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Paper: "Zen Has No Morals!"

zenffzenff Veteran
edited July 2012 in Sanghas
Just found this paper on Buddhistchannel.
It’s about abuse and cultish behavior. It focuses on Eido Shimano and Klaus Zernickow to illustrate some of the patterns involved.

http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/content/20120707_Hamacher_ICSA.pdf
by Christopher Hamacher
Paper presented on 7 July 2012 at the International Cultic Studies Association's annual conference
in Montreal, Canada.
As a final practical note, though this paper only examined two teachers, I nevertheless encourage
any students to exercise caution if they observe too many of the same behaviours in their own
spiritual leaders. Indeed, as mentioned above, these types of conduct are all typical warning signs
for dangerous cultic/high-demand groups. I of course particularly cannot recommend practicing
Zen at either Mumon-Kai or the ZSS, though both groups continue to exist today.

Comments

  • This is hilarious -
    4 A partial list of North American Zen centres that have had trouble, in addition to the one discussed in the present paper, includes the San Francisco Zen Center, Moonspring Hermitage in Surry, Maine, the Los Angeles Zen Center, the Kwan Um School of Zen in Providence RI, the Toronto Zen Centre, Shasta Abbey in northern California, and the Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City. Also, in a study of eight cases of student betrayal by Zen teachers in the United States, five involved inappropriate sexual behaviour by the teacher: see footnote 62.
    I was considering one of the centers mentioned above, and even though I never heard anything bad about them, I couldn't shake this feeling like something was "off".

    I think I'm just not going to take any chances and avoid it. Thanks for this :)
  • howhow Veteran
    I have heard disturbing stories from a much wider list of Buddhist Schools than this. Many disturbing stories that have formally been concealed by Sangha shunning are now finding the light of day on other Buddhist internet sites. It has also meant that those teachers that have up to now felt secure in behaving badly, are now having to re examine their practises because of these public disclosures.
    Without meaning to sound all "love & light" I think the measure of a school is not about falling down, but how it relates to falling down and how it picks itself up of the ground again.
    Those considering entering a spiritual school at least can now have access to these claims and can do so with eyes wide open.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    I don't think it's a good title for the thread because it is a sweeping generalization of Zen.. I'm pretty sure that is not the intention though.
  • howhow Veteran
    edited July 2012
    @Jeffrey
    From another site...
    Christophers posts an explanation of the title.

    I didn't come up with the title myself but am simply quoting the two dharma-transmitted Zen masters in question themselves. To be perfectly concrete, it's actually a paraphrase but I did once hear a Shimano dharma heir actually use those words. One can debate ad infinitum whether Zen actually has "morals" or not, but the point is they said it, not me, and as I note in my paper, there is ample evidence to back that statement up.

    I must confess that I did not even read his paper as I have been filled to overflowing in the last couple of years with similar writings.
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Sort of reminds me of how we need to keep our minds open about what happens in various schools of Buddhism, just as we need to keep our minds open about what happens in Islam.
  • CloudCloud Veteran
    @zenff, I've changed the thread title to Paper: "Zen Has No Morals!" to make it less ambiguous.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    @Cloud Good idea. Thanks
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    I think it's a healthy trend to bring these issues out in the open for discussion and analysis, and have these academic resources available. I think over time this will lead to healthier dynamics in Dharma communities, and hopefully better accountability. Bringing things out into the light for examination can only work out for the best over time, imo.

    Thanks for posting this, zenff.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited July 2012
    After reading the paper, I made this list of questions we may want to ask ourselves.
    I think as a Buddhist / Zen community we have some responsibility to make our sanghas a safe place for people to practice; without exposing them to megalomaniac “teachers”; without exposing them to sexual abuse and other abuse of power; without dragging them into a cultish group dynamic.

    1. Can your teacher/sangha deal with criticism and opposition in a balanced and mature way?
    2. Does your teacher/sangha talk about students who have left with respect and gratitude or do they burn them down?
    3. Does your practice appear to be designed for the purpose of breaking you ?
    4. Does your teacher/sangha disqualify reasonable complaints as “your ego getting in the way” or as your attachment?
    5. Does your teacher practice what he preaches ?
    6. Does your teacher/sangha nourish the idea of being elite ? Do they despise the rest of the world? Does this process continue inside the sangha, creating circles of superior status and intimacy ?
    7. Does your teacher/sangha discourage communication with ex-members or consulting sources of information from outside the group? Is the communication between members open and honest ?
    8. Is there an excessive emphasis in your sangha on the specialness and greatness of your teacher ? Does your teacher need to create such an image ?
    9. Is there anything remotely like a “balance of powers” in the organization of your sangha or does every single decision have to come from or be approved by the teacher?


  • 1. Can your teacher/sangha deal with criticism and opposition in a balanced and mature way?
    2. Does your teacher/sangha talk about students who have left with respect and gratitude or do they burn them down?
    3. Does your practice appear to be designed for the purpose of breaking you ?
    4. Does your teacher/sangha disqualify reasonable complaints as “your ego getting in the way” or as your attachment?
    5. Does your teacher practice what he preaches ?
    6. Does your teacher/sangha nourish the idea of being elite ? Do they despise the rest of the world? Does this process continue inside the sangha, creating circles of superior status and intimacy ?
    7. Does your teacher/sangha discourage communication with ex-members or consulting sources of information from outside the group? Is the communication between members open and honest ?
    8. Is there an excessive emphasis in your sangha on the specialness and greatness of your teacher ? Does your teacher need to create such an image ?
    9. Is there anything remotely like a “balance of powers” in the organization of your sangha or does every single decision have to come from or be approved by the teacher?
    That's a good check-list, and I think would be helpful to anyone getting involved in a Buddhist group ( and indeed to people teaching Dharma! ).

  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited July 2012
    The title of this thread kept me thinking for some time. Apparently one of the derailed teachers used the phrase to defend his actions.
    “Zen has no morals; so you can’t say my actions are immoral; when you do you don’t see the emptiness of all phenomena and you are attached to a notion of morality as if it were something real.” That’s the reasoning, I guess.

    It reminds me of people suggesting that we could walk through walls if only we realized how empty they are.
    I always think they don’t see the whole picture. They think of an empty wall but seem to forget that what’s on this side of the wall and what’s on the other side of the wall is all empty too.
    No-one is going anywhere anyways. The emptiness is comprehensive; you can’t pick out one thing and see its emptiness as an isolated thing.

    So a statement like “Zen has no morals” is rubbish. It is like saying we can walk through a wall. It takes one thing and points out that it is empty. But in doing so a position is taken, and apparently the emptiness of this position is ignored.
    That’s why Zen is difficult to explain. Impossible even. The full realization of emptiness is not something we can fit into a concept and reason with just like we do with other concepts.

    Another way in which I could try to explain my hunch about this subject is that when we say one particular phenomenon is empty, we remove things out of context. And when we take a true observation out of its proper context it is no longer true.
    We need to fully realize the emptiness of all phenomena in a comprehensive way. It will be the end of our world. After that we will have a problem in communicating this comprehensive realization. Speaking about it is taking things out of context and doing injustice to the full picture.

    So does Zen have morals? Yes of course it does. It has mountains and rivers. And my fingers are touching my keyboard.
    At the other hand all phenomena are empty of inherent existence. The full realization of it is the end of our world; is liberation. But that doesn’t mean I can walk through this wall.
    When I try, I will hurt my head. In the same way, when I behave in an immoral way I will harm people and ultimately harm myself.

    (Just my attempt to make sense of it.)

  • PatrPatr Veteran
    Lately, there are many articles written about Zen practice, from using one liners to spontaneous realisation, enlightenment in one lifetime etc.
    Think the whole approach has gone off track.

    We as Buddhists should be concentrating on everyday issues. The teaching of emptiness is hard to fathom for the majority of Buddhists and its likely to produce more harm than good at certain levels.

    The level of understanding / wisdom of each practitioner should be assessed before we move into the Abhidamma, philosphical aspects of the Dharma.

    Get your foundation built by focusing on right thought, right speech and right actions.
    Cant build on the upper levels without a proper foundation.
    It takes a lot of cultivation, proper meditative practice and Dharma studies to build a strong foundation. In the meantime, focus on the above and Zen will be very meaningful once you arrive.

    Dont jump straight into Quantum Physics, without knowing everyday science.

    Cheers
  • howhow Veteran
    Christophers title is just a Blatant headline grabber. I was annoyed by it and by the vagueness of his explanation of it's source until I looked at it again.

    Just try checking out how subjective morals are as a dictionary definition.

    morals A word that is quite subjective, given that everybody has different morals. To say that some one can do "good", Good must first be defined. An act of moral goodness in one persons eyes may be abhorrent in anothers. To assert that one is a moral person would require that some definition of good be a universal constant, and due to the fact that everyone has different morals, we are left with few options.

    But even with such a vague definition, Zen pretty much swims in Buddhist precepts that most folks today would consider excessively pious.

    Perhaps the rest of his paper was good, but I choose to address such yellow rag tactics by not reading it.
  • So a statement like “Zen has no morals” is rubbish.
    :thumbup:
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    The title of this thread kept me thinking for some time. Apparently one of the derailed teachers used the phrase to defend his actions.
    “Zen has no morals; so you can’t say my actions are immoral; when you do you don’t see the emptiness of all phenomena and you are attached to a notion of morality as if it were something real.” That’s the reasoning, I guess.
    The first thing that came to mind, without even reading any of the other comments. "Well, that's a load of Rubbish", ha!

    :)
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited July 2012
    According to Stuart Lachs, it was D.T. Suzuki who propagated the idea in the West that Zen had no morals. That sounds so nonsensical that it's hard to believe. The Buddha taught "virtue" and a key component of the Dharma is moral discipline in the form of precepts, the Eightfold Path, and so many other teachings. What is Buddhist "virtue" if not moral guidelines? It sounds like someone was playing a semantic game, perhaps, or just plain didn't understand Buddhism, lol! According to Lachs, this morality-free view of Zen evolved as a result of "the nationalistic intellectual climate of early 20th-Century Japan", which favored a Zen "freed from its Mahayana Buddhist context". *

    The Dalai Lama made a good point regarding this issue when he said that a teacher who doesn't practice virtue hasn't internalized the Dharma. "There is a gap between the Dharma and their life", he said. Lachs says that the practice of virtue isn't dealt with in training future teachers, Zen training is more about gaining sudden insight through meditation. There tends to be an assumption that sudden Enlightenment brings with it moral behavior. Ancient Zen master Tseng-mi said, "Awakening from delusion is sudden; transforming an ordinary man into a saint is gradual". Lachs points out that Tseng-mi's line of Zen died out, while the line that promoted the view that "sudden enlightenment entailed sudden cultivation [of morality]" as part of the package, a given, became the exclusive paradigm.

    I think as a Buddhist / Zen community we have some responsibility to make our sanghas a safe place for people to practice; without exposing them to megalomaniac “teachers”; without exposing them to sexual abuse and other abuse of power; without dragging them into a cultish group dynamic.
    Concern for the welfare of fellow sangha members is an important exercise in compassion. Sanghas that deny abuse or look the other way when it occurs are not practicing Buddhism. One would think this would be obvious, but the human group dynamics that play out in dysfunctional sanghas can obscure the obvious, with tragic results.

    *"Coming Down From the Zen Clouds: A Critique of the Current State of American Zen", by Stuart Lachs

  • BeejBeej Human Being Veteran
    @zenff- Agreed. Logic still plays here.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    There is good and evil, but they have no essence outside of relative to eachother. The dhammapada abundantly uses good and evil. So giving a present is good relative to an insult even though there is no inherent goodness or evil. And it is subjective and not true nature as I have said there is no inherent quality.
  • It's the dharma ending age...
  • @zenff, I've changed the thread title to Paper: "Zen Has No Morals!" to make it less ambiguous.
    Good call we all got precepts its not zens fault as a school,that people do the opposite of what it teaches.
  • This is hilarious -
    4 A partial list of North American Zen centres that have had trouble, in addition to the one discussed in the present paper, includes the San Francisco Zen Center, Moonspring Hermitage in Surry, Maine, the Los Angeles Zen Center, the Kwan Um School of Zen in Providence RI, the Toronto Zen Centre, Shasta Abbey in northern California, and the Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City. Also, in a study of eight cases of student betrayal by Zen teachers in the United States, five involved inappropriate sexual behaviour by the teacher: see footnote 62.
    I was considering one of the centers mentioned above, and even though I never heard anything bad about them, I couldn't shake this feeling like something was "off".

    I think I'm just not going to take any chances and avoid it. Thanks for this :)
    Dont not go because of past wrong doing,some are true some are lies,nobody knows for sure,go for the members the community,if there is problems leave,or better yet stay and fix what is broken.

    Learn what you can from who you can,even the immoral teach us lessons

    Heck i came to Buddhism thru 2 friends one was zen the other seon,both were womanizers,and one was a saddist who liked to tourture women and have sex with them(they were willing)
    And he was also a killer who enjoyed his work..

    Yet 9 people found Buddhism thru them.

  • edited July 2012
    Morals are contained within, and generated by, individuals, not religions, systems or philosophies.
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