Our Community


Kugai Hoto Kristian Merckoll

Norway and France  

Kugai Hoto was ordained an Integrating Zen and Hollow Bones priest by Doshin Roshi in Denver, Colorado, November 2015. Initially not wanting to become a priest, a strong calling suddenly came to him on the cushion, apparently out of nowhere. Since saying no to that call was not really an option, he asked Doshin to become ordained, and Doshin accepted. Kugai means “Profound Emptiness” and Hoto “Dharma Lamp,” both names serving as koans to embody and live up to.

His spiritual quest started after going through a divorce in his early 30's, searching for a deeper meaning in life. After years of grappling with spiritual concepts, mainly through reading books from various teachers and traditions, he had his first breakthrough. Later on, he spent some time in Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn’s community in Plum Village. From there he traveled to India, and while staying at a spiritual center, he came across Ken Wilber’s work. Contemplating Wilber’s philosophy, while feeling the true spiritual essence behind it, Kugai came to understand that the mind is not an enemy on the spiritual path, but rather an indispensable ally. Further, he realized that spirituality does not make psychological work redundant and that he had some real personal work ahead of him, which he had unconsciously tried to escape.

His encounter with Wilber’s work led him to study advanced Integral Theory at Fielding University, and later become a certified Integral Master Coach at Integral Coaching Canada. He is also a certified Associate Lectical Coach, diving into the deep end of vertical development of human consciousness. Kugai is particularly interested in exploring and inquiring into the interplay of the different trajectories of the psycho-spiritual dimension of “waking up” (horizontal development) and the psycho-biological maturity of “growing up” (vertical development).

After reading Jun Po’s biography A Heart Blown Open in 2013, he signed up for a weeklong Mondo sesshin. Having Jun Po’s words in mind about leaving all his (deeply cherished!) concepts behind for a week, sitting on the cushion in deep frustration and physical pain, the point came where the unspeakable freedom of not knowing became obvious. After that, Zen has been his path, and when he met Doshin Roshi the next year, he found a way to make the proper use of his Integral training in Doshin’s Integrating Zen.

While Zen being his chosen path, he is also interested in exploring and learning about other spiritual traditions. This freedom and encouragement to explore and learn from others, while being rooted in Zen, is one of the strengths Kugai deeply appreciates about both Integrating Zen and Hollow Bones.

Kugai is part of the leader team of the UK-based European Integral Zen Sangha. He enjoys facilitating the Mondo process; during the weeklong sesshins when Jun Po or Doshin is in Europe, on the 3 day retreats the UK Sangha arranges, on Skype, or in private.

Kugai has a master’s degree in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Oslo and worked as a research scientist before he started his own business as a consultant in statistical data analysis.

Norwegian by birth, he currently lives in the French Alps with his English girlfriend. He loves the stillness and majestic beauty of the mountains, providing infinite opportunities for walks and hikes in summer and skiing in winter.


Go Back