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Of Dharma transmission and clergy misconduct

by Myoan Grace Schireson, The Buddhist Channel, Feb 11, 2011

I just read Storlie's opinion of the role Dharma Transmission and lineage has played in misleading Western Zen. Unfortunately you cannot blame a training program or certification process for human psychopathology and its consequences. You cannot blame a driver's license for causing a traffic accident. Human nature is such that there are predators, and unfortunately there are unsuspecting prey.

Storlie is right to quote the Buddha when he says that we were instructed to "Be a lamp unto oneself." The Buddha did not say,"Don't be a lamp if you are with a lineage holder." The Buddha instructed his followers to always carefully examine what was being taught, and to decide on the veracity and applicability of teaching based on personal experience. He explicitly taught people to not accept teachings of so-called wise men (or women). In my understanding, the Buddha did not exclude his designated disciples from this scrutiny.

Dharma transmission in the West has become a kind of credential, no different than an academic degree which results in a Ph.D. In an academic program, you associate yourself with like minded instructors, you map out a course of study which is approved by a single advisor, and those who have already earned the credential approve of your work. Your hard earned Ph.D. degree will not stop you from writing rubbish or misbehaving.

The mythical and mystical ramifications of my dharma heritage seem to be widely unheard of in my neighborhood, and have not done much to build my sangha. I have found that people will practice with me only if I offer useful trainings, trainings that help them work on the suffering in their lives.

Some Zen Dharma heirs and Zen teachers are charismatic and sincere, some Zen Dharma teachers are not very charming and sincere, and some Dharma heirs are charismatic and sociopathic. But I have seen the charismatic sociopath operate with and without Dharma transmission. I am not sure what it is that attracts people and binds them to these charlatans, but eliminating the current credentialling by turning away from Dharma transmission from experienced teachers does not seem like the solution.

I think that the solution to clergy misconduct in the Zen community lies in peer review, educating the sangha/congregation, insisting that Zen communities have ethical standards that offer protections to communities, promoting clergy misconduct laws in every state will go a long way to offering protections.


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