Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

The Death of Eido Roshi, Problematic Pioneer

Eido Tai Shimano Roshi died on February 18 at the age of 85. He was in the first wave of Japanese Buddhist teachers who introduced Zen to America in the 1950s and 60s, having arrived in Hawaii in 1960, then settling in New York City in 1965. Eido, who was still Sensei Tai Shimano at the time, was installed as resident teacher of the Zen Studies Society (ZSS), founded in 1956. Eventually, he became abbot of two centers—Shobo-ji in Manhattan and Dai Bosatsu Monastery in the Catskills. It was a post he held until forced to retire in 2010 under charges of sexual misconduct.

Eido Tai Shimano Roshi

I started sitting at Shobi-ji in 1978. I knew nothing about Eido Roshi or Zen but was desperate to find a meditation practice as a way to calm down; conveniently, the zendo was a block from my apartment.  Peter Matthiessen’s book The Snow Leopard was published around the same time. Reading it, I “got” that his search for the elusive Himalayan cat was a quest for awakening, which made Zen practice all the more attractive to me. I knew that Eido Roshi had been Matthiessen’s teacher at one point, and I figured that anyone good enough for Peter Matthiessen was good enough for me. Only after I had been sitting at Shobo-ji for a while was I aware that Matthiessen had been in a wave of students who had left in protest because Eido was ostensibly hitting on women in the sangha [community].

I was among about five or six new students who took refuge from Eido and became members of ZSS in 1979. Though talk of the roshi’s sexual misbehavior was whispered around the zendo, I ignored it. As long as he doesn’t hit on me, it won’t be a problem, I insisted, arguing that my allegiance was to the teachings, not to the teacher. I came to regret that denial a few years later, after I’d completed a kessei, a formal 100-day training period, at Dai Bosatsu. Eido never made a pass at me, but I heard complaints from others. When in 1981, he banned women from Dai Bosatsu, arguing that we were temptresses causing all the problems with the monks, I got that the problem was Eido and parted ways with him and ZSS.

Though I valued the rigorous Rinzai Zen practice I had received, once I moved on, I put Eido Roshi in the past. But in 2010, when he was dismissed by the Zen Studies board amid accusations of sexual misconduct, I thought back 30 years and wasn’t surprised. By 2014, when Mark Oppenheimer’s inflammatory exposé of Eido Roshi appeared in The New York Times, the sexual predation of Zen masters and other spiritual teachers of note was widely known.

Still, in the days before #MeToo, public declarations of abuse by Buddhist teachers was unusual, and the issue was hotly debated. Was it only the teachers who were at fault? Did the women in question bear any responsibility? Should these incidents be dismissed as sexual peccadilloes, or were they, in fact, serious crimes?

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Selfies to Self-reflection

David Ulrich noticed the connection between meditation and the power of images during his first college photography class in 1971.

That day, he recalled, “we noisily entered the room to observe the teacher seated in a lotus position in the front of it.” “He began the class with the statement ‘It is my belief that creativity arises from stillness.’ In that class, meditation was the gateway to seeing.”

Ulrich’s new book, Zen Camera: Creative Awakening With a Daily Practice in Photography, is intended as a guide for others—professionals or not—to create mindful images that reveal the photographer’s inner philosophy.

Escalante Falls and Canyon, Utah. Photo by David Ulrich.

“I think that one of the most important things asked of us by Buddhism is to learn simply to see what is as we look both inward and outward,” Ulrich told Tricycle. “If you take time with the subject and use the camera as a way of interacting with the world rather than mindlessly taking pictures and selfies, the camera can teach you about your own authentic way of seeing.”

Related: PHOTOS: The Natural Artwork of Japan’s Buddhist Temple Walls

Ulrich knows firsthand how developing a mindful approach to photography can be transformative.“I lost my eye chopping wood in the early 1990s. I spent two years learning to see again,” Ulrich shared. “The injury had an effect similar to the Zen master’s stick and ironically widened my perspective.”

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What is the Mindful Response to a School Shooting?

In the wake of last week’s tragedy in Parkland, Florida, some people were left wondering: How do you respond mindfully to a mass shooting at a high school? Well, there are at least two things that question can mean.

The first is: How do you deal mindfully with the emotions aroused by the shooting? Feelings like fear and anxiety, for example, which you may feel if you have a school-aged child; or outrage, if you think politicians should offer better policy responses than they’re offering; or despair, if you believe politicians will never change, or you just feel that things are spinning out of control.

A meditation teacher, if asked this question, might say something like, “You should experience these feelings mindfully, and this may give you a kind of critical distance from them, so they don’t dominate and distort your thinking.”

And a meditation teacher trained in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy might add some facts to facilitate this perspective.

Related: Buddha and Bullets

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Three Tactics from the Buddha to Forgive without Defeat

Photo by Ed Schipul | https://tricy.cl/2obDR3X

When you forgive someone who has wronged you, it doesn’t erase that person’s karma in having done wrong. This is why some think that forgiveness has no place in the karmic universe of the Buddha’s teachings, and that it’s incompatible with the practice of what he taught. But that’s not so. Forgiveness may not be able to undo old bad karma, but it can prevent new bad karma from being done. This is especially true with the bad karma that in Pali is called vera. Vera is often translated as “hostility,” “animosity,” or “antagonism,” but it is a particular instance of these attitudes: the vengeful animosity that wants to get back at someone for perceived wrongs. This attitude is what has no place in Buddhist practice. Forgiveness is what clears it out of the way.

The Dhammapada, a popular collection of early Buddhist poems, speaks of vera in two contexts. The first is when someone has injured you, and you’d like to inflict some injury back. The second is when you’ve lost a contest—in the Buddha’s time, this referred primarily to military battles, but now it could be extended to any competition where loss entails harm, whether real or only perceived—and you want to get even.

In both cases, forgiveness is what puts an end to vera. You resolve not to settle the score, even if society grants you the right to do so, because you realize that, from the point of view of karma, the only real score in contests like this consists of more bad karma points for both sides. So, in forgiving the other side, you’re basically promising yourself to forego any opportunity to add to the score. You have no idea how many lifetimes this particular karmic mud fight has been going back and forth, but you do know that the only way to end it is to stop the vera, and if the end doesn’t first start with you, it may never arrive.

“He insulted me,

        hit me,

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Opinion: We Can’t Let Myanmar Get Away with Ethnic Cleansing

The situation of the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar continues to darken as the brutal Burmese campaign against them, one the UN has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing,” seems set to fade from international attention. Nearly 700,000 are now living in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh while those still within Myanmar are subject to a two-pronged campaign of destruction. On the ground they continue to be victims of  violence, while in the Burmese public sphere their history and identity is being systematically erased. This is a frightening indication of the ease with which states can commit genocidal crimes with relative impunity.

Is Repatriation Desirable?

On November 23, a deal was reached between Myanmar and Bangladesh for the repatriation of several hundred thousand refugees, a deal which has received international criticism and has recently been put on hold over fears that conditions in Myanmar are not suitable for their return.

Inside Myanmar, the evidence points to ongoing ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh in December and January with most citing “forced starvation” at the hands of Burmese authorities as what has caused them to leave, according to a February 7 report from Amnesty International. The refugees also allege confiscation of Rohingya property and continued abduction, rape, and sexual assault of Rohingya women.

Related: Inside the Rohingya Refugee Camps

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