Dennis Merzel

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Dennis Merzel
Born 3 June 1944
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Education University of Southern California
Occupation Author
Religion Zen
Taizan Maezumi and Merzel

Dennis Merzel is an American Zen and spirituality teacher, also known as Genpo Merzel Roshi.


Merzel obtained a Master's degree in educational administration from the University of Southern California and went on to become a school teacher.[web 1][news 1]

Merzel had what he described as an "awakening experience" in 1971.[web 2][web 3] In 1972[web 2] he met the Japanese-born Zen teacher Taizan Maezumi, and started to study with him. [web 1][news 2][news 3] In 1973 Merzel was ordained as an unsui, or novice priest, in 1973.[1] In 1980 Merzel became Maezumi's second Dharma heir.[1][web 2] In 1981 Merzel followed the zuise ceremony in Japan.[1] In 1995 Merzel received the title of Dendo-kyoshi Kenshuso.[web 4] In 1996 Merzel received Inka from Bernie Glassman.[1][web 2]

Merzel is the founder[news 4] and former Abbot of Kanzeon Zen Center, [news 5] and developed the Big Mind Process, which combines "Eastern, Buddhist insights with Western psychoanalytical ideas." [news 6] Merzel has organized Big Mind retreats and events nationally and internationally, such as an annual event in the Netherlands that has attracted hundreds of participants.[news 6] A randomized clinical trial of Merzel's Big Mind method demonstrated positive results. [news 7]


In 1988 Merzel was installed as abbot at Hosshinji, a Zen temple in Bar Harbor, Maine.[web 4] He was alleged to have had a romantic relationship with a student, leading to the dissolution of the temple.[web 4]

In August 1992, a group of 12 American Zen teachers sent a letter to Taizan Maezumi, expressing concern about Merzel's relationships with a number of female students, his lack of remorse, and his lack of responsibility. They asked Maezumi to withdraw Merzel's sanction to teach.[web 5]

In February 2011, after admitting to three extra-marital affairs, Merzel said he would disrobe as a Buddhist priest, resign as an elder of the White Plum Asanga, step down as Abbot of Kanzeon, and stop teaching for an indefinite period to seek counseling.[news 8][news 9][web 6]

Forty-four American Buddhist teachers wrote a letter[news 10] suggesting that Merzel take a minimum one-year break from teaching and seek therapy.[letters 1] The same month Kanzeon Board responded to this letter.[letters 2]

By April, Merzel had reversed his position, saying that too many students and his organizations depended on him financially and spiritually.[news 11]

Sixty-six American Buddhist teachers responded with a public letter to Merzel requesting that he follow through with his stated intention to stop teaching for some time.[news 11][letters 3][letters 4] Merzel continued to lead retreats.[news 11] The Kanzeon Zen Center Board responded to the letter with a letter to Sweeping Zen.[letters 5] He and his wife are divorcing.[news 11]


Dennis Merzel has given Dharma transmission to several students, and authorized others to teach. Several teachers have left Merzel's organization.[web 7]

Dharma successors[edit]

Inka Transmission conferring the title of Zen Master on nine Zen teachers:


  • The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen (1991, Shambhala Publications)
  • Beyond Sanity and Madness the Way of Zen Master Dogen (1994, Tuttle Publishing)
  • 24/7 Dharma: Impermanence, No-Self, Nirvana (2001, Journey Editions)
  • The Path of the Human Being: Zen Teachings on the Bodhisattva Way (2005, Shambhala Publications)
  • Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way (2007, Big Mind Publishing)[news 12]

See also[edit]


Book references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Ford 2006, p. 166.

Web references[edit]

Newspapers and magazines references[edit]

  1. ^ Jarvik, Elaine (26 August 2005). "The Zen of Sitting". Desert Morning News. Retrieved 3 January 2008. 
  2. ^ "Sitting judge: Retired Utah chief justice finds his way as a Buddhist monk". Deseret News. 24 April 2004. 
  3. ^ "Sensei Coppens: het grootste geschenk is de onbevreesdheid". Trouw. 11 January 1997. Retrieved 12 February 2011. [dead link]
  4. ^ Bloom, Anna (1 May 2007). "How to bring Zen to the grocery store". Park Record. 
  5. ^ Warburton, Nicole (3 January 2009). "New year, New mind – Zen master helps others find enlightenment". Deseret News. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Limpt, Cokky van (22 January 2010). "Verlichting voor westerse geesten". Trouw. Retrieved 3 April 2011. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Ryan, Philip (7 February 2011). "Genpo Merzel disrobes". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 
  9. ^ Limpt, Cokky van (23 March 2011). "Pleegde de zenmeester overspel of was het misbruik?". Trouw. 
  10. ^ Tricycle (February 20, 2011 ), Sex in the Sangha: Apparently, we still haven't had enough
  11. ^ a b c d The Salt Lake Tribune, Zen teachers are livid Utah colleague in sex scandal stiil teaching
  12. ^ Hamill, Dennis (1 September 2008). "Peace of mind in Zen master Gerpo Merzel's 'Big Mind'". Daily News (New York). Retrieved 12 February 2011. 

Letters from Zen teachers[edit]


  • Ford, James Ishmael (2006), Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People And Stories of Zen, Wisdom Publications 

External links[edit]