Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Mr. G » Wed Feb 09, 2011 12:59 pm

Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Dennis Genpo Merzel, a Dharma successor of the late Taizan Maezumi-roshi and founder of the sometimes controversial Big Mind™, has announced that he will disrobe as a Zen priest and resign his elder status with the White Plum Asanga. He has, however, announced his intent to continue working under the auspices of Big Mind™. This comes on the heel of comments circulating around the web that Merzel announced in late January that he’d had an affair of several years with one of his Dharma successors, KC “Kyozen Sato” Gerpheide.

In his announcement, found on the Big Mind™ website, Merzel writes:

I will spend the rest of my life truly integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into my life and practice so I can once again regain dignity and respect. My actions have caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha, and for this I am truly sorry and greatly regret. My behavior was not in alignment with the Buddhist Precepts. I feel disrobing is just a small part of an appropriate response.”


A Personal Statement from Genpo Merzel

I have chosen to disrobe as a Buddhist Priest, and will stop giving Buddhist Precepts or Ordinations, but I will continue teaching Big Mind. I will spend the rest of my life truly integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into my life and practice so I can once again regain dignity and respect. My actions have caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion, and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha, and for this I am truly sorry and greatly regret. My behavior was not in alignment with the Buddhist Precepts. I feel disrobing is just a small part of an appropriate response.


I am also resigning as an elder of the White Plum Asanga. My actions should not be viewed as a reflection on the moral fabric of any of the White Plum members.


As Genpo Merzel, I will continue to bring Big Mind into the world and to train and facilitate people who wish to study with me. I will not give up on, and will still be available for people who wish to continue studying with me as just an ordinary human being who is working on his own shadows and deeply rooted patterns.


With great humility I will continue to work on my own shadows and deeply rooted patterns that have led me to miss the mark of being a moral and ethical person and a decent human being. I appreciate all the love and support as well as the criticism that has been shared with me. Experiencing all the pain and suffering that I have caused has truly touched my heart and been the greatest teacher. It has helped open my eyes and given me greater clarity around my own dishonest, hurtful behavior as well as my sexual misconduct. I recently entered therapy and plan to continue indefinitely with it. I am in deep pain over the suffering I have caused my wife, children, students, successors and Sangha.


With Sadness and Love,


D. Genpo Merzel
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby plwk » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:09 pm

:anjali:
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Blue Garuda » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:43 pm

What did he do?

I liked the look of this Sangha until the Big Mind stuff came along. Some good teachers.
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Mr. G » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:52 pm

Hi Yeshe,

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.
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Mr. G » Wed Feb 09, 2011 2:56 pm

I should have written "several students":

http://www.whiteplum.org/index.html

Special Announcement

The White Plum Asanga Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Genpo Merzel from White Plum Asanga membership as well as an Elder of the White Plum. This resignation is a result of his recent disclosures regarding sexual misconduct with several of his students. Please see the Big Mind website for their statement. On behalf of the White Plum organization, I extend our support for Genpo's efforts in recovery and treatment and to the teachers and members of the Kanzeon Sangha in their efforts in healing and realigning their communities. --- Roshi Gerry Shishin Wick, President, WPA
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby kirtu » Wed Feb 09, 2011 3:41 pm

Although this lineage has produced fine teachers and may have a significant impact on the future propagation of Zen Buddhism in the West, there have always been issues with sexual morality. In part this is because many of these teachers have been overly attached to the sexual revolution of the 60's and 70's and in part because they aren't monks - this is important to remember.

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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Jikan » Wed Feb 09, 2011 3:50 pm

These comments are meant at a level of generality and aren't specifically concerned with Merzel's situation.


It seems to me that our culture has a lot of hypocritical expectations and contradictory imperatives around sexuality, particularly among leaders, particularly among "spiritual" people, and arguably, particularly harshly among men.

One approach might be represented by Dan Savage: if you're going to be in a conjugal relationship, be "GGG" about it, which is to say, be totally honest and open, be good at it, giving and generous, and game for whatever your partner (or partners) might need in order to express themselves sexually. This means, basically, that if you feel polyamorous desires, you arrange your life so that it's not a secret and there's no hypocrisy about it. It's acceptable for a Zen teacher to have a plain-vanilla hetero marriage or a long-term monogamous gay partnership, which is really playing it safe as a conventional choice, but can we really even imagine a community in North America where a responsibly polyamorous Zen teacher could get along without a bump in the road? Not so much.

Another approach is the "completely heterosexual" Ted Haggart thing: just repress what's really going on with you and hew the hetero-normative line in public, and occasionally hit up a prostitute in secret.

Another approach is celibacy, which is a tried and true method and arguably a radical position: a Great Refusal or "Big No." One wonders if celibacy is more manageable than a badly-arranged conjugal relationship.

My point is that it's just too easy to point at Merzel and say he's a creep. The creepiest thing to me about his apology is the boring, conventional, psychoanalytic recover-ese in it: "owning my responsibility"? Who talks like that? Where did that script come from? It's the authoritative discourse of our time on Mental Hygiene, and it's a drag because it's just not honest enough, like a show-trial confession. It's a long fall from the Shout of Lin Chi, and a very tight box to pack our teachers into.

OK, enough provocations from me.
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby kirtu » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:43 pm

Jikan wrote: The creepiest thing to me about his apology is the boring, conventional, psychoanalytic recover-ese in it: "owning my responsibility"? Who talks like that? Where did that script come from? It's the authoritative discourse of our time on Mental Hygiene, and it's a drag because it's just not honest enough, like a show-trial confession. It's a long fall from the Shout of Lin Chi, and a very tight box to pack our teachers into.


Jikan! Now you've opened a can of worms here - or run over a hornets nest -

We might take a long time to discuss these issues actually. However -

"owning my responsibility"? Who talks like that? Where did that script come from?


Merzel had a good start IMO (I never heard taisho from him or was in dokusan with him but was impressed by one of his books). But there was this tendency to psychologize Buddhism for a long time and some people actually thought it would be the hallmark of Western Buddhism. This seems esp. to be true of people around NY (although it might also be true of people in Cali or CO but I haven't run into those people). Some people actually thought that Western Buddhism would essentially be a fusion of "the best" of Buddhism and psychology. Merzel may have fallen into that. Anyway I have heard otherwise rational and communicative people use exactly that term before ("owning my responsibility"). It's part of the psychobabble stuff from the 90's.

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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Jikan » Wed Feb 09, 2011 7:58 pm

I'd like to qualify my earlier comments, which were colored by my own frustration with a few responses to Merzel's situation and others like it outside this board. I just think it points to a bigger problem in our culture vis a vis sexuality and the expectations bought to bear on it.

Here's a more skillful way to put it:

Assume that some Buddhist teachers in North America & Europe, the global north broadly speaking, will be involved in conjugal relationships. Is it fair to assume that all those relationships will conform to the rather rigid confines of "traditional" monogamy? :shrug: I'm of the view that Buddhism has more to teach Madame Bovary than the reverse. [that is, even though many monogomous relationships find ways to work, some are simply not workable at all and create more hardship than bodhicitta.]

This is not to excuse dishonesty or endorse uses of sexuality that are harmful to others. I'd rather learn from an honest polyamor, that is, someone who just comes out and says "Hi there, I'm Jane Doe Roshi and I'm happily in an open marriage" or "I'm involved with multiple partners" than someone who, for whatever reason, is put in the position of being dishonest and hurting people while pretending to lead an Honest Life.

Celibacy is one solution, and for many it's a great solution. It won't be the solution for all teachers or all traditions, however, and this is why this question of nonharming in the realm of sexuality will come up again and again and again in a sex-obsessed culture like ours in North America. This is what I'd like to get at, what I'd like to provoke.

Final comment: the reason Merzel's apology bothered me has to do, again, with the cookie-cutter nature of it: like he's adhering to a certain set of social expectations (like a marriage...), rather than something earnest. It's what Oprah would want to hear. The complete lack of specifics and reliance on polite, sanitized euphemisms is the thing. What kind of a box has he been put into, and why is he seeking to repair it rather than break from it? That's my own judgment, of course, and it may represent my own impatience and hangups than anything else.
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby wbtphdjd » Thu Feb 10, 2011 8:35 am

Ya know, after reading The Way of Zen, brilliant book, I concluded that I would sum it up in a single word: spontaneity. I think that's what you find lacking in the apology that so offends you. :anjali:
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Astus » Wed Feb 16, 2011 4:40 pm

I think he gives a different example when a wrongdoing has been displayed in public compared to the other recent case of Eido Shimano. It looks positive to me.

The other issue that should be considered is the Buddhist rhetoric compared to reality. One's wisdom is supposed to reflect in one's deeds. Being ethical is theoretically a prerequisite to higher achievements, that's one of the reasons why monastics are the bearers of the tradition and not laymen. Zen is said to be the direct path to perfect enlightenment. It's just that it doesn't exactly show in its living form. What can we make of that?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Astus » Thu Feb 17, 2011 3:39 pm

"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Mr. G » Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:02 pm

Recommendations for Genpo MerzelL, the Kanzeon Zen Center Board…(44 American Zen Teachers)

We, the undersigned Zen Buddhist teachers, endorse these recommendations to the Kanzeon Zen
Center Board, and to whatever body governs the Big Mind trainings regarding the rehabilitation
of Genpo Merzel after his recent admission of sexual misconduct with students. Because this
repeats a pattern of more than 30 years, many of those signing on to these recommendations
would prefer more stringent measures. We agree, however, that Genpo should take a leave of
absence from teaching in any capacity. Further more, the appropriateness of his return to
functioning as a teacher in any capacity should be determined by a therapist who is an expert in
the field of misconduct of this nature.

RECOMMENDATIONS for GENPO MERZEL, the KANZEON ZEN CENTER BOARD,
and the Big Mind teaching organization regarding the status of Genpo Merzel

1) TEACHING: Take an indefinite leave, but at least one year, off from all teaching
duties. To make it clear that Genpo takes working with this long-term issue seriously,
and to provide the time and energy necessary for the work that needs to be done
(personal inventory, specific therapy, reconciliation and community-healing, work with
his marriage) we recommend that he takes an indefinite leave from all teaching in all
forms until he has been cleared to do so by a therapist who is an expert in this field.

2) THERAPY: Expert inpatient treatment. There is an over 30 year pattern of
repeated sexual misconduct with students, repeated episodes of discovery, emotional
community upheaval, liquidation of assets, moving to another location, finding a new
stable partner, and beginning the cycle all over again. This kind of deep-seated,
repetitive pattern is not amenable to ordinary therapy. It requires admission of the full
extent of the problem and surrendering to treatment with experts in sexual addiction,
misuse of power and clergy misconduct. We can provide recommendations for an
appropriate residential center. Full disclosure is important both for therapy and to avoid
more traumatic revelations. This process has served other teachers and centers in the
past, and has proved its efficacy.

3) SALT LAKE KANZEON CENTER: Make every effort to retain the Salt Lake
facilities. The Kanzeon sangha has entered a critical period since these new
revelations. A significant amount of time, at least a year, will be needed for the many
processes that can help support sangha members through this time of great transition.
They need a place to hold events, to gather, to support each other, to grieve, to be
witnessed, to learn, and hopefully to reconstitute their spiritual practice. To lose their
teacher and their center at the same time would be a double blow.

4) MONEY ISSUES: Reach out to other teachers to lead workshops and retreats.
Genpo is justifiably worried about stepping back from teaching for an extended period
because of the effect on the center and staff of loss of revenue. In a recent similar
case, teachers from various traditions volunteered to come and teach at a Zen center
that had lost its teacher. Particularly in a center focused on one charismatic teacher,
this has the advantage of bringing in new voices and viewpoints, and reassuring
students about the many ways to manifest and practice the dharma. It keeps the center
open and makes spiritual support constantly available during a time of extra need. It
also helps with revenue.

5) PUBLIC STATEMENT and APOLOGY: It is very important for Genpo to make a
public, thorough statement and apology about what he has done, and state his
plans to set things right, for himself, his students and the Kanzeon Center. The
absence of a statement from the teacher himself provides fertile ground for gossip,
leaks, speculation, gathering resentment and unfounded reactions. The statement
could be published on the Kanzeon, Big Mind and White Plum websites and on his
Facebook page. The statement on the Big Mind website is a start. But without specific
actions to make amends, it is not enough. Such actions should be spelled out in the
public statement.

6) OUTSIDE EXPERT ASSISTANCE IN HEALING THE SANGHA: Hire experts to
help with the work that needs to be done. There are many pieces to the work that
needs to be done to help the sangha: witnessing, processing, education about clergy
misconduct and power structures, setting up prevention strategies. We highly
recommend the Faithtrust Institute, which has had decades of experience in these
matters and has excellent trainers, curricula and media materials for appropriate
workshops and trainings. See http://www.faithrustinstitute.org for books, media, trainings, and
consultations on clergy misconduct.

Eiko Joshin Carolyn Atkinson, Everyday Dharma Zen Center
Shosan Victoria Austin, San Francisco Zen Center
Chozen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery
Hogen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery
Dai-En Bennage, Mt. Equity Zendo
Mitra Bishop, Mountain Gate Temple & Hidden Valley Zen Center
Angie Boissevain, Floating Zendo
Gyokuko Carlson, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Kyogen Carlson, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Roko Sherry Chayat, Zen Center of Syracuse
Nonin Chowaney, Nebraska Zen Center
Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Zendo
Shotai De La Rosa, Daishin Zendo
Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation
James Ford, Boundless Way Zen
Eshin Godfrey, Zen Centre of Vancouver
Gaelyn Godwin, Houston Zen Center
Sunyana Graef, Vermont Zen Center
Ruben Habito, Maria Kannon Zen Center
Elizabeth Hamilton, Zen Center of San Diego
Zenkei Blanche Hartman, San Francisco Zen Center
Taigen Henderson, Toronto Zen Centre
Kokyo Henkel, Santa Cruz Zen Center
Soeng. Hyang, Kwan Um Zen School
Les Keido Kaye, Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center
Daijaku Kinst, Ocean Gate Zen Center
Barry Magid, The Ordinary Mind Zendo
Genjo Marinello, Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji
Ejo McMullen, Eugene Zendo
Mary Mocine, Vallejo Zen Center
Tonen O’Connor, Milwaukee Zen Center
Susan Ji-on Postal, Empty Hand Zen Center
Al Fusho Rapaport, Open Mind Zen Meditation Center
Zuiko Redding, Cedar Rapids Zen Center
Shinshu Roberts, Ocean Gate Zen Center
Grace Jill Schireson, Empty Nest Zendo
Yozen Peter Schneider, Beginner’s Mind Zen Center
Hozan Alan Senauke, Berkeley Zen Center
Joen Snyder O’Neal, Compassionate Ocean Dharma Center
Daniel Terragno, Rocks and Clouds Zendo
Katherine Thanas, Santa Cruz Zen Center
Jordan Thorn, San Francisco Zen Center
Sallie Jiko Tisdale, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Jisho Warner, Stone Creek Zen Center
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    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Astus » Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:39 pm

Fascinating. So many Zen teachers who believe that it is therapy to solve the problems and not Zen. Then what is Zen good for, really?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby kirtu » Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:04 pm

Astus wrote:Fascinating. So many Zen teachers who believe that it is therapy to solve the problems and not Zen. Then what is Zen good for, really?


It's interesting who's not on the list but that could be an organizational issue. Zen is for enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering. Therapy may be needed just like any other kind of medicine. I think given past publicized issues with other teachers some have drawn the conclusion that therapy may be a useful approach in some cases.

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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Anders » Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:27 pm

Astus wrote:Fascinating. So many Zen teachers who believe that it is therapy to solve the problems and not Zen. Then what is Zen good for, really?


I like how Thannisaro Bhikkhu put it: Psychology is for bring dysfunctional people to a functional state of neurosis. Buddhism is for taking people from a functional state of neurosis to a state of no neurosis.

Still, I can't help but think part of this is linked to a discoupling of 'Zen' from its Mahayana Buddhist foundation. You master basics like generosity, morals, restraint, contentment with little before delving into emptiness.

In fact, I dare say much of the fault lies in the surrounding community and they way they are set up. Their own teachers failed to excommunicate them and/or gave them Dharma transmission prematurely and the communities they were embedded in did not have solid enough preceptory foundations to simply have them disrobed. The problem is larger than simply two people acting immorally. There is a larger issue of them having arrived in the positions they did when they were evidently not properly qualified and there being a lack of a wider community capable of adressing their transgressions when they first started happening.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Astus » Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:07 pm

I think that as Genpo roshi is supposed to be a long term practitioner who is proficient in Zen (at least on some levels) he should be able to use Buddhism in correcting whatever unwholesome habits he may have. I don't doubt the usefulness of therapy, it's just that I believe Buddhism has the proper methods for building up beneficial mental habits and fighting the harmful ones. In fact, that's what correct effort (samyag-vyāyāma) is about.

We should also remember that Genpo's primary teacher, Maezumi roshi, was an alcoholic and also had sexual affairs of his own. So, is it possible to separate personal from professional life in case of Buddhism? Unlikely.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Anders » Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:34 pm

Perhaps I should specify that by 'surrounding community' I don't mean to cast aspersions on any of the people involved in these communities. I was more thinking of the communal structures they have inherited not being well suited to address these things.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby Blue Garuda » Thu Feb 17, 2011 11:37 pm

Astus wrote:I think that as Genpo roshi is supposed to be a long term practitioner who is proficient in Zen (at least on some levels) he should be able to use Buddhism in correcting whatever unwholesome habits he may have. I don't doubt the usefulness of therapy, it's just that I believe Buddhism has the proper methods for building up beneficial mental habits and fighting the harmful ones. In fact, that's what correct effort (samyag-vyāyāma) is about.

We should also remember that Genpo's primary teacher, Maezumi roshi, was an alcoholic and also had sexual affairs of his own. So, is it possible to separate personal from professional life in case of Buddhism? Unlikely.


I've come across a few dodgy teachers, and I am convinced that in some cases they really believe the fantasies they develop about themselves, which gullible students then accept. In such circumstances, it is difficult to find someone who feels able to shout that the Emperor has no clothes, so maybe online forums are useful for enabling the airing such things. ;)
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Re: Dennis Genpo Merzel disrobes as a Zen priest

Postby kirtu » Fri Feb 18, 2011 8:54 am

Astus wrote:We should also remember that Genpo's primary teacher, Maezumi roshi, was an alcoholic and also had sexual affairs of his own. So, is it possible to separate personal from professional life in case of Buddhism? Unlikely.


Absolutely it is. It just involves not harming. Now the relationships involved will mirror the current state of affairs in samsara but Merzel's behavior is apparently quite troubling. I'm nor sure how this should be approached actually - people will have issues as long as they have bodies and minds. But it appears that ethics and just plain living the life of a Buiddha have taken a backseat to teaching and cultural forms and this has caused problems. So I have been told that in Japan drinking has been deified and in the West sex has been deified.

Bus basically deep kensho or satori + meditation and contemplation should result in Buddha action and that should actually solve these problems.

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