From Zen Buddhism to Preying on Vulnerable Women
The chilling story of Eido Shimano—a new ebook from The Atlantic
by Mark Oppenheimer, The Atlantic, November 14, 2013
Eido Shimano, the Japanese Zen Buddhist monk whose exploitative relationships with female followers over a fifty-year period were to tear apart the American Buddhist community, arrived in the United States in August 1960, at the age of 27, to study at the University of Hawaii. He moved in with Bob Aitken, a Zen teacher who had first been exposed to Zen as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, afterwards studying with leading Japanese masters. Shimano stayed in Hawaii for four years, then left for New York City, promptly to organize one of the country’s great sanghas, or Zen communities. Until the women he serially abused finally began to speak out, in the last two years or so, Shimano was a pillar—the pillar—of the New York City community of Zen Buddhists.
Bob Aitken, Shimano’s first host in America, is now dead. But in a handwritten note dated May 4, 1964, apparently for his own records, he recorded the reason for Shimano’s departure from Hawaii. This note, haunting in retrospect, foreshadows all the abuse that was to come.
Aitken and Shimano had jointly decided to volunteer at Queen’s Medical Center, hoping to learn a bit about mental illness. Two female Zen students from their sangha had recently been hospitalized there for “mental breakdowns.” That’s when a psychiatric social worker noticed something curious: a name from their case records—Shimano’s—was the same as one of the hospital’s volunteers. This coincidence was passed along to Dr. Linus Pauling Jr., a psychiatrist at the hospital, who investigated the matter, then reported back to Aitken that Shimano had played a role in the women’s breakdowns. Aitken claimed that he made his own inquiries; he was vague about what he found, but he became convinced that Shimano “had indeed played such a role” in the women’s breakdowns and was guilty of “ruthless ... exploitation” of the women.
“I felt,” Aitken wrote, “that if I confronted him with the evidence, he would deny everything, and the Sangha members generally would support him. Further, I was concerned about protecting the two women.” Aitken asked the advice of senior members of the Buddhist community. He even flew to Japan to consult with his own teachers, the legendary Nakagawa and Yasutani—neither of whom, it turns out, doubted that Shimano was capable of sleeping around, but both of whom seemed unwilling to accept that this behavior was really a problem.
Aitken never went public with what he knew about Shimano, not in 1964, and not for the next half century until his death.
Read ... The Atlantic
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