Several weeks ago, Dennis Merzel, a Zen master in the Maezumi Roshi tradition of Zen, announced that he had resigned his position as teacher at Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake City. This was prompted by Merzel's acknowledgement that he had "caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion, and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha" by engaging in a sexual relationship with a student. (Merzel has a 20+ year history of sexual predation among his female students.)
Merzel's announcement produced a number of responses, including letters from teachers associated with the American Zen Teachers Association and responses from Kanzeon Zen Center. A number of American Zen teachers and bloggers also wrote letters and posts.
Merzel is (was?) a dharma heir of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, a teacher who also engaged in sexual relationships with his female students and who apparently declined to sanction Merzel.
The above provides context for a remarkable letter that appeared last week from Kirsten Mitsuyo Maezumi, the oldest daughter of Maezumi Roshi. While I cannot properly summarize her letter, two aspects caught my attention:
- Her support for Dennis Merzel. She writes, "Genpo Roshi is a wonderful teacher and humanitarian, and I feel that his contributions to Zen in America and the raising of consciousness now and in the future are of great importance to continue on my father’s work."
- Her anger at Jan Chozen Bays Roshi, who served as the Maezumi family physician and who betrayed her professional boundaries and responsibilities by having a sexual relationship with Maezumi Roshi. And yet, even with anger, Ms. Maezumi extends forgiveness to Bays Roshi.
(I hope I am not misrepresenting Ms. Maezumi's words or intent in the above summaries.)
Ms. Maezumi's letter prompted a response from Bays Roshi in which she summarizes the actions she took subsequent to the disclosure of her sexual relationship with Maezumi Roshi. She writes:
- I took my own role in the events at ZCLA very seriously.
- I did specifically focused therapy.
- I did specific repentance work.
- I realized that the best form of repentance was to change my behavior — for good.
- I educated myself about clergy misconduct.
- My husband and I emphasize the importance of the precepts in their literal form in our Zen teaching.
- We have helped other Buddhist groups that requested assistance with issues of ethics and misconduct by teachers.
- I have never had an inappropriate relationship with a student, nor has my husband.
- I have been in a faithful marriage for 27 years.
Bays Roshi follows this outline (taken verbatim) with a discussion of her responsibility for her actions and the role of genuine repentance in her life and teaching.
And this brings me to the point of this long post. I was deeply moved by Bays Roshi's detailed description of how she turned her life in a new direction.
As her example demonstrates, repentance requires more than words. Repentance is not merely the feeling of sorrow and remorse. Repentance does not end with a ceremony or an explanation.
True repentance requires life-changing action.
And this action can only arise from a profound change of intention - the intention to live in ways that nourish wisdom, compassion, kindness and joy.
This transformation is the point of Zen and all Buddhist training.
Note: Ms. Maezumi responded to Bays Roshi's letter with generosity and kindness. You can read that response here.