No one commits suicide for a single reason. No one. Never.
In my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate I wrote about my friend Robert “Iggy” Morningstar committing suicide. Iggy’s girlfriend had just broken up with him. She did it as much for Iggy’s good as for her own. I was sharing a place with them at the time and she was absolutely justified in what she did. Iggy was making a mess of his life and hers as well.
When Iggy killed himself he did the deed in such a way as to ensure that his girlfriend would be the one who found him and that it would appear as though he killed himself because she broke up with him. In the weeks that followed those of us who were around Iggy’s girlfriend had to constantly assure her that she bore no guilt in the matter. Perhaps the break up was a factor in Iggy’s suicide. But it was not the only factor or even the decisive one.
On February 14th, 2011, Dosho Port put a letter written by Les Kaye of the American Zen Teachers Association (AZTA) to the board of directors at Kanzeon, Genpo Roshi’s temple, on his blog. You can find that post here. This same letter from Les Kaye also appears here on the Sweeping Zen website.
Les Kaye’s letter was written in response to accusations by some people at Kanzeon that AZTA had failed to respond when they knew that Genpo Roshi was having sex with his students and misappropriating funds. Les Kaye points out in the letter that AZTA had been trying to get Genpo’s authorization to teach Zen revoked at least since 1992.
I understand Les Kaye’s desire to clear AZTA’s good name. But one section of his letter strikes me as perhaps the most irresponsible thing I’ve seen come out of this whole mess. It makes me very angry to see this.
In his letter, Les Kaye reveals the story of a woman who was allegedly seduced by Genpo Roshi. Kaye says that she “had been abused by her father as a child, which left her extremely vulnerable and confused.” She attended a meeting organized by AZTA about Genpo’s transgressions in which “she described how she had been seduced by Genpo numerous times and the pain of betrayal that she felt.” Kaye directly follows this with a sentence that reads in full, “Several months after the meeting, she took her own life.”
Although he uses the proper somber, sepia colored tones of heartrending melodrama approved by contemporary American Buddhists, Mr. Kaye appears to me to be accusing Genpo Roshi of causing this poor woman to kill herself. Please see the opening two paragraphs of this article for my opinion on that. I know that the effect of what Mr. Kaye wrote is to make people think that Genpo’s sexual behavior caused a suicide because that is precisely how it was defined to me by two people who emailed me about these articles.
I don’t like Genpo Roshi. I’ve made no attempt to hide that fact. But accusing him of causing someone to commit suicide is taking things much too far. We do not know what really transpired between Genpo and that unfortunate woman. I’m going to say that again and I’m going to be a little firmer this time. You -- and I mean you dear reader, whoever you are -- do not know what happened between Genpo and that unfortunate woman. If Genpo is reading this (which I doubt) maybe he has some clue. But even he doesn’t know all of it. The rest of us only know what we’ve read about it. And that is not very much.*
Am I trying to say that it’s fine that Genpo seduced some poor woman who’d been abused by her father? No. No, I am not saying that. No. OK? Not at all. No.
I’m saying that we do not even know that’s what really happened. Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. We don’t even know what that woman actually said at the meeting. All we have is someone’s paraphrase of what he thought he heard her say 18 years ago.
Which is also not to say it did not happen or that I don’t believe what she said. I don’t know what she said. So I cannot either believe or disbelieve it. But I do know what Les Kaye said because it’s there on the Internets for all to see.
There is no reason to add this to the piles of accusations that have already been hurled at Genpo. Believe me, I am not someone who would easily stand up in Genpo Roshi’s defense. But this is too much to ignore.
Why is it all about sex? Why do we have to wait until Genpo is caught with his pants down and his dick where it shouldn’t be before we can say anything about the much more serious and far-reaching abuses he was involved in?
As far as I’m concerned, nearly all of this current stuff about Genpo is entirely missing the point. All of these AZTA people are getting upset about absolutely the wrong things. They should have been publicly stating that Big Mind® was not Zen Buddhism years ago. The hidden details of Genpo’s sex life had nothing at all to do with any of that.
The things that Genpo was doing that made me so pissed off were not concealed in any way. They were right out in the open. He explicitly advertised that he was selling enlightenment experiences for $50,000**. He clearly said in his promotion material for Big Mind® that it could give you a glimpse of Buddha’s realization in a couple of hours with no prior experience. This was no shocking revelation discovered by someone finding secret messages on Genpo’s Blackberry. This was stuff you could see for yourself by looking at Genpo’s own website. Where was everyone’s righteous indignation three years ago?
The AZTA has written a letter to Kanzeon, Genpo's group, recommending what they think Genpo ought to do to cure his sex problem. You can see that here just under Les Kaye’s letter, at the bottom of the page. My friend Zuiko, one of the signees, told me the letter is "simply a recommendation to Kanzeon and a sign of support for whatever they do. Their sangha is free to do whatever they wish, but some of us felt that we needed to let them know that we are out here and we agree that this is not good behavior.” OK. I accept that Zuiko contributed to the letter in this spirit. To me it all sounds a bit sanctimonious.
Hey Genpo, here are my recommendations, which stand just as much chance of being read and followed by you as AZTA’s. I have a lot of trouble with phrases like “sex addiction.” Though there may be a few cases that could qualify as true addiction, I believe that for the most part it’s just that some people are simply hornier than others. When an individual has a different sexual orientation from mainstream society, there are two main ways to deal with it. The individual can adjust to mainstream society, usually with unhappy results for the individual. Or the individual can seek out others who share their orientation and they can play together. (There is, of course, also the traditional religious response of learning to deny your sexual desires entirely. But few people are able to accomplish this. And sometimes when they fail at denying their desires the outcome is even worse than if they had not tried at all.)
Luckily for you, you live in the Western world in the early 21st century where the option of seeking like-minded play friends is available to you. It is far easier than it ever has been for so-called “sex addicts” to find each other. You don’t need to do your students. Just sign up for a membership in one of the many sex-oriented dating sites, particularly the ones with a fetishist bent. Those women will fall all over themselves to bed a kind-hearted dominant man with a lot of money and a position of institutional power, particularly one with a religious aspect. Fortunately for you that particular kink is very widespread and common.
(You learn a few things when researching a book about sex!)
*It was subsequently revealed by a friend of the woman in question that her suicide occurred quite a long time after the meeting and was probably completely unrelated to what transpired with Genpo.
**The fee for Genpo's Big Heart Circle retreats subsequently dropped to $25,000 and these days it’s hard to find any of the material he originally posted about these high priced retreats. Here is a blog which quotes most of Genpo’s now-vanished sales pitch for the Big Heart Circle retreats. The standard price for Big Mind® appears to range between $150 and $1000.
(I’m still taking a break from reading the comments section of this blog. If you have something you feel you must say to me in response to this, write me an email at email@example.com. If you just post something in the comments section, I will not see it.)
P.S. The broken links are now fixed. Thanks for the email, Spice!