Thanks for the overwhelmingly positive response to the previous post! I'm really glad that most people got what I was trying to say. But I'd like to address a few of the dissenting voices. Here are some comments from people who disliked that post:
• God this Genpo thing is getting really tired.
• I generally find your posts(and the one book I've read so far) to be interesting and enlightening. (But) I find your apparent attachment to the endless crusade against Genpo quite boring and uninspiring. I guess it just doesn't fit with me that a zen master could be so full of bile.
• Here's some intelligent discourse on the matter at hand if you're tired of Brads ego striven rants. http://sweepingzen.com/2011/11/26/a-meditation-on-scandals/
Genpo himself has said, "I’m not trying to justify my actions. I’m very remorseful. But this kind of judgmental mudslinging of Buddhist teachers is worse. It’s making Buddhism look pretty pathetic."
So why do I bother going after Genpo so often?
It's because I think it's vital for someone inside the Zen community to say something about what Genpo is doing. In spite of the open letter to Genpo from a group of concerned Buddhist teachers and in spite of the article by Adam Tebbe the poster quoted above thinks is "intelligent discourse on the matter at hand" nobody has really addressed what I feel to be the actual matter at hand.
I didn't see anyone speaking out about Big Mind® until after Genpo was involved in a major sex scandal. But, as I've said many times before, I think Genpo's sex life is pretty much a non-issue. It's not nice to cheat on your wife. But, then again, we don't even really know what was going on in Genpo's relationship with Mrs. Genpo.
The things Genpo was doing that bothered me were not what he was hiding. It was the things he was doing in the open. Let me break down this latest scam for you in terms of why I think it matters enough for me to comment upon.
For those who haven't seen it, the previous post was a parody of a webpage entitled Membership: Three Paths to Practice that can be found on the Roshi's Big Mind™ page. I hardly had to change a thing.
The page says:
"We are pleased to be able to introduce and explain the paths that are now open to you for continuing to study and work with Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel, which we preface with this note from Genpo Roshi himself."
The term Zen Master is a joke. There is no such thing as a Zen Master.
It may be a translation of the Japanese term 禅師 (zenji), which could indeed be translated as "Zen Master." But I have never heard this term used to refer anyone who is currently alive. It's considered much to respectful of a designation to be applied to anyone who might actually hear you use it. It would be highly embarrassing to be called "zenji."
To refer to anyone living as a Zen Master is simply ridiculous. To refer to yourself as a Zen Master is so ridiculous as to be bizarre. I have applied the term to myself occasionally just to demonstrate how incredibly absurd it is for anyone to call himself a Zen Master.
The term Big Mind® is stolen from Shunryu Suzuki's book Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. There it is used by Suzuki as a translation of 大心 (daishin), which could mean "big mind" or "big heart." The Roshi has trademarked this term, which is an incredibly obnoxious thing to do.
I used to deal with international trademarks for Tsuburaya Productions. So I know a bit about how that game works. You don't have to actually create or own a character, concept or name in order to trademark it. Furthermore, trademarks are assigned to specific categories of things. Thus if you trademark the name Big Mind® for use as a meditation system, you don't necessarily have the trademark on it for galoshes, dog food, edible underwear or patent medicine. Each category is a separate thing. And even if you own all these trademarks in the United States, that doesn't mean you own them in Indonesia, Rawanda, Finland or even Canada. Each territory is also separate. And each category in each territory will cost you at the very least $1000 to register.
What's more, because it's not tied to copyright, anyone who wants to trademark any particular character or phrase can do so with no questions asked. So if you found out that Disney had neglected to register the character Mickey Mouse in the category of videogram (DVDs and other types of home video) in, say, Botswanaland, you could register it yourself and wait for Disney to notice. Then you could name your price. I faced variations on this particular scenario a number of times.
So what Genpo has done is made Big Mind®, a standard concept in Zen Buddhism for a few hundred years, his own property.
I've noticed he has switched from putting a little "tm" next to Big Mind® and now displays a circled "r" (®). This means his registration has been accepted by the US government.
And now he has turned the relationship between Zen teacher and Zen student into a commercial proposition. He will sell you Enlightenment.
His webpage says:
"People who are here in this lifetime to commit themselves to accomplishing Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi may request to become a deshi and to work alongside Roshi in a personal manner. A deshi is one whose first priority in this life is to serve and study the Dharma and who sees their heart to heart connection with Roshi as a cornerstone in that pursuit."
The word deshi（弟子）is usually translated as "pupil." But in a Zen context a more appropriate English translation would be "disciple." It is not a term that is applied lightly.
The term "Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi" is a Sanskrit phrase that appears in the Heart Sutra. It means "complete unsurpassed perfect enlightenment." In many schools of Buddhism it is considered to be utterly impossible to achieve such a thing in a single lifetime. Again, this is not a term that's used lightly.
It is not, for example, the equivalent of kensho (見性 "seeing into one's true nature") or even satori (悟り "awakening" in the Buddhist sense). Anuttara samyak sambodhi is much, much bigger than that. It's what Buddha did and what Shariputra did. Even one takes the philosophical stance that we are all the equals of Buddha and Shariputra, simple etiquette demands that you not place yourself on that level. It's just... gross, y'know.
His website says:
"If you are one of the hundreds of people who became students of Roshi in the past and wish to continue, we ask of you to clearly affirm again your desire to continue as a student in the Big Heart Zen School. Please state your aspiration and the vision you see of your commitment or simply give a phone number and we will set up a call."
A few mouse clicks on the website will lead you to a PayPal-linked page where you can express the vision of your commitment in terms of US dollars.
Now, look. I don't mind Genpo or any other Zen teacher making some money. I charge for my talks. I charge for my books. I'm looking into ways to make more money with my blogging. I'll probably eventually sell some DVDs or other such stuff. I'm not above that. Next year I'll probably be offering multi-day seminars and there will be a price for attending those.
I think the prices Genpo often charges for his seminars is excessive. Here's one that runs $8,000, for example. But I'm not even that fussed about his prices.
What bugs me is that Genpo is charging not just for seminars and videos. He is now clearly and unambiguously charging money for enlightenment. This is like selling indulgences in heaven or promising 72 virgins (or raisins?) in Paradise to someone who blows himself up on a bus. It's the oldest trick in the religious scam book. You charge folks for something they can't even define, let alone see or feel. Genpo himself gets to determine what is and what isn't enlightenment.
He's also charging students for their relationship with him. If that doesn't sound like prostitution, I don't know what does.
For as long as I've been teaching Zen people have criticized my stylistic choices in presenting myself and my practice by saying I don't take Zen seriously. In fact I do take Zen very seriously. That's why I get so hot under the collar when I see it abused in this fashion.
There are a million scamsters out there plying their trade in a variety of religions. Some are way worse than Genpo Roshi. But they aren't presenting themselves as Zen Masters in the Soto tradition of Dogen Zenji.
There are Zen teachers out there putting their dicks in places they shouldn't put their dicks. But they aren't (as far as I know) representing this as Zen practice. And even if they do represent it as Zen practice in their private encounters, they aren't representing it as Zen practice to the general public.
But Genpo is representing something ugly and dangerous as Zen practice. And as long as he keeps doing it, I'll keep bitching about it. This is not mudslinging. This is serious.