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I'm Just Like Brad Warner!

Accept, I don't have dharma transmission, wear a brown O'kesa, and sit on the top side of a power dynamic. My words don't have the weight of "teacher."And my wife didn't marry me because she thought I was enlightened.

Brad says in his blog that Zen teachers are like ordinary people (just like me!) and have sexual feelings. They're like your princi-pal, man. And if you consent, as a Zen student, you can have sex with him, despite what your subconscious will be doing when you have sex with an authority figure in a robe-wearing tradition.

I say robe-wearing here, because Brad has deftly dodged the trappings of religiosity, spirituality, and moral accountability, because, like, he's too damn hardcore, too damn cool for all that. It's not okay, it's not okay, it's not okay. This entitlement to sexuality drips with patriarchy.

This is like the 13th step sponsors in AA; it's like an LT seducing a corporal; it's like sleeping with your boss, and worse. Part of Brad's vows (did he take any? I have no idea) to wear the Buddha's robe was "I take refuge in the Sangha as the perfect life" and the Grave precept of not disparaging the triple treasure. It's very hard to say when someone is breaking a precept, and actually, we don't usually say anything like that; What I'm saying is this: is not okay, meaning, when I read about teachers having sex with Zen students, my stomach flips, my knee jerks, my radar goes off.

Even someone as lowly totemed as myself strives to stay beyond the world's dust. Newcomers to our Zen center can't tell the difference between my black robe and blue Rakusu and the Abbesses' black koromo and sky blue O'kesa. I'm asked if I'm a priest, I'm given starry eyes, and I think it is my duty to make sure someone is not "falling" for my getup (which is a very helpful getup, once you're around awhile- more on that later). Maybe they think I can get them on the farm crew, maybe they think I'm up for a roll in the turnip shed; I can't (over 150 applicants a year) and I won't (I'm married to Dancing Mountain!).

I've tried to comment on his blog, but his comment section is a shit flinging contest. I don't mean to fling shit; I do mean to contribute to our community discourse.

 Brad's book Hardcore Zen really helped me after I read Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, 10 years ago, thus my vested interest. And I grew up listening to Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits and "picking up change" at local Scranton/Wilksbarre punk/hardcore venues; Has anyone ever noticed I'm covered in tattoos? Brad, bassist in a hardcore band, Zer0DFX, was a real bridge for me, as Thich Nhat Hanh made me throw up in my mouth a little.

However, don't let your babies grow up to have heroes. What Brad keeps saying repeatedly, that it's legitimate for zen teachers to have sex with "congregants" upon consent, flies in the face of taking refuge in the Sangha. Sometimes people need support to take refuge from themselves when they activate deep habit energy, like maybe trying to seduce the Zen teacher or saying yes to the Zen teacher.

Yes does not always mean yes, in any context.

I am not like Brad Warner, but I am not separate from him, nor am I immune from the same capacity to do harm.


  1. Brad isn't completely off in my view. I don't think it's wise to create 100% prohibitions around this kind of thing. Because every case is different, and not every student that has sex with a teacher is a victim. There is a heavy puritanism that appears whenever American Buddhist scandals break out, something that in my opinion came from our Christian brothers historically. And so, I tend to reject absolute statements about sexuality in general, and sex with teachers in particular.

    At the same time, the percentage of "ok" cases is probably very low. Most of the time, I agree that the power imbalance is enough to make such relationships problematic at best. Brad's attitude seems like the reactive opposite pole to the one I spoke of above. He's advocating for the 5% or less of cases where a prohibition isn't needed, while throwing out all the intelligent guidelines and restrictions that support maintaining uprightness. Most of the time teachers just shouldn't go there. That's a given, but I don't think it's as simple as teachers should never go there. If that were so, our precepts would simply be commandments in the Judeo-Christian sense.

  2. I'm not supporting witch hunting, but if you're referring to prude nature, I prefer puritanism to patriarchy.

    When Brad says in his blog:

    "Joshu Sasaki has done a great service to American Buddhism. I won’t go so far as to speculate that he did it intentionally. He’s probably just an old horn dog. But whether he meant for this to happen or not, he did a great thing. He helped kill off the image of the Enlightened Master as something beyond human. He did so by leaving a legacy not just of sexual misconduct but of deep, profound insight. I like Sasaki better now than I ever did, even while I wish there had been a better way to do this. Ultimately this scandal just might help save Buddhism in America by transforming it from a cartoon stereotype into something real."

    It reeks of entitlement; there are blind spots a mile wide. Like, when the hell did Brad do any American zen practice? He's never done one monastic practice period in America. Guest student stays do not qualify.His polarized response doesn't warrant an analysis. If the 95% of relationships are excusable because the the perpetrator is just a "horn dog," I disagree. This kind of bro-talk makes me sick and is testament to one's own patriarchal entitlement, even if they're not aware of how they sound.

    Puritanical witch hunts resulted from superstition and paranoia; Brad Warner brags in his book that he fucked a zen student more times than Richard Baker ever did; this is what he wrote, published, and stands by.

    What are the precepts in light of that? That if you're self aware, you can do what you want? His story might still make a good NY times article; The NY times didn't write this story, Brad enacted it and wrote it himself, wearing the Buddha's robe.

    So do we stay open and groovy and subject 95% to abuse or do we hold lineage holders accountable and possibly stunt the 5% of these positive relationships?

  3. i'm glad i'm not the only one who thinks brad warner is a fool.

  4. You are so right. I am thinking about how to address the profound problem of sex in patriarchy, the fact of religions grounded in patriarchy, including Zen.

    Years ago Jack Kornfield came out with a specific code of conduct for dharma teachers. I haven't turned that up yet online, but here is a link that is interesting, a letter signed by a number of teachers testifying that there is simply no excuse for sexual misconduct by teachers.

  5. I'm not sure I follow all of this. I hope I'm not being insulting by wondering if you read Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate for yourself or are quoting what other people have said about it. Because your characterization of what I said in there is vastly different from what I know I intended. My intention in that book was not to brag that I fucked a Zen student. My intention was to try to express how deeply and madly in love I was with someone I met because she came to a handful of my Zen classes. I'm sorry if that was not clear.

    I'm afraid I have no idea what the statement "If the 95% of relationships are excusable because the the perpetrator is just a 'horn dog,' I disagree" means. Do you think I'm trying to excuse Sasaki's behavior? I am not. I said it was reprehensible in the article you are reacting to.

    I have never said it's "legitimate for zen teachers to have sex with 'congregants' upon consent" if you mean something like, "Hey baby! I'm a Zen Master! Wanna have sex with me?" But we need to be realistic. Our style of Zen is not celibate. Because of this there *will* be romantic relationships between so-called "clergy" and so-called "congregants."

    That's not me trying to say I want to engage in such relationships. I did so once -- arguably (read the book for details). It was not a case of groping someone in the dokusan room. It was a long term, deep, monogamous relationship. Grace Schireson's speculation that I go around screwing every hot chick who comes to my lectures is way off base.

    But it doesn't matter if I never have such an involvement again. There are thousands of non-celibate Zen teachers out there and a good portion of them are, were, or will be involved in relationships with former or current co-called "congregants." If we demonize all of them by likening these relationships to Sasaki's awful behavior we're going to cause a lot of harm.

    And yes, I did take the precepts. Three times! And dharma transmission, which adds a fourth one, I suppose.

    1. I don't follow you either, or your wordplay.

      I did read Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. Your intention escapes me when you use the words "more than" "fucked" and "Richard Baker" in the same sentence. The implications of such a sentence do not imply my definition of deep, mad, love. When you drop Richard Baker's name, and then compare yourself to this person, it seems less a declaration of your love and more a demonstration of your capacity to misuse sexuality.

      When you refer to a perpetrator of sex crimes as a horn dog, you reduce him to a horny old uncle with playboy posters hanging in his garage. Horn dogs are horny; rapists and molesters are more than just horn dogs.

      As far as being realistic about sex in zen, there is a difference between clergy and teachers. There's a difference between unsui and roshi. And no, I don't think you'd say, "Hey baby! I'm a Zen Master! Wanna have sex with me?" But do you honestly think that this woman who came to a few of your classes was free from your persona as a spiritual teacher, even if you don't see yourself as one? That may not be your fault, but is there something that could have been done to insure that wasn't the case?

      You write brazenly. However, these comments reflect something different; we also have mutual friends who describe a different Brad then appears on his blog. I'd love to read about your intentions for mad, deep, love- but what I'm seeing is a dude party over there, one I left because I couldn't hack and I didn't want to anyway.

  6. You say: "Our style of Zen is not celibate. Because of this there *will* be romantic relationships between so-called "clergy" and so-called "congregants." Romantic feelings sometimes cannot be avoided, but sex can. When one puts on Buddha's robe, he/she has voluntarily chosen to conduct himself/herself in the dignified, noble conduct of the Buddha. That's the deal. Sexual restraint in this dynamic student/teacher relationship is a matter of authentic practice. In the ceremonies there is cutting the hair, a symbol of renunciation. Renunciation! What an archaic idea!!

    1. Like I said, Japanese style Zen is not celibate.

    2. And it is always the women who suffer here and in Japan This is the truth.

    3. I think I should make it clear that I do not advocate romantic relationships between Zen "clergy" and Zen "congregants." It's definitely not a good idea. Such relationships ought to be avoided.

      If a Zen priest came to me saying he felt attracted to one of his "congregants," I would ask him if it was possible to put aside those feelings. If the answer was "no," I'd warn him of the kind of trouble to expect.

      In my book Sex Sin and Zen I talk about San Francisco Zen Center's policy on these matters. SFZC recognizes that these kinds of relationships sometimes occur and that they are not always matters of abuse. There are specific guidelines to deal with what they understand is an inevitable result of having non-celibate clergy.

      The kinds of things were seeing with Shimano, Sasaki and Merzel are not at all typical. These guys are like Zen rock stars. To demonize people who legitimately fall in love under trying circumstances just creates more suffering.

  7. I've been asked to put on the robe and taught Zen by my teacher of 30 years from Vietnam. When I protested 8 years ago that Vietnamese Zen teachers are all celibate monastics, my teacher told me that is a fallacy and non-celibate priesthood existed. Although my teacher was a celibate Zen monk, he authorized me to teach and not take the Vinaya rules, just the Zen ones. Moreover lay people throughout history in Vietnam had taken on the Zen master roles, I can name a few famous ones from my research. It is not as common in Japan but it exists and still exists today.
    As a Zen teacher in a committed relationship I kept my precepts and did not respond to any advances from my male students. Once single though, it didn't matter as much.
    I think it is important to be honest with the sangha about one's romantic activities. If students are mature human beings or that they had been taught properly without the teacher putting on any airs of superiority, they do understand that the teacher is a human being with needs. I didn't hide the fact that my ex-partner and I were swingers, that we were sexually open. That didn't chase away any students. I didn't hide the fact that I suggested sex when I caught a male student checking me out and being interested in me. The attraction was mutual and I didn't have a problem. We didn't end up doing it but it didn't stop him from continuing to be my student and have even more open honest communication with me.
    People have this immature idea that a Zen teacher is anything but human. We eat, sleep,shit, fall in love, have sex, make mistakes just like everyone. The difference is we are better at not lying, sustaining peace, easily forgive, less prone to anger, more generose and compassionate. Just more real as human beings and don't hide our flaws because we accepted them. I once got on my knees before one of my senior student whom I authorized to teach and confessed that I broke a precept, asking him to give me repentance. He respected me even more after that because I was practicing what I taught him, more importantly, that I showed him that I am a human being and relatable.
    The greatest gift a Zen teacher can give to students is to not play a teacher role or any role at all: to be real, vulnerable, honest and humble.
    It is immature of anyone to expect a spiritual teacher to be above human basic needs and any less human. That is merely a concept which exists in the mind. The mind loves to box reality but reality cannot be boxed neatly into concepts without breaking out of them.


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