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03 Betrayal
#1 is the breach of trust that shocks and traumatizes. Depending on the degree of trust invested, the sense of betrayal may increase exponentially. - Caryl Gopfert

All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.
 - Isak Dinesen

  This will no doubt be the most painful thread to participate in on this forum.  It is undertaken with the understanding that to heal the wounds inflicted in the past, they need to be revisited with clarity and understood so they are not repeated, as well as to provide healing for those who feel they have been mistreated.  In her eye-opening work, Student Experiences of Betrayal in the Zen Buddhist Teacher/Student Relationship, Caryl Gopfert relates the experiences of nine Zen students who have felt betrayed in their relationships with teachers. After collecting all the subject's stories she shared them among themselves.  The very act of reading each other’s stories was reported as healing by many of the people in the study.

  Ideally this would be carried out in a group setting, with teachers, elders, and sangha members present, along with a professional facilitator to guide the process.  This was asked for but never provided.  We will do the best we can to allow people to be heard.  We hope you will do the best you can to listen.

  Gopfert identifies the experience of the betrayal of trust as the essence of abusive relationships between parent/child, teacher(professor)/student, minister/congregant, or therapist/client, whether the abuse is sexual or not.   She defines betrayal on page 31:

  Betrayal lies not only in the overt breaking of ethical standards, but also in the destruction or damaging of the trust implicit in intimate relationships.

  She believes the intimacy of spiritual teacher/student relationships to rival those of the parent/child relationship and quotes Jan Chozen Bays who maintains, "There are striking similarities between child abuse and spiritual abuse." She explains that students come to practice like trusting children, open and willing to share their "innermost anxieties and shadowy places, trusting the teacher to act always for their benefit. To betray that trust for personal gain is a misuse of power akin to child abuse."  Just as child abuse disrupts a child's development, sometimes permanently, making healthy sexuality an impossibility, "Spiritual abuse of students is similarly disruptive, with the result that some students never mature in spiritual practice and others are turned away from the Dharma forever." - p.41

  Gopfert compares sexual betrayal with other forms of betrayal of intimate trust, all of which share a power differential of one in power and one dependent to some extent on the person in power. 

This makes the less powerful person vulnerable in the relationship. In each case there is the assumption that the person in power will act in the best  interests of the "supplicant"; there is trust in the integrity not only of the person, but also in the "office" of the person in power. Lena Dominelli (1989) talks about power in betrayals of trust in incestuous relationships. Power in families is theoretically "tempered by trust," she maintains. "This sets up the expectation that the powerless members of the family will be cared for and protected by its more powerful ones. Their failure to live up to this expectation becomes a betrayal of trust, or the abuse of power ... "
-p. 43

She goes on to state,

  Across the board the effects of betrayal of trust are similar, if not the same, and lists loss of self-esteem; loss of trust in the betrayer; generic loss of trust in others; a desire for vengeance; a decimation of self-trust; anxiety, depression, fear, and lack of concentration (Finkelhor & Browne, 1986; Fortune, 1994; Pope, 1988; Pope & Vasquez, 1991; Sonne, Meyer, Borys, & Marshall, 1985). In his review of the research on therapist/client sexual intimacy, Kenneth Pope (1988) found that the consequences for clients were similar to Rape Response Syndrome, Battered Spouse Syndrome, reaction to incest and child abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Consequences for the client include: ambivalence about the betrayer; a sense of guilt; feelings of emptiness and isolation; impaired ability to trust; identity and boundary confusion; depression and anxiety; suppressed rage; cognitive dysfunction, especially attention and concentration.

  We will add that, even though the relationship with sangha and management does not have the intimacy of the teacher/student relationship, the implicit trust placed in those in management positions, as guardians of the community, and the betrayal of the expectations of just treatment and sincere concern for the plight of its members is also trauma inducing.  Betrayals of trust are not limited to actions taken, but also include the omission of expected action, the fulfillment of implicit and explicit agreements.  For many of us it is the intimacy lost when we had to leave the community that is most dearly missed and longed for and the steps that were not taken to encourage peaceful and more cooperative relations that was the betrayal of trust.

  We would like to hear your stories and suggestions in the comments.  As this is liable to be the most emotional discussion on the forum, please read the guidelines for comments and keep them in mind.  Also, this advice from Thich Nhat Hahn, which may be seen as impossibly ideal, but can be used as a guiding star, and our speech measured against how close it comes to that star even if it never reaches it.  We bring up past injuries not to cause others harm, but to protect those in the future from having to undergo similar harm from similar misunderstanding.

Loving Speech and Compassionate Listening
When we know how to use loving speech, we can help the other person open their heart and see that we did not have the intention of making them suffer. If in the past the other person hurt us, it is because they could not see our pain and our suffering.
We need to know how to use loving speech. For example, we can say:
“For some time now, I know that you have had many difficulties and suffered and I have not been able to help you. My way of reacting has created even more suffering for you and that is my fault. I have not been able to see your suffering and pain, your difficulties, and your despair – because I only could only see my own pain and suffering. That is why I continued to criticize and blame you and we could no longer communicate. Now I can see more clearly. I see your difficulties, suffering and despair. Please help me. Please tell me more about your suffering and pain, so I can understand and not react as I have previously and not make you suffer like I have done in the past. If you do not help me, then who will? Please give me a chance to be your true brother, your true sister.”
When we are able to speak in this way, then the other person will open their heart and will share with us about their difficulties and suffering. It could be that while speaking, they may use words of criticism and blame and it may be that they have many wrong perceptions about us. But the practice of deep compassionate listening requires that we do not interrupt the other person, even if what they are saying is not in accord with the truth. If we interrupt, we will turn the session of deep listening into a debate and all will be lost. We have to follow our breathing while listening and remind ourselves that we are practicing deep listening for one purpose only: to help the other person open their heart, and share their pain and suffering so they can suffer less. If there have been some misunderstandings between us then, a few days later, when we can find the right moment, we provide them with more information so they can correct their perceptions.
Re-establishing communication and reconciling with our brothers and sisters is a very important practice. If we cannot do that, then how can we possibly build Sangha?

  *The closest thing that came to it was a sangha meeting in March of 2019, but little time was provided to explore the hurt that people have felt.  Of the three hours provided, forty minutes were spent in Zazen, despite a request to not take time away from the meeting, but just open that up beforehand for people who wish to come early.  An hour was spent on introductions, a ten minute break and another ten minutes on an incident that took place during the break harking back to a forty year-old conflict, leaving only one hour for any exchange of views - far too short a time to explore in depth such deeply felt and complex interpersonal issues.   Even then, much of that time was spent in denial by some, either by claiming there were no recent conflicts and so everything was now fine, or that we just needed to understand the meaning of the word "conflict" in a more sophisticated way to understand that there were never any conflicts at Jikoji.  People were interrupted who were called on to speak, while another person injected her opinion numerous times without being called on.   Many of the members who felt aggrieved were unable to attend because the meeting was held on a week day during work hours.  All of this contributed to the meeting being an inadequate exploration of the conflicts besetting Jikoji.
The is a post from a former Jikoji resident to former residents, or those in the Jikoji sangha who are aware of its institutionalized system of abuse and dysfunctional leadership.

I am reluctant to share my experiences about Jikoji. Stirring up these memories is difficult. I'm trying to move on with my life, and to a large extent I have. But though I do have a new life filled with richer meaning and new found friendships, I continue to be surprised by how frequently painful memories about Jikoji resident life and its leadership still come back to me.

Both groups (residents and Jikoji leadership) were remarkably reluctant to call out abuse, or even address conflict resolution strategies. Worse, both groups consistently ignored or blithely defended the abhorrent behavior of teachers and priests. Instead, the pattern of nepotism, friendship and political ends were employed to maintain the status quo.

It also pains me a lot to know that nothing has changed in the current leadership in spite of the tremendous efforts on the part of sangha members to invoke change and initiate dialogue with the leadership and with residents and former residents who witnessed unchecked anger, abuse and who were otherwise harmed in the process.

Sadly, the same people are in control today. And, it looks like they’ve closed ranks, circled the wagons as it were, removed contrarians from the board of directors, and continue to engage in a long held pattern of denial, deflection and distraction - and even going so far to blame the accusers of having a role in the dysfunction.

One such moment, which I will never forget, pertains to a conversation that I had with one of the leadership's elder statesman, a devoted Kobun student and longtime friend of the Jikoji Director. When I mentioned the chaos and dysfunction among and between the residents, he said, “For 40 years Jikoji has been chaotic (among residents). If someone (a resident) doesn’t like it, they can leave.”

Facts are stubborn things. And, today, the leadership has become elderly (many are in their 70s) and, if I may refer to the dictionary,
Definition: sclerotic adjective: becoming rigid and unresponsive; losing the ability to adapt: sclerotic management.

Many residents have witnessed many out of control residents over the years. But I assert as witness to such situations, that it was mostly the priests and especially the teachers who spurred most of the dysfunctional behavior, who demanded special treatment (rank has its privilege), or demanded residents participate in work detail, or other self-aggrandizements. If they didn't get what they wanted, or felt ignored, or disrespected, it was not uncommon for them to erupt in rage, or anger most especially if their authority, position or reputation was threatened, or was a perceived (by them) to be in question. Or, they waged an endless backroom political infighting game, to get their agendas sanctioned by the leadership.

One resident, who unfortunately refuses to participate in the Forum told me that he felt marginalized, disrespected and insulted after he requested help from the Director soon after a resident teacher continued to act out with him in an angry and hostile manner.

The Director told him to refrain from complaining, to focus on his sesshin practice, to respect and recognize the teacher as "an Elder" with a special form / unique form of suffering.

The same resident later dubbed Jikoji as an "ordination hub," because the director actively suggested, proposed and encouraged residents and sangha members to take up the cloth. A place where most anyone, in spite of emotional and psychological imbalances, can be fast-tracked to Zen ordinations. To be accurate though, these folks worked diligently at sewing, studying and sesshin practice. But when that fellow resident made that comment about Jikoji being a location for lots of ordinations, he spelled out a tone, an insight about the ease with which the Director almost cavalierly invited most anyone to join Club Jikoji.

Because once ordained, it had all the appearance of a special club of elites. Once ordained and on the path to sewing the robe, these individuals (not all of them misbehaved) could act out almost with impunity. Some, who displayed outrageous anger, were mildly corrected (usually in private). The pattern of rage, intimidation and anger with one particular individual continued for years. A lot of people have been hurt in the process.

While some residents had clear aims to become something bigger than their original selves through Zen, whether by sewing a rakasu, a black robe, or the biggest prize of all - a teacher, it inevitably created much more complex set of moral choices for those aspirational priests.

By this I mean, in the spirit of getting ahead in Zen, you need a teacher to confer the needful. Therefore, like all aspirants, you need to keep quiet in the face of indecent, abnormal, disrespectful behavior in the community. You don't rat on your brothers in arms. You therefore need to stay the course to get the rakasu, the ordination, and so on. You don't play against type. You're on the path of Zen, so stick to your script.

I repeatedly witnessed residents with overarching ambitions to become priests continually refrain from critical analysis in the face of a teacher's rage. Willfully looking the other way with wanton ignorance. They repeatedly demonstrated a sad fact of many religious institutions and organizations: they believe they are immune from an outside counterweight to rein in bad behavior. So, the abuse continues and all those who call it out become, as one such Jikoji leader asserted toward my entreaties to invoke some change against rage and anger, "You sound more like someone who is complaining," (than anything else.)

So, the residents and sangha members who were courting favor with the leadership fell in line, "When in Rome do as the Romans." Do not speak up and act against the moral rot that festers at the soil of Jikoji leadership, lest you lose your opportunity to get ahead in Zen. These aspirational priests were on the path to gaining their robes and therefore dare not rock the boat.

One such priest-in-waiting advised me to forget any notion of fixing Jikoji's "good old boy club." She / he said that it is impossible to change "them." So, instead, she / he played the long game, biding his /her time, refraining from making overt statements about the raging abusers. Why? She / he was determined to reach the pinnacle: Transference to teach. The Golden Cow.

I went along with his / her suggestion because it was plain enough to see that there was no end in sight to reform these insulated Zen teachers of the Kobun lineage. To get along, you have to go along. And, since I had no aspirations to sew, no aspirations to become a priest, and no aspirations to gain power or prestige, I had no inside track, no way to court favor of the Director. Without aspirations, I nonetheless quietly observed the nepotism, favoritism, and the manipulation of many priests-in-waiting to gain their power, their robes and their influence.

Certainly, the leadership, and Kobun students who knew him, do smack of a club, an elite group - and they still do today. Its most famous reprise being, "This is what Kobun did,” thereby implying that this is what Kobun would want today, or he did that and I can thereby do it too. Who can confidently state that? Were Kobun alive today, how can you be 100 percent certain that he would want something in a certain way?

There is something comical in all this stench. In the end, the efforts of these aspiring priests to gain the robe is essentially fruitless. The effort is to sew a robe to cover Emptiness. It's an empty joke, an empty victory, an empty drama. In the end, it's all for Nothing.

What is damning is the fact that several of these teachers succeeded in hurting rather than helping. They gained power and influence at the expense of others through their rage and anger, their political infighting, their manipulation, through quid pro quo, or their twisted sense of entitlement. I'm not sure who is worse, the perpetrators, or the ones who were complicit, who closed their eyes to the indecencies of their brothers and sisters of the cloth.

Today, when I visit a Zen center, the moment I interact with a robed priest my BS detector switches on. It's instantaneous. I am hyper attentive to their statements and to their behavior. Because sadly, hypocrisy and cowardice aren't far behind.

This is the legacy of Jikoji. For me a bitter and angry pill that has not yet passed out my consciousness.

Zazen provided a refuge for me. Jikoji did not. How to take refuge in a morally bankrupt institution?

When I lived there, it was riven with conflict among the residents. I say this and I am fully aware that my fellow past residents might strenuously disagree. But, even two who fight and nurture animosity in a very small group, cause grave harm. In such a small community, fragility is endemic. Unity of purpose is the only way to counteract it. Sadly, this is what I mean when I say that it was riven with conflict. A large resident community can absorb petty animosities. Jikoji resident life had no such guardrails. There were too few to fight against the domination of one or two perpetrators.

And it was made worse by a leadership pockmarked by moral lassitude. Or, resident life would be shocked suddenly by board members who wielded out-sized power and control to course correct, invoking obscure or non-existent Jikoji by-laws, peddling shape-shifting statements and decisions. Cowering board members agreed, and if they didn't, they were railroaded off the board by board members who have no courage to stand up or recognize abuse of power.

I left Jikoji discouraged, angry and exhausted.

Today, I am grateful to have discovered Zazen. But it came at a huge price to my self-esteem and emotional health.

I am not interested in participating in reforming Jikoji. So long as its current leadership is in place, I consider it irredeemable, from the root to the fruit.

You don't need a Zen koan, or years of studying fascicles, Dogen or Kobun to understand the power of human kindness, decency and respect. These are inner traits. Virtues are a necessity for even the most secular organizations. I didn't need Dogen to see this. it often occurred to me that the Zen Jikoji elite seem to relish in extended Zen sophistry while a cancer eats away at the foundation. And they don’t see how they’ve demeaned, disgraced, dishonored and degraded Kobun’s legacy.

Rage, anger and intimidation and cowardice should not find refuge at a Zen temple. You do not need Dogen, or Kobun, or Suzuki Roshi, or koans to see this fundamental fact.

Being a leader means being clear and taking tough decisions, even when it means your friends are poisoning the well from which you drink. A leader must take action. The poison has to be removed.

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
Jesus to the Pharisees, Matthew 23:27

Thank you for reading this post.

Sadly, your story is one that I have heard from numerous former residents and sangha members. When I read through Caryl Gopfert’s dissertation, it was accompanied by many nods and recognitions of the stories contained therein, how similar they were to others I had been told, and the many such experiences of my own. I cannot count the hours of conversations, email, and text exchanges I have had with fellow sangha members echoing what you have shared. Unfortunately, it too often comes down to what you stated, that they have no interest in trying to reform Jikoji, that with the current people in power it is irredeemable. Saddest of all are the ones who were diligent practitioners and now tell me that they want nothing to do with Zen at all. I am glad you have survived that fate, but I see you are now quite gun shy of teachers, priests and other dignitaries/leaders in Zen institutions. As a former participant at Zen Center of Los Angeles (Maezumi Roshi), Bodhi Mandala (Sasaki Roshi), and another group with long term ties and lineage connections to Dai Bo Satsu (Eido Roshi) I can assure you I have seen my share of abuse and misuse of power. I have wondered for decades how to integrate the authority and inspiration of teachers and elders into a more egalitarian practice that is more compatible with Western liberal democratic values. It seems that some groups have done this better than others, but that the work is not yet complete at any of them.

While I understand the widespread pessimism in regards to Jikoji, I do not share it. I do not even believe the leadership has to be replaced for Jikoji to be reformed into a more sangha-centered practice. That is not to say it will be easy, or even likely to be reformed. But I am convinced that it can be. All it takes is a patient and committed sangha willing to work to re-align Jikoji with the values of the sangha. For me, the leaders are not the obstacle to reformation, but rather it is the apathy of the sangha. The above named groups I was involved with encountered, much more egregious misbehavior from leaders vested with more authority than at Jikoji. Many changes have taken place at those centers, as well as others that could have been deemed “corrupt.”

I don’t mean to make light of the sense of hopelessness that you and others feel. I have felt it myself. It is an inevitable consequence of living in this world. I think part of any religious practice is not to succumb to that hopelessness, to gain a larger perspective beyond our limited, recent experience. Anything that can be done to help with that is a form of practice. I do think we tend to exaggerate the perceived difficulties of our life. Is Jikoji really that impossible to change? What chance is there then for even larger institutions?

As you pointed out, many of the leaders at Jikoji are getting on in years. Change of leadership is inevitable and will happen unexpectedly. I am not so concerned about who will be the new leaders as to how they will be chosen, what roles they will play, and what efforts will be made to diffuse power throughout the sangha to the largest degree possible. Focusing on that relieves the sense of hopelessness for me. We each need to find our own way.

Thank you for posting. I am considering making this one thread a “safe zone” for commenters. It would be the one thread where other posters were not allowed to deny the veracity of previous posts. Disagreement, such as what I just did, about future directions, OK, but I am uncomfortable with someone coming in and making claims that no one was mistreated, these are just disgruntled students - the entire gambit that perpetrators resort to. What do you think?
I recently read the book "Know My Name", by Chanel Miller, the woman assaulted by Stanford student Brock Turner (you know, light reading to distract me from the pandemic). I found Chanel’s book insightful and relatable, not only because, like her, I am a sexual assault survivor, but also because I found her process applicable to my experience with cancer. Chanel writes about how healing doesn’t happen by trying to advance past a trauma. Counter-intuitively, healing happens by delving into the trauma, facing it, examining it thoroughly (ideally with the help of a good therapist and/or other support systems – writing a book or a blog seems to work decently, too) until its power defuses somewhat, and it becomes one of many parts of your story, rather than the single defining moment, leaving everything else to fall “before” or “after.” If a person can find their way to this point then, as Chanel writes, instead of having the past trauma define the rest of their life, they can begin to belong more to their present.

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