Thursday, August 29, 2013

Power - A Postscript

Yes, this series has drawn to a close. The fracturing of the Missouri Zen Center community is complete. Osamu Rosan Yoshida has fought back the barbarian hordes and sits safe atop the throne-seat of his zabuton, to be joined by the faithful and the indifferent. The rest have scurried away, to sit zazen in silence wherever they might find it.

What a bizarre and unfathomable tale this has been – almost surreal! Would anyone else happen to have the refrain from that classic song echoing in their head?

Sometimes the lights are shining on me,

Other times I can barely see.

Lately it occurs to me…

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

 the Grateful Dead, Truckin'

Yes, and sometimes things happen that are just so bizarre and unfathomable that the only “logical” thing to do is smash an ice cream cone into your forehead, as does the Ice Cream Kid on the artwork of the band’s Europe '72 release. Wouldn’t that feel really good about now?

The Ice Cream Kid

Come to think of it, smashing an ice cream cone into your forehead just might serve as a suitable modern day equivalent to putting your sandal on your head and walking out of the room, as does the monk, Joshu, upon hearing the fate of a cat found on the temple grounds. Here’s the “whole” story, Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two, as told in the Mumonkan (Sekida, 1977):

Nansen Osho saw monks of the Eastern and Western halls quarreling over a cat. He held up the cat and said, "If you can give an answer, you will save the cat. If not, I will kill it." No one could answer, and Nansen cut the cat in two.

That evening Joshu returned, and Nansen told him of the incident. Joshu took off his sandal, placed it on his head, and walked out. "If you had been there, you would have saved the cat," Nansen remarked. (pp. 58, 59)

Lest anyone find themselves repulsed by the brutal treatment of innocent life portrayed in this story, let me be quick to point out that this story is a koan – not necessarily a factual recounting of an historical incident. It is intended to be pondered from myriad angles before (hopefully, anyway) its “meaning” appears as eel-like insight, too slippery for the rational mind to apprehend. For now, though, let me ask just one superficial and na├»ve, but very pertinent question with respect to this present blog series: Why is it up to Joshu, or anyone else for that matter, to save the cat from the actions of the master? Is not the master himself responsible for the killing of the cat? And yet we are foisted into such circumstances all the time, aren’t we, in which we must choose either to act or not act; and if we act, how best to act; and if we do not act, how best to not act – for not acting is indeed an action all its own.

Another, perhaps deeper way to think about Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two is to think in terms of action resulting from karmic conditioning and action resulting from the embodiment of Buddha mind – the unconditioned. In the story, two factions of monks are quarreling – most certainly acting on the basis of their conditioned minds, their self-centered and egoic attachments. Caught up in their quarreling, the monks may very well not have realized how their actions were disrupting the unity of the sangha. It was only after coming face to face with the shocking reality of the cat being cut in two – just as the sangha was being cut in two – that they were jolted back into some semblance of sanity. Perhaps what Nansen wanted to see in order for the cat (the sangha?) to be saved, was at least one monk acting once again out of that unconditioned mind – as Joshu did when he put his sandal atop his head and walked on out of the room.

So, could anyone have saved the Missouri Zen Center from being cut in two? Could the board have acted differently? Could its teacher, Osamu Rosan Yoshida, have behaved differently? Could the members supporting this side or the other, or the ones sitting on the fence not wanting to take any side whatsoever have done something other than precisely what they did? Alas, it’s too late now for the smashing of ice cream cones into our foreheads in order achieve a different outcome. But, then again, it might feel really, really good!

Oh no! Here comes Nansen!

Notwithstanding the grim fact that the cat is dead, how might we begin to comprehend this bizarre unfolding of events? When death occurs it is a very human urge to try and find some meaning in life's passing. But what does any of this mean? Why did it happen? Toward that end we might attempt to examine this story through a number of different lenses – each affording a different glimpse, however imperfect, of whatever unfathomable truth might have actually transpired.

Lens #1: Might we reasonably contemplate the possibility that Rosan has begun to show signs of cognitive impairment? Indeed, such reflection will likely offend some people, but I actually think this is a very compassionate lens through which to examine some rather bizarre and seemingly inexplicable behavior: persevering with ideas despite evidence to the contrary, imputing malicious motives to those with whom one has been closest, engaging in extreme ideation related to the impending catastrophe from which the Buddha Dharma must be saved, engaging in obviously unethical and unacceptable behavior as if it were  business as usual… Of course, some are willing, in instances such as this, to chalk up whatever bizarre and abusive behavior a teacher might exhibit as being that of an enlightened Zen master – inexplicable when viewed through the lens of the unenlightened mind, but totally appropriate from a "supramundane perspective". Well…, feel free to persevere with such ideation if you so choose, but I will not.

Lens #2: I’m sorry, but this lens affords us a much darker image – that of a fundamentally narcissistic individual. I’ll leave it up to the reader to research the actual clinical criteria for this disorder, but here are some things to consider: Is there not a certain sense of grandiosity present in the ‘I am a buddha’ and the ‘only I know of the supramundane’ sort of thinking that undergirds many of this teacher’s recent communications? Is there not evidence of an obsession with power in this teacher reacting so extremely to…, not a hostile takeover from outsiders…, not an effort to remove him by unfriendly insiders…, but an initiative to make the bylaws legal by a board that has been with him for years? Is there not a presumption of specialness inherent in this teacher’s contention that only one who has sat as much zazen as he has and become transmitted in the Dharma as he has can understand how to keep the Dharma free from corruption? And what about the sense of entitlement that this teacher appears to display with respect to his being able to enjoy unchecked authority over MZC matters, despite the fact that the board and others do and have done nearly all the work, consideration, planning, etc. required to make and keep the MZC viable? Is it not also reasonable to wonder as to the apparent lack of empathy regarding the destruction of a spiritual community, the resignation of a board member under duress, the targeted removal of another board member whose dire shortcoming was being able to articulate well the facts of the situation, the accusations of lies and libel and schism-creation, etc.? And is it not also reasonable to consider the interpersonally exploitative nature of behind the scenes communications that are specifically intended to manipulate opinion with falsehood and/or affect a personally beneficial outcome – regardless of the spiritual harm done to both those enlisted as agents of aggression on this teacher’s behalf, and those who are the intended targets of such aggression? Wow, that’s a pretty dark image, isn’t it? But is it the case that the lens is a dark one, or is it more the case that we are seeing something that we’d just rather not look at so closely?

Lens #3: Okay, here’s a little bit brighter image – as seen through the lens of culture. Through this lens we see very simply that we have the authoritarian, patriarchal, hierarchical enculturation of a 70+ year-old Japanese-born male clashing with that of his much more egalitarian young American students. Such a view would seem to make sense – up to a point, anyway. It’s just that such a clash of cultures seems like it ought to be something that could have been worked through much more successfully than, in fact, it was, i.e. not at all. No, while this lens might provide us with partial understanding, it clearly leaves a great deal yet unexplained.

Lens #4: Perhaps we might take a peek through a little bit more complicated “system of lenses”, so to speak – that of the relationship between state and stage development as theorized by Ken Wilber in, for instance, Integral Spirituality (2007). Of particular relevance to our understanding of state development is the idea that, while we all have access to higher states of consciousness, some individuals have more developed familiarity with them, can reach them much more readily than others, and can perhaps help others reach them more readily. However, notwithstanding our familiarity with higher states of consciousness, we interpret these more transient states of consciousness according to whatever more stable stage of development we have actually attained (p. 90). And so it is that an interpersonal dynamic which might result is that of one individual who is perhaps more adept at reaching higher states of consciousness interacting with another individual who, though less skilled at attaining those higher states of consciousness, is nonetheless operating from a higher foundational stage of development. Says Wilber (2013):

[I]f your teacher is at this structural level – maybe mythic, maybe magic even – and you’re at rational or pluralistic or integral, then you’re going to run into trouble with every issue where these two values systems clash, and they clash on [just about] everything; they agree on very, very few things. And so if you disagree with your teacher, it’s taken as if you…, it’s your ego disagreeing with the enlightened master, whereas in fact his or her response is just wrong, it’s just at a lower level of structural development. (Session Six, Track 4)

We might also use this state/stage theory as a lens through which to consider two students who might have very objectively similar experiences of the teacher with whom they are working, but if one student happens to be operating from, say, a mythic stage of development and the other from a rational stage level, then the subjective experiences of each student with regards to their teacher will be quite different. For instance, someone acting from a mythic orientation might remark, when questioned about this teacher’s extreme behavior: “Extreme? What behavior is too extreme when it comes to fending off potential thieves of the robe and bowl? What behavior is too extreme in order to ensure the purity of the Buddha Dharma?” For those whose orientation is just a bit more rational, however, such behavior might be hypothesized to be the result of some cognitive deficit or personality disorder or perhaps some clash of cultural values. It bears noting here, that this integral model can be used to the betterment of all, i.e. to facilitate navigation of both higher states of consciousness and higher stages of development by all. Clearly, however, this is only possible IF all parties are knowledgeable of and open to such facilitation.

Are there any other lenses worth considering here? I’m certainly open to looking at things from yet another perspective. In the meantime, I think I’m going to go get an ice cream cone. No, no, no…, not to smash into my forehead..., to eat! And while I enjoy some nice Cherry Garcia ice cream with those big chunks of real cherry and chocolate I think I’ll reminisce for a bit. For, even after writing this at times distressing and dismaying account of what transpired at a place that I once considered my spiritual home, I nonetheless still harbor some fond memories of serious Zen practice there, even in recent years – engaging in daylong sitting practice, taking lunch and tea breaks on the back porch, enjoying the sunlight playing in the garden just outside the full-length windows. Yes, the board president was there, and the secretary, too. That board member who was prompted to resign after those stressful exchanges with the teacher was there as well, as was the member who tried to step in and tell the truthful story to the sangha at large, even when the board could not bring itself to do so. Others would come and go, always a pleasant addition to this core group of practitioners. Of course, Rosan was there also, and in silence concurrence was always easy enough to find. The Buddha Dharma seemed not to be in need of protection then either, only attention...

Thank you for staying with me to the end of this series. I understand that it has not been the most uplifting of reads, but I hope that it has nonetheless been good medicine in some way, somehow. I’ll be taking a bit of a vacation from this forum for a time. Please check back in another month or so if you’re interested in whatever new direction this blog will have taken by then. Once again, thank you for reading. Peace.


Sekida, K. (1977). Two Zen classics – Mumonkan and Hekiganroku (ed. Grimstone, A. V.) Weatherhill, Inc.

Wilber, K. (2007). Integral spirituality – A startling new role for religion in the Modern and Postmodern world. Integral Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Wilber, K. (2013). The future of spirituality: Session six – the future of spirituality (transcribed from lecture). Sounds True.

Rosan Osamu Yoshida
Image Credits

Ice Cream Kid from the Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 album:

Temple cat amongst cherry blossoms by Tanakawho via:

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Power, Part 5 - Whose Election WAS That, Anyway?

Ah, you’re still with me! Thank you for checking back in. It’s been a rough ride at times, hasn’t it? As you may recall from the previous post (Power, Part 4), the April 14 Missouri Zen Center (MZC) meeting at which the board election was originally intended to take place ended instead with a plan in place for eligible voters to cast their ballots by mail. Yes, just in case anyone needs to be reminded, those proxy ballots that Osamu Rosan Yoshida and his son, #3, tried to bowl everybody over with in ‘Surprise! Surprise! Look what we have!’ fashion were ruled inadmissible on the grounds of basic fairness and order by a majority vote. However, rather than disenfranchise those voters who in good faith, albeit with incomplete and biased information, signed such an irregular ballot at Rosan’s or his son’s request, a compromise strategy of doing the whole thing over prevailed. Pretty fair, eh? Pretty accommodating, eh? Well, one would think so…

Let me continue in the same vein as the last post - with a chronological retelling that generally follows the email postings on the (until just a few days ago) publicly accessible MZC discussion list:

 April 17: Dr. Yoshida writes to a group of select recipients that the general meeting on April 14 was full of contention, disorderliness, and destructive views. He encourages people to vote for board candidates #1, #2, #3, himself, and no others.

Wow, this is one of those dense little boxes of information that is difficult to unpack! First of all, any contentiousness or disorderliness was on the part of Rosan and his unilaterally appointed meeting chair, #2, not on the part of the board or the membership-at-large, who were actually exceedingly patient and fair in dealing with the irregular behavior that they were presented with. Second, I’m hard-pressed to figure out who might be holding any destructive views other than Rosan himself. After all, it was he who threatened to revoke the Dharma lineage of the entire organization if he did not get his way. To the contrary, everyone else seemed to be sincerely seeking a mutually positive and productive outcome. Third, there’s that propensity to pit one faction against another once again – encouraging people to vote for these candidates over here but not that one over there, regardless of the fact that that person very clearly has the support of and speaks for a large number of members. I simply cannot state strongly enough how destructive it is for a spiritual leader to divide a community by taking sides in this way. Fourth, this factionalism is evident as well in the choice to communicate with an isolated collection of presumed supporters while disregarding the sangha at large. Finally, Rosan has been contending that he has always been on the board, and yet this is the first time in the history of the organization that he has been named as a candidate for board election. If he is a permanent board member, then the bylaws would say so and he wouldn’t need to run for election. If he needs to run for election, then he has not been on the board up to this point. Which is it?

April18: Rosan’s factional email is forwarded to the wider audience of the email discussion list.

Sound familiar? Yes, Rosan’s son, #3, got caught doing the very same thing – privately making unsupported claims and disparaging others without allowing those disparaged the courtesy of being able to respond. It’s just that these 'behind the scenes' communications have always managed to find their way into the light of day somehow.

April 18: Rosan responds to the fact that his email has been forwarded to the list: “I thought there is no other way than having the board which can understand what I have been repeatedly explained, but never understood or accept.” He then seemingly attempts to explain that he got distracted and inadvertently neglected to send the email to the larger audience.

Last point first: Really?! First point second: Yes, Rosan, we understand; you want the entire existing board to be replaced with those who would return to you the authoritarian dictate that you desire. It’s not that people don’t understand this. You are correct, however, in stating that they do not accept it.

April 18: Rosan writes a long letter in which he alternates between conciliation and defiance. For example, he writes: “I take responsibility for not taking conscious care of our communication, compassion, cooperation enough, but I can not accept lies, libels, leading to schism, which are the grave crimes and the gravest offense, defiling the blood in the lineage, and destruction of the triple treasures.”

I’m just going to let these accusations of lies and libel be; their lack of specificity makes it difficult to seriously consider them. However, I really must respond to this charge of “defiling the blood in the lineage.” This strikes me as religious fundamentalism, plain and simple. Such demonization of others is what makes the religious fundamentalist feel justified in using whatever ruthless tactics accomplish his or her self-determined righteous ends - like attacking people behind their backs and scheming to collect unauthorized proxy ballots with the intention of securing an election. (As an aside, readers interested in how purportedly enlightened Zen teachers sometimes descend into the depths of fundamentalist-style extremism might want to read Zen at War, Brian Victoria’s (1997) account of so-called Zen masters serving the ends of Japanese militarism up to and including World War II. Check out a review of the book on thezensite.)

April 18: In another email, Rosan continues: “The Buddha Dharma is supramundane, no self, secularism. Missing it, you miss the Dharma, destroyed by the mundane. Concurrence is the last resort to keep it from its destruction. The Buddha came out in to the world to save it from demise. The mundane is destroying the life system with secularism.”

Rosan seems to be so completely wrapped up in his view that the secular creations of nuclear power and carbon-dioxide emissions are destroying the world that he is tarring the entire secular world with the same brush – including the bylaws of the organization that he helped found and anyone perceived to be standing in his way. This is really a very anarchic view. Why have bylaws at all? Why have any laws whatsoever, for that matter? Since all things secular and mundane are destructive, it seems that the only thing for us to do is turn over leadership to those presumably enlightened beings such as Rosan so that they might be set right. What an incredibly dangerous proposition…

April 19: In yet another email, Rosan goes still further: “It is completely wrong to claim that the Buddha Dharma should compromise with money, matter, might, and me-ism or easy going ways of simple secular religion, or that relaxation is enough.”

No, religious fundamentalists are not much inclined to compromise, are they? They and they alone see how the world should be.

April 19: Rosan disseminates a prepared document entitled 'Clarification of Recent Situation at MZC'. In this document, Rosan attempts to explain that the originally envisioned MZC organizational structure was to have a board of directors “under and with him”, with it then being the case that “under the board were officers – president, vice president, treasurer, et al.” Rosan goes on to say that this originally envisioned “two tier system” came to look like a “one tier system” over time “due to lack of staff members.” Furthermore, Rosan states in this document that over the previous thirty-three years “we have no record of fighting, even though some might have misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrecorded.”

So, how are we to understand or interpret this? Are the current president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary actually of a status somewhere below some hypothetical board (and presumably without the actual power of this hypothetical board), but are only reluctantly allowed to collectively act like a board because, you know, good help is just so hard to find? Or is that a misinterpretation or misunderstanding? And how are we to interpret that “no record of fighting” contention? Perhaps the conflict that ensued some time ago after the then MZC president distributed a paper intended to facilitate discussion related to the MZC's organizational/operational structure was just a misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or misrecording. Perhaps I misunderstood or misinterpreted Rosan’s private communication to me, then a new member of the MZC, in which he encouraged me to speak out publicly against the ideas contained in that paper.  Perhaps it was all just one big misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or misrecording when it was proposed that the MZC advertise in the Pride Pages, a resource for the LGBT community, only to have that proposal shot down for what were widely interpreted as homophobic reasons – thereby prompting some MZC members to leave the organization. Yes, despite this chapter of MZC history being related to me by numerous individuals present at that time (I, in fact, was not), it may simply be the case that they all misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misrecorded what actually happened! Oh, and perhaps it was also just a misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or misrecording when the board's approval of payment to a contractor was nonetheless disregarded by Rosan so that he might engage in a contentious disputation over the work performed – thereby prompting one board member to resign. Indeed, it is very difficult to know when we are perceiving a situation accurately, isn’t it?

By the way, just in case this point was buried in all of the possible misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or misrecordings spoken of up above. Let me call attention to the fact that Rosan has a long history of pitting members against each other. He did it with me, then a new member, in order to build a coalition against the then-president of the MZC board, and he has done it just recently in pulling board candidates #1 and #2 and others into his sphere of influence. If I may offer a word of warning to #1 and #2, it would be to let them know that, after having such "sweet nothingness" whispered into my ear as I did, I've come to realize that my relationship with Rosan was likely purely utilitarian on his part.

April 19: A previous board member who had been a liaison to the festival planning committee spoken of way back in Whose Festival Is This, Anyway? writes that “from March until July [of the previous year], via numerous emails, and once in person at a festival planning committee, [Rosan] harangued the [festival] staff and management.” This member goes on to remark that these same board members who “out of love and respect for Rosan” decided to curtail festival involvement “are the ones that Rosan now accuses of disloyalty to himself and to the triple treasure.”

April 19: Rosan responds that “harangue” is not an appropriate description of his side of the festival communication. He goes on to cite a “quite friendly” conversation taking place.

We are left to wonder how this “quite friendly” conversation fits into Rosan's previous contention that he was treated "brutally" by the festival committee.

April 20: Some members and board members receive vague communications from Rosan stating, to the effect, that he is taking leave of "mundane matters" and wants nothing to do with all. Not surprisingly, these communications are perceived by some of those recipients to be potentially ominous - perhaps even suicidal. These members confer amongst themselves, and the board president attempts, unsuccessfully, to reach Rosan by phone. The president and TBM (the board member targeted for removal) are on their way over to Rosan’s home when they finally hear from him via phone and are told not to come over. He reportedly would only talk about issues related to the bylaws and the board's action regarding this matter.

Once again, those disloyal boards do the darnedest things, don't they? Indeed, Rosan’s communications seem to be reaching new heights of – what shall we call it – shrillness, self-righteousness, extremism… Are his "supporters" really aware of what’s going on? Are they relating  to him in any way other than as line-toeing followers?

April 21: The same previous board member who just wrote about the festival communication goes on to report that, while Rosan may not remember using his power of concurrence (veto), there were two “significant occasions” that this individual recalls in which he did use it.

April 21: Rosan responds: “Either wrong memory or misinterpretation of bylaws.”

April 21: Rosan opines in a subsequent email regarding Soto Zen Buddhism: “Give your whole being to it or get out of it. Learn all of it or lose all of it. Love it or leave it.”

Interestingly, this "give your whole being to it or get out of it" statement does not come from a monk or a renunciant; it comes from one who got married, raised a family, worked in the secular world until retirement at a ripe age just a few years ago, and now lives in comfort in a very affluent part of town. Presumably, then, Rosan enjoys some unique position as arbiter of precisely how one is to give one's entire being to Zen Buddhism. By the way, that “Love it or leave it” comment sounds pretty parochial and dualistic, don’t you think? Is that what the world looks like when one is breathing the rarefied air of the supramundane realm?

April 21: The president of the board reports with sadness that the MZC keeps losing doans – those who volunteer to open the center, prepare the premises for zazen, greet newcomers, and oversee the sitting.

April 24: The president of the board reports that the upcoming sesshin, or intensive meditation period, has been cancelled.

April 28: This date is the stated target date for the mailing of the election ballots.

May 1: The president of the board reports that the upcoming advanced classes have been cancelled.

May 2: A board member who had been acting as a liaison to the Buddhist Council of Greater St. Louis reports that a replacement is needed.

May 22: A member-at-large expresses exasperation at the lack of trust permeating the discussion related to the voting procedures.

May 22: Rosan responds to this member, stating: “I trust trustworthy things and people. Everyone must observe the Sixteen Precepts. Who created schism after thirty three years? I must stop it for the Sangha, MZC, Soto, Zen, Buddhist, and all beings in peace, purity, and pro-gnosis, for which everyone should strive.”

May 25: The board president reports that Rosan, #1, #2, and #3 were elected to the board. The board president then resigns.

TBM was not reelected, by the way.

May 26: Another board member resigns.

May 28: Yet another board member resigns, citing election irregularities and ethical lapses on the part of the teacher.

This spate of board resignations, combined with the resignation of another board member earlier in the year, and the fact that yet another of the existing board members had not sought reelection, means that the new board is none other than Rosan and the new slate of candidates – #1, #2, and #3 – none of whom have any MZC board experience whatsoever. The village has been destroyed, but at least it has been saved!

May 28: TBM, a member of the election committee, cites specific breaches of the agreed upon election guidelines and goes on to say that: “At any rate, the election results were very clear: the 20 or so members who have actually participated at the Zen Center over the past several years voted in one direction, while the more numerous former members who haven't come to the Zen Center in 10+ years voted exactly as Rosan told them to vote.” Furthermore, TBM notes that the MZC has had five board members resign in the past three years, half of its doans quit in the past two months, and most of its serious practitioners and attendees stop coming.

May 28: A member-at-large Rosan supporter remarks about the “cruel name-calling” of the “naysayers”.

It’s interesting what people choose to focus on, isn’t it? How is it, anyway, that Rosan can accuse others of lies, libel, breaking the precepts, and sangha-splitting, but as soon as he is cited for ethical lapses – pretty fairly represented in these posts, I might add – those who would make such a citation are considered to have engaged in “cruel name-calling”? 

Indeed, this brings to mind some of the few knee-jerk and shallow-minded sorts of conclusions that Buddhists are inclined to arrive at:

    1. That it’s really just your ego creating false appearances whenever you see a problem or an injustice or an ethical lapse. After all, the problem is always YOU. … Gosh, would civil rights progress have ever been made if everyone concluded that the injustices they were witnessing were really just figments of their egoic imagination!
    2. That you are breaking the precept against calling attention to the faults of others if you point out a problem or an injustice or an ethical lapse. … Ah, yes, the Machiavellian narcissists amongst us can wreak havoc while everyone else remains tight-lipped – hamstrung by their vows. Oh, wait, there are no Machiavellian narcissists. Such perceived behavior is just a figment of our egoic imagination!
    3. That the teacher is always right and the student is always wrong. … The teacher, of course, has no ego – having gotten rid of it along the arduous path to receiving Dharma transmission. We, on the other hand, still have our egos, and are thereby subject to their flights of fancy. So, if the teacher molests us – he is merely using skillful means to break down this pesky ego. And if the teacher wants to break the law – well, we can’t let mundane concepts like laws and stuff get in the way of the Buddha Dharma! And if the teacher accuses us of splitting the sangha even as he appears to be engaging in honest-to-goodness splitting of the sangha – well, it’s just our egos having their way with us! 

May 29: And so it was that I responded to the aforementioned member-at-large, saying: If Buddhism is going to be used to hide abuses of power and protect those who abuse their power, then, rather than it being a vehicle for awakening, it is merely a facade behind which some will find it convenient to hide. You simply need to read what has been posted in this forum [the then open-to-the public email discussion list] to realize that your teacher attempted to sway (and succeeded in swaying) this election by going after voters who would not have access to unbiased information and slandering the board's motivations and actions to them. …  Some do not see this as what it is – a breach of ethics. Some, apparently, do not care. The "right" side won. I will not apologize for calling out those who abuse their power. If you think it un-Buddhist of me, then I must ask: What is your understanding of the bodhisattva vow?

May 29: I receive an email from Rosan stating: "Return my Dharma trasmission certificate, Kechimyaku, Linage paper to me immediately."
Sigh… Whose practice is this, anyway?

Okay, I've got one more post in me - on this matter anyway. Please give me a couple of days to collect my thoughts and try to make some sense of all of this. 

Rosan Osamu Yoshida
Image Credits

Campaigns and elections image via Campaigns&elections via:

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Power, Part 4 - Whose Election Is This, Anyway?

Whether you’ve watched this story unfold in real time or over the course of the first three posts of this series, you most certainly know that it is building to a climax. A Missouri Zen Center board election is on the verge of taking place, and in a rip-roaring display of the democratic process (made all the more free and fair, open and honest on account of it being a Buddhist election, mind you) the people will have their say! So, will the great unfolding of Buddhism in North America be kept pure and pristine by voters rushing in to support their paragon of truth, wisdom and righteousness, Osamu Rosan Yoshida – the teacher? Or will that band of rogue upstarts prevail instead, those would-be thieves of the robe and bowl, those reckless egomaniacs – the board? Patience, patience, dear reader; we first must decide who actually enjoys the privilege of voting.

Now, one might think this would be a fairly simple task, but in actual fact this has been a topic of much debate at the Missouri Zen Center (MZC). It is my recollection from my first tenure on the MZC board way back in the early 00s that dues-payers, those who have donated appreciable labor or in-kind support, and those who have undergone lay ordination with the resident teacher (think Buddhist baptism or communion or something like that) were all considered voting members of the MZC – with the latter enjoying lifetime voting rights, regardless of the other criteria. These respective categories allowed for or recognized: 1) the usual definition of membership, 2) those of limited financial means, and 3) the strong connection and responsibility that a lay Buddhist ordainee feels to and for his or her place of practice.

I can’t say how often this last category of membership has been utilized in order to vote in an MZC election, but I suspect that it has been rather infrequent, and, at any rate, the ordainee would have to have actually been present at the meeting in question in order to cast his or her vote. To my knowledge, the MZC has never accommodated any form of voting other than that done in person at the annual meeting at which board members are elected.

At this point I must mention that, until last summer, I always thought that Rosan was in agreement with these categories of membership. However, during a board meeting last summer after the festival debacle he was distinctly heard to opine that only dues-paying and actively-engaged members should be allowed to vote. Of interesting note is the fact that this utterance came on the heels of someone with then-effective lifetime voting privileges expressing the view that, if the MZC could so cavalierly say goodbye to such a lucrative fundraising opportunity as it just did when it backed out of the festival, then perhaps it didn’t need that person’s money all that much! At any rate, I believe this to be a salient point because the first major communication indicating that an election was close at hand was one related to this matter precisely.

I’m going to let the actual chronology of events dictate the telling of the story from here on out. Unless specifically noted, all of the communications referenced appeared on the publicly accessible email discussion forum of the Missouri Zen Center (subsequently taken down as this series "went to press"). In italics I will summarize the communication as factually as I can within the space constraints of this post. I will then either comment on it or provide clarification or background information as warranted.

March 4: The board secretary posts a list of members eligible to vote based upon the criteria prevailing at the time: some combination of regular MZC attendance, monetary donations, and/or work on behalf of the MZC.

Please note that these criteria are in keeping with what Rosan had opined the previous summer, i.e. with lay ordainees not specifically granted lifetime voting privileges. Thus, that outspoken lifetime member who’d hinted at never paying dues again was indeed disenfranchised. It was later reported to me that these membership criteria were formally considered at a meeting on January 20, 2013 and unanimously agreed upon by board members as well as Rosan. By the way, that was the same meeting at which the vote to amend the bylaws occurred.

March 26: Rosan requests contact information for a specific list of previous MZC members not included in the official voting membership list sent out previously.

Hmmm, these wouldn’t happen to be lay ordainees would they – with lifetime voting privileges? Methinks the teacher has something of a plan hidden up his robe-sleeve! Indeed, it was later reported to me that voting rights for lay-ordainees were restored at Rosan’s request just a few days earlier.  

April 1: The board secretary sends out notice that the annual meeting will be held on April 14, that nominations for the board of directors are open, and that having taken lay ordination at the MZC will also be one of the criteria for membership voting rights.

It was later reported to me that Rosan had been pushing for the voting eligibility of lay ordainees, despite his having spoken against such voting privileges that previous summer and voted against them not two months previously. Apparently he changed his mind, and it is not difficult to understand why. Though he may not care for the leanings of that one outspoken lifetime member, there are numerous others out there who have no idea what’s going on at the MZC and who are ready vessels for ‘the truth according to Rosan.’ Let me explain. I already mentioned in Part 3 that the MZC has experienced a great deal of comings and goings over the years. Some of this, of course, relates to the transient nature of our modern society, but some of it relates to Zen practice in general, and some of it relates to the organizational culture of the MZC in particular. Occasionally those individuals who have physically moved on will choose to stay in touch via the email discussion forum, but many times they do not. Therefore, they will not be privy to the goings-on at the MZC unless someone specifically seeks them out in order to tell them something. And this is precisely why I say that it appears that the teacher has a plan!

April 8: A member requests to read the history of MZC board meeting minutes.

This member, newly active once again after a fairly long hiatus, will henceforth be referred to as #2, denoting a second eventual nomination to the board. (Recall that #1 was introduced in Part 3.) As will become apparent, #2’s interest in the history of the meeting minutes will be with an eye toward “proving” that Rosan is and always has been a member of the board, despite the lack of support for such a claim within the bylaws themselves. This claim that Rosan is a member of the board is central to the position of those who believe that the board acted “illegally” in changing the bylaws by virtue of having done so in Rosan’s absence. See Part 3 - Whose Truth Is This, Anyway? for more detail, but, in short, the vote took place in Rosan's presence, and he is not on the board, anyway. So, whether you contend that Rosan is a board member or not, the bylaws were changed in accord with the bylaws.

Now, I’m reluctant to make the following comments lest they be perceived as mere ad hominem attacks, but the fact of the matter is, members of the board will be seen to be mischaracterized as disloyal, unwise, untrustworthy, and acting in their own self interests when it is actually the case that a number of members on the board have practiced with Rosan more closely and for longer duration than nearly all other current MZC practitioners – sitting sesshin, transcribing lectures, participating in study groups, serving on the board and as doans, planning events, taking part in lay ordination, etc. On the other hand, #2 has not been involved in matters of formal Zen practice at the MZC or any other place of practice that I am aware of to the extent that I just relate. Similarly, #1, despite having undergone lay ordination years ago, has not accepted responsibility for much over these ensuing years beyond showing up for an occasional and infrequent period of zazen. I find it rather curious then (after it not being all that important to support Rosan and the MZC for all those years) that this bylaws issue suddenly ignites a strong desire to serve.

Please understand that I do not make these comments in order to compare one Zen practitioner to another. My reason for pointing this out is for one reason alone: to draw attention to the fact that a new standard for board membership seems to have arisen over the course of just the few previous months, one that has but a single criterion – namely, unwavering support for dictatorial power being in the hands of the teacher.

April 10: An email from Dr. Yoshida’s son, originally sent only to a select group of recipients (not the entire voting membership), is forwarded to the open email discussion list by one of those select recipients. After introducing himself to his intended audience as someone likely not seen since he was a little boy catching the school bus, he proceeds to assert the “questionable legality” of the board’s action to correct the illegality of the bylaws. He then states that members of the board have “misrepresented” their actions, and he raises the specter of a “malicious” board raiding the funds of the organization. He goes on to cite his experience with the maneuvering shenanigans of power-grabbing boards in the startup world in which he navigates, and he then states that his father “no longer has confidence” in certain board members. He closes by inviting the reader to sign and mail an attached proxy ballot assigning all voting rights and all other rights of attendance “at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Missouri Zen Center, or at any adjourned meeting…” to Dr. Yoshida.

Wow, there is so much here I don’t even know where to begin! First of all, Rosan’s son (perhaps we should just start referring to him as #3) can only know what his father has told him; he does not even live in this state, let alone engage in practice at the MZC. Second, while he used to live in the house that has since become the MZC’s physical location, I’ve only seen him on the premises once during my tenure with the organization that spans almost fifteen years. That one occasion was indeed to sit zazen, but except for that one occasion it is unknown whether he is actually a regular zazen practitioner, or even a nominal Buddhist, for that matter. Yes, a pattern is definitely becoming apparent with respect to support for Rosan’s unchecked authority being the criterion for board membership. Third, Rosan’s son speaks of board maneuverings even as he engages in a nice little maneuver of his own: sending out a proxy ballot (one that has not been discussed amongst the board or the membership at large) to a select and undisclosed list of individuals who will then presumably enable Rosan to walk into the annual meeting at which the board election will take place exclaiming “Voila! I am voting on behalf of the following people!” Certainly, even the most basic grasp of ethics and principles of fair play would lead one to realize that any such proxy voting rights/privileges should be enjoyed by all members openly and equally. Likewise, this same basic grasp of principles of fair play would lead one to realize that casting such negative aspersions on the board to a select party of undisclosed individuals without allowing the board to have knowledge of the attack or the means to defend itself against it, is unethical and uncalled for. So, it seems that Rosan’s plan is taking shape: manipulate with misinformation a disengaged and far-flung electorate who will not have access to a full and truthful account of what has been going on at the MZC. By the way, the board secretary introduced above just happens to be one of those board members in which Rosan “no longer has confidence.”  This board member will henceforth be referred to as the ‘targeted board member’ (TBM) on account of very soon being targeted for removal from the board by the executive director, Rosan. Oh, and, yes, Rosan’s son will indeed be nominated to the board. Perhaps the MZC will be passed on from father to son as has been the case with some of the temples in Japan!

April 11: An at-large member who has worked closely over the years with both Rosan and the board emails an explanation of the situation to the wider sangha – the illegality of the so-called concurrence clause of the bylaws and the changing of said bylaws in an open meeting at which Rosan and other members were present. Stated, as well, is the possibility that those who might be motivated to assign Rosan their proxy ballot may, in fact, not know the whole story. Included is a list of past and present board members who can be contacted for further clarification.

Unfortunately, this emailed explanation struck me as ‘too little too late.’ It went out to the open email discussion list and probably didn’t even reach that private list of recipients with whom Rosan’s son, #3, had already sewn such seeds of misinformation. Actually, I was waiting for such an explanation to come from the board itself. I’d heard that they were working on one, but it was never forthcoming for some reason that was unfathomable to me at the time. Only later would it be reported to me that, after the board had completed drafting its letter of explanation, it was deemed to reflect so poorly on Rosan – despite every word of it being true – that the board just couldn’t bring itself to send it out. Those disloyal boards do the darnedest things, don’t they?

April 12: Rosan sends out an email claiming that the previous email “misrepresents the Missouri Zen Center.” He goes on to say that the organization’s non-profit status is inconsequential when compared to the ultimate goal of the organization, stating: “We must place the Buddha Dharma, truth, purity, and prognosis above mundane matters.”

Rosan does not expound on precisely how the previous email is misrepresentative. Apparently it just is. What is of specific interest here, however, is the fact that Rosan begins to frame this issue as a choice between the purity of the Buddha Dharma and the mundane requirement that bylaws actually be legal. This, of course, is a false choice.

April 12: #2 posts an additional response to the email written by the aforementioned member at large. This long letter asserts numerous things – that churches are automatically tax-exempt, that Rosan is actually on the board, that the professor of nonprofit law at the prestigious university who opined regarding the MZC bylaws does not really know what he is talking about, and that the board changed the bylaws without Rosan being present. The letter is signed by Rosan, #1, and #2.

What #2 seems to be saying is that, since churches are automatically tax-exempt (his assertion) there is no need to comply with state law regarding non-profit organizations – despite the fact that the MZC is indeed a non-profit organization. Let’s be clear here, since its inception, the MZC sought and, with the possible exception of a period of time when the required paperwork might have lapsed, it has enjoyed non-profit status. The board is merely ensuring that all applicable laws are complied with. It is the concurrence clause that was illegal and it was the concurrence clause that was excised. Additionally, #2 perseveres with his and Rosan’s contention that Rosan is really on the board, despite him not being named so in the bylaws and despite him never coming up for election as every other board member in the history of the organization has come up for election. The reason for this perseverance may not be obvious, but it fits in with his and Rosan’s aforementioned storyline of the board having “illegally” changed the bylaws during an ad hoc meeting that was not actually a valid board meeting because not all board members were notified. Oh well, it does make for a good storyline, doesn’t it?

April 12: The MZC board president weighs in to communicate the pains that the board went through in determining the best course of action: “We found out that most zen centers around the country are governed by their board. Most do not have the abbot on the board, but one we found did. We were told by these abbots that a Soto Zen Buddhist center is not run by the abbot, it is governed by the board.  It makes no difference if you are the founder.” 

April 12: Rosan responds to the president’s letter. “What is the ultimate thing we should preserve and protect? You can not understand why the concurrence is necessary without these Did you ask those centers you contacted about the supramundane, the paramount truth, Buddhist traditions, philosophies, histories, etc.? Did you learn from them how Buddhism degraded, deteriorated, and destroyed?”… “Why can't you change just the name from the E.D. or just interpret the E.D. [executive director] as Abbot? Then there is no problem and no need to change the bylaws. You have been determined to remove the concurrence clause, which removes the safeguard against hostile takeover, degradation, and destruction of the true Dharma.”

There’s that false choice once again between the Buddha Dharma and such mundane matters as ethical and legal organizational governance. Interestingly, non-profit status was deemed important enough that the organization sought to obtain it in the first place and then maintain it for decades, but as soon as it becomes apparent that it keeps Rosan from acting in an unchecked authoritarian manner it is suddenly not all that important, after all. I’m noticing something of a pattern forming in this regard. For instance, MZC involvement in the festival fundraiser spoken of in a previous post was also all well and good while the money was coming in and Rosan could speak as he wished. As soon as he is constrained in even the most reasonable way, however, it suddenly becomes the case that MZC involvement in the festival is not in keeping with its mission, after all. The board, likewise, only becomes something to be mistrusted and disdained after it takes action to reign in the unchecked power that Rosan has enjoyed for far too long. Lastly, I'm not quite sure what Rosan is getting at with his suggestion to simply change the titles in the bylaws. The legal opinion relied upon stands independent of whatever titles might be applied to whom.

April 12: TBM responds in detail to a member at large that, after researching the governance of numerous Zen centers and temples, it was learned that “at none of these centers and temples did the teacher have the final say on matters other than teaching or practice.” A link to the Antaiji website was included for those interested in further research. TBM (board secretary) further states that the bylaw change was voted on in an open meeting with about twelve members present, including Rosan, who dissented.

April 12: Rosan responds to TBM’s letter, stating that no decision to delete the concurrence clause was made at the meeting in question. Rosan closes that email with a warning: “If you truly value your teacher, please take my cautions and advice seriously.”

You've probably already noticed this, but it is not that TBM or the board are not taking the teacher’s cautions and advice seriously, it is not a matter of TBM or the board not understanding these cautions and advice, it is just that Rosan is coming from a place of ‘do what I say because I am the teacher’ and the board is neither willing nor able (from a legal standpoint) to do so.

April 12: Rosan posts the opinion of his personal lawyer that the concurrence clause is not illegal and that the board’s action to change it was illegal by virtue of the action taking place at a board meeting without one of the board members (Rosan)being notified.

Yes, why listen to an expert in the field of non-profit law when you’ve got your own personal lawyer whose opinion you like much better! I’m afraid that, after reading this legal opinion, the only conclusion that I can draw is that this lawyer has fallen prey to Rosan’s incorrect contention that he is both on the board and that the board voted to amend the bylaws without him being present. As previously mentioned, neither of these is actually true, despite Rosan and his supporters persevering in this fictional retelling of the story.

April 12: TBM further rebuts Rosan’s and his lawyer’s point that the bylaw change would have required his concurrence, stating that the bylaws simply do not state such a requirement when it comes to changes in the bylaws themselves.

April 13: Rosan responds to TBM, stating: “What you did is nothing but destroying the Sangha relying on the splendid scholar.” He continues: “Know thyself! Then only you will be saved - sit another thirty years! Strive hard without indolence!”

Once again, there’s that charge related to destroying the sangha – coupled with the insinuation that only Rosan has the right view of the matter at hand.

The Meeting

The meeting “began” with #2, as yet unelected, attempting to pass out copies of an agenda that he stated had been drafted at Rosan’s request. However, this attempt to wrest control of the meeting at the outset from the duly elected president of the board was quickly nipped in the bud by present and past board members in attendance and the meeting was brought to order by the president of the board. The first item on the agenda was to go around the room and allow each person three minutes to speak his or her mind with respect to the issues and contentiousness that had played out up to that point. Upon learning that the order of movement through the room would be to the president’s left (as is customary at MZC meetings), thereby leaving #2 in the position of speaking almost last, #2 launched into a forceful protestation at having to wait so long to speak. By the way, neither #1 nor #3 were in attendance.

Of course, there was much to discuss, and much was indeed discussed. However, one of the most important matters considered related to whether or not to allow the proxy ballots to be used. Remember those? Discussion ensued as to the unfair and irregular nature of these ballots and, after a vote, these ballots were not allowed. Instead, a compromise was ultimately decided upon whereby the voting for new board members would take place via mail-in ballot. Unfortunately, this compromise did not occur quickly enough to prevent Rosan from heatedly declaring it possible for him to revoke the lineage of the entire Missouri Zen Center – an outburst that prompted one board member to enquire as to whether Rosan was, in fact, threatening the membership. This board member’s query received no reply, and one will have to ask Rosan precisely what he meant when he made this statement. At any rate, with a couple of notable exceptions, the meeting was fairly orderly and productive. The fact that the highly questionable proxy ballots were disallowed without ultimately disenfranchising anybody who had already been determined to be a legitimate voter is a testament to the fairness and integrity of both the board and the majority of voting members present.

Unfortunately, this also means that the train wreck will grind onward for nearly another month. It also means that I have to write another post! Stay tuned!

Rosan Osamu Yoshida
Image Credits

Campaigns and elections image via Campaigns&elections via:

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank

Friday, August 23, 2013

Power, Part 3 - Whose Truth Is This, Anyway?

If you’ve taken the time to read the prelude and first two posts in this series, thank you! I only hope that your return was prompted by the intriguing nature of the issues raised rather than our macabre and all too human fascination with watching trains run off the rails! For those of you who are just now discovering this series, I’ll do my best to bring you up to speed. I strongly suggest, however, that you check out Prelude, Whose Zen Center Is This? and Whose Festival Is This? prior to continuing.

At any rate, by the close of the previous post we’d begun to see truth itself becoming a very slippery thing to apprehend, even with respect to the most ordinary of circumstances. Was Osamu Rosan Yoshida’s scheduled lecture to be held on the property of another during the annual festival of another something to which he was entitled, something for which he could demand carte blanche freedom to speak on any topic and in any way that he might have chosen, or was it a favor afforded him with the tacit understanding that his lecture be a culturally enriching experience for festivalgoers? Were the negotiations that took place in order to determine whether that talk should be reinstated indeed “brutal” for having ultimately been called off, or were they incredibly patient instead for having been allowed to proceed for so long in the first place? Did Missouri Zen Center (MZC) board members let their loyalty to their teacher get in the way of their making a financially sound decision on behalf of the organization that they serve when they decided to forego the festival fundraiser entirely, or was it instead a long overdue decision that would free up energy for more mission-congruent activities?

I actually have no doubt that the MZC board did its very best to weigh the very difficult circumstances that it was presented with. Maybe the festival fundraiser really did hinder the development of projects more in keeping with the furtherance of Zen. Maybe it really was the right time to bow out for the sake of the future of the organization. Perhaps Rosan’s banishment from the festival did the organization a backhanded favor by pushing it in the direction of the decision that it made. Notwithstanding how one might answer these questions, others were beginning to spring up in the minds of board members and members-at-large alike regarding both the soundness of Rosan’s judgment in particular, and the responsibilities entrusted to the boards of non-profit organizations in general – responsibilities such as determining the organization’s mission and purpose, evaluating its chief executive (that would be Rosan), monitoring its programs and services, overseeing fundraising and fiduciary activities, ensuring legal and ethical integrity, and enhancing the organization's public standing, among others (Ingram, 2008).

Despite the board’s loyalty in supporting Rosan subsequent to the cancellation of his talk, the relationship between the two was already beginning to become strained. There arose disagreement over whether Rosan had kept the board adequately informed about the possible cancellation of his talk. Rosan contended that he had. One board member, on the other hand, stated publicly that he had not. Incidentally, this same board member would later be targeted for removal from the board by none other than Rosan himself – but I’m getting ahead of myself once again.

There also arose a publicly expressed lack of appreciation for Rosan’s expanding habit of talking during zazen. He would opine that these talks are kusen, a form of teaching and encouragement to practitioners. Others, however, came to consider them more of a distraction than anything, undermining their very reason for attending the MZC in the first place – for a quiet environment in which to practice zazen. That these talks, like the festival talk, have at times delved into the nature of nuclear radiation and such might shed light as well on how some might receive them. One can learn about the realities of environmental degradation in many ways. Silent meditation, however, is preferably practiced in…, um…, silence.

And so it was that, out of concern for dwindling membership and the questions that arose in the wake of the festival debacle, the board sought to survey the MZC membership in order to gauge what was of interest, importance, and concern to them. Unfortunately, despite this initiative enjoying unanimous board support, it was reportedly not well-received by Rosan. One board member stated that it had become apparent that Rosan didn’t think that the organization needed to make any changes whatsoever. If the survey were to go forward, however, he reportedly wanted to limit survey recipients to only those who were current members, something that would have totally avoided the elephant in the room – the fact that the MZC has experienced something of a revolving door phenomenon with respect to the coming and going of practitioners over the years. With such a constraint hanging over it, the survey proposal was not acted upon, further prompting some on the board to question its function and purpose within the organization.

In order to help gain clarity as to the nature of the board’s responsibilities, a couple of board members sought the assistance of an organization that provides guidance to non-profit entities. These board members were in turn referred to a legal clinic for nonprofit organizations run by the law school of a very well-respected local university. It was upon learning of the legal opinion of one of the professors overseeing this clinic that the board became fully aware of the fact that the “concurrence clause” embedded within the MZC bylaws was not in compliance with the laws governing non-profit organizations in the state of Missouri. The board's decision-making ability should not be subject to the approval or disapproval of one individual - in this case, Rosan. The bylaws were, in other words, illegal.

Given this knowledge of the illegality of the bylaws, the MZC board took very seriously its responsibility to act so as to ensure the legal and ethical integrity of the organization – one of the primary board responsibilities noted above. Board representatives met with Rosan in order to explain the situation. Not surprisingly, however, he was opposed to the bylaws being changed. How else would a hostile takeover of the organization be repelled? In an attempt to try to find some agreeable middle ground it was proposed that Rosan be made a member of the board. Another proposal toward this end was to specifically state Rosan’s authority over matters of Zen practice, even as other responsibilities remained within board purview. Unfortunately, such attempts at finding a mutually beneficial correction to the bylaws came to naught. It would seem that nothing but the absolute dictatorial control implicit within the then-existing (and illegal) bylaws would assuage Rosan’s concerns.

And so it came to pass that on January 20th of this year, at a regular meeting at which Rosan and other members-at-large were present, the president made the following motion (as recorded by the secretary):

I move that the MZC bylaws be amended to accommodate equal votes among board members on administrative matters, excluding matters of teaching and practice.  I further move that the whole of the MZC bylaws be evaluated after consulting with authorities in law and Soto Zen Buddhism, in close consultation with the larger MZC sangha and our teacher, Rosan Yoshida, and that we craft bylaws that will enable us to provide a harmonious environment in which practitioners can learn about and practice the Awakened Way.

It was reported that this motion passed with unanimous board approval. Rosan, on the other hand, reportedly did not approve of it. Now, a couple of things are worth pointing out at this time: One is the fact that the bylaws do not state that the board needs Rosan’s concurrence in order to change the bylaws themselves. Another, which is of particular relevance given the frequency with which it would come to be stated to the contrary, is the fact that the board voted to amend the bylaws at a regular board/membership meeting at which Rosan and others were present – it was just that the matter was left open-ended in order to accommodate further discussion and exploration.

Rosan was absent from MZC practice for almost four weeks subsequent to that meeting, presumably in protest, and while his absence during this period was certainly obvious to all in attendance, what was not widely known was the intensity of the communication taking place behind the scenes. The board president attempted twice via email to reengage Rosan in dialogue, but these overtures were reportedly rebuffed. Rosan, on the other hand, reportedly initiated dialogue with another board member altogether – a long-term practitioner who has been one of his most earnest and faithful students in recent years. Unfortunately, the dialogue that ultimately ensued between Rosan and this board member was reported to have become so intensely stressful for this board member that they ended up resigning. Of course, in keeping with the organization’s history of keeping a happy public face when it comes to matters regarding its teacher, neither this resignation nor the circumstances that prompted it were communicated to the membership at large. Oh, and by the way…, this board member was not the aforementioned board member whom Rosan would later target for removal.

Yet another piece of information that was largely unknown at the time is that, once the board was finally able to arrange a private meeting with Rosan on February 17 in order to work towards reaching some resolution to the matter at hand, it ended up being unexpectedly “crashed” by a cadre of Rosan’s invitees who were largely unaware of what was going on at the MZC save for what they might have known from Rosan’s point of view. I will henceforth refer to one of the more prominent of these invitees as #1, denoting this individual’s eventual nomination to the board. This was reportedly a very unproductive meeting in which the board was essentially told that they were “out of line” without much substantive discussion taking place. Given this rather bleak situation, the board ended up holding a special meeting on February 22 during which they finalized the crafting of that which had already been approved in Rosan’s presence – the amended bylaws. Apparently it is Rosan’s absence from this special meeting that forms the basis of his contention that the board acted illegally in changing the bylaws in his absence.  

At this point let me back up for just one moment in order to call attention to the fact that that February 17 meeting was the first time in the unfolding of this entire saga wherein one group of practitioners would be pitted against another. My reason for calling attention to this point is that Rosan, as will be seen, will become quite accustomed to accusing others of causing a schism within the sangha – one of five actions regarded as so heinous within Buddhism that the perpetrator’s ability to make amends for the resulting bad karma is extremely limited indeed. By the way, the other heinous actions that causing a schism within the sangha compares to involve killing one’s mother or father, buddhas and saints.

At any rate, this pretty much brings us up to my posting of Buddhism and the Suspension of Critical Thinking on February 19th – something that I was convinced was the right thing to do after hearing of Rosan’s enlistment of a faction of his supporters to stand up to the duly elected board at the aforementioned meeting. Long-term readers will recall that that post conveyed the nature of the issue regarding the bylaws, and the fact that the teacher (Rosan) had remained absent from many of the practice periods in protest subsequent to the board’s action. That post also posed the rhetorical question:

[W]ill this bylaw change constitute a step toward a more solid non-profit footing, or away from the so-called purity of Buddhist practice? Will rejection of said bylaw change constitute a step away from the controlling meddling of the state or toward the organizational dynamics of a cult?

Rosan didn’t much care for that post, by the way. He warned me that, by virtue of my having undergone lay-ordination, I am part of a lineage of teachers stretching back to the Buddha, none of whom should be defiled or defamed - including him, presumably. He also insinuated that my words were libelous, although he did not specify how; and, oh yeah, he reminded me that creating a schism within the sangha is one of the gravest of offenses.

What is interesting about Rosan’s comments within the context of a blog series related to power and a blog post related to truth is that they are such obvious attempts on his part to use the power of his position to affect what truth becomes known. In turn, of course, what truth becomes known impacts his ability to hang on to power. Note the three-pronged attempt to silence me in this regard: 1) characterizing my calling attention to issues worthy of discussion as a breaking of the precepts that I have vowed to uphold. 2) insinuating that, simply by speaking the truth about a situation already unfolding at the MZC, I am somehow creating a schism within the sangha. 3) insinuating that I have libeled him, something that would have a chilling effect on my speaking out if, in fact, what I’d said were untrue, and if, in fact, my intentions were malicious.

It is at this juncture that the story turns into a truly surreal tale in which the election of new board members morphs into something of a referendum on both the bylaw change and the board members who supported it. Please stay tuned!

Rosan Osamu Yoshida

Ingram, R.T. (2008) Ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards (governance series 1, 2nd edition). Published by BoardSource.

Image Credits

Chancel window at Holy Trinity Church, Leicester, by PJParkinson via:


Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank