February 15, 2013

Buddha Buzz: Joshu Sasaki Roshi Scandal Goes Viral (Kind of)

Emma Varvaloucas

Joshu RoshiThe news of the Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Rinzai-ji scandal has officially broken into the mainstream media. Joshu Roshi's decades-long pattern of sexually abusing his female students, and the Rinzai-ji association's long coverup of it, was first exposed on Adam Tebbe's site Sweeping Zen back in November—although by many accounts, it was an open secret in Zen circles for quite some time. The story likely could have remained under the purview of the American Buddhist community, but after the New York Times published its coverage on Monday, the story soon skipped around to the LA Times, The Daily Beast, Jezebel,  and several British tabloids. The Young Turks also discussed it (although the commentary there was particularly shallow) on their YouTube channel. 

It's hard to tell what the effects of this international airing of the Rinzai-ji dirty laundry will be. Adam Tebbe in particular has suffered through a lot of criticism for publishing the story to begin with and perhaps setting into motion the ensuing tidal wave of media attention. He wrote on Sweeping Zen on Wednesday, 

If anything, I have found that covering this story has harmed the website. It has harmed the good name of Zen. My sense is that it has had a chilling effect. I know that many of those who have been involved in this story have gone through major stresses as a result of it all. I’m still trying to find my own mojo, truth be told. The story, the reactions, the criticisms — they really disheartened me. It’s taken a toll on all of us (those directly involved, publishers, fellow Zen teachers, readers, practitioners).

Just know that at no point was this story taken lightly by me, nor was it taken lightly by anyone else involved in bringing it to everyone’s attention to my knowledge. This always was a very serious matter. I think even our critics might concede now that this story was necessary. 

Over at Zen teacher Brad Warner's blog Hardcore Zen, he also addresses the consequences of another Buddhist sex scandal reaching the mainstream. First acknowledging the fear that fuels the desire to keep all of this behind closed doors—that American Buddhism will be forever colored by and associated with the sex scandals that have cropped up over the years—he writes that Joshu Roshi has done a great service to American Buddhism in that he "helped kill off the image of the Enlightened Master as something beyond human." Though I do think that Brad has a point when he writes that "even our so-called 'Masters' are just people like everyone else," I'm inclined to think that there's a difference between having human weakness and having a pathology, which is what Joshu Roshi seemed to be suffering from. (Just read some of the quotes in the New York Times from the women who had to deal with his sexual advances. They made me sick to my stomach.) And look, I just have to say it before (hopefully) never having to write about Joshu Roshi again: after a lifetime of Buddhist practice, should it really be that hard to keep it in your pants?

100th Tibetan self immolatesI hate to bring you more sad news this week, but the 100th Tibetan has self-immolated, this time in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, which has a large Tibetan community. 

But before I go, lest I leave you with a downtrodden heart on Friday, the best of all weekdays, please enjoy this comedic performance by Jack Hannibal, who tells the hilarious story of meeting a Tibetan monk for the first time.


Image 2: From examiner.com.

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palbar's picture

I attended several Seshins with Joshu Sazaki Roshi and was never forced to relinquish my car keys. No one stopped me from driving home and coming back to Seshin. If any women felt disturbed by Roshi's action they were free to leave and never return. It was not like Jonestown.

During the private interview with Roshi, if you think Roshi is human and you are human then Roshi is not a Roshi he is a Sensei, a teacher. If Roshi is a Roshi then you are not human and he is not a Buddha. The interview is not between two people, between a human and a Buddha, between an authority figure and a chela, all of this talk means there is no Zen, only mental masturbation. If Roshi hits his male students to offend them or touches his female students to molest them and they believe a human has accosted them, they are not students of Zen but American tourists in a Zendo.

Lets be perfectly clear about the interview. We are not confronting Roshi as Americans, as women, as men. If we offer our breasts to Roshi or deny them, if we identify with this female form or male form, we are practicing slavery. To insist that Roshi is the perpetrator of an injustice when one can simply slap him in the face, tell him to fuck off or leave forever seems disingenuous to me. At any rate, if we are talking Zen, then confrontation with a Roshi is a moment of life and death. If Roshi does not present a crises of life and death he is not a Roshi but a Kalayanamitra, a spiritual friend. A Roshi's job is to slay the ego by any means necessary. Entering his interview room means entering the realm of life and death.

If over countless lifetimes one is still stuck in I-am-self and approaches a Roshi of his calibre, that means one is there to end the round of births and deaths, to destroy the Devil of a Joyful Life, to transcend the formless absorptions and to penetrate the core of the Zen ancestors transmission of the Lamp; it is to swallow molten lead now and not in the future. The fundamental narcissism of eons of habit must be confronted or Roshi is just a fake. His actions should be understood in the context of these fundamental Buddhist beliefs. For this reason perhaps an agreement is tacitly made by anyone entering the Interview Room. What is that agreement? It is an agreement to take responsibility for ending hope and fear, the round of birth and death, to realize the absolute body free from material substance. Otherwise, why call it Zen? Why not call it what it is fake Zen or at best Mahayana meditation.

His Oshos have proven they haven't even a glimpse of Tathagata Zen. They have materialized his actions and misunderstood their religion. The function of the Roshi is cut through lifetimes of self grasping. To bring it up and mow it down. Hitting men is as egregious in the "real world" as "squeezing breasts" but no one complains of Zen masters hitting men. Men offend each other by striking them. To offend a women all a man has to do is squeeze her breast. The masters job is to offend the student, to confront the hidden recesses of their I-am-self. The students job is to realize, this flesh and blood body I have cherished as real will soon be discarded like a fast food carton. The food itself is Ghost.

Ghost is Roshi's term for that understanding transcending body and mind. Understanding without mind, there is no body. Understanding without body there is no location. Where in this truth does an offense occur?

I empathize with any suffering any of his female disciples have undergone yet in order to encourage those whose faith has been damaged by the secular humanists with their self justifications; the Icchantikas, who desire after this world; the nihilists who cannot fathom but this existence and the materialists who only believe in tangible phenomena, I thought to express a counterpoint in this symphony of Roshi koans.

Karen A.'s picture

Thank you for your well-thought-out comment. I think that you are right.

stephenlws08's picture

I too have attended seshin with Sasaki Roshi, and he was always respectful and helpful with me. But I am male, and I have seen the way he looks (leers) at women in the zendo. I have no doubt in my mind he did what he did to get his rocks off, and not to help our women awaken. Do not deify him. It is profoundly difficult for we who have been his students to make sense of what he has done, but remember that the simplest explanations are almost always the correct ones- he is a flawed human being like the rest of us. Sasaki Roshi has done terrible damage to the zen community, and especially to the women he abused. It is not so simple to simply "slap him in the face;" he is in a position of authority, and he used that power shamelessly. This doesn't mean his teaching and his zen is without value, but what a tragedy he put his own desires ahead of so many of our precious sangha members and abused them sexually for his own petty gain. They were harmed! There was no Zen in his abusive actions. There was no Buddhism or compassion in how he treated our sisters. Will they be able to trust another male roshi? How do they moved forward in Zen? I hope that all of us will be able to hear the true and correct message in this. We must not continue to do nothing about his actions for so many decades.

Dominic Gomez's picture

The 3 poisons manifest - greed:Mr. Sasaki, belligerence: his yes men, foolishness:his victims. Fortunately there is an antidote.

mahakala's picture

grab yer popcorn...

Rob_'s picture

For people like yourself, no matter how aberrant the behavior, it's simply a Zen teaching moment. The idealization of a roshi ... so hard to let go of.

Morann's picture

Perhaps this is all a matter of preference. Personally, I would rather do dokusan with a crazy, horny Sasaki, who for all his flaws was the "real deal" for the thousands who came to train with him (so I've heard) than some psychiatrist in robes who's not going to challenge me in any way and will most likely just feed me platitudes about loving kindness, compassion, student-teacher emotional transference, etc.--all the things which seem to be popular in Western Zen at the moment.

It's safe to say that Rinzai Zen is in its final death throes in America. Many will celebrate this loss. Many will cite the words of Brian Victoria to show that Rinzai Zen, "imperial zen," was a violent strain of Buddism to begin with, so good riddance. But we must ask ourselves, what is left? The therapeutic model of zen today will not serve the needs of every zen student. Not every person wants to be coddled in dokusan. Some students need their asses kicked on a regular basis to progress at all. Is there anyone today in American Zen who is willing to bring the spirit of ass-kicking into their dokusans? Is there anyone who is willing "to be cruel to be kind" as Nietzsche once said? Probably not. As the therapeutic model gains more steam, we will see zen go the way of medicine, psychology, law, and academics, with the implementation of national standards for all teachers. Zen will have finally met the market and I think deep down we all know what the result will be--mediocrity.

To all the Zen salary men waiting in the wings, your future is a bright one.

Rob_'s picture

Thus you have heard ...

You would rather prefer, or you did prefer? Sounds like a lot of theory to me. Zen practice, or any practice for that matter is not a choice between two extremes, i.e. ass kicking or coddling.

If you're transfixed by ass kicking than go for it. But sometimes it's just an ass kicking, no more, no less.

Morann's picture

The problem as I see it is that the therapeutic model of spiritual practice being established and disseminated in this country will never allow another Sasaki ass-kicking, sexual-deviant type to ever emerge. All the teachers will more or less be the same, maybe their robes will look different, maybe some teachers will swear and joke more than others, maybe one guy will have a giant beard and ride a Harley and maybe another will play punk rock music, but underneath it all will lie the same bland mediocrity. No trail blazers, no wild cards, no deviants, no real geniuses because the system will never allow it.

But I guess this is what Westerners want and this is what the market demands. So be it then. For those of you who want something a little less safe and infantilizing I'd say you're best bet is to leave the country.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Systems rarely support deviants, yet they continue to arise. I doubt any system can completely suppress deviancy. So there is hope for future change and continued impermanence!

Dominic Gomez's picture

Systems change when people change. And Buddhism empowers individuals to change themselves from within.

Rob_'s picture

We'll have to disagree. Simply because there may be some examples of the "therapeutic model" you speak of doesn't mean this is the overriding theme of Buddhism in America.

The two extremes that you wish to define American Buddhism with are hardly realistic. There really is a diverse approach to the way Buddhism is taught and practiced in America. If you have a preference for your one style of ass kicking, you're free to it. It doesn't mean all others are inadequate.

Perhaps you should read up more on some Zen history. Even in the hagiography there is a diversity of Zen teachers and approaches ... they aren't all of the ass kicking variety.

And what "system" are you talking about that "will never allow it"? Buddhism in America is comprised of many fragmented, and diverse groups. I think you're more apt to make up problems that don't exist to try to make a point. If you want drama, go for it. Seek for your deviants.

Morann's picture

When the vast majority of Buddhists call your brand of zen unethical, exploitative, or just plain evil, then how free are you really to practice your religion?

And the system I'm referring to are Tricyle, Shambhala Sun, The American Zen Teachers Association and the website sweepingzen.com. These are the main institutions of power in Buddhsim today. If they choose to mount a collective one-sided attack on a teacher or sangha then you're pretty much finished, as Sasaki is now finished.

Buddhism in America may be comprised of many fragmented and diverse groups as you say, but Zen in America is primarily Soto. With Sasaki and Eido Shimano out of the picture now, we can probably say it is entirely Soto. Rinzai lost, Soto won. All hail the one-party system and its prescribed methods. Therefore, if you want some other kind of Zen, (I'm talking strictly Zen now not other branches of Buddhism), then you are going to have to leave the country to find it.

Rob_'s picture

Your brand? That would be two teachers that people have criticized as unethical. Without getting into a heated discussion if they're really unethical or not, maybe it's as simple as most people do see them as unethical. And you can't live with that.

Go be a student of Shimano, he's still teaching, albeit in limited capacity. Go be a student of one of his heirs. Or are they not authentic enough? After all the Zen Studies Society does advertise itself as offering "authentic" Rinzai Zen. Whatever the hell that is. You could also choose one of Sasaki's senior students. Again, not "authentic" enough? Or if you're really feeling adventuresome, go to Japan for some real authentic hazing.

The groups you've mentioned have no power. The American Zen Teachers Association is a diverse group of Zen teachers with no authority. And they do include teachers from the Rinzai tradition. The magazines and website you've mentioned certainly voice opinions, but have no authority. It sounds like you simply don't like what most people are saying.

I'm not sure to what degree you romanticize Sasaki and Shimano, but their behavior would not have been tolerated in Japan. In Sasaki's case, it's likely the Zen authorities in Japan were getting rid of a problem monk.

By the way, there are a few groups associated with Shodo Harada in the U.S.

Morann's picture

Are you kidding me? Fox News is a media outlet making millions off voicing opinions. They have no real authority yet they do influence national politics and public opinion in a strong way. That is a fact. The Buddhist media outlets I referred to, also having no authority, do affect the Buddhist landscape in a very strong way as well. That too is undeniable. It sounds like you simply agree with whatever the Buddhist media says and that's fine. If they say a Buddhist teacher is bad, well it must be true because some baldy guy in robes said so, and even more so if you get big group of bald guys together who are willing to say the same thing, but that doesn't necessarily make something true. I'm sure there are two sides to every story even for the outcasts like Sasaki, Shimano, and Genpo which you will never hear because nuance is much too difficult to process, too tiring, even for Zen Buddhists who if anyone, should be willing to embrace contradiction and confusion in spiritual matters but have not, at least not in the case of Sasaki, Shimano, Genpo, Richard Baker and whoever else.

Anyway, the attack machine achieved its aims and the narrative has been set. Nothing more to see here. Good has triumphed over evil as it should be. The zendo is now safe for our virgin daughters.

Lastly, the fact that you would call Japanese training "authentic hazing" speaks volumes about where you're coming from and the biases inherent in American Buddhism today. It's all very sad because if the Buddhists can't even tolerate each other then what hope is there for anyone?

Rob_'s picture

Sorry, it's not the same as Fox News catering to political discontent. Some of the crazy things said on this network are the same things spoken by some of our political leaders. So there are people with real power espousing the same thing. Bad analogy.

At first, you declared them as "main institutions of power". Now you're saying they affect the Buddhist landscape in a very strong way. Have you really thought about it that much? I think you're just being overly defensive. Both Sasaki and Shimano groups were and still are independent. They're free to do as they please.

I've seen plenty of commentary on both these issues. To be honest, Sasaki and Shimano supporters mostly don't participate. Or maybe at best they have platitudes like, "so and so has the true dharma eye", and than there's the few personal attacks which are avoiding any genuine discussion of the issues. In short, there is no discussion, they believe in their teachers. Their teachers, who by the way brought their own sectarian prejudices from Japan. As they were both known for criticisms of Soto Zen. I can't vouch for every Soto teacher in America, but I don't really hear criticisms of Rinzai Zen from them. You're the one who wants to categorize this as some sectarian dispute. I think you're wrong.

Authentic hazing was sarcasm. I have seen how some training goes on in Japan. Whatever occurred in America even with Sasaki and Shimano groups was mild in comparison (ignoring the ethical concerns). But for the sake of argument, let's say I meant it in all seriousness. It's one statement from ME. One small example you can latch onto does not speak volumes on the biases of American Buddhism. More likely, it speaks to your own prejudices of what you think American Buddhism is. You've already only been able to express two extremes. And you're the one expressing intolerance. You've already made it known that Rinzai Zen is your brand. All others to you are coddling. But hey, that's probably what Sasaki and Shimano espoused.

And how should I take your statement, "The zendo is now safe for our virgin daughters." Sarcasm? One of the frequently touted defenses for Shimano was to declare his critics hung up on puritanical American views on sex. Whatever, like I said, personal attacks, no desire to talk about the issue. Plus, they avoid all evidence of Shimano socking away money. I think they're the ones a little to hung up on the sex issue.

Morann's picture

What is power? Wikipedia, our online Bible, says that power is the ability to influence the behavior of people. Perhaps you have a very narrow view of power and how it's wielded by the media. And no, there are no elected Buddhist officials yet who wield real power in this nation (thank God for that) but let's not assume that the potential isn't there, or that the groundwork has not been laid by the organizations that I mentioned. There are certain teachers on certain websites calling for a national ethics board, or some kind of oversight committee to oversee the operations of all North American Sanghas. Now what is that about? It appears that the Sasaki and Shimano cases have become the pretext for a massive power grab by a few up-and-comers in the Zen world. Just like American politics right?

There is no open sectarian dispute between Soto and Rinzai schools that I know of, but let me give a window into the biases at work in modern Zen. A recent example being the Witnessing Council over at sweepingzen.com, who investigated allegations of Sasaki's misconduct. The three members of this investigative committee were all Soto teachers from the American Zen Teachers Association, two from Suzuki's lineage one from Maezumi's. Now how appropriate is that? You're telling me they couldn't scrounge up one Rinzai teacher to help in the investigation, someone who maybe understood the tradition and could've provided a bit of context for what happened and how it could have happened? But I guess this is just my prejudices coming out right? Forgive me.

As for my prejudices of what I think American Buddhism is, it is quite simply the fusion of psychotherapy and eastern meditation. It's not my cup of tea as you know, but that's what it is, and I think a lot of people would agree with me here. And I am intolerant of it to the degree in which it is forced down our throats by the Buddhist media as some kind of established model, a model which has recently been used to dismiss Rinzai lineages in their entirety on the grounds of being violent and unethical.

So yeah I guess I am somewhat intolerant, especially of your first comment which attacked a person for presenting an alternative perspective on the Sasaki mess. But I guess it's easy to lay down judgements when you have 99 percent of the Buddhist community behind you right? How courageous.

Rob_'s picture

First they are institutions of power, than it becomes, they influence the Buddhist landscape, now we're back to power. How many times you going to change your mind? There's a power grab? You have a tendency to hyperbolize issues. Again, we're back to your one example indicates a trend, or more specifically a "massive" power grab. You're just dreaming up issues around all this to be more offended by what you see as American Buddhism. And again, some people mix therapy with Buddhism, and to you all of American Buddhism has become this. Or more accurately I suppose, you call it "coddling". You only see two forms of Buddhism, ass kicking vs. coddling. If that's really all you can muster for a more complex dynamic, you aren't thinking very hard. Sometimes people just like to make mountains out of mole hills. But you can keep accusing others of intolerance while expressing your own.

"There is no open sectarian dispute between Soto and Rinzai schools that I know of". Really? Than why did you mention that Soto won and Rinzai lost? And also why the comment, "All hail the one-party system and its prescribed methods". And why do you ignore my comment that Sasaki and Shimano have probably expressed more prejudice against Soto Zen, than the other way around? Oh, because it's an inconvenient truth.

A couple more of your comments, "When the vast majority of Buddhists call your brand of zen unethical, exploitative, or just plain evil", and "a model which has recently been used to dismiss Rinzai lineages in their entirety on the grounds of being violent and unethical". As I said, I've read many comments on these issues and don't recall a condemnation of Rinzai Zen, let alone by "the vast majority of Buddhists". Perhaps there have been some, but I think you're off using hyperbole and simply mischaracterizing the issue. I've seen condemnation of a few teachers, but not of a tradition.

For such a proponent of "tough guy" Zen you really do like to play the victim. But I guess it's easy when you see 99% of the Buddhist community against you. Nothing is being forced down your throat. The same media you have such criticisms for has been criticized in the past for not presenting articles on teacher misconduct. So I guess no one is happy. Imagine that. This is about ethical issues with a few teachers, not this freaking melodrama you're making up.

Morann's picture

Ok, whatever. I've actually provided some evidence and concrete examples to back up my statements whereas you've provided nothing.

If you can make the assertion that "Sasaki and Shimano have probably expressed more prejudice against Soto zen" without backing that up with evidence than I think I am well within my right to claim that American Buddhism IS the fusion of psychotherapy and eastern meditation. And If you like I can provide say a dozen books and articles that have appeared in Tricycle, Shambhala Sun, as well to support all these ideas which I'm apparently just "dreaming up."

But really this all comes back to the first comment you made against palbar where you're basically calling him/ her a crazy cultist, without evidence of course because that seems to be your thing. It seems like you are in the habit of trying to define people before they can define you, and this is how you like to win arguments, especially when you have no real evidence to back up anything you say. So Rob, whatever you have to say at this point to boost your fragile self-esteem at this point, is fine with me. You win.

Rob_'s picture

B.S. I've pointed out your exaggerated claims.

Fine, provide dozens of articles. And we can tally how many teachers there are against this small smattering of people fusing psychotherapy with Buddhism. Who really cares? You confabulate this supposed animosity towards the Rinzai tradition while you bitch and moan about the imagined predominance of psychotherapy/Buddhism. You're so keen on others intolerance, but it's okay for you.

It all comes back to my first comment with someone else because you can't answer my questioning of your gross portrayal of American Buddhism. You've ignored so much of what I've said. You'd rather play your game that 99% of the Buddhist community is against you. Hogwash. I mentioned many options of Rinzai practice to you. But you of course didn't comment. It doesn't fit in with your grand story of oppression and power grabs.

I've substantiated my claims, and pointed out your hyperbole and your contradictions and your flip flopping. So all you have left is a personal attack on what you call my fragile self-esteem. So this is what I've come to expect from people who wish to uphold these teachers. Going off on wild tangents to distract from the issue, and for a little icing on the cake, a personal attack.

mahakala's picture

A monk asked Zhimen,
"What is the substance of Prajna Wisdom?"
Zhimen said,
"The clam swallows the bright moon."
The monk asked,
"What is the use of Prajna Wisdom?"
Zhimen said,
"A female rabbit becomes pregnant."

cchandler666's picture

no comment

pvsachs's picture

Like most other accounts of sexual abuse, and it seems very clear that this was a form of sexual abuse, this is also largely about power, subjugation and sexism. A male leader manipulated his power over women and other men did not stop it, and since men were largely in control I hold them responsible. This is why the world requires laws against sexual harassment because an imbalance of power whether practical or psychological is so often at the root of these incidents. There is no other lesson here, Zen or otherwise and all justifications fall flat in light of this victimization. To see this as anything else because it is a religious institution is shameful, it happens in schools, churches, businesses,the military etc and will only end when it is no longer tolerated at all. This is not about Buddhism it is about manipulation and any teaching or structure, especially any that embraces unquestioning authority and hiarchy can be twisted by someone who is inclined to abuse and often depends on those who will look away.

celticpassage's picture

I believe that such behavior 'not being tolerated' will not result in much improvement of the situation. As long as you continue to 'blame the men' there will be no real change.

JoseBuendia's picture

Sasaki Roshi is not my teacher. I never met him and I am not a zen practitioner. However, I know that he has worked with Western students for decades and has cultivated a community of very dedicated students and experienced meditators. I defer to those who know him, but he appears to be a genuine teacher from an authentic lineage.

The question that no one seems to be asking is -- to what extent do the acts described (sexual advances to adult female students) undermine or invalidate a long life dedicated to dharma practice and transmission. Does it mean that his teachings are inauthentic? Since I am not aware that his teachings advocate celibacy, since he took no vows of celibacy, and since no guidelines were in place prohibiting his conduct -- it does not appear that he is a hypocrite. It does appear that he has caused harm both to individual students and to the community that he created. But does this harm negate his teachings? Have they rendered him incapable of transmitting the dharma in a genuine way?

Sasaki Roshi is 105 years old. His reputation is destroyed. Perhaps that needed to be done -- even though he was no longer actively teaching when this report was commissioned. What is clear is that Sasaki Roshi's senior students acted with cowardice for years -- refusing to demand that Roshi stop this behavior or stop teaching. His senior students for many years had too much to lose -- revenues for his centers that were dependent on his continuing to teach, reputational risk if the teacher who empowered them were to suffer from adverse publicity. Finally, at the end of their teacher's long life, after he is no longer teaching or useful to the community -- these same senior students suddenly grow a conscience and decide to investigate. One might ask whether the investigation was motivated by a genuine concern for women who were victims of Roshi's behavior -- or simply by concern not to be on the politically incorrect side of a volatile issue at a time when senior students are competing for control of the organization following Sasaki Roshi's retirement.

I am glad that this report has been published. But please excuse me if I do not offer any congratulations or praise to the authors of the report.

Catherine_Alelyunas's picture

I am probably the earliest student of Joshu Sasaki Roshi still practicing with him or his home center, at Rinzai-ji in LA. (I became his student in 1966 at Cimarron Zen Center in LA as it was then called.) I didn't know what to say as I had always had mixed feelings about his treatment of women, his human addiction, but although complaining a few times verbally or in writing over the years, mostly I've buried how I felt away in order to experience the "highs" of intense zen practice. (Roshi also never approached me in any sexually inappropriate way, although I started practicing with him when I was 16.) So, finally, I feel like saying something and that is that there are stages to practice. Some people are practicing at the pre-satori first experience of zen, some are trying to integrate their satori experience into post-meditation practice, which is an entirely different learning experience. For me, Roshi has changed my life and freed me from gender roles, even though (paradoxically) his centers are very macho and males are mostly in power. He has given me an opening experience which has changed everything. So, he is my Heart Teacher. Now he is freeing me from my old Dream and enabling me to wake up even more and use my discriminating, clear mind- but based on emptiness. ( The "Sasaki Scandal" his last gift to us.) Thanks Old man- Skoal!! let's have a drink together sometime in the future! Catherine Alelyunas

celticpassage's picture

I'm not sure that the motives of his detractors matters.
It seems to me that if after years of study and hundreds of hours of mediation, if his students cannot see and are powerless to do anything about it, then his teaching is crap regardless of the lineage or how 'valuable' people find it.

JoseBuendia's picture

This is exactly my point. For most of our relationships, we are able to accept something less than perfection. We might say -- my friend is an alcoholic, but he is a great poet. My sister is brilliant, but she is insensitive and full of herself.

But with spiritual teachers, we have higher expectations. The problem with Sasaki Roshi initially seems to be that his students treated him as perfect and rationalized what seems to have been extensive aberrant, consensual sexual behavior as something other than what it was.

The interesting thing is that when we use the discovery of this behavior to reject everything -- to say that everything that he accomplished in his life is "crap" -- we are hanging onto this same preconception of the spiritual teacher as perfect. We haven't changed our view at all. We have simply rejected Sasaki Roshi as not measuring up.

Now, maybe it is true that Sasaki Roshi never had anything worthwhile to say. I have never met the man and I am not his student. But it seems to me that a better approach might be to question assumptions about what a genuine teacher might be.

celticpassage's picture

No. I don't consider him or any human teacher perfect, so I have no vewpoint to change or hang on to. I of course know they are all flawed. But what we're talking about here is something very basic. If a 'venerable master' hasn't achieved even this level of control, it invalidates the whole person and all that he teaches. It's in this real vein that his teaching is crap and not in the 'facts of the Dharma' which you can pick up in books, and is only dirt anyway. His students behavior attests to this.

I don't care about your friend or sister, they aren't claiming what a spiritual master is claiming. And yes, as I have said before, spiritual teachers SHOULD and MUST be held to a higher (indeed the highest) standard. As the Christian teaching goes: If you are guilty in only one point of the law, you are guilty of the whole law.

Dominic Gomez's picture

A fish starts to rot from the head. Rinzai-ji's senior students apparently reflected the karma of its founder and illustrates the impermanence of reputation.

roqetman's picture

I've been reading and hearing a lot about abuse from people in positions of power (catholic priests, zen masters, athletes); all people placed on a pedestal by other people. All expected to be somehow more than human. More moral, more pure, just plain more.
Blame is put upon the people on the pedestal when abuse happens as it should be, but little or no blame is put upon those who put them there. I think that this is drowned-out by shouts not to blame the victims. But this is an important thing to notice: as long as we hold those on the pedestal to a higher standard and ourselves to a lower one, these problems will remain.
As sad as these events are, I look upon them as an equalizer, a way to destroy the pedestal. I just wish more people would see this too.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Call it the messiah syndrome. People look for a saviour outside themselves, other than themselves. Buddhism teaches spiritual independence.

mosephine's picture

I do not seek a saviour outside myself. But I do expect as a beginning student that I will not be sexually assaulted by my teacher. Buddhism teaches interdependence. Blaming others (even if they are at fault) is a useless waste of time.

celticpassage's picture

The sergeant pulled on his second boot.
Standing firmly, he then pulled fervently on his bootstraps, but somehow he didn't lift off the ground as his boots had done.
He was perplexed.

celticpassage's picture

Myself, I don't blame Joshu Sasaki at all.
However, that doesn't mean he isn't at fault, or that people shouldn't be upset about it, or that there shouldn't be consequences for Sasaki, or that strident measures should not be taken to eliminate this type of problem, or that others in similar positions doing similar things should not be publicly chastised and removed from their post immediately.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Persons on pedestals who believe the people who place them there are also (often) unconscious and spiritually-dependent. Having played both foolish roles at various times in my life, I see the pain of both and feel compassion for both.

Maitri to all to all of us _/\_

celticpassage's picture

"it was a community of men, mostly men,"
as long as people persist in sexist attitudes, there will be no change for the better.

RichardTuttle's picture

So what?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Apparently so thought Mr. Sasaki and his Rinzai-ji compadres.

conroy.r's picture

I too am dismayed by the whole tone of the coverage. The air of 'oops, family linen being laundered in public' is far short of what the victims deserve.

Perhaps our need to erect institutions and find leaders is in conflict with the responsibility for our actions that Buddhism teaches. "Great leaders" inevitably owe their position to the need of people to be infantilised, to be relieved of the burden of freedom.

As Thich Nhat Hanh remarked: "We mustn't let Buddhism get in the way of our being Buddhists".

berleymc's picture

I am so glad to finally see someone calling this a pathology!

I wrote this in response to the recent editorial:

I don't think that ritualistic sexual abuse (yes, ritualistic because the Roshi made it part of "teaching') is a mere "falling short of their ideals." It is mush bigger than that. And it also begs the question how many other monks may have "practiced" in the same way? I cannot help but be suspicious of a community who conveniently waits for the Roshi to be 105 years old and retiring - and now are saying "we are good people who made a mistake, look at our cool new ethics guidelines - now move along, there's nothing else to see here." Really? A community led by the likes of the Roshi cannot help but be toxic itself. There may well be much more to see there.

Something else missing in the editorial, which I hope will be a bigger part of the article, is that this isn't just about Buddhist institutions and the reputation of Buddhism in the West. This is a tragedy about real people, both men and women, who suffered (and believe me, continue to suffer). Women who are shunned for leaving a community that they previously loved and were devoted to. Women who perhaps were vulnerable because of their background, were shamed into believing that the "practice" was a legitimate way to break down their egos. Do a little research, that kind of shame will take a long and difficult road to get past. And the men who in their own set of vulnerabilities, were taken advantage of so that they would protect and explain away these horrible acts. And if there are men who follow in their Roshi's footsteps with the same behavior, they too were done a disservice - instead of being led toward enlightenment they've had the seeds of their basest desires watered time and time again. Another long road of healing if they can find a way to acknowledge it.

I dare say, that if that particular institution were to crumble into dust and become obsolete it would be more validating to those who suffered because of it than that institution's survival.

celticpassage's picture

"I am so glad to finally see someone calling this a pathology!"

I'm not since obviously the person is completely unqualified to make that statement.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism teaches that hell is not a distant part of the universe. Hell can be the temple itself.

ziegenhl's picture

I'm inclined to think that there's a difference between having human weakness and having a pathology, which is what Joshu Roshi seemed to be suffering from." ..... and ...... "after a lifetime of Buddhist practice, should it really be that hard to keep it in your pants? "

Hear, Hear!!!

I am saddened that there isn't more outrage and commitment to closely examining the abuse of authority in this situation. It wasn't one teacher with a pathology; it was a community of men, mostly men, and women who allowed "power-over" and "dominance" to replace egolessness and non-attachment. I read the NY times article and was shocked to hear the actions were justified over the decades with comments such as "such physicality could check a woman’s overly strong ego."

I really see no difference between a gang of men with tire-irons in India, Catholic Churches protecting pedophiles, Rogue Boys Scout Leaders, and zen teachers who take advantage of those with less power.

I have been practicing for only a year now. My head is filled with untrained and lofty ideas of non-duality and love. I understand that anger can be a damaging emotion, but it can also be a necessary sign to move one towards resolve and motivate change. I ask that our Buddhist community take this opportunity to examine gender roles and power dynamics in our institutions. I feel saddened and frustrated and I need reassurance.

JoseBuendia's picture

There is an enormous difference between "a gang of men with tire irons in india, Catholic Churches protecting pedophiles, Rogue Boy Scout Leaders, and zen teachers who take advantage of those with less power." It is not clear to me what you specifically refer to when you say "Rogue Boy Scout Leaders" -- but if I get your drift, the first three are crimes. The fourth is a violation of ethics and a breach of trust.

This is a big difference.