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Thread: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

  1. #1

    SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    ... and other reflections on "When Roshis Act Ugly, Small And All Too Human" ...

    Before I add my small voice to the many calls of condemnation of Eido Tai Shimano "Roshi", and demands for his self-reflection, dismissal and disgrace (more here from James Ford) ...

    http://monkeymindonline.blogspot.com/20 ... o-zen.html

    ... I would like to reflect on the overall question of when Buddhist teachers act with human weakness, ugliness, seemingly against all that they stand for.

    I think it a fallacy to believe that Buddhists, no matter the level or depth of the practitioner, are ever completely free during this life from being just human. It is a religious, heroic image created by the many old Buddhist stories which scrubbed clean all the tales of the ancestors of the past, robbing them of every flaw and placing them on golden pedestals. A Buddha or Ancestor (Jesus or any Saint in any religion) dies and ... century by century ... those in the religion (looking from afar at what those attainments actually were on the part of their "religious heroes" and with need to depict their power) start to imagine, fantasize and exaggerate the wonderful nature of the teacher and teaching into something super-human. What was merely "Great, Profound and Wonderful" must become "Mysterious, Wondrous and (often) Ridiculous". The result is called an "hagiography"

    In any large group of people ... whether Zen priests, other Buddhist, Christian or Jewish priests and clergy of all kinds ... there will always be examples of greed, anger and ignorance. Furthermore, in the lifetime of any one individual ... even among the best of us ... there are sure to be moments of greed, anger and ignorance.

    All human beings, from 'Great Bodhisattvas' right on down to the rest of us, are human beings ... and that means rough edges, cracks and ugly spots, flesh, fallings down and flaws. (At least, of course, until we eventually become Perfect Golden Buddhas ... assuming that even those ideals reside anywhere beyond our flawed human imaginations) Human beings are human. That includes Zen and other Buddhist teachers, no less.

    And it is a breath of fresh air that we finally realize so about Buddhist practice. It is also a chance for the true POWER of this practice to manifest ... for it is a practice for flawed human beings who wish to be better. The true value of this Buddhist Way is proven there.

    What matters most is what we do with those flaws in life, how we live as human beings ... with a bit of grace, ease, non-attachment, wholeness, peace, at-oneness and sincerity, great Compassion and Loving Kindness toward our fellow flawed beings. Practice does not remove all our human rough spots, but it allows a wild and imperfect stone to be imperfect (perfectly imperfect) yet simultaneously material to be polished into a jewel ... so many rough edges made soft and round. The Precepts are a guide for constant moment-to-moment practice in "not falling down". One cannot polish a tile into a Buddha ... but the constant polishing is Buddha.

    What our Practice does accomplish, if diligently followed, is to free us from the worst (at least among most long time practitioners I know ... apparently, not so for Eido and his ilk). It does work to make us better people. (In fact, most clergy I have met ... not just Buddhist clergy, but of all religions ... are good, caring, ethical people, the bad apples like Eido Shimano aside). Most of the Zen teachers I have met ... especially those with a few years and some maturity under their belt ... tend to be lovely, gentle, well rounded, self-actuated, moderate, compassionate, healthy people - balanced, living life with fullness and well. It would be a shame if someone like "Eido Roshi" were taken as representative of all Buddhist teachers everywhere, or used as the basis to claim that the Buddhist Way is without value ... for the countless good and decent teachers are proof otherwise.

    Now, the reason (in my opinion) to condemn someone such as Eido is --not-- because he is a Buddhist clergy who had a sexual affair with a student or several students. That, unfortunately, is all too human and is a matter between consenting adults (although there are great possibilities of the teacher taking advantage of his/her position vis-a-vis the student even there). The reason instead is because he clearly engaged in decades of horribly abusive sexual conduct which hurt the victims deeply and profoundly, then added to the hurt of victims in order to protect himself, then covered it up time and again, seeking to whitewash his reputation. It now appears that he was aided in this by people around him. Few (Aitken Roshi and a few others being the exception) spoke out until now, for there is a tendency in the Buddhist world to look away, hoping that the problem will simply vanish or be dealt with by the wrongdoing teacher's own students (in this case, despite countless promises, it was not). Thus, it is time for bodies such as the American Zen Teachers Association to have some means to censure teachers who violate the ethics accompanying their positions of trust, and to force such teachers and their students and Sangha into repenting and reform. Shame on them for not doing so until now, shame on all of us for not intervening more.

    Today’s Sit-A-Long video follows at this link:

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    .

  2. #2
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Ah, this guy. I don't even know where to start. Wait, yes I do. Thank you, Jundo, for speaking out about this, for signing the petition to remove this man from all positions of authority, and for not pretending this is just about some "inappropriate sexual relationship with a student or two." The man is a predator . . . I don't want to get into it, but for those who don't know, you may start here at the Shimano Archive:

    http://www.shimanoarchive.com/index.html


    It's religious authority figures like this--and especially the people who protect them--that make me cynical and, frankly, afraid to join any religious group. On the plus side, though, I have been impressed with the number of people speaking out, whether or not it does a lick of good in this particular case.

    I should also add that I have a certain degree of compassion for Eido Shimano. The man is clearly unwell, and he may never get the help he needs if everyone around him continues to pretend everything is just fine or a smear campaign or whatever.

    Sigh.

    Gassho,

    Jennifer

  3. #3
    Friend of Treeleaf Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Jundo, you are right. Cover ups are not acceptable. The Irish catholic church still needs to learn this one. Also, no section of society (secular or sacred) is above the law of the land. If a sexual or any other crime has been committed in any case (roshi or not) the proper authorities should be notified. And where the law is unclear but clearly an unethical action has still taken place, then some other formal redress is also needed, while avoiding the excesses of a 'witch hunt'.
    These are general comments, not specific to any case. But just for clarity, i think a teacher and student cannot have a sexual relationship of any kind. There is an inherent power imbalance which always makes it problematic. Gassho, Soen

  4. #4
    Senior Member Ronchan's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Thank you, Jundo, for this.
    It is not a well known subject in my part of the world, but, like Jennifer says: it's the reason for mistrust, getting cynical about these "leaders" etc.
    (tnx for the link, Jennifer. A lot of food for thought there). And it is not something new or something to act surprised about. History just keeps repeating itself.
    I must admit that it touches on reasons I had NOT to mention belonging to certain groups, clubs or of being a buddhist to anyone for years.

    I think you are right in suggesting a means to censure, it won't be before its time. But could this present AZTA body handle this?
    And would it be enough?
    Thanks for speaking out, Sensei,

    Gassho,
    Ronald.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I would like to reflect on the overall question of when Buddhist teachers act with human weakness, ugliness, seemingly against all that they stand for.
    Someone also made another similar topic over there, begging the question: "why are sometimes people in this high regard sometimes more easily able to do something that most normal people would never do?"

    However, there are plenty of "normal" people willing to do horrible things out there, so I think it might actually be a mute point...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    Today’s Sit-A-Long video follows at this link:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dww36pxwaHI[/video]]
    The "policing force" you talk about could simply be a bit more courage from the students?

  6. #6
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    It is not my place nor my intention to become entangled in discussion or even contemplation of the political and/or moral standings of the clergy of any religion. As a licensed funeral director for fifteen years, I witnessed some of the "human weakness, ugliness, seemingly against all that they stand for," of reverands from most denominations; the highly respected Anglican Minister who succumbed to a myocardial infarction in his mistress's boudoir, the Baptist Pastor who hung himself because, the Catholic Priest who ....... , etc., etc. ( We as funeral directors handle each case on its own merits, non-judgmentally and in strictest confidence.) I agree there is probably a need for more rigorous policing in all groups and I commend those that do but, how does that relate to us and our individual practice. How do we reconcile our own condition with respect to our relation to the precepts. Each of us has our own koan to grapple with do we not.

    Remember the Daruma's challenge?? "fall down seven, get up eight !"

    To my mind, Jundo's primary teaching for today is:

    "The Precepts are a guide for constant moment-to-moment practice in "not falling down". One cannot polish a tile into a Buddha ... but the constant polishing is Buddha."

    thank you for that,

    gassho,

  7. #7

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing" and similar phrases have been attributed to Edmund Burke.
    No matter who said it, I have seen it often enough in my life to agree with it whole-heartedly.
    Thank you for continuing to address this issue, Jundo.
    Gassho,
    Don

  8. #8

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Buddhist teachers are no golden blades of grass, there are no golden blades. Thus, when someone hurts then he's not having a clear view. As when we clearly see what is, we wont hurt. Even if it happens that we cut our finger with knife, we wont do that over and over again, but will improve our awareness and presence, so that it wont happen again. Punishing someone who had gone wrong is not hurting, but actually helping him (or her, you know that) to get back to the right path.
    _()_
    Peter

  9. #9

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Buddhist teachers are not free from all problems.(heck, I the Buddha had some issues that were kept out of the sutras) but as I see it when it comes to using your position as a teacher to your advantage in a negative way, well then whether you're a Roshi or just some guy on a zafu, it is unacceptable. Someone who does that should do some deep reflections. Teacher are not suppose to be perfect, but they should at least be aware of their shortcomings and have them under control to a reasonable degree.

    On a side note; I had visited his temple in NY a while back and it was beautiful! Eido was there when I visited but I never spoke to him. So when I heard about this i was saying to myself, "Woah, I actually know who this is about."

    Gassho

    Rafael

  10. #10

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Thank you for adding a voice to this Jundo.

    Gassho
    Shohei

  11. #11

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    This is a letter I just posted to the AZTA (American Zen Teachers Association). I am not a particularly senior or influential member there at all, so it will likely mean next to diddly squat. However, I am ashamed at myself for being silent too long. I am ashamed too that ... once again ... there seems to be a consensus gathering among many "teachers" to allow the Sangha involved to handle this internally, and work out some kind of "honorable departure" for Mr. Shimano.

    Rev. Kobutsu Malone told me about this case a couple of years ago. I stood silent, because it was "not my teacher, not my sangha, not my problem". However, now that the details are crystal clear ... on the wrongdoing and the years of cover-up ... no one can stand silent. Mr. Shimano must not be allowed an "honorable exit", the Sangha that covered this up for decades can not be allowed to handle it and "work it out".

    I am posting it here as the best place I can think of to say this. Shame on us if this is papered over again ...


    Dear All,

    I will briefly speak as a newer member of this organization, junior to many
    people here whom I respect whose opinions may differ. For the first time since
    joining this body, I am ashamed.

    This is not a normal case of a teacher who, perchance, had an affair with a
    student, or a drinking problem, or bought himself a BMW with Sangha funds, or
    other like personal or minor fault. Nor is it something that happened over the
    short term or recently.

    Instead, this is the story of a teacher who engaged in case upon case of serial
    sexual abuse for decades, all while his Sangha and students looked the other way
    and covered it up, all while many here knew yet chose to do nothing. I know that
    Mr. Shimano is too just a victim of greed and ignorance, the real culprits here.
    However, at the same time, a teacher of the Precepts who intentionally acts
    again and again, over decades, to harm the innocent, showing little if any
    remorse in case after case, repeating the harm over decades with no
    self-reflection ... is a kind of monster in our midst. Shame on us for not
    decrying this in the strongest terms, allowing any kind of "honorable exit".

    Thus the calls of "give them more time to work it out" are about 10 years too
    late. They have had years, and chance upon chance. To "give them more time" and
    allow a "graceful exit" for Mr. Shimano is not the right answer here. He must be
    condemned by all of us in the strongest and most unambiguous terms, we must deny
    him any respect (his years of service do not outweigh the damage done here), the
    members of this organization must denounce the years of cover up, we should
    publicly admit our own role in not doing enough. Moreover, we must now publicly
    turn our backs on Mr. Shimano. Furthermore, we must turn our backs on the ZSS
    ... treat them as persona non grata ... unless and until they exhibit real
    reforms.

    If it were a case in which such events had happened but once or twice, or nobody
    in the organization knew, or there had not been cover up after cover up for
    YEARS then my opinion would be different. However, this is our moral equivalent
    of the child abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. If we allow Mr.
    Shimano to make a graceful exit, if we allow things to be papered over again ...
    our own shame is compounded.

    Our students are watching. Right now, opinion I am hearing among people
    observing is that the "teachers of the Precepts" look like a bunch of hypocrites
    trying to protect their own.

    Shame on all of us.

    Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12
    Senior Member Ronchan's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Jundo,
    Thanks again for this.
    With you all the way, Sensei

    Gassho,
    Ronald.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Deleted.

    (Eh, I've said enough.)

  14. #14

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    To see evil and do nothing, through avoidance of effort to correct it, is truly relinquishing the Bodhisattva vow.
    Polishing a rock to make a mirror is not possible but each stroke is Buddha Activit truly applies here. No matter what the outcome of your efforts it is still the effort that matters. Thank you Jundo for your efforts. gassho zak

  15. #15
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Thanks to the links provided i've spent a good portion of the day reading the archives. All i can say is WOW! No shit?!? I think the matter is pretty clear-cut and simple. Boot the fuckhead.

  16. #16

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Shonin
    I think the matter is pretty clear-cut and simple. Boot the fuckhead.
    Well, that last part is just where Buddhist Practice comes into play.

    With Right Speech, and avoidness of angry words and feelings, with gentleness and non-violence (as much as possible), a firm hand and not a "boot" and a dirty name ... the situation is handled properly nonetheless.

    It is important to remember that, in this world, even the most hate-filled of us ... that fellow who slaughtered people in Arizona last week, the great demons of history ... are too just victims of greed, anger and ignorance. If they were not, they would not be as they are. We may still put the fellow in jail or even, when necessary, the police or soldiers may need to shoot the violent harm-doer to stop him in the middle of his actions ... people still bear responsibility for their volitional acts, and should not escape that ... but always seeing that the real enemy is not the person, but the devils of greed, anger and ignorance.

    So, I would avoid the "boot" and the "name calling" even if removing Mr. Shimano, helping the victims and punishing. The most appropriate punishment may be to allow the person to reflect on his actions, or to be placed in a situation whereby suffering is encountered for suffering done to others that encourages that self-reflection (such as causing a 'respected teacher' to suddenly be not respected or a teacher).

    The best way to celebrate Martin Luther King's Holiday (which was this week in the U.S.).

    Gassho, Jundo

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    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    I'm not saying he isn't worthy of compassion. But i feel the best thing to do is to remove him from the sangha and it's accompanying organizations. I am not familiar with him as I am not familiar with many of the well-known teachers.
    I can't dispute his undeerstanding of the Dharma whatsoever. But, it doesn't change the fact of what he did. I'm not completely dismissing him as an individual. But a douche deserving of our compassion is still a douche. And frankly, I would like to see some charges pressed. He does deserve to pay for his crimes. I mean this isn't a little ooops, it's a very very large one.

  18. #18

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Shonin
    I'm not saying he isn't worthy of compassion. But i feel the best thing to do is to remove him from the sangha and it's accompanying organizations. I am not familiar with him as I am not familiar with many of the well-known teachers.
    I can't dispute his undeerstanding of the Dharma whatsoever. But, it doesn't change the fact of what he did. I'm not completely dismissing him as an individual. But a douche deserving of our compassion is still a douche. And frankly, I would like to see some charges pressed. He does deserve to pay for his crimes. I mean this isn't a little ooops, it's a very very large one.
    I understand and agree on all points ... but hesitate to call someone a "douche" or a "fuckhead" ... even if their actions are such. Why bring more aggression, even a little through small words, into the world? Even the true monsters of this world should, like the lion with the thorn in the old fairy tales, be seen as victims of their suffering. We should try to remove the thorn, not call them a name.

    I know that we have had the discussion before about "that is just how folks talk" ... but still, we practice not doing what everyone does "just because everyone does it" sometimes.

    Gassho, J

  19. #19
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Well LOL, while i do feel i have become a bit nicer and LESS harsh in speaking. I do still have a potty mouth. That is a flaw i cannot contest.Not that i'm disagreeing with you on the topic. Just saying.

  20. #20

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Agreed, he should be punished and removed. But it Is also a reminder that just because someone has the title of Roshi doesn't mean they are freed from ego. It's sad that such things happen, but some people just can't control themselves. Doesn't excuse their actions, but it makes me think; "why would a teacher of the precepts do such a thing?" It's one thing to have a formal relationship with a student (which is troublesome too) but downright sexual abuse!
    Someone like him needs a lot more practice. Years and titles mean nothing! In fact those things can increase ego instead of getting rid of it. Shame~

    Gassho

    Seiryu

  21. #21
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Seiryu
    Agreed, he should be punished and removed. But it Is also a reminder that just because someone has the title of Roshi doesn't mean they are freed from ego. It's sad that such things happen, but some people just can't control themselves. Doesn't excuse their actions, but it makes me think; "why would a teacher of the precepts do such a thing?"
    I'll go you one better. It makes me think, "why would a sangha, a lot of teachers in the know, and a review board all ignore the problem for forty+ years?" Why were the people who tried to speak out about it over the years silenced? I agree; this man clearly can't control himself. But I am more angered . . . saddened . . . disgusted by the culture of complacency that continues to surround him.

  22. #22
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    Jennifer, but even stranger is the fact there were students over the years who left. But then actually came back. I am totally baffled by the whole situation.

  23. #23

    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    I found this quote today and I think this is a good place for it:

    "When teachers break the precepts,
    behaving in ways that are clearly damaging to themselves and others, students must face the situation,
    even though this can be challenging, criticize openly, that's the only way."
    His Holiness the Dalai Lama

    Gassho


    Seiryu

  24. #24
    Senior Member Shonin's Avatar
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    I think another thing that baffles me about this is also how some folks seem soo self important as to make demands as if they have some special status. Making one's opinion is known, sending letters telling them step by step what to do, i dunno about so much ( would of course depend on the individual). If victims were to demand, that is one thing. Peers such as other teachers ( like the Mighty Jundo here : ) ) are different. But some people just seem so full of themselves.

  25. #25
    Stephanie
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    Re: SIT-A-LONG with JUNDO: Eido's Shame ...

    I think there's a number of factors here.

    One, and perhaps the biggest one, is that things like this can go on as long as they do in "spiritual communities" because of idealism. What I mean by that is that the desire to believe in transcendence and enlightenment, the desire to believe that "my teacher" is a "great teacher," and any other number of dreams and wishes, get in the way of acknowledging even the most obvious imperfections in a teacher. To admit that your teacher is a sexual predator is to admit that a lot of what you believed in is false. This is very difficult.

    People claim to come to Zen wanting to let go of false beliefs, but most of us start out with a lot of beliefs we want to preserve and want to have validated for us. I personally don't think most people let themselves go all the way through the process of disillusionment. It is painful and disorienting. Most people are afraid to feel the things you first feel when you let go of your most cherished stories and beliefs, so instead of ever truly seeing this process through to an end, they go on placating themselves and others, pretending and constructing another fantasy world through their practice instead of using their practice as a means to tear down the fantasy world. The "spiritual circuit" is full of these types of people, whose desire to escape one thing or another about life is so profound that they check their reason and common sense at the door (and tell themselves that this makes them even more spiritual, because logic and common sense are so materialistic).

    Another thing is what we are on an animal level. Human beings have a primal need to develop a social hierarchy, and either submit to a leader or to become a leader. Dominance and submission are still huge parts of our social and sexual dynamics. Power is sexy. Women (and some men) are often turned on by someone they see as powerful, and men (and some women) are often turned on by someone they see as acknowledging and submitting to their power. People don't have to be into S&M for this to play into their sexual psychology. And this goes both ways. Someone in Eido Shimano's position suddenly finds all of these women who treat him like a demigod, and all of these old school dominance and submission dynamics play out. It's really not so surprising to me at all.

    What is more surprising, at first glance, is that people on the outside of these sexual cat and mouse games let them go on so long. But it all really boils down to no one wanting to give up their fantasies. The women who submitted to this treatment didn't want to let go of their fantasy of becoming enlightened, Eido didn't want to let go of the male fantasy of total sexual dominance, and the people in the community didn't want to let go of their fantasy of being the students of a "true teacher" or whatnot.

    In my opinion, at some point along our spiritual journeys, we have to let go of the fantasy that we will have some spiritual experience that will forever lift us out of the mud of the human realm. I've certainly satisfactorily concluded for myself that kensho or any other experience does not magically "reset" karma or psychological conditioning. I believe from what I've seen in others (I can't say for myself because I haven't had kensho) that it's possible to have a true experience of insight but still remain largely dark to yourself, and caught in self-deception. Experiences are just experiences and they come and go; unless we are in the midst of an experience of total insight right now, whatever true experience we had in the past is just a memory, and memories are largely constructions.

    One final thing I've observed, is that for all the virtues that are present to a large extent in members of the Zen community, I'd say courage is not one of the most strongly represented. I feel cynical about all of the Zen teachers who are now "speaking out" about Eido, now that he's already most of the way out and dealt with. It's like a self-congratulation party for having been too cowardly to address the issue when it would have really made a difference. And I'm not trying to be harsh on you, Jundo, I actually respect that you have put yourself out there and spoken out on things you believe in. It's just an overall impression of the larger Zen community that I'm getting.

    Something I have found very telling is how Zen teachers have reacted to the exposé of Barry Graham done by his students. Brad Warner, who has so "bravely" (:roll taken on Genpo Merzel, has refused to comment on the Graham situation, even though Brad would do much to set the record straight after recommending Graham as a Zen teacher to readers of his blog a couple of years ago. John Tarrant, when asked about Graham, said, "I know other Zen teachers who are crazier," and had not a single condemnatory thing to say. Graham's students have dug up a wealth of information on his harmful conduct but people who hear or read this information almost universally say it's not their business. No one wants to touch that situation with a ten foot pole, outside of Graham's former students. Even after one of Graham's ex-students who was brave enough to call him out publicly has suffered some backlash, no one wants to step up or step in for him. Even though for Zen teachers to come out and address this situation could help some people right now. Even while everyone is on a tear about this Shimano thing.

    Why? In my opinion, it's because Zen teachers, like most of us, are afraid of stirring up a hornet's nest. They're afraid of legal liability and backlash, they're afraid of doing things or making statements that could alienate themselves from the mainstream or get them in trouble. They want to cover their own asses. They don't want to get in the middle of "other people's problems" because then some of the fallout of those problems could fall on them. For all the imagery of Zen being a samurai religion full of hard-asses, I find that most folks in the Zen community are dainty, self-effacing, and avoid conflict. They're not going to go out and poke the bear in the face.

    Most of the social and political action I've seen Zen teachers get involved with has been mild and inoffensive. Zen teachers don't even want to take political positions at the risk of alienating students, even when there are a lot of political positions and views out there that are plainly harmful (how can a Zen teacher honestly say he or she is fighting the fight against hunger and poverty, but at the same time refuse to condemn conservative political positions based on denying social programs for the hungry and poor?). Just like Obama, it's like we all want to do something to make the world a better place, but nothing that actually matters that much or could actually change the status quo. Conflict is just too scary and messy. The legacy of the '60s has truly died in the mainstream Zen world.

    I personally don't have a lot of expectation when it comes to Zen teachers or other authority figures. I suspect that every Zen teacher that exists has at least one skeleton in his or her closet that would shock his or her students. I do believe that Zen Buddhism taking root in new places has the potential to make those places slightly better, but at the same time I don't believe Zen is going to save the world. I don't think that if everyone in the world sat zazen every day we would live in a Pure Land.

    All I expect of a Zen teacher is that he or she has some experience with this practice and this path, and with that experience, can offer some guidance and encouragement, can help point out to me where to look and what to look at when I'm wrestling with certain questions or issues. I don't think there's some special kind of enlightened being that I can get juju from. If I was working with some Zen teacher who told me that I could get enlightened faster by fucking him, I would know what was going on. Just normal human bullshit. That's all. Nothing special.

    I am grateful for the extended "dark night of the soul" I went through because I got rid of a lot of illusions, fast. Maybe too fast. I think this is a huge part of the spiritual journey, sorting through our fantasies and wishes and stories, seeing them for what they are, dropping them, letting them go, and then dropping them and letting them go again when they come back up. So the sad thing is that most of us start the spiritual journey naive and idealistic. There's a rainbow up there, man, and there's gold at the end of it. Shangri-la is out there, and when we meet people who seem to be on the same path we believe that these spiritual communities have created some sort of Shangri-la, and if we live in them all the messy parts of the world will stay on the other side of the monastery gate. We think everything has some ultimately cute conclusion, and that all those dark and scary things we hear about or maybe have experienced only happen in dark places, not this light-filled lotus palace where we have sought spiritual refuge. And so on.

    But then, one day, our pretty glittery unicorn gores us with its pretty glittery horn, and we have to make sense of it. Most of us don't want to, most of us want to retreat from one failed fantasy into another fantasy. It's not that there is no such thing as Shangri-la, we tell ourselves, it's just that we picked the wrong place. And so we go through the cycle again.

    And the only person who can stop that cycle is the person that is keeping it going with his or her thinking. But until we stop playing My Little Pony and pretending that a magic amulet will keep the Big Bad Wolf away, we'll continue to be impaled by the magical unicorn of Reality.

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