Wednesday, December 02, 2009

OMG They're coming to I have some questions...

A whole Big Mind Weekend Workshop with Genpo Roshi in March of next year...and they ask:

How often do you have the chance to work directly with a real Zen Master on the important issues of the Self and the Transcendent, and to learn practical and effective ways to tap into the infinite power and love you were born with?

Actually, here in the Pacific NW, we have a surplus of Dharma. In the Seattle region alone there are temples in the Kwan Um, Rinzai, Japanese Soto (Jiyu Kennett), Sambo Kyodan, and Chinese Cha'n traditions!

As for myself, I live in the Portland OR, area, and I have been training "with a real Zen Master" for over 16 years, the last 13 of them, with one "Master," in this area we, too, have a smorgasbord of Zen schools from which to choose.

So given that question was trivial to answer with the aid of the Google, maybe it's time to pose a few questions for the Big Mind folks. After all, they say right here:

Questions? Our staff will be happy to talk with you. Call 801-328-8414 in the US, or write us an email at

So, I think it's time for a list of questions:

1. Why did the writers of this web page think it's a rarity for people to be able to work "with a real Zen Master," when so many opportunities abound?

2. The term "roshi" (老師) stems from the Chinese "laoshi" meaning literally "old teacher." Ven. Genpo Merzel seems to use this term as though it is a Zen equivalent of a Ph.D., whereas traditionally it is bestowed in old age or posthumously to a teacher. While it is true that many teachers in the west, such as Eido Shimano, and especially teachers in the White Plum Asanga use the term 老師 in this way, Ven. Genpo Merzel's organzation seems to use this term whenever his organization is referring to Ven. Genpo Merzel. Does Ven. Merzel think his title 老師 in any way distinguishes himself from other teachers of other traditions, even if in their tradition the use of 老師 is suppressed until late in life or after death? And if that is the case, is there any other basis for this other than an argument from authority, other than Ven. Glassman "allowed" the Ven. Merzel to call himself a 老師?

3. Does Ven. Merzel think that his "Big Mind" process will lead to 悟り or 見性 comparable to what real Zen students achieve after years of study, as has been widely reported and quoted? If so, how does his process comport with what is explained in the Lankavatara sutra?

That was the easy round. Now the questions get a bit more difficult...

4. Why were the people chosen for the Big Mind "advisory board?"

5. What advice do they provide?

6. How, if at all, are they compensated?

7. Who are the owners of the corporation which promotes Big Mind?

8. Why do people on the Big Mind advisory board overlap with people in the Frederick Lenz Foundation?

9. Why are recipients of grants form the Frederick Lenz Foundation also, in some cases, members of the Frederick Lenz Foundation Advisory Committee? Is it within the fiduciary responsibilities of either Big Mind or The Frederick Lenz Foundation to have an "Advisor" of one group involved making a decision on a "Grant" to another via a member of both groups?

10. Doesn't the association with the Frederick Lenz Foundation, which is still trying to hawk "intellectual property" originally owned by Dr. Lenz conflate the meaning of Buddhism as is commonly understood by practitioners in the United States as well as the rest of the world?

11. Why did Kanzeon Inc. (I believe that's the name of the entity) trademark "Big Mind" in 2002, when the term had already been in use in the American Zen community for more than 30 years? Doesn't this conflate the meaning of a process developed by the Ven. Merzel with a term well-understood within the Buddhist community for decades, if not longer, a term which correlates with terms in some of the oldest Mahayana sutras?

12. Given all these concerns, and given that the practice of Buddhism involves not merely meditation, not merely psychological insights, but also Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, as well as Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, just why should someone fork over several hundred dollars to your organization for the chance to "work with a real Zen Master?"

Now I'm not saying that Genpo Merzel, or members of his organization engaged in any ethical or legal improprieties. Clearly, all I have mentioned above is concerns I have based on what I've read from Merzel's organziation's own site and those of the site on which he sits on in some kind of advisory role. But as a Buddhist in the Zen tradition I am concerned that much of what I read here is not complimentary to Zen Buddhism in much the same way that Tiger Woods' recent troubles do not bring fame upon professional golf.

Some answers would be appreciated.

Full disclosure: Thanks to Genpo's organization for putting up Google ads on my site.
It's awfully nice of them.


Al said...

You seem a little fixated on Genpo. I'm not sure why. The world is full of people not to like. Why focus on them?

Mumon said...

As a guy practicing in this tradition, which I have come to appreciate very much, I think it's good for all to transmit the real thing instead of something else.

Al said...

That begs the questions of what is the real thing? Who defines it? Is it unchanging, handed down, or is it open to innovation?

Are we fixed in the methods of the Tang dynasty in China or the Kamakura era of Japan and no development is allowed or are Zen masters allowed to experiment?

For my part, I'm not a Zen master. Other than going after people for obviously unethical behavior, it is not my place to attack a Zen master simply on methods. After all, if I don't like his methods, I can go elsewhere.

Unlike you, I don't care about how Genpo Roshi does his fundraising since, from what I see, it isn't unethical. I know students of his and it is pretty well known that his high pricetag events are run for people that want to pay high prices (aka give high donations) and get something in return. His center runs plenty of events that cost very little (or even nothing for those that can't afford anything) and people are not turned away. I know multiple people that contacted his center about retreats that they could not afford and were encouraged to come anyway and pay little or nothing.

I find much of the focus on him by a variety of bloggers to be a tempest in a teapot.