Friday, August 13, 2010
I have only recently learned of two events that make me sad, but in very different ways. First, I mourn the death, but the very nearly-selfless life, of Robert Aitken Roshi. My sadness comes from the end of Aitken’s steady influence for peace and justice in our world. I pray that his disciples (and there are many) will continue his legacy.
The second event that makes me sad is the recent public flap over Shimano Eido Roshi’s unrestrained love of women (just Google his name or the name of his Daibosatsu Zendo.) His latest sexual dalliance has resulted in him (and his wife) stepping down from the board of the New York Zendo. Unfortunately, Eido Roshi is not alone among Japanese Zen teachers outside of Japan in seducing or being seduced by his female students.
I turn 75 this year. At least fifty of those years, part of them, were spent training in Zen monasteries in Japan. As a serious student of Japan and Buddhism, I witnessed the considerable restraint that “parishioners” (danka, in Japanese) impose on the Buddhist leaders in their neighborhoods.
Those restraints come from rules that make it absolutely forbidden to father a child with a woman and refuse to marry her. I know of dozens of Japanese priests who have broken that rule and who have been summarily dismissed from their training temples.
There is no similar rule in Japabnese temples governing the conduct of a married priest who has sex outside of marriage. But all of the priests who have done the latter have done so with a professional bar-girl, geisha, ets. I know of only two priests who have had sex with a female STUDENT.
To be clear, there are no female students in the main Zen priest-training temples in Japan. The two instances I mention were foreign women who came to the priests asking to train with them privately. This is a post-war phenomenon, and similar to the situation we have in Zen centers outside of Japan.
I think the sexual misconduct that has gone on in American and European Zen centers has taken place because the Japanese teachers have no parishioners to restrain their sexual urges. They have been treated like holy sages, gurus, whose every whim is taken very seriously. The could not easily get away with their behavior in their own country.
What I have learned from all of this cultural and religious cross-breeding is how fragile our lives are. And how easily we damage them. Out of ignorance or selfish motives we fail to fulfill the very tenets of the Buddhadharma when we take ourselves so seriously that we feel we can tear down accepted social standards of behavior.
Zen Buddhism seems especially guilty of allowing contradictory behavior to seem enlightened. But even Tibetan priests who left their Tibetan communities to teach foreigners have similarly been allowed to act upon their sexual urges with impunity.
As I approach my last years in this amazing dance of life and death, marveling in the self-and-other trips we all must take, I can only hope that Zen and other forms of Buddhism with survive this crisis and not be characterized by it in Wikipedia forever.