February 14, 2011

"The world is too much with us..."

This is the opening line of a poem by Wordsworth in which he decries materialism and says that we haven't aligned ourselves deeply enough with Nature where the true spirit is to be found.  The line comes to me right now, not as Wordsworth intended, but because there are so many things going on in this difficult world, I sometimes feel I can't deal with any more.  This is the feeling I get when there are reports concerning the sexual transgressions of Zen priests.  Maybe some of you feel this way when you read of yet another disclosure of youths who were abused by Catholic priests.  At the same time that we don't want to hear any more, we also feel that the problem has to be completely addressed until we have faced into it, aired it out completely, given the problem its full emptying.

The latest discussion concerns Dennis Genpo Merzel, the founder of the Big Mind workshops and abbot of Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City.  Merzel's resignation from his teaching duties and from the White Plum Asangha, that is the turning in of his robes and his affiliation within the Maezumi lineage, was published in the latest edition of Tricycle Magazine.  He has owned up to years of sexual misconduct, pledged to take up therapy, and full examination of his actions.  At the same time, he has decided to continue his teaching of Big Mind which is a copyrighted program, ($50,000 per, I heard) that promises to give people an awakening experience, of some kind, or something like that.  Some have suggested that the fee exploitation along with spurious claims as to the enlightenment outcome is what we should be upset about and not the sexual impropriety.

An even larger picture is the sadness that this activity has been permitted over a long period of time while many people have known about it.  Merezel's Dharma brothers and sisters have not done enough to require accountability of one another.  He is certainly not the only one to have been challenged by his own body and I'm sure he'll not be the last.  The problem is how the larger Sangha holds the transgressor accountable because his actions injure, not only particular people, but the integrity of the Three Treasures - The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha.

The function of Sangha is to look out for one another and not permit one's Dharma sisters and brothers to make mistakes in Buddhism.  But, this is all a messy business.  Members of the Kanzeon Sangha in Salt Lake City are calling on the national priests to speak out against Merzel's actions.  At the same time, Keido Les Kaye has written a letter to the Kanzeon Sangha demonstrating that an attempt was made years ago to ask Maezumi to withdraw Merzel's teaching authorization, but the request was refused.  You can read the letter from Kaye in its entirety on the Sweeping Zen site so you can see for yourself how complicated and messy things can get over sexual misconduct.  Letters from other priests speaking out on the issue are also found on this site.  All of this, if you care to be bothered with it.  At some level it's tiresome business.  On another, if you succumb to gossip, it's a juicy read.


I feel tired for us all.  I discuss this sad business so we can be fully in the open, unlike the years of subterfuge and deception that has taken place in the Catholic church.  The issues of misconduct with Zen priests has, so far, been among adults, but this doesn't lessen the unethical nature of the activity.  So far, men have been the "perpetrators" and women the "victims" if we are to use these popular words, but perhaps it's a matter of time before women fall prey to the lure of sexual intrigue in the dokusan room.  Frankly, most women Zen teachers I know are too damn old to be interested, and what I think is that women are far too practical for such nonsense.  We're not that desperate.  Not to make light of it all, bottom line is that people have been injured, not only those who were party to the behavior, but entire Sanghas far and wide have been torn apart.  This is abuse of the Three Treasures, the field of Dharma that we all share.  In times past, when the Sangha was abused by unethical behavior of a priest, the Buddha ousted them from the monastic community.  The same was true of Sangha members.  The Buddha removed them from the Sangha for certain offenses.  Of course, we have the matter of religious freedom in the US and anyone, even if they have been removed from their religious affiliation, can rise again independently to promote themselves in the marketplace and take advantage of unsuspecting and vulnerable seekers.  This is the great privilege of living in America.

You'll all be glad to know that it is raining in the Bay Area today and the pouring down is forecast throughout the week.  A right climate for the mood.  Happy Valentine's Day!