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.