[This post originally appeared on About.com Buddhism on September 30, 2013. It sort of goes with the last post, on “Dark Nights and Dukkha Nanas.”]
I’ve written a review of Nothing Is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans, a new book by Zen teacher Barry Magid. I recommend this book highly to anyone already engaged in Zen practice, Soto or Rinzai. But I think a lot of what it says applies to other schools of Buddhism as well.
Part of the book looks at the question of “how good teachers do bad things,” or how teachers recognized for their insight can turn around and exploit students. This isn’t a problem limited to Zen, of course.
However, speaking specifically of Zen, it’s possible for a student to take a slam-bang nose dive straight into sunyata that leaves his inner demons/neuroses/issues unexamined and untouched. This is certainly not inevitable, and teachers I have known have all explicitly warned us students not to let this happen. But I know it does happen.
This is explained as being stuck in emptiness. The student experiences the ephemeral nature of self and the inter-existence of beings, but the heart of compassion does not open. Of course, the way it’s supposed to work is that realization of sunyata, the perfection of wisdom, naturally gives rise to compassion. I still trust that it does. But maybe there are realizations off-center from perfect that don’t quite do the job. Magid writes,
“Not only did realization fail to heal the deep divisions in our character, more and more it looked as if for many people, and in particular for many Zen teachers, practice opened up bigger and bigger splits between an idealized compassionate self and a shadow self, where split off and denied sexual, competitive, and narcissistic fantasies held sway.”
I should mention that Barry Magid is an honest-to-gosh psychoanalyst as well as a dharma heir of the late Charlotte Joko Beck. Normally articles and books blending Buddhism and psychology strike me as glib and superficial, but here is an author who understands both disciplines deeply. A lot of what he says rings true for me. Comments?