The Four-Year Four Yana Program Overview

This four year program was designed by Genpo Roshi to serve the needs of those who aspire to be Zen Teachers. Below is an overview and explanation of the curriculum. 

The upcoming Program Year 3, "Mahayana", begins in early October 2022 with two Sunday Talks exclusively for Four-Year Program participants followed by a 5-Day Mahayana Workshop. All scheduled Four Yana events are free for Four Yana registrants and you will be contacted regularly with information regarding curriculum, dates and times, and links for Zoom access and study materials.  Scheduled events for this year are listed here

The tuition for this program is $7500 per program year. This covers costs for all of the scheduled events, as well as any resource materials. this amount may be paid over time in recurring payments either monthly, quarterly, or yearly payments automatically billed to your credit card. If you would like to work out a different schedule we will be happy to work with you.  Please contact Bruce Lambson for any questions regarding financial arrangements.

Scroll down or click these links to read about parts of the program. 





The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts 

Genpo Roshi on the Four Yana Program

The Dharma has now been transplanted in the West, and in my opinion the pot that has contained it has become too small and limited for the plant to continue its growth. We need a much larger and greater pot to hold the teachings going forward.

The time has come to create a new path towards becoming a Zen teacher in the lineage of Big Heart Zen, a path which, in my view, embraces and transcends both the spiritual and the psychological, the absolute and the relative and comes from an awakened consciousness or the apex. It will be a four year, four stage program beginning October 17, 2020, for those who wish to join at that time, and others can join in February 13, 2021 without missing anything. This program is by invitation only for those who have been practicing for many years and who I trust have the heart as well as the patience, perseverance, and who may have the capacity to eventually become a Zen teacher in our lineage. In recognition and honor of where you are at in your accomplishment, I am asking you if you would like to join me on this path.

Participation in this program will require a certain degree of wisdom and compassion, as well as the aspiration, the maturity and the skillful means to learn as well as transmit the teachings. In order to succeed in it and eventually complete all the requirements, you will need to make it a priority in your life, to create a substantial amount of concentrated practice time in order to fulfill all the study required of you. This program is meant to replace the old “monastery with walls” with the new “monastery with no walls.” Specific requirements, conditions for participation, and current schedule for the program are listed in the Summary at the end of this document.

Zen has always had the fluidity to adjust to the society and time where it is manifesting. In our day and age, we have the challenge of embodying and sustaining a genuine Sangha community that allows us each the opportunity to both give and receive the wisdom of the Buddha and the reality of the Dharma in contemporary life; to be with others who share our vision and concerns to create a world that is not so divisive, a world manifesting love and compassion for one another and this planet as our home; a Sangha that is more embracing and less self-centered, not coming from a mind that is judging or condemning, a perspective that is neither superior nor inferior.

As I enter what I feel is the last chapter in my life, I have no other ambition than to pass on the Buddha-Dharma to you. Coming from the Apex, I want to offer everything that I have learned and discovered to those of you who are ready and wish to receive it. I am at a place in my life where I feel strongly that I appreciate equally Zen tradition and the freedom from it. So I am very happy to continue to teach and lead retreats and workshops as before in addition to this program, and I do encourage you to attend as many of these other workshops as possible along with this program .

The four stages of the program comprise an ambitious and thorough examination of the full spectrum of Buddhist teachings including the best from several great traditions as well as Western psychological approaches. These stages are Hinayana, Buddhayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Before describing them in detail, I want to mention two essential prerequisites for successful engagement and completion of this program.


As you well know, the Six Paramitas are the foundation of Buddhist practice, including participation in this program. The first teaching of the Six Paramitas is generosity. It is very important that we have a practice of giving. Our practice begins with dana (giving) and ends with prajna (wisdom). In between are discipline, patience, diligence and samadhi. It is true generosity, both giving and relinquishing, that allows us to accomplish the Buddha Way.


We realize that attachments, including to self and all that we each identify as self, are the cause of our suffering. We are attached to our opinions, ideas, feelings, emotions, notions, beliefs, concepts, understandings, and perhaps most to our experiences. Eventually, and possibly the most difficult to let go of, is our attachment to the Buddha-Dharma itself.

To receive the deepest teachings you must be ready and willing to give up these various attachments that serve as barriers and obstacles on the path. We all have all kinds of attachments, even some that turn into addictions, which have become obstacles to fully finding true happiness, freedom and peace in our lives.

There are many ways we escape from the dissatisfaction, loneliness and suffering that have become deeply rooted patterns that we are now stuck in. You know what they are for you; they are different for each of us. For some it may be alcohol, for others it is drugs or food. For some it is sex and love. For others it is social media or TV. For some it is an unbalanced amount of giving versus taking care of oneself. In order to escape from our pain and suffering we move from one addiction to another, from overeating to alcohol, from alcohol to drugs, from drugs to sex and love, etc.

Many of us are what is referred to as co-dependents and pleasers as ways of escaping from the tediousness, dissatisfaction and boredom of our everyday life. Some of us have found our escape in trying to help and even fix others, knowing full well that we are doing whatever it takes to not face our own problems and shadows. This program is designed to assist you and me in each facing ourselves and serving others, not just as a boost to our ego, but as a true Bodhisattva, coming from freely functioning as an integrous human being. The question is not what is our true self, but whether we are being true to ourself.

This will be an opportunity to go through these obstacles without being run by our fears and old bonding patterns. As we explore the entirety of Buddhist teaching from beginning to the endless end it is my wish that our life is skillfully guided by wisdom and compassion.

I am asking each of you who wish to do this advanced Zen training to consider giving up your strongest attachments such as those that I have mentioned for at least a period of time. I know that it does not work to demand this of you unless you yourself choose it, so this is only a suggestion for you to consider. My own most significant openings have always come in periods when I was not drinking. My own drinking has mostly been to take the edge off issues that I needed to face and own within myself. I am committed to doing this and will not ask of you what I will not ask of myself.

As for the specifics of time, place and amount, this program will be adapted as much as possible to your individual circumstances. However the entire program is designed to give you and the other participants the foundation, the substance, the structure and the zenith. It is like building a house : we start with the foundation, next the frame, followed by the walls, and the ceiling. We build it from the bottom up and eventually complete it.

During the period of time required to complete the full four yearly stages of this program, including at a minimum the workshops and retreats specified for each stage, I would also ask you to do your best to participate or listen afterwards to the face-to-face Zoom conference calls that will be offered the first and third Sundays of each month at times to be announced, as well as personal Dokusan with me twice a month over FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype or in person. Private sessions will be available to each of you upon request for personal work either with myself or with others I recommend.


“To study the Buddha way is to study the self.” — Dogen

The first stage will be devoted to the foundational teaching of Hinayana Buddhism. It will cover the first three reasons for practice:

  • To improve your life emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
  • To deepen your samadhi and insights.
  • To deepen self-realization and awakening.

The first period of this stage explores mindfulness meditation, insight and samadhi as the foundation, and aligning oneself with sila (discipline/precepts) as the scaffolding of our practice. Focus will be on the Sixteen Buddhist Precepts, the Three Treasures, the Three Pure Precepts and the Ten Grave Precepts as the basis for deepening your practice and living the literal interpretation of sila. Many in Zen and Big Mind training have not focused very much on these fundamental teachings and practices.

It will include both individual as well as group work on bonding patterns that hinder our ability to live freely and responsibly in our daily lives with friends, family, Sangha and coworkers. We will go into the pitfalls of a vertical patriarchal tradition as well as the limitations of a solely horizontal practice. Both are essential for the Buddha-Dharma to continue to flourish in this day and age and in Western culture. It is our responsibility to reinvent what Sangha means to Buddha-Dharma.

You will be asked to sit a minimum of one to two hours daily, practicing mindfulness meditation, doing prostrations daily, and to refrain from any strong attachments or addictions you may have. This can be seen as an opportunity to finally free yourself from some of the addictive behavior and deeply rooted patterns that only serve to undermine your clarity, capacity, freedom, relationships and eventually your life. Again, this is optional and completely up to you but highly recommended by me. This first year will include a one week sesshin and participation in two of the three 5-day workshops with me per year.




“To study the self is to forget the self.To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things.”

With the completion of all the requirements I have mentioned for the Hinayana stage you will move on to the next phase of study, the Buddhayana Zen Path. This is the non-dual understanding of the Supreme Way and what I refer to as the right side of the triangle. It is based on non-dual reality as well as the free-functioning koans, the Big Mind/Big Heart process and on Jijuyu Zanmai (Self-fulfilling/bliss samadhi).

This second stage will cover the third and fourth reasons for practice: self-realization and further clarifying and practice for the sake of others. It will focus on koans, shikantaza and the Big Mind/Big Heart Process, and it will also include a one week sesshin and attending two 5-day workshops.

You will sit on your own or with others one to two hours daily and chant the Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo three times after offering incense and making bows. The number of prostrations and whether full or standing depend on your physical capacity and age.


  • Fascicles of Dogen Zenji’s Shobogenzo
    Fukanzazengi (Recommendation for Zazen) , Uji (Being-Time), Genjokoan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point).  
    Many translations can be found on the internet.  PDFs and notes about several can be found here: To see how translations of Dogen Zenji can vary: 8 English Translations of Genjokoan
  • Record of Rinzai
    PDFs and notes about several different translations can be found here:  Genpo Roshi is most familiar with the translation edited by Ruth Fuller Sasaki 
  • The Life and Teachings of Obaku (Huang-po)
    PDFs and notes about several different translations can be found here:  Genpo Roshi is most familiar with the translation by John Blofeld

Buffalo passes through the lattice window
Tokusan’s thirty blows
Neither negation nor affirmation, neither not-negation nor not-affirmation
How do use your stick?
Precepts from the Buddhayana perspective such as “I vow not to kill,” “I vow not to steal,” etc.



“When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind
as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.”

After we experience the non-dual reality we must move on to embrace both the dual (Hinayana) and the non-dual (Buddhayana) realities, including as well as transcending them both. This is the focus of the third stage.

Mahayana Buddhism is based on coming from the Apex with wisdom and compassion, acting appropriately with discernment, including the dual and non-dual realities and beyond, embracing and transcending all opposites. This is what I mean by coming from the Apex in our everyday life, it is coming from choice rather than victimhood, from trust rather than fear. From here there is no one to blame. We simply take full responsibility for cause and effect, action and reaction, for life and death. It is not ignoring causation but rather being one with our karma.

This period of practice will be focused on Apex discernment beyond dual and non-dual reality, with shikantaza, sutras and Big Heart Apex work. We will study appropriate koans, specifically those that ask us to be able to function freely either verbally or non-verbally. We will also study the Precepts from the Mahayana perspective. Big Heart Apex work will be crucial during this stage. You will be expected to attend two 5-day workshops focused on Mahayana Buddhism, as well as a one week sesshin with me, coming from the Apex.


The Heart Sutra (Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra)  pdf

Identity of Relative and Absolute (Sandokai)  pdf

The Eight Awarenesses of  the Awakened Mind

Zen Master Bankei
Additional translations and commentaries here.

Books by Genpo Merzel:

The Path of the Human Being

Spitting Out the Bones

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, Zen Talks on the Sandokai


Hyakujo’s fox

Nansen kills the cat

Stone bridge of Joshu

Mumon’s warnings: 

To obey the rules and regulations is to tie oneself without a rope.
To act freely and without restraint is heresy and deviltry.
To be aware of the mind, making it pure and quiet, is the false Zen of silent illumination.
To arbitrarily ignore causal relations is to fall into a deep pit.
To abide in absolute awakening with no darkening is to wear chains with a yoke.
Thinking of good and evil is being in heaven and hell.
To have views about the Buddha and the Dharma is to be imprisoned inside two iron mountains.
Becoming aware of consciousness at the instant it arises is toying with the soul.
Practicing concentration in quiet sitting is an action of devils.
If you go forward, you will go astray from the essence.
If you go back, you oppose the principle.
If you neither go forward nor back, you are a dead man breathing.

Participants must be able to express in living action how you will respond in each case.



“Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out,and life with traceless enlightenment goes on endlessly.”

When you have satisfactorily completed the third stage of Mahayana you will advance to the fourth stage: Vajrayana (Diamond) Buddhism, the energetic free flow of the turning of the Dharma Wheel (triangle embracing the three previous Yana, revolving clockwise).

Required will be two 5-day workshops on Vajrayana Buddhism and a 7-day silent sesshin on Integrous Free Functioning as a Human Being. We will cover the teaching and practice of the King of Samadhi, Zanmai-O-Zanmai, free-functioning koans, and the Big Heart Apex, and go into the most secret esoteric teachings of transmissions within the Soto Zen School.

We will also cover what it is to lead a sangha: what types of challenges you will face with the various personalities and shadows you will encounter as a teacher; what transference and countertransference look like; and how to recognize and work with these energies that will appear. I will share my experiences and perspectives as well as ask other knowledgeable persons to share their understanding of these phenomena.


Chögyam Trungpa: Cutting through Spiritual Materialism, The Myth of Freedom

Taizan Maezumi: Appreciate Your Life

Genpo Merzel: Spitting Out the Bones



To graduate from the program you must complete the entire four stages even if you have received or I offer you transmission before the end of the four year program. I am making this commitment and I ask you and the others to do the same, out of your devotion to the teachings of the Six Paramitas. This is an amazing opportunity for all of us at this time in my life as I go from 76-to 80, and I look forward to your response.

Upon completion of this four year program each of you will have participated each year in two of the three 5-day Yana workshops and one 7-day sesshin. The sesshin will be offered only once each year; the Yana workshops will be offered three times, only two of which are required. When and if we are able to travel safely during the second, third or fourth years we will have two of the three workshops in Salt Lake City and one in Europe. This makes it easier for those of you outside the U.S., so you need to come to only one sesshin and one workshop in the U.S. per Yana.

You will be asked to make a $10,000 tax deductible donation to cover each year-long stage, which includes the two yearly Yana workshops and one 7-day sesshin as well as personal dokusan every fortnight and the group Zoom video conference calls with me every two weeks. If you are already an active student and donating $2,500 yearly or more, your contribution will be $7,500 per year. If you would like to participate and clear your calendar for additional teachings with me they will available to you at the active student rate.

After the COVID-19 Pandemic, and when it is safe for us all to travel, each year of the program I will offer one 7-day sesshin in Salt Lake. In addition, each Yana Workshop will be offered three times, twice in Salt Lake and once in Europe, and only two of the three workshops are required. This makes it easier for those of you coming from outside the U.S., so you will need to come to only one sesshin and one workshop in the U.S. per Yana. I am also listing the events currently scheduled for those four years so you can plan now. Note that we are offering non-program events, which you may also wish to attend at a reduced rate, adjacent to the required events in the calendar. Remember this four year program begins this October 17, 2020 or if you prefer February 13, 2021.

Of course some of you have more financial resources than others. Since I am emphasizing the first paramita, dana, as the beginning and end of accomplishment of the Way, I would like to suggest that those who can and would like to, and have the financial means to do so, offer to give financial assistance to those who have a difficult time meeting the basic financial requirement. We will set aside extra donations, which of course are tax deductible for U.S. residents, towards scholarships for those who may be having some difficulty managing the full amount. Everyone is asked to commit to all or almost all, of the requested amount because I wish for everyone to make this kind of financial commitment and have skin in the game. Please let me know personally if you can and would like to contribute more than what is asked.

This program is also open to those who have already received Shiho and even Inka, and may be very interested in attending since it offers such a deep and comprehensive examination of Buddhist teachings and Western psychological approaches which I view as relevant at this stage of my life. I am sure it will be extremely valuable in your offerings of the Dharma to your students.

Since the program builds progressively on each stage, we will not be admitting anyone after it begins in October 2020 in the U.S. Therefore from the outset I need from you a real commitment to fulfill the requirements to complete the full four years of the program.

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts 

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts (Kai) which are given and received during Jukai are divided into three components: the Three Treasures, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Grave Precepts.

The Three Treasures (Refuges, Jewels) correspond to the “container” or “substance.” These are the essence of our true nature.  The refuges are:

  1.  Buddha, or the aspect of the oneness of life (equality); the unconditioned or unhindered state. (There are no precepts.)
  2.  Dharma, or the aspect of the diversity of life (differences, multiplicity) as seen from oneness. (There are precepts, or a natural way in which life functions.)
  3.   Sangha, or the aspect of the natural harmonious relationship of oneness and differences. (The precepts come alive through our actions and our relationship with self and other.)

The Three Pure Precepts correspond to the order in which we function as the Three Treasures. These are:

  1.   Do No Evil. (The Three Tenets: Not-Knowing)
  2.   Do Good.
  3.   Do Good for Others.

The Ten Grave Precepts correspond to the more specific “functioning” of the Three Treasures in daily life. These aspects of life are:

  1.    Non-Killing

  2.    Non-Stealing

  3.     Not Being Greedy

  4.     Not Telling Lies

  5.     Not Being Ignorant

  6.     Not Talking about Others Errors and Faults

  7.     Not Elevating Oneself and Blaming Others

  8.     Not Being Stingy

  9.     Not Being Angry

  10.     Not Speaking Ill of the Three Treasures

Four-Year Four Yana Program Schedule

First Year, Hinayana: October 2020-August 2021
October 17-21, 2020: 5-Day Hinayana Workshop
February 13-17, 2021: 5-Day Hinayana Workshop
May 28-June 3, 2021: 7-Day Sesshin on Hinayana
August 2-6, 2021: 5-Day Hinayana Workshop

Second Year, Buddhayana: October 2021-August 2022

October 20-24, 2021: 5-Day Buddhayana Retreat

November 8-12, 2021:  Buddhayana Small Group Sessions

January 19-21, 2022:  Buddhayana Small Group Sessions

January 31-February 4, 2022:  Buddhayana Small Group Sessions

February 19-23, 2022: 5-Day Buddhayana Retreat

May 28-June 3, 2022: 7-Day Sesshin on Buddhayana -- Salt Lake City

Third Year, Mahayana: October 2022-August 2023  (For details see below)
October 11-15, 2022: 5-Day Mahayana Workshop

February 18-22, 2023: 5-Day Mahayana Workshop

May 28-June 3, 2023: 7-Day Sesshin on Mahayana

July 31- August 5, 2023: 5-Day Mahayana Workshop

Dates for Small Group meetings with Genpo Roshi to be announced.

Fourth Year, Vajrayana: October 2023-May 2024
October 7-11, 2023: 5-Day Vajrayana Workshop
February 17-21, 2024: 5-Day Vajrayana Workshop
June 4-10, 2024: 7-Day Sesshin on Vajrayana
July 29-August 2, 2024: 5-Day Vajrayana Workshop

Dates for Small Group meetings with Genpo Roshi to be announced.

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