His followers are all over the internets gushing about their Beloved (his preferred term of address.) It all creeps me out of course, but I can’t help but think much of it all comes down to aesthetics in the end. It makes me wonder if choosing one religious form over another (including science, atheism, capitalism et al) is any different than realizing you’re a formal abstract painter, functional potter, or performance artist. Maybe it’s all just inclination driven by the quirks of character and influence.
I had mentioned how Integral Super Hero Ken Wilber had been known to champion the absurd messianic claims of the Da Man, and proselytized on his behalf. Wilber can’t seem to talk about anything without launching into flights of hyperbolic frenzy, be it pro or con. Maybe it’s just aesthetics again, but it bugs me, and makes nearly anything he says somewhat suspect in my book. Now he’s found a new Zen Messiah, and there is a tiny little controversy tempest brewing in the American Buddhist tea cup.
Dennis Merzel, given Zen name Genpo, is a well-known Zen teacher who has lately developed a “new” approach he’s actually trademarked as “Big Mind.” The promotional lit for his workshops says:
If you do spend these two days with us, here’s what will happen for you:
* You’ll have a real, tangible experience of being One with the entire universe — what Genpo Roshi calls Big Mind/Big Heart. I’m talking about the same experience a Zen master or other enlightened master has — something that usually takes decades of meditation and direct work with a spiritual master to achieve. I’m not kidding. You’ll experience this amazing state (more than once) during these two days, and I promise it will change your life — forever…
* You’ll very likely experience permanent resolution regarding at least one — and probably several — dark places in your life. At least one major part of your life that wasn’t working will finally work!
* Bottom line: your perspective on life will permanently change to one that allows you to have more of the happiness, inner peace, and personal success you’ve always wanted.
I know this sounds like a lot, but trust me, you will experience all of this — and a lot more — during this 2-day experiential workshop.
Genpo Roshi has become world-famous for his Big Mind Process, a combination of Zen and Western psychology. This amazing process allows you to experience — in just 3 hours or less — what Buddhists call "Buddha Mind" — the mind of clarity, transcendental wisdom, and unconditional compassion — and, the profound personal and psychological insights that go with it.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what this experience is like — whether you call it unity consciousness, Buddha Mind, Christ Consciousness, enlightenment, Nirvana, liberation, or something else…
…this is your chance.
And, I guarantee you WILL experience it.
Enter Brad Warner. Warner is a professed punk musician, Godzilla movie fanatic, and honest-to-Buddha Zen priest in his own right. He spent some years in Japan where he began to practice Zen, eventually getting “transmission” from his teacher (the wonderful, utterly authentic 86 year old Nishijima-roshi), ie full authorization to carry on the lineage and teach in his own right. He’s written three books , that I can’t say I’ve read, but I like his attitude and it’s good to show that things as seemingly disparate as Punk and Zen can be harmoniously married. Because they can. Zen is just life. One of my favorite Zen masters, Ikkyu (1394-1481), was a poet whose favorite themes included visiting brothels, doing it with his blind girlfriend, masturbating, and getting drunk.
In that spirit I suppose, Warner blogs on SuicideGirls.com, which I can’t really look at anymore for three reasons: 1) I’m married, and wife no like; 2) The girls are mostly covered with tat’s and piercings, which I find more silly than sexy; and last but by no means least, they are starting to look really, really young to me. They look like a goodly quotient of the students I’m teaching, and I begin to feel sort of chaste and paternal toward them all.
Anyway, on his blog, Warner takes Merzel to task. I think for some of the wrong reasons, but I’m glad he’s calling Merzel out (here he does a faux-debate, with a sock puppet sitting in for Merzel. It’s pretty art-like, not to mention funny.)
Warner reminds readers that it takes decades of hard work to become a Zen master, and truly be “enlightened.” Merzel says that you can gain the same insights in 45 minutes with him that it would take a Zen monk years to attain. I’m with Warner when he says that if it’s “enlightenment” Merzel is selling, he doesn’t want enlightenment.
But I understand Merzel’s direction. Zen shouldn’t be just years plugging away on a cushion, waiting hopefully for something to change. And time was when Zen was an elitist kind of thing – though it initially arose as a product of a populist religious revolution in China. Zen grew quite stagnant in the intervening centuries, but has found fertile fresh new soil in America, which is truly the epicenter for a Buddhist Renaissance. It’s as if all the children of particular family scattered around the world, multiplied for generations, developed new languages and cultures, and then millennia later came back together and compared notes. That’s precisely what’d happened in the US in the last 50 years. Tibetan lamas, Thai forest monks, Zen masters from countries that have been culturally estranged for centuries, newer lay traditions – literally hundreds of flavors of Buddha to choose from.
I am just one American among millions now who bought the sampler pack. I’ve tried out numbers of traditions, and seen first hand the merging of styles and traditions into a new American, or simply post-modern Buddhism.
So, back to this enlightenment thing. That word is such a big problem, most good teachers just discourage using it at all. Sometimes, you have dramatic openings or insights, where some more glaring misconceptions about yourself or things drop away. The Japanese use the term Satori, or kensho. So what Merzel is sort of saying is that he can get you to that breakthrough by talking at you in a morning or weekend. I believe that this is possibly true. Good teachers, well, that’s what makes them good teachers. They point out your intrinsic, fundamental goodness and wisdom and lead you to see it. But learning to live in that, every moment of every day? What else can do that but practice? And you never always live there, obviously. We’re fucking human beings. We fall off the horse, and get on the horse. We yell at the wife/husband/loverperson, kick the dog/cat/kid, hate ourselves for minute, and try to just be more patient and mindful next time.
The funny thing is everybody who makes it into the history books (be they artist, politician, or religion founder) does so by going out and saying “I have the real shit here, man! I’m doing it like no one else has done it baby!” Zen dude Bankei did it; the founder of Zen Bodhidharma did it; even the Buddha did it (or his followers said that he did as they tried to create their brand). So Merzel, in full-on American consumer, instant-gratification style is doing it too. But I hope his graduates don’t all go out calling themselves “Big Mind” masters, like Reiki healing “masters” who get the appellation after a weekend workshop or two. The thing that comes over time isn’t “enlightenment,” which is your natural state anyway. It’s wisdom, experience, skillfulness, and compassion for the suffering of others. Which comes as a result of seeing what natural-born a-holes we all are, much of the time. That is, when we’re not being wonderfully realized Buddhas.