Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“Ryushin Sensei stepped down as abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery after it became known that he had been committing adultery for the previous six months.”
A response from a priest friend of mine was “Shit. Another one.” And mine has been “Why does this keep happening over and over again?”
I am beginning to think that “spiritual bypassing” may be a root cause of the rash of sexual misbehavior in Zen communities. It occurs to me that this tendency in all of us may contribute to priests breaking the precepts and our unwitting perpetuation of this problem. I highly recommend the book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters by Dr. Robert Augustus Masters.
Spiritual bypassing is defined by Dr. Robert Masters as “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs… Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what it painful, as a kind of higher analgesic.”
It is a kind of “metaphysical valium.”
As I read a Facebook string based on the announcement of Ryushin’s stepping down as abbot, I see that there are several comments to the effect that we shouldn’t judge him, the implication being, I think, that judgment is not spiritual. One comment, ironically, judged the judgers: “Underneath any holy vow there is just a person. The judgment being held against those who break their vows for one reason or another is as scary as what they are accused of.”
When one judges within a spiritual community, one risks being censured for being unspiritual. Spiritual people should be compassionate – and I agree! – but the underlying belief is that compassion is incompatible with judgment. But we do judge, and we should call out wrongdoing. Yes, judgment can have the negative aspects of condemnation or moral superiority, which we should eschew, but we should name behaviors we know are wrong: adultery, betrayal, lying. I think compassion and naming wrongdoing go hand in hand. They are not mutually opposed to one another
On the subject of judgment, Dr. Masters says:
“Much of this behavior (spiritual bypassing) has to do with the popularized notion that we shouldn’t judge others. There are some very serious problems with this kind of thinking: First of all, we do judge others. To make it wrong – that is, to judge our judging – only drags us into guilt’s domain, splitting us into “good” (read: not judging) and “bad” (read: judging) factions.
The second problem with the notion that we shouldn’t judge others is the fact that judgment per se is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. Strip away the hostile, condescending, or mean-spirited elements that often characterize judgment, you may find a kernel of valuable insight. Judgment is not necessarily equivalent to condemnation!
For in not bringing people face to face with the consequences of their actions, we are actually depriving them of something they might sorely need. Furthermore, in letting them off the hook, we are doing the same for ourselves.”
Since we are interdependent and co-create ourselves, especially in religious groups, we are all responsible for our collective habit of bypassing what is painful, of spiritualizing or ignoring our shadows. And we are all responsible for all the group dynamics that contribute to the confusion a teacher might feel when confronted with his or her very human behaviors – sexual or otherwise. It's bad enough when we do spiritual bypassing vis a vis our own problems, but it can be really destructive as a group mentality.
If we were all – priests and lay people alike –supported and encouraged to honestly examine our shadows like lust and greed and anger, we would have healthier selves, healthier sanghas, and we wouldn’t read, “…after it became known.”
We need, of course, to be gentle with our spiritual bypassing. Understanding our tendencies to do this can only deepen and mature our practice.