Friday, June 7, 2024

Margaret Dempsey's Buddhism Experience - Part 02

As time went on, I became more involved with the Buddhist organization which meant more contact with its founder. Every couple of months we went to his home for an intense meditation retreat after which he would join us for meals. It didn’t matter how often I saw him, I never felt comfortable. There was something not right about how subservient other people acted around him. I saw the normally feisty independent Sempais turn into small children around him. All I could see was how they were giving their power away. I didn’t ask questions or challenge him because he was sharp and ruthless I knew he would humiliate me if I tried. I watched him do it to others.

It got to the point where the conflict between what I was learning about the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism and the founder became too much. I started to voice my concerns to others in the group about him and his methods of teaching. This changed the whole energy within the group. Suddenly, I was a troublemaker. I wasn’t high up in the pecking order because I had only been a member for a couple of years. Others in the group began to resent me voicing my concerns. I was regularly told that my ego was the problem. This caused me much worry.

In the end I left, not able to reconcile the differences between the lack of compassion in the head of the organization and the central role that compassion plays in Buddhist theory. But I was to return three times before I left finally. At that stage, I had been studying with the group for nine years. Quitting had a huge impact. For a long time after my life felt empty without the Monday and Thursday evening Kempo classes, the yoga class on Saturday and the meditation class on Sunday. 

During this time I was racked by self-doubt. Had I done the right thing? Why couldn’t my ego be as subservient as the others? Why didn’t they see what I saw in this man — the contradictions and inconsistencies between what Buddhism says and practices, and what he said and practiced? How could I be the only one to see it?

What I didn’t know was the effect that my voicing concerns would eventually have on Andrew, the person who first introduced me to the group. He slowly began to see the leader in a different light and to challenge him in a way he had never dared to do before. This was particularly difficult for him because he had been his student for 18 years. The reaction of the leader was to expel Andrew from the group. A few years later, the organization folded — its founder dead after being convicted of sexual abuse. All of which left its followers bewildered and bitter about the years they’d spent devoted to a guru who turned out to have feet of clay.

Googling the name of this organization still brings up a discussion forum of past students, trying to understand what went wrong. I rejected the idea of finding another teacher. I resolved to become my own teacher. I was determined to go it alone. In my mind all teachers were corrupt. I had seen well-meaning and well-intentioned people exploited by a cynical, self-deluded man. It angered and saddened me. It was particularly upsetting to read a post from a student who had spent many years with the founder, saying that he had lost the motivation and enthusiasm for life that being a part of the organization had given to him.

After leaving the group I lost contact with everybody. I felt I had been the cause of the movement breaking down, but did not know it for sure. Before I arrived, the group had been operating comfortably for many years. I came along and started asking questions and pointing certain things out. Slowly, but surely the whole thing tumbled like a house of cards. I felt vindicated, relieved that my gut feeling had proven right. It strengthened my commitment to go it alone without any teacher.

Soon after I was offered the choice of redundancy at work or a change of position within the company. The position I was offered was “number cruncher.” My heart sank. Given my weakness with numbers and logic, accepting the job was inviting failure.

So I accepted redundancy. My study of Buddhism had nurtured a desire to visit India. And I saw redundancy as a karmic invitation to do so. I wanted to do a retreat in India. I found a meditation center, which ran retreats in southern England as well as in India.