San Francisco Zen Center

SFZC the largest Sōtō organization in the West

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San Francisco Center (SFZC), is a network of affiliated Sōtō Zen practice and retreat centers in the San Francisco Bay area, comprising City Center or Beginner’s Mind Temple, , and .

The sangha was incorporated by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and a group of his American students in 1962.

Sōtō Zen is a tradition of Buddhism that originated in China and was brought to Japan by Dogen, a 13th-century Zen master. Sōtō Zen emphasizes the practice of zazen, or seated meditation, as the primary means for attaining enlightenment.

The SFZC offers daily zazen practice, as well as workshops, retreats, and other programs for people of all levels of experience.

One of the unique aspects of SFZC is its integration of Zen practice into daily life, including through its residential training program, which allows individuals to live and work at the centers while receiving guidance and support in their Zen practice.

The organization also offers lay practice opportunities, and is open to people of all backgrounds, races, cultures, and religions.

In addition to its spiritual offerings, the SFZC is also known for its commitment to social justice and environmental sustainability. The organization operates Green Gulch Farm, an organic farm and garden that provides food for the retreat centers and the surrounding community. The SFZC also participates in various social and environmental causes, such as supporting refugees, promoting peace and nonviolence, and protecting the earth.

Today, SFZC is the largest Sōtō organization in the West. Over the years it has trained many Zen teachers and has been influential in spreading Zen Buddhism to the Western world.

SFZC continues to be an important institution for those seeking to deepen their understanding of Zen Buddhism and integrate it into their daily lives.

This is a list of people and places associated with the SFZC Sōtō organization.

Zoketsu Norman Fischer

is an American poet, writer, and Soto Zen priest, teaching and practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. He is a Dharma heir of Sojun , from whom he received Dharma transmission in 1988. Fischer served as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center from 1995–2000, after which he founded the Everyday Zen Foundation in 2000, a network of Buddhist practice group and related projects in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Fischer has published more than twenty-five books of poetry and non-fiction, as well as numerous poems, essays and articles in Buddhist magazines and poetry journals.

Taigen Dan Leighton

is a Sōtō priest and teacher, academic, and author. He is an authorized lineage holder and Zen teacher in the tradition of and is the founder and Guiding Teacher of Ancient Dragon Zen Gate in Chicago, Illinois. Leighton is also an authorized teacher in the Japanese Sōtō School (kyōshi).

Shunryū Suzuki

Shunryu Suzuki was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, and is renowned for founding the first Zen Buddhist monastery outside Asia. Suzuki founded San Francisco Zen Center which, along with its affiliate temples, comprises one of the most influential Zen organizations in the United States. A book of his teachings, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, is one of the most popular books on Zen and Buddhism in the West.

Edward Espe Brown

“Kainei” Edward Espé Brown is an American Zen teacher and writer. He is the author of The Tassajara Bread Book, written at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, as well as other cookbooks that are still influential.

Reb Anderson

Tenshin Zenki is an American Buddhist who is a Zen teacher in the Sōtō Zen tradition of Shunryu Suzuki. He is a Senior Dharma teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center and at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, California, where he lives. According to author James Ishmael Ford, “Reb Anderson is one of the most prominent of contemporary Western Zen teachers.”

Mel Weitsman

Hakuryu Sojun Mel Weitsman, born Mel Weitsman, was an American Buddhist who was the founder, abbot and guiding teacher of Berkeley Zen Center located in Berkeley, California. Weitsman was a Soto Zen roshi practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, having received Dharma transmission in 1984 from Suzuki’s son Hoitsu. He was also a co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, where he served from 1988 to 1997. Weitsman was also editor of the book Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai, based on talks given by Suzuki on the Sandokai.

Angie Boissevain

is a Sōtō Zen roshi leading the Floating Zendo in San Jose, California. A Dharma heir of Vanja Palmers, for many years she was director and then teacher of Jikoji in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today (2012) she leads meditation retreats in California.

Yvonne Rand

was a “lay householder” Soto Zen priest and guiding teacher of Goat-in-the-Road located in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, California, a meditation center which practices predominantly Soto Zen but also incorporates elements of Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism.

Seirin Barbara Kohn

is a Sōtō Zen teacher and head priest of The Austin Zen Center (AZC) in Austin, Texas, practicing in the lineage of Shunryū Suzuki. She was ordained as a Soto priest by Reb Anderson and received Dharma transmission from Zenkei —Kohn being Hartman’s first Dharma heir. The Austin Zen Center’s temple name, Zenkei-ji, is named after Blanche Hartman. Kohn became head priest and resident teacher of AZC on October 13, 2002. Before assuming her leadership of AZC, Kohn served as President of the San Francisco Zen Center. Kohn is a supporter of LGBT rights, having been known to offer “commitment ceremonies” for same-sex couples, stating, “I simply treat them all the same.”

Richard Baker (Zen teacher)

Richard Dudley Baker is an American Soto Zen master, the founder and guiding teacher of Dharma Sangha—which consists of Crestone Mountain Zen Center located in Crestone, Colorado and the Buddhistisches Studienzentrum (Johanneshof) in Germany’s Black Forest. As the American Dharma heir to Shunryu Suzuki, Baker assumed abbotship of the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) shortly before Suzuki’s death in 1971. He remained abbot there until 1984, the year he resigned his position after it was disclosed in the previous year that he and the wife of one of SFZC’s benefactors had been having an ongoing affair. Despite the controversy connected with his resignation, Baker was instrumental in helping the San Francisco Zen Center to become one of the most successful Zen institutions in the United States.

Philip Whalen

Philip Glenn Whalen was an American poet, Zen Buddhist, and a key figure in the San Francisco Renaissance and close to the Beat generation.

Peter Schneider (Zen priest)

Peter Schneider is a Sōtō Zen priest, founder of Beginner’s Mind Zen Center, located in Northridge, California.

Michael Wenger

Dairyu is a Sōtō Zen priest and current guiding teacher of Dragons Leap Meditation Center in San Francisco. Prior to establishing Dragons Leap in 2012, Wenger served as Dean of Buddhist Studies at the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) in San Francisco, California—where he has been a member since 1972. A Dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman, Wenger is also a former president of the SFZC where he continues to serve on the Elders Council. He received his M.A. from The New School in New York, New York.

Maylie Scott

, Buddhist name Kushin Seisho, was a Sōtō roshi who received Dharma transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1998 at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. She graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of California, Berkeley. According to the book The Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, “Maylie Scott described her primary teaching objective as empowering the sangha by making sure she is the facilitator, not the ‘star.'” In addition to her occupation as a social worker, she was also on the Board of Directors for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF). In addition to serving for the BPF, Scott was also involved with the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement and frequently protested the import of weapons at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. A socially engaged Buddhist and teacher at the Berkeley Zen Center, Scott was known for her work in prisons and homeless shelters. Also, during the 1980s she studied under Maurine Stuart and, in April 2000, she founded Rin Shin-ji in Arcata, California. Professor Lloyd Fulton, of Humboldt State University, had once said of Scott that she is, “a strong-willed and organized woman.”

Alan Senauke

Hozan is a Soto Zen priest, folk musician and poet residing at the Berkeley Zen Center (BZC) in Berkeley, California, where he currently serves as Abbot. He is a former Executive Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), holding that position from 1991 to 2001. Alan also was a founder of Think Sangha, a group of writers and intellectuals that are affiliated with the BPF and the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. Think Sangha is a group of individuals who meet together to identify some of the most pressing social issues that they feel engaged Buddhists should be addressing. Senauke, who was born to a secular Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, arrived in the San Francisco Bay area in 1968 and soon started sitting at the Berkeley Zen Center. Along with his Dharma sister Maylie Scott, Senauke received Dharma transmission from his teacher Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1998 during a ceremony at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.

Josho Pat Phelan

, Buddhist name Taitaku Josho, is a Sōtō Zen priest and current abbot of Chapel Hill Zen Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina—she has served as abbot there since 2000. Before coming to Chapel Hill, she practiced for twenty years at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and the San Francisco Zen Center. Phelan began leading the Chapel Hill Zen Center in 1991, when there were just eight members including herself. As of 2001, the center had forty-five members and provides meditation instruction for approximately one-hundred and fifty people every year. Ordained as a priest by Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1977, she began Zen practice in 1969 and has also trained under Sojun Mel Weitsman, Robert Baker Aitken and Tenshin Reb Anderson Additionally, Phelan is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association, and in 1995 she received shiho from Sojun Weitsman at Tassajara.

Jiko Linda Cutts

Eijun Linda Cutts is a Sōtō Zen priest practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, a Senior Dharma Teacher at the San Francisco Zen Center. Cutts is a Dharma heir of Tenshin Reb Anderson, having received Dharma transmission from him in 1996. She served as co-abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center from 2000 to 2007, and had first begun practice at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1971; later, she was ordained a priest by Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1975. Currently living at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, as abbess she had been aware of the significance in being a woman in a leadership position in religion that has historically been a patriarchy. In this vein, within her first year as abbess she instituted the ceremony in which female ancestors could be honored. She became Central Abbess of San Francisco Zen Center in 2014.

Jakusho Kwong

, born William Kwong, is a Chinese-American Zen Buddhist teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. He serves as head abbot of Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, of which he is founder. He received the title Dendo Kyoshi from the Soto School of Japan in 1995.

Issan Dorsey

, born Tommy Dorsey, Jr., was a Sōtō Zen monk and teacher, Dharma heir of Zentatsu Richard Baker and onetime abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center (HSZC) located in the Castro district of San Francisco, California. Earlier in his life he had worked as a prostitute and a drag queen, and had struggled at times with drug addiction. He died of complications from AIDS in 1990.

Dainin Katagiri

Jikai , was a Sōtō Zen priest and teacher, and the founding abbot of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he served from 1972 until his death from cancer in 1990. He is also the founder of Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in Eitzen, Minnesota. Before becoming first abbot of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, Katagiri had worked at the Zenshuji Soto Zen Mission in Los Angeles and had also been of great service to Shunryu Suzuki at the San Francisco Zen Center, particularly from 1969 until Suzuki’s death in 1971. Katagiri was important in helping bring Zen Buddhism from Japan to the United States during its formative years. He is also the credited author of several books compiled from his talks.

Kōbun Otogawa was an American Sōtō Zen priest.

Blanche Hartman

Zenkei Blanche Hartman was a Soto Zen teacher practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. From 1996 to 2002 she served two terms as co-abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center. She was the first woman to assume such a leadership position at the center. A member of the American Zen Teachers Association, Blanche was especially known for her expertise in the ancient ritual of sewing a kesa. Hartman became known for her attention to issues women face; she and her late husband Lou Hartman had four children, eight grandchildren, and a number of great-grandchildren.

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center

The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest, southeast of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is the oldest Japanese Buddhist Sōtō Zen monastery in the United States. The Center is very isolated, more than 16 miles (26 km) from the nearest paved road, and only accessible via a narrow, steep, one-lane dirt road. During the winter months, practitioners live alone on site. During the summer months, the Center is opened to day and overnight guests. The hot springs have been developed into Japanese-style baths. It is the first Zen monastery established outside Asia.

Claude Dalenberg

was a Zen priest ordained by Shunryū Suzuki and a dharma successor of Tenshin Reb Anderson.

David Chadwick (writer)

David Chadwick grew up in Texas and moved to California to study Zen as a student of Shunryu Suzuki in 1966. Chadwick was ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1971, shortly before Suzuki’s death. He assisted in the operation of the San Francisco Zen Center for a number of years.

Marian Derby

Marion Derby was an author, artist, and zen student of Shunryū Suzuki.

Fenton Johnson

John is an American writer and professor of English and LGBT Studies at the University of Arizona. He was born ninth of nine children into a Kentucky whiskey-making family with a strong storytelling tradition.

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, or Sōryu-ji is a Soto Zen practice center located near Muir Beach, California, that practices in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. In addition to its Zen training program, the center also manages an organic farm and gardens. Founded in 1972 by the San Francisco Zen Center and Zentatsu Richard Baker, the site is located on 115 acres (0.47 km2) in a valley seventeen miles (27 km) north of San Francisco and offers a variety of workshops and classes throughout the year. The land is an inholding of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and has much wildlife within its borders. In addition to meditation retreats, offerings include classes and workshops on the Japanese tea ceremony and gardening. While Green Gulch Farm has a residential monastery and retreat center, guest house, and conference center, it has also become recognized as a place where organic farmers can come to learn the tools of their trade. One of the original architects of the gardens at Green Gulch was the renowned late horticulturist Alan Chadwick—who had introduced the biodynamic farming techniques influenced by Rudolf Steiner on the farm. Chadwick’s grave is marked by a stupa on site. Author Fenton Johnson writes that Green Gulch Farm, “…serve as a model for living on the land in the context of a Zen Buddhist practice.”

Bush Street Temple

The at 1881 Bush Street in San Francisco, California, is a State Landmark with historical significance to both the Orthodox Jewish community and to Buddhism in the United States.

Greens Restaurant

is a landmark vegetarian restaurant in the Fort Mason Center in the Marina District, San Francisco, California, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Wubong

Wu Bong, born Jacob Perl, was a Zen master in the Kwan Um School of Zen. Perl was the head teacher of the European Kwan Um School of Zen. The first student of Seungsahn in the United States, he had previously practiced Zen in the Sōtō tradition at the San Francisco Zen Center under Shunryū Suzuki. He also spent one year studying the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism at the Tibetan Nyingmapa Meditation Center in Berkeley, California under Tarthang Tulku.

Paul Haller

Ryushin , a Soto Zen roshi, is a former Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center—a position he held from 2003 until February 2012. Leaving his homeland of Belfast in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, Haller spent time in Russia, Afghanistan and Japan. He then went to Thailand for two years where he was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Coming to California in 1974, he entered Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and was later ordained as a priest by Zentatsu Richard Baker in 1980. He received shiho from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1993, giving him authority to teach. Since the year 2000 Paul has also been the Teacher of Black Mountain Zen Centre in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Zen Mind – Beginner’s Mind

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a book of teachings by the late Shunryu Suzuki, a compilation of talks given to his satellite Zen center in Los Altos, California. Published in 1970 by Weatherhill, the book is not academic, but contains frank and direct transcriptions of Suzuki’s talks recorded by his student . Trudy Dixon and Richard Baker edited the talks by choosing those most relevant, arranging them into chapters. According to some, it has become a spiritual classic, helping readers to steer clear from the trap of intellectualism. Bodhin Kjolhede, Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center, writes that, together with Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen (1965), it is one of the two most influential books on Zen in the west.

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