I was brought up in the Catholic faith. When I was 15 I decided to become an atheist.
I wished to be happy again, but I couldn’t find peace. I didn’t know what I believed in anymore. I just knew that I wanted to stop feeling so lost. I wanted to stop feeling so terrible, so alone. I was running away from my problems. I just wanted to be happy again. I just wanted to be free.
My childhood Catholic roots coupled with a longing for a sense of a greater cosmic consciousness and answers to the big questions led me to Buddhism.
I remember watching this Google talk on meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 2007 when I was 19 and I immediately started looking for a place in Warsaw, Poland that could help me learn this mysterious practice.
Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.Jon Kabat-Zinn
Next week I was sitting in a Sangha with my first Zen Buddhist teacher – the late Malgorzata Jiho Braunek Roshi. 1https://zenpeacemakers.org/2014/06/malgorzata-braunek-leaves-this-plane-of-existence/
I proceeded to fervently study Buddhism in my early 20s. My teacher didn’t seem to care that I didn’t believe in reincarnation and all the other supernatural stuff. We focused on my meditation practice, exploring koans, and studying ancient Buddhist texts. It seemed to give me some answers that I needed, and Buddhists were some of the nicest people I knew.
In my mid-20s, I traveled around Asia exploring Buddhism and other philosophical and spiritual systems. I did a couple of meditation retreats here and there. After I came back to Europe, I connected with Bernie Glassman over the work with Auschwitz meditation and his work with homeless people. I’ve received an honorable Dharma transmission from Bernie in 2016, 2 years before his death.
Before I will go any further, I want to say that both of my Buddhist teachers were amazing to me, and I don’t think they did anything bad themselves. It’s not about that.
Sounds good. So what’s the deal here?
When I first started exploring Buddhism I was impressed by the community and core beliefs. I used to think that Buddhism was really great, but now it seems like it might be plagued with hypocrisy and toxicity just like any other religion. Just as flawed as Islam or Christianity, and just as dogmatic.
Zen is terribly idealized and glorified in the West. It’s often said that it isn’t a religion, just a philosophical system. But it’s just not true.
I finally saw the anti-intellectualism in Buddhism, the corrupt community in the West, the hypocrisy, and the crimes I saw as I traveled through Asia all covered up by monks and authorities. This left me feeling empty.
The sad realities of Buddhism
- Much like in Hollywood, there is much sexual assault in monasteries that goes unspoken of. Pedophilia and sexual harassment of women and young girls are just two of the many forms of sexual assault that takes place in monasteries. If it’s bad in the West, I can’t even fathom the scale of these crimes
- There is also a small, but active, Buddhist nationalist movement in parts of Asia. In places like Burma, Sri Lanka, and other countries, there is a rise in Buddhist sects, which are centered around racism, homophobia, and misoginy. Buddhism is not stupid-proof.
- Up to this day, the vast majority of Buddhist teachers are men.
- Thai Buddhism teaches that homosexuality is an atrocity.
- In most Buddhist sects you are put into a strict hierarchy. You are rewarded by not causing trouble and not questioning anything.
- You will be ostracized for offending the higher-level monks or the abbot, even if it’s during an intellectual discussion or a personal disagreement.
- Many men in temples are the victims of molestation and they will be called upon to remain silent about their abuse, and not to tell law enforcement.
- It is common for monks to solicit sex from young female students during morning service, knowing their word is valued more than the outsiders. It sometimes goes as far as rape.
Buddhism and nazism
Some fun facts. Both of the Suzukis that are a major influence of the spread of Zen in the West were nazis:
Hitler was a great Bodhisattva.Shunryu Suzuki
- Shunryu Suzuki had strong connections to the Green Dragon Society, the same society Karl Haushofer was a part of. 2After the war Haushofer was among the Nazi members to be put to trial before the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. But Professor Haushofer never went to trial. After killing his wife, Karl Haushofer committed suicide in the traditional Japanese way, cutting his intestines with a sharp samurai short sword, in a personal, formal ceremony called seppuku (commonly known as hara-kiri).
- By the way, the Green Dragon Society is thriving today. Northern California Zen is largely directly connected to the Green Dragon.
- Dan Welch asked him if Hitler was a bodhisattva and Suzuki said that yes, Hitler was a great Bodhisattva. 3http://www.cuke.com/dchad/writ/misc/050815%20zen%20nazis.html
- His own son: “I don’t know where all of this antiwar talk comes from, but my father and the rest of the family supported Japan’s war effort just like everyone else.”
- Shunryu Suzuki started the San Francisco Zen Center. Later he gave the ownership of his school Richard Baker, who was a sexual predator. 4en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Baker_(Zen_teacher)#Resignation
D. T. Suzuki
. . .when looked at from the point of view of the current and future happiness of the entire German people, it may be that, for a time, some sort of extreme action is necessary in order to preserve the nation. From the point of view of the German people, the situation facing their country is that critical.D. T. Suzuki on the Nazis
- D.T. Suzuki helped by ‘romanticizing’ the tie between Zen and the warrior ethos of the samurai. Worse, he charges, they stressed a connection between Buddhist compassion and the acceptance of death in a way that justified collective martyrdom and killing one’s enemies.
- In his writings about the Nazis you can always see that he’s close to condemning the violence, yet in the end he manages to find an apology or a reason for why they did what they did.
- When visiting Germany, Suzuki approved of the Nazis. About the extermination of the Jews, Suzuki stated: ‘It appears there are considerable grounds for this, too.’ 5 Sueki, “Nihon Bukkyō to Sensō–Suzuki Daisetsu o chūshin toshite,” p. 4.
If you’re interested in the details, read this.
Some people might say, “hurr durr, these were different times, people used to be like this 90 years ago, we should judge them by the good they did.” I ask how come there were actually good people, by today’s standards, in the 19th century6https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman 7https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%C5%8D_Noe 8https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ba_Jin, but a 20th-century Zen “master” has to be a bastard?
In the 1960s, four major Zen teachers came to the United States from Japan: Shunryu Suzuki9https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunry%C5%AB_Suzuki, Taizan Maezumi10https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taizan_Maezumi#Criticism, Joshu Sasaki11https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyozan_Joshu_Sasaki#Controversies, and Eido Shimano12https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eido_Tai_Shimano#Controversy. Every single one of them either molested women, most likely molested women, or was a nazi. These guys were not “enlightened” in any way. They were gurus who needed people to follow them as much, if not more, as their students needed to be lead.
Beginning in 1975 and continuing to this day, a series of scandals has erupted at one Zen center after another revealing that many Zen teachers have exploited students sexually and financially. This list has included, at various times, the head teachers at The Zen Studies Society in New York City, the San Francisco Zen Center, the Zen Center of Los Angeles, the Cimarron Zen Center in Los Angeles, the now-defunct Kanzeon Zen center in Bar Harbor, Maine, the Morgan Bay Zendo in Surry, Maine, the Providence Zen Center and the Toronto Zen center. These are some of the largest and most influential centers. In most cases the scandals have persisted continually for years, or seemed to end only to arise again. At one center, for example, sex scandals have recurred for approximately twenty-five years with the same teacher involving many women. These scandals have been pervasive as well as persistent, affecting almost all major American Zen Centers.
The abuse of power that these men practiced has had far reaching effects in almost every case. The students involved were often devastated by the knowledge that they had been used by the very person they trusted most. Some required psychotherapy for years afterward. There were mental breakdowns and broken marriages. Zen centers were torn into factions of those who deplored the teacher’s behavior and those who denied or excused it. The apologists, when they did not flatly deny what had occurred, would explain it away as the teacher’s “crazy wisdom” or more commonly, they would blame the victim or dismiss it by commenting that the teacher isn’t perfect. Another explanation was that the student did not yet truly understand the teaching. Disciplining of Zen teachers in America has been rare. Usually, those who objected to the goings-on either left voluntarily or were pushed out of the center by those loyal to the teacher or by the teacher himself. Some of the students who left eventually resumed their practice while others were so disillusioned and embittered that they abandoned Buddhism altogether.Coming Down from the Zen Clouds, 1994
Currently, I don’t know of a single Buddhist sect, both in the West and in the East, that isn’t built upon a long history of misogyny and sexual abuse. Similar to Catholicism and other religions. I also don’t know of any sect that is repenting and actively trying to change its ways.
Let’s get personal
My teacher, Bernie Glassman, received his Dharma transmission from Taizan Maezumi.
Maezumi publicly admitted he was an alcoholic in 1983, and sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center. This coincided with revelations that he had been having sexual relationships with some of his female followers at the Zen Center of Los Angeles despite being married to his wife, Martha Ekyo Maezumi, “including one of the recipients of his dharma transmission”.Source
In 2006 Bernie Glassman transferred his leadership of the White Plum Asanga to his Dharma brother Merzel Roshi and has formally “disrobed,” renouncing priesthood in favor of serving as a lay teacher.
In 1988 Merzel was installed as abbot at Hosshinji, a Zen temple in Bar Harbor, Maine. He was alleged to have had a romantic relationship with a student, leading to the dissolution of the temple.
In August 1992, a group of 12 American Zen teachers sent a letter to Taizan Maezumi, expressing concern about Merzel’s relationships with a number of female students, his lack of remorse, and his lack of responsibility. They asked Maezumi to withdraw Merzel’s sanction to teach.
In February 2011, after admitting to three extra-marital affairs, Merzel said he would disrobe as a Buddhist priest, resign as an elder of the White Plum Asanga, step down as Abbot of Kanzeon, and stop teaching for an indefinite period to seek counseling.Source
I finally realized that Buddhism is just like any other dogmatic religious doctrine. Every sect has its roots in violence, sexual abuse, and corruption. Giving unquestionable authority to people and creating cults of personality doesn’t work out very well for anyone.
I don’t believe White Plum Asanga and other Buddhist sects and doing enough to pay for the sins of their ancestors and changing Buddhism so that we can avoid incidents like this in the future.
All religion is essentially organized superstition.
Buddhism teaches people all sorts of supernatural, as any other religion does. When you get into the holy books, you can see how bigoted and dated all of the stuff really is.
I believe we can do better. We need spiritual systems, but we don’t need religion anymore. We can create alternative, non-hierarchical structures that empower people.
All of this is why I am not a Buddhist anymore.