Monday, February 7, 2011

Genpo Roshi Falls Again

This was a surprise to stumble upon, even though I suppose it really shouldn't be much of a surprise.

Owning My Responsibility
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

The response to this announcement from the Whte Plum Asanga is as follows.

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

Anyone who happens to follow the ongoings in the Buddhist 'blogosphere' will be well acquainted with the broad criticism Mr. Merzel has been subject to over the past years. I don't intend to rehash those criticisms here, but would rather like to briefly consider Mr. Merzel's announcement and how it reflects patterns of behavior in the larger Buddhist community, of which this is simply one example amongst many.

Genpo is no stranger to this blog or many others. His money making Big Mind process has been torn apart by so many in the blogosphere that there is too many to count. Now he joins the ranks of Zen teachers who have fallen prey to power, and lust, and in the process, have harmed many people in his trust.

Some outsiders are already thinking that this whole teacher/student relationship thing in Zen is a disaster, and should be abandoned. Some insiders, or former insiders, feel the same, including the guy who offered the post.

He wrote:

Mr. Merzel has, with his announcement, chosen to adopt the approach of admitting his misgivings, professing a willingness to humbly accept the consequences of his actions by disrobing as a Buddhist priest, giving up his 'Elder' status, entering into therapy, and to "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." Yet, at the same time, Mr. Merzel has expressed the intention to continue teaching Big Mind, and "will not give up on, and will still be available for people who wish to continue studying with me". This strategy, although not without risk, seems to be quite successful in some Buddhist communities. Rather than indefinitely adhering to the position of strict denial, or, perhaps more commonly, after an initial period of strict denial and subsequently being forced to give up that position, the teacher attempts to appeal to others' appreciation for human fallibility; something most can sympathize with to some degree. However, when this occurs in the case of someone in the role of a teacher, it is not at all uncommon for that person to subsequently be praised for his/her admissions and, paradoxically though it may seem, the entire situation may be turned around such that in the end, the teacher actually enjoys a better standing amongst his peers and followers than beforehand! It is precisely due to the delicate psychical intricacies at play in potentially harmful situations such as these that I would offer a strong word of caution to anyone considering engaging another person as a 'teacher' in a religious context, whether it be (Zen) Buddhist or otherwise.

I think this view is too extreme. In fact, it's driven by a fear that humans are incapable of healthy, deep intimacy, and so we best remain on guard. You could take this and extend it out to psychologists, spouses and lovers, deep friendships, and in the end, you'd be left unscathed perhaps, but also untouched by the best parts of life.

But it does bring up some good questions for me. First off, how do you handle the incoming news about power and sex abuse in sanghas, and other spiritual communities? More specifically, how do you maintain openness and trust, while also being intelligent about and responsible for whatever relationships fall under the "deeply intimate" category? (Note: intimate here isn't about sex, if that isn't already clear.)

Another interesting issue brought up in the comment above is the reputation of a fallen teacher after the admission of abuse occurs, especially if it's done in a reasonably above board manner. It's worth pondering. The examples I can think of off hand, including what happened in my own sangha, are examples of repeated denial and never really taking full responsibility. In all those cases, views of the teacher in question were or are mixed afterward, as some folks who stayed loyal stick by the teacher in question, while others make efforts to keep the record set straight about the messes that were made. And then there are all those who never heard about the past, and so aren't working from the fault line so to speak.

It is a fault line, when you think about it. Genpo's narrative in the world will now, for many people, hover around the admission point. And when you think about how humans tend to handle big screw ups in general, this is a major fixation for us. Someone is sent to jail for robbing a bank when they are 20 years old, and for the rest of their life, that robbery plays a major role in how others see him or her, even if the patterns of behaviors that led to that event have mostly or completely disappeared. You would think a practice like Zen would loose up this kind of thinking, but probably not to the extent that it should, given the teachings we study and sit with for years on end.

Given the commonplace quality of teacher scandals in "Western" Zen communities over the past 50 years, perhaps the following larger issues need to be examined, along with things like community ethics policies:

1. the ways people are trained to think about major ethical breeches and criminal activities, and how our teachings either support that, or ride against it

2. the hardened narratives around those who have committed such acts in the past (i.e. things like "Once an abuser, always an abuser.)

3. how to protect groups and individuals from predatory behaviors, while also maintaining an attitude of "don't know" openness about the future of the person whose behaviors caused major harm

4. the role of teacher/student relationships in a more horizontal, democratic social context

Some of these things do come up in discussions of teacher scandals, but they tend to play a back role to commentaries about ethical violations, development of ethics policies, methods to heal communities harmed by scandals, and ways to train and "police" teachers on a larger scale (regional, national, etc.)

May all those harmed by Genpo's behavior be healed and be able to move on. And may Genpo wake up in the face of his big mistakes, and step more fully into his life as it is.


Brikoleur said...

That's a noble sentiment, there. I hope he does. Going by his communiqué, though, it seems he's more intent on continuing his moneymaking thing, only not under the Zen brand. That's a positive development, to be sure, but IMO the problem is the moneymaking exploitative scam thing, with the Zen/Buddhism aspect just an aggravating circumstance.

Until and unless he faces up to *that,* I think it's pretty unlikely he'll step more fully into his life, as you so aptly put it.

(Also, good post. Again. Thank you.)

kevin said...

I think it's easy to forget that knowing what's correct, and even being able to teach it, is often easier than living it.

As students we sometimes expect our teachers to have perfected and embodied the teachings before trying to communicate them to us.

Teachers on the other hand sometimes think, being shown this attitude by students, that they really have actualized the teachings and pride gets in the way of them remembering that they are still students as well.

While I don't agree with what I know of Merzel's teachings, I do feel sorry for him. I think he more or less does deserve the criticism he receives, but he does really think he's helping people. He struggles with his own ignorance and cravings just as we all do.

Hopefully this series of incidents will help to reset the balance for those who have unquestionably placed him on a pedestal.

Thank you for sharing this with us and treating the situation with respect rather than just blasting him.

Trevor said...

If he is disrobing and is no longer a Buddhist priest, why is he still using his Dharma name?

Ellis Beardsley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellis Beardsley said...

Who cares what Genpo Merzel has to say at this point -- for his apologies. Let's hear from the women and men who have been abused and used by this man. Speak out! That's really the only way to break the cycle.

Appropriate Response said...

Thanks for posting it, Nathan. I had no clue. Am saddened and somewhat confused by this consodering Genpo Roshi as I recall was one of the teachers who spoke about the importance of working with the shadow, something the Western teachers brought into the light. And we all know (hopefuly) how deep those shadow can be. How easy is it not to get corrupted by the possabilities of abusing one's power for personal gain?

As for the "moneymaking making scam",:
- I did take part in the Big Mind process and it worked for me (not with him, but with one of his students though). I found it to be a very powerful process that reveals what is possible in terms of going beyond one's thinking mind. It left me wondering though what could the next step be and there was sort of nobody to ask.
- I did think the semnar was somewhat pricy but did not hear of any proofs that the money from those seminars or "retreats for rich folks" were used for his personal gain like a flashy car or a chopper. What I did hear is that it is used for the comunity projects. Until I know otherwise, I cannot say anything.

Maybe it is time to stop thinking of Zen teachers as holy folks? This not only takes pressure from them but also gives us more responsability when working with teachers. Complex question that has been explored in some writings (specifically the notion of American Zen teachers).
Buddhist Geeks interviewd the guy who wrote the paper on the topic a couple of years ago, I believe.

Thank you for your practice!

Anonymous said...

I really think he should say "I am not teaching anything until I get some hold on why the heck I keep doing this." In case you were unaware, his first marriage broke up for the same reasons (his second is now reportedly in jeopardy), and a Zen center in Maine closed because of past misconduct. This is the thing - they never just stop teaching. Go do something productive since you can't keep it in your pants. It just allows all his "yes" people to stick with him and think how noble he is to fess up and be so brave. Oh brother. They only apologize when they get caught and there is trouble. He's yet another "type A Zen hero", and they ALL have this problem (read his bio - he clearly thinks himself a demi-god. "Champion athlete, businessman, lover of women.") I'm so tired of reading about it - there are SO MANY with the exact same pathologies.

Barry said...

I remember hearing rumors about Merzel's sexual transgressions about 12-15 years ago but what I heard lacked the concreteness of his present-day admission.

If there was substance to the rumors, why wasn't he held to account a decade (or more) ago?

I don't know much about the Soto tradition but I'm surprised that someone can "disrobe" and still retain their dharma name.

Apparently Merzel isn't willing to let go of his heritage - which suggests (but doesn't necessarily mean) that he hasn't fully come to terms with the causes and conditions that led to his predations.

In my own Zen tradition, a teacher who engages in unwholesome conduct is removed from teaching responsibility for a period of at least one year, possibly more. Merzel has found a way to continue teaching, by sidestepping the presumed sanctions of White Plum Asangha. I don't know if this is true, but it does come to mind.

On the other hand, Merzel's statement contrasts positively with the statements of Shimano. Merzel, at least, owns his responsibility and sets a course of action that holds the promise for healing. Good on him.

Anonymous said...

Immature adaptation to Dharma includes the stubborn assumption that enlightenment is about doing or refraining from doing something with the mind, which is why most Buddhism currently in play around this rock is mainly of the Talking School variety. Pure fantasy.

So-called teachers of Dharma today rarely broach the fundamental subject of character and integrity, choosing rather to embelish upon mentally-fabricated views and positions, employing obsolete expedients from antique cultures that merely add more confusion to the aspirant's profile.

Zen Buddhism, for example, is one path currently being promoted bass-ackward. Emphasis on some ephemeral kensho experience or formal meditation position is often prized far higher than the living realization of true selflessness, which is only wrought in the blazing furnaces of hands-on life -- it's the only enlightenment that is real, but don't look for it in your temples or zendos, seminars and satsang halls. Rather, look straight into your own mirror, that's your teacher in this kindergaten classroom called Earth.

Algernon said...

"So yeah, I violated the Buddhist precepts, so I'm going to disrobe so I'm not held accountable to those precepts anymore. Meanwhile, I'm going to continue to use my dharma name and capitalize on the buddhadharma with my controversial for-profit version of Zen and completely embrace my life as a self-help huckster."

This guy.

Nathan said...

I won't be able to reply to everyone. I agree with those who see Genpo's decisions here as suspicious, especially the retention of his dharma name. It seems to me at the very least the guy could refrain from teaching anything for a few years and take a deep look at himself as sole focus, but that doesn't seem to happen in these cases.

As for Big Mind, I also did a day long workshop with the process from another dharma teacher who had studied it. I don't think the process is mind blowing, and it shouldn't be sold as a quick means to enlightenment, but it's also not a pointless exercise. Just another tool in the toolbox in my opinion. Nothing special.

Ellis, I can imagine at some point, we might end up seeing an organization for Zen Abuse victims if this kind of stuff keeps being so commonplace. It would be nice if that didn't happen, but it certainly could happen.


I think your comments about Zen are too sweeping. No doubt there's a strand of too much focus on kensho, zazen, etc., but that hasn't been my only experience. It's a diverse landscape, some of it beneficial and some not so much.

Renegade said...

As a former student of Merzel's and as someone who actively spoke out about his behaviour over the past few years, I'd like to add a few things here. For one thing, the Soto Zen establishment for the most part consistently ignored what was going on. Very few listened, with the honourable exception of those such as Ven. Kobutsu Malone and others who have worked to expose abusive and dishonest Zen teachers.

Merzel's 'admission' of fault is too little, too late. Not only did he carry on with this behaviour for decades, he did so with the at least tacit consent of the Soto Zen teachers Association and the White Plum Asangha. Those who did speak out about what he was doing were subjected to hate campaigns, labelled as liars or simply dismissed as jealous.

In my own case, Merzel tried to deny at first that he even knew me, let alone that he had ordained me as a monk - even though it was a matter of public record and I trained with the man for over ten years. This individual's apology is hollow and insincere. He is simply shifting his focus to the big mind nonsense in order to have an arena where he is relatively free of taking any responsibility. Merzel should not be teaching anything, other than indirectly as the example that he is of a thoroughly unethical individual who has used and abused his students and the gullible over many years, in his greed for power, fame and money.

Trevor said...

Renegade: That's some pretty hefty stuff you're saying, there.

When you say, "Soto Zen teachers Association," are you actually referring to the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA), or Zen Teachers of America (ZTA)?

Nathan said...

Yes, I'd agree with Trevor that it would be good to be specific about which Soto organization is being talked about here.

However, the American Soto community doesn't have a great track record dealing with these issues. What happened at my zen center (which is Soto) brought us help from several Zen teachers around the country who had dealt with scandals in the past. I'm very grateful for their stepping up and supporting our community, but there was nothing publicly done about the situation. It was mostly kept quiet, and no one seemed to have an answer for how to handle our former teacher. He continues to teach, and still is active in the SZBA from what I have gathered.

Meanwhile, our repeated efforts to have some sort of reconciliation process with our former teacher were rebuffed by him, and no real censure of the teacher by a body like the SZBA occurred. Even if symbolic, it would have brought more attention to what happened, and maybe have helped others dealing with such issues.

Our former teacher has basically erased his decade + association with our sangha from his bio, and speaks little or nothing about those years from what I have seen. I have tried to refrain from discussing the whole thing too much on this blog, but sometimes it just ticks me off that so little was done on a larger scale - and that so few even know about what happened outside of those who were there. Hell, there's even a schism locally amongst other teachers in the lineage as to how to work with or not work with this teacher.

Nathan said...

One of the big problems I see with all of this stuff is that there ends up being so little accountability, and honesty, displayed, and thus things never become clear enough for all sides to see, and finally let go of. The teachers suffer a short fall, and maybe a tarnished image, but in the end, rarely have to face their former communities for an extended period of dialogue and possible reconciliation. And former students in the community tend to lay too much blame on the teacher, struggle to see their responsibility in the situation, and also often don't get a chance to process the stories and experiences they had during the time with the former teacher.

Although our sangha has mostly moved on, and the majority of members weren't there during the old teacher's leadership, stuff still comes up regularly. Just last night, I and another student brought up a teaching around the third precept that the old teacher had offered to us. It didn't really work well for either of us, and clearly didn't work for him either, given what happened.

Something has to change. I've seen lots of ethics policies being developed, including at my own center, and that's great. But I don't think it's enough. There needs to be more work across sanghas - locally, regionally, nationally - for some of these issues to really brought out from underneath the rug.

Lynette Genju Monteiro said...

Thanks for this post, Nathan. I often wonder why Zen leaders act as if this is new. Sexual transgressions are neither new in religious communities nor in professional communities. In other words, there are a number of accountability and due recourse models for investigating and assessing abuse as well as routes for the abused person to file formal complaints. (The psychology of how and why persons who have been abused do not file complaints is complex though.) What I see in some Zen traditions is an arrogance that says they are above being held accountable.

Health care professionals, whose contact with vulnerable sectors, have strong and uncompromising ethics guidelines and legislation, including a DUTY TO REPORT ABUSE THAT HAS NOT BEEN REPORTED. IOW, there is an oversight process that keeps the process transparent.

The first step to dealing with these sexual transgressions is to get past the obsession with the transgression as a reflection of poor adherence to the Dharma. It is a poor adherence to one's self-respect. Period.

The second step is to have each tradition articulate the process by which formal complaints can be made and adjudicated openly.

It also seems like this is a convenient and opportunistic confession. I hate to be cynical but I fear that admissions of sexual impropriety will become the flagellation of the week. And, caught up in the sordid drama, we will miss the real Dharma, the call to greater accountability and transparency of those who present themselves as community leaders.

Anjin Barbara Koppang said...

I am married to a Soto Zen priest. Genpo Merzel typically would have received his name when he took the Bodhisattva Vows. This is a ceremony that does not involve being a priest. I took the Bodhisattva Vows and received a name, however I am not an ordained priest.
My husband Fudo Hogan Koppang received the name Fudo when he took his Bodhissattva Vows, and then received the name Hogan when he was ordained.
I hope this clears up the questions about Merzel keeping his name.

Trevor said...

Anjin: I'm a Soto Zen priest, too! I received one name at my jukai, and then another name at my tokudo (ordination). If I were to disrobe, I would revert to the name I received at my jukai. However, most priests keep the name they received at their jukai (as far as I've observed), if they did a jukai. In that case, if Merzl is going by Genpo b/c that's the name he received when he first received the precepts, then I can understand that.

Ah, who cares... :)

I'd be more comfortable with all this if he stopped teaching and just got a normal job. That would show some real humility, in my opinion.

Brikoleur said...

@Lynette: Hm. Zen Beth Din?

Nathan said...

I also have a dharma name, received during jukai. I guess it seems to me that continuing to publicly use spiritual names given from a tradition you formally left due to major transgressions is dubious.

I haven't used my own dharma name on this blog because I want to be careful of the image being promoted. Maybe it's no big deal, but I get the sense that some people see a spiritual name attached to writing, or talks, or some activity, and they leap to the conclusion it's so "great thing" from a "wise person."

So, regardless of which ceremony Genpo is from, the name gives him a street cred boost, even if it's totally unwarranted.

Lynette, you know, I didn't think of it before you mentioned it, but the timing of his admission is suspect. Especially given the months of hand wringing over Eido Shimano that just went on. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but maybe not.

Genju said...

@Peter: I had to Google that! :-) Yes, it can seem like judgement despite the intention of protecting the vulnerable. And like all judicial courts, it isn't perfect. However, it offers a safe path of due recourse for those who are willing to bring issues into the light. Mostly I'm wishing some Zen teachers would get over their defensive air of superiority and start being responsible to the people they claim to serve.

Nathan, don't mind me. I'm just suspicious by training. ;-) And I love being wrong.

Nathan said...

"Mostly I'm wishing some Zen teachers would get over their defensive air of superiority and start being responsible to the people they claim to serve." Yes, I'll second this!

Brikoleur said...

Actually, I like the idea of beth din. There are other similar structures in place in other religions, shari'a courts in Islam, for example. I think it's perfectly workable as long as the jurisdiction is strictly circumscribed and there are some firewalls in place to stop it from becoming exactly what it's supposed to prevent—a tool for clamping down by the exact people whose messes it was set up to clean.

flow simple said...

Thanks for a nice post Nathan. Lots of reactions everywhere from various blogs, forums and even Facebook. From what I've read, your post and the subsequent comments have been the most thought provoking and mature.

I've been to a Big Mind retreat myself and it was an invaluable experience. So hearing of this news was somewhat disappointing.

I'm hoping the apology is just a beginning. I'm curious to see what happens over the next few months and years.

Carol said...

I listen to and read the comments here and elsewhere trying to understand the defensiveness I feel for the transgressors. I don't approve of their conduct. If I were members of their sanghas I would feel betrayed and shocked. In fact that is exactly how I did feel when something much less serious happened involving my own former zen teacher.

But, still, I find my heart just isn't in the desire for retribution, or the crowing sort of "I knew it, I knew he was a creep, see I was right." Or whatever it is.

I've always been interested in the death penalty and whether it really does heal and "provide closure" for the victims and their families. The evidence seems to be that it doesn't. That some effort to find the humanity in the killer is what heals. But Genpo and Shimano seem to provoke the opposite reaction in so many longtime Zen practitioners.

Why is that?

Nathan said...


I've always felt the death penalty is a failure on every level.

"But Genpo and Shimano seem to provoke the opposite reaction in so many longtime Zen practitioners.

Why is that?"

It's a good question. I have some ideas, but it would be interesting to have people who are so fiercely brutal in their comments about those two offer some more insight.

Brikoleur said...

Merzel did a fascinating interview for, IIRC, Tricycle last year, or perhaps in 2009. For people wondering about whether he's human, that's worth digging up and reading. There is a pathos to his story too.

Also, I haven't seen all that much baying for blood, either in Shimano's or Merzel's case. What I have seen is a very strong desire to stop the exploitation that's going on, and outrage at people enabling and continuing to enable the exploitation. The cries have been for Shimano and Merzel to stop teaching, not to have their balls off.

The discourse isn't about retribution, it's about stopping an ongoing outrage.

Anonymous said...

I have been working with Genpo and the Big Mind process for several years. I find the work invaluable, and I find Genpo to be an extremely competent and clear teacher. I actually don't care what mistakes he makes - he's human and humans cause themselves and others trouble on a regular basis. Was I surprised that he and his student(s) failed to reflect on what they were doing from the beginning of their association? Yes. But then, I surprise myself, too, when I suddenly see my heretofore blind spots. What I want is for everyone involved to heal and for Genpo to get back to teaching.

Carol said...

I was thinking more about this last night. The hardest part of these things for me to bear --after al is said and done -- is the ill-will that I harbor in my own heart.

I was reflecting on how long it is taking me to let it go. It has been a year since I left my old teacher. At first I was very angry and at the same time I hoped he would somehow recognize and change his ways and seek some kind of reconciliation. Over time, I noticed that that whenever I received an announcement of something he was doing, I felt something akin to disgust ... the words didn't ring true anymore and I didn't like whatever it was he had written about the upcoming sesshin, or whatever it was. More lately, I'm still feeling that. I could get off the email announcement list (lol!) and that might help.

But, as we're talking about the precepts, and adhering to them ... there is the one about not harboring ill-will, and this really is a struggle for me. I see it is for others, too. It's difficult when the teacher who goes off track lacks remorse or enough respect for his/her students to want to make amends.

I guess the ill-will comes from feeling disrespected ... and that's all about me, not what s/he did in the first place.

Nathan said...

"I have been working with Genpo and the Big Mind process for several years. I find the work invaluable, and I find Genpo to be an extremely competent and clear teacher. I actually don't care what mistakes he makes - he's human and humans cause themselves and others trouble on a regular basis."

I think there is way to both have compassion for people who make major ethical mistakes, but also do what's needed to hold them accountable for their actions. In fact, I'd argue that part of being compassionate is caring about those mistakes, which hurt a lot of people, and giving the person who committed said mistakes a chance to really look at themselves.

Part of the problem in Zen, and plenty of other religious/spiritual communities, is that too many people say they don't care about mistakes of teachers, or that "they're human," and then let the issues pass - until they occur again. How many people turned the other way when Genpo crossed the line, or excused his behavior because he was a "great teacher otherwise"?

I heard the same kinds of things about my former teacher after his fall, and it disappointed me greatly because it seemed like people just wanted the "good stuff" from him, but really didn't give a damn if he actually cleaned up his act or not.

The way I see it, we're all in this together. If Genpo, or other teachers, are allowed to have major gaps in ethics, and/or are excused because what they are teaching is too important to "silence," then we are basically saying that ethics are only for students.

In addition, it seems like a form of greed to excuse major ethical violations out of a desire to see the teacher keep teaching. A lot of people wanted Eido Shimano to keep teaching all the way up until the end, ignoring the fact that whatever misdeeds he was committing harmed both himself and others.

If we want to uphold the bodhisattva vows, it seems to me that we need to act and speak in ways that support people to reflect deeply on their mistakes, and clean up their acts. This isn't about guilt and shame - it's about seeing into the nature of things. Buddha's original sangha was filled with people who had screwed up royally, but used those screw ups to awaken.

So, this rant is about that.

Nathan said...


Ill will is challenging. It took a long time for me to burn through ill will towards our former teacher. I still have some come up from time to time, especially when other examples like Genpo come to my attention.

One thing I learned at some point was that my anger and outrage towards him was also about myself, and my fellow sangha mates, because we all aided in keeping his misbehavior going. There was a level of naiveté amongst us that was hard to swallow once you saw it. Most of us had this guy up so high on a pedestal that we couldn't even see him. So, this got me interested in group dynamics in spiritual communities, which is something I end up writing about a fair amount.

Nathan said...

"The discourse isn't about retribution, it's about stopping an ongoing outrage." I think for the most part this is true. But there does seem to be a struggle for people display some level of compassion for the transgressors in the middle of their calls for justice. Perhaps that will come in time. I know that I didn't feel a hell of a lot of compassion for our former teacher in the early days of the fallout in our community.

Carol said...

I've seen a lot of "baying for retribution" against Shimano and his dharma heirs over at Genkaku's blog here:

There are almost 5,000 posts over the past year, many of them "baying for retribution".

It's less pronounced with Genpo. And it's hard to sort out what is "baying for retribution" and what is just calling for reasonable censure and sanctions, of course. It's more the tone of the thing, I guess.

What I really want to see is true remorse and transformation ... and that takes facing up to the reality of the harm done and making atonement. When that doesn't happen, then we're left with this incomplete cycle of injury without amelioration. That is hard to bear and can go very badly for those injured. As part of the mahasangha, tending to those injuries seems to be necessary. Feeding the desire for retribution -- in the absense of remorse and atonement -- doesn't seem healthy to me. There needs to be another way to resolve that anger in a way that heals the injured and makes us wiser and more humble.

Anonymous said...

Genpo will continue to teach- get over it or don't- but he will because he can. Nor is he out in the wilderness alone now either, nor need he be to satisfy those who want his scalp and possibly balls . Sorry folks all you get is the robe and bowl back . And guess what people will still flock to the big mind teachings , perhaps more of them, now that big mind is divested of its Buddhist shackles. I actually think that is a good thing. I have done big mind with Genpo twice live. The experience for me was brilliant, but I did not care for the dogma, I felt it could be so much more if it was a secular methodology.

I see alot of dispair from those who guru/role model aka 'person to whorship, venerate and adore' ( and also wanted to have a relationship with )went AWOL, and way too much schadenfreude in the zen 'blogo-gossipo-vile' . Maybe it is 'time already' to really start thinking about thinking for oneself and throw away the pedestals.In many of Genpos talks on Zen eye he had left intimations that he nothing but human..but one could see in the projections of many of his 'followers' and shell shocked dissapointed ex followers that they wanted him even needed him to be more, because they needed to bow down before or look up to someone. Perish the thought, the idea, the sheer audacity that the individual grow their own spiritual back bone and discriminating mind .Oh No lets throw rocks at the teacher and sit shiva for paradise lost . Where you go, your shadow goes also. Oy Vey.

Anonymous said...


That Genpo could be as he is and is how he is, is perhaps his last most profund Zen teaching...for the moment .. His departure from soto and handing back of those weighty robes and dusty bowl , for me at least, has been a while coming. If I had any wish it would have been for more order,less pain for all, more space to breathe for all and most of all for Genpo . But even chaos and Eros and the amorality and ethics of love has its own order and wisdom . Genpo's so called 'fall from grace is nothing but a mirage. Grace bestowed by whom ... the opinions and projections of others? His leaving could still represent the great liberation...liberation even from Buddhism . Ouch . Say its isn't so? On a facebook wall over this matter some one wrote "so long and thanks for the fish". Indeed.If his
ex-sangha cannot survive without him, either *financially*, emotionally, or spiritually, or as the golden zen goose upon a pedestal- what did they really learn in all their time together. No hold on, or were they simply too busy bowing and adoring an empty cushion that they did not see the shadow they were casting?
So their charismatic cash work horse has left, good, let them also learn how to till the land themselves..Genpo spoke often of the shadow of the zen community around finances...when the emotional dust settles, let see if the sangha OX can return to the market place without him.And if it cannot not, because they sought refuge in bowing and rituals and old texts and felt too enlightened to do the grunt work in the world, well..than at least they can continue to sorrow and blame it all on Genpo for not being all they had wished ( and bringing in the cash)

As the great Zen Guruji Miester Dr Phil would say......"what were ya'all thinking!?"

Nathan said...


Go take a look at my back log of posts here. I've made plenty of comments on the problems of the teacher/student relationship in modern Zen.

"Genpo's so called 'fall from grace is nothing but a mirage." Yes, on the absolute level, but if you're gonna sit and shit on his former students who felt serious emotional and spiritual harm - even if they were placing him on a pedestal - you can do it elsewhere. People love to hide out in statements about emptiness and the world being a delusion. But when it's your best friend, or partner, or mother or father crying and feeling torn up by an exploitive experience with a teacher, I bet your fucking tune changes.

Carol said...

re putting teachers on a pedestal, I posted this over at ZFI, seems relevant here.

I believe the "perfect" Zen Master is a myth ... an idealization, a goal, and a projection of our desire to be perfect. I doubt there has ever been such a perfect human being, including Shakyamuni Buddha, who has never succumbed to the three poisons -- greed, ill-will, ignorance -- in body, speech or mind; who has never lost his/her temper, never spoken harshly, never wished for what s/he could not have, never acted rashly or inconsiderately or hurtfully, or thought unkindly about anyone.

I believe this myth is pernicious when students project it on our human teachers for two reasons:

(1) It's not real. The teacher is human and will sometimes be off the mark. This sets up a "cognitive dissonance" in the student that can cause all kinds of problems, including denial that the teacher's conduct is off the mark, when in fact it is. I think the situation with Eido Shimano illustrates this quite well in its most extreme form. Many of his students, apparently for decades, denied that his conduct was wrong and/or excused it as some sort of expression of his "being at home in the unconditioned." In other words, the projection got in the way of the students' clear seeing and their own good judgment as to what constitutes ethical conduct.

(2) This unreality also sets up a "cognitive dissonance" in the teacher. The projection of perfection on oneself is a hard burden to bear. The teacher is not getting honest feedback from his/her sangha. Even in the best of us, this can foster delusion or at least failure to adequately inquire into our conduct and to allow our bad habits to grow unexamined. Again, Shimano is an example of the extreme end of the spectrum, someone whose denial is apparently so deeply ingrained that he has become a menace.

This doesn't mean that we cannot reasonably expect our teachers to act ethically. I think we can and should expect ethical conduct. And when they fail to act ethically, I think we should tell them so and there should be consequences … depending on the severity of the misconduct … up to and including censure or dismissal by some kind of oversight body -- the board of directors of their sangha, or some kind of external authority that doesn't currently exist but is under discussion, I believe, at the AZTA.

I also think we can reasonably expect our teachers to model the kind of humility that comes from deep inquiry into their own conduct. That would include acknowledging their faults, and teaching by sharing their own struggles with them. This may be a novel "Western" idea, or not, I really don't know. But I think this is the most healthy way for all of us to learn together. Some may be further along than others, but we're all on this path together, and we can help one another through this kind of openness.

I think the "perfectly imperfect" notion is often misused to excuse what is inexcusable. We need to be careful in Zen not to be confuse seeing the nature of "things as they are" -- which gives rise to wisdom and compassion -- with irresponsibility for our actions in body, speech and mind. This is a trap. It is delusion.

Finally, I do think some kind of projection on the teacher is inevitable and necessary and potentially good … our desire for perfection carries inside it our longing to fully realize our true nature. To the extent that we project this full realization on our teachers, we begin to imagine that it is possible. That imagination is the antidote to despair and cynicism. But teachers must be wary of it, handle it with great sensitivity and with humility, and work with their students to help them realize that "perfection" is an ongoing process of waking up, rather than an end-product or place out there somewhere else.

Nathan said...


Thank you for that. Very clear and to the point.


Anonymous said...

Even so Nathan, genpo will continue to teach and those who put him on a pedestal have to deal to some degree with their complicity in idol making..but first the tears.

My saying that is nothing to do with shitting upon anyone ( and you know that )...though they may well feel that some one did do the shitting and from a great height..the height of a pedestal maybe ?

As for the pain of those who were exploited.......alright then , name one blameless one, totally blameless... one of natures innocents who in no way had any calpability? Who knew nothing of what this man was capable of, didn't know his history , who failed to notice the love shinning from the eyes of his star student?

A better story is that it caught them all by suprise...the whole sangha ...!Yea, sure.

Since we are being buddhist about this , which one was karma-free and pure , who Genpo just came in and did to them what what he does best... teach?

It doesn't make what happened right or even wrong.. and how does it look from the apex..ok, lets not go there ..cos that will really get us in trouble. But some of that vast projecting sticky shadow rage ,that 'fucking tune ' sounds like the death cries of something.

As for the sangha...well as I said the cash cow has gone..but maybe that is too deeply buried in the belly of the shadow to speak about and lets NOT speak of the relentless need for some to seek some one to bow before..who will lead them now?
Maybe Rich..and why not , they have to follow someone..because really deeply thinking for themselves is too fucking hard.

But hey, learn nothing if you please and scream betrayal even louder.

Next week or the week after that it will be internet history, old news, stale news .fit only for google search ...till another one comes along..its already getting worn out..there is no real juice to the contrite is Genpo really..ask those who went to Ameland!

Genpo is only really answerable to himself, he said as much many times in his talks even on zen eye and he also said as many times that he knows nothing..but it made no difference to those who needed an idol.

The king is dead, long live the King. And soon it will be time for Big Mind.Inc.

If this matter doesn't wake up some of those who are addicted to whorship and adoration of another human being..nothing will, because it has happened before and it made no fucking difference. So no I am not changing my tune

But thanks for posting my comments I wondered if you would because it goes a bit against the grain.I'll leave it there. And wish all the players in this cosmic melodrama well, till the next act. Same story , difference sangha.

(and if you feel this will ruffle too many hurt feathers, please don't post it....Genpos character was never hidden..the charismatic Aplha male always sat on the cushion, he knew it, they knew it and many of the women adored him for being it)

Nathan said...


You're just being arrogant now. "Learn nothing and scream betrayal."

My original post was respectful of Genpo, and I have written at least three posts about the need to balance teacher transgressions with student responsibility for their role in dysfunctional sangha dynamics.

Here's one example.

I have been more than fair to these teachers, even when others have come on my blog to blast them to pieces.

And you're right. These stories are getting old. I'm tired of them as well. I also don't think they'll go away anytime soon. At the same time, if no one ever tries to come at them from different angles, and make some effort to contemplate and care for the whole works, then nothing much changes.

If you think I'm wasting my time, so be it. If you think I should shut up and stop whining, so be it. Points taken. I disagree. Let's move on.

I see Zen teachers all over North America trying to make sense of all of this, along with their students and others. I'm not alone. And even if in the end, none of our collective efforts change anything, it's still going to be part of my practice.


Algernon said...

"People love to hide out in statements about emptiness and the world being a delusion. But when it's your best friend, or partner, or mother or father crying and feeling torn up by an exploitive experience with a teacher, I bet your fucking tune changes."

Word! Never mind the coarseness, this is wise parental anger and well spoken.

Rich Streitfeld said...

I am just seeing this for the first time and it is indeed a serious matter. But did he need to use "disrobe" in the first sentence?

michele3d said...

As a student of Genpo Roshi's, I just want to say what a wonderful teacher he is and how sad I am to hear of all this. I wish I could be there to comfort my sangha tonight, but I moved away about a year ago. I don't know any of the particulars except what has been stated publically. So to all Kanzeon members, and members of the mahasangha, I extend my love. Ditto to Genpo Roshi and his family. May you find peace, realization and profound healing. Remember Kanzeon.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous", based on their posts, seems to be either a troll, or a compatriot of Roshi (if not Roshi himself). Nathan, you're absolutely right to characterize it as 'arrogance', and that characterization is the single strongest trait suggesting it is Roshi.

If a doctor or a dentist 'violates' the 'sacred trust' put in them by their patients, they are not only censured, they are, at the very least, also restricted from the practice of their discipline ever again. They may also be facing criminal charges as well.

Roshi is no different. This is a charlatan who has hidden out in the spiritual community precisely because he is aware of the nebulous nature of such safeguards within that community.

What "Anonymous" so disingenuously ignores is that the teacher IS the teaching. Or, to put it another way "If he is an example of what following his teachings produces, make mine vanilla."

"Anonymous" possesses exactly the sort of virulent, delusional mindset that allowed sexual impropriety to not only exist, but THRIVE within the Catholic church for so long. It is anathema to the teachings of karma, not to mention ethics. It has about as much correlation to the teachings, zen, or anything else "good", as shooting heroin.

Roshi should do more than apologize. He should be required to pay restitution to those whose trust he violated. Authorities should put a lien on all future earnings he makes with anything having even a remote connection to 'big mind'. If he was truly remorseful, he would have already volunteered as much. Since he didn't, that speaks volumes as to the sincerity of any emotional appeal.

As for the pedestal, it is within a students right to place anyone they want onto one. It is within a teacher's responsibility to keep their behavior above reproach, so that regardless of whether they are placed on one or not, they are worthy of such an honor. In this case, as in most cases of such abuse, this teacher sought that pedestal, then leveraged it for his personal advantage, to the detriment of others. It is for that reason, especially in the face of the PATTERN/PREDILECTION for such behavior, that Roshi should be prevented from EVER holding such a position of trust again, as he's shown he lacks both the discipline, and the self-effacement necessary.

This isn't's a preventive measure to avoid future, continued offenses.

Nathan said...

Anonymous, I still think Genpo, like anyone else, could wake up to all of this, get to work on making amends and atonement, and spin some of this misery around. In fact, I wish for him that he does.

But beyond that, your points are very true. He shouldn't be teaching at all now, and perhaps never again. And as long as too many Zen students sit around and either defend teacher power abuse, or passively let it happened, we're going to keep seeing a hell of a lot of misery unfolding.

There are signs that some are waking up and getting more proactive. I have seen it in my own sangha, following our own scandal. But it's hard to know if it's enough for a change beyond any individual sangha. Major changes around how student-teacher power dynamics play out must go beyond individual sanghas.

Anonymous said...

Big Mind Inc...

The king is dead, long live the king

and no, don't be so silly, this is not genpo, just someone who does not feel a need to join the lynch mob..

by the way have you checked out sweeping Zen..the plot is messy than the pure ones would have the wider zen community think, who would have thought one of the key players in the 44 zen teacher rebuke of genpo also herself had had a sexual affair with both Genpo and a long time sexual relationship with Maezumi..and was even a family friend and doctor ....and was married at the time ..and so it goes.

But some of us knew already that there was more capability all round than simply genpo.Likewise I prefer the letter he has on his new site, it has more balance.

I particuarly like the line, and in his case so true.. that the only dharma he can really teach from is the realities of his karma. Good stuff Genpo.

..and so the world turns.

Regardless of what you think of me Nathan , no matter how dramatic and painful the situation ,it is never down to one man and you refused to see that in any of your reponses to me. Fair enough. I am glad Genpo will be back to teaching very soon..others might not be. But so what?..He has slipped out between the bars of Zen, a lesson I take to heart.

Nathan said...

"Regardless of what you think of me Nathan , no matter how dramatic and painful the situation ,it is never down to one man and you refused to see that in any of your reponses to me."

It's you who hasn't this blog closely enough. Peace.

stuartresnick said...

how do you handle the incoming news about power and sex abuse in sanghas, and other spiritual communities?

One way to view a Zen Master (or similar teacher) is to consider him/her a superior being to follow and emulate. Believing that this person has achieved a Higher Level is the inspiration for me to put effort into my practice.

Looking at the history of meditation groups, I see evidence that many people need or want this type of belief. That at least some of us, some of the time, only make our own efforts when inspired by belief in a Leader.

If such gurus didn't exist, we'd have to invent them. While recognizing the useful role belief in a Leader can play, we can also recognize how experience shows us the dark side of such relationships. If we follow someone, perhaps the downside is inevitable, even if (especially if?) the Leader doesn't bring it toppling down with clearly bad behavior.

A different way to relate to a teacher is like someone holding a flashlight, the light of which helps you find your own way. Or like someone handing out maps that you can use to search on your own ("go to this place, take 10 paces East, dig down 3 feet, and see for yourself if you find a treasure"). When relating to a teacher this way, what matters is whether the teaching points to something you can find for yourself... moreso than any judgement about the teacher himself.


Nathan said...

This post is still getting reads, months later. Pretty interesting.

I really believe, Stuart, that even if we approach a teacher like Genpo without the guru worship focus, it's still important, in a group context, to hold someone like him responsible for damaging behavior.

At the same time, it's incumbent on everyone in that group or spiritual community to take responsibility for their own lives and practices. Ultimately, more weight needs to be placed on this end, as each of us must walk our own path, however together we might be.

I've written a lot about this stuff, as my own sangha went through a smaller version of what happened in Genpo's community, and after awhile, it became very clear to me that the sangha helps create the "fallen teacher."

ben's have-a-better-life blog said...

Big Mind here and this is a note, delivered with kindness and compassion for all the tiny little egos who see fit to comment on Genpo Roshi's so -called "transgressions". Maybe you should try "mind"-ing your own affairs only and concerning yourselves with your own enlightenment! In Big Mind's opinion, GR's Big Mind process the single most powerful technique one can use to access a part of consciousness that would take years to reach (if reached at all) using other more traditional means. Period. I, Big Mind could care less what Genpo Roshi does in the field of Maya with other consenting adults. Deification of teachers or placing expectations or rules on anyone else's behaviors is a slippery slope and a waste of precious time and resources. Peace to all, Big Mind out...

Nathan said...

Ben, I have tried the Big Mind process before. It's fine. I can imagine it's a gateway for some folks.

But clearly Big Mind hasn't done much to address your arrogance, or your ability to ignore the impact of deeds in the form world.

This is one of the things I see with Big Mind Practitioners who have commented on posts about Genpo - the tendency to speak from an absolute place, as if emptiness is all there is.

We have to take care of the form world as well. Including dealing with the impact our behavior has on others.

Anonymous said...

I met Genpo (then Sensei) in Holland
back in the 80's, when my wonderful Aikido teacher Peter Bacas who had started me sitting encouraged me to go do a sesshin with a "real zen master". For maybe 5 years I kept going back twice a year to sit with his group. I also listened a lot to a set of teisho tapes, learned a lot and liked him as a teacher at first. The sitting was great of course. He had, like me, done some Werner Erhard courses- he had done the est training and the 6-day course, while a monk in LA- I had done a lot more than that, for 6 years. Then I had met Peter and said "this is the REAL THING!" and dropped all contact with est, the forum etc. despite all I had gotten from those brilliant courses: because that sort of organization and methodology inevitably leaves traces in your head which are not you. I had to find my own way- Aikido and zen being, for me, much more pure and unencumbered.

I asked Genpo about the est courses in dokusan one time, he said he had loved it (with some misgivings) "especially the 6-day course!" and I asked him if he thought of combining it someday with zen. he said, if he knew how to do it, he would have.... Well, to my mind Big Mind does have some traces of W. Erhard, for better and for worse, even if unacknowledged....Anyway, that was something we had in common, and it was good to talk it over with him.

Also, I have to acknowledge another
couple of key conversations when what he said was very helpful and amazingly on target. In many ways he was an impressive character!

But then something bugged me- at the last sesshin of his I went to saw a side of his I hadn't seen before which I didn't like, some manifestation of selfish,
pleasure-driven ego....

And that was the last time I went to see him; somehow my stomach was turned whenever I considered the possibility. At that sesshin he movingly told us how he had given transmission to his wife, with whom he had two kids, and confessed to some unfaithfulness and cried in front of us. It was moving but somehow unconvincing.
Right after that, I heard details, that he had had an affair with a Polish student. So what is this, your wife gets transmission and now she is done, so you are free to leave her???

Apparently many of his group in Poland left him at that point and went to Bill Kwong Roshi. I myself happened to meet Kwong Roshi in Germany and immediately saw the difference. Here was, finally, a zen teacher I really just liked.
Coming home, meeting myself, laughing, crying...

It is not so complcated!

Years later I heard there had been more trouble in Maine, I think he had left a group there for the same sort of reason, then had married in Utah to a distant relative of Brigham Young or something. Then Big Mind came along and I listened to a bit of it. I'm sorry, my reaction was, I don't want this BS, it's too much like Werner, just leave me alone Ken Wilber and Genpo with your promises and let me sit! Recently I got Kwong Roshi's "Breath sweeps mind"- what a contrast, pure clean breeze guided by a pure happy soul. It is just purely wonderful. I guess that never in a thousand lifetimes will Genpo reach that simplicity. Please, lord, save us from the likes of these complicated, greedy and ambitious folks and give us just a few simple and nice people....

Anonymous said...

Everyone you meet is your teacher. Forget who said it but it bears repeating here. A 'teacher' who abuses their power especially with their students, needs to become a 'student' again. They also need to make amends. Wash the feet of the poor, donate some of their time for free etc. We all have falls from grace. It is what we do after that fall that shows whether we have learned the lesson.

Brian said...

While reading all of this I found myself cheering "Anonymous" and agreeing with him in many ways. After I read everyones comments I thought about it and tried to look at it from multiple perspectives. The only thing that I can say to "Anonymous" is that not everyone has the same capabilities as you may have to see everything clearly. Some people are challenged in many ways and are vulnerable to exploitation. These people will be much more likely to fall pray to someone who has a trusted "Title" because they are expecting a certain type of behavior from that individual. Gempo Roshi's Title carried with it certain assumptions of ethical behaviors. When a person uses that Title "with these assumed ethical ideals" and then violates those assumptions then they have done something wrong. The sticky part here is something that nobody has addressed. Some people who are stumbling upon Big Mind are at a very low point in there life and are grasping for anything to free them from the suffering that they are currently experiencing. Now stepping back a little to a more broader perspective, when a teacher shows a student a path to a better way of looking at things or behaving that brings upon a relief from this pain a great amount of transference of emotion can take place. The teacher becomes adored and even loved for the relief of the pain that was previously experienced. To have someone look at you and love you completely can have a profound effect on anyone, teacher or not. In many cases it is very hard to not reciprocate such emotions and unconditional love. It is up to the teacher in this scenario to see that transference has taken place and not take advantage of this for there own personal sexual gratification. That is what is expected of a ZEN Teacher, Priest, Medical Doctor or anyone in the mental health field for that matter. A medical doctor friend of mine said to me, I could be wrong in how I am remembering this, that they are prohibited from having any intimate relations with patients for a period of eighteen months after the last visit. I feel this is a very good "Cooling Off" period. If the teacher feels like something may develop and wants it to continue then the teacher must educate the student about transference of emotion and have that person practice with someone else with no contact for eighteen months. My personal opinion is that If this person "Who is no longer a student" still wishes to have intimate relations with the teacher after the cooling off period then I feel the teacher has met a reasonable ethical standard. There is still another perspective in this. The Roshi title carries with it a certain amount of esteem that lends a great deal of credibility to Big Mind's marketability as a money making venture. For Gempo to maintain that title with the full understanding that he was not meeting the assumed ethical responsibilities is unethical in itself as well.

Brian said...

It is also my personal opinion that Gempo's statement covers these ethical breaches and I wish him the best with all his endeavors even if that includes "Making a living" teaching Big Mind. Now comes my unconventional "Opinion", if Gempo chooses not to change his ways with respect to sleeping with people he is teaching and makes it very clear, perhaps with a signed discloser form that he WILL sleep with any student that he finds attractive if they come onto him. This may sound outrages to some but at the same time I feel it sets the proper expectations and if someone is uncomfortable with this then they can choose NOT to take the class. If they sign it and go ahead with it in full knowledge of what may happen then his ethical responsibilities have been met as far as I am concerned. With all this being said I can see the validity of all the perspectives posted here. My only advise to anyone reading this is to remember that there are always multiple perspectives in every situation and every perspective has a partial truth to it. I feel that the only hope we have of creating a peaceful ethical world is to try and understand others perspectives, this is not to say that others perspectives hold equal weight, just that they are taken into consideration before snapping to judgments of any kind. All in all I have found this a very thought provoking blog and enjoyed reading everyones comments.

Thank you everyone for posting!


Nathan said...


I think you make a lot of good points. In fact, I might even support the idea of a signed disclosure if it helps to create a situation that is honest, open, and respectful. The problem with Genpo is that he's crossed the line numerous times, and thinks he can just keep teaching in a manner similar to before the last scandal broke.

We have had discussions at our zen center and another local zen community connected to us about how a teacher might approach having an intimate relationship with someone who has been a student. I personally think it's important to recognize that not every teacher/student relationship is a predatory, damaging dynamic. The cooling off period idea has been floated, where the student finds someone else to work with as their teacher, and the current teacher reflects on the relationship for a period.

There has to be more really deep and probably somewhat difficult conversations happening in Zen communities, because simply having rigid, black and white policies about student/teacher relationships isn't going to cut it.

Sandia said...

I had no idea who Genpo was. Am Indian living in South Africa. Outside of USA people dont much give a hoot about high profile sex scandals etc the way Americans do -and the big fuss they make when people are caught out. We dont expect people to be perfect - in order to reveal a truth...So i heard his talk without any background - and it was wonderful. blew me away. Here are what pretty spiritually "advanced" members of my site said:
T; Hey S, I thought is was very interesting too and it taught me a great shouldn't try and discard of the ego..
SP : Wow just heard the download now. This was truly...not what I expected and very valuable!!
I must admit I was cynical. Have heard of so many courses and so many "guru's" ... everyone is always trying to convince you that their "new" way of looking at the world is the answer .... But I had a little spare time on my hands and happened to be online, so downloaded it. All I can say is WOW. I didn't have time to listen to it all, but awesome stuff! Not what I had expected either ... so much food for thought. Can't wait to listen again with my full attention, to the whole session. :)

We send love and light to USA psyche for less judgement more love and acceptance.

Anonymous said...

There is something going on with men that doesn’t feel right to me, around sex. Some shadow side keeps lurking in them. It is all too common. I think there is a deep seated insecurity in them that seems to have to play out in the sexual arena. Perhaps it is the dysfunctional relationship they had with their fathers such that they spend the rest of their lives trying to prove to themselves that they are ‘a man’....and that gets played out in the sexual arena....where they feel like a stud or something, and that nothing is more manly to them than to be a stud. Who knows. All I know is that I saw the effects my dad's womanizing had on our family, and he did it all under the guise of it having a 'higher purpose'...that he was 'helping' the women. For us to see it otherwise was just our own sickness in his opinion....'get your mind out of the gutter' were the kinds of comments that came forth. What is so sad is that we all really wanted to believe him, that he really was a good person who was doing good to others. Yet all it was was him perpetually lying to us, making us feel 'low' for thinking something was off with his scenario, and him trying to make his own sad dysfunction into something grand. And I also saw that all his women had their own set of psychological problems. They were all a perfect match for each other.

I don't mind that my dad was insecure, that he was human, and I don't mind that all his women allowed him the chance to play out his shadowside (as well as their own). What I hated seeing most was how my dad kept kidding himself into thinking he was 'great', that he was better and smarter than everyone else, and that he thought he was actually pulling the wool over all our eyes. What I would have wished for him before he died of a heartattack at 56 (from the stress of trying to keep his lies from being totally revealed to everyone) was to come clean WITH HIMSELF. Totally clean, which is the hardest thing of all for any of us to do. THAT is humility. THAT is true nakedness. THAT is where real growth begins. He chose to die before facing himself. Genpo may or may not be facing himself, but my feeling is as long as he remains in the public eye, he is still unconsciously running away from himself and using an outside distraction to keep him from doing the real work.

Anonymous said...

Brian, you state "if Gempo chooses not to change his ways with respect to sleeping with people he is teaching and makes it very clear, perhaps with a signed discloser form that he WILL sleep with any student that he finds attractive if they come onto him...." Interesting that your example assumes it is the women who are coming on to Genpo. The much greater likelihood is that it is the other way around. How would that disclosure form read then? "If you enter into a teacher/student relationship with me, you understand that I may, if I find you attractive, try to enter into a sexual relationship with you, and that if you enter into this extracurricular, 'special' relationship with me, that you agree to keep it a secret between just you and me."

Jamie said...

I've been on the path since 1978, I'm not a "priest" of any sort, but would like to offer one observation. As Hsin Hsin Ming said in his discourses in The Book of Nothing - Discrimination is the gate to hell. As far as I can tell, there is one discrimination worth making, am I acting consciously or not? If yes, there is no blame, and indeed no karma. If my actions cause others suffering, then it will be their teaching. If no, then I am in hell, because nothing good can come of it. Genpo seems to have acted in a way he regrets. I would ask him, is it because you were acting unconsciously? Or because others have judged you immoral? There is nothing moral or immoral in concsiousness, or conscious actions. The addition of morality in the evaluation of someone's actions comes from interpretations of Buddha's teachings, I can't find it anywhere in his teachings. I do find a lot of teaching on how morality is a set of fixed ideas which have nothing to do with consciousness, in this moment. It has to do with ideas carried constantly over from the past. In short, to act consciously is to act rightly. To act unconsciously is to act in darkness. If Genpo is apologising and feels guilty, then I think he should disrobe as a teacher, not because sleeping with students is immoral, but because he doesn't understand how to be awake and act consciously, so how can he teach others? If one looks cursorily at one of the greatest teachers in the last century, Trungpa, and his actions with his students, one cannot go on and on about morality. He made a huge joke of it, as indeed many other great teachers have done. But no one ever deals with that, it simply is pushed under the rug, while the "priests" talk about morality. So, Genpo, my suggestion is to wake up and act consciously, and if you are consciously sleeping with students then it is right action, but then there will be no question of considering others' opinions, or even suffering. You have a family, perhaps you should ask yourself, am I conscious with these people, awake, completely in the moment? Or behaving according to society's expectactions of what a "family man" is? When Buddha left his wife and child to meditate before his enlightenment, was he behaving as a good family man?

Anonymous said...

I simply had to thank you so much again. I do not know the things I would have worked on without those recommendations revealed by you over such a subject matter. It had been an absolute traumatic concern for me, but looking at a well-written way you processed it forced me to weep for fulfillment. I am happier for your work and as well , pray you know what an amazing job that you are carrying out teaching the mediocre ones via your web site. I know that you've never encountered all of us.
SEPTLS36657Y03R - Power Cables

Anonymous said...

Nearly 30 years ago I heard exactly the same concerns about this man, who had left the US because he was not prepared to accept responsibility for his behaviour there.

Yet he was able to devastate both families and homes in the UK and Netherlands during the 1980's by his grooming of vulnerable women, who were persuaded it was their destiny and spiritual duty to give him all their money before following him around Europe.

At that time, he was married to a woman who has been written out of his biography. Moreover, nobody was financially dependent on this sponger - quite the opposite - although they were deluded into believing they were spiritually dependent on him. Without them, he was nothing and anyone who makes excuses for his behaviour now simply empowers him to continue exploiting and abusing others.

A crook and a charlatan who has brought American Zen into significant disrepute.

Andy Ferguson said...

There is not much informed discussion about Zen's history and what led to the problems now faced today by Western and Japanese Zen. For some years now I've tried to examine Zen's origins using old and little known Chinese documents, all to better understand Zen's origins and evolution. What I've found bears directly on the problems Zen faces today. My forthcoming book, "Tracking Bodhidharma," examines critical questions in historical detail, and I think it will help inform our understanding of Zen and its current problems. In a nutshell, Zen really was an anti-establishment movement that tried to avoid imperial support, rejected metaphysics, and even rejected or was nearly indifferent to many doctrines that later came to pervade the "Zen tradition" we know (including, surprisingly, following the Bodhisattva Path). Of course, Zen today regards the Bodhisattva Path and the Heart Sutra as foundational elements. But early Zen, the evidence shows, saw the danger in giving exalted spiritual status to non-home leavers (i.e. bodhisattvas, especially emperor bodhisattvas like Wu but others too). It also rejected the inherent metaphysics of "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." In my former book "Zen's Chinese Heritage," which is translated directly from the most prominent parts of the historical Zen lamp records, there is little, indeed almost no, discussion or praise of bodhisattvas or the Heart Sutra, and what comments exist are often lukewarm or even mildly derogatory. In "Tracking Bodhidharma (May, Counterpoint Press) " I examine these questions by citing direct textual evidence, and I focus on the relationship between Emperor Wu and Bodhidharma, Bodhidharma and other emperors, plus the conflict between Wu and his many "house monks." I think the evidence shows that the Zen tradition we know has veered far from its origins and purpose in certain critical areas. Of course, much of today's Zen is quite valuable and is to be honored and preserved. But if we don't get clear on certain critical questions I think the whole western Zen movement will remain anemic, fated to become nothing but an insignificant historical footnote.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm amazed so few above even mentioned the victims, their families, and their children...that will forever be damaged by his actions. There appears to be many that have been destroyed by his addiction. THEY are the ones that should be the focus of your discussion, not the narcissistic sexual predator. Is this a patriarchal, misogynistic organization? Reminds me of the Catholic Church turning a blind eye.

jzf said...

I am most interested in this question:
If a person claims to be enlightened, why are not they fully actualized as far as observing the precepts?

Nathan said...

JZF - from what I understand of the teachings, a person experiences awakening and yet still has "work to do." It's not really a one time event, but more of an unfolding over time. So someone like Genpo may have seen into the true nature of things, and yet still struggle to uphold some of the precepts. That's why continual practice is emphasized. The historical Buddha kept practicing until his death, for example. And I don't think it was just for show or example. The karmic knots go deep.

That's kind of a bitter pill to swallow, that someone can be both an awakened teacher and a sexual predator. But I think it's a matter of maturing whatever enlightenment is. And it seems there are plenty of examples of folks who had some great insight, but had major blind spots that never got addressed and led them to create a lot more suffering in the process.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with making money from what you're gifted in? It interesting to me that as soon as someone, particularly someone who is teaching something in the spiritual sphere, makes money from what they do then it's a scam.

Good on Dennis Merzel for having the courage to share his work and charge what it's worth, the world is a better place because of it.

And in regards to his sexual misconduct, it's a reminder of not putting anyone to high up on a pedalstool. Everyone's human, and everyone has their gifts and there's no need to wait till you're 'perfect' in order to share them.