Everybody Knows – Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Rinzai-ji | Sweeping Zen

Everybody Knows – Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Rinzai-ji | Sweeping Zen.


Testosterone drives you up, testosterone pulls you down.

Can we find a way to deal with this?
Drop the pretense maybe? If a teacher needs lotsof sex, how about asking for volunteers, and do it openly?
I’m getting quite sick of all this.
Just because he’s a teacher does not mean he’s a castrato, and the hormonal drive to power and sex is huge in some men.
It’s deplorable, it’s ugly, but it won’t go away because we want it to.
Can we maybe explore completely different ways of dealing with this?




About Armin

Hermit, free-lance monk, laughing pessimist, hopeless optimist, standing upright after being bowled over too often, crawling when he should fly and flying without a pilot's licence. Clinging to bushes and grasses in his free time.
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14 Responses to Everybody Knows – Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Rinzai-ji | Sweeping Zen

  1. My question is this: why do men and women, sharing an often extremely intimate relationship of the heart become sexual? Teachers, followers or disciples don’t seem to make the distinction between lover and teacher, or lover and student clear or maybe in some minds there is no distinction. I can only imagine that these sexual encounters were private – done in the privacy of the dokusan or tea room – maybe in a secluded place – where one person is in authority and the other has surrendered to that authority. Maybe there should be a regular chant voiced in public that stamps clarity on the physical boundaries of both parties. Boundaries that in fact offer a greater freedom of expression, depth of relationship and a sustainable lifelong commitment.
    I can’t imagine the state of a man with an adoring wet lipped woman sitting closely facing him square on in private but its not rocket science.

  2. Armin says:

    Thanks so much, Heidi.
    Especially your last sentence points to what I want to say: It’s a dance, and it takes two to tango.
    I don’t think this dance is helpful, but being a man, I can readily understand where it is coming from.
    We inherited the tradition through monasticism mostly, and these guys had their own way of dealing with sex and power. Brothel visits, masturbation and more or less common homosexual encounters for the trainees, a female bodhisattva installed in a cabin behind the teacher’s quarters for the boss.
    Mostly open secrets. It’s like walking past a bath house in Japan with an open window to the street: You don’t look.
    One of the problems that the west, especially the puritan USA is facing, is that we only see our idealized picture of how these guys behaved, only the “should and ought”, not the “IS”.
    We want it in the open, AND we want it white.

    Can we at least acknowledge that this is not working?
    Men can not switch off their sex drive just because they become a teacher.
    Women will not stop looking for an alpha-male just because they become a student.
    Just because it works for some, does not mean it will work for all.
    The drive to procreate and all its sub-routines is the most powerful determiner of human behaviour. From the view point of biology, procreation is our “raison d’etre”, like it or not.

    I’d much rather have this out in the open, even if it destroys some ideals.

    Personally, I’d rather have a teacher say that he needs a harem of 5 women and have him asking for volunteers, than have this ultimately family destroying hanky-panky going on all the effing time.

    Just my 4 cents


    • We are not animalistic and we can completely side step sexual activity within spiritual practice. Not sexuality though – when you brush up against a beautiful person its nice but you don’t grab that someone in the supermarket checkout and makeout. In just the same way we use our intelligence and healthy sense of shame not to act on our primordial urges i.e. follow and act on our crude desires and passions. To what degree is completely individual. I know its not simple and we often trip up with attractions – the training to see reality is still the same – see it, feel it, allow it , NO NEED to act it out. Look at it. Channel it in other ways if you need. Have compasssion for yourself and others by not taking advantage of another in times of weakness or when you are the one in authority and the other has already surrendered. Personally I think spiritual teacher who Needs a harem is no teacher at all. In NZ at this time surely we are becoming more openly aware that sexual predators abound. Whether they are subtle or open, they are still taking advantage of a relationship grounded in entrusting oneself into anothers care, on spiritually intimate terms.

  3. Armin says:

    All I can say is: It’s not working.
    Of course I totally agree that a teacher SHOULD not act like that. But there are way too many examples of it happening anyway. Telling these guys how they should be is probably not helping.
    Telling their students that they should leave that teacher is mostly not helping either.
    I’m kinda looking for a realistic solution here. Not that I got any say in the matter.

    Reminds me a bit of the drug discussion really. Prohibition don’t work, sis.

    And I beg to differ about that animalistic bit… I got the suspicion that we are. Last time I checked, I was part of the animal kingdom. I tried long enough to be a vegetable. Don’t work either.

    That sexual predation probably got different roots from sexual drive is another story altogether.

    What a mess! What a human mess! What a very human mess! What a very complex human mess!

    And again: I’d rather have it out in the open, where I can see it. And anyone with eyes open can see it too. “Shame” don’t help for that. Sorry.

  4. Armin says:

    Copy of my Hopefully final comment on Sweeping Zen:

    I’ve been rather engaged in this discussion bc. something irked me about the matter.
    And that was not simply the abuse by teachers of my tradition who should know better.
    It took me a while to work out what felt so wrong, and all your posts helped me to clarify this.
    So thank you all for participating.

    I’ve come up with two points that I’ve laid to rest in my mind now.
    The first is: This is not really about sex. What irked me here is the residual Puritanistic streak I feel from mostly US American voices. I don’t really care so much if the teacher has sexual contact with his students. It may not be helpful, it may lead to confusion and ultimately to serious pain, but this is not the real issue here.

    The real issue is a misuse of power and trust.

    Can I insert a quote from one of my fav authors here?
    “Dig down into the blood depths of hormonal bedrock, where violence and sex and power grow fibrously entwined. It’s a murky, complicated place down there. No telling what you’ll drag up once you start excavating.” – Richard K Morgan in Broken Angels

    Even seasoned teachers get lost in that murky place. More so us as onlookers that can not really see what is going on, and get lost because our own murky places are not cleared either.

    So I feel that the sex part is really a misdirection caused by the unease many people feel with their own sexuality.

    The second point I want to make is that I completely disagree with the practice of calling every woman that got involved with a teacher a victim. (let’s stick to a male teacher-female student situation here, so as not to complicate matters even further)
    I think I can see roughly 3 different types in this situation:

    The more or less seasoned student or mature person that walks into it more or less open-eyed. Very old stuff can be at play here. Chasing the alpha-male. Hierarchy games. Confusion about closeness and its meanings. Deep empathy that is developing into sexual feelings. Again: murky.
    How much of this is initiated by the teacher and how much by the student does not really matter that much.
    What we have here is a teacher that fails to set clear boundaries, fails to put the student in her place and gets drawn into the game. Shouldn’t happen, but does. It hurts the sangha sooner or later, though it has happened to work out right. I’m withholding judgement mostly and think my “human, human, all too human”.

    Next we have the immature student that looks up at the teacher as father figure, a “spiritually accomplished higher being” (ouch), opens herself up by transfering power and building up trust. And how could she not? This is the very core of a teacher-student relationship.
    ….and then gets taken by the teacher, led to bed by the heart.
    Nasty, and any teacher that stoops to this should hand in his brocade rakusu and get help.

    And lastly we have the real victim type, coming from a broken family, being abused before, clinging, needy, the whole kit and kaboodle that is so easy to exploit, and that in different circumstances would lead to the girl being a pimped prostitute.
    If a teacher misuses a woman like this, he is stepping close to criminality.

    And still: the real damage does not lie in the sexual encounter, it lies in the broken trust and the mental abuse.
    Damage to the student, damage to the sangha, damage to the dharma.

    What to do?
    I think we need a three pronged approach:
    Publicity first, and Adam is doing a marvelous job in speaking up and helping others to speak up!
    A council in every sangha that should contain at least one person NOT involved with the teacher.
    A certain amount of oversight from other sanghas, a peeking over the fence, a maha-sangha council, a “moral seal of aproval”.

    Thanks for reading, that was my 3 and a half cents, I’m out of here for now.


  5. Armin says:

    I think I narrowed it down to a few sentences that put the whole matter to rest for me:

    It’s not about sex, this just happens to be the most attractive part of human existence for the plot to play out.
    From the predators side, it’s about power.
    From the side of the “victim”, it’s about breach of trust and the feeling of being used.
    In total it’s a breach of contract and a serious breach of the principle of ahimsa.

    For someone that professes to be a teacher, it’s utterly inexcusable.

  6. Laurance says:

    The replies here are appalling! I see that this discussion took place back in November. I’m out of the loop and only learned about the storm of articles and apologies and whatever on Saturday evening, January 12th.

    Heidi and Armin, you’re blaming the victims!

    Don’t assume that the victims are all “an adoring wet lipped woman sitting closely facing him square on in private”, or “Chasing the alpha-male. Hierarchy games. Confusion about closeness and its meanings. Deep empathy that is developing into sexual feelings,” or “the immature student that looks up at the teacher as father figure, a “spiritually accomplished higher being” (ouch), opens herself up by transfering power and building up trust” or “the real victim type, coming from a broken family, being abused before, clinging, needy, the whole kit and kaboodle that is so easy to exploit, and that in different circumstances would lead to the girl being a pimped prostitute”. What I hear you saying is that the victims were asking for it.

    Nor was what happened a dance. “It’s a dance, and it takes two to tango.
    I don’t think this dance is helpful, but being a man, I can readily understand where it is coming from.”

    No! It was no tango. It was no dance. I am not guilty here.

    I am one of the victims. I was at a sesshin in NY City in the fall of 1985. I went in to Sanzen. Roshi didn’t say much of anything useful to me. Then he grabbed me and groped me and made ugly sex sounds, “Unh! Unh! Unh!”, like intercourse.

    I was frightened and bewildered. No, I was not young and beautiful. No, I was not flirting and looking longingly at him. Nor was I provocatively dressed. I was 44 and wearing a black kimono from neck to feet, covered up.

    This came out of nowhere. That evening I told the Shoji what had happened. She shut me up. Another woman told me that that’s just Roshi, and what Roshi does. The next day in Teisho the Roshi singled me out for shaming. I realized that the Shoji had told him I’d complained about being molested.

    When I got back to the home Zen center I talked with the monks. They threw me under the bus, told me I wasn’t enlightened enough to understand, that Roshi is not like other men, that I’m just attached to my woman’s body (don’t be fooled by the screen name Laurance; I’m a 71 year old woman now), he’s so enlightened, he’s so spiritual, he can do anything. They closed ranks, they circled the wagons, and while they didn’t deny what that Roshi was doing – they knew that this is how he acts – they made excuses and justifications. While they didn’t blame me – they knew I did nothing to provoke what happened – they made me out to be inferior and unenlightened and unable to appreciate what Roshi had done to me.

    I was lucky. It only happened once. The Roshi knew to never touch me again. And before long I resigned from Rinzai-ji in disgust and moved on.

    Now it’s finally all out in the open. I’m dismayed to see the victim-blaming happening.

  7. Hindusufi says:

    I was a resident student at Rinzai Ji in L.A. in 1975. I knew nothing about these things until it broke loose on the internet. It has been disturbing. At the Rinzai Ji centers the Buddhist precepts where never part of the teaching, never discussed, never included in the group readings. That is something that needs to change, at Rinzai Ji and any other Buddhist organization that excludes them.

  8. Armin says:

    Thanks to Laurance and Hindusufi for posting replies.
    Yes, Laurance, I agree. Most of what I said is appaling. 2 main reasons: I thought that the whole goings-on had been restricted to long-time students (and there ARE cases where what I said, or at least wanted to say still stands in my eyes) and I needed this whole discussion, which I followed avidly, to work through some of the issues involved here. Oh, and the whole thing is not about sex but about power, which idea is so totally foreign to me that I took a long time catching on.
    There is absolutely no way Sasaki should have been allowed to get away with any of this.
    Turns out that what I thought was the womens’ game, let’s call it power-for-sex, was actually the game of the male enablers. Power-for-shutting-up.
    The old goat is just what he is, should not have been allowed to teach. He managed to form a cocoon of enablers and protectors around himself in the approved fashion. Succesful group manipulation works that way.
    I do apologize for treading on so many toes. Sometimes I feel like a big elephant that barges through and surveys the damage afterwards. I wish I could say the elephant resolves to do better in future, but knowing the guy….. not much hope.

  9. Laurance says:

    Thank you, Armin, for responding. I was annoyed and disgruntled, and I’m glad we can talk about it now and sort things out.

    Yes, I agree with you that there probably are, very likely are, most likely are, maybe certainly are, women who get involved in messy affairs with powerful men and do so for their own self-serving reasons. Whether there are such women in Rinzai-ji I do not know. I didn’t stick around much longer or try to find out. I do know of at least one young woman who did not feel damaged. She had been in her late teens and had taken her clothes off and sat on the roshi’s lap, so she told me. She’d thought it was fun and cute and found the free love loosey-goosey Rinazi-ji atmosphere appealing.

    I didn’t.

    She wondered what was wrong with me for objecting.

    I felt alienated and disturbed by the whole business, and it creeped me out the way everybody else thought there was something wrong with me for objecting.

    I left Rinzai-ji. There was another woman who had left Rinzai-ji, and we got together and spent the day talking about it. This was the first time either of us had been able to talk about what happened without the monks and other Rinzai-ji members treating us as if there were something wrong with us. There were other women who had been frightened and hurt by roshi’s behavior. If there were some who went along with roshi for the perks and power, there were others who were as distressed as I was.

    What was hurtful was not only the way roshi behaved, but the way everyone went along with it and invalidated the victims. We couldn’t do anything. These people put a stone wall around the roshi. He couldn’t have gotten away with it for a minute if the members of Rinzai-ji hadn’t gone along with him and protected him.

    Why?? Why?? People thought he was so holy, so enlightened, so “spiritual”, anything he did was wonderful. Why?? How did otherwise intelligent people allow themselves to be so bamboozled? Were they all brainwashed somehow? I was horrified to discover that Leonard Cohen had a piece in “The Best Buddhist Writing of 2007” in which he alluded to the roshi’s boozing and pornography as though it were something good. Didn’t the publishers of the book read that piece and think something was not quite right here? Why was that piece even published?

    All this happened to me rather a long time ago. Until very recently I had a once-a-month therapist I’d see for what I call “emotional hospice” because I’m a tired caregiver to a chronically sick partner. At one point I told this therapist about what the roshi did to me. The therapist (who I have since learned also functioned as a Christian minister) was so kind and understanding, in total agreement that this kind of behavior is very harmful and inappropriate and a betrayal of trust and position.

    Well! Horrors! Less than a month ago we learned in the newspaper that this very therapist was involved in long-term sexual hanky-panky with two of his patients and was losing his license and was about to be fined an astonishing amount of money. Now I’m feeling betrayed myself. I trusted this man, I told him about the roshi, and now I find he was doing similar things. Don’t mind me. I’m feeling like a grumpy old lady wondering what on earth is going on with people.

    Again thank you for responding and talking about this.

  10. Armin says:

    Lol, that’s ok. Thanks for sharing.
    Mens,,,eh??? Mens!

  11. Armin says:

    I want to add a short convo I had with Arthur Wells-Roshi. My remark refers to a post on “Sweeping Zen” by an ex-attendant of Sasaki.
    Dear Arthur

    did you read this?

    I want to point at the following sentence: “The thing I’m most angry
    about is that I feel like a victim now, and I don’t want to feel that way.”

    I keep asking about this, I know it’s not PC… but how much of the pain
    is created by others pointing out that there should be pain?

    Hope you are wells


    Hi Armin,

    I’ve followed these latest developments in the Sasaki story with my jaw hanging open in astonishment. Yet I’m very grateful to Sasaki for starting me on the Zen path when I did Sesshin with him in New Zealand in 1982, so I’m going through the same re-evaluation that others say they are experiencing, particularly in relation to the mystique of power surrounding Zen teachers. The awe we felt back then for teachers left the way open for some to do a huge amount of harm, especially Eido Shimano, Denis Genpo Merzel and even the great Taizan Maezumi — I found very moving the letter from his daughter explaining how it was for her and her mother when he was having an affair with his senior student Jan Chosen Bays. (I am also impressed with Jan Chosen Bays’ open-hearted response).

    I’m not surprised when it takes women who have been abused a long time to feel angry about it. A woman I know became severely depressed and suicidal for a year when she hit her 50s about a rape that took place when she was a young teenager. It can take that long for the inner suppression to weaken. Fortunately she got some very good counselling for the suicidal depression that slugged her from the distant past so unexpectedly. Now in her 60s she is so strong I am hugely impressed with her. She is no longer angry or even hurting personally about it, and is fiercely engaged in her own compassionate work with people.

    Sasaki’s personal attendants or “Injis” have the most poignant story to tell. I have spoken myself with a woman he groped in the dokusan room in NZ in the 80s. She was a mature person at the time and told him, “Get your fucking hands off me!” But she too felt confused about it for years afterwards, asking herself as others have done, “Was this his teaching — did I miss it?” Nah — she was just one amongst a hundred others, she now realises. There was no teaching involved, just an impotent old man obsessing about his inadequacy and trying pathetically to remedy it with any attractive female student. A lot of the anger now emerging amongst Sasaki’s victims is because they at least assumed they were alone and special in the attention they were receiving from him. Now they realise it was a habitual pattern of his, and nothing to do with teaching them the dharma as pretended or maybe even kidded himself he was doing. (Years ago I read his tantric speculations and thought they were complete hokum — now I see they were just a rationalisation of his addicted behaviour).

    These revelations are important I think because they are leading people to rethink what awakened consciousness is about. Most people I think are rightly coming to see Sasaki as a bogus teacher because his “awakening” has not been based on genuine empathy. Yes, he taught waking up to the present moment and acting freely in the moment, but he missed completely what I call the “almost unbearable empathy” of awakening that happens when some other part of the world walks, or rather stomps, right through us. Maybe some parts of the world did that to him, but he missed out on it happening with the feelings of others, especially those different from him — in this case, women. If he’d had any of this painful, exacting empathy of awakening it would have jammed on the brakes for him, but he didn’t and it didn’t. It seems he did his best to suppress any tendency of his priests to develop such empathy for women, because it might expose him. The few males who did develop it had to leave when they realised the whole environment around him had become toxic.

    To end on a personal note, when I am teaching myself and I find a female student attractive, I try to think of her as if she was my own daughter or grand-daughter. Our maleness has a strong and tender protective side, and if we can engage it in this way it drives out the sexual predator in us. When I am doing dokusan with women or counselling women in my work I become a lot more interested in how they see the world and survive in the world than I am in myself or my own needs and wishes at the time. I don’t think Sasaki was interested in this protective way in his women students, because he didn’t really have the emotional maturity of a grown man — the ability to care and safeguard like a father or grandfather. He has been a perpetual teenager, which is all the more odd because he is now so very old. Thirty years ago he reminded me of a monkey in his raw and unreflective energy. I failed at the time to see the consequences of that.

    Arthur Wells

  12. Truthinator says:

    From an emotional development perspective joshu sasaki was living in a monastery at the age of 14 a monk at 21. His adolescence and adulthood spent entirely in this strange environment. While he had kids he didn’t have a connection to them so I think this is a great observation that he didn’t develop the caring protective side of being a man. I have a daughter and it is the most effective tool ever to drive out any tendency toward being a sexual predator as you noted. Every woman is someone’s daughter. The rationalization within the communities is don’t be attached to your self Roshi is beyond ethical dilemmas somehow. I spent some time at bodhi manda in NM and wrestled with wondering if I was in a cult, the sleep deprivation, the fact that you could go for weeks at a time on retreat and hear no other humans except the roshi, sounds cult like. But the difference I felt was they couldn’t care less if you left. On the other hand if you questioned anything they also didn’t want you around. So weird being there (I’m a guy BTW) still stands as the most intense experiences of my life except maybe peak athletic or sexual experiences. I would love to know what it is like for the long time practicioners, the devoted. Someone said once rinzai ji is like the marines of the zen world. It is the hardest and most rigorous and not for p—–ies to use military type language. Here is another similarity to the military, males abusing their power on women practitioners.

  13. Bob OHearn says:

    Invariably, people expect Zen to be something other than what it is. For example, people expect that Zen will be some kind of enlightenment system, or that, as a result of practicing Zen methods, they will become somehow transformed into a more ideal character. This is why, for most students, the more experienced they become at practice, the further away they drift from their actual nature. As Bankei noted, only when your practice of Zen is through will you find that you haven’t gained anything new.


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