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:


Brother David: The parents I am speaking about, have healthy relationships with their children and completely respect this. But our society has become so over-sensitive to any physical intimacy between parents and children that now there are countless grandparents who don't even want to visit their grandchildren any more. Any caress may be interpreted, by parents or neighbors, as child abuse. They can't hug or caress the children. They can't be affectionate and tender and warm. The whole pornographic business has done less harm to our society than this frenzy of prudishness. That's my deepest conviction.

Aitken Roshi: Of course the parents and grandparents who feel free in a mindful way to be physically intimate with their children are respectful of a certain line that they do not cross.

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