The Sub-plot of Dark Mindfulness History
The internet is a powerful thing. It is a leveler, and a debunker of myth. Nowhere is this more vivid than in the debunking of the history mindfulness teaching.
Western writers have mostly written of a real person-to-person passing down through generations, that can be traced back to an important person in history, even the Buddha himself.
In Buddhism, the goal of doing mindfulness is Enlightenment. This is usually described as a moment when one’s “eyes” are opened and one sees the reality of existence, and is freed from the endless cycle of birth and death. One is freed from being a human being who can die; to be free of desire, love, and hate. In other words a big deal.
Because the goal is so lofty, getting there is seen as rare, and finding someone to teach you who has already got there is also seen as rare. Also, how to tell the fakers from the “real” teachers? Buddhism’s answer has been to say that real teachers are part of a line of teachers going back to a “great” teacher, who was “definitely enlightened”. In Japanese Zen monasteries, every day they chant all the names in their lineage all the way back to the Buddha. The Tibetan lamas say they know how to find children who are reincarnations of teachers who have died. All this gives seriously big status to the present day teacher.
Lies and Abuse in The East
However, historians have begun to begun to look at Buddhist history. They have found that in the past it was common for lineages to be invented. ‘Saintly’ teachers of the past (and not so past) were often warped by obsession with money, sex, and power. They could be violent and abusive, bossing everyone around generally, or gullible and cowardly, letting abuse happen if someone else was doing it.
It has been revealed that historically the lineages of Zen in Japan were commonly invented to suit the person inventing it. Also teacher ‘badges’ were often handed out for reasons other than spiritual progress.
Stories are now being told of historical Tibetan Buddhist leaders ruling Tibet with violence and abuse. They even allowed peasants to be mutilated for non-payment of taxes. There are also stories of them abusing their power sexually, on their subjects and boys training to be monks.
The Teaching Arrives on Western Shores
In the 1960’s and 70’s four of the major bringers of mindfulness to the west were Muktananda, Eido Shimano, Maezumi and Chogyal Trumpa.
Muktananda was obsessed with money, used his disciples as slave labour, sexually assaulted teenage girls regularly, and was extremely violent. Eido and his wife ran New York Zen Studies Society for 40 years with sadistic authority, with Eido constantly sexually assaulting women for 40 years. Maezumi was a serial womanizer and an alcoholic. Trumpa was a sadistic, violent alcoholic who freely admitted to having sex with women indiscriminately, and regularly used violence to control his followers. He died age 46 from alcoholism, leaving his chosen successor to knowingly spread the HIV virus around. All of these men taught that they were enlightened and could do no wrong. Their disciples, including many famous people, believed them and supported them in this.
Recent Scandal in Buddhism
In the last few years there have been many revelations about current teachers in USA and Europe. Richard Baker, Vajra Regent Osel Tendzin, Eido Shimano, Katagiri, Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, Joshu Sasaki, Jiyu Kennett, Eko Little, Genpo Merzel. There is barely a lineage in the West that hasn’t been tainted by scandal or revelations involving its leaders. Just Google any of the above names and add the word scandal, for a roller coaster read….
2010 – More Damning Revelations
There is one other damning bit of evidence. By 1974 it was widely known by the USA Zen Buddhist teachers that Eido Shimano was sexually assaulting women at the New York Zen Studies Society, where he was abbot from 1966. But it was only in August 2010 when the New York Times did an expose of Eido that the Zen teachers of USA took action and condemned him. Until the NY Times article, for 40 years there was public support for Eido from the USA Zen Teacher community. When it came to exposing and naming him there was a shattering silence. For 40 years. After the NY Times article, all the Zen teachers in USA stood up and condemned Eido. This is not a glowing endorsement for mindfulness.
So those bringing mindfulness to the West, and so many ‘transmitted’ teachers of mindfulness are either hedonistic, abusive, addicted serial liars, or people who publicly supported them. It begs the question what is wrong with mindfulness? Or what are all these teachers getting so wrong about mindfulness that they could not stand up to a little bully in their midst? You would think they would be mindfully and publicly all asking that question of themselves… not so, sadly.
So what is this all about? How is it that so many teachers have got it so wrong, most with over 20 years of full-on mindfulness practice under the guidance of a “transmitted” teacher?
The answer we will explore is that the understanding and teaching of mindfulness, and of all these teachers may be deeply flawed. Read our exploration of this here