A Funny Thing
Shozan Jack Haubner’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Enlightenment” (Summer 2013) was a breath of fresh air. It is not often that a frank and open discussion of the tribulations of practice and instruction are presented in such a pointed yet lighthearted manner. The thousands of pages written around, but not directly dealing with, the essential challenge of setting aside the ego can be overwhelming. In sharing his personal approach to dealing with the classical teachings of self-negation by incorporating contemporary, secular, feel-good approaches, he laughs at himself and lets us laugh at our own machinations. The challenge we all face is how to deal with the mind—its fantasies, illusions, and many voices—in a modern context that constantly reinforces such conditioning. Haubner’s authentic reminder that enlightenment means to lighten up is a lesson well worth taking to heart.
When Your Guru Goes Bad
I read “When Your Guru Goes Bad” by Brad Warner (Summer 2013) with great interest. I was not sure how people who had studied Buddhist philosophies for many years and were trying to live a life inspired by those philosophies dealt with issues such as those brought to the forefront in this article. I wondered how Buddhist communities would respond to one (or more) of their members either being accused of or admitting to sexual misconduct. I had seen many times throughout the years how hierarchies within organized religions dealt with these same issues and felt that the process and aftermath were nearly as destructive as the actual incidents of misconduct. I’m glad to see that these issues will not be ignored or swept under the rug by Tricycle, nor will they be played for hype or sensationalism. As I read the article, I heard a human struggling to understand how to accept this situation without making light of it or adding fuel to the fire.
Redwood City, CA
Thank you for Katy Butler’s wonderful article “A Life Too Long” (Fall 2013). As a physician, I was touched by the writer’s story. I have been a part of Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant (but not Buddhist!) prayer ceremonies when withdrawing life support, and it is always difficult. I have sung African spirituals, played “God Loves a Country Boy” on an iPhone, and covered blankets with hundreds of pinned pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Every culture approaches death in its own way, and I feel privileged to have been a part of so many of them.
At the same time, I am sad to see these traditions that have supported our grief process becoming lost in the modern world. I hope that your magazine will encourage a deeper discussion of how we as Western Buddhists should think about these issues. There are so many questions families have never had to think about—until they do. Would your loved one want a feeding tube? Would they want to stay on a ventilator? Would they want to live in a state where they could not care for themselves? What would your loved one consider a “meaningful recovery”? Would they want to donate their organs?
There also needs to be stronger clerical support at hospitals for Buddhist patients who have dying family members. Having a loving presence in those last hours to help bring meaning and grace to the moment can make all the difference. Most importantly, we need to encourage patients to have these discussions with their families (and their lawyers) now. Waiting until “later” often means waiting until you no longer have a voice in the conversation. In the Episcopal Church, the traditional time to do this is Lent. Most churches hold a session on writing wills and advanced directives. We should consider having a time set aside to address these issues in our own tradition.
—Catherine Ferguson, MD
With Great Power…
While I am very glad that sexual abuses by Buddhist teachers are being discussed (“Sex in the Sangha . . . Again,” Fall 2013), there seems to be less public acknowledgment of other areas of abuse of power. I was practicing in the Soto Zen tradition. After two years in the sangha, I noticed increasingly problematic behavior from the teacher: rudeness, a short temper, correcting people in the middle of public rituals, a singling out of favorites. There seemed to be a lack of skillful and compassionate interpersonal behavior from her in general. When I attempted to speak with senior sangha members, they acknowledged the problem but had the attitude that she was a good teacher in other ways and it was okay.
When I asked a question in private about oryoki (Zen ritual meal practice), I was called before the teacher and the ino and shamed into “correct thinking.” Shortly after that, rather than speak to me in person, the teacher contacted me by phone when I was out of town, told me that I was “too advanced” for her to teach, and said that I should find another teacher right away. I had only been practicing Zen for two years, so this was a blatant lie. When I subsequently wrote a respectful letter, asking for a meeting so that I could understand what had happened between us, she refused to speak with me. I received an email that said only: “Our discussion of Zen is at an end. May you find your true path!”
I was devastated. When I consulted other Zen teachers in this lineage, I was told that it was a karmic problem: I just had to accept this highly unskilled and uncompassionate behavior as this teacher worked out her karma. (Others in the sangha have had similar experiences with this teacher in the past.) This kind of psychological and spiritual abuse is often paraded as the expression of superior judgment and enlightenment when it is simply evidence of spiritual and emotional bypassing, immaturity, and unresolved personal, psychological, and neurotic issues.
Fortunately, I have had advice from other teachers in other lineages, and recognize that unskilled behavior lacking in compassion is not acceptable and not in the spirit of the Buddha’s teachings. Abuse of spiritual and emotional power can be as devastating and destructive as sexual abuse.