Now I know why I keep the comments section open.
Yesterday I sat at Angel Falls coffee shop (don't get the wrong idea, my friends in The Netherlands, this one only sells coffee, tea and pastries) wracking my brain for about three hours to come up with yesterday's post. I was trying to put my finger on the one single thing that bugged me the most about Genpo Roshi's latest enterprise.
I wasn't really satisfied with what I wrote. But I'd spent enough time on it and I thought it was OK if not quite what I wanted it to be. Then about fifteen minutes after I put it up, a commenter named Broken Yogi said in part:
"The relationship between student and teacher is supposed to be a sacred one that is untouched by worldly motives, and really is directed towards liberation and enlightenment, which by their very nature are free, in every sense of the word, including the financial sense. To transform these into a monetary business relationship of consumer and service provider is not only to debase the entire process of enlightenment, it actually brings it to a sudden end. Nothing good can possibly result from this."
And I'm like, THAT'S IT! That's the whole thing in a nutshell. What bugs me most is that he is turning the student/teacher relationship in Zen into a business arrangement. He is charging his students not so much for enlightenment as he is charging them for their relationship with him. This is Zen prostitution (I hastily added some words to that effect to the post below after reading Broken Yogi's comment).
The relationship between a Zen teacher and a deshi (to use Genpo's preferred term) is a very intimate thing. We're not talking here about someone who might occasionally attend a lecture or retreat. A deshi would be a long term one-to-one student. There would have to be some sort of formalized public initiation ceremony involved to get to that level.
To my way of thinking, saying, "You can be my deshi for a price" (which is precisely what Genpo is saying, you can read it for yourself) is like saying, "I will fall in love with you if you pay me for it." Even if you meant something like that sincerely you couldn't possibly do it. You can't decide to fall in love with someone and then just sort of will it to happen. And you can't put a price on that.
It's not that Genpo ought not to be allowed to do it. I'm saying it can't be done. It's just impossible. For anyone.
As I said before, I have no problems with Zen teachers who charge for lectures, seminars, books and so on. I also have no problem with Zen teachers who take donations. Everybody's gotta find a way to pay the rent. I can even see setting up a tuition system for priest training or setting up an ongoing donation system to help keep a temple functional. No problem.
But charging for the teacher/student relationship is not a good thing. Because it can't really be done. What you'd have if you charged for such a relationship could only ever possibly be an imitation of that relationship. It's like the difference between going on the Cedar Creek Mine Ride at Cedar Point amusement park and going on a real runaway coal cart in a real abandoned mine shaft. It's not even a good approximation of the thing. It's a poor imitation created for amusement and profit. The real runaway coal cart might kill you. If the Cedar Creek Mine Ride injured you, you could sue. Same deal here.
The reason I write about this is not to constantly point a finger at Genpo and go "shame on you." He's not gonna listen to me anyway. I'm concerned that if this goes unchallenged by someone like me who is in a position to challenge it, then it could become more widespread. It probably already is. What are these "Big Mind® Facilitator Training" things Genpo offers? My guess is people are seeing Big Mind® as a potential money maker and they want to get in on it too. Genpo's model for Big Mind® would appear to be based on a McDonald's type enterprise where you grant licensed franchisees the right to use the name and logo as long as they send part of their revenue back to headquarters.
If Genpo didn't insist on conflating Big Mind® with Zen I wouldn't be griping about it. It'd be just one more scam meditation thing. But he does by using the standard terminology of Zen, such as the word deshi as used in a Zen context.
Becoming someone's deshi is an organic thing. The ceremonies involved are more like an engagement ceremony or even a wedding. They are a public affirmation of a relationship that already exists. They're not like the first down payment on an extended tuition plan.
Maybe my saying this won't really matter much in the end. I doubt it will have any real impact on Genpo's business. But I gotta say it.