Last week, Eido Shimano, a Zen priest and married man, resigned from from the board of directors of the Zen Studies Society following the disclosure of a sexual relationship with a student. He remains the organization's abbot.
Eido Shimano's serial sexual abuse of his students has been known within the Zen world for decades. Robert Aitken wrote about it extensively, beginning with an essay in Original Dwelling Place (1995) that described the devastating effects of Shimano's alleged sexual abuse dating back to 1964. (The New York Times wrote about Shimano's resignation last week.)
As you know, I rarely use Ox Herding to write about social, political or cultural matters, preferring to focus on topics that arise from my own practice and life. However, as I have read through recent articles, essays, and posts on Eido Shimano, various thoughts appeared which may be of use. I don't seek to inflame the Shimano situation, but perhaps each of us can use this situation to learn something about ourselves.
All human beings create trouble. I take this as a fact of life.
This being the case, Buddhist teachers will inevitably create problems. Even the Buddha must have created problems for others.
I'm not talking about the "creative trouble" that helps students - I'm talking about afflictive actions that increase suffering.
The short history of Buddhism in the West reveals many troubled teachers, including Hakuyu Maezumi, Chogyam Trungpa, Richard Baker, and Seung Sahn. Some of these teachers were called to account for their trouble making and some were not. Some of these teachers took responsibility for their actions and some did not.
The Sources of Trouble
Buddhist practice illuminates the sources of trouble-making. The Buddha pointed to attachment, aversion and inattention as the underlying causes of all the trouble we make for ourselves and others.
Any of us can observe the play of these poisons in our own lives. Here's how I experience it:
Some trouble arises from intention. A man cannot put his penis in a woman's vagina without intention. A woman cannot drink alcohol without intention. We cannot deceive others without intention.
Now, we may - and frequently do - deny that we intentionally engage in certain actions. But such denials are only misdirection, intended to obfuscate.
If you want to understand someone's intentions, just look at their actions.
Some trouble arises from inattention. We fail to pay attention to the stove and leave a burner alight. We fail to see the ant on and step on it. We don't notice the discomfort another feels when we enter the room.
We like to refer to the trouble that arises from inattention as accidental. And perhaps some trouble could be accidental.
But - most likely - we fail to bring adequate attention to our lives out of some deeply hidden intention. We like being asleep. Practice can reveal the intention behind inattention.
Still, I do wish to allow for some possibility of accidental trouble-making.
Some trouble is inadvertent. That is, it comes with being alive. Whenever we take a step, we crush countless invisible creatures. Whenever we eat a carrot, we destroy microorganisms. With every breath, airborne critters suffer.
No matter what we do, we cannot avoid the inadvertent trouble that arises from life itself. However, we can become attuned to it.
Practicing with Trouble
Every form of Buddhist practice has only one point: to illuminate and transform mind.
Illumination reveals our intentions, inattentions and inadvertent actions. This revelation may occur slowly or in a flash, but it's the point of practice.
We can expect Buddhist teachers to have deeply revealed their own intentions and inattentions. We can and should hold them accountable for this revelation.
Indeed, a person who has not penetrated their intentions and inattentions has little to offer those who seek to understand themselves, no matter how splendid their teaching words.
Thus, we might say that we practice in order to reveal ourselves as trouble-makers. And then one more step is necessary: to take responsibility for our trouble. To knock it off.
With the above framework, we can evaluate Shimano and his actions. There is no doubt, based on Aitken's writings and on the admissions of the Zen Studies Society, that Shimano's actions have produced extraordinary suffering.
For this reason, we can reasonably determine that Shimano does not understand the intentions that drive his actions. (The alternative, that he understands his intentions and doesn't care, is not impossible, but awful.) Although Shimano has carried the title of "roshi" for many years, it is clear that the man is blind.
We can accept that Shimano is blind. All of us are blind.
However, a responsible person - someone who has dedicated their life to minimizing trouble and maximizing happiness - will take responsibility for their blindness.
When Hakuyu Maezumi and Seung Sahn were called to account by their communities, they accepted responsibility and ceased making trouble. They opened their eyes to their blindness. That is the path of practice.
Shimano has never accepted responsibility in this way. Indeed he remains Zen Studies Society's abbot for two more years. What are we to make of this?
Here's what I make of it: Shimano is a spiritual fraud.
He has failed to penetrate his intentions and inattentions, thereby failing the primary responsibility of a spiritual guide.
Since he won't leave, we best stay away from him.
The Zen Study Society's Trouble
The Zen Study Society's board of directors was informed in 1995 of Shimano's alleged sexual abuse of his students in a letter from Robert Aitken. However, the board began grappling with disclosures of Shimano's abuse at least twenty years earlier, in 1975.
The organization's board of directors never took meaningful action to halt Shimano's behavior.
One board member, speaking to the New York Times, had the nerve to observe that the board believed that Shimano's behavior had been on a "hiatus of 15 years" - thereby neatly confirming the fact that Shimano had indeed abused students, while at the same time confirming the board's unwillingness to look deeply into the fraud at hand.
After tolerating Shimano's behavior for over four decades, the organization published ethical guidelines only last month. [Later note: I have been informed that the board put ethical guidelines in place in 1993 after "a particularly messy scandal." So who oversaw the implementation of those guidelines?]
In short, this board has actively colluded in sexual abuse.
The Zen Study Society's Responsibility
The Zen Study Society's board of directors has revealed itself unwilling and/or unable to take responsibility for this fraud.
Ethical guidelines are an important step toward responsibility and I welcome them.
But what are we to make of an organization that colluded in fraud for 35 years? What are we to make of a board of directors that has consistently refused accountability and responsibility?
Could it be that the dharma transmissions given by a spiritual fraud are themselves fraudulent?
Could it be that the entire organization has been poisoned by Shimano?
Given the board's failures, perhaps the answer is: yes.
It's not my role to advise the Zen Study Society. But I would hope that the organization - its board, teachers, and members - would engage in a profound investigation of the intention of the organization as revealed in its actions.
Such an investigation might lead to further ethical strictures, to further staffing changes, to resignation of the entire board, or even to the disbanding of the organization itself.
I don't know what is best for the Zen Study Society. But I hope that the organization will engage in the hard work of responsibility. It's the path, the only path to liberation.
I am not separate from Eido Shimano. What is within him is also within me. Anyone who studies themselves will recognize this truth.
This means that I am only one breath away from the creation of suffering.
But, when I accept responsibility for my intentions and inattentions, I can choose differently. I can choose the Great Bodhisattva Way of Liberation.
May we together choose this path.