An anonymous commenter on this blog said:
"You shouldn't see people as victims because the victims are the ones at fault. I guess you could say that they really wanted or needed to be abused. Anyway, this controversy doesn't seem to warrant the of time effort and energy Brad would need to devote to it in order to even form an opinion. Dude has got shirts to move."
This was in response to my response to comments regarding allegations against a certain Zen teacher. He's named in the comments section. But I'm not going to name him here. I basically said that I felt the matter wasn't really worth the time effort and energy I'd need to devote to getting to the bottom of it so that I could form an opinion. It would take a lot of detective work to even get a sense of who did what and why among the morass of he-said she-said that is all I have to go by at this point. I expressed the opinion that it's a "buyer beware" situation when you start working with any spiritual teacher. Even if I were to ferret out what I think really happened in this case and make my opinions known, it wouldn't do a whole lot of good. Not everyone listens to me, and even if they do I'd only be exposing one guy. I don't have the time, energy or even the inclinaton to police the entire world of spiritual masters.
I've written a lot in my books, on this blog and in contributions I've made to various magazines and spoken a lot in interviews and public talks about how one might go about detecting the minority of abusive charlatans out there masquerading as Zen teachers and other types of spiritual masters. My friend Scott Edelstein just came out with a book called Sex and the Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It's a Problem, and What We All Can Do that also spends a great deal of energy trying to address this sort of problem and help prospective students understand how not to fall into the same traps others have before.
There's a movement afoot to try and come up with some sort of data base of approved Soto Zen teachers. The Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) is a group that tries to police its membership and weed out the fakes. I don't belong to SZBA for a number of reasons, one of which is that ultimately I think this strategy of creating a data base of reliable teachers will have to fail. One would assume that one of the original purposes of the Holy Roman Catholic Church was to try to create an organization that would police itself so that whenever you placed your kids in the care of members of that organization you could be assured someone was going to be responsible should anything go wrong. We all know how well that worked out. The SZBA seems to be pretty good for now, but this is ultimately a losing strategy.*
All you can really do is talk in general terms. I used the phrase "buyer beware" to express that. It's best to keep your bullshit detector in good working order when approaching any kind of spiritual teacher. Buddha himself even said this in the Kalama Sutra, which I've quoted so often it hurts.
There's another deeper issue this comment raises, though. The commenter says, "the victims are the ones at fault. I guess you could say that they really wanted or needed to be abused." I have to assume he is trying to throw back in my face attitudes he believes he has heard me express. But he doesn't get it. So I'm going to try again.
I have often said that I believe whatever we get in this life is, at some level, something we wanted or needed. When I say this I am only applying it inwardly to myself. I never look at someone else in a shitty situation and say, "That person must have wanted it." But I often look at myself when I'm in a shitty situation and ask, "In what way did I want or need this shitty thing to happen?"
The strategy of pointing to others and saying they wanted whatever awful thing they got doesn't help anyone. I highly recommend avoiding it. Everyone will hate you if you say it out loud. If you say it only to yourself you'll end up coming off smug and heartless, and everybody will also hate you then too. So don't even say it just to yourself no matter how tempting it might be. This is a very important point. Don't pass it over, please.
But when I apply this view to myself, my own suffering becomes much easier to bear. I remember one of the first major incidents when I tried applying this thinking to myself. It was in the early 1990s. I was brutally physically attacked on the streets of Akron by people I did not know at all for reasons I have never been able to comprehend. As far as I could tell then and as far as I can tell now in retrospect the attack was absolutely random. And, by the way, these guys were most definitely trying to kill me.
I won't go into the full story here. Maybe I've told it elsewhere, I don't know. In any case, after the attack I thought to myself, "Buddhism teaches that what we get in life is somehow something we wanted, how does that apply here?"
One might assume that this sort of thinking would lead to self-blame and make me feel even worse. But that's not what happened at all. When I began framing it this way to myself I felt like less of a helpless victim and more like a person who could do something active to improve his own life. And I did. I moved to Japan and incredible, wonderful things started happening. For the first time in my life I stopped feeling like a victim of circumstance and really took control of my fate. Had I not started thinking this way I might still be living in Akron feeling sorry for myself.
I don't even care if this idea is objectively true or not. I believe it is or I wouldn't use it. But even if it turns out I'm wrong, this way of thinking has been so incredibly useful I still wouldn't give it up.
While I never, ever apply this sort of thinking to others and say, "Ha! They wanted that awful thing to happen!" I do try and communicate this view to others because it's been so useful to me. Of course the danger is that what I say will be misinterpreted by people like the guy who left the comment. But I've also seen clearly that absolutely anything you say can and will be misinterpreted. Even if you take a vow of silence, that too can and will be misinterpreted. Such is life.
I'd also like to thank the commenter for pointing out the availability of an ever growing variety of attractive T-shirts designed by me over at http://www.redbubble.com/people/bradwarner. Get yours today!
And if you're in Montreal and want to talk to me about this, go to the Chapters bookstore downtown around 7 o'clock where I'll be signing books.
*Which is not to say I'll never join the SZBA. I might someday. But not because I'll change my mind about this particular point.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
An anonymous commenter on this blog said: