On June 2, 2011, the Board of The White Plum Asanga issued a statement that addressed in general terms certain unspoken shadow elements in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi, announced the resolve of the WPA to move to address such issues in the future more openly and resolutely, and distanced the WPA from the actions of its former President, Dennis Genpo Merzel, who had resigned from the WPA in early February of this year. That statement can be found at http://www.whiteplum.org/announcements.html. This statement was issued only after extensive and prolonged discussion within the WPA Board and the general membership, extensive communications with Genpo and with the board of the Kanzeon Zen Center (now Big Mind Center), and a meeting between Genpo and a designated group WPA members. As a member of the Board of the WPA and of the group that met with Genpo, I have participated in all these deliberations and joined in the statement of the Board. As a successor of Genpo's, and a friend, I feel a need to make my own position on all this known, without adding any fuel to what I hope is a dying fire.
These discussions, meetings, and actions have been difficult and painful for me. It is a daunting task to be in a position where you are must consider whether to censure a teacher, much less your own teacher. Yet this process has had positive consequences for me personally and, I think, for the WPA. I have had to face my own projections, my own tendency to idealize my teacher, and my own willingness to turn a blind eye to situations rife with ethical issues. I have also had to be willing to look at my teacher as a peer.
As for the WPA, the process now extending over four months has seen a gradual shift in tone. At the end, it was less about Genpo and more about the larger issues his situation represents for the WPA, about certain patterns going back decades within the lineage that have given rise to abuses of power by more than a few, abuses that have been treated as anomalies, rather than manifestations of deeper issues. The discussions over the past months have produced a new-found resolve within the WPA to work toward a consensus statement of core values to which all members can subscribe, and as well the establishment of processes for considering complaints about member teachers alleged to have departed from those values and to have caused harm.
These deliberations may take some time to reach fruition. The WPA is a voluntary membership affinity group, not a sanctioning or licensing organization. But the fact that the membership is engaging in these discussions is a positive step for the organization, the lineage, and for Zen in general. The acknowledgment that certain cultural and structural elements within the institutions of Zen in general, and within this lineage in particular, have permitted unhealthy patterns of behavior to repeatedly manifest in teachers, in students, and in sanghas, is important. And it is also important that the WPA membership is acting on these insights. If if this Zen lineage is to continue to grow and prosper, it must accomodate the political and psychological insights of the soil in which it has been planted. A consequence should be the development of a sangha culture and correlative governance structures that will be premised on a more sophisticated understanding of the psychological dynamics that tend to develop between teacher and student and sangha, and the perils of those dynamics.
As hard as this entire process has been, as painful as it has been for me personally because of my teacher's unfortunate role as a catalytic agent, I am heartened by what appears to be the consequent developing willingness of the WPA membership to take on these broader issues. And I am personally relieved to be able to move on with the development of our own sangha, hopefully alert to the challenges that it represents.