[Buddha-l] Review of a review

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat Jun 26 14:52:55 MDT 2010

On Jun 26, 2010, at 2:13 PM, Franz Metcalf wrote:

> But I will ask you a pointed question: What do you think of the  
> American Zen community's decades of non-examination of Yasutani  
> Roshi's antisemitism?

There is no single answer to that. For some people the acceptance of Yasutani is somewhat like the willingness people have to acknowledge that even when people have characteristics that are not admirable, they may still have a great deal to offer that is worth listening to and heeding. So for a lot of people, hearing of Yasutani's anti-Semitism is like hearing of Thomas Jefferson's ownership of slaves and his probably being the father of several children through one of his slaves. One may admire Jefferson for a lot of things, and regard him well worth studying and thinking about, and see that he is worthwhile despite having had a feature that we now regard as unconscionable. Similar observations can be made about Jung's well-documented anti-Semitism, or Freud's cocaine addiction, or Socrates's dismissiveness of his wife and his fondness for young boys. One might regard it as quite healthy to realize that no one is perfect by one's own standards and to recall what the Buddha is supposed to have said: "There never has been, is not now, and never will be anyone with whom no one will find fault. There never has been, is not now, and never will be anyone whom everyone will always praise."

Other people may have a less healthy approach that answers to what psychologists call denial. That is, they simply cannot accept that Yasutani really was anti-Semitic. That is, as you say, an example of what Tikhonov calls "see no evil." In my own experience, not many people I have encountered exhibit that degree of denial, although it is by no means unknown. 

There is yet another approach that I would regard as unhealthy, and that involves not denying that Yasutani was anti-Semitic but rather making the spurious claim that anti-Semitism can't be all that bad if an enlightened fellow like Yasutani exhibited it. I have, unfortunately, seen people make that sort of apology for a teacher's questionable actions, especially with regard to the third precept.

So while I would agree that in general there are issues that exemplify what Tikhonov calls the "see no evil" approach, I have personally not seen that pattern applied by many Buddhists to the question of warfare specifically. But I admit that I lead a pretty sheltered life.

> The  
> failure of Zen practitioners, even supposedly awakened ones, to see  
> this teacher's failure is not "systematic" in terms of Buddhist  
> history, I acknowledge. Still, I think it does approach a kind of  
> systematic and willful ignorance of Buddhist history/reality/dharma  
> *as embodied in the teacher*. And that embodiment is the sine qua non  
> of Zen, so such failures are central and disturbing.

Well, as a recovering Zen practitioner, I have to say that what led me eventually to abandon Zen was that I found the very idea of the teacher as an embodiment of the Dharma deeply disturbing. It seemed to me to be giving carte blanche to Zen masters. As I understand Buddhism, nobody should ever get carte blanche. At the same time, no one should ever be dismissed as utterly reprehensible when their carte gets a bit, even quite a bit, of noire on it.

> But then I am a historian, not a philosopher.

I forgive you, my son.


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