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An Elephant in the Closet of American Zen Buddhism

The Buddhist Channel, April 3, 2010

Alleged misconduct of renowned Zen teacher Eido Shimano

New York, USA -- On August 9, 1995 a letter unique in the history of Zen was sent to the President of the Board of Directors of the Zen Studies Society, a prominent Zen group in NYC with a large monastery, Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji in upstate New York. 

<< Eido Shimano

This article, among other revelations, presents a face of Zen not ordinarily visible to the general public.  That is, how well known Zen rōshis and leading Zen figures spoke and acted; or failed to speak and act, in the face of deeply troubling allegations and really severe problems. Thereby, the article also points to the underlying interests of these rōshis.

The letter makes it clear that the teachers have heard first hand reports of Eido Shimano's activities directly from a number of the women involved.  The repetitive nature of the allegations over a three decade period during which these alleged transgressions occurred without any formal public investigation or adequate resolution was so great that it motivated eight prominent Zen leaders from across America to sign the document, in the name of the greater North American Zen Maha-Sangha. 

Here is the full text of the letter:


August 9, 1995


Richard Rudin
President of the Board of Directors, Zen Studies Society
1018 Imperial Place, Hayward, CA 94501

Dear Richard Rudin,

           We write to you as colleagues of your teacher, Eido Shimano, Roshi, and as your fellow students in the Maha Sangha of Buddhists in North America. Our concern in this letter is the Buddha Dharma and the well-being of the women and men who invest themselves in its practice.

          Over the past three decades, we have interviewed many former students of Shimano Roshi. Their stories are consistent: trust placed in an apparently wise and compassionate teacher, only to have that trust manipulated in the form of his sexual misconduct and abuse. Some of these students elected to continue their practice with us; most of them wanted nothing further to do with Zen Buddhism.

          With report after report of the same depressing story, it is clear to us that our colleague, Shimano Roshi, is not simply one who slips into an occasional love affair. We have no hesitation in judging from first-hand accounts that the quality of these relationships is not loving but exploitative and extremely damaging to his victims.

          A teacher in another lineage presently faces a multi-million dollar law suit for alleged sexual abuse. Superficially speaking, we are on the sidelines of this controversy, but actually we are deeply involved, for the Dharma is one. We would not encourage the remedy of legal action in the case of Shimano Roshi, but we sense that it is only a matter of time until he faces his accusers in a court of law.

          The most obvious solution to the problem would be Shimano Roshi's resignation. There may be another option in the form of a program designed to help him with his harmful predilections, although of course the mere completion of such a program does not guarantee a cure.

          Neither option is easy in the face of the emotional and financial investments of the Sangha and the teacher. However, we urge you to consider that your teacher is jeopardizing the Buddha's noble teachings. The situation is grave and calls for action to prevent further harm. We offer you our  wholehearted support in your deliberations.

          We can suggest that some of us are willing to consult with the Board about "what to do," having faced similar situations in our own and related communities. Thinking about the women and their families who have been hurt by Shimano Roshi, please consider underwriting the therapy they need. Our deepest wish is for a healing on all sides: for those who have suffered abuse, for your Sangha, and for Shimano Roshi.

          We look forward to your timely response to this letter. If we do not hear from you within a reasonable period, we will consider making this an open letter. Please address your reply to the first signator.

Respectfully yours,

Robert Aitken Roshi, 2747 Waiomao Road, Honolulu, HI 96816
Yvonne Rand, Alan Senauke, Jan Chozen Bays, Susan Jion Postal,
Helen Yuho Harkaspi, Bodhin Kjolhede, Philip Kapleau, Roshi

cc: Eido Shimano Roshi, Andy Afable, Jane Bankier, Karen Barnes, John Brady, Ed Glasing, Vasken Kalayjian, Dennis Kelly, Charlotte Mansfield, Susan Morningstar, Fran Perriello, Wilkie Pretorius, Aurora Russell, Bernard Spitz


A downloadable pdf file of the original letter including the hand written signatures of the eight recognized Zen teachers is available at:

http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/ZenTeachersToZSSBoard.pdf

The above letter is only a small part of the story.  Recently, The University of Hawai'i at Manoa made public the formerly sealed papers and letters of Robert Aitken, Roshi.  These papers, beginning in 1964 and going through 1984, reveal the beginning and to a certain extent the middle of the story.  Shimano first came to the United States in 1964 and was hosted by Robert Aitken and his group in Hawaii.

An article entitled "The Aitken-Shimano Letters" by Vladimir K. and Stuart Lachs analyzes the recently unsealed file of roughly 175 pages. It is presently available on the internet since the latter part of 2009 at:

http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Aitken_Shimano_Letters.html

This article, among other revelations, presents a face of Zen not ordinarily visible to the general public. That is, how well known Zen roshis and leading Zen figures spoke and acted; or failed to speak and act, in the face of deeply troubling allegations and really severe problems. Thereby, the article also points to the underlying interests of these roshis.

The entire formerly sealed file with the names of some people blocked out for the sake of privacy is now available on the internet at:

http://www.hoodiemonks.org/ShimanoArchive.html

An on going discussion generated by the issues raised in the 1995 letter above and by the release of the Aitken file at the University of Hawaii can be accessed through the "genkaku-again" blog at:

http://genkaku-again.blogspot.com/2010/02/eido-tai-shimano.html

Though the letter above states that unless there is a response "within a reasonable period, we will consider making this an open letter," the letter was never made an "open letter" by its authors to the greater Zen community in North America.  However, the letter was sent to a handful of other people and obviously the letter did leak out.

The Shimano story continues. The allegations remain allegations as there has been no formal examination of the charges. However, at the height of one of the scandals, a proposed investigation was blocked by Sylvan Busch, a close associate of Shimano's who was then Acting President of the Zen Studies Society. He "felt that it would be impossible to find three 'neutral' people in the Sangha... forming a fair-minded committee of Sangha members to carefully investigate the charges that have been brought against Mr. Shimano by a number of his women students over the years." Eido Shimano continues as the roshi and main teacher of the Zen Studies Society.

On Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eido_Tai_Shimano



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