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Thread: Open Mind Zen Issues

  1. #1
    Friends of Treeleaf Dokan's Avatar
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    Open Mind Zen Issues

    So I've been reading some of the challenges OMZ sangha is facing around relationships their sensei has had in the past years. I have mixed feelings about it to be honest. Without ever having the ability to know what truly happened, I wanted to ask the sangha about their opinions?

    1. If a teacher has a consenting sexual relationship with a student, does this mean they should stop teaching?
    2. What if it's a practitioner at their sangha, but not a student, does this change your opinion?
    3. If that same teacher is married, does this change your opinion?
    4. If the teacher had a consenting sexual relationship with a non-student or practitioner, while married (had an affair) does this change your opinion?

    What I'm driving at, is where is the transgression? Are teachers removed because of their failure to keep the precepts? If so, we will never have any teachers. Does our Judeo-Christian culture impact our opinions? I see this situation much like the corporate world. If someone is abusing their power to pressure someone else into sex, then they need to be removed from that position. But I can't help but feel many times we put our teachers up on a pedestal and expect them to live up to an unrealistic expectations

    Thoughts?

    PS - Here's the link to Adam's article: http://sweepingzen.com/sexual-contro...-open-mind-zen

    Gassho,

    Dokan
    We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.
    ~Anas Nin

  2. #2
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Excellent and difficult questions, Dokan. My direction is now simple, never have any sexual relationship with a student. It could be possible in other cultures or traditions, but here and now in the West, with our background and awareness of the very nature of power abuse, we should at all cost avoid such a situation. It is a very important point because maybe some if you will be teaching tomorrow. But I can also see how puritan America is enjoying the witch hunt and this can lead to other very extreme situations.
    If the two of them do choose to have that kind of relationship, the teacher should stop being the student s teacher. The student should find another teacher.
    There is nothing wrong with sex ( quite the opposite !) but mixing Dharma and sexual drama is a recipe for disaster.
    Genpo, Shimano, Baker...are sad reminders of the extent of the damage.
    Zen is zen, and sex is sex.


    Gassho


    Taigu
    Last edited by Taigu; 08-21-2012 at 01:54 PM.
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  3. #3
    What Taigu said is exactly what I had in mind while typing my response. I think teacher/student relation in Zen is quite unique and involves a lot of trust on both sides. I had an experience of working closely with a teacher and at some point you have to open up yourself completely. I think it's the teacher's responsibility not to undermine that trust and in a way "lead" this relationship. If a teacher is not ready for this responsibility he/she should not teach that particular student or at all.
    Gassho,
    Andy

  4. #4
    Hi Dokan.


    ...I went through psychotherapy for 5 years (always a good idea IMHO) and through that process you learn that there is, within this nervous system, a primitive life that just wants to eat and screw and not die. Sexually, there is a “polymorphously perverse” nature that desires pretty much anything it can outrun. It is that primitive. We have fantasy lives that we routinely block off as “not me”, because it violates all our boundaries and conventions. I think it is important to know and accept this side of ourselves, without repression or indulgence... not easy. By being fully who we actually are, we are less likely to act out inappropriately and furtively.

    Taigu and Andy already spoke to teacher conduct in general, but regarding marriage, ..... an extramarital affair is deeply hurtful and deceptive, and the sign of a broken marriage. It can be an opportunity for growth if both spouses work through it together. An extramarital affair involving a teacher is no different. It is a sad thing... and a chance for growth.


    Gassho, kojip.
    大山

  5. #5
    Hello,

    thank you for such insightful responses. I feel part of the problem (if it is a problem) is the difference between how most individuals see "normal" teachers of music, algebra, cooking...and "spiritual teachers", or in this case Zen teachers.
    If there was not an extraordinary amount of privilege connected to this role of Zen teacher, people wouldn't be half as upset. Allowing people to see you as a much more advanced human being always entails a more bitter disappointment. "Jumping" down from a single brick isn't going to hurt too much (unless you twist your ankle)...jumping down from the top of a chimney...now that is something.

    If being an official Zen teacher really wasn't that much of a deal to most people, they wouldn't allow themselves to be convinved/swallowed up by what that role represents so completely.

    The really juicy question is whether the traditional Zen teacher role has really done more good than harm in the larger scheme of Western Zen in the last 50 years or so.


    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  6. #6
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    I've seen a lot of talk about this on the internet over the past couple years. There's an aspect to this issue that gets lost sometimes: what happens to the student's practice when the teacher moves on to a new conquest? There have been cases in which students were not so willing to be dumped quietly, and the teachers dealt with it by trying to get them kicked out of the sangha (she's a liar, she's disturbed, she came on to me, etc. etc.) Perhaps some of these students are healthy, mature, consenting adults who can deal with a breakup, but it seems to me a lot of them are fragile and, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to say no to a sexual relationship with an authority figure like a zen teacher. And it certainly seems to me that a lot of these teachers--married, unmarried, whatever--aren't looking for real love.

    I think Taigu is right: teachers should not be having sex with students. Period. Dokan is right when he says teachers can get put up on a pedestal, but I don't think it's at all an unrealistic expectation that they have enough wisdom and compassion to direct a student they have feelings for (vice versa) to another teacher.

    Gassho

    Jen
    The result is not the point; it is the effort to improve ourselves that is valuable. There is no end to this practice. --Shunryu Suzuki

  7. #7
    Awesome topic! I agree with everyone here. I'm just agreeable. lol

    But that's why we shouldn't put our faith in men (read: humans). I mean by that we are all human. It's not like a zen teacher or Buddha is perfect. I don't know I wouldn't give my authority away to anyone; I guess I would feel like oh wow, that's shocking. But we shock ourselves by putting undo emphasis on others. At the same time, they are "religious authority figures"... HOWEVER, I don't believe in "religious authority figures".. or really any authority unless it's sensible to follow that authority. But that authority must always be questioned... ALWAYS. Thank goodness for the separation of church and state.

    I find Hans' question interesting as well; we are so iconoclastic in the West. In certain cases, rightly so. I do not believe in being anyone's "disciple" for instance.. and master/student seems an antiquated term applied to some sort of dictatorial hierarchy from the past... .That being said, I wonder if one of the key traits emerging from Zen in the West is that we are more egalitarian, and the traditional separation of student and teacher no longer applies? If we put too much faith in our teachers, expectations and so forth, it really is childish. On the other hand, the teacher has a responsibility not to abuse the power that has been given to them by the student accepting to practice what they are teaching. If we, as students, put too much power or try to give our authority away (even though we can't really and the teacher accepts that), then I think this relationship changes into a cult.

    What a complex topic. I sure as hell have made mistakes, and I know Jundo has written about you wouldn't want a teacher who was perfect; they are hiding something. lol But you don't want a teacher who makes really serious indiscretions. In those cases, I think the teacher should just step down because they are no longer serving others. Even if they do not step down, they really aren't teachers of the Dharma anyway.. they are just deluding themselves and others. While we have to allow ourselves to be lied to, as Nenka said, a lot of beginners on a spiritual path are vulnerable. The responsibility goes both ways; you have to be ready to be true student and to be a true teacher.

    Gassho,

    Risho

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Dokan,

    For me it begins and ends with your first question to which I would reply, "I don't believe that a teacher/student relationship can be completely consentual because one has power and influence over the other." When I was in graduate school there was a teacher and student who engaged in a sexual relationship, disclosed it, had the student switch to a different teacher for her dissertation, and ended up becoming a teacher herself. While it was all done according to the rules, it was a very awkward situation and I really do fault the teacher for engaging in such a relationship. In any case, it is just not a good idea and should always be avoided. The only real condition I can think of where it would be allowed is for the teacher to step down and have absolutely no power or influence on the now former student's practice. Anything else leaves too many questions in my opinion.

    Gassho,
    Dosho
    Shudo Dosho - Ordained Priest-in-Training
    With your help and guidance from Jundo & Taigu
    I am learning, but please take what I say with a
    grain of salt, especially in matters of the Dharma.

  9. #9
    Senior Member ZenHarmony's Avatar
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    Any person in a position of power over another person, whether a supervisor at work, a preacher/priest/pastor or teacher, for example, should not have sex with their underling regardless of the marital status of either person. Whether true or not, there is an *implied* imbalance of power in the relationship that should *not* be taken advantage of in this manner. Just my opinion, of course.

    Gassho,

    Lisa

  10. #10
    I see nothing inherently wrong with a teacher-student relationship developing into a partnership relationship. It can be bad and wrong, if one is using or abusing the other, but that is no different than with any relationship. Realistically, where do we think teachers are going to meet potential life partners?

    I do think it is inherently wrong to have an affair while married, if, from the point of view of one of the partners, the marriage implies a promise of this kind of fidelity. I feel a Zen teacher should not intentionally over a period of time engage in dishonest behavior that harms or will harm his marriage partner. Resolve the marriage issues or end the marriage, but do not carry on an illicit affair wherein you lie to your current marriage partner. Gassho, Grace.

  11. #11
    Practicing zazen puts in danger our erroneous visions of the world, ourselves and the others, for the teachers or the followers. So the ego tries to restore its comfort, warmly wrapped up in its illusions: the seduction is a very fast, very basic means allowing to give itself the illusion of the power on the others. To seduce, it is drive to me, to master the other and, in a certain way, to take the freedom of the human beeing afront of me. All the teachers who practise the "donjuanisme" saying that they want the followers happy, destroy their followers as vampires. I really think that the radical conception of Taigu is the good on.
    Kosen

  12. #12
    When we picture a male teacher and a female student, do we respond more strongly than when we picture a female teacher and a male student? Do we subtly picture the female students as more vulnerable? Do we picture the male teacher as more lecherous?

    Even though I don’t believe that there is anything inherently wrong with a partnership relationship between teacher and student, I still find myself reacting somewhat differently if I reverse the picture in my mind. Gassho,Grace.

  13. #13
    And what if, whithout a pedestal view, both of us, the same age, fall in love sincerly? I think it's possible, but if we choose love, we have to choose another teacher I agree. I've known in France a teacher who get out with a student and after breaking up both spirituality and love were broken up.

    Gassho

    Yang Hsin

  14. #14
    Oh sorry I made a mistake "both oh them" instead of "us"

  15. #15
    I really dont care about who is having sex who... as long as it is consentual and between adults or same aged young people.
    --Washu
    和 Harmony
    秀 Excellence

    "Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body" George Carlin Roshi

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Dokan View Post
    Without ever having the ability to know what truly happened, I wanted to ask the sangha about their opinions?

    1. If a teacher has a consenting sexual relationship with a student, does this mean they should stop teaching?
    2. What if it's a practitioner at their sangha, but not a student, does this change your opinion?
    3. If that same teacher is married, does this change your opinion?
    4. If the teacher had a consenting sexual relationship with a non-student or practitioner, while married (had an affair) does this change your opinion?

    What I'm driving at, is where is the transgression? Are teachers removed because of their failure to keep the precepts? If so, we will never have any teachers. Does our Judeo-Christian culture impact our opinions? I see this situation much like the corporate world. If someone is abusing their power to pressure someone else into sex, then they need to be removed from that position. But I can't help but feel many times we put our teachers up on a pedestal and expect them to live up to an unrealistic expectations
    I would agree that a teacher should never have a sexual relationship with a student ... much as a psychologist should never have a sexual relationship with a patient. Period.

    That being said, people are people, and the heart is the heart. Such relationships will happen from time to time, and they are to be excused if (1) truly between consenting adults with no misuse or important trigger in the power, position or influence of the teacher as teacher (2) an honest disclosure to the entire Sangha is made promptly and (3) the relationship of teacher and student immediately ends between the couple from that point forward. It is not easy to tell which relationships are of the natural, consenting and "excusable" kind, and where the position/influence of teacher has been misused, and also difficult to ask the student (or, to be fair, the teacher!) to leave participation in the Sangha, so generally such relationships should be met skeptically and avoided in almost all cases. The "excused" cases should be few and far between.

    Likewise. affairs among married people ... teachers or not ... are to be avoided, but happen nonetheless. It also should be frowned upon, is generally hurtful and deceptive ... but married people sometimes fall in love outside their relationship (I do distinguish "falling in love" from simple sexual attraction, though both "just happen").

    The central question is the Precept on Misusing Sexuality, which we will soon reflect on in our Jukai Preparations.

    In my view, a Teacher having an "it just happened" affair with a student or two over many years is a far cry, however, from the case of "date rapists", serial predators, misusers of their spiritual influence and the like ... such as Eido Shimano and others. Unfortunately, Zen folks tend to link and confuse all of this ... lumping in the "had an adult affair" types with the "seducers, abusers and predators". They are not the same.

    I know Jundo has written about you wouldn't want a teacher who was perfect

    Yes, here ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...8Bad-Roshis%29

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-25-2012 at 12:40 PM.
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