On January 13, 2015, 90 different Zen teachers and community leaders signed an open letter confronting the issue of abuse in the larger Zen community.
After the letter was was published, 9 more Zen teachers asked to have their names added to the list.
I was one of the teachers who asked to be included. (I’m #93 on the list).
You can read the full letter here: http://www.lionsroar.com/openletteronabuse/
Here’s an important quote from the article:
“As Zen Buddhist community leaders we are committed to changing the culture of silence and the idealization of the teacher’s status that has been so detrimental to students.”
I am proud to stand in solidarity with these other Zen teachers and leaders.
The abuse of power in the student/teacher relationship must not be tolerated. As we move forward into the 21st century, we must make massive efforts to prevent this kind of abuse. And if abuse does arise, then we must deal with it openly and effectively.
My school is non-religious, and is thus not strictly a Zen Buddhist community. However, we are connected to an ancient Zen lineage, we practice Zen meditation every day, and we are part of the larger Zen community.
Scott Edelstein is the author of an insightful book called Sex and The Spiritual Teacher: Why It Happens, When It’s a Problem, and What We All Can Do. Although the book is specifically about sexual abuse in spiritual communities, it does a great job of outlining the general characteristics of a healthy spiritual organization.
The two essential principles of healthy spiritual communities, according to Edelstein, are as follows:
- Spiritual teachers are normal human beings. They may be wise, but they are not infallible.
- Community members are responsible to one another. They trust and respect each other, and agree to not harm one another.
Healthy organizations, according to Edelstein, also have the following attributes:
- Transparency and openness.
- Recognition of each member’s humanity— and their individuality.
- A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to be respectfully challenged, questioned, and criticized— and to respectfully challenge or question others.
- A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to be wrong, to admit mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes.
- A willingness of all members (including the teacher) to change and grow.
- A clear, simple mission that is reflected in what community members actually do and say.
As I move forward with my own teaching, I want all of you to know that I am 100% committed to creating a healthy organization based on the principles outlined by Edelstein above.
The traditional Chinese structure, where the master is always right and must never be questioned, has no place in the 21st century because it creates an environment that is ripe for abuse.
Thus, I am completely reexamining all of the Chinese traditions that I’ve inherited, especially those connected to the teacher/student relationship.
Traditions that I feel are no longer appropriate for 21st century students will either be modified or left behind.
In the spirit of openness, I’d like to start a dialogue with you. Which traditions do you feel we should keep? Which ones should we leave behind? What is your vision of the future of qigong and tai chi?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Help us to shape a safer and brighter future for these arts! From the heart, Sifu Anthony