Readers may be familiar with Adam Tebbe, the senior editor at Sweeping Zen, which calls itself the ”Definitive Online Who’s Who of Zen.” The website aims to be a comprehensive archive of biographies of, interviews with, and teachings, videos, blogs and podcasts by Western Zen teachers from all the various and diverse lineages and traditions.
Adam Tebbe and Sweeping Zen are now under assault, and everyone in the Buddhist community needs to be aware of the situation.
Here’s the story.
A former student of Ken McLeod’s, a Canadian social worker with a Ph.D. in philosophy, alleges that an inappropriate romantic and sexual relationship developed between her and Ken McLeod [ref] Ken McLeod is not a Zen teacher. He trained extensively in a variety of Tibetan traditions and received authorization to teach from Kalu Rinpoche. Unfettered Mind is his own amalgam of Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada and Zen and not, to my knowledge, associated with any traditional lineage.[/ref] the principal teacher and executive director of Unfettered Mind, an affair which contributed to the eventual dissolution of her marriage. In August, 2012 the former student published a copy of a letter which she sent to Unfettered Mind Board Member Robert Conrad discussing Ken McLeod’s and Unfettered Mind’s alleged unresponsiveness to her grievance about the relationship. The former student also established a website devoted to reforming the grievance procedure at Unfettered Mind. She alleges that she is not the only one of Ken McLeod’s students to complain of an inappropriate relationship. In addition, one long-time member of the Unfettered Mind community has come forward to allege that he was present when Ken McLeod acknowledged that ”emotional entanglement and physical intimacies” had in fact occurred.
So far this is just the story of an allegation and a grievance. A sad set of circumstances, but a private matter that would not ordinarily be discussed in The Existential Buddhist.
How did Sweeping Zen get swept up into all of this?
In August 2012, Buddhist Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson, a Dharma heir in the Suzuki Roshi lineage and head teacher with the Central Valley Zen Foundation, posted an essay called Those Misbehaving Zen Monks in a Sweeping Zen hosted blog, a thoughtful and beautifully written essay which I whole-heartedly recommend to everyone. The article discusses misbehavior in Zen communities in general and concludes:
[quote style=”1″]Buddhism has a long history of authentic practice and a long history of corruption, child sexual abuse in monasteries, war-mongering, and personal financial gain through accumulation of sangha resources. Along with all the Buddhist saints, you can read about these behaviors in Japanese history (Zen at War by Brian Victoria, and Lust for Enlightenment by John Stevens). Through information, study and honest self-examination we may come out of our clouds and dreams about Zen practice, we may be more able to actually define, identify and establish a more wholesome and nourishing Western Zen.[/quote]
Her lengthy essay includes one sole sentence referring to Ken McLeod, to wit:
[quote style=”1″] Recent disclosures about the sexual misconduct of Ken McLeod at Unfettered Mind… and Fusho Al Rapaport[ref] Fusho Al Rapaport at Open Mind Zen owned up to the allegation against him and took appropriate responsibility for his actions.[/ref] of Open Mind Zen… point out how much help Buddhist teachers and their sanghas need to develop a wholesome practice in the West.”[/quote]
Should her article have included the word ”alleged” before the words ”sexual misconduct?” Prudence might have dictated it, but let’s move on.
As it turns out, Unfettered Mind Board Member Robert Conrad is also Ken McLeod’s personal attorney. He sent Adam Tebbe a letter stating:
[quote style=”1″]This office represents Ken McLeod. I understand that you are the registered owner of”¨the domain name and website www.sweepingzen.org. I am enclosing a copy of my”¨ letter dated September 7, 2012, to Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson regarding her”¨ libelous article posted on the sweepingzen.org website on August 24, 2012, of and”¨concerning Ken McLeod. I have not received any response from Abbess Schireson and”¨surmise that she has ignored my letter to her — a potentially very costly mistake.
Demand is hereby made that you at once issue an open apology to Mr. McLeod, a”¨retraction of all statements made about him and delete all references to Mr. McLeod “¨from the August 24, 2012 post by Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson….
Because the internet exists throughout the United States, the courts in Los Angeles,”¨California, have jurisdiction over you; should a lawsuit be filed, it will be filed here. I”¨ estimate that the legal cost of defending any libel action is likely to exceed $100,000, to “¨say nothing of the damages you and your organization may sustain…. [/quote]
So Ken McLeod’s attorney is threatening Adam Tebbe and Sweeping Zen with an expensive lawsuit.
I don’t know what happened or didn’t happen between Ken McLeod and his former student. If McLeod is guilty of violating his role as teacher he should man up, admit imperfection, apologize, and learn from his mistakes. (Why is it so hard for Buddhist teachers to do just this?[ref] See my previous post here.[/ref]) Regardless of the truth of the allegations, Unfettered Mind should establish an ethics code and a more transparent grievance procedure.
If McLeod is innocent of blame and responsibility, he should still call off his attack dog. In my opinion, threats and intimidation are no way for Buddhists to resolve their differences. Sweeping Zen is a great asset to the Buddhist community and Adam Tebbe labors tirelessly to bring important issues into the open for free and unfettered discussion. I suspect that Adam would happily allow Mr. McLeod to post his own open letter to Sweeping Zen explaining his position if Mr. McLeod wishes to do so.
There is a well known Zen story that provides some guidance on how to deal with false accusations of sexual misconduct. The story concerns the famous Japanese Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686 -1768)
[quote style=”1″]A girl’s family lived near Zen Master Hakuin. One day her parents discovered she was pregnant. The girl wouldn’t divulge the name of the father, but under duress finally blamed Hakuin. The parents accused Hakuin, who only replied “Is that so?”
Untroubled by the loss of his reputation, Hakuin raised the child himself. A year later the girl confessed that the real father was a young man in the village. The parents apologized to Hakuin, requesting the child back. Hakuin only replied “Is that so?” as he returned the child.[/quote]
Whatever the truth status of the former student’s allegations, threatening Sweeping Zen is an inappropriate action. Problems like these should be resolved through mediation if possible, and not by threats to third parties.
In the meantime, I encourage the Buddhist community to support Adam. Justin Whitaker has done a fine job reporting this story here and here in his American Buddhist Perspective. I hope we can continue to publicize this issue until Unfettered Mind realizes it is pursuing a counter-productive strategy. You can lend financial support to Sweeping Zen here.
Disclaimer: I have never met anyone associated with Unfettered Mind, have no special insight into what has occurred or not occurred there, and have never met Adam Tebbe in person. Adam and I are Facebook friends, however, and he has previously generously allowed me to republish one of his cartoons without compensation.
63 Replies to “Sweeping Zen Under Attack”
Wow! Where to start? First, the notion that Buddhism has “a long history of corruption, child sexual abuse in monasteries, war-mongering, and personal financial gain through accumulation of sangha resources” may be true but exaggerated. ZEN AT WAR, however, only deals with a few Soto priests’ support for Japanese adventurism and, on the other hand, mentions other priests’ courageous opposition to the perversion of Zen teachings by the former. As far as I know, the instances reported in that book are the only examples of significant support by Zen teachers for war-mongering in the history of Buddhism. As to LUST FOR ENLIGHTENMENT, I don’t remember reading anything in it about any of the recited vices. As I remember it (I read it a long time ago), this is a work about integrating the sexual drive into a quest for enlightenment and various sects and teachers that have sanctified instead of repressed sexual relations. If I’m wrong on either count, I’d like to know. Second, Mr. McCleod’s attorney’s threat of a lawsuit in an inconvenient forum on the basis of the reach of the Internet is questionable at best and possibly an ethical violation, because it may misrepresent the state of the law. Under most states’ “long arm statutes,” including California’s, personal jurisdiction over out of state defendants can only be obtained if it comports with fundamental constitutional requirements such as minimum contacts and purposeful availment of the laws of the forum state. It is not clear the posting of an article in a passive website would satisfy those requirements. There are ethical concerns as well regarding his reference to the costs of the anticipated litigation as a way to pressure the defendant into a settlement. Third, I agree that Schireson should have included the word “alleged” in her piece. Fourth, there is no mention of the misconduct being the result of non-consensual activities. Shouldn’t the “victims” consider their own role in the alleged misconduct? Finally, let’s keep in perspective that “sexual misconduct” resulting from abuse of a position of authority happens in all religious denominations and other spheres of society.
Amaury, I can’t comment on how much of Abbess Schireson’s essay is based on the two books mentioned in the quote and how much she drew upon other sources, using the two books as mere cases in point. One can certainly point to other examples of Buddhist complicity in war, for example, Sri Lanka being a more recent instance.
I don’t think that Abbess Schireson was suggesting that Buddhism’s negatives outweigh it’s positives — she begins that quote by referring to Buddhism’s “long history of authentic practice” — she was only pointing out a collective blind spot regarding Buddhism’s shadow side. It’s all too easy to project a purity onto Buddhism that’s not genuinely reflective of its historical actualization.
I gladly defer to you on all matters legal and thank you for generously providing your professional assessment of the complex legal issues involved in Robert Conrad’s threatened law suit.
I wasn’t attempting to judge either Ken McLeod or Patricia Ivan in terms of the relationship that is alleged to have developed between them. I have left out Patricia Ivan’s full account and encourage you to read it on your own if you are interested. If a relationship did in fact develop between them, they would of course both bear some degree of responsibility as they would both have been highly intelligent consenting adults. That being said, however, I strongly believe as a matter of general principle that whenever there are professional boundary violations, the professional bears most of the responsibility for what unfolds. That certainly is the case for therapist-client boundary violations. No matter how much a client may desire a romantic relationship, the therapist always bears full responsibility for maintaining therapeutic boundaries. Fairly or unfairly, I assume a similar ethical standard for Buddhist teachers. I have described my reasons for that in depth elsewhere.
As to your last point that sexual misconduct occurs in all religious denominations and all spheres of society, I whole-heartedly concur. I am not, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, “shocked, shocked!” that misconduct goes on in sanghas. I am perpetually saddened by it, however, and hope there is always something to be learned from it. Insult is always added to injury when violators fail to deal honestly and ethically with the aftermath of boundary violations. If that is in fact the case in this instance, then Unfettered Mind is compounding its error by attempting to silence third parties through intimidation.
Lastly, I think these scandals, beyond the injury to the parties directly concerned, bring dishonor to the Dharma, and most sadly, deter people from discovering the benefits of Buddhist practice.
Sweeping Zen is the tabloid paper of Internet Buddhism. Over a quarter of its content (and most of the stuff written by Adam) is focused on scandals. That is what people go to that site to read. I’m not surprised that McLeod took exception to allegations being treated as fact and spoken of in the same sentence as Eido Shimano’s predatory attacks on women. I would too.
Sweeping Zen doesn’t need our support. It needs to learn Journalism 101 and how journalistic ethics work.
Dear Anonymous, I am sorry you don’t find the same value in Sweeping Zen that I do.
Actually, Abbess Schiereson does not mention Ken McLeod in the same sentence with Eido Shimano Roshi. She mentions him in the same sentence with Fusho Al Rapaport who does not have a history of predatory attacks on women, and who, as I indicated in the footnote, has dealt wisely and honorably with the scandal in his sangha. Please read more carefully.
Scandals hardly make up 25% of Sweeping Zen’s content. Most of it consists of bios of, interviews with, and blogs by distinguished teachers. But Zen (and other schools of Buddhism) must address its scandals — just as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America must fully address theirs — and Adam does Zen and all of Buddhism a service of bringing them to the light of day.
Actually, I was counting blog posts and if you count to the beginning of June (as far back as I went), scandals are 25% of the content.
Oh. Is 25% too many?
It is unless you think that 25% of what is interesting in Zen is scandals by three or four people (one of them not even a Zen practitioner!).
It just seems to be an unusually heavy emphasis (and the majority of what Adam Tebbe personally writes about).
Not to mention that he’s now being threatened with libel since it isn’t clear how much weight there is on the Ken McLeod thing. Maybe they’re trying to shut him up or…maybe there isn’t a lot there and they don’t like his name being libeled without proof.
Anonymous — While Adam’s recent posts might focus on a small handful of recent scandals, the problem of scandalous behavior within sanghas runs broad and deep. The number of well-known teachers who have injured their own reputations and legacy and the reputation of the Dharma as well is disheartening. These scandals raise important questions: What does it mean to receive inka or authorization? What does intense practice and progression along the path mean if the exemplars of awakening behave so poorly? In my own lineage, what does it mean that Maezumi Roshi was an alcoholic and involved in sexual misconduct, and that some of his Dharma heirs have been involved in scandal as well? What does it mean that Alan Watts and Trungpa Rinpoche were alcoholics? What does it mean that Sogyal Rinpoche and Seung Sahn and Eido Shimano Roshi and Richard Baker Roshi (and do I need to go on? — we don’t have all day) were involved in sexual misconduct? This is not a minor problem. It’s a persistent problem that just doesn’t go away, and which jeopardizes the transmission of the Dharma to the West. Western Dharmic institutions need to incorporate codes of ethics and grievance procedures into their structure — and we need Adam Tebbe and all the rest of us to devote sincere attention to this issue on an ongoing basis. Sunlight and disinfectant are the only way to go.
I don’t think we need muckrakers. We may need actual journalists without an axe to grind.
As to the sexual problems (or alcohol, etc.) of teachers…well, doesn’t this happen because we think that they are somehow magical and not just men and women like anyone else? Quit acting like they are the Buddha any more than the rest of us. We have shit to work through until the day we die.
Anonymous, here’s the rub. Of course Buddhist teachers are imperfect human beings like you and I (although different traditions idealize them to differing extents). But if Buddhism is the art of living with awareness and compassion, and if teachers are behaving no better (or even worse than) we do, why on earth would be want them for teachers? What recovering alcoholic wants an active drinker for his counselor? What therapy patient wants a raving lunatic for a therapist? Our teachers should be able to exhibit some expertise in living well — awareness, heedfulness, equanimity, compassion, a minimal degree of egotism — not perfection — but more than the av-er-age bear, as Yogi might say. If not, they shouldn’t be authorized to teach. The shame is that once someone has received authorization as a teacher, he/she has it for life, no matter how little realization is evident in his/her behavior. Part of the problem is the Buddhist tenet that states like stream-entry or arhatship are permanent states — once one has achieved them there can be no backsliding. Would that were true.
I am lucky in my own regard in that over the years I have sought out and studied with several teachers whose behavior does reflect an authentic degree of realization. I have met some extraordinary teachers in my life. While I have never met a perfectly Enlightened Buddha, I have met some genuine near-saints. I guess, not all teachers are “ordinary” in exactly the same way you and I are. If they were, the idea of progress on the path would be utterly meaningless.
I think you are glossing over one important part of the story: that McLeod’s lawyer wrote to Abbess Myoan Grace Schireson, and she ignored the letter. If she had responded, the lawyer would have had no reason to contact Adam Tebbe or Sweeping Zen.
I assume that Adam and Sweeping Zen are now putting pressure on her to respond, which was most likely the desired outcome.
Her article may (or may not) have been libelous; ignoring a letter from the lawyer of the aggrieved party is just plain dumb.
Make no such assumption. I’m fairly sure that Adam is putting exactly zero percent pressure on the Abbess. I also suspect that Adam is one of those people who doesn’t like it when a bully kicks sand in his face. He doesn’t think that knuckling under and allowing himself to be pushed around is the right and proper response to the situation. “Dumb?” Maybe. But just maybe he has already consulted with his lawyers, assessed the odds, and decided to be courageous.
If the Abbess would just go back to her post and insert the word ”alleged” then likely she and Adam would be protected. It’s the right thing to do in any case, as it is only alleged at this point.
The statement in its present form, though, hardly seems worth such an overreaction on the part of the attorney. It’s the sort of thing that causes one to raise an eyebrow and wonder if those surrounding the so-called accused party might find their time spent better by explaining their side of the story.
But, as Yogi (not the bear, the other one) noted, even Napoleon had his Watergate.
David, we agree that the word “alleged” has magical prophylactic properties. I’m mainly interested in Unfettered Mind’s unseemly resort to threat and intimidation, however. As you suggest, it “raises an eyebrow.”
Which brings us to the Blue Cliff Record Case #8:
“At the end of the summer retreat Ts’ui Yen said to the community, ‘All summer long I’ve been talking to you brothers; look and see if my eyebrows are still there.’
Pao Fu said, ‘The thief’s heart is cowardly.’
Ch’ang Ch’ing said, ‘Grown.’
Yun Men said, ‘A barrier.'”
My eyebrows are still there, but one is definitely raised. Perhaps two.
It’s quite good that you raise the issue of Sweeping Zen’s approach to illuminating some of the harmful and scandalous behavior that has occurred, and is occurring, in Western sanghas. I wrote Adam separately congratulating him on his journalism and suggested that he is right to reveal some of the already well documented histories of sexual and/or financial abuse in sanghas. I feel myself very fortunate to have found the dhamma/dharma, and feel fortunate to be able to study the Buddha Way in the company of some very ethical and knowledgeable teachers and members of sangha, both here in the West and in Asia. The Buddhadharma really is too precious and valuable a medicine for our disordered society to allow the erosion of Buddhism to occur through predatory or inappropriate behavior. To the extent that Adam and others illuminate the negative, we then have the opportunity to preserve the positive, for the benefit of ourselves and others. Yes, there’s been terrible abuse in the catholic church and in other religions and organizations…as Buddhists, we really need to set a higher bar, to exemplify a higher standard. Adam’s journalism helps in the this effort in a very direct way.
Thanks, Michael, for your supportive comments, and for drawing my attention to your fine blog, Buddha Soup. May we, and all beings, continue to derive benefit from the Dharma.
My blog….not so good. I derive most of its content from the good work of others….I suggest that I’m just the hapless inexperienced cook in the kitchen, thankful for all of the beautiful ingredients found in the Sanghagarden 🙂
One small comments as well regarding McLeod’s lawyer’s letter to Sweeping Zen. As pointed out earlier, the reach of the internet does not confer personal and subject matter jurisdiction over a party wherever the internet might go….there’s a line of cases that describe how jurisdiction is obtained over a party. It’s a subject taught in the 1st year of law school. Mr. McLeod’s lawyer either does not understand the law of personal and subject matter jurisdiction, minimum contacts, etc., , or does understand it, and made a threat to Adam knowing the statement to be untrue. I see this kind of stuff all the time, but would have thought K McLeod would have been above making these kinds of attacks through his lawyer. Maybe Trungpa should have sued the jokeshop owner for getting in the way of his car….
Your legal comments appear to be in line with Amaury Cruz’s observations in an earlier comment to this post. Thanks for reinforcing the impression that Attorney Conrad’s letter is probably more a blunt instrument of intimidation than the genuine basis for a winnable suit.
As a Buddhist attorney, can you meet with Trungpa in the Sambhogakaya realm to discuss a potential lawsuit, or is that beyond the purview of Scottish jurisprudence?
Wow, I will do some research on Scottish tort law, and advise. Trungpa is a difficult client, I have to say. I get frisked by the Vajra Guards every time I meet with him. 🙂
Dr. Segall, my last post, I promise, as I’m clogging up your wonderful blog with my stuff….a post from an interview with Thanissaro Bhikkhu that I feel has relevance to our discussion:
Question: Are there any other questions from the suttas that strike you as particularly relevant to the American dharma scene?
“Two jump immediately to mind. One has to do with evaluating teachers. The suttas recommend that a student look carefully at a person’s whole life before accepting him or her as a teacher: Does this person embody the precepts? Can you detect any overt passion, aversion, or delusion in what this person says or does? Only if someone can pass these tests should you accept him or her as a teacher.
This calls into question an attitude that’s becoming increasingly prevalent here in the US. A teacher once said, not too long ago, ”As long as a teacher points at the truth with one hand, it doesn’t matter what he or she does with the other hand.” Now, is the dharma something you can point to with only one hand? Can the other hand ever really be invisible? There’s a real drive at the moment to turn out teachers to fill the demand for retreat leaders, but if they feel they can afford a one-handed attitude, we’ll end up with teachers who are little more than mindfulness technicians or yogi-herders: people whose job is to get students safely through the retreat experience, but whose personal life may be teaching an entirely separate lesson. Is that what we want?
If it is, we are setting people up for trouble. So far the mindfulness community has avoided many of the scandals that have ravaged other American Buddhist communities, largely because it hasn’t been a community. It’s more a far-flung network of retreat clientele. The teachers’ personal lives haven’t had that much direct bearing on the lives of the students. But now local communities are beginning to develop, where students and teachers have close, long-term contact with one another. Can we imagine that what each teacher does with that other hand is not going to have an impact on the students’ lives and their respect for the dharma? If we don’t start now to rely more on the suttas’ method for evaluating teachers, we’ll have to start reinventing the dharma wheel after people get hurt, which would be a great shame.”
One-Hundred Percent Agreed. Clog up this discussion all you want.
I think your comment inspires a koan: “What is the sound of one hand pointing?” Whatever the sound is, its not very pretty.
It is heartening to see someone like Michael (of Buddha Soup) say that as Buddhists we need to ”set a higher bar, to exemplify a higher standard.” This is something I have always maintained, even though some folks have suggested I am naÁ¯ve and too idealistic for holding such a view. Obviously, I don’t agree.
But what I do think is somewhat naÁ¯ve is the idea that we can ever rid Buddha-dharma of ”scandals.” They are going to crop up from time to time. We can only do our best to minimize those occurrences. The Dalai Lama has said much the same thing as Thanissaro Bhikkhu: ”It is very important when you relate to someone who is a dharma-teacher to use your critical faculty to subject that person to close scrutiny, so that you are aware that if not all the qualifications that are commented on in the scriptures are not found in that person, at least most of them are found in that individual.”
While I believe that ”students” bear a large responsibility for the choices they make and for allowing themselves to be abused or manipulated by ”teachers,” implicit within the Dalai Lama’s comment is that you are never going to find a teacher who is perfect. There is some potential for misbehavior within everyone. Prior to this recent allegation, if someone were to scrutinize the subject of the allegation, they would be hard pressed to find any red flags.
Another factor to take in consideration is that not all teachers operate within the ”official sangha,” some are in so-called private practice. Some therefore may reject the sutra’s authority and that ”method for evaluating teachers.” Anyway, suffice to say that it’s a complicated problem and there’s no easy solution.
But a huge part of the problem is our overall attitude. Sure, it’s nice to make some jokes about Trungpa on one hand. But on the other, he was a sick disgusting individual, and absolutely the worst role model for teachers ever. The fact that he is still put on a pedestal by many people and the organization that carries on in his ”spirit” has so much influence in the Buddhist world today is very troubling to me. When we change our attitude toward the role of Buddhist leaders and stop feeding their egos with our excessive admiration, this will go a long way in solving the problem. They’re just people, and as far as I’m concerned they have one mission, to serve other people.
Excuse me for taking up so much space.
David, take as much space as you like. According to the Blogisattva Vows “Cyberspace is boundless, we vow to fill it all.”
Thanks for your comments on the perennial nature of teacher misconduct and on the imperfection of all teachers, with which I fully agree. I also concur with your belief that a permissive attitude toward scandalous behavior is part of the problem.
With regards to Trungpa in particular, I’m not sufficiently knowledgable about either his flaws or his accomplishments to pass an overall judgment. I’m aware of some of his flaws (e.g., his alcoholism and his appalling treatment of the poet W.S. Merwin and his wife) but also aware of some accomplishments (e.g, his fine disciple Ani Pema Chodron). I leave a full evaluation of his legacy to those who are better informed than I am, but your input here is welcome.
I often find myself in a battle between equanimity and curmudgeonliness. Sometimes one wins, sometimes it’s the other. When it comes to Trungpa, I have never been able to get that story about Merwin out of my head. But you do have a point, some of his disciples have turned out to be good dharma teachers. Unfortunately, I have also had some unpleasant experiences with some of his later, lesser disciples.
Deep bows to you Seth! I admire your equanimity on this blog. This is a matter that matters. Too few are willing to acknowledge the “one-handedness” that is an assault on the gifts of the dharma. Job well done!
Gassho, Fearless Leader! (Russ is the organizer/director of White Plains Zen. Russ is a student of Robert Kennedy Roshi, and while not an authorized teacher — White Plains Zen has visiting teachers who cycle through on alternating weeks — his constancy, commitment, and heart set a high bar for others.)
David, I joked a bit about Trungpa if only to avoid crying while thinking about his sordid history; the abuses, the violence, and the harm caused by his so-called “Regent”…I looked again a quote from ‘Stripping the Gurus’ by Geoffrey D. Falk:
“To this day, Trungpa is still widely regarded as being ”one of the four foremost popularizers of Eastern spirituality” in the West in the twentieth century… Others such as the Buddhist scholar Kenneth Rexroth (in Miles, 1989), though, have offered a less complimentary perspective: ”Many believe ChÁ¶gyam Trungpa has unquestionably done more harm to Buddhism in the United States than any man living.”
David, an excellent and beautifully written blog you have, by the way. I feel grateful for having met both you and Dr. Segall today (in the blogosphere), through Existential Buddhist. The Buddhadharma is quite a bit healthier thanks to both of you and your blog journals.
Well, thanks Michael for your kind words. It’s a pleasure meeting you, too.
I have been following this lively and intelligent discussion with great interest, and am very thankful to Mr. Segall for his thoughtful article and for the great care with which he has moderated comments.
I was planning to remain silent (actually I do not have much to add to what has already been said) but I thought that, if David is not aware of it already, he might be interested in reading Christopher Hammacher’s excellent paper “Zen has no Morals” that can be downloaded from The Buddhist Channel (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=70,10983,0,0,1,0)
In his comment of October 12, David says, “Prior to this recent allegation, if someone were to scrutinize the subject of the allegation, they would be hard pressed to find any red flags.”
According to Hammacher, some red flags that students should pay more attention to are the teacher’s tendency to:
– become angry and/or defensive when confronted with criticism
– have a penchant for formality or extravagance
– blame the student’s own ego to deflect personal criticism
– not practice what he preaches (is a hypocrite)
– manipulate the group to adopt an us/them attitude
– control the flow of information to students, with teachings emphasizing self-published works
– consider himself special or exceptional (the rules do not apply to him)
– adopt a non-democratic method of institutional control
The potential for harm is not that students idealize their teachers or that they are “allowing themselves to be abused or manipulated”. It is that they they do not see these red flags! Moreover, these red flags are not signs that indicate some general imperfection in the teacher’s personality that make him human just like everyone else, which is what David seems to be saying. They are more specifically signs that a teacher is misusing his power and authority.
Therein lies the real potential for harm.
I guess the statement of mine you quoted was a bit muddled. What I was referring to was the process of finding a teacher. People should do some investigation before they choose one. So, if someone were to search the Internet, for instance, in regards to the teacher in question here, even now, with the exception of discussions around your situation, you’re not likely to find anything negative. I know, because I looked. Hammacher’s red flags are good, but these are things that would not become apparent until after someone has chosen a particular teacher.
I still feel that responsibility has to be shared by both students and teachers. And, it seems to me that allowing oneself to be abused or manipulated and not seeing the red flags go hand in hand. Adoration heaped onto a teacher can be so great that students often are blind to the red flags.
Again, sorry I did not make myself clearer in my comment, and thanks for sharing Hammacher’s info with us.
Welcome, Patricia! I think Hamacher’s article on Klaus Zernickow and Eido Shimano is a must-read, and think Hamacher’s list of “red flags” for recognizing cults of personality and potentially abusive student-teacher relationships is an excellent one.
I think it’s unfortunate, however, that he titled his article (provocatively, I assume) “No Morals in Zen.” While there are some historical, ideological, and institutional features within Zen that can foster safe-harbors for cults, and while I have pointed out elsewhere the lack of ethical theorizing within Buddhism in general, it simply is not true that Zen has no morals. Taking on the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts is the first step (jukai) in Zen and remains the foundation for everything that follows. Zen, like the rest of Buddhism, teaches that “sila” (ethical conduct) is one third of the Noble Eightfold Path. One could reasonably argue that the grave precepts are both non-exhaustive and vague, and that several of them (# 6,7, & 10) can be twisted to justify the stifling of critical inquiry into abuse, but nevertheless, Zen has an ethical core. It’s too bad that some teachers over-emphasize direct realization through zazen and the non-duality teachings and underemphasize the importance of ethics in the relative world, but I see that as an unfortunate distortion of Zen, not Zen’s essential nature.
I’m glad you liked my paper, and thanks for an interesting conversation here overall, which Patricia Ivan pointed me to. I’ll just mention that the title of my paper was indeed meant provocatively, which in retrospect probably wasn’t the best decision! But what I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to make clear though, is that regardless whether Zen really “has” morals or not, certain teachers obviously can get away with painting almost any kind of abuse as enlightened behaviour. So there is a problem to be addressed; whether it can be solved with more teaching on morality, I don’t know. I do know that once a cultic situation comes into being, no amount of intelligent reasoning will convince the student that what her teacher is doing is morally wrong.
Thanks for dropping into the conversation.
I agree with your central point. Stressing the moral component of Zen will no more eliminate cults and abuses than teaching business ethics will prevent illegal business practices. I spent sufficient time as a clinician in a previous lifetime to appreciate how deeply “thought reform” distorts judgment in cults and total institutions where power differentials, the control of information flow, group think, bonds of attachment, and cognitive dissonance interact to impair one’s ability to see things for what they are.
As there is no central authority in Zen (or in Buddhism for that matter) and as religions with central authorities, like the Catholic Church, often fair no better, I’m not sure what the solution is, other than for like-minded persons to address these issues as they continue to arise and publicize them. I’m heartened when Zen teachers join together to issue public letters, as happened in the Genpo Merzel affair, but this happens all too rarely, and there are too many otherwise excellent teachers and roshis who are hesitant to sign on for various reasons (not knowing all the facts, personal connections to the accused, not wanting to cast stones, etc.). I would love to see an inter-tradition Mahasangha task-force develop public guidelines, but Mahasangha gatherings are rare and not entirely uncontroversial, as issues always arise as to who gets invited and who gets left out (e.g., this past year’s conference at the Garrison Institute as a case in point). It’s hard to see that happening today, but it’s something to dream of, hope for, and work towards in the future.
I should point out that there was a public statement issued in 1993 in Dharamsala after a meeting between the Dalai Lama and twenty-two Western dharma teachers. The statement read:
The signers included Ajahn Amaro, Jack Kornfield, Martine and Stephen Batchelor, Lama Surya Das, Robert Thurman, and Junpo Sensei.
The statement was a good start, but nearly 20 years have gone by without further action.
In the meantime, I refer readers to Rudy Harderwijk’s View on Buddhism site which maintains a list of controversial and questionable Buddhist teachers and organizations.
Regarding the 1993 Dharamsala Open Letter that you quote, I thought you might be interested to know that Stephen Batchelor, one of the signatories, recently wrote an essay on sexual conduct for Sweeping Zen in which he addresses what he calls ” the bigger picture”.
His essay confirms your conclusion above, namely: “The statement was a good start, but nearly 20 years have gone by without further action.”
I have addressed his inaction in my Open response to his letter.
Thanks, Patricia, for informing readers of both Stephen’s article and your response. Despite the disagreements between you, I thought there was merit in both. I think Stephen is right to say that there are elements in the Buddhist tradition that enable, facilitate, foster, and legitimate misconduct and abuse, and I think you are right in saying that these elements are not the root cause of misconduct and do not shift responsibility away from the perpetrator. We know, for example, that abuse is most common in situations where power differentials exist, whether clergy and laity, prisoner and guard, teacher and student, doctor and patient, and so on. The closer an arrangement is to a “total institution” the more rife the abuse. You are also right in pointing out that abuse can be just as common in more secularized or less traditional and hierarchical communities, and that the narcissist – sycophant dynamic is of crucial importantance. I also appreciate how sensitive you must be to anything that appears to shift responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim, or that might delegitimize reports of abuse, but I think Stephen’s story of false allegations against the Buddha did make two legitimate points — first, that the problem of scandals within Sanghas in not a new one that is somehow just the product of modernity or our fallen state, and second, that false accusations do, alas, sometimes occur, and that we are never relieved of the necessity of sifting through claims and counterclaims to arrive at our best approximation of truth. (I had quoted a story about a false accusation against Hakuin in my own essay.) I mention this not to discredit any of the current claims against teachers, but just as a general statement of caution — in my own practice of psychology I came across a small number of deluded or malicious clients who made false claims of all sorts, including claims about medical ailments, sexual abuse, torture, and murder. The vast majority of abuse reports were authentic — but false accusations also did occur. Lastly, I appreciate your own sense of disappointment that Stephen did not assist you in your own case. I won’t judge Stephen’s action or inaction in this instance — I don’t know Stephen personally and have no idea what the particular factors were that disinclined him to act — we all receive requests all the time to be of help, some of which we honor and some of which we do not — but I agree that our ethics obligate us, wherever possible, to help in specific instances were we can be of benefit, and that we not restrict ourselves to general statements of principle.
“I’m heartened when Zen teachers join together to issue public letters, as happened in the Genpo Merzel affair…”
And yet some of those teachers knew about other abuses, not just the sexual ones, by Merzel for years and said nothing. Add to that that nothing else has been done, no follow up of any real sort, no help for former students abused in any way by Merzel, just some words and hypocritical ones at that. One of the teachers who signed that letter herself had affairs with both Merzel and Maezumi. White Plum should be disbanded and the Zen teachers Association with them.
Genryu, I have no argument with you about the fact that many sanghas have been silent far too long about abuses that have occurred within their extended boundaries. This has been true for the White Plum as well as Dai Bosatsu Zendo and Rinzai-ji, and is probably true for many other sanghas where abuse occurred as well. What responsibility various White Plum Asanga communities and teachers have for abuses that occurred by other teachers within the loosely affiliated organization is an interesting question worth exploring, as well as what responsibilities they now have to make injured parties whole. On the other hand, I don’t agree with you that the sangha should disband. Part of that is probably due to the fact that I currently practice within a sangha affiliated with White Plum. I have nothing but respect for the teachers I meet on a regular basis. There are many fine teachers who practice under that umbrella. White Plum undoubtedly needs to undergo a period of self-reflection and acknowledgment of its collective failures, but suggesting it disband is a little like saying the United States should dissolve because of its history with slavery and Native American genocide. Disbanding accomplishes nothing. Recognition of the true legacy we are left with, for good and evil, taking responsibility for our own acts of commission and omission, making amends, and vowing to learn the lessons of the past is what is required.
I think I hear what you are saying, and I believe you are pointing to some very important issues. You seem to be saying that an abusive situation is co-created by the teacher and student, with the student’s adoration being the source of its potential for abuse. I disagree.
There is a power differential inherent in the teacher-student relationship by virtue of the role each plays. The potential for abuse is built into that differential. Adoration is not necessary for abuse to occur. Many students approach their teacher without adoration and think, as you and I do, that “he’s only human”, but they still miss the signs of an abusive teacher, and they can still be abused.
While I think that any power differential is co-created, and that the potential for abuse arises from that differential, the abuse itself is not co-created. It is done by one person to another.
What a bunch of Zen clowns! Zennies: throw that bullshit away finally, will ya?. But, I have to admit, I will miss your absurdist brand of theater–or is it theater of cruelty?–either way, I’ll miss it!
Vai niin. Is that so?
What is one to do with: From the First Not One Thing Is?
It’s not a koan as far as I know.
What happened with celibacy? Another conundrum could not figure out so, what the hell…
Who cut the cat in two?
@Zendemented — HyvÁ¤Á¤ pÁ¤ivÁ¤Á¤! It was either Nansen or Schrodinger who cut the cat in two… I can’t quite determine which. I’m also not quite sure what the point of your post is… welcome in any case.
A nice article, but sorry to say Sweeping Zen is so far off base from Zen Buddhist practices, principles…Adam Tebbe is documented as using, threatening to reveal, projects and accuses people as this and that person, and further publishes personal emails, real names etc of people who he feels disagrees with him as a sort of weird defence mechanism. He censors comments not complimentary to him, is paranoid, has compromised confidentiality, thinks of himself varyingly as victim and role model, and is a threat and offense to those views he dislikes. SZ is the farthest of what a newspaper or objective resource is: it is a blog manned by a guy who seems to report on Buddhist related matters, but does not practice himself. Dangerous and sad really. Sure some people like that, but that is like getting news of a break up on News of the World, when you buy into buzzes like that, all manner of other problems can start.
@Krill– obviously we have very different perspectives on Sweeping Zen. I read it often and find a great deal of useful and interesting material on it. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste, but that’s what makes horse races. More importantly, I think Adam is doing Zen (and Buddhism) a great service by dealing frankly and openly with issues pertaining to teacher misconduct and abuse. He is an imperfect human being, like all of us, but he takes an awful lot of flak for the thankless and Herculean task of helping to clean out the Augean Stables. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. I give him kudos and credit for being willing to make himself the target of all that criticism from those who justify and rationalize abuse. Does being the object of all that vindictiveness make him cranky at times? You bet. But I’m not sure any of us could handle that job with a greater degree of equanimity. It’s not easy being in the line of fire day in and day out.
Thanks for visiting this site and offering your opinion!
Okay so what personal emails have I published, to start? I did publish an email Brad Warner sent me after he had published an email between us. It was merely a way to offer the end of that exchange. But, where else have I published a private email between myself and someone else?
You say I publish the real names of critics. Actually, the person in question who posts as stonemirror who now admins Brad’s blog was posting under his pseudonym at my website while linking to his personal website, where he reveals his name and other details. Yes, I called him out for referring to me as Nam Cheon’s cat and stating I am the sacrifice. Nam Cheon’s cat, as you know, was knifed in two. At that time he and others have stated that I began referring to him as someone named James, someone people have claimed was not a part of the conversation. Actually, James and I have a history between one another and was liking everything stonemirror was posting publicly as himself on Facebook.
I’ve published plenty of comments that aren’t complimentary to me or my website. If you’d like some examples, I’ll be happy to provide them for you. Stonemirror was censored because I took his words as a very real threat, veiled in koan language notwithstanding. I knew what it was and so did he.
Also, provide an example of compromising confidentiality. Please put a name to it rather than making aspersions which carry zero weight.
Lastly, what exactly do you know about my practice and why are you commenting on it? Do we know each other? Have you ever sat with me? You’ve made a lot of allegations here and say I’m scandalizing things, so I’m giving you a challenge. Provide examples, please.
my problem with internet and blogs is choosing to give time to them or not.
then to learn what I am avoiding.
Watch what you put into your holes (eyes, ears, mouth, all orifices)
and you will become holy.
my practice is to observe my choices.
@Shin-nen– Guarding the sense doors and being mindful of how one spend’s one’s time are both crucial aspects of the path. Internet browsing can easily become excessive/addictive, both for browsers and bloggers, and one needs to use discretion as to how much time on line is time well spent, which sites contribute to one’s practice, and which only serve as distractions. Best wishes, and good luck to you on your own path!
my problem with internet blogs is why i choose to allow them to involve me. what am i avoiding with such ‘entertainment’?
watch what you put into your holes ( eyes, ears, all orifices)
and you’ll become holy.
my constant practice is to be aware of, observe my choices.
As a Zen student of over 30 years initially i was quite interested in reading Sweeping Zen …the power differential and it’s abuse is indeed compelling and transcends Zen and infects every human dynamic. However the SZ page has devolved into as someone mentioned above a ‘tabloid’, after reading it for the last time i had a sincere desire to shower ! What’s more one of the ‘committee’ chosen to review the tawdry situation at Mt. Baldy was herself previously involved in a sexual affair with her teacher ( though both were married) ! Hypocrisy is as epidemic as sexual misconduct ….this tells me to stay away from hierarchy of ANY kind …or as Van Morrison put it so well …no guru, no method, no teacher, just you and I in nature , in the garden, wet with rain.
@Johnny — If you need to take a shower, by all means do so. I continue to think well of Sweeping Zen, and have the highest regard for everyone on the “committee.” I also would be careful about taking Van Morrison’s advice too seriously. My own personal experience with Buddhist teachers, so far, Zen and otherwise, has been quite good. As the Buddha told Ananda, good spiritual friendship along the path is more than half the holy life.
Nothing in existence is pure. Nature, red in tooth and claw, overflowing with an abundance of poison ivy, tornados, earthquakes, floods, and, at least nowadays, polluted streams and acid rain, is no purer guide than our imperfect Buddhist teachers. Dealing skillfully with ambiguity, complexity, and impurity is all part of the path. I find being part of an organized sangha has always been helpful to my own personal practice. I would recommend not giving up on it, but finding a way to be in relationship with it that does not undercut your own judgment and integrity.
I think Sweeping Zen performs a useful service. There is no other Zen publication out there, that I am aware of, that continually reminds us of our flaws as well as our strengths. We need that. Desperately.
Thank you for an excellent and objective piece, Seth. Have you seen the Facebook page “Sweeping Zen Watch”
Thanks, Carolyn. I wasn’t aware of the Facebook page until you drew it to my attention. It lists itself as a “personal blog,” but the person behind it chooses to hide behind anonymity. So much for courage and integrity.
Actually I think you might find Sweeping Zen Watch rather.. illuminating
Rainbow, I’ve commented on the “Sweeping Zen Watch” Facebook page before. I’m afraid I don’t find it very illuminating. It seems to be a personal vendetta animated by spite and written by someone who hides his or her identity behind a cloak of anonymity. I continue to support Adam and the fine work he does on Sweeping Zen.
The blog and the Facebook page of the same name (Sweeping Zen Watch – SZW) are dedicated to the presentation of Sweeping Zen records. As there are efforts to censor and delete uncomplimentary comments, it is important that these resources are available to the general public. For example, at the time of re-publication of the Facebook page in 2014, Tricycle deleted the post of psybercop from its webpage at request.
Fortunately, it was reproduced and archived on the Facebook record before deletion.
There is no editing, incitation or prior discussion of any of the records. They are only retrieved, collated and presented in a single spot (or two in this case). It is not a vendetta, it is a clarification of biases. Thank you.
Dear SZW – you must realize from the editorial policy on this blog that I approve of the idea of blog owners upholding their responsibility to curate their sites and redact or remove readers comments that are scurrilous, slanderous, ad hominem, or otherwise offensive. I think of my blog as an exercise in right speech, not free-for-all speech, and find unmoderated comments sections on other blogs to be a waste of time. I know others hold other opinions and preferences, but I can hardly hold it against Adam for following my own advice.
Very fair, Seth. Best to you
If you saw the tactics Adam Tebbe has used in this instance, I am not sure you would remain so proud. I won’t get into it, but it is not pretty. He has his own life lessons to grow into, but so be it. I won’t be back but please do be careful for anyone who wishes to record or make known criticisms of Sweeping Zen/Tebbe. People should know that.
@Sweeping Zen Watch: this post is another example of the problem with your site. It’s an anonymous posting in which vague and unsubstantiated aspersions are cast against Adam along with allusions about his psychological state. If Adam has responded vigorously to these kinds of attacks, it’s hardly surprising. I don’t want this comments section turning into a forum on Sweeping Zen’s or Adam’s strengths or weaknesses, whatever they may be. Suffice it to say that I continue to find Sweeping Zen an invaluable resource and appreciate all the hard work and devotion that Adam puts into it.
I have been disturbed by this page. Not because it’s critical of Sweeping Zen or personal in that most all of it is about me, as it were. It’s disturbing because the administrator of the page doesn’t seem to desire objectivity. They have a photo of Fox News on their page and allege I only post certain stories (something which isn’t even factually or scientifically true),and yet all that they post is one-sided, mean-spirited attacks on my person and the website (something which is factual and scientifically true). That’s what you call biased coverage. Thankfully, Sweeping Zen isn’t in the business of posting articles by anonymous people on blog threads, as that simply is not credible. It appears the admin of the page in question and the blog cherry picks information which aligns with their own bias, which ironically they allege I do.
The bulk of articles on the website are not even authored by me. The fact is that those who might seek to downplay abuses do not write for the website, and not because I wouldn’t publish them. I suspect it’s because they’d have to deal with comments and public scrutiny.
I think Sweeping Zen has tapped into anger at the coverage, anger which then becomes personal in nature. Understandable, but also not all that mature, in my opinion. Best wishes to the person behind this biased campaign.
Ha! Dear Seth:
How did you know my Finnish idiom? I just now saw your reply to my obscure reactions to sin and zen. Computer breakdown and loss of site and memory just discovered. Now reaffirmed. Zendemented. P.S. A long ironic story how I came to acquire such a handle. Almost like there is someone meddling with my time line. Such an impediment to Smart and Final Satori. Brian Hannula
I have been sitting for 30 years, and am not a teacher. For me the Zen revelations have been deeply shocking. Interestingly, it is not sexual affairs that shock me, but the sadistic, cruel, manipulative, dishonest”I am God” behaviour of some teachers, and the blind public support of these teachers by virtually all the Zen teachers in the usa for 40 years. Only after the ny times article did any of them speak up!
The question is, why did the Zen masters of America behave like children frightened of speaking against daddy and mummy?
This is for me a problem at the core of Zen practice. I think the problem is caused by the rather unenlightened teachers who brought Zen to the west. I think that any spiritual practice that doesn’t address the subconscious is doomed to failure. And there is a striking silence in Buddhism when it comes to the subconscious….
It is also clear that if the buddha was right and we do live many lives, there is no “abuse” between consulting adults. Even child abuse may take on new meaning – if rebirth is true, then this life seems to be a result of our past actions…. Or we have all done horrible things to others and had it done to us many times…
The answer to all this is kindness, caring and honesty. And by honesty, I mean willingness to look deeper in me, and listen to where my subconscious is leading me and why.
I have seen no kindness towards the teachers who had affairs, just accusations and them being thrown out, and new rules of behaviour set by all those who kept silent for 40 years. I have looked and could find virtually no honest owning up and willingness to look deeper by any of those Zen “masters” for publicly supporting known abusers for 40 years.
And I don’t think that being a nice person in public makes you a nice person in private.
And I don’t think nice people are necessarily wise either. My gran springs to mind…