Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Zen Teacher and Student Behavior

This first quarter of this year has been marked by teacher/student sex scandals in the Zen world.  I've been following Sweeping Zen on Facebook, and at least a dozen responses to these events from various American teachers have appeared there. For a couple of years I've intended to create a document for the Buddhist Festival in the Park that would say that a group's participation at the festival does not necessarily mean an endorsement by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and here are some warning signs, etc.  Considering this is on the minds of folks in the Buddhist world, it's about time I followed through with this intent.  I'm sure I'll have plenty of material to glean from these many articles, including some from psychologists who are also teachers.

For now, I'm going to try to collect my thoughts, so this may take several posts.

One person's response is to do away with Dharma Transmission.  Here was my response at the time:

I think Storlie mistakes the form for human nature. It doesn't matter what form it takes, human nature will bring about problems with power, authority, and institutional practices. The fairy tale is not dharma transmission, the fairy tale... is the archetypal transmission of power we humans give others. Take away dharma transmission, and we will insist on filling the void with new corruptible practices. Whether a 10 year institution, or a 1,000 year institution, diligence will always be required against this tendency to corrupt veneration and trust, no matter how pure the intent. Plus, no matter how you try to clear the slate, karma will still remain. Horrific things have been done while trying to ignore this. The Protestant Reformation quickly corrupted. Erase the tsars, create new despots among all the communist equals. Does it help or hurt for those of less corruptible intent to boycott the institutions? Personally I think it hurts more when something is erased and the void is left to be filled by ignorance. There are plenty of charlatans out there who refuse the institution of dharma transmission for their own gain.
A couple of days later, a Zen teacher and psychologist responded with an argument quite similar to mine. (Hmmm...yes...it is quite likely she saw my post...glad I could help.)

Aside from the question of sex with teachers, there is the question of legitimacy, and power and authority that needs to be addressed.  This is a huge topic, a morass of spiritual aspiration, heart entanglement, psychology, and ethical guidelines that attempt to put harnesses on this mixture of lofty and base predilections of this human animal. 

I guess what has triggered my procrastination pattern is this entangled morass, but in the end I suppose all I, and we who present the Buddhist Festival, is give some of the same old ethical guidelines, and point to them when it comes to light that someone has been violated.

So far:

  1. I wish to address the issue of legitimacy.  How do you, a potential Buddhist practitioner, decide on the credentials of the person you look on as a teacher?  There are teachers who do not come from a line of Dharma Transmission.  There are teachers who have ethical and/or psychological training.  There are teachers who have been judged to have a spiritual understanding that enables them to guide you on this path of enlightenment. How do you judge these things?
  2. Regardless of credentials, teachers will be human, and will transgress boundaries.  Guidelines regarding these boundaries need to be listed.

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