Thursday, November 10, 2011

Letter from Roshi Joan regarding Eido Shimano by Joan Halifax


on Friday, December 31, 2010 at 7:31 am

"I am Founding Abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a woman, a Zen practitioner since 1965, and someone who was sexually assaulted by one of her Buddhist teachers years ago. I have been following the discussion on the AZTA listserv for many months about the Eido Shimano "case". I use the term "case" not to mean koan, but in a legalistic sense. For just as the former Israeli president has just been convicted in a court of law of rape and sexual harassment, so also is Eido Shimano vulnerable to such an indictment.

For many years, I have heard about the sexual behavior of Eido Shimano toward his female students; there has long been talk about many of the Buddhist teachers who have violated sexual boundaries with their students. Sadly, the list of Buddhist teachers who have had intercourse with their students is not short. We have also been aware of not only of teachers having sex in the dokusan room but of teachers engaging in sexual violence toward their students as well.

For those of us who are not only teachers but women, the misogyny that we have encountered when we have brought these violations to the attention of others has been often concerning. For like many rape victims, we have been seen as somehow culpable, have been ignored, criticized, or shunned.

I want to say that I am grateful and am relieved that Eido Shimano has resigned from his abbacy and the Zen Center Board, and that you have identified good, strong leaders to take over your center. We live in a time when there should be zero tolerance of the violation of professional boundaries, and most particularly sexual abuse on the part of leaders, whether they be a president of a country, a prime minister, or a minister, whether psychologist or social worker, whether monk or manager."

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"Many of us have experienced being under the spell of a teacher or person of authority. Some of us have seen our own students caught in the trance of positive projections. But our practice is about waking up and ending suffering, being real and being courageous in dealing with mara, and actualizing compassion, even a compassion that might seem ruthless. We have to realize that the three-fold training is clear on the matter of sex and ethics, physical abuse and sangha relationships, and the role of wisdom and compassion in relation to the three jewels. And we have to see our teachers in a totally realistic light, including their feet of clay.

I also want to say that it is not that Eido Shimano is a scapegoat for all other spiritual teachers who have violated sexual boundaries and engaging in sexually abusive (and probably addictive) behavior. I hope that by bringing this situation to the world's attention through Aitken's now-public archive, the NYTimes article, and the increasing storm of emails, blogposts, and communiques (including facebook), the sexual abuse of women by Buddhist teachers will diminish, if not end, through strong negative sanctions of those who have engaged in activities such as this."

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"The sexual abuse of women is no small matter globally. It takes profound commitment to deal with this issue. Humbly, i feel that we as Buddhists need to clean up the scene in our own backyard, and clean it up now. We all share this karma, and we must share the correction process as well. Compassion tells us that, and we have to not only listen but as well to act. Thus these letters you are currently receiving....... Please heed them, and heed them well.

I do feel deeply about this issue since so many women have passed through my zendo diminished and damaged as a result of having been subjected to sexual boundary violations by their teachers; some have been physically abused; others have been psychologically intimidated and then forced into sex. Some women were plainly deluded and hungry for acknowledgment, and in some way, power; others were coerced, shamed, and some were threatened; others were entranced and tricked. In the end, after all is said and done, most have wanted to abandon their Buddhist practice, finding Buddhism too passive and uncaring, if not dangerous.

As a result of what I have borne witness to in others and myself, as well as bearing witness to women who have been raped in the context of war or extreme family abuse, I would suggest here that we need to actualize a compassion that is more skillful and much braver at this time. I hope you will consider that standing aside might not be the best route in terms of this situation with Eido Shimano. I hope you will be courageous and forthright and not take the road of compromise. For it has been compromise, I believe, and lack of ethical resolve that has given rise to our collective suffering in this situation, the individual suffering of the women who have been subjected to this abuse, and to the deep suffering in your sangha."

Joan Halifax
Founding Abbot
Upaya Zen Center


Here is an excerpt from another letter by Halifax Roshi about misogyny in Buddhism and religion in general.

"Why Buddhism? Violations of Trust In The Sexual Sphere"

"We all know that rape as a weapon of war has been used against women and nations for thousands of years. Rape, forcible seduction, seduction through trickery, power and domination, [...] have also been part of most, if not all religions. ... If you want to deepen the shadow of any religion, turn wisdom and compassion into hypocrisy, and stand by, conflict-averse, as its male clergy disrespects women, has sex with female congregants, dominates women, abuses women, degrades or rapes them.

But as a Zen priest, as a woman, I have to ask: why my religion? Why Buddhism? This is not what the Buddha taught. But for too long in the West, and I'm sure in the East, gross misogyny has existed in the Buddhist world, a misogyny so deep that it has allowed the abuse of women and nuns in our own time, not only [historically] or in Asia. The misogyny is well-expressed through mistreatment of women, through sexual boundary violations of women and the psychological abuse of women."

We can post on the internet, write letters, and discuss all we want, but the question is, what can be done on a practical level to stop this scourge? How do we cut through the denial of the seriousness of this problem on the part of practitioners, to start with. And how can we demand that ethical standards be adhered to? Sanghas must draw up ethics contracts for their teachers to sign. Breach of contract should result in expulsion. What else can we do to liberate Buddhism from this blight? A global effort is needed, so that women can feel safe and secure in their chosen sangha, wherever it may be, and whatever the tradition they choose.

It is said that Mara made the Buddha cry by telling him that the day will come when the enemies of the Dharma will dress as monks, and act to destroy the Dharma. It looks like that time is upon us.

--Dharma Protector.

4 comments:

  1. The Zen community has been grappling with this problem for 30 years--what to do about teachers generally who molest students, and specifically Eido Shimano. What this says to me is that having a national oversight board, as Zen does, is no guarantee of safeguarding an ethical Buddhism.

    So, if accountability structures, which are vulnerable to corruption or divisiveness, are not the answer, what is? The Dalai Lama my be right; the only way to deal with the problem is to initiate legal proceedings against transgressors. Buddhist women need to be supported in filing complaints or criminal charges where relevant. And an education campaign needs to happen, to dispel the myth that teachers are semi-divine enlightened beings to whom the student should submit without question. We need to demystify what in most cases are very ordinary people with ordinary failings.

    We also need to look at how Buddhism, through the behavior of its teachers, privileges men and tends to marginalize, and even exclude, women. This is not appropriate in a democratic society.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Zen community has been grappling with this problem for 30 years--what to do about teachers generally who molest students, and specifically Eido Shimano. What this says to me is that having a national oversight board, as Zen does, is no guarantee of safeguarding an ethical Buddhism.

    So, if accountability structures, which are vulnerable to corruption or divisiveness, are not the answer, what is? The Dalai Lama my be right; the only way to deal with the problem is to initiate legal proceedings against transgressors. Buddhist women need to be supported in filing complaints or criminal charges where relevant. And an education campaign needs to happen, to dispel the myth that teachers are semi-divine enlightened beings to whom the student should submit without question. We need to demystify what in most cases are very ordinary people with ordinary failings.

    We also need to look at how Buddhism, through the behavior of its teachers, privileges men and tends to marginalize, and even exclude, women. This is not appropriate in a democratic society.

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://behindthethangkas.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Aitken_Shimano_Letters.html

    More on this can be found on the link above.

    ReplyDelete