The numbers of women and men harmed by spiritual teachers in Buddhist and other religious settings must form a not insignificant subset of the innumerable beings Buddhists have vowed to save.  I invite everyone who has an opinion on this topic to join the conversation.



  • Kobutsu says:

    Congratulations Merry, I know how difficult writing this novel has been for you. I sincerely look forward to reading my copy.

    Well done!

  • Chris Beal says:

    [Note: These comments contain spoilers!]

    I don’t know if it’s appropriate to leave this here because it’s really about my impressions of the book — I don’t have any personal experience of sexual abuse in Zen practice. I wrote these comments not knowing that the “join the conversation” section was supposed to be about one’s own experience of this and now I don’t knwo where else to put them!.

    Self-published books are often poorly edited – sometimes poorly conceived and written as well. So I hesitated about this one. Amazon asked me if I wanted to see a random page, so I did. The one that came up described how the solidity of objects, for Iris, was beginning to break down and she was seeing light, especially in the Roshi. Except for my own writing, I’d never seen anyone try to describe this before. I took it to mean, as it had for me, that Iris was beginning to open – awakening was underway.

    So, it was a bit disappointing that the book didn’t go where the random sample led me to think it would. Since it is, apparently based on the author’s experience, I do wonder if she came to recognize these signs of awakening after the fact. In any case, though, I loved this poetic little book. I did Rinzai Zen myself when I was in my 20s (in Japan, and I was even younger than the protagonist here), and I so related to her state of mind – the longing for enlightenment and the confidence that if one is really dedicated, it will happen – and soon! I live on the West Coast and have only been to a couple of retreats here anyway, but I think the Zen here – virtually all Soto – has a quite different emphasis. Apparently, Iris (and probably her creator as well) found her way to California, so perhaps she experienced the difference first-hand.

    (As an aside, I had a couple of questions about the Rinzai Zen practiced at this Center. In Japan, where I practiced, the students faced into the hall when meditating, not toward the wall as in Soto Zen. Also, the stick was called a “kyosaku,” as I recall, not a “keisaku,” and an interview with the Roshi was “sanzen,” not “dokusan” – the Soto term for it. I wonder if these changes occurred universally in American Rinzai Zen or if there are differences even in Japanese Rinzai Zen temples.)

    Sandy Boucher, in her blurb, says that the Roshi’s behavior ultimately led to Iris’ disillusionment with practicing Zen and with living in a Zen center. I didn’t get that sense. I got the sense that Iris was disillusioned only in small part because the Roshi came on to her. Really, she was disillusioned because she had unrealistic expectations which she finally saw for what they were. She didn’t know what else to do, then, but leave. Maybe it’s true that, if the Roshi hadn’t been such a “tomcat,” she might have felt more open to discussing her feelings about her lack of progress, but that is only a surmise. I wonder what others’ thoughts are about this. (I’m talking here, of course, about the events in the novel, not what may have happened in real life, which I have no way to know.)

    This is not to excuse the Roshi’s behavior but only to place it in context. If Iris had not been a strong woman, she probably would have slept with the Roshi (he was, to her, a god, after all), and it all could have been a lot worse for her. She had the foresight to say to him, “It would end badly.” I doubt many students would see that ahead of time.

    And this brings up the whole issue of sexuality in the context of Zen practice. You have here a bunch of young people and a horny teacher, all without partners, and sex is very much on people’s minds! Why not use that passion, that energy, to become more aware and, ultimately, awaken? It seems a bit strange to try to ignore it and just focus on koans – sexual energy is, after all, life calling. But maybe the Roshi would have to be awake to the nature of this energy himself first – and it’s doubtful that he was.

    Anyway, these are some of my thoughts off the top of my head. I’d love to know how others saw this story.

    Chris Beal

  • Chris,

    Thanks so much for your close reading. It really warms my heart.

    I am not, under normal circumstances, the most spiritually trusting person, and so my opening to dharma in this lifetime was really only going to be possible under the best of circumstances. I didn’t have them at the training center I chose, and I’m afraid the repercussions have turned out to be life-long. (Special Karma covers the experience I had in the late 1970’s, but the teacher I wrote about continued his predatory lifestyle at the zendo up until last summer.)

    Our teacher (and his teacher) were trained at Ryutaku-ji, a Rinzai Zen temple in Japan, and I assume they brought the terms “keisaku” and “dokusan” from there. I did notice that San Francisco Zen Center uses different terms.

    I really enjoyed your blog site, and wish you all best.

    – Merry

  • Chris Beal says:

    Merry, Thanks for your response. I felt sad when you said that you needed to trust and weren’t able at the place you were. I myself had a really traumatic experience in Japan at a temple of another sect that I went to after I stopped doing Zen. I don’t talk about it publicly (yet) and it wasn’t sexual abuse or anything, but I felt that my trust was betrayed and the result was that I couldn’t even come near anything spiritual for a long time afterward. So I really do understand how trust is so important, and that is the real shame of what happened at the center where you were, not only for you, I think, but for many others.

    I do wish you the best in your life’s journey — and thanks again for a beautiful book. When I get to it, I’ll do a review for goodreads — and Amazon as well if I haven’t already (can’t remember).


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  • Special Karma is now available at Click below for the link.

    Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly

    Special Karma is a novelized account of my experiences in a Zen Buddhist monastery in America, the first to address the issue of sexual misconduct by a Zen master. Why did I write it as a novel and not a memoir? Good question! The answer is that I wanted to approach this material in a way that would give me a novelist’s freedom in exploring the vulnerabilities and shortcomings of my protagonist, as well as those of the book’s other characters, including the Roshi. As an avid novel-reader, I also hoped to harness the novel’s ability to create a richly detailed world, one that the reader can inhabit and explore.

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