A Couple of Pointers Within the Mess of Our Conversation about Sexual Ethics in the Western Zen Community

Prior to my time away from the world wide web the Buddhist blogosphere, or at least the part of it that I tend to follow, was pretty focused on Zen priest Eshu Martin’s public revelations of allegations of years of sexual misconduct on the part of the now one hundred and five year old Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki. A variety of responses followed, many archived at Sweeping Zen. I thought they were mostly thoughtful reflections from a number of angles by people with a deep commitment to our emergent Western Zen sangha. They’ve included a powerful reflection by Zen teacher Grace Schireson, as well as reflections by Dosho Port, and Koun Franz, as well as by the independent scholar and liberal Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor. I even offered a very small comment, myself.

But sometime while I was on retreat things took a turn.

The priests Grace Schireson, Peter Schireson, and Brad Warner, as well as Sweeping Zen editor Adam Tebbe found themselves embroiled in a public dispute with some unpleasant things being said to one another. As is the case in our blogosphere life, there were also numerous comments from the sidelines, many cruel and, I notice, often written without a real name attached to them. (It seems anonymity often frees inner demons when writing on the web. Personally I’d encourage people with passion in these areas to at least sign their real names…)

I found all of this particularly painful for a number of reasons. I consider Grace and Peter friends. While we’ve never actually met in the flesh, I feel the same about Adam. And I think well of Brad. (I like to point out to people that I was the only formally authorized Zen teacher to “endorse” his Hardcore Zen when it came out.)

I admit I just didn’t know what to say about this mess. Many thoughts, but they weren’t, aren’t coming together. Absolutely the issue of sexual abuse among our Zen teachers must be addressed. And, this time around I think people have gotten carried away and way too personal. I notice to date only Adam Tebbe has made any attempt at apologizing for his overheated responses. I really think it would be good if a couple of others could dance back a bit. Not off the deeper points, but the personalization, if that’s a right word.

(An addition: Grace Shireson has told me that she and Peter have both offered apologies to Brad Warner.)

And there’s an important reason, I believe, to do this. I think there’s something really important going on within this conversation that can be lost if we aren’t careful. Important points.

As I’ve been trying to catch up, I found a brief piece by the blogger Genju at 108zenbooks. I thought it very helpful.

It, in addition to a nice shout out to our Boundless Way Zen code of ethics, pointed me, and, I hope, many of us to a substantive reflection by the blogger Nellalou at Smiling Budddha Cabaret, a blog I consider one of the most important within our public Dharma conversation.

Dances With Power is, I think, a critical read. And I hope you will.

I don’t agree with everything she opines. I think she’s too harsh with Peter. I think maybe she lets Brad off a tad easier than I would. But… The heart of her argument is, I hope, the direction we will choose to go toward.

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