This post arose from an online conversation with Barry at Ox Herding, about criticism, and the need to speak up. Generally, criticizing others isn’t something helpful to our practice, yet when is it necessary to speak out? When do we speak up? When is this the healthier choice?
Barry: I have violated the “precept” of speaking about others so many times and usually have come to regret my speech.
Zen Master Seung Sahn used to say that the mouth is “the number one problem gate” and all available evidence supports this, at least in my case.
At the same time, there are times when we must speak out about the behaviors of others. I think about Eido Shimano in this context and the decades of silence that enabled the ongoing abuse of his students.
What if Aitken Roshi had spoken out in the late 1960s rather than in the last year of his life? How might that speech, had it occurred four decades ago, have helped?
In recent years, when confronted with some troubling behavior or speech, I’ve tried to examine my own troubling behaviors and words. If I can see how such actions arise within myself, then I can also see clearly how they arise in others. Then I might speak out. (But it’s hit and miss!)
Chong Go Sunim: I can see enough of my own faults to realize that, (in general) I definitely have no business going on about others’ behavior. That said, there are still times when it’s necessary to have the “hard conversation” with someone, when I have discuss something really unpleasant or uncomfortable.
I’ve heard of companies that have a “no gossip” policy, where they actually will fire someone who keeps it up. There, they define “gossip” as complaints/criticisms “given” to someone who has no power to do anything about them. I think there is something to this that helps separate the “bitch session” from the “hard conversation”. In the second it actually is my job to do something about it.
I can kind of imagine some of what’s involved with situations like the one with Shimano. I’d guess that a lot of practitioners (in other places) who only heard glimpses of the problem didn’t say anything because they felt that the people best able to actually solve this problem were the ones at that temple. I think this may have played a big role in the silence; plus, as outsiders they may have also felt uncertain about what exactly was going on.
On the one hand, it seems like that situation is continuing because the people in the middle of it choose to let it continue. So what’s my responsibility? As near as I can tell, it is to people new to Buddhism who might actually believe those kinds of behavior are “enlightened” or some kind of “non-dual wisdom” or even crap like “Asian culture.”
I kind of feel for Aitken Roshi, I’ll bet he really regretted not having had the guy deported back in 1964. Aitken Roshi seems to have been an honest and sincere person who was thrown for a loop when confronted for the first time with Shimano’s behavior. At the time, it didn’t fit the traditional “call the police” model for despicable behavior. And he’d probably never encountered anyone like that before. I’m pretty sure that Aitken unconsciously tried to deal with Shimano in the way Aitken normally treated people, as if they were basically honest and sincere. But this model doesn’t work with a compulsive behavior. I don’t think honest people react well, or decisively, to these situations until they’ve been burned once or twice. Until then, it’s something they never really imagined or had a need to think through.