Les Kaye Letter to Kanzeon Board re: Genpo and AZTA History

Here’s a letter from Les Kaye with some history very pertinent to the present situation with Genpo Merzel. 

I’m very sad to read this detail.

Dear Chet and Kanzeon Board Members;

Chozen Bays has informed the AZTA membership that Genpo’s Salt Lake City students’ are concerned about AZTA’s  failure to respond to Genpo’s recent admissions.

They asked her: “Why are all the Zen teachers silent about this situation with Genpo? ” ” Is there some kind of conspiracy to protect any Zen teacher, no matter what they do to harm others?” 

I am writing  to let you know that AZTA has not been silent about Genpo’s behavior, and in fact was quite active several years ago in trying to change what we felt was an intolerable situation.  Following is part of that history.

In  August, 1992 , the AZTA teachers at the time  (known in those early days as the Second Generations American Zen Teachers group) wrote a letter to Maezumi-roshi expressing our concern about Genpo’s on-going sexual exploitations and his misappropriation of funds.  We asked that his permission to teach be revoked.  That letter is attached [Dosho note: see the Sweeping Zen site for the letter in pdf].

Those of us who signed the letter to Maezumi received responses from Genpo’s students, criticizing us and denying that he had created harm.

Here is an excerpt from one of those letters to the  Second Generations American Zen Teachers:

The issues of student-teacher relationships and sexual misconduct are very relevant to Zen in North America.  I have seen Genpo Sensei work work personally on these issues and have seen him take responsibility for his past sexual misconduct.  I question and am very much disturbed by your approach as a group to address such issues. It appears that it has become somewhat of a personal vendetta for some of you and that a case has been presented to have Genpo Sensei,  a lineage holder and Dharma successor, stop teaching. 
I feel very sad that Zen in North America has come to this.  As a group, would it not be more productive to offer a context of support for one another, and a fair forum to discuss such issues rather than trying to slander and undermine one another?   I question your integrity as spiritual leaders to have so irresponsibly signed such a letter without realizing the implications to the Dharma in the West and without investigating its accuracy, not to mention the effects it could have on the hundreds of students that Genpo sensei now has in Europe and America.
- From  a wom[a]n at Kanzeon Bald Peak Mountain, Hillsboro, OR,  August 19, 1992.

Here is a second excerpt:

It seems that those of you who felt so ethically and morally responsible for signing this letter attacking the ethical and moral behavior of a fellow teacher do not have the first clue about practicing such conduct in your own lives.
- From  another women at Kanzeon Bald Peak Mountain, Hillsboro, OR,  August 25, 1992 

The following month, Sept. 1992,  a meeting – organized by Chozen Bays and Yvonne Rand of the San Francisco Zen Center, and moderated by a paid, professional facilitator -  was held with Genpo,  Maezumi-roshi, and others,  at Green Gulch Farm, an affiliate of San Francisco Zen Center.  The purpose of the meeting was to help Maezumi-roshi, and everyone else,  understand the situation and to  give Genpo a chance to respond to our concerns.  Many of Genpo’s students from Los Angles attended, as well as his attorney.  Genpo was confronted by four women (actually, three women and the husband of a fourth) who told their stories of being personally abused by Genpo.   The meeting was respectful and courteous, except at  one point when the  husband said to  Genpo:  “If you touch my wife in the dokusan room again I’ll kill you.”

(Dosho’s note: I’m deleting this paragraph and related comments because I’ve been made aware that some of the information may not be correct.) 

…At the end of the meeting, Maezumi-roshi was asked to comment.  I don’t recall his exact words but they were something like: “Don’t be the first to throw stones.”  He did not accept our request to withdraw Genpo’s sanction to teach the Dharma. 

In sum, AZTA has not been indifferent.  Almost twenty years ago, we tried to curtail Genpo’s behavior and were told that we were in the wrong.   Today we are being told by Genpo’s more recent students that we are in the wrong for NOT doing something.

If others express concern about AZTA’s lack of involvement, please share this message with them.


Les Kaye
Kannon Do Zen Center
Mountain View, CA

The Way of Tenderness: the Form and Emptiness of Race, Sexuality, and Gender
Practicing Through Snow and Cold (or Whatever Afflictions May Visit)
Restraining the Nevertheless Deluded One: Vine of Obstacles Turns Two
Dogen Did Not Practice Shikantaza and Even Had a Gaining Idea
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04701676261731412940 Oreb

    So the AZTA knew about both Genpo and Eido Shimano for > 20 years? Seems to me what's happening here is that these people are outed by the internet-age. Info is hard to contain nowadays.The way most zen-centers are structured (I've had contact with four) with hierarchies and a guy in top who gets to be the alpha-male (sure, calm and clear when supported by the structure) it's bound to happen alot. And apparently it does. The best medicine would seem to be openness and honesty. And the internet.And Dosho, I'm sorry but I've always wondered about Katagiri. I've never seen you write anything about the crisis around him. There are other sources like Goldberg however.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    This is such a tough issue for right speech. These situations are very complex sometimes – sometimes quite simply abuse. I favor "thick" rather than "thin" explanations that include many perspectives, sometimes even those that might contradict – although when emotions are running high we humans like it simple. Katagiri Roshi did have a love relationship with a woman student and was accused of other things (unverified by investigation) after he was long dead and unable to speak his side.Bottom line for me: rely on the teaching not the teacher (that certainly goes for me as well). I agree that systems with steep pyramids are likely to produce more secret relationships of various kinds, including sexual. The trend is definitely moving away from this paradigm and I'm totally in favor of that. Dosho

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04878684373898294730 Dosho Port

    gniz,You are welcome to contact me via email – wildfoxzen@gmail.com

  • doko

    I have just found this article. I was member of the staff at TZC where this meeting took place. One of the signees was abott of TZC who next year was removed from his position by sangha for exactly the same thing…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18062457049749083716 A1B5 JJ

    Having read 'Shoes Outside the Door' and 'Feet of Clay', I am quite amused at the kerfluffle this manifestation of the biological imperative has raised among our puritanical brethren. The authoritarian Japanese heritage of American Zen surely is a corrupting influence, leading to such misplaced trust and projections of hero-worship by the 'seekers' and subsequent abuse by the 'masters'. I for one hope that the non-hierarchical traditions of America like Quakerism and Unitarianism can infuse American Zen at some point and reduce the cultural perversions of Japanese authoritarianism and autism, while promoting widespread access to Big Mind and Big Love without having to shell out Big Bucks. Gassho.