In February of 2011, Genpo Roshi stepped down as a teacher of Zen Buddhism after admitting to numerous extra-marital affairs. Since then, Genpo has been taking a long, hard look at his own culpability and his own personal demons, while trying to find his own way forward on the path of redemption — a fascinating case study in the importance of bringing together the paths of Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, and Showing Up, all of which are necessary to be an effective spiritual teacher in today’s world.
Genpo Merzel Roshi
Dennis Paul Merzel, also known as Genpo Roshi, is a Zen teacher and Priest in both the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen Buddhism, Abbot of Kanzeon Inc. since 1988, and creator of the Big Mind Process in 1999. From his initial awakening in 1971 his purpose and his passion have remained the same: to assist others to realize their true nature and to continuously deepen his own practice as well as assisting others in carefully reflecting on this life and clarifying the Way.
A champion swimmer and All-American water polo player in his youth, Merzel received a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1968. He left his careers as a school teacher and lifeguard after his awakening and lived alone for a year in a cabin in the mountains near San Luis Obispo. In 1972 he met his Zen Master, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and subsequently moved to Los Angeles to study closely with him. He lived there for the next twelve years, ordaining as a Zen Buddhist monk in October of 1973. In September 1980, a year after completing koan study, he became Maezumi Roshi’s second Dharma successor. In April of 1981, he completed the Zuisse Ceremony at Eiheiji and Sojiji Temples in Japan, signifying the recognition of the authenticity of his Dharma transmission by the governing body of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan, becoming the third Zen Priest outside Japan to be offered the title of Dai Osho (Great Priest) in the Soto Zen Tradition. From 1980 until leaving the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1984 he was Director under the guidance of Maezumi Roshi.
Genpo Roshi was the first Soto Zen Teacher to Poland (1983), the Netherlands (1983) and Germany (1983) and the second to bring it to France (1983) and Great Britain (1982). He founded the Kanzeon International Sangha in 1982. In October 1988 he was installed as Abbot of Hosshinji, Temple in Bar Harbor, Maine, the third Westerner to be installed as Abbot in the ceremony of Shinsanshiki in the Western world. In 1991 the Kanzeon Board and Roshi closed the Zen Center in Bar Harbor, and moved Kanzeon to Oregon, where he continued to teach with a group of his students. In 1995 he was recognized by the Soto School Headquarters in Japan as a Dendokyoshi, one of the first Senior Western Zen Teachers to be so recognized. He continued to study with Maezumi Roshi until the latter’s death in 1995. He received Inka, final seal of approval as a Zen Master, from Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1996, becoming Glassman’s first Inka successor, the second to receive Inka in the Maezumi Roshi lineage. In the same year he became the President of the White Plum Asanga, composed of successors of Maezumi Roshi, after Roshi Bernie Glassman stepped down, and served in that position until 2007. In 1993 he moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and established the Kanzeon Zen Center there as the headquarters of the Kanzeon International Sangha.
In 1999 he created the Big Mind Process™, also known as Big Mind/Big Heart, which philosopher Ken Wilber has called “arguably the most important and original discovery in the last two centuries of Buddhism.” It has broadened and enriched not only the teaching of Zen but spiritual practices in other traditions as well, enabling thousands of people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds to have an awakening with little or no prior consciousness study. It is being used in many fields, including psychotherapy, law, medicine, education, mediation, business, athletics, social work, family therapy, and work with prison inmates, hospital patients and the dying. Roshi continues to train people to bring the Big Mind process and Big Heart Zen out into the world, and remains deeply committed to their ongoing evolution.
He also continues to explore new insights and skillful means to transmit the essence of Zen, which is waking up to our essential nature free from all dogma, suddenly and immediately. He sees zazen, koans and Big Mind as three complementary practices for actualizing the Way, along with other traditional forms of Zen Buddhism such as prayer, chanting, and devotional practices, all beautiful expressions of the teachings for waking up and living with profound wisdom and compassion.