Last Friday, I posted some comments on the Atlanta Soto Zen Center lineage and the discussion of that lineage in the recent book Zen Master Who?. I was concerned that my comments might be misunderstood and was somewhat nervous posting them for that reason, but I had no idea that they would be as misunderstood as they seemed to have been by an anonymous commenter.
(Actually, I have a pretty good idea who the commenter was based on the nature and tone of the comments - he's left similar remarks here last year. His location, Marietta, Georgia, revealed by the Site Meter hit counter, pretty much confirmed my suspicion.)
Even if I disagree or find them offensive, I've long ago decided on a policy of leaving any and all comments up on this blog instead of taking the blogger's prerogative of deleting them, with the only exception of obvious phishing links. The comments are what they are, even if I don't like them, and besides, why worry if they aren't correct anyway? (Zebras don't get ulcers.)
But the gist of the comment seemed to have been that since some Soto Zen purists don't recognize the Matsuoka lineage, I might as well just abandon it, and further all of the other lineages are even worse, led by scoundrels and thieves, so it's best to just abandon the practice of zazen altogether. As the commenter put it "Why bother with zazen if it doesn't make one a decent human being?"
If one is taking on the practice of zazen for the purpose of becoming a "decent" human being - or for any other purpose for that matter - one has already missed the mark so badly that the practice has already, in effect, been abandoned. If I haven't already made this explicitly clear, making one a decent human being is not the purpose of Zen.
Our dualistic minds, on hearing that statement, tend to leap to the opposite extreme - if the purpose of zen is not to make one a decent human being, then is the purpose to make one an indecent human being? But the Buddha rejected this discriminating mentality - one extreme or the other - for the middle way, which isn't to make one just sort of decent, but is instead about neither decency nor indecency. The easiest way to say it, as stated here before, is that there is no purpose.
Anyone looking for a goal from a spiritual practice is only going to face disappointment and disillusion, like my commenter friend. Self-help books and psychoanalysis can result in material gains, but the spiritual path is different.
The commenter repeated his accusations, stated here before, that this teacher and that teacher had affairs with their students, used the sangha's money inappropriately and other discourtesies. The problems several years ago at the San Francisco Zen Center have been well documented (by the SFZC to their credit). But while I don't know about the veracity of his other claims, calling the Japanese masters "fascists" and all Zen teachers "scumbags" sounds a little over the top. But even if all of these charges are true, what does it say other than the teachers are human?
Zen is not alone in suffering disappointing actions by its teachers. Fundamentalist Christians are rocked by scandal after scandal, as one preacher after the other is caught is seeming ever more outrageous behavior. The problems with the Catholic Church and it's so-called celibate priests have been slowly coming out, finally, over the last couple of years. The whole world is aware of the excesses of Islamic extremists, charismatic gurus the world over have committed grievous sins, and although I can't think of a single example off the top of my head, I'm sure there has been a naughty rabbi or two over the years.
And the problems aren't unique to religion. Power is both an aphrodisiac and a corrupter, and a great many men and women in power have behaved badly. Just ask any CEO. Or Bill Clinton. Or a Russian woman who's had to deal with Soviet border guards ("Miss, there are some irregularities in your papers. Please step into the back room and let's see if we can't straighten this out").
I'm not apologizing for those who've sinned, or making rationalizations for the misdeeds of Zen teachers. I'm just stating that we're all human, and we've all slipped. Plus, accusations about teachers I've never met from anonymous on-line accusers cannot shake my conviction in my own direct experience through six years of zazen practice.
It's not the teacher or even the teaching, but experience that creates Great Faith, cultivates Great Doubt, and provides guidance in the Buddha Way.