Zen Buddhism was first introduced in the West by D. T. Suzuki (1870-1966) who arrived in the USA in 1897. He wrote many books and presented a version of Zen Buddhism now seen as an overly-intellectual idealisation that was philosophically more modern and Western than traditional and Asian. Suzuki studied at the University of Tokyo. Early in his youth he became a disciple of Soen, a noted Zen master of the day, and under his guidance attained the experience of satori (sudden enlightenment), which remained of fundamental importance throughout his life. He stayed 13 years (1897-1909) in the United States, collaborating with Paul Carus as a magazine editor and pursuing his Buddhist studies. He attracted interest by a translation, "The Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana" (1900), and the publication of "Outline of Mahayana Buddhism" (1907). The latter half of his life he spent in teaching, writing, and lecturing both in Japan and abroad, mostly in the United States, and contributed substantially to the respectability of Buddhism in Western countries. Suzuki died on July 12th, 1966, at Kamakura in Japan.
Zen or Chan Buddhism represents a sect within the Buddhist religion that has an exotic mythical history of monks in a Master to Disciple transmission going back to the Buddha. Zen settled into Japanese culture in the form of 2 schools, Rinzai and Soto, and became institutionalised especially following the Meiji revolution in the 1860's.
The 1960s and earlier popular books about Zen showed it as iconoclastic, anti-authoritarian, simple, direct, and real. The myth of exotic, realised teachers were reported to act in ways that appeared illogical, creative and spontaneous. In fact, Zen Buddhism practice was based upon ritual and regimentation. The heart of Zen monasticism is the practice of meditation and the master-student relationship. The student depends upon the master for both teaching and help towards enlightenment and validation of the student's realisation. These activities had become formalised and under government control in Japan where Zen temples had basically become family businesses mainly dealing with funerals.
Japanese Zen teachers who came to the West after WWII encountered wide open possibilities and naive, young students thirsting after the dramatic experiences written about in popular books about Zen with their brains affected by marijuana and LSD. Unfortunately in many (or most) cases Zen Masters' behaviour was amongst the sleaziest of Asian teachers and gurus in the modern world. Yet Western Buddhists do not generally use these 50 years of scandals to question the spiritual implications of "Dharma transmission". Here is a rogues gallery of 3 Sleazen masters
- Eido Shimano Roshi (arrived in USA, 1960) of New York's Zen Studies Society sexually abused women over his long career concentrating on those with emotional problems. His wealthy organisation of upper class New Yorkers knew of his behaviour and covered for him. They were as spineless as the ex-hippies of San Francisco.
- Roshi Taizan Maezumi (arrived in USA, 1956) of the Zen Center in Los Angeles came from Japan having received dharma transmission by 3 Zen schools. He had a number of affairs with female students despite being married (twice) with 3 children. He was a self-confessed alcoholic who was treated at the Betty Ford Clinic. His daughter wrote "He was not a good father, or a good husband to my mother." In a fitting end to his life he drowned in a bath while drunk.
- Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi (1907 – 2014, arrived in USA 1962) the founder and head abbot of the Mount Baldy Zen Center among others and famous as Leonard Cohen's guru was groping and fondling unwilling female students even when he was over 100 tears old and could no longer get it up.
- Shunryū Suzuki (arrived in USA, 1959) was probably the most influential Japanese Zen teacher to come to the USA. He was aged 54 on arrival and shortly thereafter his strong-willed and forceful wife joined him. This may have helped prevent any scandalous behaviour and he began to create a small "Zen" empire in California in the 1960s. He paased this on to his successor Richard Baker who quickly made up for Suzuki's blameless life.
In 1985, Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Jack Kornfeld interviewed Eastern (principally Buddhist and Hindu) spiritual leaders. 34 out of the 54 admitted to sexual involvement with students. As this involvement was unnacceptable in their traditions the real number could have been higher.
Westerners who became Zen teachers after "receiving transmission" from leading Japanese teachers and sexually abused their students are too numerous to list but one of the more prominent members of this group was:
Roshi Richard Baker was given "Dharma transmission" by Shunryū Suzuki in 1971 and Baker, a clever, arrogant asshole became the official leader of the San Francisco Zen Center. He used his authority and the voluntary labour of many zealous Zen students to aggrandise and enrich himself, schmooze the rich and famous while pursuing sex with his students. What makes this case particularly enlightening is not so much Baker's behaviour as the responses of members of SFZC and the general Zen community which showed none of the wisdom and power attributed to mythical Zen practice. Baker now calls himself Zentatsu Richard Baker and continues to see himself dressed in important looking robes.
The scumbags are the two in the middle
These Japanes Zen "Masters" have left a large body of "authorised" Zen teachers plying their trade throughout the USA. None of these respected "Masters" were enlightened and many were scumbags furtively using their status in these dimly lit meditation spaces for sexual favours. A Zen religion is being created based upon a myth of enlightenment that supposedly existed in the feudal past. What is needed is that famed discrimination and a young child to shout "the Zen Master has no robes."
Zen: A Way of Life - Christmas Humphreys(1971)
Essays in Zen Buddhism, 3 vols. (1927-1934; repr. 1971), Introduction to Zen Buddhism, 2d ed. (1957), and Manual of Zen Buddhism (1960) - D. T. Suzuki
The Spirit of Zen - Alan Watts (1958)
Zen in the Art of Archery - Eugen Herrigel (1948)
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind - Shunryū Suzuki (1970)
How the Swans Came to the Lake: a narrative history of Buddhism in America - Rick Field (1992)
Zen at War - Brian Victoria (1998)
Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center - Michael Downing (2001)
Zen Ritual: Studies of Zen Buddhist Theory in Practice - Steven Heine & Dale S. Wright (2008)
The Zen Predator on the Upper East Side - Mark Oppenheimer (2013)
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