Leadership Statement Regarding Edward Brown
Dear Fellow Zen Practitioners,
Recently David Chadwick shared on his website cuke.com, his personal Facebook page, and the cuke.com Facebook page, a letter that was sent personally to Edward Brown by the San Francisco Zen Center leadership. The letter stated that, after deep consideration, Edward would no longer be invited to teach at San Francisco Zen Center’s three temples.
We understand and share people’s loving concern for Edward; he is our Dharma brother, and we care deeply about him as a person and as a teacher. We have old and deep familial bonds. We also appreciate the letter from Edward’s daughter Lichen Brown, which was a loving tribute to her father and conveyed her kind, strong and thoughtful concerns.
We have watched as well-meaning people in the realm of social media have taken up a conversation that has been, for the most part, divisive, inflammatory, full of anger and despair, with statements that are both inaccurate and incomplete. The quantity and intensity of the negative comments from across the Zen community has been unsettling and saddening.
We are writing this statement to our Sangha, and making it public, to fully communicate the process that was involved, including the steps we have taken, the obstacles we faced, the mistakes we made, and the path we see for going forward. We acknowledge that we have work to do to develop greater skill, clarity and compassion in responding to difficult or divisive situations. Our intention is to more fully embody our aspirations in terms of how we manifest right speech and right action.
We will begin with a chronology of events.
On July 28th, Edward offered a one-day sitting at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. On August 2nd Green Gulch received a letter of complaint regarding the writer’s experience at Edward’s one-day sitting on July 28th. Without our knowledge and without permission from the person, this letter was later posted on social media and on cuke.com.
The person describes that, due to two stories that Edward told during the one-day sitting, she felt it was hard, as “a queer woman and survivor of sexual violence” to feel safe at Green Gulch. She spoke of a lack of “respect for the experiences of diverse attendees.” She appreciated Ed’s ability to “weave laughter into his teaching”, but “not when jokes were objectifying or at the expense of people who hold marginalized identities.”
On August 8th the Abbots’ Executive Group, consisting of the spiritual and administrative leadership, discussed the complaint in depth. Based on this complaint, and in the context of a history of past complaints, and difficulties through the years with Edward’s uncontained expressions of anger and other issues, we felt that we needed to meet with Edward to discuss the situation and bring forward the possibility of asking him to cease teaching at SFZC.
On August 13th the Abbots group (consisting of past and present Abbatial SFZC leadership) met and also discussed this issue. They decided there was a need to do more due diligence and invite Edward to meet and talk before enacting any decision about his teaching at Zen Center.
At that time, we were not aware of the audio recordings of Edward’s one-day sitting talks, but we reached out to a participant in the one-day sitting to inquire about their experience of the day. They could not corroborate all that was in the complainant’s letter, as they had left the room for a while. However, they did confirm a sense of discomfort at some of the stories Edward was telling. They could see why someone would have been offended by Edward’s comments.
On September 19th, the following letter was sent to Edward.
Attached is a letter we received from one of the participants in your last One Day Sitting at Green Gulch (who asked for their name to be withheld). As a consequence of this complaint, the Abbots Group (current and former Abbots/Abbesses) and the Zen Center senior leadership (Abbots Executive Group, AEG) have discussed this letter as well as other concerns which have arisen regarding your teaching style over the years.
Central Abbess Linda Ruth Cutts, Abiding Abbot in the City Ed Sattizahn, President Linda Galijan, Tenshin Anderson and Sojun Weitsman wish to meet with you about this as soon as possible, if you are willing, to discuss this situation and any decisions that may arise from this. We will be sending some possible dates and times for this meeting which could take place at Green Gulch, preferably in the next few weeks.
Thank you for giving this your attention.
On the evening of September 19th, Edward began sending a series of emails to SFZC leadership. The first email began with an apology, and Edward said he would be able to meet. This email felt encouraging.
Early on September 20th and again on the 21st, before the leadership group had been able to respond and set a time to meet, Edward sent emails with an angry, disparaging and sarcastic tone that greatly surprised us, since Edward’s initial response had included a willingness to meet. In an email of September 24th, Edward ultimately said that he had “no interest in attending a meeting” regarding the complaint.
We recognize that the lack of an immediate response may have felt painful and disrespectful to Edward. We should have responded in a timely way and worked to set up a date and time to meet, regardless of the tone of his subsequent emails. We apologize to Edward for not getting back to him promptly.
In his email of September 19th, Edward mentioned that he had audio recordings of the one-day sitting, that we could listen to if we wished. On September 24th, Edward offered to share the audio recordings of the one-day sitting with us, which included many hours of teachings. We acknowledge our mistake in not immediately taking the time to locate and listen to the exact words used by Edward at the one-day sitting when the recording was made available to us. Many of us have since done so, and find that there is a difference in what the complainant remembers and Edward’s specific words.
On September 26th, we sent the following letter from the Abbots’ Executive Group:
We have received your emails in response to our request to meet to discuss with you the situation that had arisen due to a complaint that we had received from a person who attended your recent Saturday Sitting at Green Gulch. We are sorry that it has taken several days to respond to you.
A small group of us had wished to meet with you to hear from you and discuss this complaint. However, your response to that suggestion shows us that you do not wish to meet or have these discussions, and that there seems to be a reservoir of anger and acrimony toward those of us in leadership.
It is with great respect as well as great sadness that we let you know of the following decision of the Abbots Executive Group of Zen Center (Abbatial leadership, Chair of the Board, Tassajara Abiding Teacher, Officers, and HR). After deep consideration we have come to the agreement that, with this letter, we are letting you know that we are no longer inviting you to teach at Zen Center’s three temples—especially since the relationship you have now with SF Zen Center seems to be filled with such animosity. This will include any one-day sittings that are currently scheduled.
Over the years there have been many concerns voiced by students, those attending your retreats and lectures, and teachers, about your deportment from the dharma seat. In the past, you have been informed about a number of these complaints, which Zen Center has needed to respond to on your behalf. In discussion with the leadership of Zen Center, and in consultation with your teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman, we have now come to feel that your wish and need to express yourself fully, and the way you choose to do so, is not in alignment with the current needs and conditions of our community and what we wish to offer.
We do not wish to place unrealistic demands on you for a particular kind of speech, nor do we wish to dictate or monitor the content of your offerings. If asked we will suggest to those who wish to study with you at SF Zen Center to do so at other retreat sites.
We are very sorry for any unhappiness this decision may cause you. We too are greatly affected by this decision. We thank you for your many years of generosity, and continue to hold you in high regard as a gifted teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi.
Bowing, CC: Tenshin Anderson
Linda Ruth Cutts Sojun Weitsman
Ed Sattizahn Linda Galijan
Fu Schroeder Steve Weintraub
On September 28th, Edward sent an email saying that he had spoken with his Dharma Transmission teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman, he understood the letter from Zen Center, and that he had “come to a new sense of his part in all of this and had much to learn.” He said he regretted that there was, in his view, “no longer an opportunity to speak with one another.”
On September 29th, Edward sent a long email, which has been shared publicly, expressing his shock and hurt, as well as expressing his realization that he did not “listen carefully enough in the situation” of the one-day sitting. In this email he says he welcomes a chance to meet soon or in the future.
We discussed how best to respond, however we did not communicate immediately with Edward. Again, we apologize to Edward for not responding in a timely manner.
On October 2nd, Edward posted a statement on the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) member forum, which included the September 26th letter from San Francisco Zen Center. The letter from SFZC as well as related information subsequently appeared on cuke.com.
Edward is a respected elder in the Suzuki Roshi lineage. His teaching, writings and generosity are deeply appreciated. He is both a creative artist and gifted teacher.
Edward is the Abbot of his own group, Peaceful Sea Sangha, and has a successful independent teaching life away from San Francisco Zen Center. While Green Gulch has been a resource for him for offering one-day sittings to his students and the public, he has not been in residence at SFZC for about 30 years. The comments on social media that imply that Edward is being “ousted” from his home are not accurate.
While Edward’s relationship with San Francisco Zen Center over the years has been multifaceted and mutually beneficial, there have been times of contention and friction. As mentioned above in the letter of September 26th, over the years there have been concerns voiced by teachers, students and those attending Ed’s retreats and lectures about his speech and deportment from the dharma seat and at the practice centers. We informed Edward of those complaints when they were received, and SFZC has needed to respond on his behalf. In the past, as a result of these complaints, for a time he was no longer invited to teach at Tassajara.
Our September 26th response was in the context of this history of complaints, formal and informal, as well as the disrespect and inconsistency with which Edward responded to our invitation to meet. We reached a point where we felt stymied and had great reservations about continuing to engage in what had become a confusing and non-productive process. This decision was difficult to make. We made every effort to take great care in our decision-making process and to be respectful in our communications with Edward.
However, we now realize that we made a crucial mistake when the focus and basis of our decision shifted from the specifics of the current complaint to the history of difficulties in our relationship with Edward. These issues should have been addressed separately. We apologize for the harmful effects this lack of clarity regarding our process has had on Edward and on the wider community.
We acknowledge that there is still much work to be done to improve our process for dealing with conflict, including not letting things build up without consequences or attention. Over the past 10 years, San Francisco Zen Center has devoted time and energy to studying the best practices around conflict resolution, difficult conversations, sexual harassment prevention, appropriate teacher/student boundaries, giving and receiving feedback, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, working with trauma, and Right Use of Power trainings. Both students and senior teachers have studied these different ways to practice being upright, brave and skillful in the midst of painful situations. We continue to explore ways to further share and embody these teachings, and to embed them structurally in our temple life and organization. We are committed to this life-long path of deepening and refining our understanding, practice and effort.
We are left with two questions: Is there a path forward for reconciliation? Would we revisit the decision?
We envision a path towards reconciliation that starts with a face-to-face meeting with Edward, listening with respect and a genuine desire to deeply understand and learn from one another. We very much want to engage with Edward and to repair any harm that has resulted from this entire sequence of events. One of us will reach out to Edward in the next few days to invite him to meet with us.
In terms of revisiting the decision, San Francisco Zen Center has the responsibility and obligation to decide whether any teacher’s way of offering the dharma is in accord with the atmosphere of the temple and in alignment with our values and precepts. The responsibility for such decisions is carried by the senior spiritual leadership (current and former Abbesses and Abbots) in consultation with the three local Practice Committees and the senior administrative leadership. Once we have met with Edward, resolved the issue of the complaint, and made some progress towards repair and reconciliation, we will review our decision.
Perhaps we can use the uprising of attention to this issue as a moment to collaborate and share ideas on how to bring forward a questioning mind in the midst of varying views. We also feel that the intensity of concern and activation around this decision is conditioned by and may echo the conversation we are having in our practice centers and in the wider culture about appropriate sexually oriented speech and conduct, and the importance of respect for diverse experiences.
We vow to support each other in making mature and respectful statements about our views of what are and are not helpful and beneficial ways of expressing the teachings. There are many questions to be considered, such as when are certain kinds of jokes appropriate, what place does sexual content or innuendo have in a dharma talk, and how important it is to be entertaining. What is considered appropriate changes over time, as well as in different places and circumstances, and this is particularly evident in the wide range of views about how to appropriately shake up cherished beliefs and attachments without inadvertently causing harm, disrespect, or offense. We invite and encourage everyone to contribute to this ongoing dialogue about how to create forms of practice and expression that have the potential to truly effect transformation, both individually and collectively.
Our intention is to use the specifics of this situation as a Dharma gate to reflect deeply on all that we have learned, and to use that learning to better fulfill our roles and our vows.
We offer this statement for the benefit of all beings. May we continue to practice together.
Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts, Central Abbess
Rinso Ed Sattizahn, Abiding Abbot, City Center
Fu Schroeder, Abiding Abbess, Green Gulch Farm
Brian McCaffrey, SFZC Board Chair
Shinchi Linda Galijan, SFZC President