“Zen Has No Morals!”

The Buddhist Channel, July 15, 2012

The Latent Potential for Corruption and Abuse in Zen Buddhism, as Exemplified by Two Recent Cases

Montreal, Canada -- Zen Buddhism was long considered by many practitioners to be immune from the scandals that occasionally affect other religious sects.

<< Dr. Klaus Zernickow (a.k.a Sotetsu Yuzen, left) and Eido T. Shimano

Zen’s iconoclastic approach, based solely on the individual’s own meditation experience, was seen as a healthy counterpoint to the more theistic and moralistic world-views, whose leading proponents often privately flouted the very moral codes that they preached.

The unspoken assumption in Zen has always been that the meditation alone naturally freed the accomplished practitioner from life's moral quandaries, without the need for rigid rules of conduct imposed from above.

The perfect embodiment of this state was held to be the Zen Master, a type of person to whom almost superhuman qualities of insight, spontaneity, compassion, and freedom from desire have been imputed.

However, the veracity of such claims is now slowly being called into question, due to numerous modern Zen Masters having in the meantime exhibited behaviour no less scandalous than that seen in other religious communities

In his paper, “Zen Has No Morals!” Christopher Hamacher examines two of the most recent and egregious of such scandals in Western Zen: the well-publicised case of Eido T. Shimano in New York, USA, as well as that of Dr. Klaus Zernickow (also known as Sotetsu Yuzen), who is still relatively unknown outside of his home country of Germany.

Both of these Zen teachers have been accused of long-term, systematic abuse of their students, with allegations ranging from sexual predation to financial improprieties.

Hamacher reviews the respective case histories, including the disconcerting facts that Shimano has only recently stepped down - after almost fifty years of documented misconduct - and Zernickow still teaches unhindered even today.

Hamacher continues by categorising, with examples, eight types of behaviour that are characteristic of both, namely: the inability to deal with criticism reasonably, favouring formality and extravagant accoutrements in their practice, blaming the student's own ego to deflect accusations, hypocrisy, using group dynamics in their favour, controlling the flow of information to students, self-aggrandisement, and autocratic leadership of their organizations.

The paper then discusses how these teachers could have been allowed to continue teaching for so long, despite the flagrant abuse and even though, at least in Shimano's group,scandal after scandal had erupted over the years.

Hamacher argues that there are in fact several reasons why, on the one hand, such conduct by a Zen teacher might not have been considered inappropriate in the first place, and, on the other, why Zen students might not have been inclined to take action even if the conduct had been deemed wrongful. Hamacher also notes that the discussed behaviours are all typical warning signs for high-demand/cultic groups, and suggests that, as a consequence, more serious structural problems with Zen underlie the teacher misconduct.

He finally concludes that, far from being immune to scandal, Zen Buddhism as it is currently practiced in the West in fact needs serious re-examination if it intends to remain a viable alternative to the more traditional Western religions.

>> Download full paper here (PDF)

Christopher Hamacher graduated in law from the Université de Montréal in 1994. He has practiced Zen Buddhism in Japan, America and Europe since 1999 and run his own Zen meditation group since 2006. He currently works as a legal translator in Munich, Germany. This paper was presented on 7 July 2012 at the International Cultic Studies ssociation's annual conference in Montreal, Canada.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv