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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
44 to keep away from an oncoming fire. People on the Way look upon desire as something they must keep at a distance.” Desire is the deepest, most ancient force. It is primal. We can think about it, speak about and explain it, but desire itself often arises before thought. It seeks what is good and shuns what is bad; yet within the self-serving inner workings of the mind, good and bad can be perceived as just about anything. When healthy desires arise, they are based on right under- standing of the dharma. These are desires that lead to prac- tice, to the cultivation of compassion, to nonattachment, to generosity. They lead to selflessness and wisdom, to living in service to others. The impetus for unhealthy desires is in accord with samsara, it is in accord with an understanding that leads to not practicing, to insensitivity to others, to not caring, to selfishness, and to attachment. But why would those who have seen into the nature of samsara, of attachments, of the self, give validity and truth to their own desires? Being dry grass, why would they throw themselves into a burning fire? Because desire still remains. Karmic energies persist. There is still something outside which is wanted. There is still some- thing inside which is seen as insufficient, even if it has been realized as empty. The fire is still burning. Throughout history, wherever a crowd forms, wealth, power, status, recognition, love, and sex also appear. These are the forces, the desires that are at the root of all suffering. But these forces can also be used for tremendous good. Yet the greater the force, the hotter the flame and the easier it is for it to burn out of control. The greater the force, the harder it is to hold it well, to not get consumed by it. The Buddha said, “As for love and desire, no desire is as deep-rooted as sex. Fortunately, it’s one of a kind. If there was something else like it, no one in the entire world would be able to practice the Way.” Is this the Buddha showing a sense of humor? In Zen training, the dynamic between student and teacher is spiritually intimate. That’s its nature. To be intimate with oneself, one has to be intimate with the dharma, which in formal training means being intimate with the teacher. Over time, that intimacy increases as the student progresses. So it’s the teacher’s responsibility to maintain that intimacy yet not let it cross over into an inappropriate physical or emotional realm. While the student is asked to deeply trust and be open to the teacher, this should not be regarded as submission. The student is fully in charge but has also given permission to be taught, engaged, and directly encountered. In that intimate working, the student can become confused and develop other kinds of attachments. So it’s the teacher’s role to redirect the student’s feelings if they arise, to clarify them, and not affirm away from. Disappointment and betrayal are not possible. There is no dharma to destroy. So why does Guishan speak of betrayal? In the early years of Buddhism developing in America, as well as in current times, there have been teachers who have had extramarital affairs with students. In many cases, these have been accomplished masters who have brought many students to the dharma, who’ve created vibrant communi- ties and produced dharma heirs. Yet their actions have also caused a lot of harm and confusion, in addition to being a violation of the precepts, their monastic or priestly vows, the student–teacher relationship, and their authority as a teacher. There is no ambiguity about this. So how do we understand this betrayal? What kind of turning away is it when it is done by one who has realized the dharma? In Buddhist practice we need to take every phenomenon, every situation—in particu- lar the more chaotic or dire circumstances of our lives—and use those very circumstances to illuminate, to become clear, to come closer to the path. How then can we understand a teacher’s transgression of a sacred trust so that our faith in the dharma is strengthened rather than weakened? Without true compassion there is no true wisdom, without true wisdom there cannot be true compassion. This is a basic Mahayana teaching: wisdom and compassion are one. Yet, at the same time, we can speak of them as two. Dogen said our practice is to harmonize inner and outer—to deeply clarify our own mind and then to embody that clarity in everything we do. We can have insight into the nature of our self and not fully actualize that insight through our actions. In fact, it seems that perfect embodiment of one’s clear understanding is quite rare. But how do people who have seen deeply into the nature of things, and who are clearly guiding other people to do the same, turn against the dharma, against others and themselves? The answer, in one sense, is easy: desire. Betrayal only occurs within samsara, within conditioned existence, within the self-created world of the self. In that world, desire is the inspiration, it’s the fuel, it’s the engine, the vehicle, the apparent reward, and the karma. The Buddha said, “Those on the Way are like dry grass. It is essential GeoFFRey ShuGen ARnoLD is the head of the Mountains and Rivers order and abbot of the Zen Center of new york City. he entered into full-time residential training at Zen Mountain Monastery in 1986 and received dharma transmission from John Daido Loori Roshi in 1997. ZenMountAinMonASteryArchive