Why not give the old man a handjob?

21/12/2012

[In light of the recent accusations against Joshu Sasaki, I will give my thoughts.]

Isn’t there a sila, a moral rule against indecent behaviour like fumbling and groping in the Buddhist teaching?

No, this rule is, according to its choice of words, written against adultery.

But isn’t Buddhism aimed at avoiding the suffering of others?

Buddhism is primarily focused on the ending of one’s own suffering. Some of the things named as suffering (birth, death, sickness, ageing) can usually not be avoided, it provides a means to end mental suffering under those conditions. The conditions themselves cannot be changed by following the dharma. Thus Buddhism knows that it is impossible to eradicate suffering from the world per se, but that each individual might change his and her frame of mind when facing events that usually cause suffering.

Therefore exercising the sila cannot end suffering because it does not provide the necessary calming of  differentiating thoughts. It is of course meant to help getting a better society, and thus most of the basic moral rules have long been put into law. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the Eightfold Path there is Right View which is based on an undefiled mind. This mind is an enlightened mind. Without awakening there is no Right Action.

Right action in zen amounts to the realization of the bodhi spirit that avoids bringing suffering to others, but be aware, the ethics of a Bodhisattva are much more complex than that of the Palicanon (obeying a rule of non-violent behavior could result in more harm to a girl who is raped in a public bus than defending her physically).

Would Right Action as being in accord with the sila still not confirm Right and Awakened Mind?

No it won’t. The awakened mind in Zen is one that is not attached, not even to any dogma or words. It knows that there is not only an exercise in non-killing (like in the sila) but also a necessary one in killing (e.g. for soldiers who protect us). It knows that some adultery may just end the suffering of a stagnant marriage and so forth. The one who just practices sila will not find this insight that transcends good and bad and even the categories of a law.

In the case of abuse the abused one will also not eliminate his or her suffering by following the sila but by realizing what I would call a transcendent state of mind in which the dualistic view behind the sila is indeed overcome. All stands and falls with the mindshattering experience that changes one’s course of life, thinking and behaviour. That is at least what Zen is about.

Can a guy like Joshu Sasaki be called awakened, given that the accusations against him are true?

An awakened man is still a fallible man. It is not the advances of a one hundred years old guy that speak against his awakening, it is the ignoring, downplaying or denying of his own needs that are behind them. An old man may still want sex. In most cases, nobody will share it with him. This is a sad fate, and one must not be ashamed to speak of it. A denial goes against Bodhidharma’s legendary saying “Open vastness, nothing sacred”.

It can be debated if it is possible to “fall out” of awakening, getting deluded again. I guess it is. At least dementia is showing us that the state of our brain decides how clearly we can view things. I cannot say if Sasaki has gone through significant brain changes but his behavior makes him an unfit teacher. You may still find insights in him when it comes to Zen, some wisdom that you may also acquire through his speeches and writing.

What we learn here is that the enlightened one is to be found within oneself, not outside. Today it is much easier not to meet teachers personally. Meditation is quickly learned. Of course in the Rinzai tradition there is a koan curriculum which usually cannot be done alone. When you see the problems you are facing as the real koan or barrier (and Sasaki has one to go through himself right now), you get to the point where it all relies on yourself.

The various scandals surrounding Buddhist teachers (and there are more in the Theravada tradition which are not as prominent because Theravada countries lack press freedom, and those involved are mostly male on both sides) have shown us that a zen master might just be a good or experienced teacher of koan study, meditation, rituals and the like. Do not look for an example of a lifestyle in him, you have to find your own way. If a teacher makes you uncomfortable, stand up and leave, trust your instincts. If his or her behavior is putting others at risk, take stronger means like involving the court.

……………………………

That said, I remembered the story of a disciple who wanted to follow a homeless zen master. The master told him he couldn’t, it would be too tough. But the disciple insisted. Soon they became hungry and the master took leftovers of others out of a bin and munched on them. The disciple was on the verge of vomiting, when the teacher told him: “See, you can’t follow me.”

From such a story we derive our ideal of the master living an imitable life. But where are those masters nowadays? Another nub of this story is still valid. Why can’t a zen-adept do something that appears just too disgusting to common people? I sadly ask myself if there is really not one person in Joshu Sasaki’s community that can regularly give him a hand- or blowjob or whatever he needs (though I fear that a man of 105 years is probably impotent since decades and that his groping is a rather helpless cry for some other kind of erotic attention)? I imagine me sitting in front of an aged old female zen teacher, her grabbing my cock through my robe and making advances. Would the right thing to do not be to rub her to orgasm or putting my cock into her? It’s easier said than done, still I guess that s.th. else than a sex scandal is possible.

In another blog entry I recently called those who feel abused but do nothing than blame  in letters and over the internet are at fault, too. Their fault lies not only in not using appropriate means to stop someone (esp. jurisdiction) but also in not being able to imagine how to comfort the needs of an old teacher. Eating leftovers may be considered different from s.th. so personal as sex, but how far can someone who really freed his mind actually go? Remember that the student in zen should become better than his teacher.

I believe there are just too few who have broken through the wall …

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: