohen has an update on the questionable donation practices of the Soto-Shu for victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

This, in particular, I found interesting:

I did write to Rev. Shundo Kushida of the Soto-Shu International Division (cc. Daigaku Rumme of the North America office) to ask for clarification on these matters, and to why donations which are not marked are being all diverted to "Relief funds for temples" and not "general relief". He responded by telephone to me, and seems like a nice young fellow. If I understood the gist of his statements to me, he said that he thought the English and foreign language pages were clear enough. He also said that he thought Japanese people donating to the Soto-shu would be clear that the money might be used for Soto-shu temples, so did not need further clarification. I was left with the impression that the formula advertised here for fundraising as "30% for temples, 70% to be re-donated to the Japan Red Cross" was not actually a fixed formula, and that they were deciding the uses of the money (to Shanti and the like) without being bound by that statement. He did not provide any information on the total amount raised or the amount of that used for temple relief.

Makes you wonder what they are actually doing, doesn't it? I wrote a lot about my dislike of the ways the Red Cross uses it's funds, and won't get into that again here. However, I do think that situations like this are a good reminder to not only do your research about organizations you are donating to, but also to practice giving without attachment once you have given. Even the best of support organizations make decisions with donated money that the givers might not agree with, so while I firmly believe it's important to call out grievous acts of misuse, it's also the case that a lot of us struggle with giving as a practice.

"Monks, if people knew, as I know, the fruits of sharing gifts, they would not enjoy their use without sharing them, nor would the taint of stinginess obsess the heart. Even if it were their last bit, their last morsel of food, they would not enjoy its use without sharing it if there was someone else to share it with."

Itivuttaka 18

The second updated story is about our old buddy Genpo Merzel. There is a new letter signed by 66 Zen teachers, including my zen center's leader, over at Sweeping Zen. Here are the last 3 paragraphs:

We sincerely hope you will eventually find in your heart a way to genuine repentance, and out of that follow a course of remediation that may actually lead to healing. Others have acknowledged misconduct and have made appropriate amends in the past, and been rehabilitated within the mahasangha. May you be encouraged by their example?

However, at this point we see no evidence of good faith action on your part. It seems you continue to hold yourself out as a religious leader, a Zen Master and that the Kanzeon Board has turned and followed your lead. We are concerned for people who may come to you as a Zen teacher. Those among your current students who choose to continue with you have made a conscious decision, aware, we assume, of all the facts regarding your repeated history of exploitative behaviors.

Therefore, as members of the Zen teaching mahasangha deeply concerned for the wellbeing of anyone to whom you present yourself as a Zen teacher, we feel we cannot remain silent. We need to state publicly our belief that you are not acting faithfully within the bounds of our tradition. We reiterate our call for you to enter treatment with people qualified to diagnose and address your repeated unethical and exploitative behaviors. And, we call on you to honor your commitment to step aside from Kanzeon and allow a remediation process to happen there as well.

I think the lack of any official channels to deal with this - and the other similar examples - have led us to offering these kinds of statements. I support the effort to speak publicly and keep Genpo's repeated misconduct and failure to adequately address it in the spotlight. In fact, even if the letter itself isn't fierce enough, it does represent a sense that integrating ethics - especially within the dynamics between students and teachers - is something a lot of Zen teachers and their sanghas are considering seriously. More of us are less willing to just sweep this stuff under the rug, which is a definite positive.

At the same time, given the lack of an organizational channel to work on these kinds of issues, letters like this kind of have a thud energy attached to them. For example, the call to enter treatment might be a correct one, but it just feels like an abstract response to what's happened. One I have made myself in considering the Zen teacher scandals of recent years. Yet, because there isn't, for example, a national or regional Ethics and Reconciliation Council where the specifics of what happened in Salt Lake with Genpo could be hashed out, it's really hard to offer some forms of specific council without sounding overly proscriptive. It seems to me that beyond calling for Genpo to stop teaching, step away from any leadership position at Kanzeon Zen Center, and to stand behind the public declarations he made in February, we're kind of stuck because of the lack of structures.

Perhaps something like a national or set of regional Ethics and Reconciliation Councils would be a way to address the lack of structures, without developing the kinds of overbearing institutions that so many of us in "the West" abhor. For anyone interested, here are the ethical structures and guidelines we have developed and use at Clouds in Water Zen Center. We are continuing to refine the process, but one thing I like about it is that it's a mixture of formal and informal, and those who are members of the "EAR" Council are chosen from the sangha and are not considered permanent appointees.

Seems like this whole post is about dealing with situations where lack of clarity and specifics around accountability have lead to trouble. Interesting, isn't it?


Mumon K said...

Sigh. Being that they're a different culture, and non-lawyers to boot, they're not going to obsessive over absolute transparency.

peter said...

Thank you, again, for drawing attention to this mess, Nathan. I don't read too many blogs and look to yours on many issues. I'm relieved that 66 Zen teachers could agree on strong and clear language. Enough already, Mr. Merzel. Telling are the roshi names that are missing from the list!