Dennis Paul Merzel, also known as Genpo Roshi, is a Zen Priest, a teacher in both the Soto and Rinzai schools of Zen Buddhism, Abbot of Kanzeon since 1988, and creator of the Big Mind Process in 1999. From his initial awakening in 1971 his purpose and his passion have remained the same: to assist others to realize their true nature and to continuously deepen his own practice as well as assisting others in carefully reflecting on this life and clarifying the Way.
A champion swimmer and All-American water polo player in his youth, Merzel received a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California in 1968. He left his careers as a school teacher and lifeguard after his awakening and lived alone for a year in a cabin in the mountains near San Luis Obispo. In 1972 he met his Zen Master, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, and subsequently moved to Los Angeles to study closely with him. He lived there for the next twelve years, ordaining as a Zen Buddhist monk in June of 1973, and as a Priest in October of the same year, and becoming Senior Monk in August 1975. In September 1980, a year after completing koan study, he became Maezumi Roshi’s second Dharma successor. In April of 1981, he completed the Zuisse Ceremony at Sojiji and Eiheiji Temples in Japan, signifying the recognition of the authenticity of his Dharma transmission by the governing body of Soto Zen Buddhism in Japan, becoming the third Zen Priest outside Japan to be offered the title of Dai Osho (Great Priest) in the Soto Zen Tradition. From 1980 until leaving the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1984 he was Director under the guidance of Maezumi Roshi.
Genpo Roshi was the first Zen Patriarch to bring the Soto Zen Tradition to Poland (1983), the Netherlands (1983) and Germany (1983) and the second to bring it to France (1983) and Great Britain (1982). He founded the Kanzeon International Sangha in 1982. In October 1988 he was installed as Abbot of Hosshinji, Temple in Bar Harbor, Maine, the third Westerner to be installed as Abbot in the ceremony of Shinsanshiki in the Western world. In 1991 the Kanzeon Board and Roshi closed the Zen Center in Bar Harbor, and moved Kanzeon to Oregon, where he continued to teach with a group of his students. In 1995 he was recognized by the Soto School Headquarters in Japan as a Dendokyoshi, one of the first Senior Western Zen Teachers to be so recognized. He continued to study with Maezumi Roshi until the latter’s death in 1995. He received Inka, final seal of approval as a Zen Master, from Roshi Bernie Glassman in 1996, becoming Glassman’s first Inka successor, the second to receive Inka in the Maezumi Roshi lineage. In the same year he became the President of the White Plum Asanga, composed of successors of Maezumi Roshi, after Roshi Bernie Glassman stepped down, and served in that position until 2007. In 1993 he moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and established the Kanzeon Zen Center there as the headquarters of the Kanzeon International Sangha.
In 1999 he created the Big Mind Process™, also known as Big Mind/Big Heart, which philosopher Ken Wilber has called “arguably the most important and original discovery in the last two centuries of Buddhism.” It has broadened and enriched not only the teaching of Zen but spiritual practices in other traditions as well, enabling thousands of people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds to have an awakening with little or no prior consciousness study. It is being used in many fields, including psychotherapy, law, medicine, education, mediation, business, athletics, social work, family therapy, and work with prison inmates, hospital patients and the dying. Roshi continues to train people to bring the Big Mind process and Big Heart Zen out into the world, and remains deeply committed to their ongoing evolution.
He also continues to explore new insights and skillful means to transmit the essence of Zen, which is waking up to our essential nature free from all dogma, suddenly and immediately. He sees zazen, koans and Big Mind as three complementary practices for actualizing the Way, along with other traditional forms of Zen Buddhism such as prayer, chanting, and devotional practices, all beautiful expressions of the teachings for waking up and living with profound wisdom and compassion.
Genpo Roshi has fifteen Dharma heirs and has conferred the title of Zen Master on nine Zen teachers. He has given Jukai (receiving the Zen Buddhist Precepts and becoming a Buddhist) to 518 students and ordained 138 Priests. His Dharma heirs are:
- Catherine Genno Pagès (1992), Dana Zen Center, Paris France
- John Shodo Flatt (1994, deceased) England
- Anton Tenkei Coppens (1996), Zen River, The Netherlands
- Malgosia Jiho Braunek (2003), Kandzeon Sangha, Warsaw, Poland
- Daniel Doen Silberberg (2003), Lost Coin Zen, San Francisco
- Nico Sojun Tydeman (2004), Zen Centrum Amsterdam
- Nancy Genshin Gabrysch (2006), England
- Diane Musho Hamilton (2006), Boulder Mountain Zendo, Utah
- Michael Mugaku Zimmerman (2006), Boulder Mountain Zendo, Utah
- Rich Taido Christofferson (2007), Seattle, Washington
- Michel Genko Dubois (2007), L’Association Dana, France
- Tamara Myoho Gabrysch (2008), Zen River, The Netherlands
- Maurice Shonen Knegtel (2009), Izen, The Netherlands
- KC Kyozen Sato (2009), Salt Lake City, Utah
- Judi Kanchi Warren (2010, deceased)
He has given Inka Transmission conferring the title of Zen Master on nine Zen teachers:
- John Daido Loori (deceased) Zen Mountain Monastery, New York
- Catherine Genno Pages , Dana Zen Center, Paris,France
- Anton Tenkei Coppens, Zen River, The Netherlands
- Jan Chozen Bays, Zen Community of Oregon
- Charles Tenshin Fletcher, Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, Idyllwild, California
- Nicolee Jikyo McMahon, Three Treasures Zen Community, San Diego County, CA
- Susan Myoyu Anderson, Great Wave Zen Sangha, Michigan
- Sydney Musai Walter, Prajna Zendo, Lamy, New Mexico
- Malgosia Jiho Braunek, Kandzeon Sangha, Warsaw, Poland
In February 2011, after publicly admitting to his marital infidelity, Roshi had planned to disrobe as a Japanese Soto Zen Buddhist Priest. However, after the President of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association in Japan urged him not to disrobe, he made the decision to take an indefinite amount of time away from doing any empowerments or Zen priestly functions until he and his mentors felt it was appropriate to resume them. In May 2011 Roshi turned in his formal resignation as an elder and member to the President of the White Plum Asanga. In 2014, after three years of self-reflection, with renewed appreciation and gratitude for the old masters and dedicated to living the Buddhist teachings and precepts with integrity, he decided to resume teaching and offering formal empowerments. He continues to serve as President and Abbot of Kanzeon, now known as the Big Heart Zen Sangha.
His publications include The Eye Never Sleeps, Beyond Sanity and Madness, 24/7 Dharma, and The Path of The Human Being, and many DVDs. His recent book, Big Mind/Big Heart: Finding Your Way, has been published in twelve other languages: Dutch Spanish, German, Russian, Polish, French, Italian, Hungarian, Croatian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Danish; a Chinese edition will be published in 2014. His latest book, a novel entitled The Fool Who Thought He Was God, was published in 2013.
For further information about registering for or organizing an event, contact his personal assistant Mary Ellen Sloan at Maryellen@bigmind.org, or 801-503-5656.
You can listen to or download several live internet radio broadcasts of interviews with Genpo Roshi. For links, see the listings here.