Big Mind

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Used particularly within the Zen tradition, the term Big Mind can have different meanings in different contexts, even within Buddhism. Japanese Soto Zen founder Dōgen Zenji uses the phrase in his Tenzo Kyōkun (Instructions to the Chief Cook);[1] as does 20th-century Zen master Shunryu Suzuki in talks collected in the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Big Mind indicates an awareness of reality that transcends the merely personal, or wholly subjective.

The "Big Mind Process" is a specific technique developed by Zen teacher Dennis Merzel that merges Western psychological techniques (specifically Voice Dialogue therapy) with Buddhist conceptions of self and mind.

Clinical trial[edit]

Michael Johnson, a researcher at the University of Utah conducted a randomized clinical trial of Merzel's Big Mind process. Twenty-eight participants with no prior formal Zen or meditation training, and compared for homogeneity received intensive interaction for 1 day with an experienced Zen teacher using a dialogue method to induce a deep meditative state without instruction in formal meditation sitting practice. The study used a number of well-established measures to examine changes in traits associated with subjective well-being, spirituality, and mindfulness. The questionnaires also included state measures based on meditation depth and both attention and consciousness using descriptive characteristics of subjective state.

A repeated-measures analysis of variance showed statistically significant differences between the treatment and control groups for all parameters measured. In addition, the meditative state measure suggested qualities consistent with deep meditation experiences.

An additional notable finding was significant change in the parameter of mindfulness as indicated by the FFMQ. The increase in this measure was partially unexpected as two of the four factor loadings, "act with awareness" and "observe," are viewed by proponents of mindfulness training as requiring a more active and prolonged attentional training process than would be thought possible because of the short duration of the method used in the current study.

The conclusion of the research paper detailing this study states:

The combined results suggest that a Zen dialogue technique originated by Merzel (2007) is worthy of additional investigation and may represent the revival of more direct early enlightenment approaches that have largely been forgotten or ignored, especially within the framework of the more popular sitting meditation practices. The approach may also be more effective than many older rapid “pointing out instruction” methods because of the use of therapeutic techniques that are congenial to the more “self-oriented” modern Western mind. That such profound effects can be induced in a short time period implies the potential for enormous benefit for not only the spiritual development of individuals in general but most important for clinical populations where prolonged meditation-based interventions may not be practical. [2]


  1. ^ Dōgen Zenji; Kōshō Uchiyama (1983). Refining your Life: from the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment. Translated by Thomas Wright & Kōshō Uchiyama. Weatherhill. pp. 18 & 38. ISBN 978-0-8348-0179-0. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Michael (2011). "A Randomized Study of a Novel Zen Dialogue Method for Producing Spiritual and Well Being Enhancement: Implications for End-of-Life Care". Journal of Holistic Nursing 29 (3): 201–210. doi:10.1177/0898010110391265. 


  • Merzel, Dennis Genpo (2007). Big Mind Big Heart: Finding Your Way. Salt Lake City: Big Mind Publishing. ISBN 0-9771423-3-7.