blogged about my recent withdrawal from a Zen seminary program with the Korean Zen Taego Order due to their recently revealed discriminatory policies and double standards with regard to women, gay & lesbian people, people over 55 and the physically challenged.
Being gay has always been really weird for me. The gay part in and of itself isn’t the weird part, but the reactions it elicits from people are kind of mind-blowing and something I’ve never quite gotten used to since I came out at the age of 15.
Until recently I was led to believe that openly gay people were welcome for ordination within the Taego Order, as were women. However, it was recently revealed that this wasn’t the case after all. During a seminary retreat in April, the issue of “no openly gay” clergy was brought up out of the blue after I thought this was a non-issue for the past 9 months of my training.
When I pressed for clarification I was told that I could ordain as a monk but that the Korean headquarters hierarchy would not recognize the ordination if they were to find out about me. So the compromise created by the overseas Bishop was that I could definitely ordain as a monk, but when in my gray robes I must never “engage in behavior that suggests I am either practicing or promoting gay/lesbian relationships” (whatever that means). If I did so I could be immediately expelled by the Overseas Disciplinary Board.
This “compromise” was described to me as a “middle path” chosen by the Overseas Bishop and I was told that I should (quoting an email here): be happy, be thrilled that you are now part of an authentic 1600 year old tradition...
Straight male monks are free to express affection to their partners or spouses however, and I assume they can promote heterosexual relationships. (Whatever that means).
Oh, and everyone was recently informed that female monks in this order have to commit to a life of celibacy. Not male monks, just the female ones. Yes, I’m serious.
I just found this out last week as did several females who were already in the seminary program.
I also recently discovered that no one over the age of 55 may ordain, and physically challenged people need not even apply in the first place.
The responses I’ve received to my recent blog post from people involved with this order have been overwhelmingly supportive, but most have refrained from making their opinions known to the powers that be due to fear of reprisal.
Those that don’t agree with my withdrawing from the Taego seminary have presented me with the following arguments:
Given the current culture and years of tradition with regard to these issues in Korea, I should consider this “progress.”
Pissing on certain groups of people instead of crapping on them is not a sign of progress. Human rights and Buddha Nature are unequivocal. Discrimination under the guise of religion or tradition is still discrimination. They can gussy it up all they want but it’s still wrong and has nothing to do with the dharma.
-I should work for change from within. After all, if I have a problem with the unequal treatment of women and gay people, why don’t I leave America and live in a country where gay marriage is legal?
Do I really have to respond to this one?
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A lot of Zen people get caught up in the idea of “authenticity” and love to geek out about lineages and Zen Masters and Inka and who’s recognized and who’s not.
Frankly, I don’t recognize any order (Buddhist or otherwise) that not only enforces discriminatory policies but also fails to make them clear from the beginning of one’s involvement.
I don’t care how old any particular lineage is. I do care about what that order or lineage teaches and what kind of ethics it promotes. Just because something originates in a foreign culture and has been around for a long time doesn’t make it superior to newer lineages, organizations or dharma centers.
As Western Buddhists we’re at a very interesting crossroads where we need to find a way to present the dharma in a way that makes sense to who and where we are right now. Trying to assimilate certain Eastern Buddhist traditions along with their accompanying cultural biases will only serve to further alienate people from any kind of spiritual practice.
We need a form of Buddhism that is inclusive and appeals to people’s best instincts rather than their worst.
IDP is a model for how Buddhism has to be presented and practiced in this country if there is any hope of it surviving and even eventually thriving. I feel very grateful to be part of a community that offers a secular, non-religious, non-moralistic and diverse opportunity for study and practice.
I don’t think that the Buddha had a religion in mind when he traveled around teaching for all of those years.
While I’m being accused by some within the Taego Order of trying to smear their reputation by speaking out, my intention here is to highlight the issues raised by my personal experience so that fewer people have to go through what I just did. There is a larger issue here that needs to be discussed and resolved.
Some people are now suggesting that I’m “too attached to my gayness” which is a complete cop out. What I’m attached to is fair and equal treatment for all beings. That’s one form of attachment that can potentially end suffering and not cause it.
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Fortunately when one door closes, another one opens