‘Sex, Lies and American Buddhism’ (1995)

Written by Rob Hogendoorn

A Winter 1995 special issue of CyberSangha: The Buddhist Alternative Journal contained an article by Zenshin Roshi of the Zen Institute of San Diego: ‘Sex, Lies and American Buddhism.’ With his contribution to this special issue, Zenshin responded to reading Lenore Friedman’s pioneering work Meetings With Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America (1987):

“A few years ago, I read a most unusual book entitled Meetings with Remarkable Women, a tome in praise of those women in America who had ascended to the lofty post of Zen Master, or something like it. It did not mention however, like most vanity pieces, that at least three of the women profiled in the book had long sexual liaisons with their teachers. Several others stood around in a bubbling pustule of sexual intrigue and grossly unethical behavior in Zen Centers until they were accorded a transmission, and had acquired a personal following. They then turned on their teachers (whom they had safely distanced themselves from), and become apostates with their following attached to their new ideology like Siamese twins at the hip.

You never have to worry about American Zen students asking impudent questions such as ‘Since we are not Buddhists anymore, why are we bowing to a rock on the alter? If Buddha is unimportant, why should
I bow to YOU?’

To be perfectly frank, the puerile ramblings of such apostates as Toni Packer on Buddhism are so simple-minded and idiotic that only in America could such people exist that would think that this crap is intelligent. To get some picture of the depth of such insight as provided by these folks we only need to measure Le Gran Toni and her neodharma sister Joke-oh’s perceptions of the tradition with the credentials of arguably the Twentieth Century’s greatest historian, Arnold Toynbee. Toynbee answered when asked what he thought the greatest event of the Twentieth Century would be ‘the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism into Western culture.’ He did not say Krishnamurti, Alan Watts, or the Housefrau NeoZen movement. Am I saying that women are not qualified to teach Zen? Far from it. I believe the greatest teachers I have met in American Buddhism have been women, but only two, Karuna Dharma and Stuart Roshi, were chronicled in the book. From a Zen perspective, sun, moon, man,woman are all conceptual contrivances to be overcome with practice. All women zendos or all man Zendos are like killing a commie for Christ, as the old sixties joke went. If you are a slave of someone else’s opinion, you will never be able to look the Buddha in the face, a face which, I might add, is both male and female and neither at once. American Zen does not need female role models, or male role models either. What it needs is Martin Luther (without the anti-semitism please). You can’t be a man or a woman and study with me, I will not have it.

Do not bind yourself with invisible rope. Do not look at the sky through a pipe and slander it. If I step on your foot, you scream. This is Dharma. If you want to hold onto your opinions, then Zen is not the discipline for you. Put it down. Put it all down. Do not make man, do not make woman, do not make vegetarian, pacifist, Buddhist, right, left, right, wrong anything. When the occasion arises, just act with pure motive and a kind heart. Make your mind as vast as the sky, your compassion as boundless as the ocean. Study Zen, study Pureland, study Tantrayana, study your own mind! Kill your ego. Crush it. Stomp it. Just give it up. No ego, no man, no woman, no problem.

The tree sits quietly by the stream
water passing, swish, rush,
How many gallons go by?
You kill the tree at its roots
It falls faceless, face to the sun
The streaming clouds whirl in the blue
Life and death fade in the vast azure pond
HO! The tree stands again,
it’s limbs home to a million birds
Its roots merged with rock and soil
Indistinguishable from your own Mind
He, She on every leaf
Never make the same mistake TWICE.”

Zenshin Roshi - Sex, Lies and American Buddhism (Cybersangha Winter 1995)

About the author

Rob Hogendoorn

Investigative reporter and academic researcher Rob Hogendoorn (b. 1964) began researching the reception of Buddhism in Western society and culture in the early 1990s. His modus operandi remained the same ever since: independent, inquisitive and provocative.