Saturday, January 30, 2010

Legs

Crankset
Crankset, 2007.

Since I started practicing zazen, I've developed an intimate understanding of my legs.

They're relatively long, a bit bent, and tend to settle into an uneasy spidery kind of configuration when I cross them for zazen. My knees are on the loose side, with my left knee prone to swelling, pain, and stiffness if I don't maintain the muscles in balance by some exercises at the gym. My calves are much weaker than my thighs, which are pretty strong, actually, because I do a fair bit of cycling when it's not winter. My left leg is a good deal more flexible than my right one. There are a bunch of little scars on the shins from various bicycle crashes and other mishaps over the years. Both my hamstrings and my hips started out very stiff, but eight months of regular yoga-based stretching exercises have helped, and now they're only moderately stiff. I can touch the floor with my palms with my legs straight, and with a little bit of encouragement, a nice fat zafu, and a couple of folded-up towels, I can sit for a half-hour in quarter-lotus without having to fight through a red haze of pain. Thanks, Mom, for the instruction on those exercises!

And the bastards hurt. Less now than six or eight months ago, though.

To start with, I could barely make it through a half-hour round of zazen in a fairly high seiza position (sitting on my knees with my weight on the zafu), had to take a few minutes to get up from it, and was left with a dull ache in them for the rest of the day. By September, I was able to sit through two rounds of zazen plus 45 minutes worth of teisho without too much pain, although I really appreciated a warm bath afterward, and felt them the next day. By November, I made it through a seven-hour zazenkai, although at the end the red haze of pain was back and the next day I felt like I'd been pulled out from under a landslide. By December, I was able to alternate between cross-legged sitting and seiza, and while there was still a fair bit of pain toward the end of the zazenkai, I recovered quite quickly.

Perhaps I'll be able to reach half-lotus in a few more months. If not, I'll be happy to be able to sit in quarter-lotus with relative comfort -- I can maintain my posture in it far better than in seiza or the Burmese position; especially in the former I seem to be correcting my posture almost continuously.

However, I'm getting a bit of a dawning realization about this. Mumon linked to an article about a Taiwanese Zen monk the other day, which mentioned a legend that Bodhidharma sat so long that his legs fell off. He also mentioned a scary pain in his hip another time. Sante-sensei, the senior teacher in our sangha, occasionally mentions pains in the knees. Shunryu Suzuki, when discussing samadhi, mentions that 'the pain in your legs will bother you not at all.' I've seen some folks in my sangha who have been sitting for over a decade rubbing life into their legs after a simple half-hour round of zazen, just like me. And some young, incredibly stretchy people who serenely sit in full-lotus get strangely pained expressions when extricating themselves from it.

The pain is not going to go away.

I've been figuring that all I need is practice and stretching, and eventually I'll be able to sit on crossed legs as comfortably as on the ergonomic marvel of an office chair my employer has supplied me. Yet from all those little hints, it seems like the pain in the legs is going to be there, to some degree, no matter how flexible you are, how long you've been sitting, or how deeply you've realized your True Nature.

I mentioned in an earlier post about a zazenkai I attended that something rather strange and wonderful happened during it: my legs were hurting badly, but it wasn't bothering me. I've been able to cultivate that a little bit even in my daily sitting.

Perhaps the pain serves a purpose. It's a lot harder to drift off into a reverie if there's a little ache there to remind me that I'm supposed to be doing zazen, not daydreaming. It's perhaps also a concrete way of experiencing and practicing the idea that 'pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,' and illustrates what, exactly, the skandhas of body, form, and sensation mean, and how they relate to cognition, volition, and consciousness.

So, lately, I've resolved to practice not fighting the pain, but accepting it and learning from it, and not expecting it to go away. I won't actively seek it, of course, and will continue my leg exercise regimen to keep it to a minimum, but I'm trying to lose my expectation of eventually being rid of it.

And if I'll manage to learn to experience pain without suffering, that would really be something.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Science, Religion, and Globalization

St Elie A Perdu Son Epée
St. Elijah Lost His Sword, Kesrouan, Lebanon, 2005

Some dead horses just have to keep being beaten. The science "versus" religion debate is a real vampire of a horse: no matter how many stakes are driven through its heart, it keeps coming back from the grave. I'm happy to announce that we can finally put all that to rest, because I've got it figured out.

I wish. But here goes anyway.

Historically, religion has had a number of distinct functions. The most important are:
  1. A building-block of group identity.
  2. A source of personal ethics.
  3. A source of meaning, transcendence, and growth.
  4. A source of public morality.
  5. An explanatory framework for the workings of society and the cosmos.
The reason we're seeing all the polemic around religion is that changes in our social and intellectual landscape have usurped its functions 4 and 5. Globalization and the breakdown of the (always largely imaginary) monoethnic, monocultural nation-state with one dominant religion have made it impossible to use any given religion as a source of public morality, and the progress of scientific understanding about how stuff works has obsoleted them as explanatory frameworks for the cosmos. "Because God says so" and "Thunder is Thor riding in the clouds in his iron chariot" don't quite have the effect they used to.

We now know enough about the cosmos that stories like Noah's flood, the Moon as a paradise where Shri Krishna cavorts with people who have accumulated enough good karma to be reincarnated there, or the idea that the world was created wholesale six-thousand-something years ago simply don't wash. To believe in them, you have to actively ignore a huge body of argument and evidence to the contrary. Scientific rationalism is simply much more powerful at explaining stuff about how the cosmos works. Similarly, religious arguments about public morality won't wash, because the public has very diverse ideas about religion. In its place, we've come up with stuff like the democratic legislative process, freedom of expression, public debate in the press, people who think they're pretty smart writing stuff on blogs, and that sort of thing.

Consequently, religions have been squeezed out of these areas. Regional differences are still great, to be sure, running the gamut from Saudi Arabia and Iran at one extreme and the Scandinavian countries at the other. Yet very Catholic Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and I hear that few Iranians attend prayers at the mosque regularly while stripping for webcams is a popular pastime among Saudi women. Conversely, most of the most successful -- richest, most stable, most peaceful, freest -- societies are highly secular in nature, both when it comes to public morality and to, for example, school curricula -- even if some of them have official state churches, and all of them play host to a variety of vibrant religious communities.

Yet I don't think religion itself is obsolete, because it still retains the first three functions in the above list.

Group identities are inherently problematic, yet they're fundamental to us as a species of social primate. Pretty much anything can serve as a rallying point for a group identity -- a flag, a leader, a language, a physical feature such as skin color, a sports team, a school, a village, a clan, an ideology, or a religion. All of these identities can be either constructive and positive, or they can turn destructive. Generally, the larger the number of people sharing the identity, the greater the potential both for good and for bad. Clan or village identity can provide an emotional, social, and physical support network, but can turn into vendettas or mass fights. Supporting a sports team can provide a social context, meaning, and excitement, but can lead to riots and fights with supporters of opposing teams, or economic exploitation of the fans by the people running the teams. Identities based on nationality or religion can make for stable, peaceful, secure, just, and prosperous societies, or lead to wars, oppression, exploitation, and even genocide.

The difference between public morality and personal ethics is a somewhat subtle but very important one. Public morality is what we expect of others. Personal ethics is what we expect of ourselves. Public morality defines the ground rules by which society operates. They need to be negotiated and agreed upon -- explicitly or implicitly -- by the people that make up society. Personal ethics are additional ethical imperatives that we attempt to live by, for whatever reason.

There is no external imperative for anyone to have a stricter set of personal ethics to live by than whatever constitutes public morality, yet many people choose to do so anyway, for any of a number of reasons. Public morality may consider meat-eating perfectly OK, but someone who feels very strongly about animal rights may choose not to eat meat on ethical grounds. A Buddhist might want to choose not to get drunk and not to lie, because getting drunk and lying screws up his practice, even if public morality thinks drinking and lying are perfectly OK, at least within certain constraints. None of this is a problem. It's not even a problem for the vegan or the Buddhist to try to bring other people around to their way of seeing things through open debate and discussion. It only becomes a problem if the vegan or the Buddhist attempt to forcibly turn their personal ethics into public morality.

Finally, and in my opinion most importantly, there's the search for meaning, transcendence, and growth. As with all of the other points, religious practice is not indispensable for this purpose: people have sought and found these things elsewhere -- music, the arts, science, nature, and so on. Yet for many, these things don't quite cut it. I, personally, have sought meaning and transcendence in all of these things, yet have failed to find it. I do not have the artistic talent, the capacity to appreciate music, or the determination to pursue the sciences to a sufficient degree. Yet Zen practice fills this hole in my life. I believe that I find in it what my wife finds when she lights a taper to St. Francis. I, personally, need ritual and practice for this purpose, and I am certainly not alone in this.

A purely rationalistic philosophy -- even Popper's critical rationalist one, which is a fundamental building block of my worldview -- cannot answer fundamental problems about existing as a human being, because it does not try to. Rationalistic philosophies -- among them scientific rationalism -- are incredibly good at discovering and explaining how things are, but they're incapable of even describing, let alone addressing, what they mean. Meaning is fundamentally internal, personal, experiential, and subjective, whereas rationalistic philosophies deal in the objective, intersubjective, describable, quantifiable, and testable. Rationalistic philosophies cannot even ask the questions "What is the meaning of life?" or "How do I rid myself of dissatisfaction?" because even asking the questions -- really asking them -- is a fundamentally subjective, experiential matter, not something that you can solve like an equation and then write down the answer. Words can provide pointers and suggestions, but not the solution itself.

Rationalistic philosophies are by nature discriminating and dualistic, and therefore have no words to express the nondiscriminating and nondualistic. Yet the nondiscriminating and nondualistic -- direct experience -- is fundamental to what and who we are. The rational approach can describe it, but in the end the best it can do is produce a beautifully detailed painting of a rice cake -- a description that includes everything about the experience except the experience itself. Some of us can find our real rice cakes in music, nature, or the very activity of scientific research. Many others need ways to structure, cultivate, and make sense of it. I believe that religion -- any religion -- can thrive in today's world by filling this gap.

Not everybody needs religion for any of these purposes, any more than everybody needs football teams, pieces of music, art, countries, or political parties. However, all -- or at least the vast majority -- of us need something, whatever it may be. Because we're a very diverse species, that something cannot be the same thing for everybody: I could not enjoy the benefits of football fandom because I don't care for competitive sports, while your average football fan might not get a great deal out of hanging out at a zendo while wearing a Jedi robe. This is not a problem as long as we have both Zen and football, and music, and art, and Christianity, and Islam, and good food, all of the rest of the stuff that makes life worth living. We only run into problems when religions attempt to impose their ethics into the public sphere, or, even more stupidly, to fight science on its own ground. There is nothing wrong about religion, nor the public practice of religion, nor the lack of religion. In this, religion is no different from, and should be treated no differently than, music or football. It only becomes wrong when it slides into coercion or fanaticism -- and these dangers are just as real for nonreligious identities as they are for religious ones.

References

The biggest single influence on my ideas about religion and its place in the human landscape has been Karen Armstrong. She's a former Roman Catholic nun who suddenly realized that she doesn't believe in God, left the convent, and started writing about the history of religions instead. She's written a quite a lot, and I've read most of it. Her scholarship isn't perfect, which is hardly surprising considering the enormous breadth of ground that she covers, but her underlying vision of what religion really is about is something else. I would particularly recommend The Great Transformation, The History of God, and The Battle for God.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Karl R. Popper and the Buddha

Ice Leaves on Fir Tree
Rime Leaves on Fir Tree, Helsinki, 2010.

Sir Karl Raimund Popper is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. He's best known for his ideas about distinguishing true propositions from false ones; what he called falsifiability and critical rationalism. However, the piece of his philosophy that most influenced me was that of nominalism as opposed to essentialism.

In Popper's view, Western philosophy went into the woods with Plato, and has yet to find its way out. Plato famously expressed his view in his parable of the cave: that the things we think of as concrete, real objects are in reality only shadows cast by the eternal, unchanging ideas of those objects. For Plato, a chair is any object that embodies the idea, or essence, of chair-ness.

In Popper's view, this way of looking at the world leads you to ask entirely the wrong questions. You start hunting for ideas, and then hunting for the essence of those ideas. You ask "What is the essence of justice?" or "What are the fundamental laws that drive history?" or "What is the essence of a perfect political system?" From that, you get everything from St. Augustine's New Jerusalem to Hegel's Spirit of History to Marx's dialectical materialism to Hitler's catalogs and hierarchies of "races" and all that that led to. (Not to mention endless Internet flame wars about semantics, which must have amused him no end, assuming he got on-line toward the end of his life.) These views Popper dubbed Platonic essentialism.

Popper proposes a profoundly different way of looking at the world. He called it nominalism. With it, he stood Plato on his head. Ideas have no independent existence or intrinsic value. Reality is a continuum. Ideas -- words, concepts, definitions -- are arbitrary categories we impose on them. We need them in order to be able to think and communicate, but they're only useful to the extent that they help us formulate and express ideas.

"If words and definitions are arbitrary," you might ask, "how can any two individuals understand what they're talking about?"

To answer this question, Popper starts out by pointing out that we're not starting from scratch -- to do so would be another essentialist misstep. We already have a language. We already agree about what words and structures in it mean, to an extent that meaningful communication is perfectly possible, most of the time anyway. That means that a lot of the time we don't need to bother much with definitions; we just write and talk, read and listen. However, especially when dealing with complex topics, we do run into this problem. This is precisely when arguments about semantics start, and ultimately lead nowhere except, occasionally, volumes upon volumes of incomprehensible books gathering dust in university libraries.

Popper's solution is simple and elegant: why not just negotiate the definition of each problematic concept as we go, in the context in which it's being used? We don't need to find the definition of "Justice" when talking about, say, whether universal health care is a human right. We only need a definition that's good enough for that discussion. If the discussion shifts, we can adjust the definition as we go. The point is that there ain't no such thing as big-J Justice; there's only justice and injustice, the definitions of which are fluid and dependent on context -- and both of which are, ultimately, human inventions. All we need to do is agree on the terms we're using for the purposes of the discussion.

When I first came across the Buddhist concepts of anatta, anicca, and paticca-samuppada -- no-self, impermanence, and dependent origination -- I was struck by how similar they were to Popper's ideas on nominalism. The Buddha, too, says that there are no eternal, abiding, unchanging essences, that everything changes and is in motion, and that everything is connected to everything else; that words and concepts are nothing more than products of the discriminating mind; a prison of our own construction.

Professor Popper and the Buddha set out to solve entirely different problems -- Popper, the conceptual difficulties that Western thought, especially science and society, was struggling with in the mid-20th century; Buddha, the problem of suffering. Yet both visited the same place, 2500 years and a couple of continents between them. Wild!

For more, see Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 1-2. It's available, at least in part, on Google Books; they're also available for purchase in most major bookstores on-line and off, albeit at a pretty absurd price. Your friendly local university library should also carry them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More on Karma

Probably Beyond Repair
Probably Beyond Repair, Helsinki, 2007

Karma is clearly one of the more complicated concepts in Buddhist thought. I've come across a number of what appear to be contradictory interpretations of what the word means, as well as trying to figure it out for myself. I don't think there is one "right" understanding of the concept; merely a bunch of different ones that make sense in different contexts.

The naive understanding of karma is something like "if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you; if you do good things, good things will happen to you." "Bad things" and "good things" are understood to be more or less easily observable actions and consequences. Tiger Woods sleeps around and subsequently gets whupped upside the head with a nine iron and loses his sweet sponsorship deals, not to mention his family. That sort of thing.

The obvious problem with this version is that it doesn't always work this way. Plenty of thieves and adulterers never get caught. Plenty of cold-blooded killers die in their old age in plenty and comfort while being hailed as war heroes. And plenty of people who labor all their lives for the benefit of others suffer and die in horrible ways.

Then there's the version that includes the above, more or less, but brings reincarnation into the equation. Some Buddhists I've read go as far as to say that it doesn't even make sense to speak of karma if you don't believe in reincarnation. The idea with this version is that any karma that doesn't ripen (i.e., produce visible consequences) in this life will get carried over into the next one, and will determine the conditions of your birth.

My main problem with this interpretation is that it assumes belief in an unprovable metaphysical concept -- namely, that there is some part of us that is not connected to our physical body, and leaves it after the physical body dies, only to inhabit some other body. I don't like believing in unprovable metaphysical concepts just to make another concept work out better, unless there really are no better alternatives around. They're a bit like bunging experimental constants into physics equations to make them balance out. There are philosophical difficulties as well -- if the self is a delusion produced by the five skandhas, whereas True Self is universal, then who, exactly, gets reincarnated?

Finally, there's the one that makes most sense to me: karma as something internal to every one of us. In this view, karma would be a bit like the shape the metal of our mind takes, and our thoughts and actions are like hammer strikes on it. Lying will hammer your mind towards the shape of a liar's mind. Stealing will hammer it towards the shape of a thief's mind. Acting compassionately will hammer it towards the shape of a compassionate mind. Every action, and the thought that goes into it, will leave a mark, and these marks ultimately determine the shape your mind has. Different varieties of suffering are inextricably linked to the shapes the mind takes: a liar's, thief's, killer's, or glutton's mind will, because of these very qualities, suffer more than a compassionate, patient, loving, or tolerant mind, even if the external consequences of the actions never manifest.

The real challenge is that it's very hard to know exactly into which kinds of shapes we're hammering our minds with our thoughts and actions each day. I may think that I'm practicing patience when in reality I'm only practicing repression; I may think I'm practicing loving-kindness when in reality I'm only practicing being sanctimonious. I think it's definitely necessary to practice the paramitas and observe the precepts, but there's a danger there too -- that of hammering yourself into the shape of a self-satisfied, judgmental, passive-aggressive, humorless, holier-than-thou "spiritual" type. This kind of karma can take a long time to ripen, and the fruits will be particularly bitter.

I think there's a way out: just letting your mind be what it is, recognizing your thoughts and desires and impulses for what they are, and learning recognize the effects -- desirable and undesirable -- of acting on them. As I wrote in an earlier post, I've found that I have modified my daily actions in many subtle ways -- for the better -- since I started to practice daily zazen, without making much deliberate, conscious effort to listen more, talk less, eat less meat, drink less alcohol, or lie less frequently.

This is in contrast to one change I made deliberately and with considerable effort: giving up computer games. I was playing more of them than is good for me, and it was echoing in my life in a variety of undesirable ways, but the action of eliminating that distraction was, in and of itself, highly distracting, and I'm not quite sure that the result was entirely what I intended. I have a feeling that in the long run that repressed desire may bubble up somewhere in some not-so-fun way. My mind did -- certainly still does -- have the shape of a compulsive gamer. That shape has a quite a nice stack of particular kinds of suffering attached to it. However, I'm not sure what my cold-turkey decision really did: strike a blow that would reshape that mind to something easier to live with, or just hammer it into the shape of a repressed compulsive gamer. The latter is probably not all that much better than what I started with: my goal was to rid myself of a compulsion, but I may only have added repression to the stack instead.

Either way, I'm observing it. At this time, I have no particular desire to pick up a game and play it. However, I am leaving the door ajar -- if I do get that desire, I will deal with it then, without deciding beforehand what to do about it. I think I'm a little bit more aware now of the consequences of giving in to the desire or repressing it, if it turns out that I'm not able to just acknowledge it and let go of it. I'll treat it as a karmic experiment, whenever I need to cross that particular bridge.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Death

Tree, Life Preserver, Bench, Snow, Rime, Mist
Tree, Life Preserver, Bench, Snow, Rime, Mist

Actuarially speaking, I'm hovering somewhere near the halfway mark between birth and death. Of course, I could bust an aneurysm and croak tomorrow, or I could beat the odds and continue some way into the three digits, but either way, sooner or later, I will die.

I remember quite well the first time it occurred to me that death isn't something that just happens to other people. I was about fifteen, and I was undergoing the kind of existential crisis that, I believe, most teenagers go through. I had ditched my childhood faith some years back -- as in, I no longer believed that there was someone who looks like Corwin's avatar sitting on a cloud somewhere, deciding whether you were naughty or nice and handing out rewards or punishments accordingly. However, I was entirely, profoundly uncertain about the whole God business. What's more, I was in Nepal, surrounded by a culture with a profoundly different approach to the spiritual than what I was used to seeing.

Nothing much else to tell about that. I woke up one morning and realized "Fuck, I'm going to die some day." It was depressing. It was also an important station for the train of thought that eventually led me to conclude that there's probably no God, and ultimately to the position that I've held for most of my adult life, that the very definition of God is so slippery that the whole question about her existence doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Then I pushed that thought away.

Eventually, some people died. Others got older. And the awareness of death slowly kept growing, from a little gnat at the edge of my consciousness to something that's just a little bit bigger every day. Scary shit.

We make up stories to make the scariness go away. Then we try to believe them. The Tibetans who first impressed me in Nepal are pretty big on death, and have a rather nice one. They say that we have (at least) three minds: the crude mind, which is what I'm using right now as I'm typing this post, the subtle mind, which is what I'm using when I'm dreaming, and the very subtle mind, which is what I'm using when I'm sleeping without dreams. They believe that when you die, your very subtle mind leaves your carcass and goes into an intermediate state called "bardo," wherefrom it will eventually be reborn in another body in one of the six worlds (understood either metaphorically or literally). (Unless you've become perfectly enlightened, that is, in which case it'll just enter parinirvana and exit the cycle.)

It's a cool story, but from where I'm at, it sounds just like another nice fiction to make death more palatable -- and it doesn't even seem to be particularly solidly grounded in the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy regarding the mind, never mind Mind. Not that I'm any kind of expert on that, of course.

Then there's the concepts of the four levels of enlightenment -- stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arahant, particularly important in Theravada Buddhism. The idea being that a stream-enterer has managed to conquer some of the defilements but still has a handful of lifetimes to go through to get completely clear of them, a once-returner is close enough that s/he'll only have one lifetime as a human to go, a non-returner is even closer and will be born as a deity in a Buddha realm, where s/he will attain enlightenment, and an arahant is someone who's conquered all the defilements and has no need to be reborn at all.

Those concepts make pretty good metaphors, though. They relate pretty well to our fear of death. Normal people hate the idea of dying, and would love the idea of an indefinite number of rounds around the block in progressively better states. A stream-enterer would be a bit like the young St. Augustine -- "Please, Lord, give me a chaste and moderate character, but not just yet." A once-returner and non-returner would already feel pretty comfortable about the idea of the end of their existence as an individual -- and an arahant is really, truly, genuinely cool with dying any time, as long as it doesn't cause anyone any undue inconvenience.

I have a quite a way to go before I'm anywhere close to any of that. The idea of dying scares me shitless, no matter what kind of spin I try to put on it. But I'm actually thinking about this fear "out loud" as it were, and that's gotta count for something.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Repression

Morning Light and Shadow
Morning Light and Shadow, 2010

"What's the most important thing you have to know about a machine?"
"I don't know, what?"
"How to switch it off."
-- Dialog between my grandfather and me, perhaps thirty years ago.
Being new to this whole religion/spirituality/whatever business, I've been spending a quite a bit of time looking into ways things can go wrong, because I know, and know of, a great many seriously fucked-up religious people. Some of them would probably be more or less fucked-up even without their practice; for others, I believe the practice actually contributes to their fucked-upness.

Take Genpo Roshi, for example. He's been practicing Zen for 38 years. He's the abbot of one of the biggest Zen centers in the USA. He's studied under some of the most eminent Zen teachers in Japan and elsewhere.

And during the past few years, he's gone into business with some of the shadiest characters in the New Age self-help scene, started to sell the Big Mind (tm) Process he has spent 38 years perfecting, and started to offer $50k retreats with him. He even renamed the Zen center he heads the Big Mind Zen Center. It used to be named after Kanzeon, the Japanese name for Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. Figures, I guess. Read all about it on Gniz's blog; he's doing a thorough job deconstructing it.

But what the hell happened? How did someone who's been sitting nearly four decades suddenly turn into a huckster? What about Chögyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher with impeccable lineage, highly respected teachings, and some excellent books, who ended up drinking and fucking himself to death? Clearly something went off the rails somewhere. And I think Genpo Roshi himself says exactly what it was, in his recent interview for Buddhist Geeks:
I became spiritual February 6th, 1971 with my first awakening, the first thing I did was cut off all the things I considered not spiritual. So I became not competitive, not aggressive, not angry, not harmful, stopped eating meat, stopped drinking alcohol. Became pure and now I realize that some point I had disowned all these aspects. So they came out in a covert way in all my life.
-- Genpo Roshi, in his interview for Buddhist Geeks
There's a name for that, given by a little Austrian guy with a pointy beard: "repression." Yeah, it doesn't work, and it does come out in covert ways. So now those aspects -- shadows, voices, whatever -- have all bubbled up, and the good roshi is flailing away madly in all directions. Here, I think, the real failure was with Genpo Roshi's teachers in 1971, who didn't recognize that he started to go off the rails and point him toward the tools available to deal with stuff like that. Now it's far more difficult to fix the damage -- and having been proclaimed "the highest-ranking Zen Master outside Japan," who would he listen to, anyway?

Repression, in general, appears to be a huge problem with spiritual practices. Not just sexual repression, but repression of everything that's considered "impure." Seems like you can't swing a cat without hitting a repressed "spiritual" person out there -- and in every single tradition, from all flavors of Buddhism to the Abrahamic religions via Hinduism, without omitting the various Wiccan new-age granolas or Norwegian black-metal types. The only difference is in what specific desire they're repressing. That ain't the way to go: you have to face this stuff and deal with it somehow, not shut it up in a box somewhere, nail it shut, bury it away, and imagine it stays there.

I also think that just about any spiritual practice worth its salt has ways to genuinely deal with this kind of stuff, even if they're tucked away in a dusty corner somewhere, ignored by most. Buddhism certainly does, but I'll leave those more qualified to elaborate on them.