• Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.
  • The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything.
  • We have to accept personal responsibility for uplifting our lives.
  • We have to appreciate ourselves, respect ourselves and let go of our doubt and embarrassment so that we can proclaim our goodness and basic sanity for the benefit of others.
  • We can actually cure ourselves of depression if we recognize that the world we have is good.

Open letter to my teacher Genpo Merzel

Dear roshi,

From the moment I heard the news about your disrobing because of an affair with your student and Dharma successor KC I knew I wanted to write you an open letter. But it is now three days later and I still don’t know what to say. It is not that I don’t have anything to say but the topic, the person whom I’m speaking to (you, my teacher) and others who can (and probably will) read this (like senior members from the sangha) make me feel fearful. I guess I fear the judgments of others and I feel the fear of feeling humiliated for saying or doing something stupid. My initial reaction is to shut up meanwhile brooding on what I want to say until the momentum is over.

Could it be that this pattern, which is probaby alive in many of us, is at the root of all the troubles that are going on? I’m just thinking out loud now. Ain’t it ridiculous that I write on the internet regularly but that I haven’t really told you or other people with whom I share my spiritual training? I’m open to everybody except to the people who also practice openness. I’m affraid to speak my mind when there are many mindful people around. When I look at this it is not that I feel my Dharma brothers and sisters are unkind, it is the fear of my shadow being reveiled to myself by their assumed wisdom. So here we have it: even though I’m in the practice of looking at myself, when push comes to shove I rather have myself not exposed, and certainly not unexpectedly. I secretly prefer to hold on to the image of being a pretty wise guy (and have control over the moments where I reveal myself).

I received Jukai from you in january 2008, the 18th to be exactly. It was my public ‘coming out’ as a formal practitioner of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Maezumi roshi and you. Deep down we are all Buddhists, we all have Buddha nature, we just need to come out of the closet. Not only was this how you phrased it, it was really what the experience was like for me.

“In the Three Pure precepts, we vow that we are not going to do evil, bad, or horrible things. In these Precepts, we are saying, “To the best of my ability, to the best of my capacity, I will avoid or refrain from doing anything that is hurtful or harmful to others. Secondly, I vow to do good. This means that I vow to do good for other people, and also for other things, whether it be animals, dogs, cats, or other creatures, whether it be inanimate objects, stones, the earth and so forth.” We vow to always do good, which means to do what we know to be the best thing. And third, and most importantly, is the bodhisattva vow, which is to put your own enlightenment on hold, on the back burner, and to work endlessly and tirelessly, and sometimes through exhaustion, to bring about the awakening of all sentient beings. ”

- Genpo Roshi

Atalwin Jukai Open letter to my teacher Genpo MerzelYou gave me the name Shojitsu, meaning Truly Straight. I have been trying to live up to that name, to the best of my ability, to the best of my capacity. I strive to be the embodiment of that name, this is what I practice on this website: to be truly straight.

Today I want to be truly straight with you, more straight than I ever dared to be. The bottom line of my plea is: I hope you will truly suffer from this painful episode and that nobody will suffer more than you. I feel (or fear) that the only way to come down from your pedestal is by come crashing down yourself. Too many people want you to stay up there and will admire you for being ‘courageous’, ‘open’ and ‘vulnerable’. I believe that admiration is blinding for the admirors and deluding for the admired one. You are not appreciated for what you are but for what they see in you. You have to bridge that gap yourself, that’s the toll for being that advanced on your path.

When giving a talk or a workshop you are the most lovable guy, funny, wise and warm. But the second the workshop is over you shift to distant, unavailable, not seeming to give a shit about anything or anyone. I can imagine that someone who is always surrounded by needy people needs to protect himself and needs to create some space for himself. But I can also imagine that something that started as an expression of a heartfelt human need for space becomes an unhealthy mechanism, damaging self and others.

Also I feel I should mention your tendency to publicly humiliate your students during workshops. Even though I understand the usefulness of crashing down on one’s ego – and yeah, it is very Zen – I feel it contributes to an atmosphere of not only love and compassion but adds subtle amounts of divisiveness, fear and hypocrisy. I can vividly remember the sheepish laughter of the crowd in Ameland when you made a ‘joke’: you told me to ‘spare us (the group) the agony’ when I wanted to ask how to deal with my dying father. Even though I believe you only do it to people who can take a hit and even though I fully admit that some hits I received struck home and woke me up (thank you) I feel that humiliation does more damage than good. Especially when the Humiliator is also the Facilitator, Master, Compassionate One and Admired One. I have humiliated lots of people and not out of compassion but out of need of feeling superior. I feel lots of regrets. I feel I kept myself wounded by humiliating others and that I did it out of old personal woundedness.

Finally, there was something in your announcement to disrobe that gave me an eiry, uneasy feeling. As if the humble gesture to disrobe was actually not a sacrifice but an escape out of the Soto school, and that the scandal was used as an opportunity to finally ‘go commercial’ with Big Mind (‘To go Oprah’ as someone put it). To be honest, this is what your announcement sounded like to me: “with deep sadness I announce that I have chosen to abort my dysfunctional marriage and leave not only the ever-demanding Sangha but the entire restraining Soto school to go to Hawaii to do what I love and make tons of money in the process, from now on without any guilt or shame”. Of course there is nothing wrong with liberating ourselves, and I also truly believe that it is very tough to let go of your priest identity and your marriage, even when it was often difficult. But the ‘reward’ for this step sounds so huge that the deep sadness might in fact turn out less deep than necessary and – again this word – hypocrisy creeps in. So if you were less than truly straight in your announcement I hope you suffer from it. I just wish you plenty of time and space for profound, existential sadness instead of a swift and successful regaining of your posture.

For me Trungpa Rinpoche is an inspiring guy. His books on warriorship appeal to me. I like the choice: you either live like a warrior or like a coward. When you want to own your responsibility I feel it is also wise to own the Coward. Falling in love with a student is one thing, not having the balls to tell your wife is another. Hiding behind a false superior image is just cowardly behaviour and I don’t have to tell you how much suffering it causes.

Having said all this I looked at the precepts today and even while I care about them deeply I realize I broke most of them, if not all. So I’m not any better than you. I also failed in a relationship recently and even though I blame myself it wasn’t entirely my fault. Likewise I believe that the women in your life carry responsibility as well, nobody is innocent. And even though this post isn’t meant to put more feathers up your ass (if that isn’t an expression in the US you will catch my drift) I cannot say that my experience of the Jukai ceremony or any other experience has become less true or less valuable to me. Without you and without the Big Mind Process my life would have looked different and Basic Goodness wouldn’t exist. I’m eternally grateful for that. Actually, I have started to appreciate the fact that a flawed human being – who fucks up just like I do and may be even worse – has the capacity to simultaneously be a very gifted and skillful guide in the process of human and/ or spiritual growth and can conduct beautiful, mystic and powerful ceremonies. We are truly nothing special and there is no need to be. That feels quite liberating.

So dear Roshi, I wish you immense pain, sadness and suffering. I wish you everything necessary to shed the roshi-armor and own the Coward, a long and intense Falling From Grace. I wish you overwhelming loneliness and deep despair. I wish you more than you can take. And who knows, my prayers might be heard. Then Genpo Merzel will go through the last fase of his life as a truly humble man. I hope so, for you, your family and loved ones and all the others who care about you and you care about. Hell, I wish this for all sentient beings. Take care, Genpo. See you on the human side.

Love,

Atalwin Shojitsu (Truly Straight) Pilon

PS: You complained about not receiving long emails from me anymore? I hope these 1651 words make up for something.

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40 Comments

  1. Pausha Foley
    Posted February 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this letter. It showed me that not all of Genpo’s students are deluded, ass-kissing syncopates (as comments on his facebook page would suggests) and that, consequently, Genpo haven’t been doing as much harm as I begun to believe he had. This letter, the fact that someone wrote it and made it public, truly makes me feel better. Thank you.

  2. Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    I believe you are living up to your dharma name…truly straight. I respect what Genpo Roshi has given to the world with his Big Mind Process. And I also humbly acknowledge that we are all a mixture of “good” and “bad”. That being said, he should never have put on those robes in the first place if he truly felt that he could take them off. Two truths: First truth: Zen Monks don’t do what he has done. Second truth: Genpo Roshi, as a Zen Monk, has done it. If Genpo can not hold 2 contradictory perspectives in his mind at the same time, stay open and recommit to his vows while not offering excuses, then he is taking the coward’s way out. My heart breaks for him, for you, for me, for his students, and for the community. With love to all, especially Genpo and you.

  3. Panna
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Ben trots op jou, love you lieverd!

  4. simone
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Dear Shojitsu,

    Last january was my first time on Ameland and my first meeting with Genpo. I was very surprised about Genpo’s statement. Especially the reaction of his students at the announcement of Genpo concerning his adultery, deceit and lies made me confused. I’m still confused. I’m glad you had the courage to write this open letter. I support most of your letter.

    Thank you for this,
    Simone

  5. Geertje
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t know your teacher, and I feel relief as I read your letter. There is something powerful about not skipping the hidden thoughts. Something real and loving too.

    What all of this is teaching me, is that there are no teachers. There’s human… beings switching between the roles of teacher and student. If someone gets to play the fixed role of a teacher, it is because we enabled him, probably because we felt we could not trust our own inner wisdom. Your letter is powerful to me, because it feels like a declaration of trust in your inner wisdom. This is what you know to be true at this point in your life.

    As to that first pure precept (“To the best of my ability, to the best of my capacity, I will avoid or refrain from doing anything that is hurtful or harmful to others”): I feel that Genpo Roshi lived up to it. Apparently this was his best bid. A great reminder for all of us that words are nothing. It’s our actions that tell us where we are. How humbling. What a blessing. Genpo Roshi is a human being who – like all of us – is not always in alignment with his highest truth.

    This is a quote someone shared with me lately: “Who you are speaks so loudly no one hears a word you say”.

    Thank you for reminding me that we are all equal. And thanks for showing me what truly straight looks like. Today.

  6. Reishin
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Shojitsu,
    many many heartfelt thanks for posting this. The strength, courage & wisdom in doing so shows you are indeed being truely straight, most of all with yourself, your thoughts & your feelings. That in itself is more than most of us can do, we hide behind our shadows, robes, lives, family or friends but rarely truely speak our minds. A deep Gassho to you for being so forthright. I myself feel the pain and confusion of all that has happened & it has brought up past demons for me that I felt I had already dealt with (I was Roshi’d by my ex with 3 women) so it serves a purpose (for me & all of us I hope) to really get to the root of the matter & learn, yes we are all human, but what we do and how we deal with things makes us more so. I wish you healing in your life & to All of Kanzeon love & light.
    Much Metta to you dear heart.

  7. Kees Eka van de Klundert
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I am not good at expressing myself on paper, but what you write here largely applies to me. I hope he stays for a while at this stage, and then proceed to the next stage, the simple average weak person he always was.
    Therefore, thanks for expressing my feelings Shojitsu,Truly Straight. Gasho_()_

  8. Gerd Bo
    Posted February 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Hi

    Great letter – I really like your open and frank style. And let me add – Genpo didn’t just fuck his sensei but also several other students like he did in 1990. He hasn’t learned a bit. All these woman has been exploited because they have the same relationship to him like a client to a therapist. He has been a master in deception and now he is hiding behind a mask of owning my responsibility. I really wish him a lot of pain in order to open up his heart to the human side of existence.

    Love, Gerd

  9. Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    Your open letter paints a picture of your open heart and open mind.

    Keep open.
    In faith, question the teacher, question his teachings.
    Keep an open heart.
    Remember the Kalama Sutra.
    Keep an open mind.
    Keep open.

    Heavy Metta!
    Frank

  10. Posted February 12, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Dear Atalwin,

    I am sitting with what you have written, appreciating what you identified as the risk of expressing yourself when mindful people are present. I appreciate the complexity of your expression, the gratitude and the pain. I deeply value expressions of humanity (and see this as one) because they support me in making room for mine.

    May you and I and Genpo and all those affected but this breach of ethics and those that have occured within the worldwide sangha be filled with lovingkindness.

    May we ultimately be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

    May we all be well and happy.

    May we know peace.

  11. SoZen
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing these heartfelt words. I, too, was genpo’s student and I’ve always felt that many voices were suppressed. Critiqueing roshi was simply ‘not done’. For many years, I have fought internal struggles in trying to work with genpo or simply leave the sangha. I did stop coming for several years, but this sangha is still my ‘family.’ I am so happy that there is room (finally!) for other voices. Ironic that the big mind
    ‘process’ is supposed to be about the manifold voices that exist, and yet voices of dissent (or even minor questioning) did not seem welcome…

  12. michelange
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Atalwin,
    it’s really courageous to open yourself to the multiplicity of reactions that straight talk can’t help but provoke. you move one inch and the whole world with you. i most identified with the fear of saying something stupid and the code of ethical silence disguised as hushed wisdom in many of my so called spiritual friendships. its so wonderful and terrifying that the closer we get to the truth, the bigger the lie, like the centrigual force of a black hole, unpeeling onion of self hide and seek. Here you remind me of Genno Roshi, who as a teacher has a deep affection for wherever we’re at in the process, and Maezumi Roshi, who once said “I prefer delusion”. again, thanks for taking this step – Truly Straight, as best you can.

  13. Posted February 13, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    I hope one day to think and speak as clearly as you have in this letter. I hope your teacher has read this with an open heart and mind.

    You are truly blessed.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.
    Sarah

  14. Pjot
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    This truly is a letter from an open heart and it touched me deeply. Since reading the book “The Eye Never Sleeps” back in 1994 I consider Genpo as my teacher as well, though I always have remained a layman. His classes and sessions with people of the Kanzeon Sangha have opened more than I ever wished for, and more than I even wanted. The Way never is easy, and Owning the Coward definitely applies to me as well. Thank you for your well spoken words, your open heart, and your straightforwardness – a deep Gassho to you, Shojitsu.

  15. di
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for your letter. With so many lies and cover-ups around, an honest letter is to be appreciated.

    The things that you mention in your letter + a few more made me quit practice with Genpo a few years ago.
    When I started practising with him, I did not really see him, just a lot of projections I had about who a Zen master was. I was very naive and gullible, too. But there was a point when the reality started to hit, and it hurt!
    I could see how publicly humiliating students hurt and damaged them, and made Genpo feel superior, he did not seem to care. It was too much fun. I could see how any kind of critical thought was either rejected or just laughed off. How can any human being act ‘normally’ if they are surronded by a crowd of admirers who never disagree? I started to have a feeling that Genpo covers up his psychological problems with his position (like a lot of other people do). And so on. And it was not seeing his flaws that made me quit and that was the biggest disappointment. It was realising that none of what I see can be discussed with him, nor with the sangha. It was discovering that he had a clever answer for everything but his response never including looking at himself, and wondernig whether maybe there is a grain of truth in what he hears.
    A critical thought was never taken seriously.
    His inabitlity (or unwillingness) to question himself started to seem a serious thing, and dangerous.
    I started to feel horrible next time the whole sangha laughed at somebody he humiliated again. It did not seem funny to me anymore, it was scary.
    The same thing with Big Mind. I am sure there are people who can be helped by that methods. But also plenty others who can be hurt. Why does it not matter?

  16. claire
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What can I say? Truly Straight, you own your name.
    Thank you for modeling such candidness in this letter. A lot of what you’re saying resonates with me, and I admire your clarity in articulating it. What I appreciate the most however, is that there is no bitterness in your words, just Straight Love.
    Thank you Atalwin for publishing this.
    Love, Claire

  17. Nynke Sopers
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Hoi Atalwin,

    Je brief aan Genpo vind ik mooi en komt eerlijk en open op me over. Ik kan er erg mee invoelen en het geeft me helderheid en inzicht en meer nog de moed om open te zijn.
    Dank je wel voor het delen.
    Liefs Nynke

  18. dkzk
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    regardless of ‘who’ they are, are we supposed to sit in such judgment of other sentients?

  19. Frode
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    _/\_

  20. di
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    I believe without addressing the issues discussed below, the scandals will never cease. Here are the wisest things found on the Internet concerning the general background of the abuse of power in Zen (found in http://dangerousharvests.blogspot.com/:
    James Ford over at Monkey Mind has some great comments this morning about the state of “Western Zen”:
    The way Zen came west, through individual teachers with limited supervision, and then establishing centers that are more or less isolated from each other has created a cultish system. That’s the problem, aggravated, of course, by the inflated language of transmission. I’ve explored both of these issues before.

    I’m confident we are also at the edge of a time where people are no longer dependent upon keeping a relationship with a specific teacher or giving up the practice. In some ways the scandals reflect that reality. We don’t have to put up with the inappropriate in order to have access to the way

    Over at Sweeping Zen, Erik Storlie has an even more provocative essay about Lineage, Dharma Transmission, and teacher scandals.

    So long as American Zen relies on dharma transmission as a credential, there will be one Shimano after another – and dharma heirs who will go to great lengths to protect the master that conferred authority upon them. For if the master who has declared me awakened has erred, if he does not, indeed, “dwell in the Absolute,” then my own credential is called into question – along with my prestige and authority in the community and my ability to confer this power upon others.

    Even if the magical claims of dharma transmission are discarded and it is recognized as an ordinary human institution, it still should not be retained as a method of training Zen meditation teachers. No truly meaningful credential can be conferred simply at the pleasure of one person. Indeed, as a method, it creates toxic interpersonal dynamics in communities, for the future recognition or preferment of a student is entirely dependent upon pleasing a dharma heir, or a presumptive dharma heir. If I wish to rise in this hierarchical system, I must pay court to the dharma heir and his or her favorites, and as a courtier in such a system, I can never openly acknowledge my self-interested pursuit of attention, for my goal is always, theoretically, “spiritual” development. Yet, of course, my ability to please a dharma heir and receive, in my turn, recognition and/or authorization will give me status and even employment opportunities. The dynamics of court, courtier, and courtship create endless distortions of human behavior even in ordinary institutions – a business, political party, or college. These run wild when the king, queen, pope, or dharma heir has imputed “special” powers. Anyone connected for a length of time to a Zen Center can cite examples.

  21. Pausha Foley
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Your post was removed from Genpo’s wall – did you remove it, or does Genpo censor his wall to show only positive feedback?

  22. Clare
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Well done Atalwin. Well done. I hear your anger and your hurt, and most of all your courage.

  23. Thor
    Posted February 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a very compassionate letter. Gassho.
    I have to ask too did you remove the post from Genpos facebook?

    • Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      No, off course not. But thanks for letting me clarify.
      Gassho

      • Thor
        Posted February 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        sorry I saw your reply later thanx for letting me know. I feel this is telling me something about the future intentions of Roshi as of now.

        _()_

  24. Posted February 15, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your letter, it seems to come from the heart. I remember meeting you in Ameland 2010 and appreciated your openness, vulnerability behind that strong, muscular appearance. When I made a joke about your pink hat, I felt you did not think it was funny. I would like to appologize to you, in case I hurt you.
    Concerning the current developments at Kanzeon, I do feel betrayed. Not because Genpo Roshi had an affair with one or more students, teachers, whatever. I do not care, he is a masculine man in my eyes and he obviously is very attracted to women. How hard it is to control that, other masculine men know. The student/teacher relationship is another thing, but I do not know who slept with who, so I keep my moral judging out of the situation.
    I feel betrayed though because Genpo Roshi seems to take an easy way out. To me he is a spiritual leader and now he quits. Gone. Finished.
    If you want, you can book a retreat for $2500.-, make teacher training for $10.000.- or do a 5-5-50 for $50.000.-
    People, wake up!
    This does not remind me of raising the consciousness of the planet, but of raising the amount of money in an account.
    I do not say he personally wants to become rich, I don’t know. But pretending to want to raise the consciousness of the planet and then charging this amount of crazy money, makes me suspicious. Why not do Big Mind retreats for free for everybody, after every 5-5-50, where he made $250.000.-?
    To me the transition from religion, sangha to cult is where it gets extremely expensive.
    Where people give up their savings, some even their jobs, to do a retreat. Wake up.
    That is one side, the other one:
    Thank you Genpo Roshi for the Big Mind process, it helped me a lot and continues to help me. After two Ameland retreats and countless hours watching Zen Eye I cannot say that I saw you humiliating anybody ever. I do like your sense of humour a lot, I do like your sensitivity when working with people and I always felt you have an ability to pick people up, where they are stuck at.
    Sometimes it might hurt us, but that is part of growing up, I think.
    Atalwin Pilon, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Love, Paul

    • Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      And I apologize for wearing a pink hat. I’m sorry. I ran into a pic of Ameland a couple of days ago and I admit: it looked ridiculous.

  25. Henk
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    California, Maine, Oregon, Utah – het is teveel.
    Sterkte voor jullie allemaal.

  26. padma
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Within your letter, you wrote:
    “So dear Roshi, I wish you immense pain, sadness and suffering. I wish you everything necessary to shed the roshi-armor and own the Coward, a long and intense Falling From Grace. I wish you overwhelming loneliness and deep despair. I wish you more than you can take.”

    It seems that whatever study and practice of Buddhism you have done, appears to have no effect. I hope that you find a teacher that teaches you at least the basics of Buddhism.

    “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
    May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
    May all beings never be separate from the sublime bliss.
    May all beings live in equanimity free from attachment and aversion”

    it would seem that you just wished the opposite on your teacher.
    g

  27. mrmellownot
    Posted February 17, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    “with deep sadness I announce that I have chosen to abort my dysfunctional marriage and leave not only the ever-demanding Sangha but the entire restraining Soto school to go to Hawaii to do what I love and make tons of money in the process, from now on without any guilt or shame”.

    screwing up your marriage = $20,000 a month plus the house; screwing up your Sangha = countless life times in hell; having the balls to self promote while proclaiming public humility = priceless

    • Silver John Hall
      Posted April 14, 2011 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      MrMellownot – odd that today this whole thing (I’ve been out the loop for a couple of months) came up at lunch. And…WTF? Or deja vu, all over again. I do appreciate the occasional dose of bitters (in my drink) and gall when called for. Your response pokes a hole in the gloom and lets in some light. Very appreciated.

      Silver

  28. Michele
    Posted February 18, 2011 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    I agree with Padma, no need to wish suffering on Roshi. He will suffer plenty, especially as he wakes up to the suffering he has caused. Therefore, wish him an end to suffering just like you would to any other sentient being. That’s basic goodness in my book.

    That said, I recognize the truth of what you said in your post about Roshi’s tendency to humiliate — I caught that edge once in a Sunday meeting. It made me wary, but not enough to turn away from him. There is something about Roshi that fascinates — his glittering brilliance draws the eye and keeps it captured whenever he is in the room. Maybe this is the quality — his charisma — that drew so many into his sphere of unvirtue. Funny how someone who radiates so much light can have so much darkness at the same time. Or were we all confused as to his real character? We may never know. Having left the sangha a year ago to pursue my dreams of being a healer, I will hold to my memories of the good I encountered — brilliant teachings, kind students, the profound atmosphere of the zendo both empty and full, and happy memories of serving soup at St. Vincent’s.

    May all beings be peaceful, happy and free of suffering. May Kanzeon sangha find healing, and may Roshi discover the truth about himself, leading to the ultimate joy.

  29. Michele
    Posted February 18, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Atalwin, I wanted to add that I recognize your pain, and that it’s completely valid. Roshi disappointed us all. I urge you to move the focus from him back to yourself, and to apply tenderness to the parts of you that felt hurt. The truth is, we all get hurt and we all get disappointed from time to time. By moving the focus back to your own heart, after the pain is healed, you will find joy.

  30. a
    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your words. I would never follow Genpo as I knew of this issue back in his Zen Ctr days in LA. He did EST. (Werner Erhardt) who he admired, and then sought to be like. This is why he humiliates in his seminar. He has not changed and he will never feel pain or sadness he will just re invent himself with other very needy people that have no insight about how dangerous it is to idolize anyone.

  31. shusan
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    This all sounds like some decent working through a healthy dis-illusionment with one of the most egregiously fraudulent pseudo-Zen teachers out there. What disturbs me is how much the writer resembles the teacher he was drawn toward.
    Dude – you don’t know anything. You took lay precepts 3 years ago with a teacher who you seem to recognize has some serious long-standing problems (his sexual shenanigans go back to his earliest days teaching.) What are you doing leading another pseudo-Zen group? What are you doing blogging about your wafer-thin comprehension of Zen practice? As it appears to me, you’re basically using all of it as a way to reinforce what is clearly a substantial, hyper-masculine “spiritual warrior” ego theater.
    Go find a real teacher, who doesn’t traffic in charisma as spiritual attainment, shut up for ten years, and then see what you have to say. I hope it will be a lot less.
    “Life coach” is always a tip off indicating people who desperately want to be viewed as authorities on nothing short of “life”, but with absolutely no commitment, training, or accountability. Even less respectable than “reiki master.”

  32. Muju
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    To hear a purported student of Buddhism wishing Genpo something analogous to burning in hell is sad. I don’t recall Buddha ever cursing anyone.

    I, too, was student of Genpo Roshi, receiving jukai from him in 1991. I stopped practicing with him actively in about 1995. At that time, although Roshi’s sexual problems were readily apparent, I never saw him humiliate anyone, in any context. He was a remarkable, compassionate teacher to me. I fear that something inconceivably evil has befallen him.

    The man who rejected Zen in favor of Big Mind is no one I ever knew. I have watched him over the years with increasing horror as he seemed to morph into ego-centered individual interested only in fame and gain. This man was truly humble once, despite his sexual misbehavior. He was an extraordinary teacher. He continually exhorted me not engage in the misconduct in which he had engaged. That is as much a part of is history as his fall from grace. To deny him that is to take preserve only the worst part of his history and to delete the rest. That would be a lie.

    Whatever happened between the time I knew him and 2011, when he betrayed my trust and those of thousands of other students, is so ghastly that I cannot fathom it. But Genpo will suffer the consequences of his choices and actions without our encouragement. Karma does not need our help, people.

    I mourn the loss of once-great man. He has become a traitor to that to which he had once dedicated his life. He, a father-archetype in so many ways, has knowingly turned his back on his children, has abandoned all of us to pursue celebrity status and riches. It appears as though if he has any say in it, he will never see us again.

    I thank you, Genpo, for the chilling, final lesson you taught me: Never trust anyone who even implies that they are enlightened, because you haven’t the foggiest idea how far they can fall, perhaps taking you with them. That is a lesson you need to learn about yourself. Don’t trust Genpo, whoever he is.

    The vast majority of people would not give you the time of day, Genpo. I am will to take the leap of reminding you that it is not too late. You can find the humility you once had. You were a good man. But you must confess that Big Mind turned you into a caricature of yourself, into a smarmy denizen of the New Age money machine, someone who thought he was accountable to no one. It was no sacrifice, no demonstration of penance for you to abandon your post as a zen teacher for the life of a shyster.

    Throw Big Mind from you as though it were a poisonous snake. Disclaim your honorary titles, your official zen credentials, accept true accountability by admitting the evil you have done, and resume teaching — as though you are no one but a penniless zen wanderer. Join the ranks of the rest of us who have failed and paid the price for our failures.

    Admit you don’t know yourself. Admit you don’t know what you are doing. Admit that you were tempted and gave in to that temptation. Don’t bullshit me, man. Don’t bullshit yourself.

    You know EXACTLY what you need to do, Genpo.

    I dare you to do it.

    Love, Muju

  33. Lillian McMullin
    Posted July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I was a member of the first Kanzeon Zen Center in Bar Harbor ME. where we went through a similar situation. I guess I feel that “Here we go again!” It is so sad that an otherwise gifted teacher should behave so badly. I still remember the pain caused by it.

  34. robert
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I studied with Maezumi back in the early 80s and saw Genpo around back then. Was very unimpressed. He knew the form and the rap. He performed the role. He was 2nd in line. But come on. Please. The problem is that zen students in America look to please and to be approved of so very often. The power of zazen itself makes it entirely unnecessary to depend on or elevate a teacher. This is a big mistake in America. Maybe not Japan but here, yes. The whole pt. of the practice is to experience the freedom of your true nature. You cannot do this if you submit to codependent relationships with manipulative sociopaths like Genpo. The fault ultimately following repeated warnings and demonstrations lies with students seeking to please Mommy and Daddy. Unfortunately in Amerikana today the same holds true for politics and corporations. The rampant corruption of leadership is legion. Time for the victimized mass to grow up.

  35. robert
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Di, you nailed it brother whoever you are. ‘Dharma transmission’ is a complete joke. People go bonkers over it just like do over priests and a zillion other corrupt authority figures. The greatest of ironies is that none of us need these cons and charlatans. Of course there are real teachers out there. It is the great responsibility of students to find them and to not go overboard with the bizarre obsession with form that American Zen persists in exhibiting. Form is just another elaborate obstacle that blinds people to reality.

    I don’t think there is a teacher in the world that I would walk across a room to meet. After a little time that business is irrelevant. People who get hooked up on teachers are addicted to the form and drama of things and they completely miss the forest for the tree. The gift of zazen is that inherent in its untiring practice is the realization that you and your life experience are the teacher.

    And one other small thing. You want charisma? Go to a Brando movie, do not look for it in a meditation hall. This guy Genpo never had any charisma that young students didn’t just project onto him out of the depth of their own low self-esteem and neediness. The source of this entire problem is the blatant willingness of many people to surrender their power to obvious clowns,cons and sociopathic manipulators. Sociologists say nearly 5% of modern societies are made up of pitchmen and charlatans. See it,accept it,beware of it and get over it!

4 Trackbacks

  1. [...] And then one of his students said to me: [...]

  2. [...] Genpo Merzel decides to disrobe. After reading his public statement I decide to write him an open letter. From then on a whole series of unexpected things happened. My letter went touring through [...]

  3. [...] couple of weeks ago I discovered this website as a side effect of the open letter I wrote to my zen teacher Genpo Merzel who disrobed after a sex scandal. I liked the set up of the [...]

  4. [...] support Adi Da….etc. And a quote from ‘Open letter to my teacher Genpo Merzel’ (http://basicgoodness.com/2011/open-letter-to-my-teacher-genpo-merzel/) In it one of Genpo’s students wishes him this: So dear Roshi, I wish you immense pain, [...]

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  • Welcome

    You are visiting the blog of Atalwin Pilon. Since January 2012 I am traveling around the world in search for goodness and meaning. I named my quest "the Quest for the 21 Century Warrior". On this blog I share my adventures, my struggles and my insights. It's all about being human. If that speaks to you and you want me to help you with finding more wisdom, courage and compassion in your life, work or company feel free to hire me as your executive coach, life coach, trainer or brainstorm facilitator. I offer my skills in all the countries I visit and if I am far away I can still coach you personally using Skype.

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