The Dark Side of Zen

Nov 26, 2013

Golden Palace Kinkaku-ji, Zen Buddhist Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Credit Carles Tomas Marti on Flickr Creative Commons

Here in the West, Zen Buddhism is often where you go when you've concluded the religion you grew up with is marred by venality, hypocrisy, misogyny, patriarchal structure, and an insufficient commitment to peace and love. 

Buddhism seems to have less hierarchy and more commitment to pure enlightenment and oneness. So, what do Buddhists do when Buddhism falls down on the job?

Today's show delves into some instances of good teachings being used to do bad things, ranging from a sex scandal that tainted one of America's most influential Zen communities, to the role Zen played in the militarism of Japan in World War II.

We're not here to roast Buddhism on a spit. We also talk about the ways Buddhism has evolved to make some of these stumbles less likely in the future. 

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  • Mark Oppenheimer is the religion reporter for The New York Times, directs the Yale Journalism Lab, and is the author of several books, including his new e-book, Predator on the Upper East Side.
  • Dr. Jay Michaelson is Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches and the author of five books, most recently Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.  He holds a J.D. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a practicing Buddhist.
  • Dr. Brian Daizen Victoria is a visiting Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan, where he's writing a book on Zen Terrorism in 1930's Japan. He is an ordained Soto Priest and is the author of Zen at War and Zen War Stories