Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Eido Shimano sues Zen Studies Society

On Jan. 3, 2013, Eido T. Shimano filed a $2-million-plus lawsuit against Zen Studies Society in the Supreme Court of the state of New York. The suit, which demands a jury trial, seeks to retrieve money and artifacts which Shimano and his wife Aiho claim were wrongfully withheld by the society.

With the support/donations of a willing sangha (community), Shimano helped to build Zen Studies Society starting in the mid-1960's. ZSS now has a New York City center (Shobo-ji) and a monastery in Livingston Manor, N.Y. (Dai Bosatsu). In the decades since Shimano helped to shape ZSS, he has been was widely accused (see the Shimano Archive among others) of sexual and fiduciary improprieties, which may now make it into the light of day in a courtroom.

It is not clear at the moment whether ZSS will fight the Shimano suit. As the suit itself makes clear, ZSS is not only disinclined to pay the Shimanos under their rich pension package, but is also seriously strapped for funds, whatever their inclinations may be. It is hard not to speculate that in order to fight the lawsuit, ZSS might be forced to sell one or both of its properties and thus, in effect, destroy the institution itself.

Zen in America ... and you thought "Dallas" was gone forever.

1 comment:

  1. ZSS has made no response, so my thoughts are probably premature, but ....

    Like some huge man o' war jellyfish, the issue has a hundred tentacles that droop into the social waters below ... each of them capable of stinging, none of them capable of summing up the entire issue. I can see steering clear of any commentary ... which will only lead to more commentary and more and more and more....

    Still, like picking your nose, it's hard to stop, no matter how many stinging failures occur:

    Shimano has clearly admitted, from where I sit, that Zen Buddhism was his chosen platform from which to enrich his life. The principles of Zen Buddhism could be skirted and manipulated ("enlightened attachment is no attachment" or "if you feel hurt, whose fault is that?") because, well, Zen Buddhism was just a tool, a gimmick and something with which to divest others of their hard-earned money.

    My curiosities at the moment center on:

    Aiho was once treasurer of ZSS. A treasurer has access to and control of incoming funds -- the funds donated by what the suit calls the "membership" of ZSS. Aiho and Eido are married.

    Given that, with precisely what funds did Eido pay for the artifacts he claims to have bought? Were they his funds -- funds that came from his salary -- or were the checks and other methods of payment drawn from the ZSS treasury? If they came from a ZSS pool, did that mean that Zen Studies Society was nothing more than a subfolder of the man called Eido Tai Shimano ... that he was, in fact, Zen Studies Society? And if this was the case, what rights to funding were retained by the "membership?" Was the membership an entity that received financial support only at the whim of Eido Tai Shimano, the de facto essence of Zen Studies Society? Was every artifact and piece of property solely granted as a means of expressing Shimano's largesse?

    If, on the other hand, this scenario is untrue -- if in fact there were divisions between Zen Studies Society, its membership and Shimano -- then where is the proof that he paid for what he claims are his goods with his own money and not the money donated by membership?

    The questions of money and ownership obviously leave out a hundred other obvious questions, not least among them, to what extent "Eido Tai Shimano (Roshi)" was or is any sort of upright expositor of Zen Buddhism.

    In the great Japanese traditions with which Shimano associates himself, the samurai (of which he claims to be one) had a code of honor (bushido) ... a code that sometimes led them to commit seppuku or ritual suicide. Shimano has not committed a literal suicide as yet (the jury is out on whether he has committed a metaphorical one). My guess is that he will not avail himself of the seppuku option: Seppuku is reserved for men of honor.

    The man is 80 years old and probably has enough money squirreled away so that he can afford to lose the suit in order to make his point: I am important.