Another Side of Sasaki

Since I did the post yesterday mentioning the current allegations (which I expect are true) of sexual abuse/predation/who the hell knows by Kyozan Joshu Sasaki towards female students, I thought it might be interesting to present some of the other views of him, as popularily presented. This shows a bit of why there is so much of a storm over this and of his historical role in American Zen over the last 50 years.

This is not an an endorsement of Sasaki (or a defense). As I clearly said yesterday, I cannot think of a single circumstance where sexual relations between a student and teacher are appropriate, let alone teachers grabbing people and molesting them, as is alleged by some. This is just to show that there is definitely another side and that Sasaki has had a profoundly positive effect on at least some people and their practice.

Shinzen Young on three things he got from Sasaki

Shinzen Young states above that he learned three things from Sasaki after Shinzen came back from Japan and studied with him:

  1. Not to suppress his sense of self.
  2. The paradigm of impermanence in terms of expansion and contraction, which is core to Shinzen’s work now.
  3. The “direct vibe” of working with a teacher who has realized this or the “zap of the flow of nothingness” during teacher/student interviews and the need to incorporate it away from the interview.

I suspect that female students may have gotten a different “zap” in interviews but this raises interesting questions. I’ve met Shinzen Young (at Buddhist Geeks 2011) and spent a little time with him and his students. He strikes me as the “real deal” and the #2 point above is a core part of Shinzen’s teaching. What does it mean when a seemingly excellent teacher has gotten so much of his practice and inspiration from another teacher who turns out to, potentially, be so problematic? Does it invalidate anything or does it validate that the teachers are just containers or tranmitters of something? I’m not sure.

Then there is Leonard Cohen on Sasaki:


Unlike Shinzen Young, Cohen doesn’t have much to directly say here about what he learned from Sasaki but it is clear, here and elsewhere, that he felt a deep afinity for what Sasaki taught, enough that Cohen stayed on Mt. Baldy for years, ordaining as a monk. Cohen speaks more about it in this video as well, part of a biographical film on Sasaki that features others speaking as well.

All of this makes Sasaki so much more problematic to me than Eido Shimano, of whom I had never heard anyone speak so highly. What is this man’s legacy likely to wind up being?