Power and its Abuse in a Zen Community

From 8/19/2013 to 8/27/2013, I published a series of posts that I've collected here under one title. I've smoothed out the transitions between installments,  removed any subsequently obsolete links, and made some minor editorial revisions. Otherwise, the following true account of events that occurred at the Missouri Zen Center under the leadership of Rosan Osamu Yoshida in the preceding months and years remains the same as when it was first published, without any material revisions, additions, or deletions. Of course, this makes for an exceedingly long post, and the reader must be fairly dedicated in order to make it through to the end. In part, this is my intention. In their previous form as free-standing posts, it was too easy to read only bits and pieces of the complete collection of posts, thereby doing an injustice to the entirety of the story. In its present form, this post may attract fewer readers, but those who do read on will receive a more accurate picture of how and why the events played out as they did. Individual sections were maintained in order to show the content of the previously published posts.         

Introduction originally published on 8/19/2013 as Power - A Prelude.

I would have liked for the following series of posts to tell a more uplifting story, one with a happy ending perhaps, or at least a moral befitting such a tale of hardship and woe. Well, I’ll let you make up your own mind once you’ve made it to the end, if indeed you make it to the end. For some might well consider this a journey best not begun in the first place. Yes, if conflict and contentiousness prompt you to retreat into the shadows, then maybe the following account is not for you. If you like your Buddhism creamy and laced with honey, neither too hot nor too cold, then maybe you should take a pass on this one.

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Fact is, this story is by far the most difficult one I’ve yet written – recounting a tale so confounding that I’ve struggled for many hours with how to even begin to do it justice. It was only after my simmering thoughts had boiled the issues down to their essence – POWER – that the outline of the story began to take shape, and the words began to flow.

What follows is a story about the fracturing of the Missouri Zen Center (MZC) over issues of power – who should have it, how much should they have, and why. Sadly, this story played out like a slow motion train wreck over the past year or so, with one train being Osamu Rosan Yoshida, the teacher, and the other being the duly elected board of directors. Now, some will likely consider this account of what transpired to be unseemly, ungrateful, or vindictive. Before I begin, then, I’d like to make clear my motivation for telling it:

  1. This story encompasses a great deal of suffering, suffering that has occurred within the very place that many go in search of refuge – the sangha, or spiritual community. I hope that telling this story as accurately as I can possibly tell it will help bring closure to what has been a very difficult and troubling episode in the spiritual lives of many.
  2. I hope that other spiritual practitioners who have suffered through similar organizational difficulties will gain some measure of comfort by finding those parts of this story that resonate with them.
  3. I hope that spiritual practitioners who are currently struggling, or who will one day struggle, with similar difficulties will gain at least some benefit from being able to see the dynamics of their own place of practice with greater clarity.
  4. Better yet, I hope that thoughtful consideration of the issues raised by this story will keep similar difficulties from ever arising in the first place.

Okay, then, let’s begin. The first installment awaits your open mind!

Originally published on 8/19/2013 as Power, Part 1 - Whose Zen Center Is This, Anyway?

Speaking truth to power is much lauded within the activist community. Unfortunately, though, I remain unconvinced that all who seek positions of power do so out of a motivation to act in accord with the truth. No, perhaps what speaking truth to power really does is penetrate the cloud of ignorance and fear that causes the rest of us to continue supporting those who wield power inappropriately, even abusively.

Now consider the wielding of religious power, where “truth” itself becomes a weapon in the hands of the unscrupulous, and you’ve got an especially complicated situation. Who are we, after all, to speak truth to religious power when it is their privileged access to or deep grasp of the “truth” that comprises the very power that they possess? Hmmm.

A few months ago, in Buddhism and the Suspension of Critical Thinking, I briefly sketched three vignettes pertaining to actual situations in which individuals were, in my opinion, a little too quick to suspend their capacity for critical thinking for the sake of furthering their Buddhist practice. Pertinent to this current series is the fact that in each of those situations the suspension of critical thinking was also accompanied by the yielding of power to another.

The first of those vignettes referred to Rinzai Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki’s alleged sexual abuse of female students in his charge. It is my contention that, if indeed these allegations are true, it was the suspension of critical thinking on the part of those Sasaki supporters that learned of the abuses and did nothing that allowed Sasaki to continue his abusive ways with impunity. Similarly, incidents of gender discrimination such as the one described in the second vignette can only continue within a context of non-critical acceptance on the part of everyone who witnesses such discrimination and says or does nothing to help stop it. It is under the cloak of silence and inaction that abusive power differentials perpetuate.

The third vignette, you might recall, pertained to what I then only described as a Soto Zen organization that had found itself embroiled in contentious disagreement over the changing of its bylaws defining the power of its teacher. Of course, if you’ve read the prelude to this piece, you already know that it is the Missouri Zen Center (MZC) and its teacher, Osamu Rosan Yoshida, that are the subjects of this story. 

In a nutshell, this story is a tragic one in which those inclined toward deep faith in the pristine and unerring nature of the teacher’s embodiment of truth (and the power commensurate with such truth) are pitted against those inclined to view organizational oversight in less authoritarian and more rational, legal, and ethical terms. What ensues is a painful melodrama that might very well challenge the Akira Kurosawa film classic, Rashomon, for its ability to shed light on the human condition.

Film buffs will remember that Rashomon involves the recounting of the slaying of a samurai from multiple viewpoints which seem to have almost nothing in common except for the identities of the parties involved. Come to think of it, the Rashomon plot device might well be a useful one to use in introducing the various perspectives from which the titular question might be viewed: Whose Zen Center Is This, Anyway?

Scene 1: Thieves Are Stealing the Robe and Bowl!

It is totally reprehensible that the board would treat Roshi like this! Who do they think they are? Where is their sense of gratitude? We’re talking about a 70+ year old man who’s given his life to the Dharma. He’s the one who founded the Missouri Zen Center. This is HIS house. Roshi IS the Zen Center! All this talk of the illegality of the bylaws is just a pretext to wrest control away from him and put it in the hands of a few people whose egos have run amok. The bottom line is this: if you don’t like the way Roshi does things here, then you can go and start your own Zen center. It’s as simple as that.

I mean, the Zen Center has been here for over thirty years, and now all of a sudden the bylaws are illegal, the sky is falling, and you want to kick Roshi to the curb. And who is this, anyway, who says that the bylaws are illegal – some university professor? Does he know that we’re a Buddhist organization? Does he know anything at all about Buddhism? Apparently he doesn’t know that much about our bylaws, either. If he did he’d know that Roshi is, in fact, a board member – a point which seems to have totally escaped his scrutiny, a point which, by the way, makes it illegal for the board to change the bylaws behind his back as it did. Roshi’s own lawyer said as much after a thorough review of the situation. Look at what you’re doing! If Roshi is really your teacher, as you say he is, then listen to what he says!

To tell you the truth, I don’t really care if our non-profit status is taken away. We can’t let Buddhism be constrained by the rules that govern the secular world. We shouldn’t look to the state for guidance on how to run a Buddhist temple; we should look to the teachings of the Buddha – and nobody knows those teachings better than Roshi. He’s the one with Dharma transmission. You’re asking me to trust the judgment of a bunch of novice practitioners over that of an enlightened Zen master!

This whole sad situation reminds me of the story told in the Platform Sutra about the transmission of the Dharma to the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng. It was Hui Neng who demonstrated his worthiness to receive the Fifth Patriarch’s robe and bowl; it was Hui Neng who received mind-to-mind transmission; and yet it was Hui Neng who had to flee for his life from his jealous rivals. Well, Roshi is not the one who is going to flee in this case. He is the proper holder of the lineage and I intend to help him protect it.

Scene 2: Methinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much!

Hold on, now; let’s back up just a little bit. There seems to be a whole lot of misinformation floating around so maybe it would be good to respond to your points in turn.  First of all, nobody is trying to “kick Roshi to the curb.” Nobody is trying to replace him as the teacher or spiritual head or arbiter of practice here at the MZC. Nobody did anything behind his back, either. The bylaws were changed during a meeting at which Rosan himself was present. He may not remember it that way, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

With respect to gratitude: We all recognize the contributions that Rosan has made – founding the Missouri Zen Center (with the help of others, I might add), guiding practice here over the ensuing decades, and providing a solid example of dedicated Zen practice. However, this bylaw change doesn’t have anything to do with gratitude or the lack thereof. What this bylaw change pertains to is ensuring that we’re on a solid legal foundation and that we have a solid organizational structure in place should Rosan suddenly fall ill or pass away. As you say, Rosan is over 70 years old. It just makes sense that we lay the groundwork for the continuance of the Zen Center after he’s gone. Toward that end, the board consulted a regional expert in Non-Profit Law regarding certain aspects of the bylaws. I don’t know about you, but I simply can’t fathom dismissing the legal opinion of a highly respected scholar in the field for the sake of the opinion of someone’s personal lawyer. 

Now, about your comment that “Roshi IS the Zen Center”: I find that both inaccurate and rather offensive. Yes, Rosan helped found the Zen Center. Yes, the Zen Center is located in what used to be his family home. What you don’t mention, however, is that the MZC pays rent to Rosan for the right to reside here; it is not a gift. Rosan is the landlord and we are a very cooperative and responsible tenant. Furthermore, the Missouri Zen Center continues to this day only because of the time, money, labor, and guidance provided over these many years by practitioners too numerous to mention. To say that “Roshi IS the Zen Center” is an insult to all those practitioners who made so many valuable contributions over so many years.

But that’s not even the half of it. It’s only been for a few years now that Rosan has been back in the United States fulltime. For seventeen years before that (by his own recollection) he spent most of the year teaching at a university in Japan, only returning during holidays and on summer breaks. During those seventeen years the board took care of the business of making the Missouri Zen Center a viable place of Zen practice – ensuring that the doors were open, that the meditation periods went smoothly, training practitioners, organizing fundraisers, planning events, paying bills, coordinating maintenance work on its rented facility, investing savings, etc. The business of running the MZC continues to this day to be under the purview of the board, with the board president proposing the meeting agendas at the suggestion of board members and members at large. This idea that Rosan IS the Zen Center is an emotionally-based belief – nothing more.

Scene 3: Is The Roof Not Big Enough To Provide Refuge For Us All?

This conflict deeply saddens me. People seem to be talking past each other without really hearing. I just hope that we can all get beyond this somehow and go back to enjoying the peaceful place of practice that we once had.

It sounds like some people very much want or need to have a student/teacher relationship with Dr. Yoshida. On the other hand, some other people just want a place to meditate and be part of a community. I don’t really see why these have to be mutually exclusive. Can’t we be a big enough place to accommodate everybody’s approach to practice? It’s not like St. Louis has an abundance of other Zen options. I think we have a responsibility to accommodate as many approaches to practice as we can accommodate and still be true to our Zen tradition.

Yes, I’ve heard that some members don’t care for Dr. Yoshida’s habit of offering teachings during zazen; they want to be able to just come and meditate in silence without any distractions. I understand that position. But I also know that others find these talks to be a valuable part of their practice. I don’t know, maybe some sittings could be set aside for his talks and others could be totally silent. I suppose whether or not that happens is the teacher’s prerogative, though. Maybe anyone who doesn’t care for the talks can just tune them out like they tune out the occasional lawnmower noise or the trucks rumbling past. Then again, they might end up missing something valuable.

I can’t help but think that there’s some mutually agreeable resolution to this bylaws disagreement. I’m hearing a lot of mistrust on both sides of this issue. I can’t imagine that the board really wants to take over the Zen Center and push Dr. Yoshida out. These are the same people who, from what I can tell, have been practicing with him most closely over these past few years. Why would they want to do that? On the other hand, this whole bylaws change seems to have been rushed through rather quickly. I certainly see the need for the bylaws to be legal. It also makes sense that there be some discussion as to what should take place if something ever happens to Dr. Yoshida. I don’t know, maybe all of this just happened too quickly for some people.

Originally published on 8/21/2013 as Power, Part 2 - Whose Festival Is This, Anyway?

You're probably wondering how an organization finds itself in such a predicament as this in the first place. What sort of bylaw change could be so incendiary, and why risk embroiling the organization in conflict if it is? This post is meant to shed light on precisely these questions.

Please bear with me for a moment as I delve into some of the drier aspects of organizational governance. The previously existing bylaws of the Missouri Zen Center (MZC) contained a so-called “concurrence clause” which resulted in most of the decisions made by its board (with the notable exception of changes to the bylaws themselves) being subject to the approval, the concurrence, of its executive director, Rosan Osamu Yoshida. The problem with such a clause, depending upon your point of view, is that it effectively gives the executive director (the teacher) veto power over the affairs of the organization – a situation that is not in compliance with the laws of the state of Missouri governing the administration of non-profit organizations. 

Setting aside the issue of legality, you might just be thinking: So what? What’s wrong with the teacher having veto power? Isn’t the teacher the wisest and most knowledgeable, the deepest and most reflective thinker, the one in the best position to make decisions affecting the wellbeing of the organization and its members? Well, whether or not board members actually agreed with that assessment, acquiescence to the authority of the executive director on account of this concurrence clause came to suffuse the organizational culture of the Missouri Zen Center so thoroughly that some issues were not even openly discussed due to a ‘Rosan would never agree to that’ sort of self-censorship.

And so it was that the organization drifted along, taking care of business on a day-to-day and month-to-month basis, yes, but never addressing such overarching issues as whether the old Yoshida family home, much in need of maintenance as it is, really is the best place for the organization to reside, and what will happen after Rosan, due to failing health or death or some other unspoken reason, is no longer willing or able to continue teaching. The organization was in many ways held hostage by this concurrence clause; until, that is, one of the pieces of business that the board was forced to act on resulted in saying goodbye to a major source of its funding.

Let me back up for a moment. I began practicing at the Missouri Zen Center sometime in the late 1990s. By then the organization’s status as one of the veteran food and beverage vendors at a local annual festival was fairly well-cemented. The menu varied from year to year, but included such items as vegetable fried rice, somen noodles, fruit slushies, iced green tea, and even sushi. Net income from that one weekend of effort varied from year to year, but I think it safe to say that it always accounted for the bulk of the organization’s income, even allowing the organization to accumulate savings over the years amounting to well over fifty-thousand dollars.

Income notwithstanding, the festival was great publicity for the MZC – providing an opportunity for thousands of potential practitioners to learn of the organization’s existence and mission, in addition to providing an opportunity for Rosan to deliver a lecture introducing Zen to a sympathetic audience. It also provided us workers with many opportunities to get to know each other as we took our practice out of the quietude of the zendo and into the fast-moving chaos of a festival environment. Nothing is perfect, however, and in fairness to critics of the MZC’s festival involvement I must also mention that it required an incredible amount of planning and effort on the part of the organizing members, and an intense reliance on member volunteers and their families and friends during the festival itself. The question as to whether the organization should forego festival involvement in lieu of engaging in more traditional “Zen” activities, making up the financial shortfall with membership dues and donations, was certainly a question worthy of debate.

Unfortunately, it was a debate that would never be given the deliberation that it deserved. All festival involvement came to a screeching halt last July, 2012, when the board sent out a message to a publicly accessible email discussion list that the MZC would not be participating in the 2012 festival due to the cancellation of Rosan’s talk. According to the board’s email:

This happened as a result of a few complaints to the [owner of the festival grounds] after Rosan discussed his opposition to nuclear power, among other things, during his talk last year.

Included in this email was part of a communication sent to the MZC board by the festival organizers. I quote from it here with minor redaction:

Unless [the festival organizers] receive a guarantee directly from Dr. Yoshida that he will cease his behaviour immediately, we will eliminate the MZC booth from this and future Festivals. Dr. Yoshida must also agree not to be present… during the Festival. The [owner of the festival grounds] is reviewing all options at their disposal to assure Dr. Yoshida does not disrupt the Festival. He must agree not to appear at the Festival in any capacity.

Wow, this seems a lot more serious than just the cancellation of a talk due to disagreement over its subject matter! What was this behavior that Dr. Yoshida was being called upon to cease immediately? Why was there such concern about his very presence at the festival? What potential disruptions were the festival organizers attempting to preempt? In this regard, the board’s email raised far more questions than it answered.

I must confess, however, that I was not surprised in the least by this turn of events. Over the years I’d noticed Rosan’s teachings veering more and more toward anti-nuclear and global warming speechifying and farther away from topics that might be more typically considered “Buddhist”. Let me be clear here, I’m actually in total agreement with Rosan on both of these very important issues. The only difference is that I recognize with greater clarity perhaps that the MZC is neither the Sierra Club nor the Missouri Coalition for the Environment; we are the Missouri ZEN Center and we do not do justice to our mission of promoting Zen if the only people who stick around to hear our message are other left-leaning environmentalists who just happen to also think that meditation might be of benefit.

But it’s not even the case that I disagree with these important issues being discussed in the context of a “Zen talk” – after all, where does Zen stop and everything else begin? – it’s just that obsessiveness and insensitivity to the needs of your audience serve well neither a Zen message nor an environmental one. I can attest to this by virtue of my tenure helping to teach the introductory Zen class to first-time visitors to the MZC. Time and time again I witnessed the air being sucked out of the zendo not even ten minutes into Rosan’s talk after him launching into his ‘sixth mass extinction’ segue into the doom and gloom that awaits if we don’t all begin meditating right now.

So, no, it came as no surprise to me whatsoever when I read an email exchange between one of our members and a representative of the festival committee in which this representative shed further light on the harsh stance that the committee took towards Dr. Yoshida. According to this representative, Rosan’s talk at the 2012 festival was cancelled as a result of feedback received during and after his talk the previous year. That 2011 talk was reported to be (I am paraphrasing here) only tangentially related to its purported subject matter and was inflammatory and provocative to the point that some in the audience were prompted to walk out in the middle and others were prompted to remark to the owner of the festival grounds as to its inappropriateness. This representative went on to allege that, upon learning of the cancellation of his talk, Dr. Yoshida questioned the committee’s ethics and integrity, accused them of succumbing to the censorship power of the nuclear industry, and threatened to bring the matter to the attention of the public if his talk were not reinstated. It was the nature of what this representative referred to as a “continual barrage” from Dr. Yoshida lasting for a number of months that the committee became concerned about disruptions to the festival and acted on the advice of the counsel of the owner of the festival grounds in barring him from the festival. Yes, whose festival is this, anyway?

Rosan seems to have a very different view of how the discussion regarding the cancellation of his talk transpired. In an email dated a couple of days after the board email quoted from above, Rosan remarked on both his belief in the inextricability of Zen and nuclear issues and the obstinance of the festival committee during negotiations related to the reinstatement of his talk – even going so far as to say that the committee treated him “brutally”. Given that the accounts of what happened between Dr. Yoshida and the festival committee vary so, something that the MZC board must have been aware of at the time, I think it extremely gracious and loyal on their part to communicate later on in that same email quoted above:

Rosan is the teacher and abbot of our sangha and we feel that it would not be right to participate in [the festival] if he is not welcome.

As an aside, I find it worthy of note that this same extremely gracious and loyal board would soon be vilified by Rosan and others for its supposedly underhanded and power-grabbing ways, changing the bylaws as it did. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Following the publication of this letter from the MZC board, the email discussion list was peppered with numerous messages offering words of encouragement and alternative fundraising ideas. In addition, one author spoke of having already begun a campaign on social media calling for the boycott of the owners of the festival grounds – a campaign that was, to my knowledge, subsequently scuttled. Another suggested that the media be alerted if the MZC should decide not to participate in the festival.

Yes, it would seem like a time for rallying together in the face of adversity, wouldn’t it? It would seem like a time to come to the defense of your embattled teacher, wouldn’t it? Well, I suppose I just have different karma, but I, for one, was wondering how the MZC was going to maintain itself given the loss of its major fundraiser. I was wondering why nobody (publicly anyway) seemed to want to dig deeper into precisely how it was that their teacher ended up being banned from the festival. I was wondering what kind of organization takes such pains to protect the image of its teacher even if that means that the truth is overlooked or tucked away, and the reputation of another organization gets sullied in the process. I was wondering just what constitutes standards of practice for a non-profit board. What if Rosan were to pass away suddenly or need to retire? The organization could then be left without a teacher, without a place of practice, and without any fund-raising prospects with which to secure one. How does drifting along under such a cloud of organizational uncertainty further the mission of the Missouri Zen Center – the propagation of Zen and the Awakened Way? Indeed, whose festival is this, anyway?

Originally published on 8/23/2013 as Power, Part 3 - Whose Truth Is This, Anyway?

By the close of the previous installment 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!

Originally published on 8/25/2013 as Power, Part 4 - Whose Election Is This, Anyway?

So, 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 the third installment.) 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. Check out the third installment for the details. In short, though, 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!

Originally published on 8/27/2013 as Power, Part 5 - Whose Election WAS That, Anyway?

So, 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. 


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

Image Credits

Rashomon publicity poster image courtesy of Daiei Motion Picture Company
– known today as Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Inc.
Screenshot 1 from Rashomon, the 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenshot 2 from Rashomon, the 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenshot 3 from Rashomon, the 1950 film directed by Akira Kurosawa
Chancel window at Holy Trinity ChurchLeicester, by PJParkinson via:
Campaigns and elections image via Campaigns&elections via:

Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank


  1. You left us hanging, Mark. The suspense for those without knowledge of the subsequent events (fortunately not me!) must be awful. I hope you put Part III up soon.

  2. Hello again. Yes, check back in a couple of days. Thanks! By the way, the publicly accessible email discussion list referred to in the post seems to have been deleted as of the beginning of this blog series. Nonetheless, I will continue to refer to communications that appeared on it as having appeared on a publicly accessible list becaue, in fact, it was publicly accessible up until the past couple of days, or today even. Thank you. Mark


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