Filed in Relationships, Health

Authority and Exploitation

Three VoicesRobert Aitken, David Steindl-rast and Diane Shainberg

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Zen teacher Robert Aitken Roshi and Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-rast, are both prominent participants in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

Robert Aitken is the leader of The Diamond Sangha, a Zen community based in Hawaii with affiliate centers in other countries. Having first encountered Zen in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan in 1945, he is now, at age 73, considered the dean of American Zen. His books include Taking the Path of Zenand The Mind of Clover.
Brother David Steindl-rast received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Vienna. Although a long-time student of Zen, and worldwide lecturer, most of his time is spent at the Immaculate Heart Hermitage in Big Sur, California.

In January, 1991, these two old friends spent five days together in a secluded retreat cabin on Big Island, Hawaii, sitting in meditation, and discussing a list of questions developed by Brother David, and recorded by attending monk, Brother Kieran O'Malley.

Tricycle asked Dr. Diane Shainberg to extend Brother David and Aitken Roshi's discussion on authority and exploitation. A psychotherapist living and working in New York City, Dr. Shain berg is the author of Healing in Psychotherapy: The Process of Holistic Change. She supervises therapists and integrates Buddhist teachings into psychotherapeutic models. A seasoned student in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions, Shainberg currently studies with Tilak Fernando, a Sri Lankan Buddhist teacher.

The following excerpt was preceded by a discussion on the tension inherent between egalitarian imperatives and the authority required in order to pass on spiritual teachings. According to the discussion, this tension is not just problematic in North American Buddhist communities that are trying to assimilate Eastern teachings, but exists within Christian communities as well. Brother David then asked Aitken Roshi to say something about the place of authority in spiritual practice:


Robert Aitken Roshi: Someone once suggested that we have a kind of radical retreat at Koko An (our Zen center in Honolulu), with people taking turns being the roshi—the teacher. I think this was a misguided suggestion. Learning in a context of deepest inquiry, where self-deception is most likely to enter in, demands transference and trust. A student might not see the point of a particular idea or act, but if a trusted teacher presents it, the student is able to accept it provisionally and be encouraged to let it sink in.

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