The Atlantic has a long exposé of The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side. The leader of a Zen Buddhist group in New York has a long history of sexual harassment and abuse.
One particularly poignant letter in the archive, dated February 20, 1979, is from one female former student to another. I have interviewed both students in the past year; they asked that I not use their names, but they stand by their stories. The letter writer herself never had sex with Shimano, although, as she writes, she “experienced quite a bit of sexual ‘harassment’ from Eido Roshi (from innuendo to proposition)” during two stays at Dai Bosatsu. During the first stay, the harassment was “just a barrage.” For months she spoke of the incidents to no one. “I wanted to be thought of as a student, and not one of Roshi’s women,” she wrote. “I did not want to rock the boat. After I left I found out, in correspondence with [another woman], that Roshi had also propositioned her … We had been very close friends and yet we had kept a silence on something that was disturbing us every day, in order to protect the sangha, the kessei”—a three-month training period—“and the Roshi.”
The letter continues in a key of gratitude: “When I left [after my first stay], I seriously thought of ‘blowing the whistle.’ But I was grateful for the opportunity I’d had to practice at Dai Bosatsu, and I thought that if I said anything it would be the end of everything at Dai Bosatsu. I really thought it would fold the place … One of the problems of Dai Bosatsu is that to warn a new female student that she is likely to be propositioned by her teacher is to risk every new female student leaving in a very big hurry and telling the world.”
It’s depressing. Once upon a time I would have read that and said, “A-ha, religion really does poison everything, any religion!”, but sadly, if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few years, it’s that even people who reject religion can be colossal jerks.