Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Open Letter on Journalistic Integrity and the Shambhala Sun

[I received this from Nelson Foster and am publishing it at his request. -tom aitken]

An Open Letter on Journalistic Integrity and the Shambhala Sun:

We adopt this means, as a last resort, to air a concern about a gross failure of journalistic ethics on the part of the Shambhala Sun. The world of American Buddhist publishing has been relatively small and honorable to date, so such a failure is conspicuous and, we feel, warrants public notice and remedy. Unfortunately, as we'll report in detail below, our efforts to obtain an appropriate correction directly from the Sun came to naught. Thus our recourse to this posting.

Before proceeding to specifics, we need to make clear that, by its actions, the Sun besmirched the memory of a man we hold very dear, our late teacher, friend, and collaborator, Robert Aitken Roshi. We've pursued the matter in part out of loyalty to him, feeling an obligation to correct the worst errors of fact in the Sun article. But Aitken Roshi's reputation is probably as secure as anything in this 'burning house' can be, and what's at stake here -- integrity in Buddhist journalism -- is both larger and more imminently perishable.

The problem began with the Sun commissioning an article about Aitken Roshi from a writer who had an axe to grind, a long-alienated Dharma successor named John Tarrant. When the article was published last year in its November issue, we expressed our concerns to Sun editor-in-chief Melvin McLeod, who responded, "Of course we were aware that we were treading into dangerous territory in asking John to do this homage, and we did sound out some people to ask whether they felt it would be resented by current students of Aitken Roshi's." We have no idea whom Mr. McLeod and his staff consulted or how seriously they took the process of consultation, but we do know that they didn't speak with the people most likely to be offended and also best positioned to gauge potential negative reactions -- those of us who remained close to Aitken Roshi at the end of his life and who represent the tradition that he and his wife established, the Diamond Sangha.

Despite awareness of the risk involved, the Sun commissioned the article from Dr. Tarrant and published it without any indication of concern and without disclosing the author's estrangement from Aitken Roshi. This is the error that troubles us most. While Mr. McLeod is certainly free to choose who writes for his magazine, journalistic ethics require that periodicals disclose personal history that might compromise their writers' fairness. Lacking such information, unsuspecting readers are ill-equipped to assess the reliability of what they read.

If the Sun maintained these professional standards, it would have needed to acknowledge that Dr. Tarrant's relationship with Aitken Roshi ruptured in the late 1990s and never recovered. Concerned that Dr. Tarrant's approach to Zen had gone seriously awry, for a year Aitken Roshi discreetly pressed him to pull his group out of the Diamond Sangha. This unhappy separation finally took place in 1999 but turned out to be a prelude to an even more painful break: when repeated and persuasive allegations of misconduct on Dr. Tarrant's part -- professional (in his work as a psychotherapist), sexual, and organizational -- came to light, after private efforts to encourage resolution proved unsuccessful, Aitken Roshi and ten other Diamond Sangha teachers issued an open letter [refer to pg. 4], urging their former colleague to mend his ways. Dr. Tarrant reacted angrily. Communication between the two men came to an end.

Dr. Tarrant's desire to gloss over these facts in his article is understandable, but in agreeing to write about Aitken Roshi for the Buddhist public, he forfeited the option of concealing them. Since he chose not to disclose them himself, it was incumbent on the Sun to do so, and the resulting article makes the reason for this apparent. Although the Sun advertised the story on its cover as an "homage" to Aitken Roshi and Dr. Tarrant termed it a "tribute," it bore abundant signs that its author was still hurt and angry and had seized the opportunity to take revenge on his old teacher.

It's certainly peculiar for a tribute to a Zen master to feature the assertion that he "never stopped wondering if he had indeed ever had an enlightenment experience. . . . Sometimes he was quite sure he hadn't." Even more unusual is to couple a disparaging assessment of the master's realization with a triumphant rehearsal of one's own. How could the Sun serve this up as neutral and trustworthy reporting? Dr. Tarrant tells its readers Aitken Roshi "put down other teachers, out of a kind of embarrassed competitiveness," but somehow neither he nor the Sun seems to have noticed that he was trashing his own dead teacher -- not in private conversation but publicly, in print.

Just for the record, Aitken Roshi was appropriately humble about his awakening, but he spoke of it candidly as occasion required and wrote about it openly, too. Rather than relying on Dr. Tarrant's account, we suggest that readers look up "Willy-Nilly Zen," an autobiographical piece that Aitken Roshi prepared at his teacher's behest in 1971 and later published as an appendix to his well-known book Taking the Path of Zen. As his own telling makes clear, it wasn't a big-bang experience of the sort Dr. Tarrant trumpets, but it began a process of widening insight that ultimately made him a wise, compassionate, skillful, and upright teacher. Unfortunately, a big-bang realization doesn't ensure such a result.

The Sun story is as peculiar for what it omits as for its belittlement of Aitken Roshi's awakening. An homage can ordinarily be expected to stress its subject's strengths, but Dr. Tarrant and his editor managed to overlook a characteristic absolutely central to Aitken Roshi's nature and to his teaching and writing: his emphasis on the precepts and on living out the Dharma in all its ethical dimensions. This is the contribution to Western Buddhism for which he surely was best known and will be best remembered. How Dr. Tarrant and the Sun could neglect it we can't fathom.

Altogether, the Sun "homage" bears only intermittent resemblance to the person we knew. When Mr. McLeod received our letter-to-the-editor objecting to the article's inaccuracies and taking the Sun to task for not disclosing Dr. Tarrant's broken relationship with his subject, he promptly engaged us in revising our letter for publication in the Sun. This entailed tempering the "tone" of our comments and finding adequate ways to make our point while respecting the magazine's "pretty strong policy . . . not to get into detailed public discussions of possible misconduct." (Note: the text of our original letter is attached, below.)

We tolerated this extraordinary intrusion in the content of our letter, feeling it would be worthwhile to place even a watered-down critique before Sun subscribers. Accepting as sincere Mr. McLeod's assurance, "I think you're doing the right thing in writing this, and if there's fault it's mine for putting you in this spot," we went back and forth with him by phone and e-mail, working out a text he'd be willing to print. After we acceded to his final suggestion, Mr. McLeod volunteered his satisfaction with both our collaboration and its result, so we were astounded when he wrote again, five days later, declaring that he wouldn't use our letter after all.

Instead, he proposed that we start over, taking a different tack -- "to focus the letter exclusively on how you feel John [Tarrant]'s portrayal of Aitken Roshi was not accurate, and to offer your own view of him." In this fashion, he suggested, the letter could "become a completely positive contribution, in itself an homage to and celebration of Aitken Roshi." Maybe so, but it wouldn't be our letter anymore and, in its complete positivity, would let the Sun off the hook on the point we consider most crucial: its failure to adhere to a basic principle of fairness in journalism.

In making a case for this change of direction, Mr. McLeod advanced an argument that we find untenable, to put it mildly: "we have tried not to wash the Buddhist world's dirty laundry in public -- to avoid getting into detail about difficulties and divisions within Buddhist sanghas. This is particularly important in the Sun, with a substantial non-Buddhist or beginning Buddhist audience." To the degree that this policy represents refusal to indulge in back-biting and gossip-mongering, we enthusiastically applaud it; otherwise, it seems to us that it infantilizes readers and may protect them from information that beginners actually need to be attuned to in exploring the profusion of Buddhist paths, organizations, and teachers on offer in North America today. How he applied the policy in the present instance seems utterly indefensible, for while it has shielded his readers from awareness of Dr. Tarrant's misconduct and removal from the Diamond Sangha, it hasn't spared them his biased "tribute" impugning the wisdom and character of a widely respected teacher.

Needless to say, perhaps, we declined Mr. McLeod's request, and we counterproposed that he, as editor-in-chief, publish a statement acknowledging the error of printing Dr. Tarrant's article without divulging the fact and the causes of his bitter, ten-year alienation from Aitken Roshi. Mr. McLeod subsequently negotiated and ran (in the March issue) a letter from the Honolulu Diamond Sangha board of directors that politely laments his choice of author and corrects a few of the piece's numerous misstatements. Nowhere, however, has the Sun publicly acknowledged, and taken responsibility for, the editorial failures outlined above.

We feel that these failures are serious enough to cast doubt on the journalistic integrity of the Sun, and we urge other members of the American Buddhist community to register any concerns they may have on this subject, in the hope that Mr. McLeod and his staff will remember their mishandling of this story and exercise increased care when ethical questions arise in the future. If that were to happen, in the long run this sad incident might actually have beneficial results.

Nelson Foster
Ring of Bone Zendo and East Rock Sangha
Dharma heir of Aitken Roshi

Jack Shoemaker
Editorial director, Counterpoint Press
Literary Executor for Robert Aitken

Original letter, e-mailed to Melvin McLeod on October 20, 2010:

To the Editor:

In publishing John Tarrant's demeaning "tribute" to Robert Aitken Roshi, the Shambhala Sun has done a disservice not only to our late friend and teacher but also to its readers and the author himself. He professes surprise at discovering he had "any strong reaction" to Aitken Roshi's death, but his feelings have a long history, and anyone familiar with that history can understand how his deep-seated hurt and anger might have lingered. Sadly, they also have twisted an ostensibly warm reminiscence of his "Old Man" into a covert or perhaps unconscious score-settling. We wish Sun editors had spared everyone this beautifully crafted but badly distorted account.

Now that it's in print, readers deserve information that enables them to put it in context. Although Dr. Tarrant did enjoy a close and trusting relationship with his teacher for some time, by 1998 his approach to Zen had departed so seriously from that of the Diamond Sangha as a whole that, for the better part of a year, Aitken Roshi pressed him and his group to withdraw. After their withdrawal, in response to convincing reports of misconduct on Dr. Tarrant's part -- professional (as a psychotherapist), sexual, and organizational -- Aitken Roshi and ten other Diamond Sangha teachers issued an open letter [refer to pg. 4] calling on him to mend his ways. Communication between the two men ceased at that time, more than a decade ago.

Dr. Tarrant's reluctance to publicize these unhappy facts is understandable, and we take no pleasure in mentioning them, but journalistic ethics require that they be disclosed, if not by the writer himself then by the Sun. It's apparent to us that hard feelings significantly affected his portrait of his former teacher, for it bears a dim resemblance to the man we knew, each of us for longer than Dr. Tarrant did.

While faulting Aitken Roshi for "put[ting] down other teachers, out of a kind of embarrassed competitiveness," Dr. Tarrant has indulged in that vice himself, though seemingly without embarrassment. He manages to combine a glowing account of his own awakening with a disparaging account of his teacher's, even claiming that "Bob never stopped wondering if he had ever had" one. Horsefeathers. Aitken Roshi was appropriately modest about his experience, but he spoke about it publicly when circumstances warranted and wrote about it, too. Any reader who cares to look it up will find his own description of the experience and its subsequent unfolding in "Willy-Nilly Zen," an autobiographical piece he prepared in 1971 and published as an appendix to Taking the Path of Zen. Twenty-four years later, he repeated the tale at the request of a reporter in Bangkok!

We find it galling to see Aitken Roshi's humility and candor turned against him, not only in this matter but also with respect to his early uncertainties as a Zen teacher. These predate Dr. Tarrant's arrival from Australia, so he, like many others, heard about them after the fact, precisely because Aitken Roshi spoke openly about them, expressing profound gratitude for the guidance and encouragement he received from Maezumi Roshi. Anne Aitken used to lament that her husband had "no carapace," no protective covering, a trait that left him vulnerable to misrepresentation and mockery in life, as in death. It also made him approachable and inspiring, however, a man who showed by example how insight and character may mature over decades of practice. Dr. Tarrant's characterization of him as "timid and anxious" will astonish people who saw him teach confidently before large audiences in the 1980s and '90s.

Other errors of fact and interpretation we will set aside here, but we cannot close without noting a curious omission from this remembrance: it leaves utterly unmentioned the contribution to Western Buddhism for which Aitken Roshi is most widely known -- his attention to the ethical implications of practice and realization and his stress on embodying them in the social, economic, political, and environmental conditions of our day. He certainly had his share of failings, but he had greater and more important virtues than this account admits. We hope Sun readers will seek out less jaundiced appraisals of his life and work.

Nelson Foster
Ring of Bone Zendo
Dharma heir of Aitken Roshi

Jack Shoemaker
Editorial director, Counterpoint Press
Literary Executor for Robert Aitken]


  1. I purchased that issue of Shambala Sun with the expectation of reading about Aitken's life but only found Tarrant's self-centered meanderings that said little about Aitken but much about Tarrant. After reading it I was angry and sad. Thank you for bringing this to public attention. I couldn't imagine that I would be alone in this response.

    To make it more distressing, that issue included a long and highly positive article about the life and work of Jack Kornfield who is alive and well and had the opportunity to contribute to his own article. This added to the insensitive handling by Shambala Sun. So little about a man whose long and immensely interesing life has come to a close and so much about a man who is still living? It seemed that Shamabla Sun had a memorial about Kornfield and a few "oh we forgot to mention" paragraphs about Aitken.

    I hope that you, Nelson, and others who knew Aitken well will put your energies into writing down your own collection of experiences in knowing Aitken. He was a man who valued integrity.

    As for Tarrant? I suspect he's more in the "lineage" of Shimano. Too bad. He's likely to in for a rough ride.

  2. Thank you for making public your letters to the Shambala Sun, concerning John Tarrant's article on Robert Aitken.

    Mr. Tarrant's thoughts were so jarring to me at the time of publication, that I must say that I had to read his article twice in order to believe my eyes; it was so at odds with the Robert Aitken I knew. I even seriously tried to think about the article for a few moments, and then I realized: it's the poisoned ramblings of a vengeful mind.

    As recently as three days ago, yet another person mentioned the Tarrant article to me and again I felt the immediacy of injustice, again expressing my disappointment in the poor judgment that the Shambala Sun displayed in choosing Mr. Tarrant to write the article.

    Again we rehashed the circumstances of Mr. Aitken's disassociation from Mr. Tarrant; again we questioned the integrity and motives of the magazine in choosing Mr. Tarrant; again we wondered why Mr. Tarrant's would accept such an assignment; again we dismissed the article as the distorted sentiments of an ethically challenged and conflicted man.

    It is often said that if one wishes to know the depth of an individual's illumination, we must look to their actions and not just their words. Robert Aitken was a forthright man of kind heart, good conscience and persistent discipline. Aitken Roshi's actions were a live expression of, and a window into, his mastery of Zen.

    Thank you for speaking up. And the next time someone mentions the Tarrant article to me, I will spare them my thoughts and direct them to yours. Thanks again for writing.

  3. I found Tarrant's piece to be heartfelt and ardent.

  4. I read Tarrant's piece with sadness -- for Tarrant. To me it was clear that he had suffered some deep hurt in his relationship with his teacher. These things happen, and sometimes the wounds never heal.

    I was sad that Tarrant chose to expose his wounds so publicly, though he probably didn't realize he was doing it.

    From my experience with Zen Masters, they all have their shortcomings and shadows -- even the very best of them. So, Tarrant's perspective on Aitken Roshi wasn't surprising to me. But it was surprising that he and Shambhala Sun chose to publish it at the time of his death -- the lack of self-reflection on Tarrant's part and poor taste and sleazy journalistic standards on Shambhala Sun's part.

    The Foster and Shoemaker letter doesn't do anything to right the situation, though. It's just more vengefulness -- calculated to do as much damage as possible to Tarrant (and timed to perfection to paint Tarrant in Shimano-Genpo colors). I find this cycle of "settling old scores" tawdry, a poor reflection on Aitken Roshi's legacy and the Diamond Sangha school.

    Very sad, indeed.

  5. Diamond Sangha Teacher's Circle Open Letter to John Tarrant available here: (page 4)

  6. I am so glad to see this open letter, because silence has been such a curse to our community. I do not see this letter at all as an attack on JT, but rather an attempt to contextualize JT’s comments and show them for what they are, a job that should have fallen on the shoulders of the Shambhala Sun editors. Any truth separated from context is a very self-serving truth, and this remembrance separated from the context of JT’s sad history with Aitken Roshi would simply be a self-serving remembrance, just as much as an “enlightenment experience” separated from the context of human lives eventually turns into a very self-serving “enlightenment” as I think JT would agree.

    This is not a matter of being positive or being negative, neither of which is healthy. This is about answering the clarifying questions, showing the depth of the truth through understanding the context. I believe for Aitken Roshi, life and death were the contexts of practice, a point sadly missed by JT, and brought out by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker. For this reason, I am truly happy with this response. Thank you so much for saying the truth.

  7. Some articles are tributes (there were plenty of those, yawn) and some are explorations. Explorations are much more what the dharma is about and much more readable, too. Tarrant's article explored something a great deal more interesting than whether Robert Aitken was a model human being or someone with billboard-ready enlightenment experiences. The article went into the territory of what it takes to transmit the dharma, what it requires, and what it doesn't require. And by being clear and precise about his experience of Aitken Roshi as a real person with flaws as well as virtues, everyone else who has flawed virtues, or virtuous flaws, can be included.

    We waste our time assessing and accusing and counting beans rather than taking the chance, with the life we have at hand right now, to have a practice and to wake up. Teachers will never be everything we want them to be, but they may be enough. The dharma passes through everything, leaves and stars and even human beings.

  8. Thank you for the clarification. I do not have any background in the Zen tradition (I practice in the Tibetan tradition) and happened to be browsing this magazine and was so bewildered by the "homage" to this teacher. Now I understand.

  9. Thank you Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker --- and certainly I thank Robert Aitken for his really good writings and writings.

    You referred to both the Shambhala Sun article and the Sun article. I assume you are referring to the same article, but there is a magazine named the Sun (separate from the Shambhala Sun) so I think it would be helpful not to abbreviate, but instead to refer to the entirle title, Shambhala Sun.

    Please let Robert Aitken's son know that I am really glad to have Robert Aitken's books -- even more so, now that he has passed on.

  10. I decided to check Aitken Roshi's blog this AM and was surprised to find this posting about the Shambala Sun article. Thank you for posting it. Though I never met him, Aitken,Roshi has provided me with much support in my Zen practice over the years. More recently and for reasons that I won't go into, I have changed my practice over to Boundless Way Zen which James Ford,Roshi has started with some others on the East coast. Ford is a UU Minister and is a dharma heir of John Tarrant. I knew that Tarrant was an heir to Aitken and this felt very reassuring to me. I also happen to like Tarrant's books. When I read the article, not knowing of the breach in their relationship I assumed that Tarrant was chosen because of his close ties with Aitken and that what seemed negative was just part of the nature of their relationship. Tarrant glossed over the rupture in the relationship and this is unfortunate. While it is disappointing to learn, it is something that I need to know as I continue in my practice. Again, I appreciate the clarification even though it is disappointing.

  11. As for Shambala Sun and John Tarrant, I can only wonder what were they thinking?
    As for Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, I can only wonder what were they thinking?
    As far as I can tell, none of them were thinking very clearly.

    As Wumen wrote in his Ode to Case 2 in the Gateless Checkpoint:

    “Not falling, not darkening:
    Two colors, one game.
    Not darkening, not falling:
    One thousand mistakes, ten thousand mistakes.”

    Shambala Sun editors must have known something of the history between Aitken and Tarrant. The very idea of asking Tarrant to write a piece on Aitken’s passing was a moderately big mistake. The publishing of the submitted piece, another mistake.

    John Tarrant evidently believed he was writing an homage. Sadly, to believe that he could and then to believe that he did, more mistakes.

    Now Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker evidently believe they are making corrections, more and more mistakes.

    If Foster and Shoemaker had stopped at discussing the question of the initial mistake of publishing the piece as an “homage” and the integrity of Buddhist journalism in their attempts to respond, then the field of mistakes would have been minimized and limited. However, by going beyond the question of journalistic integrity and going on the attack, Foster and Shoemaker did no credit to Aitken’s reputation and instead have called attention to the question of what Aitken was able to pass on to his dharma heirs? It doesn’t appear to be that forbearance was part of the inheritance.

    Aitken is best remembered by his own stance on forbearance in his essay “The Virtue of Abuse” on Zen master Torei Enji’s great homily “Bodhisattva’s Vow.” Faced with the abuse leveled at Aitken by the Shambala Sun article, wouldn’t Aitken himself have taken Torei’s path and noted, as Torei wrote, “that very abuse conveys the Buddha’s boundless loving-kindness.” As Aitken wrote, “This is not merely Torei Zenji’s challenge but a perennial summons—to be so wise and compassionate as to ‘suffer fools gladly,’ as Paul urged This can be bitter medicine.”

    When confronted by abuse towards Aiken Roshi, those who would count themselves among his descendents will do well to take this bitter medicine on behalf of “the old man” and his reputation. Shambala Sun has done great publishing work and will do so again, but in the case of the disease of their foolishness of their Aitken remembrance can be gladly suffered as bitter medicine.

    As Yunmen said, “’Medicine and disease cure each other.’ The entire great earth is medicine. What particularly is oneself?

  12. I think Shambala Sun made a mistake in having Tarrant write the memorial on Aitken given what I have learned from the complaint filed in Shambala Sun. I was unaware of the issues between the two or the cause of the rupture in the relationship. Read the original letter to the Editor and don't see how any magazine would publish a letter that contained serious, unverified charges against someone. Criticizing the choice of writers was reasonable, but the level of anger did not help the letter writers and seemed to deflect attention from the original complaint.

  13. Liked Tarrant Roshi's article. Didn't read like a put down to me at all. fresh charmin' and lovin'.
    As for Foster's Holy War.... come on!!! as Bob said...."simmer down"!!!
    And i agree with "Sad and tawdry":"The Foster and Shoemaker letter doesn't do anything to right the situation, though. It's just more vengefulness -- calculated to do as much damage as possible to Tarrant (and timed to perfection to paint Tarrant in Shimano-Genpo colors). I find this cycle of "settling old scores" tawdry, a poor reflection on Aitken Roshi's legacy and the Diamond Sangha school."
    True true true.

  14. Asking for "journalistic integrity" os just bare censorship?

    So Foster and Shoemaker are the ones who approve or not what can be said about the Roshi?
    They own him and what can or cannot be said about him?

    People who met him and had a different view that the "institutional" have to be excluded?

    Aitken Roshi himself in his "miniatures" tells about being in trouble with his lack of understanding even when he was appointed as a teacher, and that Maezumi Roshi trained him. Very humble.
    I feel Tarrant was not disparaging Aitken, at all, just sharing his life experience with the Roshi, and this is first hand and valuable.

    As for Foster attacking Tarrant with such a virulent heart, makes me think twice about practicing at hawaii, with shuch a heir.

    I never met the Roshi, but his books and talks have inspired my life and practice, and am grateful indeed.
    But, the Roshi is dead, and if his heirs (Tarrant is also one of them) do fight with such a bitter and defensive heart, i wonder about his legacy.
    Seems to me the Diamond Sangha has been seriously damaged because the words and heart of one of the main heirs, Foster Roshi.
    Sad indeed, and a pity. And maybe this cannot be undone...
    Only a few months have passed since the Roshi died, and look what is going on.
    I am sure Aiken was not a sacred saint, i hope he was human, and as such, with flaws and weaknesses.
    I appreciate the ones who can tell us of this aspects, in a loving and respectful way, as much as the ones who can share with us the bright sides of the teacher too.

    In sad gassho
    Guadalupe Morelos
    from mexico.

  15. This kind of negative conflict, which in Zen unfortunately seems both cyclical and frequent, is what finally soured me on Zen Buddhism in its present incarnation. I find the vast lack of compassion and even simple fellow-feeling on the part of many of the leaders of Zen practice to be an incredibly poor example for anyone who loves the freedom inherent in true practice.

    To Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker as well as the many who have made such negative comments here, please remember that you are looking into the mirror of your own projections. Your expressions of self-righteous offense and fear-laden anger reveal a numbing of any awareness of the beauty of this life we all share.

    In my opinion, this naive negativity is destroying the potential of Zen in America. Is it any wonder that most of the younger, more honest spiritual explorers are going elsewhere? Are you all so self-centered and insular that you cannot see how you are poisoning your own well?

    So I ask you all to stop now. Stop your hatred and projection. Stop pretending you are teachers or anything. Go back to the beginning of the line, to zero, and leave those of us who still remember that we care to love alone.

    Stephen Hannah

  16. My oh my, isn't this internet thing fun?

    Former Tarrant student here. There are lots of us. I'm friends still with about five former seekers who left his company at the same time "for different reasons," as he would say and said.

    I met and liked Mr. Aitken, and when I was in my twenties, particularly enjoyed his books. Not so sure about them now. I'm just a middle-aged magician's manager with ADHD and a whole lot of doubts, so don't have much to say about ultimate reality with an Asian tint. Also met Nelson a couple of times - a perfectly nice fellow.

    For the record, my siblings (who have never been in a church nor meditated for a moment) are far more ethical persons than am I, and also more ethical and kind than at least one or two Zen masters who come to mind.

    (Just a little useful observation. I'm full of those and broken precepts.)

    Isn't that "Not speaking of the faults of others" precept a bitch? It's so hard that I've never met a Zen teacher who followed it. For the record.

    Kevin A. Madden
    San Francisco

    p.s. - Stephen Hannah & some of the anonymous writers - don't know who you are, but fuck you. Wanted to go on record with that one, too.

  17. LOL! Also "for the record," even a little ADHD is no excuse for that last P.S. rant. The old "FU" just means "what we have here is a failure to communicat1e."

  18. "The necessary and welcome economic growth within our Sangha, in the form of business operations and commercial and domestic investments, has brought along as a by—product an increasing frequency of disagreements and disputes. There is a need for our society to provide resources for the sane, nonagressive resolution of such conflicts in keeping with the principles of Dharma and the Great Eastern Sun. Accordingly I have decided to institute and appoint the Upaya Council. The function of the Upaya Council shall be to mediate and/or arbitrate commercial and domestic disputes among members of the Vajradhatu community, as individuals, groups, or businesses. It shall be the initial task of the Upaya Council to propose to me and my Privy Council a set of guidelines under which it shall operate. There shall be no internal hierarchy within the Upaya Council and each member shall have an equal voice; the findings of the Council shall be arrived at by unanimous consent."

    ~ Vajracarya the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, Spring, 1979.

    Upaya Council

  19. Robert Aitken Roshi was and is the most important Zen writer for me. For many years he has been a touchstone, especially when I was unable to study closely with a teacher. The rant by Turrant speaks volumes about him and Shambhala's editors. Perhaps the best way we can show our disapproval is to shun Mr. Turrant and Shambhala Sun.

    Sincerely, Terry Ryodo Rothrock

  20. What a drag.

    When are religious people going to learn that "not airing dirty laundry" is a sin! We all shit, our shit stinks! That is part of what being a human being is. And enlightened people shit too! That's part of "enlightenment" too!

    Part of being a teacher should involve washing out her student's mouths with soap every time they say something that suggests that being "enlightened" means you are a better person than anyone else.

    That may not sell books, subscriptions or put bums on cushions----but it is the TRUTH!

    One last bow to Aitken Roshi, one of the few Zen Masters I've found that seems to embody this nasty truth in his teaching.

    Another bow to his students who have honoured his teaching by not letting this issue drop!

  21. [I moved this comment to this thread as I believe it was mistakenly posted in the "Gratitude" thread.]

    Genryu - November 23, 2011 8:58 AM

    Tom, thank you for posting this. I for several years spoke out about abusive teachers, in particular Dennis Merzel. Whilst my contact with Aitken Roshi was sadly all too brief, he was one of the only major teachers who would listen and who understood. He will always be remembered by me as someone who actually walked the walk.

  22. I was a student of Aitken Roshi for a few years in the late 80's early 90's. I hold him in warm regard for all he did and did not do for me. He helped save my life. I read John Tarrant's obit and enjoyed it. I didn't find it offensive and felt no need to defend anyone. I found it to be close to what I experienced at Koko An. I'm aware of the hurtful split between the two men and know that their styles of teaching and living are miles apart. Aitken Roshi once said to me when I was going on emotionally..."Knock it off!!"

  23. My name is Andrew Hoffman, and I studied Zen with Aitken Roshi both at the Maui Zendo and Koko An during the late 70s and early 80s. I sat many sesshin with Roshi as well as with John Tarrant and Nelson Foster.

    I want to express my appreciation and support for these 2 letters. In my opinion Nelson was remarkably restrained in his criticism of both the Shambala Sun and John Tarrant. Aitken Roshi held himself and his students to the highest ethical standards but with respect and tolerance. This was not the case at many other Zen centers. These are the very standards that Nelson is defending in these letters.

    Aitken Roshi along with a number of his successors and Tarrant's former students wrote Tarrant a letter in 1999 noting accusations of "serious, persistent abuses of power and boundary violations by a significant number of former officers and members of CDS" (California Diamond Sangha, headed by Tarrant, although the name has now changed). They asked Tarrant to take "clearly visible steps" to "deal with the backlog of grief" created.

    No doubt this letter caused Tarrant significant embarrassment in Zen circles, especially given Aitken Roshi's unimpeachable reputation, ethical standards and his reluctance to criticize others publicly.

    So for the Shambala Sun to ask Tarrant to write a memorial article on the occasion of Aitken Roshi's death simply overwhelms the imagination. I can understand why Tarrant might write such a demeaning article although I feel sorry for him that he would do so. Aitken Roshi sometimes referred to such behavior as a "character defect." But it is beyond understanding how the Shambala Sun could print this article, let alone refuse to print Nelson Foster's response and allow the demeaning memorial stand alone.