An Analysis and Suggestions of SFZC Handling of Edward Brown case by Charles Kennedy (fom Facebook)
From Peter Coyote
Phil Benezra (fom Facebook)
Lichen Brown post on Facebook with Comments
DRC post on Facebook with Comments
More Facebook posts and comments may follow but maybe not. There are so many shares of the posts and each share has its string of comments and shares to other pages with comments and shares. I don't even have access to it all and have other things to do and this is a good sample of the enormous response to this situation. - DC
Posted on Facebook in a long string of comments (now linked to above as DRC post) about the situation with the SFZC and Edward Brown.
I'm not downplaying the substantial grief on all sides, as everyone's viewpoint has validity (I don't mean that in a generic way....each side is sincerely aggrieved based on substantive facts). However, this is analogous to a run-of-the-mill hostile work environment complaint. Given SFZC leadership's role in maintaining a platform for speech in front of diverse audiences, it is shockingly clear no planned policy was brought to bear on this incident. I don't even work in human resources and I can identify several important mistakes:
- Loss of confidentiality of the complaintant's statement (and other aspects of the process).
- Not following up in a timely manner on communications.
- Not gathering evidence & not establishing corroboration of the facts.
- Issues with Ed's "deportment" in the past are referenced. Is that established in the record? Most reasonable people can and will adapt their behavior to meet a clearly communicated threshold of expectations. Rather than obliquely referencing "past issues with deportment", there should be a *confidential record* of explicit warnings and identified corrective actions. Maybe there is a record? I don't know.
- Linking expressions of anger, acrimony & animus by one of the parties with the dismissal decision.
Responding in a professional manner to an actual or perceived hostile work environment is well established policy & procedure.
Easy enough to find faults in leadership.
DC asked Charles Kennedy how the term "hostile work environment" applied to this case. He explained The complaint against Ed falls under the rubric of a hostile work environment.... or in this case, a Buddhist Zen practice environment.
Charles Kennedy In a workplace environment, a person attempts to make a joke or communicate something (using this incident as an example....... transvestites peeing on a toilet seat), and a person of transgender orientation (or anyone else) is offended and makes a complaint to workplace management, that can trigger a hostile work environment investigation/resolution (which I don't have any experience in conducting, but it has some standardized protocols). It doesn't matter the intent (I didn't intend to cause offense to transgender people). The perception is what matters (I perceived offense/hostility towards transgender people). It's pretty standard stuff these days if you work for a paycheck.
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From Peter Coyote
Dear Ed, Linda Ruth, Reb, Steve, and Fu,
I’m writing to you because I know you personally and because you are all signatories or cc’d to a letter addressed to Ed Brown officially severing Zen Center’s ties with him. I was so saddened to learn this, because Ed was like all of you, (perhaps save Fu, who met at ZC around the time I began sitting there) a senior person at Zen Center when I arrived. I still hold him in the affection and respect in which I hold you collectively.
I’m writing to you at my own behest. Ed has not asked me to write on his behalf, but when I heard of his dismissal I called and request to read the email correspondence between you and him, and reviewed the tape of the one-day sitting where this incident occurred.
I have two reasons for writing. One concerns concepts of secular justice and the second is an institutional concern which provokes some anxiety I have concerning Zen Center itself.
You may not know, that for all of 2015 and part of 2016 I was working on a book of Suzuki Roshi’s unpublished dharma talks, which I ultimately turned over to Mel Weitsman. Though Suzuki Roshi died before I came to Zen Center, my year of intensive study, checking my understanding with Lew Richmond and Mel, nurtured a profound feeling for Suzuki-roshi’s practice and tenderness. I also sensed his affection for and curiosity about ‘the crazy young Americans’ who arrived to study Zen with him.
I know Ed Brown well, and through conversation with Ed Sattizahn and Ed’s correspondence with you I can understand the tensions he can generate. (Though, in my view, they are generally positive). I remember one day vividly, early in my practice, nearly jumping out of my skin, when Ed berated someone in morning zazen at unnerving volume. I realize that he is not always a tidy, housebroken bundle and I also realize and appreciate that he is an emotional man. That emotional wisdom may have occasional shadows, but it also illuminates the world in lightning-like flashes. I say this, remembering in particular his beautiful comparison of the dented tea-pots in the Tassajara kitchen with our universally bruised and wounded, but still functional humanity.
I have sometime felt that emotions at Zen Center tend to be regarded like an unnerving family secret. It’s been my experience that sometimes simple direct communication can be hindered by the effort to deny or repress personal emotion, as if the speaker were being graded for decorum. I mean this as a description, not a judgment, so I can understand how Ed’s somewhat boundary-free explosions could be disconcerting. However, I also know, that according to Okusan, Ed Brown and David Chadwick (another emotional man) were two of Suzuki-roshi’s “favorites.”
There was an article I read somewhere in which a senior student was complaining to Suzuki Roshi about David Chadwick’s lack of discipline in following the rules. No matter what he said, Suzuki roshi’s response was something like, “Perhaps he’s following them in his own way,” and he appeared unconcerned, even though he admitted it would be “better” to follow the rules. Having said this, I have to observe that it has been David Chadwick, perhaps more than any other of Suzuki-roshi’s more disciplined, less troublesome students, who has insured that the dharma talks and writings of Suzuki have been uncovered and preserved in good order for future generations.
Zen history and tradition as I read it, are replete with querulous, eccentric, difficult people. Dogen’s rants against teachers he considers flawed illustrate this. If Nanchuan killed a cat in the dharma hall today, he’d be picketed by PETA and I have to wonder if he would be defended by Zen Center? Imagine a contemporary Shen-Kuang standing through a snowy night without sleeping, sitting, or resting, begging Bodhidharma for the dharma, and then cutting off his own arm to demonstrate his sincerity. He would be committed today, or at least tranquilized, and certainly Bodhidharma was not renowned for his charm. Yet, these very beings, flaws and all, carried the dharma forward, passed it on without interruption and delivered it to us luminous and vast. Is Ed Brown’s ‘behavior’ really a problem of the order that requires banishment from an institution dedicated to the transmission of Buddha’s wisdom?
Even though I understand that there have been previous difficulties between Ed Brown and Zen Center, Ed has certainly never approached the human geography of sexual predator and purloiner of a number of Buddhists teachers. If we are waiting for perfect people to transmit the dharma we will wait forever.
I reviewed the tape of the day in question and personally, found nothing objectionable in it, but my opinion is not the point. This young woman was uncomfortable, I understand, but her discomfort might have been skillfully utilized as a turning moment, like Byron Katie’s story about the toilet seat. There are people who are “uncomfortable” with the schedule at Zen Center, with male teachers, authority, power, with Japanese cultural appropriation, but Zen Center’s usual response is to invite them to immerse themselves more deeply in Buddhist practice and to relax their personal preferences.
I realize that Ed sent the Abbatial Committee an email where he stated that he did not want to discuss this matter. I’m convinced he was hot-under-the-collar and feeling judged and perhaps shamed by being reprimanded. He is, after all, a transmitted peer and not an employee.
My point here is that as a senior, respected and well-known teacher and author, I would expect that Ed be offered the minimal courtesies and evidential propriety of facing his accuser, having the day’s tapes reviewed and speaking with other participants in the sitting to determine if the woman’s discomfort was Ed’s fault or a reaction to her own personal narrative.
There is a shadow side to all the positives of the # MeToo movement, and demands for sensitivity to victims of abuse and physical violence. The tide has turned so radically in their favor, that a simple accusation, without procedure or investigation, can remove a Senator like Al Franken from office for behavior which was at worst, clumsy and childish. He was not Harvey Weinstein, and neither is Ed. Making someone uncomfortable is not a high crime.
On the institutional level, I have a few other concerns. When Ed’s Tassajara Bread Book first came out, 30 years ago, Baker-roshi insisted that Ed sign the rights over to Zen Center. I would have to guess that that book, now renowned and a favorite among many chefs, must have made a great deal of money in its lifetime and been a significant source of income for Zen Center. Had Ed been a donor of equal munificence, in light of a single complaint, I would anticipate that Zen Center would have made a more nuanced and thorough examination of the facts than it appears to have done in this instance.
I have difficulty understanding why Zen Center appears to be so insistent on parting company with a famous, well-loved Buddhist teacher and author over the issue of a single participant’s letter expressing “discomfort.” I fear that a number of people who know and appreciate Ed’s work will be perplexed by this decision (as I am) and that not all will rally to Zen Center’s side of the dispute.
Ed appears to be very hurt, and I doubt that anyone at Zen Center is feeling unconflicted about your decision. Wouldn’t the long and intimate friendship between both parties warrant a cooling off period and then a discussion in the future after emotions have subsided? A temporary estrangement rather than the guillotine?
Suzuki roshi taught Zen as he learned it, and we all began by following his example, setting aside our small-mind perspectives and simply following Suzuki roshi’s way. However, I have to think, that since he left Japan, and expressed in some dharma talks, the feeling that practice there had become stilted, I’ve always assumed that he was trying to incubate an American expression of Zen on this continent, not recreate Japan on foreign soil. I imagine his intention as being in alignment with this quote from Yamada roshi:
“I expect original words from you. But we have to be careful at this point. This word must be expressed by a person who comes to the same mind as Shakyamuni Buddha. …Then the original American way can be naturally realized.”
The more closely I read Suzuki-roshi, the more convinced I am that he was the perfect translator of Zen for Americans. His softness and tenderness changed people on first meeting, and yet since in my time at Zen Center I don’t personally recall many dharma talks or lectures based on Suzuki roshi’s work. We study Dogen, for instance, but not Suzuki’s explanation of Dogen. As he appeared to be seeking a way to foil some of the rigidities of Japanese practice, we in America appear to be imitating it ever more closely, and I worry in particular about two Japanese cultural attributes— Authoritarianism and Hierarchy—a number of American Zen communities seem to have inhaled along with traditional Japanese practice and which appear to be the root of some problems. I worry about this, because these two practices morph perilously easily with American cultural preoccupations with Power and Authority. They have caused institutional stress in other Buddhist centers, yet I never sensed either stressed in Suzuki-roshi’s writing.
The fact that one woman was uncomfortable and may have misunderstood or misheard Ed, and yet, without corroboration or investigation, appears to be the motive for severing ties with him, doesn’t quite meet the smell test. Could there be an underlying anxiety, a sense that Zen Center must be “protected” from behavior that anyone might find disturbing, so that the institution can maintained blemish free? This feels dangerously close to protecting a brand rather than insuring that everyone involved is treated with kindness, compassion, and transparency.
A clash like this could be a useful wake-up call, perhaps an opportunity to review some institutional judgments, practices, and Zen “habits” that we, as a community, might now be secure and mature enough to revisit and determine whether they still serve us.
I thank you all for allowing me to address you and would be pleased if you find any utility in these thoughts. If you feel any impulse to reply I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Your old dharma-friend,
am heartened that the SFZC leadership expresses willingness to
also read Lichen’s letter, which gave specifics comparing what
learning to BE, via the Zen way, we need to begin to deal with
From this perspective, if Lichen’s record is accurate, what Ed
Department of Sociology
909 Social Science Building
University of Minnesota
Phil Benezra (from Facebook) --- Perhaps what is needed is Ed reinstated with a warning label. Something to the effect of: "Ed Brown is a deeply compassionate human being and cherished icon of SFZC. He often teaches in the honored tradition of "crazy wisdom". Anyone who is sensitive to what may be construed as inappropriate comments would do well to attend a retreat with another SFZC teacher.
From Danny Parker
Dear Linda Galijan and the Wider Sangha,
Most of you are aware of the episode in July, which in September resulted in Edward Brown being barred from teaching at the temples of San Francisco Zen Center.
As a long-time practitioner and one of the priests Ed ordained, I have been hesitant to respond to this incident for a long time. Like many controversies, it has had its own trajectory and power, inspiring considerable inflammatory language over the past weeks. Even though carefully watching, I have not wished to add to the fires.
However, now it is time for me to speak up. It would be hard to think of composing something more heartfelt than Lichen Brown's letter or thoughtful than that from Peter Coyote. Yet, this is my long-considered contribution; my intention here is to be helpful.
For sure this has been a sad event. However, in some ways it is unsurprising given the current societal sensitivity to sexual and gender issues, the foibles of our national leadership and, recently, even our Supreme Court appointments. Still, we are all in the world courtesy of our origin as sexual human beings. Given the ground of that awareness, I hope for compassion and healing. What to do?
My sense is that, to the extent we take offense, we create more
of it. The entire episode reminds me of Hakuin's accusation of
being the father of a child within the koan "Is that so?”
studied Zen Buddhist circles, this koan is more than a bit
The woman offended at Edward's talk felt affronted and further marginalized relative to her gender and station. However, that was certainly not Edward’s intention. It was a misunderstanding. Of course many others are upset with the events that followed leading to the censure of Ed Brown. There was damage all along the way.
I see the ensuing events as not surprising given Ed's sometimes antagonistic stance toward SFZC. His communication to Zen Center within the unfolding event was unfortunate. And yet, for my own part, I remain devoted and vested in his teachings. Indeed, I've edited a book of Ed's dharma talks over which I have labored for the last four years. I believe it to be a unique gift. The Most Important Point will be published by Sounds True in 2019.
So, I'm quite biased. We all bring our perspectives and they’re all, in some fashion, true.
That Ed can be angry and difficult is an established fact. He is visibly flawed-- just like the rest of us.
Yet, I cannot say much more about this, for I have my own weaknesses. Even before this event, Ed had anger toward SFZC. I do not know why—it’s not a new development. Could he work this out? Could SFZC work out their difficulty with him? I think good questions and ones worth of exploring.
But I know Ed’s heart. Edward Brown is an exceedingly good and kind man. And for me he is more: a lovely Zen teacher of what we embrace as practitioners of the Dharma. After years studying Edward's teachings, I have gained a deep appreciation for what he offers. It's quite wonderful and reflects deep insight into perspectives of our founder, Shunryu Suzuki.
As one of the original living priests emerging from Suzuki Roshi’s time, Ed has been devoted to his lineage. Since being ordained in September 1971, Ed has single-mindedly devoted himself to being a Zen priest and making himself available to others. He has written popular books on Tassajara cooking (which have immeasurably helped the organization) and edited a beloved book of Suzuki’s lectures. He has even appeared in a documentary on Zen and cooking which remains motivating to aspirants in Europe. Beyond a dispersed sangha in the United States, Ed often teaches in Austria and Germany and has considerable respect as a teacher there. At 73 years of age, Ed has steadfastly devoted himself to the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. He has no pension and Zen practice and extending the teachings is his only form of avocation. He has never held another occupation.
Although his relationship with SFZC had been fraught with periodic conflict, it is difficult for me to see what has happened as appropriate compassion in the Zen Center response.
In any case, I do hope all involved can come to some understanding or peace with this situation. Zen Center and the practice itself remains an oasis for many. For Edward, there is no divorcing the lifelong gifts that have brought him this far. Still, he would seem to benefit from entering into a more respectful relationship with the organization. As for SFZC, I hope the institution can further see into the situation to bring compassion to the shortcomings of the past response. Could we go from estrangement on both sides to apologies and a welcome home?
So where does that leave us? I cannot know. We make this