February 15, 2013
The 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?
I 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.