Below is an email from Sydney Musai Walter, Roshi, that I thought perfectly summarized my first experience at a White Plum Asanga meeting. I was excited to be in the presence of all of these amazing teachers, learned a great deal, and was deeply honored and humbled to have been inducted into the organization as a member.
As you will see in Musai Roshi‘s message below, a topic of concern for the organization is the White Plum Asanga‘s transition from that of an affinity group to that of an organization that will be responsive to instances of teacher misconduct. I will be a part of that transition, having volunteered to provide leadership for a newly formed Wisdom Circle. This membership of the Wisdom Circle is yet to be determined, but it will have the responsibility to hear complaints from students (and possibly teachers) that cannot be resolved at the local sangha level. This kind of work is difficult, and I appreciate very much the training we received from Marie Fortune, of the Faith Trust Institute, who helped us understand how we might navigate the cloudy water of alleged teacher misconduct.
As part of this transition for the White Plum Asanga, I will be asking Great Wave’s Board of Directors to adopt an ethics policy and to establish procedures for hearing complaints. While I hope we never have to use such policies, having them sends a message that we care about the purity of our practice and that we expect a great deal from teachers in particular. I want to represent–and hope to model–the kind of ethical behavior that establishes the essential bond of trust that teachers and students need for the perpetuation of the Buddhadharma.
For now, however, I hope Musai Roshi‘s message below will give you a sense of last weekend’s meeting, and what a great time I had. I will tag the group photo on Great Wave’s Facebook page so that you all can link faces and names.
Each year there is a meeting of the White Plum Asanga, Maezumi Roshi‘s dharma successors, their successors, and so on. There are many successors now in this lineage. Not all have chosen to be part of the White Plum Asanga, and of those who have, not all attend every meeting. As with any organization, I suppose, there tends to be a core group who sustain the organization. I have chosen to be a member because I have a strong interest in community, and because many of the individuals in this community are people who have had a profound impact on my Zen practice and on my life.
This yearwe met at Maitreya Abbey, in Longmont, CO, near Boulder. This is the center established and led by Shishin Roshi
and his partner and successor, Shinko Sensei. It is a lovely residential center on the Colorado Prairie, just east of the Front Range. The telephoto shot below shows the mountains that dominate the view to the west, with Long’s Peak, over 14,00′, in the center.
Each day I walked on the roads and trails around this rural center, usually in conversation with one or more of my dharma brothers and sisters. Long’s Peak and the other mountains of the Front Range provided an inspirational setting for these conversations. The mountains’ spaciousness, strength, and beauty infuse me with their qualities. I am less likely to be small-minded with the example of the mountains before me.
White Plum teachers
With the exception of 1 or 2 teachers who had to leave early, here is the group that met for three days to discuss the structure and the future of the White Plum Asanga.
A sizeable chunk of this meeting was taken up with a presentation by Marie Fortune, of the Faith Trust Institute. The subject matter concerned the sexual involvement of spiritual teachers with students. Should it be characterized as “abuse”? Why is it so prevalent? And, especially, what should be the response of those who are not directly involved–“bystanders”, in Marie’s terminology? Marie is a powerful presenter who has thought deeply about this matter and who has genuine concern for all who become caught up in these affairs. The presentation led me to some soul-searching, as I reflected on my own involvement in such circumstances–where did I act in accord with principles of healing, and where did I fail to do so?
One outcome of this presentation and the discussions that followed was a decision on the part of those of us attending to shift the WPA from an “affinity group”, with no responsibility for the conduct of its members, to an organization that establishes standards for its members. This is a work in progress, of course, and committees have been created to take this project forward.
Another notable outcome of this meeting was the resignation of Shishin Roshi, who has served as our president for several years, and the election of Seisen Roshi as our new president. I believe we all feel tremendous gratitude to Shishin Roshi for leading us through some very difficult times, and Seisen Roshi seems like the perfect successor.
As always, the most moving part of this three-day meeting was the opportunity to re-connect with dharma brothers and sisters, some of whom I have known and practiced with for over 40 years. It was also a chance to get to know new members, and if the ones I spoke to are representative the WPA has a strong future.