January 03, 2011

Zen teachers respond to Eido Shimano

This blog is no stranger to the uproar over Zen Studies Society and Eido Shimano. Today we continue to bring you this narrative by referring you to Monkey Mind, James Ford's blog, which collects letters from Zen teachers on the subject.

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Chisho's picture

Reposted from Zen Forum International, a letter from Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Zendo, Japan:

Dear All,

I will briefly speak as a newer member of this organization, junior to many people here whom I respect whose opinions may differ. For the first time since joining this body, I am ashamed.

This is not a normal case of a teacher who, perchance, had an affair with a student, or a drinking problem, or bought himself a BMW with Sangha funds, or other like personal or minor fault. Nor is it something that happened over the short term or recently.

Instead, this is the story of a teacher who engaged in case upon case of serial sexual abuse for decades, all while his Sangha and students looked the other way and covered it up, all while many here knew yet chose to do nothing. I know that Mr. Shimano is too just a victim of greed and ignorance, the real culprits here.

However, at the same time, a teacher of the Precepts who intentionally acts again and again, over decades, to harm the innocent, showing little if any remorse in case after case, repeating the harm over decades with no self-reflection ... is a kind of monster in our midst. Shame on us for not decrying this in the strongest terms, allowing any kind of "honorable exit".

Thus the calls of "give them more time to work it out" are about 10 years too late. They have had years, and chance upon chance. To "give them more time" and allow a "graceful exit" for Mr. Shimano is not the right answer here. He must be condemned by all of us in the strongest and most unambiguous terms, we must deny him any respect (his years of service do not outweigh the damage done here), the members of this organization must denounce the years of cover up, we should publicly admit our own role in not doing enough. Moreover, we must now publicly turn our backs on Mr. Shimano. Furthermore, we must turn our backs on the ZSS ... treat them as persona non grata ... unless and until they exhibit real reforms.

If it were a case in which such events had happened but once or twice, or nobody in the organization knew, or there had not been cover up after cover up for YEARS then my opinion would be different. However, this is our moral equivalent of the child abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. If we allow Mr. Shimano to make a graceful exit, if we allow things to be papered over again ...our own shame is compounded.

Our students are watching. Right now, opinion I am hearing among people observing is that the "teachers of the Precepts" look like a bunch of hypocrites trying to protect their own.

Shame on all of us.

Gassho, Jundo

Richard Fidler's picture

I am a person who cares deeply about Buddhism in the United States. I am not a teacher. Consequently, I look upon the Eido Shimano case as an outsider. After having read the correspondence on James Ford's blog, I have the following questions:

1. How is this case different from Catholic priests committing unlawful sexual acts?
2. To what extent were unlawful acts covered up by those in positions of authority?
3. In view of the harm done to numerous women, should those in authority who looked the other way, (thereby condoning the roshi's conduct) receive disciplinary action?
4. If Eido Shimano committed unlawful acts, why is he not being prosecuted by law enforcement? The same question applies to the misconduct of Catholic priests.
5. If, indeed, the Board of the Zen Studies Society was negligent in not responding to unlawful conduct by Eido Shimano, then shouldn't that board be held legally responsible for the harm inflicted on innocent women?
6. What kind of policy is being developed by all branches of Buddhism that deals with teacher misconduct towards students?

This episode must be seen as an opportunity for growth. It suggests that all Buddhists--teachers, students and laypersons--need to explore the precept of right conduct with regard to the behavior of those in positions of authority. In defining the roles of teachers, administrators, and board members,the Buddhist community has a lot of work to do. The present unhealthy situation must never happen again.

Richard Fidler

lilawheel's picture

Dear Richard...
I'm not a lawyer but I believe the main issue with the abusive Catholic priests vis a vis the legal codes in the US and other countries was that minors were involved. With adults the spiritual and ethical issues remain extremely grave, yet I don't believe U.S. law prosecutes when a spiritual leader sleeps with an adult woman, as it is considered a consensual relationship. I'm only talking about ordinary law, not spiritual ethics nor our current understanding of power dynamics. There must still be room for an adult woman to bring a lawsuit against such a teacher, and there could surely also be issues with the institution's nonprofit charter--I'm not sure about this. And if the guru in question is considered an employee... haha, then they could be fired based on violating the parameters of their job, if the parameters are written by which a Zen master could be removed if they dont' walk their talk, but I doubt that most teachers enjoy employee status. By saying all this, I do not mean to minimize the gravity of such situations or the damage done, nor in any way condone the actions of sexually predatory spiritual leaders. The law of the country can be a blunt instrument. As communities we need to be brave and speak out ... it's as amazing that we as students can get hypnotized by shame and transference into collusion, as it is that a supposedly enlightened guru can get that lost. Creepy, but it does speak to common sense and the responsibility not to give up your innate intelligence..