This paragraph in a new long-form piece in the Atlantic got my attention:
When we think of predatory clergy, we think of Roman Catholic priests. Their sins are far worse than what goes on in Zen circles. But the percentage of the Zen clergy implicated in sexual misdeeds is many times greater than that of the Catholic clergy.
Author Mark Oppenheimer, who also writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for the New York Times, offers scant numbers, which makes his claim impossible to verify. And we should, I think, show more reticence than he does in comparing Roman-Catholic child rape to the overwhelmingly consensual exploits of randy Buddhist monks. But Oppenheimer does paint a convincing and pretty horrifying picture of a U.S. Buddhist culture in which the assorted Zen masters just can’t keep it in their pants (or robes, as the case may be).
His 13,000-word exposé, The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side, focuses mainly on 81-year-old Eido Shimano, a Zen Buddhist monk from Japan who arrived in New York in 1964, penniless but devout. Shimano’s timing was perfect. Influenced by the nascent counterculture of the sixties, swaths of Western society were eager to expand the definition of spirituality; like the Beatles and their Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, they looked toward the East. Downtown New York and even the posh Upper East Side were full of seekers and peaceniks. Within months, Shimano had enough followers to make a decent living, and after a couple of years, he had become a teacher to various moneyed acolytes. Dorris Carlson, the widow of the man who’d founded Xerox, ended up giving Shimano two million dollars, enabling him to buy 1,400 acres in New York’s Catskills, where he built a Japanese monastery and Zen retreat.
Some members were famous; others were rich. In addition to Carlson, with her Xerox money, the Bethlehem Steel executive William P. Johnstone, the publisher Barney Rosset, and the writer Peter Matthiessen were all students of Shimano’s. The Rockefeller Foundation gave money, too.
In the decades that followed, while he solidified his reputation as a teacher and businessman, Shimano was followed by whispers that he made aggressive sexual advances toward his younger female students, taking advantage of his pupils’ awe for him. Multiple women complained of sexual harassment, with at least one saying that Shimano’s advances had been a “barrage.” But because the victims considered themselves pioneers of American Buddhism and didn’t want to hurt their movement, they didn’t press charges or seek publicity.