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
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Campaigns and elections image via Campaigns&elections via:

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank

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