Sexual Abuse in the Zen Sangha: Mark Oppenheimer’s Zen Predator of the Upper East Side

I only met the Reverend Eido Shimano once, in 2010, at a ceremony where he pronounced his senior student, the Reverend Roko Sherry Chayat as a roshi, or senior Zen teacher in the Rinzai line. In his mid-eighties, I was struck at the quality of his presence. The old roshi simply oozed charisma.

And I was a bit wary. Okay, a bit more than a bit. His entire teaching career he had been shadowed by rumors of sexual improprieties. And when I met him he had recently publicly confessed to this and was through negotiations with his board, winding down his teaching career.

That more or less graceful exit collapsed not long after this ceremony when it was revealed he had secretly written a letter to supporters in Japan where he denied all that he had admitted to in America. With that the proverbial shit hit the fan, and to throw in the other appropriate metaphor, any fig leafs for his departure were gone.

I had a small part at this moment writing the first of a series of letters from Zen teachers calling on his immediate removal from leadership. At this point there are lawsuits and attempts at arbitration over assets and financial commitments. But the end does seem to be on the horizon, if a somewhat hazy horizon.

Mark Oppenheimer’s essay The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side, was released on Amazon yesterday. I don’t think it will prove to be the last word, it’s really too early for that. And the book, at sixty-seven pages really more an essay, is brief. So brief he doesn’t even mention the efforts on the part of Reverend Shimano’s Dharma successor the Reverend Genjo Marinello to address the issue, which would be required in any comprehensive review of what had transpired.

But it shows enough, and it is devastating. The book feels to me a clear-eyed look at Reverend Shimano’s fall. I found it a solid bit of journalism, letting people have their say and with only a minimum of editorializing, and less, I felt, moralizing.

And he avoids some of the possible traps for the unwary. For instance much has been made in some corners of the fact Reverend Shimano, who received his formal authorization in a public ceremony witnessed by perhaps a hundred people, turned out not to have been registered at the home temple in Japan. This is significant. But people have gone on to suggest therefore he didn’t actually have Dharma transmission, the critical authorization for a Zen teacher. Oppenheimer simply cuts through this as “arcane controversies…” And, instead, keeps his focus on the confusions of the heart that allow such things to happen, both for victim and perpetrator.

Sadly, no one comes out of it unscathed. And that is adequately documented.

Also, if we’re willing there are lessons to be learned for all of us that I feel Mr Oppenheimer opens the doors for us to see.

Worth a read.

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