February 07, 2011

Genpo Merzel Disrobes

Dennis Genpo Merzel has announced that he will disrobe as a Zen priest and step down as an elder in the White Plum Asangha, an extensive group of Zen communities practicing in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi.

Merzel writes:

I have chosen to disrobe as a Buddhist Priest, and will stop giving Buddhist Precepts or Ordinations, but I will continue teaching Big Mind.  I will spend the rest of my life truly integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into my life and practice so I can once again regain dignity and respect. My actions have caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion, and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha, and for this I am truly sorry and greatly regret. My behavior was not in alignment with the Buddhist Precepts. I feel disrobing is just a small part of an appropriate response.

I am also resigning as an elder of the White Plum Asanga. My actions should not be viewed as a reflection on the moral fabric of any of the White Plum members.

He expresses sorrow for hurting those close to him with his sexual misconduct. Read the complete statement here.

The White Plum Asangha has accepted his resignation, posting a Special Announcement on their site: 

The White Plum Asanga Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Genpo Merzel from White Plum Asanga membership as well as an Elder of the White Plum. This resignation is a result of his recent disclosures regarding sexual misconduct with several of his students. Please see the Big Mind website for their statement. On behalf of the White Plum organization, I extend our support for Genpo's efforts in recovery and treatment and to the teachers and members of the Kanzeon Sangha in their efforts in healing and realigning their communities. --- Roshi Gerry Shishin Wick, President, WPA

We join with the White Plum Asangha in wishing the best for all the members of Genpo Merzel's sangha and personal circle hurt by this announcement and the actions that preceded it.

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clayjoslyn's picture

At least he was decent enough to admit his mistakes and to feel regretful about it. Thank you for sharing this information. It is worth the read.
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Jannie's picture

Though he has misconducted, it doesn't mean that he can't live a new life again. Maybe for him, disrobing is the first step of cleansing and renewing his lifestyle. Great decision indeed. Thanks for sharing and posting anyway!

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kyogen's picture

Many teachers in the Zen tradition also agree, and are making their voices heard, sending letters to the Kanzeon Zen Center board. Forty-four teachers signed one letter that includes the specific recommendation that Genpo Merzel step down from all teaching, and treatment and evaluation with qualified experts. Many of these letters are being archived on the Sweeping Zen website. There are links on the main page at:


Ko Cattington's picture

I agree, David. The trouble is there aren't sufficient safeguards. The Dharma teacher/student relationship is one in which the student is extremely vulnerable. For other similiar relationships such as doctor/patient or psychologist/client or teacher/student we have some kind of regulartory authority to whom complaints can be made and who can independently investigate and take action (which may include supervised practice, ethics retraining or deregistration). I'm not suggesting that this is perfect but we need to take some responsibility for this as a community and develop vehicles fro complaints/concerns to be aired and taken seriously.

Pema Gilman's picture

I'm saddened to hear that once again someone has abused power by engaging in sexual misconduct with students. It is my hope that students will see that teachers are human beings who are also on the path and not some form of enlightened god-like beings who are to be obeyed and glorified. May students quickly realize that sexual favors do not make one 'special' and only feeds unhealthy egoic desire in both parties. My prayer is that both teachers and students will wake up and that all sanghas will shower them with motherly compassion for it is possible for anyone to stumble and fall.

David Weiskopf's picture

I have no problem with compassion for the persons, but there also should be accountability for the teacher's actions and sufficient safeguards implemented to protect seekers from their recurrence in the near future. Does just letting him set up next door doing business nearly as usual make good sense?