January 13, 2012

Special Karma

Special KarmaThis fall a copy of Merry White Benezra's novel Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly arrived in the Tricycle office. The book closely tracks the experiences of the narrator, Iris (modeled on the author,) as she makes her way through an unspecified Zen Monastery dealing with an unspecified and unscruplulous Roshi. Those who have paid attention to the Zen scandals that finally broke through to the mainstream recently will know just what is being referred to, and Ms. Benezra clearly speaks from experience. But even if you have no idea what the book might be based on, you will still be able to understand the book.

The intimate descriptions of life in the monastery are convincing and moving in their details as the story moves on, month by month. Knowing how it is to end, it might be thought painful or depressing, but actually it fits in the tradition of Zen-practice-narratives-by-bundering-Westerners that is something of a sub-genre. The ending of the book is far more uplifting than the stories of many women who shared in the actual events, so don't stay away on that account. We'll have a few stories of this kind in the upcoming issue of Tricycle this February (Spring 2012 issue): How do we come back to the practice after things fall apart with our sangha?

Special Karma is a beautiful little book, and anyone interested in Zen practice viewed through a very personal lens will find value in it, and those who have experienced pain and betrayal in their sangha will certainly see their own epxeriences reflected and validated there. You can read more about the book here and buy it on Amazon.com.

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Sareen's picture

"I find myself still greatly disturbed and betrayed by the fact that Eido Roshi’s sexual advances towards students did not end more than 15 years ago, as I was assured they had, when I began to train with him. Indeed, we are all now well aware that his sexual advances, which sometimes even rose to date rape, did not stop. Perhaps the frequency diminished a bit with age, but not because of any real understanding of the harm he had done or was doing right up to the latest exposer in June of 2010 that forced his retirement last year. The book also should help everyone see just how insidious, confusing and detrimental such advances let alone conquest can be not only to the one pursued, but to the whole training sangha, both those who were subtly or grossly aware of what was going on, and indirectly to all those who didn’t have a clue. Of course given Eido Roshi’s gross lack of respect for ethical boundaries, he was always a poor example to his students in this crucial area of practice. How tragic that such an inspired teacher and leader could have such a big gap in his training and psychological maturity. Clearly his great gifts were repeatedly used to excuse or minimize his great gaps."

I read the reviews of this book("read more about the book here") and have pasted the quote above. These kind of problems are occurring in other sanghas and the description given above echoes my experience. Where women were vulnerable because of their conditioning, the greater power the teacher has in a sangha means that sanghas need to have mechanisms in place where problems can be addressed with clarity and consequences.