Big Mind™ Sucks (Part A Million)

I got an email the other day that I think really shows what is wrong with Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind™ scam. With the writer’s permission I’d like to share it with you:

Hello Brad,

Just wanted to say its nice to read your stuff and it was nice to read about opposing opinions on the issues of Big Mind™, whether it is right or wrong.

I have experienced Big Mind™ on two occasions, once in a small setting with close friends, and I must admit I enjoyed it and I agree I did have a wow kind of experience, experienced some trippy stuff, you could say experienced oneness of some sort.

My second time was on the island of Ameland and this time with Genpo Roshi on a nine-day retreat. Zen in the morning and Big Mind™ in the afternoon.

Overall I had an unpleasant and at times quite frightening experience and I have been trying to get to grips with it since.

The main issues were what I believed to be repressed sexual abuse, as there is a history of abuse running through our family, and also a running theme of confusion over sexual identity.

When I was unable to deal with what was coming up for me (this included thinking I was the voice of the devil or emptiness unowned) I asked to speak to a zen teacher I know. He suggested I speak to Genpo Roshi about it, not privately but in the group settings with about 250 people plus camera crew. Again I managed to do this after three days and felt it seemed right but I also think after it that I was in a state of shock.

It felt like at times that Genpo Roshi was in my head but maybe this was my delusional paranoia or another voice.

I’m not too sure what I am saying. Only that the retreat left me feeling pretty shocked, like I had taken an acid trip and very fearful of touching it again. My thoughts were wholly suicidal and I was glad to have my girlfriend and someone to talk to when I got back.

I’m left feeling very confused as if I shouldn’t question Genpo, as if he knew better than me, like he said at the end of the last session, “I have you exactly where I want you.” The final voice he requested was that of the voice of Vairocana Buddha. For me this felt like I was having heart palpitations. And then after a friend of mine dropped semi dead on the floor after he asked him to show him ‘mu’ dead. I stood and said, “I am gay.” But I didn’t mean it like that. I thought I was responding to what he wanted.

I’m not sure if you can make sense of this or offer me anything but it would be nice if there was further material on Buddhist practice and sufferers of abuse. Just wanted to know your thoughts were. Part of me thinks I should get a good therapist the other thinks fuck this shit I have had enough.

Thanks for your time

Here is my reply:

Thank you for writing. This is exactly why I think Big Mind™ is such a horrible thing.

One of the things that really bothers me is that Genpo wanted to talk to you not in private, but in front of 250 people and a camera crew. That is just rotten. Really, truly rotten. These things he is running are far too big. A sesshin with 250 people is no longer a sesshin, it’s a circus. And even if all 250 were not at the sesshin proper, allowing that many outsiders to attend even part of it turns it into a circus. The man is after publicity and sees you as a way of fueling his act. It’s utterly sleazy.

Sorry for the rant. As far as the specifics you’re taking about… It’s quite normal during Zen practice for hidden stuff to come up. Much of this can be sexual in nature. I’ve known a lot of people who report memories of childhood abuse or who find themselves questioning their sexual orientation. I’ve never experienced the former personally. But I have had a bit of experience with the latter.

I think the general norm as far as sexual orientation is concerned is to be either mostly heterosexual or mostly homosexual. You can be exclusively one or the other in terms of action. But in terms of thoughts and desires most of us have a bit of the “other team” within us. I certainly do. Since zazen brings up everything, that stuff’s gonna come up as well.

The problem with Big Mind™ is that it’s so focused on those Big Wow® moments that it forces you to go through this kind of stuff much, much too fast. If you go into it slowly the things you uncover have a bit of time to get processed. You’re like a paleontologist gradually brushing away the dirt until after a month or so you reveal the entire tyrannosaurus skull. If you were to just pull it out in one movement, the sight of it (let’s imagine you’re the very first human to see one) would be shocking and horrifying. If you uncover it slowly, you have a chance to get used to it before revealing the whole thing.

This is very important. Without this slow process, you can’t possibly come to terms with what you discover. All you get is a big nasty shock with no context. Or a big blissful shock with no context. Same thing.

I hope you don’t drop your Buddhist practice entirely. But I would very highly recommend staying as far away as possible from Genpo Roshi and anyone associated with him. He knows nothing. He isn’t in your head. He only has you where he wants you in terms of abusing you for his own greedy ends. The man wouldn’t know Buddhism if it sat on his on his face and wiggled.

A friend of mine recently told me that she thought it seemed like I had a vendetta against Big Mind™. I think that’s true. This is serious business. Big Mind™ is irresponsible and dangerous.

But there is a lot of irresponsible and dangerous stuff going on in the world of this type of cheesy vaguely Eastern feel-good-now spirituality. The reason I have focused so much attention on Genpo Roshi’s rotten Big Mind™ scam is because it pretends to be related to Zen. Not only to Zen, but to the Soto tradition of Master Dogen. Genpo has even stolen Suzuki Roshi’s phrase “big mind” — first used in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind — and trademarked it for himself (SFZC really should make a legal complaint about that, since they own the copyright to Suzuki’s works). But Big Mind™ has nothing whatsoever in common with real Zen practice.

It’s not related to real Zen practice because Big Mind™ is focused on having some kind of special experience, a massive and exciting moment of spiritual orgasm. Zen practice has no relation to these moments. They are not the goal, just a distracting side road.

After that first exchange the guy wrote me another email that said, “I don’t want to appear hateful. My overall concern with these big experience as you say is that they put the experience over and above the welfare of the individual. This seems to show little concern for what happens after. I mean shouldn’t it carry a danger warning, or have therapists on standby or a hotline to call afterwards? You are just stripped clean then sent on your way.”

My sentiments exactly! It’s not nice to mess with people’s heads this way. And Genpo Roshi and his team are not nice people. They’re charging big money for a very dangerous experience without taking even the least degree of responsibility for the damage they do. Even traveling carnivals have more concern over safety.

There is no sense in me trying to convince anyone else to believe what I believe about this Big Mind™ horseshit. Nor can I stop anyone from trying it, no matter how much I wish I could.

I can’t convince you to accept my opinion. But I can make it very clear what my opinion is. And I hope that by doing so I might encourage others, particularly other Zen teachers, to speak out against this abuse of Buddhism.

Some people think it’s a violation of the Buddhist precepts to point out garbage like this for what it is. Genpo and his buddies count on this mistaken interpretation of the precepts to intimidate those who ought to speak out against what so many of us can see clearly is abusive and harmful. I don’t agree with that interpretation. This is some very nasty shit. And all of us who teach Zen are implicated in it by association. Our silence allows it to continue.

Fuck you Genpo Roshi.

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346 Responses

Page 7 of 7
  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie May 4, 2010 at 5:49 am |

    Anon 8:55:

    "I love the idea of Zen centers having a mental help hotline number available. Good way to own up to it!"

    But it may well be the 'sick' people telling the 'healthy' ones to 'make that call'.

    Yes!! Exactly.

  2. gniz
    gniz May 4, 2010 at 6:30 am |

    Hey Stephanie,

    I'm hoping to get people some info before they reach the "falling in love" stage. Maybe when they're just thinking of joining Genpo on one of his retreats–maybe all they know is some cool Genpo article they read in Tricycle–they do a little googlin' and see some of this discussion, read my blog or Brad's. Then maybe they have a second thought about that particular retreat and instead go to their local zen group down the street.

    Like I said, if someone has the info and decides to join up with Genpo or Andrew or anyone else–far be it from me to stop them from whatever journey they need to take.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2010 at 9:41 am |

    Your breakfast muffin is not dangerous.

    Tell that to the 3000 people a year who choke to death on food.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 4, 2010 at 2:52 pm |

    Repeat…lets find out if the Big Mind ™ set up requires that subjects not only fork over $$$ but also requires that they sign paperwork releasing BM from all liability and renouncing their rights as citizens to sue or mediate for damages.

    NO licensed therapist or physician requires us to sign that same kind of paperwork. That paperwork is the way to tell if BM is nothing more than another EST style large Group awareness training that happens to dress itself up in Zen costume.

    Here are examples of what these release forms issued by other LGATs look like.

    Find out from former BM participants if they have ever seen or signed this kind of paperwork.

    **So lets find out if BM participants must sign this kind of paperwork or not. If so, this is enough to reveal the cover the ass commercialist mentality behind BM.

    Find out whether participants in BM (trademark) must sign a release of liability form
    that looks anything like these. I have attended several sesshins and vipassana retreats and
    have never in all my years, ever had to sign anything like this.

    James Rays Release of Liablity Form—The Anticult October 10, 2009 5:31 PM

    http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,77450,77484#msg-77484

    Byron Katies release of Liability form

    From Garden of Even, February 14, 2009

    http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?12,12906,65871#msg-65871

    (note this is a discussion of Byron Katie, but you can substitute the name of any other entity using a form resembling the one her org (also tradmarked to death) uses)

    (quote)the buzz-word that they use for all of these techniques. VOLUNTARY. That is the same buzz-word they used when the details first came out about what went on in these seminars.
    No one is saying people are being forced a gunpoint to do anything. Its all about very sophisticated PERSUASION, much of it unconscious. There is social pressure, emotional pressure, philosophical pressures (unquote)

    (A tiny excerpt from a longer analysis of the Work release of liablity by The Anticult, given February 15..read the entire thing)

    Landmark Education’s liability release by vlinden February 3rd 2008

    http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?4,52634

    PSI Seminars Waiver
    steve989 –January 3rd 2009

    http://forum.rickross.com/read.php?4,36040,64258#msg-64258

    Put your hopes in the practice not in a famous teacher.

    Bernie Glassman does mean well but his face shows up in adverts along with Ken Wilber and Genpo and Kenny not yet repudiated Andrew Cohen. And theres the Gafni matter.

    He's done great work, but he needs

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2010 at 12:01 am |

    I have been meditating since I was 14, I am 63 now, I have studied with Genpo for 9 years. I have found that I have more awareness of my mind because of Big Mind. I don’t buy into the automatic responses to life’s little dramas . I see “oh yea there the voice of the hurt child, or the insecure disowned ego”. There are endless voices to be looked at. This is all supplemental to Zen practice, Big Mind isn’t a stand alone process, without meditation it is just a interesting experience. What Genpo does is provide a way for people to look at what they don’t want to look at, and by owning it, by getting a handle on it, those voices don’t run their life. The transcendent voices ”Big Mind” “ Big Heart” “ The Way” are the result of getting past the blocks to experience them. It isn’t Enlightenment, it is more like a flight simulator, creating a environment for the mind to move freely through space in any direction or time.
    The sesshins I’ve attended aren’t that expensive, for Zen retreats, the people there are most aware, sincere people with strong integrity, and belief that Big Mind will be a catalyst for awakening humanity. An boy does humanity need to awaken quickly.
    I ve never seen anyone get neglected or not given great attention if they need it, on any level.
    The kind of thinking that the person who had a bad experience, sounds like they would have had a similar experience at any long retreat. Usually there are so many
    licensed therapist at his events its hard to tell who isn’t one.

  6. Charlton
    Charlton May 5, 2010 at 10:31 am |

    Okay, there are 305 comments and I can't find the damn article that got it all started. could someone more savvy than me post a link the the shitstorm starter? thanks.

    okay, I think Brad and this dude Genpo Roshi should get into a Rock 'em Sock 'em robot debate. It might be a bit beneath Genpo, but from what I've read I think Brad would dig it. Perhaps a game of Ginip Gonop (is that the right spelling)? what about a bowling, bocce, or curling tournament.

    Hmmmm?

    Brad i appreciate your commitment not to tell anyone what to do, or how to do it.

    "Alas, nothing is sacred except the integrity of your own mind." Probably fucked up the quote from Emerson. Sorry if I did.

    I like the warning I once read "beware of psychological acrobatics" or something like that from Ernest Holmes.

    Peace. Keep those lovely comments coming.

  7. Charlton
    Charlton May 5, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    hey, I just looked out my back door and it's time to pick up dog shit. Hmmm. i think that sounds kinda zen. What do you think Genpo Roshi would charge for me to pick up his dog's shit? Should i charge someone for the "opportunity" to have a pure being moment in my own back yard. hell, I might be able to pay some bills.

    What's the going rate for picking up dog shit as an "enlightenment" experience?

  8. Charlton
    Charlton May 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm |

    hey, I've just picked up dog shit in my back yard. I had an "AH HA" moment. Can I make the same kind of money offering that as "an experience" that Genpo Roshi makes doing his thing? I actually think that the dog shit thing is on par with the thingy thing he does…didn't want to mention names lest that get you in more trouble…and I can't find the TM or R marks for ancient wisdom…oh well.

    Brad, I think you could and should challenge him to a game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, followed by a monster movie trivia showdown, a game of bowling. That would be cool.

    Peace.

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2010 at 4:33 pm |

    Wow, uhm I don't want to be anonymous but I don't really feel the necessity of creating an account. Suffice it to say that my name is rob and i'm from nova scotia.

    I've struggled with this idea about the honesty of Brad's self projection before this came up, actually before I read this blog.

    I think the idea of Brad using his punk roots as a means of attracting people is utterly ridiculous given the extreme minority of people who still do or ever gave two shits about hardcore punk.

    That being said, it is what first attracted me to his literature after I heard him on CBC's radio show Tapestry with Mary Heines. Like Brad I have been and still am in to hardcore punk rock, but I definitely feel like a minority, amongst people my age, in this regard. If it is trying to be said that he's attempting to be some kind of look at how unique and separate I am from the other teachers so buy my shit, I can't really believe that this is the case either.

    Back to my original thought… I have read Brad's first three books and I simply enjoy them because I can somewhat relate to his search for honest material and a path with integrity. I try to learn from him but I already knew for myself that if I want what he's got I'm gonna have to sit on my cushion and have someone on hand to show me how to do so until I'm comfortable with it myself. My message…? I guess is just that Brad's integrity is not a reflection of my own and therefor not worth worrying about.

    Thanks for the books Brad, there are no Zen people in my neck of the woods so I will be sitting alone for the time being.

    Oh and to the person who was shitting on therapists… uhm bud? They're just people you know? Like if you wanted to research literature, I'd hope you'd ask a librarian before you asked a twelve year old. People have to learn their disciplines, and the people who seek advice from professionals are responsible for their own seeking. Don't be such a jack ass.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 5, 2010 at 4:37 pm |

    Rob again, from Nova Scotia. Maybe I'm wrong here but I don't think so… A lot of you people seem way too obsessed with what teachers are responsible for. Trust me, it's a lot more relaxing, after a while, toworry about your own responsibility and forget that of others.

  11. Charlton
    Charlton May 5, 2010 at 8:56 pm |

    okay, I suck. I wanted to post and I've been having trouble. I think Genpo Roshi should drink more tequila and Brad should challenge him to a Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot challenge.

    life is too serious to be short….or something like that. J. krishnamurti emplored everyone to be light to themselves…and we all have the potential to defer. Oh well.

    I picked up dog shit today. that's Zen to me. Can I charge to share that experience…fuck…it's like little Tommy Sawyer fucking with his friends to get those schmucks to do his work. Brilliant. fucking brilliant. Oh, fuck….I've been cursing a lot for some douche bag that reads Zen and still listens to punk motherfuckers crank out tunes. i'm a generation past Minor Threat and Fugazi, lean towards bouncing souls, No use for a name and Dropkick Murphy's … awww fuck it..

    A wise motherfucker i knew once told me to shut the fuck up and listen…his words not mind. I did. It worked.

    my rant is done and I am now off to watch another episode of Lost…yes reruns…I know…does it matter…digital shit last for a long, long time….

    oh yeah…it's Cinqo de Mayo on the buddhist calender as well…

    fuck. I hope this posts…the magic words that are blurred and squiggled look like "poronasshole" but I can't be sure until I type it in the 'word verification' box…and when i say "world verification" i hear the voice of Eddy Murphy (a Rinzai Buddhist) saying, "I'm not gonna fall for the banana in the tail pipe trick -his white voice…

    happy cinqo

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm |

    Again, could someone who has been through Big Mind report on whether they were or were not asked to sign paperwork in which they waived/surrendered any right to mediate or litigate for damages in case they incurred harm during a Big Mind event?

    No therapist ever asks us to sign such stuff. Also therapists and health care providers must follow legally mandated guidelines to protect patient or client confidentiality/privacy.

    You are told in advance whether you may be photographed or recorded and given time to refuse.

    When I was at a gym and two different zendos, we were told a photographer might be there and were told in advance, in case any of us did not want to be part of the film or still photos.

    Never mind what you subjectively experienced at the event, by way of breaktthroughs or enlightenment.

    Just tell us details about the paperwork.

    This question is still pending.

  13. Connie
    Connie May 9, 2010 at 9:12 am |

    My BM experience is a totally different one. I've been on Ameland twice. I consider Big Mind as a valuable extra skillful means which enhances my sitting – to study the buddha…etcetera….And no, it is not about having a great big spiritual orgasm. So maybe, instead of judging, you should simply try it and then decide if it's for you. Or not.
    Love from Amsterdam…

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 1:41 am |

    Brad,
    I am a Soto zen buddhist and I have never felt comfortable with "Big Mind" or thought that it was buddhist. I have experienced a more traditional Japanese training and training from an American lineage that has created it's own style and practices. I am often thinking about both and the evolution of zen in America. I wonder how it will change in the next 100 years..

  15. Renegade
    Renegade May 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm |

    For the person who asked basically why isn't Merzel being sued…watch this space. He is going to be sued and I have also been contacted by the UK Charities Commission concerning potentially fraudulent practices by him and his organization in the UK and that would be a criminal, not a civil matter.

  16. Stuart
    Stuart May 26, 2010 at 8:38 am |

    anon #108 said…
    In fact, all are (provisionally) true, but none of the three views can entirely capture or expresses the ineffable nature of reality.

    Example: when you're hungry, it's generally irrelevant whether you entirely capture or express the ineffable nature of reality. When you're hungry, you eat.

    Stuart
    http://stuart-randomthoughts.blogspot.com/

  17. Anonymous
    Anonymous June 29, 2010 at 3:21 am |

    Look what it says about Genpo on Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Genpo_Merzel,
    "In 1990 Merzel was accused of sexual misconduct by his students at the Kanzeon Zen Center in Bar Harbor Maine, where he was abbot, and asked to leave, which he did. The center subsequently closed; Merzel and his wife divorced."
    Looks like Big Mind is just a new way for Genpo to screw students.

  18. Ian
    Ian July 1, 2010 at 8:47 am |

    There is a fine Buddhist practice, it's called 'loving-kindness'. There is, sad to say, little evidence of it on this blog.

    It seems to me no matter how one views 'Big Mind' Genpo Roshi is no tyro. He is steeped in the Zen tradion, is bona fide lineage holder and his numerous successors are, as far as I know, fine teachers in their own right. What then is the problem? No one is being forced to go and study with Genpo, they will either benefit from it or not, in which case they are free to look elsewhere. I see no problem with this.

    I can't help but wonder why you, Brad, are so stuck on this issue. Perhaps you should go to a 'Big Mind' retreat and see if it's really the evil thing you believe it to be? In any event, time to let it go maybe? It must be causing you no end of suffering.

  19. Sheryl Lee
    Sheryl Lee July 11, 2010 at 6:43 pm |

    I was at BMWZ today, with my stepdaughter for whom it was a first experience of "Buddhism."

    Your post clarified my misgivings perfectly. I kept asking myself, "Is this really Buddhism?", and because I originally took refuge in a Tibetan tradition, I held my reservations in check. Maybe, I thought, I just don't know what Zen's all about.

    But the Big Wow thing is right on the mark, and entirely antithetical to any Buddhism I've ever encountered.

    I need to find a group to sit with in Salt Lake City, as I live here now. I wasn't impressed with the Tibetan temple, but maybe I'll give it another go.

    Thanks for your post.

  20. David Savage
    David Savage August 10, 2010 at 2:16 pm |

    Here's some more fuel for your fire, Brad (as if you need any):

    I'm reading the book Gnarl!, a collection of science fiction short stories by Rudy Rucker (Sr.) The first story, "Jumpin' Jack Flash," was written in 1976 and first published in 1983. The story contains the phrase "Big Mind," which I think is used in the story in the same way that Genpo Roshi uses it. So I think Rudy Rucker used the term before Genpo Roshi did.

    Oh, after doing a web search I learned that Suzuki Roshi used the term, although not with initial caps, in a talk on August 12, 1971 (two days from now it will be exactly 39 years since he used the term). See http://www.cuke.com/Cucumber%20Project/lectures/srl-71-08-12LE.html.

    Oh, and "big mind" is also mentioned in the Vedas according to http://www.torahveda.org/. I think that definitely predates Genpo Roshi's use of it. Unless we are living through Groundhog Day over and over again.

    🙂

  21. Evan
    Evan September 6, 2010 at 8:32 am |

    Were any of you at the event?

    Have any of you done the Big mind process?

    Do any of you understand Ken Wilber's Integral Theory?

    Have any of you done Andrew Cohen's evolutionary enlightenment process?

    This Buddha says (since ya'll so value the punk aesthetic) SHUT THE FUCK UP!

    Deep bow

  22. Renegade
    Renegade September 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm |

    Yes Evan, some of us have tried this Big Con nonsense and speak from experience. I also trained with Genpo for over a decade and saw first hand how he slept with students, tried to rebrand a questionable therapeutic technique as a shortcut to enlightenment and took money from a cult group that he was on the board of. The argument that one has to experience a questionable practice in order to know that it's questionable is not valid by the way since the very assumptions behind the process are directly contradictory to Buddhism and Zen in particular. Just because a million flies might do it, you don't have to eat crap in order to know it's not healthy.

  23. Michael Ortiz Hill
    Michael Ortiz Hill September 19, 2010 at 7:59 pm |

    Well gee — as a long time Zen practitioner (over thirty years, two years as a hermit) I have foung Genpo quite helpful. I stumbled onto a DVD of the Big Mind process halfway through a 2 month solitary retreat and it was most useful in cutting through worlds of striving. Confess I cant relate to the complaint and bitchiness. I certainly know what it is to be overwhelmed by the demons of a violent childhood, etc, in zazen but such is the path of surrender.
    May we all sustain each other cause its damn hard this PRECIOUS human birth.

  24. tomak
    tomak September 28, 2010 at 9:26 am |

    Genpo Roshi OK

  25. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm |

    most of these words read like 'the pot calling the kettle black'.

    It is my observation that if Genpo Roshi was not making money and was not connected to a few certain people, most of you would not have anything to write. What does that say about you? Shouldn't you be more interested in why you care so much about what Genpo is doing, if you call yourself a buddhist?

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 25, 2010 at 7:33 am |

    Thank you Brad for saving me! I've almost fall in a trap of "Big Mind". Guess that I'll stick with Shunryu Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh books.

    Greetings,
    Luke

  27. shurim
    shurim December 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm |

    Hey peeps. I recently stumbled across this blog page. It was the first negative criticism of "Big Mind" I'd seen. So I checked it out. I had no idea there was such a deluge of passionate rejection of Genpo Roshi's ideas. I found some of the comments somewhat childish, but many not so. It seems that some believe Big Mind to be dangerous and ineffective. I'm no expert, but I do know that Voice Dialogue [that constitutes the backbone of big mind] has never shown any signs of being dangerous and is extremely effective. The fact that Genpo is an accomplished traditional Zen master would seem add weight to his ideas. Also the fact that they are so highly acclaimed by Hal and Sidra Stone, Ken wilber and many such accomplished people makes words like "scam" hard for me to swallow. I'm sorry to say I had never heard of Brad Warner before either. That siad, I'm writing out of a genuine desire to understand your arguments. So please address the concerns I mentioned above, if you feel so inclined. Thanks

  28. Renegade
    Renegade December 18, 2010 at 1:32 am |

    Shurim, please educate yourself. Big mind is nothing but a nonsense therapy renamed and sold as a shortcut to awakening. Add to that Merzel's abuse of students, his working with people like James Arthur Ray and his taking money from cult groups, not to mention him sleeping with students and engaging in hate campaigns and you have a snake oil salesman, not a Zen master, let alone a Zen teacher. The guy is a fraud, a criminal and a liar.

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 3, 2011 at 11:18 pm |

    I stumbled onto this blog and what an eye opener it's turned out to be. In my encounters with Buddhists face to face they have almost always been thoughtful and courteous people, and yet here there is so much hatred and poison! Some of the writers in particular seem so vicious it is shocking. Renegade in particular seems to have some serious problems to work through. The whole blog is so sad, I won't be visiting again.

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    Dennis "Genpo" Merzel recently admitted to a multiyear affair with one of his students and most recent successor KC "Kyozen Sato" Gerpheide for several years.

  31. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 4, 2011 at 2:08 pm |

    This is only the latest affair. Genpo was thrown out of Bar Harbor for one back in the nineties with Shozen Macnamara. It's amazing how doing that is seen as fine but talking about what these charlatans do is somehow 'poisonous' or those who are exposing these people are labelled as having issues lol.

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 6, 2011 at 10:56 am |

    On January 20th, 2011 Merzel admitted to a multiyear affair with KC "Kyozen Sato" Gerpheide one of his students and successors during his annual retreat in Ameland, Holland. During the time in question Gerpheide received Dharma Transmission in the Soto Zen lineage from Merzel. Merzel and his current wife Stephanie Young Merzel are separated and seeking divorce.

  33. floating_abu
    floating_abu February 10, 2011 at 11:05 am |

    Somehow this Genpo Roshi thing doesn't surprise me that much. I never believed in, or supported his so called Zen Mind (TM) thingy. He strikes me as dull and not too Zen minded.

    But now he is even free-er to cash in on the cow.

    How interesting.

  34. Alexs
    Alexs February 11, 2011 at 7:31 am |

    Well, everyone, there are many viewpoints here. Being conscious of and responsible for our shadows is a tough job..and one which may require lifetimes of regular diligent, vigilant practice…we all have our blind spots and the world around us shows us these. Hence it is equally part of our own practice to take this presentation on board. We can hurl abuse at Genpo, for what is inappropriate unethical behaviour but really we should sit more deeply and reach inside for what reflection he shows of ourselves. The greater our reaction the more resonant within our own being his behaviour is illustrating our own blind spots. All is zen…transform this 'defilement' and everyone is transformed, the world is transformed. Continue the duality and segregation of mind and being and this too shall continue. Its a choice and practice we each have. Thank you for your voices. With all good blessings. Alexsandra in London

  35. Alexs
    Alexs February 11, 2011 at 7:34 am |

    I should also add, I'm no fan of any of these 'hollywood' buddhist approaches. We have all had experiences of enlightenment…its the true reality. Assisting others to experience enlightenment, even briefly, though attractive to those dipping their toes in on their path, it may also have its consequences without awareness of its responsibility. Responsibility meaning very specifically: having the ability to respond.
    blesssing
    A

  36. Anonymous
    Anonymous February 12, 2011 at 9:04 am |

    I practised with Genpo for a few years, and the present scandal comes as no surprise at all. I left because I realised he was an irresponsible individual with deep psychological problems which he absolutely refused to deal with. Actually, he even refused to look at them. Reading in his statement: 'With great humility I will continue to work on my own shadows and deeply rooted patterns…' implies that he worked on himself before which is something I never ever saw. Humility is also something I do not associate with him at all.
    But it is not only a question about Genpo, but about the whole Buddhist system. How come somebody like him is supported by the whole system? How come the system does not have a way of verifying what teachers do to their students?
    Cases like those of Genpo show perhaps a need of introducing some kind of verification of teachers' activities, in a similar way as a system of supervision operates in psychoanalysis.

  37. Harriet
    Harriet March 4, 2011 at 3:21 pm |

    Part 1 of a long commentary.
    For those of us ancient enough to remember–Dennis Merkel, aka Genpo Rotshi, is nothing less and nothing more than the reincarnation of Werner Erhard–the used car salesman turned new age “guru” and founder of EST or Erhard Seminar Training. He locked hundreds of people in hotel ballrooms for up to 14-16 hours, withheld food or any access to bathrooms and berated them until they “got it”. Whatever “it” was. And all for the now seemingly low cost of $350/weekend. Dennis Rotshi is just Werner Erhard on steroids.

    Of course, now, “Werner” is living in exile in Europe to avoid charges of tax evasion and after having been accused of incest by one or more of his daughters.

    Being a woman, I find it interesting that except for Brad Warner’s subtle allusions, no one seems to assign any responsibility to the women involved with Dennis. Are we deemed too frail or too simple minded to assume responsibility for our own actions? I never hear anything about these women having been raped by Dennis (or having been raped by Dick Backer in his hay day either).

    There are many women (and men are not exempt either) who attach their wagon to a “powerful”, “interesting” star rather than create their own interesting, strong life. That, I think, is the real seduction, not the actual sex which is easily obtainable almost anywhere. Are these women too insecure or too weak to create their own powerful lives?

    And for men like Dennis and Dick, the real issue is also not sex. Again, that is easily obtainable almost anywhere. These are men who strike me always as being deeply insecure within themselves. It would also not surprise me if they actually suffered from clinical, non situational depression. Too bad that they don’t find a more constructive way to deal their insecurities and depression other than serial seductions and other various and assorted power trips and the acquisition of various power trappings such as houses and cars all in the name of lofty spiritualism.

    The women involved with these men are not really a vehicle for sex, but for power. I have known Dick Baker since 1969. What struck me about him immediately, and for years after, was his deep seated, insatiable desire for power. In fact, Dick is quoted, I believe perhaps in “Shoes Outside the Door” as saying that he had to have the luxurious car and other material trappings of a “powerful” (my quotes) man in order to “keep up” (no sexual pun intended) with Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche and with Werner Eerhard. It is the most telling and revealing of quotes attributed to Dick.

  38. Harriet
    Harriet March 4, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    Part 2 of long commentary.
    Brad does get it right when he writes in his books and on his blog about the importance of everyone assuming personal responsibility for their own desires and resultant behaviors.

    I was interested to read a counterpoint to this view on the blog attributed to Suzuki Sensei. (Please can we stop calling him roshi??? He was too young to be a roshi and he was definitely not at all respected in his home country, Japan). Roshi, as my Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist husband told me, is a term used in Japan for quite elderly, very respected Zen monks. The term “hojo sama”–respected head priest–would be much more appropriate for Shunryu Suzuki. The simple “sensei” is also an appropriate title.

    In Crooked Cucumber somewhere Shunryu suzuki said, in response to his students opposing some of Chogyam Trungpa's teaching (drinking) methods, that (as students) they were simply not in a position to judge.

    I think that a statement such as this needs to be looked at in two ways.

    The first facet of this comment is its obvious cultural slant. Shunryu Suzuki was a product of Japanese culture and this statement by him came straight out of Japanese culture, and Japanese society. The Japanese society that Suzuki grew up in, and even Japanese society today, is, in comparison to our society in the United States, an extremely rigid, hierarchical society. In Japanese society, authority and authority figures are simply not questioned. You do as you are told by those considered your “superiors”. The social codes and social strata in Japan are nearly as rigid as the caste system in India. Everyone has his assigned place, and everyone knows his place in relationship to everyone else within the society.

    The entire cultural and social discourse of our society is built around the need to question everything individually and then make informed choices. People who do not apply this critical thinking every moment in their lives end up drinking strychnine in the Guyana jungle with 900 other lost souls who didn’t bother to think critically either. What I am saying here is that none of us need Les Kaye or some Zen organization to look critically at a man like Dennis or Dick and to turn away from such leaders.

    And so, the second facet of Suzuki’s statement that needs examining is his admonition to students not to question or judge a spiritual “teacher”. Well, the followers of Jim Jones didn’t question their leader and we all saw where and how that ended. People in Germany didn’t question Hitler and the Nazi party and we all saw where that ended too.

    In contrast, I believe that one of the most important and necessary aspects of interacting with a teacher is to constantly question everything about him and everything he teaches. I have never believed in “blind faith” and never will. To do so, as Brad has written, is to give up one’s own individual responsibility and become the “bottom” in a pas de deux of spiritual domination and submission.

    The temptations of submission are seductive. Submission allows our inner child to overwhelm the adult part of our personality thereby providing an escape route from the responsibilities of adulthood.

    But again, in the end, it is you and no one but you who is responsible for your own physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. People like Dennis and Dick are merely men with both acute and chronic emotional needs that they fulfill through the creation of power trips and power structures meant only to prop up their own disheveled and bereaved egos. They will not be of any real assistance to any one else.

    All in all, the whole flap reminds me of the puritan excitement regarding Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades. At least Billy Boy didn’t also go around pretending to be an enlightened spiritual master. Too bad that Dennis and Dick did.

  39. Belladonna
    Belladonna April 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |

    I live in Salt Lake City and was looking for a local Zen Center to join. I found Genpo Roshi's center and went to an open meditation class. I left with three distinct impressions: First, what the hell did this have to do with Zen. Two, this is a bunch of manipulative bullshit. Three, this is nothing more than a cash-generating scam. I was so disappointed, because they miss-represent themselves as a Soto-based Zen center. I couldn't agree with you more Brad! I'm glad that someone is telling the truth about this center. They should not be allowed to get away with marketing themselves a legitimate zen school.

  40. Ron
    Ron July 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    I first entered the Kanzeon Zen Center in 1997, and I instantly felt that I was home. After 25 years of searching through various spiritual paths, this felt right to me. It still does (the path, not that particular Zen center). I consider myself more of the Zen path than anything else.

    But, it wasn't too long afterwards when I became aware of Genpo's push of the "Big Mind" process. This had the opposite feeling, I never would attend anything related to it. A few years later, I noticed there was an audio of a sample "Big Mind" session on his site. I listened to it, and it confirmed my fears. It was just plain self delusional bullshit. The idea that, if you attend a Big Mind workshop, you'll be able to answer the koans, which would take years through traditional practice, is utter nonsense. The reason that you can answer the koans after a single Big Mind workshop is because he tells you what to say. If you follow the dialogue, the Q&A; interactions, it's obvious to the most obtuse that Genpo is outright giving the student the answer of what he will accept as the correct answer to koans such as the "Mu" koan.

    Since Genpo is a student of psychology, I'm surprised that he does not understand the concept of a "secondary payback". This became obvious to me after a private interview with Genpo wherein I was asked about my understanding of the "Mu" koan. He didn't like my answer, saying, "Well, if only you had attended a Big Mind workshop, I'm sure you'd have gotten it right." Oddly, I later was chatting with one of his senior students, and related to him my exact same answer to the Mu koan, to which he responded, "That's exactly right." So, I had to ask myself, "Is there a secondary payback mechanism going on with Genpo? Does he refuse a correct koan answer because he's trying to push traditional students into the Big Mind process? Is the rejection of the answer a kind of reaffirmation that only his Big Mind method can bring any sort of ahaaa moment?"

    While promoting his own invention (Big Mind), I wonder if he can be fair and objective to the traditional students? I doubt it. I believe he's lost that ability. He believes Big Mind is the greatest contribution in centuries.

    Ah, too bad, Guatama. If only you had the keen insight of Genpo. The entire world would have awakened by now, rather than relegating it to the few monks to whom you imparted it. Oh, but wait, maybe Genpo is the second coming of Guatama, come back to impart what he should have millenia ago.

    Yes, I'm being facetious. But, that is the level of arrogance with which I feel the Big Mind process is being promoted.

    I recall Genpo saying one time, during a Sunday morning gathering, that he wasn't sure if he was creating proper Buddhas or monster Buddhas with the Big Mind process. Well, in my view, it is the latter.

    It is a shame that, whenever something sacred is given to the West, we become dilettantes, thinking we are smarter than our ancestors, who held to a tradition over centuries.

    I guess we should be thankful that Zen came to the West so one of our own can set all the previous Zen masters right.

  41. Niks
    Niks November 8, 2011 at 3:44 am |

    'Zen' is not about the master – teacher relationship. Everyone learns by himself and for himself, not from someone else. Everyone must be a light on himself. Otherwise he becomes a puppet, a follower without a backbone and can easily be used.

  42. Sandra Starflower
    Sandra Starflower December 1, 2011 at 7:55 am |

    Zen Master Linji said, "If you meet the Buddha on the path kill him." If you have a certain concept of what Buddhism is, "kill it", IT'S WRONG! Continue to practice with open mind. There is no prize or goal to attain. Just "be with what is in the present moment."

  43. Sandra Starflower
    Sandra Starflower December 1, 2011 at 7:59 am |

    Zen Master Linji siad, "If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him." If you have some concept of what you think enlightenment is, IT'S WRONG! Keep practicing with an open mind. Accept things as they are, and just "BE" in the present moment.

  44. Renegade
    Renegade December 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm |

    "'Zen' is not about the master – teacher relationship."

    Only someone with no real experience of Zen would say such a thing. Much as you might not like the idea, Zen is entirely something that requires contact with a teacher. It's not just a buzzword that one learns about from books.

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