Yesterday I joined with forty-three other Zen teachers in writing to the Kanzeon Zen Center board offering our support and recommendations for a path forward in the wake of Genpo Merzel’s admission of another round of sexual misconduct at his centers.
Sweeping Zen is archiving this and additional letters written by individuals.
We, the undersigned Zen Buddhist teachers, endorse these recommendations to the Kanzeon Zen Center Board, and to whatever body governs the Big Mind trainings regarding the rehabilitation of Genpo Merzel after his recent admission of sexual misconduct with students. Because this repeats a pattern of more than 30 years, many of those signing on to these recommendations would prefer more stringent measures. We agree, however, that Genpo should take a leave of absence from teaching in any capacity. Further more, the appropriateness of his return to functioning as a teacher in any capacity should be determined by a therapist who is an expert in the field of misconduct of this nature.
RECOMMENDATIONS for GENPO MERZEL, the KANZEON ZEN CENTER BOARD, and the Big Mind teaching organization regarding the status of Genpo Merzel
1) TEACHING: Take an indefinite leave, but at least one year, off from all teaching duties. To make it clear that Genpo takes working with this long-term issue seriously, and to provide the time and energy necessary for the work that needs to be done (personal inventory, specific therapy, reconciliation and community-healing, work with his marriage) we recommend that he takes an indefinite leave from all teaching in all forms until he has been cleared to do so by a therapist who is an expert in this field.
2) THERAPY: Expert inpatient treatment. There is an over 30 year pattern of repeated sexual misconduct with students, repeated episodes of discovery, emotional community upheaval, liquidation of assets, moving to another location, finding a new stable partner, and beginning the cycle all over again. This kind of deep-seated, repetitive pattern is not amenable to ordinary therapy. It requires admission of the full extent of the problem and surrendering to treatment with experts in sexual addiction, misuse of power and clergy misconduct. We can provide recommendations for an appropriate residential center. Full disclosure is important both for therapy and to avoid more traumatic revelations. This process has served other teachers and centers in the past, and has proved its efficacy.
3) SALT LAKE KANZEON CENTER: Make every effort to retain the Salt Lake facilities. The Kanzeon sangha has entered a critical period since these new revelations. A significant amount of time, at least a year, will be needed for the many processes that can help support sangha members through this time of great transition. They need a place to hold events, to gather, to support each other, to grieve, to be
witnessed, to learn, and hopefully to reconstitute their spiritual practice. To lose t teacher and their center at the same time would be a double blow.
4) MONEY ISSUES: Reach out to other teachers to lead workshops and retreats. Genpo is justifiably worried about stepping back from teaching for an extended period because of the effect on the center and staff of loss of revenue. In a recent similar case, teachers from various traditions volunteered to come and teach at a Zen center that had lost its teacher. Particularly in a center focused on one charismatic teacher, this has the advantage of bringing in new voices and viewpoints, and reassuring students about the many ways to manifest and practice the dharma. It keeps the center open and makes spiritual support constantly available during a time of extra need. It also helps with revenue.5) PUBLIC STATEMENT and APOLOGY: It is very important for Genpo to make a public, thorough statement and apology about what he has done, and state his plans to set things right, for himself, his students and the Kanzeon Center. The absence of a statement from the teacher himself provides fertile ground for gossip, leaks, speculation, gathering resentment and unfounded reactions. The statement could be published on the Kanzeon, Big Mind and White Plum websites and on his Facebook page. The statement on the Big Mind website is a start. But without specific actions to make amends, it is not enough. Such actions should be spelled out in the public statement.
6) OUTSIDE EXPERT ASSISTANCE IN HEALING THE SANGHA: Hire experts to help with the work that needs to be done. There are many pieces to the work that needs to be done to help the sangha: witnessing, processing, education about clergy misconduct and power structures, setting up prevention strategies. We highly recommend the Faithtrust Institute, which has had decades of experience in these matters and has excellent trainers, curricula and media materials for appropriate workshops and trainings. See www.faithrustinstitute.org for books, media, trainings, and consultations on clergy misconduct.
Eiko Joshin Carolyn Atkinson, Everyday Dharma Zen Center
Shosan Victoria Austin, San Francisco Zen Center
Chozen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery
Hogen Bays, Great Vow Zen Monastery
Dai-En Bennage, Mt. Equity Zendo
Mitra Bishop, Mountain Gate Temple & Hidden Valley Zen Center
Angie Boissevain, Floating Zendo
Gyokuko Carlson, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Kyogen Carlson, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Roko Sherry Chayat, Zen Center of Syracuse
Nonin Chowaney, Nebraska Zen Center
Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Zendo
Shotai De La Rosa, Daishin Zendo
Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation
James Ford, Boundless Way Zen
Eshin Godfrey, Zen Centre of Vancouver
Gaelyn Godwin, Houston Zen Center
Sunyana Graef, Vermont Zen Center
Ruben Habito, Maria Kannon Zen Center
Elizabeth Hamilton, Zen Center of San Diego
Zenkei Blanche Hartman, San Francisco Zen Center
Taigen Henderson, Toronto Zen Centre
Kokyo Henkel, Santa Cruz Zen Center
Soeng. Hyang, Kwan Um Zen School
Les Keido Kaye, Kannon Do Zen Meditation Center
Daijaku Kinst, Ocean Gate Zen Center
Barry Magid, The Ordinary Mind Zendo
Genjo Marinello, Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji
Ejo McMullen, Eugene Zendo
Mary Mocine, Vallejo Zen Center
Tonen O’Connor, Milwaukee Zen Center
Susan Ji-on Postal, Empty Hand Zen Center
Al Fusho Rapaport, Open Mind Zen Meditation Center
Zuiko Redding, Cedar Rapids Zen Center
Shinshu Roberts, Ocean Gate Zen Center
Grace Jill Schireson, Empty Nest Zendo
Yozen Peter Schneider, Beginner’s Mind Zen Center
Hozan Alan Senauke, Berkeley Zen Center
Joen Snyder O’Neal, Compassionate Ocean Dharma Center
Daniel Terragno, Rocks and Clouds Zendo
Katherine Thanas, Santa Cruz Zen Center
Jordan Thorn, San Francisco Zen Center
Sallie Jiko Tisdale, Dharma Rain Zen Center
Jisho Warner, Stone Creek Zen Center