Hi y'all it's been a while but I got sufficiently fired up the other night that my inspiration has come back.
San Francisco Zen Center hosted an event Friday night at the Jewish Community Center in SF. It was a "conversation" between premier Buddhist scholar, Dr. Robert Thurman (maybe better known in some circles as Uma Thurman's dad), Zen Center president Susan O'Connell and local therapist Dr. David Bullard. The title of the event was "Embracing the Disappointments of Intimacy: How Buddhist Ideas Can Help Relationships." Sounds cool right? I think people are thirsty for these kinds of discussions. People like me, who are into this zen practice, are trying to figure out how to apply the teachings to our everyday lives. And as humans, relationships are a central, if not The central, theme in our lives. They open up and touch every emotion we have. So we need help! We want to be better to our loved ones and even better to those we don't love so much.
I'm glad I went to the talk and I could say a lot about how the discussion could have been better. To keep it short I will say I would have liked the conversation to have stayed on topic. Robert Thurman had a lot to say and often what he said was loosely related at best. At worst, you could say he hijacked the stage and went of on some rants.
But here's where my beef lay and here are some of the questions it inspired. At one point early in the evening the subject of sex came up, as often does in conversations about intimacy. This was in relation to falling in love and the tendency to get totally consumed by this other person. Dr. Thurman says he wants to share some wisdom he heard from Sasaki Roshi and goes on to casually acknowledge that he's currently being accused of some sexual "misdeeds." (I have included one link but there are many) He might have even chuckled to himself when he said it! Dr. Thurman went on to say "but he's still a great master." And continued to share some of Sasaki's teachings about sex! Including something about when people first fall in love they stay all wrapped up in the bedroom for a few days but they can't stay like that forever, and eventually someone "has to clean the sheets.' Fucking gross! (please excuse my language). It will never be okay to be casual about a spiritual leader taking advantage of his congregants. And I also feel like it will never be ok to condone "teachings" from a criminal about the very behavior they are being accused of misusing. That is just messed up and it's a head game for people who are vulnerable, seeking, and deeply exploring their own psyche.
Which leads me to the question, how messed up do you have to be to lose your "Zen Master" membership card? In the discussion of spiritual teachers gone wild, it is often mentioned that these behaviors are mistakes and these people aren't gods, they are still human beings, and they still offer some great insights that are really helpful for a lot of people. But I think we have to draw a line somewhere. Our brains are set to compartmentalize the world around us. I'm not sure it is so easy for a lot of us to separate a Zen teacher's good teachings from shitty teachings. Of course they will make mistakes, this issue will never go away, but we can do our best to protect people. Letting him slide because he was a "great master" is how this mess continued for so long in the first place.
On a, I would argue, somewhat related note. Here's a link to a hot of the press story of Justin Beiber's visit to a brothel. I do think all of this is related because it falls into "rape culture." The devaluing and sexualizing of women that is supported by many seemingly harmless things, like Dr. Robert Thurman subtly approving of Sasaki Roshi's behavior by still regarding him as a great master. How would that make his victims feel? Invalidated perhaps? And then you have celebrities like Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus who are these extreme examples of the symptoms of a sick society. We can argue that they aren't good examples because they are not regular people but what are the kids watching every day? Justin Beiber running out of a brothel covered in a bed sheet and Miley Cyrus getting nasty with a sledgehammer on video. It all gets into the mind and shapes it, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes less.