May 31st, 2007
Today is the anniversary of Buddha’s Enlightenment, and a full moon. Big Mind. Buddha Mind. One Mind.
Since me and you really are interdependent, dependently arising and empty of inherently existing essence, there really is no me and there really is no you. So, how about that parking space, can I have it?
On Saturday, May 26th, I took a Big Mind seminar with Genpo Roshi (Dennis Merzel) here in Portland, Oregon. Genpo’s new book, Big Mind-Big Heart just came out. According to Genpo, people have reported having Big Mind experiences just from reading the book.
If you click here: http://blacksamba.com/talks/bigmind/, you can download a couple of older videos from when the process was first introduced. He’s refined it a bit since those were done, and you can buy a DVD set that will walk you through the whole process as it is now. The psych piece of this all started with Hal Stone and his wife when they created something called Voice Dialogs. You can read their book, Embracing Ourselves to get a better idea of the psychological, Jungian aspect of the process.
I first did Voice Dialogs with my wife in about 1988 or ’89, when she was in Psych Tech school down in Huntington Beach. We sat around the coffee table with our AA friends, talking to our individual voices in each other. It was pretty creepy, pretty powerful, and pretty real. I think it was considered kind of a dangerous therapy back then, and was somewhat controversial. Maybe people split off or disassociated and weren’t able to integrate. I was a little intrigued, and somewhat skeptical about Genpo Roshi’s approach. So of course I had to try it!
Genpo is a credible teacher in my eyes, partly because he was a student of Maezumi Roshi, as was my main teacher from the early 90′s, Joko Beck. I’ve practiced with one of her successors, Larry Christensen here at the Zen Center of Portland for several years. Genpo has been a Zen teacher for over 30 years, and reached a point of burnout around 1999. He developed this Big Mind process as a way of helping people from both a psychological and a Zen view. Although he asserts that the Big Mind process is neither, I think it’s more of a disclaimer. He said he doesn’t want to be judged by purists from either camp.
Larry was a friend of Genpo’s from the 70′s at the Zen Center of LA, so he attended the seminar. One of my other teachers, Yangsi Rinpoche, whom I’ve written about on this blog, also attended. That was interesting because I go to a lot of teachings, and unless it’s the Dalai Lama, I don’t often see my other teachers in the audience.
My Assessment: The Big Mind process is pretty amazing, and it really did bring me to a heightened state of Big Mind Awareness. I wouldn’t do it justice trying to explain it all here, but if you watch the videos and/or read the book, you’ll know if you want to explore it further. And I think you will. Genpo does offer retreats on the process, and at the end of his seminars, he actually gives you permission to go use it in your work and private lives! That is a really interesting point. He encourages the use of the process with clients, students, partners. In Tantric initiations, you get permission to practice, but it takes quite a bit more for an empowerment to teach.
As an overview, here’s how it goes. At Genpo’s prompting, we are asked to get ‘in voice’ with our Inner Critic, Controller, Skeptic, Fear, Anger, etc. Members of the audience dialog with the teacher by shouting out statements in answer to his queries. It’s kind of different than a typical dharma talk in that it’s totally interactive. We have the analogy that there’s a corporation with 10,000 employees (like the 10,000 states of mind spoken of in Buddhist Sutras). None of the employees knows his job title, job description, nor who her boss is. This is chaos. Insanity. And this is how we live. So we do something very sane. We take out each of these voices, and give them their due, in an interview. A Question and Answer about who they are, what they do, what they don’t do, and so on. That’s the Dualistic side of the triangle.
Then, after a break, we move to the Non-Dual side, starting with the Seeker of the Awakened Way. We talk to the seeker for a bit, then we talk to the Mind That Does Not Seek, or something like that. We move further into this, calling it by different names, like Buddha Mind. Then we move to the top, or Apex of the triangle. As he calls for the Integrated State, the Unborn, the Maha Vairochana Buddha, people in the room start speaking from this state, as if they ARE that from which all Buddhas are Born. DANG! I was really wondering, and I didn’t get a chance to ask, but were these people all kind of veterans of this process, or were they having a spiritual experience or what? In the beginning, he’d asked how many Buddhists, Zen students, etc. and I didn’t think there were that many. But from the way people were calling out their answers, it was as if I was in a room full of Buddhas. Well, depending on who you talk to, we’re always in a room full of Buddhas, but I’ll leave that to another discussion.
Whether or not the participants were parroting the latest new age spiritual terminology, or were actually in Big Mind, is kind of irrelevant if you ask me. And I am the one you’re talking to. Or listening to, reading, as it were. The point being that Genpo brought us through the process of identifying, objectifying, disseminating, owning and then re-integrating all of these archetypes. He did it kind of tricky. Since he is a real Zen master, and has his own Awakened Mind that, incidentally, just kind of came about in the past 8-9 years, he was able to bring it out like only a real good Zen teacher can do. But he did it with a fresh-new-interactive-no- bullshit style.
I felt like I was in a very boundary-less, awakened, joyful, open, spacious and compassionately grateful state of Being at the end of the seminar. That is, until some lady told me to get out of her way. Then my Controller/Skeptic/Big Ego took over my Big Mind! But still, this was a very interesting form of Direct Introduction that is, I think, just about as revolutionary as Shakyamuni Buddha was 2500 years ago.
Happy Parinirvana, all of you Buddhas of the past, present and future…
How many Buddhas do you give this article?