#338 – Big Mind, Big Heart with Roshi Genpo Merzel

According to the bio info provided by his organization,
Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel is one of the most renowned and accomplished teachers of Zen in the Western world. He was born in Brooklyn NY and grew up in Southern California where he was a champion swimmer and All-American water polo player. He earned a Masters degree from the University of Southern California and was a lifeguard and teacher before being ordained as a Zen monk under Zen Master Taizan Maezumi in 1973. He became Maezumi Roshi’s second Dharma Successor in 1980. In 1982 he began teaching throughout Europe and founded the international group he named the Kanzeon (Compassion) Sangha, with affiliates in France, Poland, Belgium, Germany, England, Malta, and the Netherlands.

There is a 4-week, online course with Roshi in March 2013. Cost of the course is $139 and my listeners can get a 10% discount by using the discount code of DRDAVE.


In 1999 Genpo Merzel created the Big Mind process, a method of self-investigation that blends Western psychology and the non-dual wisdom traditions of the East, and leads to more conscious and empowered living. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people throughout the U.S. and Europe have experienced the Big Mind process and have been helped by it. He is the author of five books, which have been translated into more than ten languages, most recently Big Mind, Big Heart: Finding Your Way, and numerous DVDs. He currently lives in Maui, Hawaii.

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Jungian Psychotherapy Part 1 (6 CEUs)
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Jungian Psychotherapy Part 5 (7 CEUs)
Jungian Psychotherapy Package of the Five Above (33 CEUs)
Wisdom of The Dream (4 CEUs)
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Pros and Cons of Positive Psychology (5 CEUs)
Body-Mind: Goodbye to Dualism (6 CEUs)
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Insights from Neuroscience (8 CEUs)
Neuroscience and Healing (8 CEUs)

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A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. dirk
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink


  2. Jickley
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    His Wikipedia entry is similarly unflattering:

  3. Richard Powell
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr. Dave,

    I just listened to this great interview with Roshi Genpo Merzel and wanted to share some comments. First I should say that I listened to it twice in a row because I wanted to really grasp the analogy of the two tracks, the seeking mind, the non-seeking mind, and the apex. Bravo to you for being a willing guinea pig, it really helped illustrate how the Big Mind method works.

    My first comment is that Merzel’s take on the Castaneda analogy of four enemies was particularly clear. It strikes me that the pattern of facing a challenge and then becoming overly attached to the mastery that results, applies in a lot of different areas of life. The fear/clarity/power/death progression is very relevant to the Roshi’s life, but other progressions also fit the pattern. For example I know a fellow who is a real promoter; the sort who can make the most amazing things happen by the shear enthusiasm he has for the project. But he has become overly attached to this skill and the successes it has brought him and doesn’t see how it is not helpful in a different situation he is now in that requires patience and waiting. For me, watching from some distance, I just want to tell him to chill out a bit, but he has never practices that, all he knows how to do is cajole and motivate. When you have a good hammer, it is hard not to see everything as a nail. I also smile to myself because these skills he has in such abundance are almost nonexistent in me! We are all on such different paths….

    On the topic of chilling out, I was delighted when GM interjected that the original meaning of Nirvana was to chill out. In my current magnum opus I use an analogy of my panic attacks as being like waking up inside a burning house. I talk about how my spontaneous reaction while in the middle of an attack is to pray for fire suppression! I guess this must be an archetypal analogy.

    Lastly I just wanted to say that I appreciated your tact and resolve when raising the issue of infidelity with the Roshi. I was very heartened to hear him just very simply say he was responsible for his behaviour. He didn’t try to minimize the issue. What a relief that was. I certainly do not condone men of power sleeping with their students but I also completely acknowledge that it fits an ancient pattern in hominids. That is to say that the choice of sexual partners has been influenced by millions of years of males fighting for dominance, and females being powerfully attracted to the powerful males. I just finished Frans De Waal’s Our Inner Ape which has a lot of interesting things to say on this subject. I’m not suggesting that this is a justification for the behaviour because I also believe that part of our success as homo sapiens has been the way we have taken pair bonding to a spiritual level. What I mean is we have sanctified marriage and raised fidelity and faithfulness to a sublime position, even in this age of sexual liberation. The strong reaction of the Buddhist leaders, the Wikipedia editors, and a plethora of online commentators speaks to me of how we instinctively use another ancient mechanism, public censure, to hold powerful leaders to our highest ideals.

    I personally think it is amazing that the same creature that can somehow tune into the Big Mind, with all the promise of enlightenment and transcendence, is also constantly subject to the passions and pitfalls of the biology of a primate. Such a wonderful enigma we are.

    Kindest regards,


  4. Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Another wonderful interview.
    Genpo Merzel’s technique is a fascinating one. It put me in mind of techniques I read about in Colin Ross’ book on Dissociative Identity Disorder. In dissociative identity disorder the mind has created multiple selves and requires integration. According to Merzel it would seem the rest of us may have milder versions of the same problem. In effect, Merzel was “calling out your alternates” and then making efforts to integrate them. lol! This ability of the mind to achieve deeper integration and wholeness is fascinating.

  5. Tim Newton
    Posted March 2, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Very interesting technique, and I can see the links to other therapeutic technique such as Gestalt and NLP, in which there are a number of approaches for working with \’parts\’ (equivalent to workin with \’voices\’ here). In the NLP book Core Transformation by Andreas & Andreas (1994), the author comment \’it is as if there is an unconcious part of us that is in charge of doing those thing\’ (that we concious don\’t want to. The two most important words in this quote are \’AS IF\’, and this is a crucial piece that Merzel misses out. It would be possible to talk as if in dialogue with any part/voice we could concieve of and our unconcious could organise a reposnse that would be more or less useful. The Seeker, the Non-Seeker, the Apex, the Big Mind, etc. are all constructions of the technique\’s interaction with the unconcious. That is not to say that this technique is not useful or powerful, it certainly sounded like it could be in the podcast. What would be most interesting would be to hear of the impact n Dr Dave\’s life after the interview or any other impact studies on Big Mind.

  6. Louise
    Posted May 16, 2013 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    I had quite a profound experience listening to this interview as I went with David and Roshi through the process of switching between the seeking and non-seeking mind and the in between place.

    The vision that came to me through the process was a vision of the triple goddess – Maiden, Mother and Crone. The maiden was the seeking mind and I loved and admired her youthful curiosity. The non seeking mind was the crone who sees all and has gained wisdom. The in between was the mother and the other two states were like my children. I used an ACT technique of “noticing” them to de-fuse from either state but to love, accept and integrate them both.

    When David was dancing I felt grounded and cemented to the earth. Where David was light I felt an embodiment of all three states of being. Where I stood I could see the beauty of David’s lightness and dancing a also felt a powerful energy of female knowing in my sacrum. It was really interesting to have the experience of one thing while at the same time being aware of the experience of another person, feeling the difference and everything being right.

    I was also touched by Roshi’s story of falling from grace and being caught up in something he did not know that he did not know. For some I can understand how it would discredit his work but for me the way he took responsibility for his learning and the way he offers that as a cautionary tale for others deepens the wisdom of his teaching. I also found the way David handled this to be very authentic and sensitive and it was wonderful to hear two people be able to discuss human frailty in such a way that it was acknowledging the existence of it without casting blame.

  7. Ralph Wilson_ND
    Posted May 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Dave, what a deep cross-section of insights and reactions. Thank you for allowing those posts to be visible.

    I’ve been deeply uplifted over the past several years by your many interviews because of your intelligent and compassionate conversational style. Even the early postings are superb presentations by the interview subject/person about their expertise. Today, May 19, 2013, I am preparing to write a comment about my initial reaction to Roshi Genpo’s interview, as well as my subsequent re-consideration of what he and you had created in the flow of the interview. When I logged on to this page today for the first time to see the Comments section, it was very helpful for me to see that you had allowed posting of a number of people’s observations.

    I’ve been a counselor, hypnotherapist and licensed naturopathic doctor [ND] for over 20 years, and prior to that had spent time in a medical school intending to become a medical doctor [MD]. Later, I experienced various trainings with acupuncturists, homeopaths, herbalists and others in the so-called “CAM” field (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). I was even a Licensed Massage Practitioner, bodyworker, for a while. I have witnessed “The Human Condition” and the various outworkings of people’s physical lives and the social structures in which those people play out the dramas of their lives.

    The intense effects of human energies are often so strong that the brain’s rules are not listened to. That, however, is not an excuse for socially destructive choices/actions. A phrase that came to mind, from a California-based movie, is really not able to be claimed as an excuse: “Life will find a way.” But it has a kind of truth behind it. What might be thought of as “The Jurassic Park Defense” would never “fly” as an alibi; but the primal drives of what Roshi Genpo described seem to me to be very elemental and sometimes beyond control of the brain.

    What needs to happen? When those primitive events occur, then social learning and change need to happen or else the society will be anchored by non-human, non-illuminated patterns.

    I was glad to hear the agonizing that Roshi Genpo described as having crushed and rearranged many people’s lives. It was not joyful to hear, but I was glad to hear him accept responsibility for it.

    Especially in light of things that have occurred in our nation regarding sexually intimate behavior between people that results in trauma to other people’s relationships it is important for us to think about what that means to our society.

    On my internet site I have posted a video of David Patraeus’ remarks about his disgrace and his accepting the losses and changes that came as a result of his choices regarding the primitive energies of the sexual aspect of human relationships. Here is the HTML link that may be viewable where you can watch his video: http://www.dcnaturopathicneuropsych.com/ .

    In my life I have listened and learned about sexual energies from many teachers, as well as being part of our country’s own “group experience” of the results of sexual energies in the lives of prominent citizens. I’ve had a lot of training in body and mind approaches, and I appreciate the interviews that you have done with Somatics and body psychotherapy luminaries.

    Sex is a powerful part of the human make-up, and this is one of the “trade secrets” of psychotherapy. There are many ways to approach dealing with this potentially disruptive energy, and not all of them are able to be discussed in view of all people. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of the event and then of the response of the two individuals and then the responses of many people and groups.

    Healthy sexuality is a key reflection on the health of the individual’s grasp of what it is to be a healthy human. It’s beyond words to describe so I’ll close this. Thank you for taking the time to let us feel the honest emotions and the process behind what was shared.

  8. Adrienne Bachrach
    Posted June 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Genpo Roshi is a gifted spiritual leader. In order to carry out his destiny he has to live in a world that is perilous for him. He has chosen to do this. Why so much judgement ? Why so little appreciation? Can we actually recognize a boddisattva that doesn’t meet our pre conditions?

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