Thích Nhất Hạnh leading a namo avalokiteshvaraya chanting session

The most prominent Zen Buddhist spiritual teachers

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Origin of Zen teachings

is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, known as the Chan School, and later developed into various sub-schools and branches.

From China, Chán spread south to Vietnam and became Vietnamese Thiền, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism, and east to Japan, becoming Japanese Zen.

Zen teachers ‘ methods

Zen teachers often promote diaphragmatic breathing, stating that the breath must come from the lower abdomen (known as hara or tanden in Japanese), and that this part of the body should expand forward slightly as one breathes.

Religion is not only an individual matter, but “also a collective endeavour”.

Though individual experience and the iconoclastic picture of Zen are emphasized in the Western world, the Zen-tradition is maintained and transferred by a high degree of institutionalization and hierarchy.

Zen transmission in the modern time

In Japan, modernity has led to criticism of the formal system and the commencement of lay-oriented Zen-schools such as the Sanbo Kyodan and the Ningen Zen Kyodan.

Today the developing Zen-communities in the West is facing the chalenge of organizing the continuity of the Zen-tradition by constraining charismatic authority and limiting the number of authorized teachers.

Prominent Zen Buddhist teachers

This is a list of some of the most prominent Zen Buddhist spiritual teachers past and present.

Thích Nhất Hạnh was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, prolific author, poet, teacher, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition, historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism.

Known as the “father of mindfulness”, Nhất Hạnh was a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism and mindfulness.

Zen master

is a somewhat vague English term that arose in the first half of the 20th century, sometimes used to refer to an individual who teaches Zen Buddhist meditation and practices, usually implying longtime study and subsequent authorization to teach and transmit the tradition themselves.

D. T. Suzuki

Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki was a Japanese author of books and essays on Buddhism, Zen (Chan) and Shin that were instrumental in spreading interest in both Zen and Shin to the West. Suzuki was also a prolific translator of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit literature. Suzuki spent several lengthy stretches teaching or lecturing at Western universities, and devoted many years to a professorship at Ōtani University, a Japanese Buddhist school.

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.

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.”


Sheng Yen, born Zhang Baokang, was a Taiwanese Buddhist monk, religious scholar, and writer. He was one of the mainstream teachers of Chan Buddhism. He was a 57th generational dharma heir of Linji Yixuan in the Linji school and a third-generation dharma heir of Hsu Yun. In the Caodong lineage, Sheng Yen was a 52nd-generation Dharma heir of Dongshan Liangjie (807-869), and a direct Dharma heir of Dongchu (1908–1977).

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.

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.


is the dharma name of a Korean Seon (Zen) Master. He was a key figure in modern Korean Buddhism, being responsible for significant changes to it from the 1950s to 1990s.

William Nyogen Yeo

is spiritual director of Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, California, one of the twelve Dharma Successors of the late Taizan Maezumi. He is a member of the American Zen Teachers Association.

Hsuan Hua

, also known as An Tzu, Tu Lun and Master Hua by his Western disciples, was a Chinese monk of Chan Buddhism and a contributing figure in bringing Chinese Buddhism to the United States in the late 20th century.

Jan Chozen Bays

, is a Zen teacher, author, mindful eating educator, and pediatrician specializing in work with abused children.


Soeng Hyang Soen Sa Nim is a Zen Master and the Guiding Teacher of the international Kwan Um School of Zen, and successor to the late Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.

Dr. Soyu Matsuoka, along with and Nyogen Senzaki, was one of the early Zen teachers to make the United States his home.


Sokei-an Shigetsu Sasaki, born Yeita Sasaki, was a Japanese Rinzai monk who founded the Buddhist Society of America in New York City in 1930. Influential in the growth of Zen Buddhism in the United States, Sokei-an was one of the first Japanese masters to live and teach in America. In 1944 he married American Ruth Fuller Everett. He died in May 1945 without leaving behind a Dharma heir. One of his better known students was Alan Watts, who studied under him briefly. Watts was a student of Sokei-an in the late 1930s.

Małgorzata Braunek was a Polish film and stage actress.

She was also a long-time practitioner and teacher of Zen Buddhism receiving Dharma transmission from Dennis Merzel at Kanzeon Sangha (Warsaw) in 2003.

Tuệ Trung Thượng Sĩ (1230–1291) was an influential Buddhist lay practitioner and skilled poet of the Thiền (Zen) tradition during the Tran Dynasty in Vietnam. Tue Trung authored treatises on Pure Land and Thien teachings.

Philip Kapleau

was an American teacher of Zen Buddhism in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition, a blending of Japanese Sōtō and Rinzai schools. He also advocated strongly for Buddhist vegetarianism.

Nan Huai-Chin

was a Chinese Buddhist monk, religious scholar, and writer. A well-regarded spiritual teacher in contemporary China, he was considered by many to be the major force in the revival of Chinese Buddhism. While Nan was regarded by many in China as one of the most influential Chan Buddhist teachers and Vajrayana teachers, particularly in the Cundī practices, he was little known outside the Chinese cultural sphere. Nan died at the age of 94 on Sept. 29th, 2012 in Suzhou, China.


Ven. was a Rinzai Zen Buddhist nun and head of the Zen Centre in London.

Michael Zimmerman (jurist)

Michael D. Zimmerman is a prominent attorney, a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court, and a Zen teacher at Two Arrows Zen (TAZ) located in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Brigitte D’Ortschy

Brigitte D’Ortschy, or Koun-An Doru Chiko, was an architect, journalist, translator, author, and the first Zen master from Germany in the Sanbo Kyodan school of Japan.

Gerta Ital

Gerta Maria Luise Karoline Ital was a German-born actress who entered a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery late in life. She was born in Hanover. She was the first western woman allowed to stay in a zen monastery. She studied with Eugen Herrigel from 1953 to 1955. She was also in contact with Hugo Enomiya-Lassalle. Her master in Japan was Mumon Yamada.

Dongshan Shouchu

was a Chinese Zen teacher and an heir to Yunmen Wenyan. Dongshan is the subject of Case 18 “Three Pounds of Flax” in The Gateless Barrier, a collection of koans authored by the Chan master Wumen Huikai in 1228.

John Crook (ethologist)

John Hurrell Crook was a British ethologist who filled a pivotal role in British primatology.

Joko Beck

Charlotte was an American Zen teacher and the author of the books Everyday Zen: Love and Work and Nothing Special: Living Zen.


The Great Zen Master Jeongang Yeongshin ; 1898 – 1975) was a Zen Master of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. He used the principle of Kong-an as a way to lead his disciples to Enlightenment.

The Great Zen Master Yeongshin ; 1898 – 1975) was a Zen Master of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. He used the principle of Kong-an as a way to lead his disciples to Enlightenment.

Hanshan Deqing

Hānshān Déqīng (1546–1623), formerly transliterated Han-Shan Te-Ch’ing, was a leading Buddhist monk and poet of Ming Dynasty China who widely propagated the teachings of Chán and Pure Land Buddhism.

George Bowman (Zen master)

George Bowman, or Bo Mun Soen sa Nim, is a Zen master and licensed psychotherapist living at Furnace Mountain in Clay City, Kentucky. He received Dharma transmission from Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim in 1992, and is a former teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen. He was a founding member of the Providence Zen Center in 1972 and also did koan study with Joshu Sasaki from 1977 to 2003. Furnace Mountain is run by Dae Gak Soen Sa Nim—another former Kwan Um line teacher. He was a resident teacher at the Cambridge Buddhist Association from 1991 to 1999, and in 1994 became a guiding teacher of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy. Today he travels to Boston, Massachusetts most months to lead a “floating zendo” named the Single Flower Sangha. Bowman has given inka to his student David Dayan Rynick, who was the first individual to be acknowledged as a teacher outside of the Kwan Um lineage.

Dae Kwang

is a Soen Sa Nim and is the current guiding teacher of the Providence Zen Center. He was ordained as a monk in 1987 and received Dharma transmission from Seung Sahn in 1996. He also serves as head abbot of the entire lineage, ranking just below Soeng Hyang.

Guo Jun

Ven. is a Buddhist monk in Singapore, and one of the youngest Dharma heirs of Chan Master . His complete Dharma name is Zhengyan Guojun (正彥果峻). He has published three books: Essential Chan Buddhism, Chan Heart, Chan Mind and Falling is Flying: The Dharma of Facing Adversity together with Ajahn Brahm.

Sōkō Morinaga was a Rinzai Zen roshi. He was head of Hanazono University and abbot of Daishu-in in Kyoto, one of the sub-temples of the Ryōan-ji temple complex.

Tetsujyo Deguchi

is a Japanese Zen master, successor of Ban Tetsugyu Soin.

Keido Fukushima

Keidō Fukushima was a Japanese Rinzai Zen master, head abbot of Tōfuku-ji, centered in Kyoto, Japan. Because of openness to teaching Western students, he had considerable influence on the development of Rinzai Zen practice in the West.

Thích Thanh Từ

Thích Thanh Từ is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. He has been influential with increasing traditional Vietnamese Buddhism practices within the country.

Gidō Shūshin ; 1325–1388), Japanese luminary of the Zen Rinzai sect, was a master of poetry and prose in Chinese. Gidō’s own diary relates how as a child he discovered and treasured the Zen classic Rinzairoku in his father’s library. He was born in Tosa on the island of Shikoku and began formal study of Confucian and Buddhist literature. His religious proclivities were encouraged when he witnessed the violent death of a clan member. Like many others he took his first vows on Mt. Hiei near the capital. Gidō’s life was changed with a visit to the prominent Zen master Musō Soseki (1275–1351) in 1341. He would become the master’s attendant after his own unsuccessful pilgrimage to China. He would become a principal disciple. Gidō was born with eyesight difficulties. His choice of a literary name was Kūgedojin or Holy Man who sees Flowers in the Sky. Kūge was from Sanscrit khpuspa and indicated illusory sense perceptions. Gidō would play a role of conciliator between rival courts in the nation’s civil war. His loyalty was with the northern court and its Ashikaga supporters. After taking residence in the city of Kamakura, Gidō would become the personal advisor to the Ashikaga rulers there. Gidō encouraged Confucian political values such as centralized rule and social stability. Likewise Gidō became an advocate of Sung period Chinese Neo-Confucian humanistic values, both political and literary. In 1380 Gidō was asked by the reigning shōgun, Yoshimitsu (1358–1408), to reside with him in Kyoto. Gidō’s last years were spent personally instructing Yoshimitsu in Confucian and Buddhist subjects.

Willigis Jäger was a German Catholic priest and Benedictine monk. He was a Zen master who trained and taught in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition. Jäger founded a centre of Zen and contemplation at the Münsterschwarzach Abbey in 1983, and his own Benediktushof, an inter-faith centre of meditation and awareness, in 2003.

Clive Sherlock

is a British doctor who trained in cognitive behavioural therapy and Jungian psychoanalysis during postgraduate studies at Oxford. He saw limitations in the theories and uses of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotropic medication, recognising that we do not understand the nature and cause of conditions such as clinical depression, anxiety, anger and stress, which is why experts are still searching for ways of treating them. As well as studies and work in conventional medicine and psychology he also made a specialised study of far eastern psychology and philosophy, particularly that of Buddhism, and in 1975 he introduced meditation as part of a structured training programme for people facing anything from mild to the most severe psychological and emotional difficulties. These included bipolar, major depression, anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders.

Zen ranks and hierarchy

Zen institutions have an elaborate system of ranks and hierarchy, which determine one’s position in the institution. Within this system, novices train to become a Zen priest, or a trainer of new novices.


Zen Master Moon Jae-hyeon is a Korean Zen master in South Korea. A disciple of Zen Master Jeongang, he received Dharma transmission from his teacher and thereby becoming the 78th patriarch in the Dharma Lineage of the Buddha in 1962.

Shi Xing Mi

is a Shaolin secular monk of the 32nd generation, speaker and writer.

Shunoku Sōen (春屋宗園) was a Rinzai Zen monk of the Azuchi-Momoyama and early Edo periods and the 111th Head Priest of Daitoku-ji temple. He received the title Zen Master Rōgen Tenshin from Emperor Ōgimachi in 1586 and the highest acclaim of National Teacher Taihō Enkan from Emperor Go-Yōzei (1571-1617) in 1600. Sōen was born in Yamashiro Province and became a monk at an early age. He first trained under Rosetsu Yōha at Kennin-ji before becoming a student of Kōin Sōken at Daitoku-ji. After Sōken’s death, Sōen completed his training under Shōrei Sōkin (1505-1584) of Daisen-in and the 107th Head Priest of Daitoku-ji. Sōen became the 111th Head Priest of Daitoku-ji in 1569.

Shinzan Miyamae Roshi

Shinzan Miyamae was a Rinzai Zen Buddhist rōshi (teacher). He restored Gyokuryuji, the hermitage of Edo-period Zen Master Bankei Yotaku Zenji in Gifu, Japan and taught there from 1990 to his death.

Guishan Lingyou

or Master Lingyou of Guishan (771–853) was a Chinese Zen Master during Tang Dynasty, secular surname Zhao, born in Changxi, Fujian province, the founding person of the Guiyang school.


Haengwon, born Duk-In Lee, was a Korean Seon master of the Jogye Order and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen. He was the seventy-eighth Patriarch in his lineage. As one of the early Korean Zen masters to settle in the United States, he opened many temples and practice groups across the globe. He was known for his charismatic style and direct presentation of Zen, which was well tailored for the Western audience.

Sasaki Gensō

Sasaki Gensō is a Japanese Rinzai Rōshi, a successor in the Tenryū-ji line of Rinzai Zen, a teacher of Jikishinkage-ryū swordsmanship, and a calligrapher.

Sante Poromaa

Roshi is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher, in the lineage of Harada-Yasutani. He was born in 1958 in Kiruna, Sweden, and commenced his Zen training in the early eighties, as a student of Roshi Philip Kapleau. When Roshi Kapleau went into semi-retirement, he also became a student of Kapleau’s successor, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede.

Ross Bolleter

is a composer and musician whose work is focused on ruined pianos. His recordings are available on Emanem (London), Pogus, New Albion and Tall Poppies (Sydney), as well as on his WARPS label.

Rempo Niwa

Zuigaku Zenji (1905–1993) was a Japanese Zen master.


was a Korean Buddhist monk, Ordained in 1907 at the age of 15, Master Gyeongbong was born in Milyang, Gyeongnam Province, in 1892. Master Gyeongbong was Abbot of Tongdo Temple in Yangsang, one of the most important Jogye Order temples in Korea. At Tongdo Temple, Master Gyeongbong became famous for the many monks he taught. After turning 90, Master Gyeongbong began to give dharma speeches, which more than one thousand people would regularly attend. In 1982, Master Gyeongbong wrote his last lecture, “Touch the Crossbar at Midnight,” and died.

Pia Gyger

was a Swiss specialist for special education, psychologist and Zen master of the White Plum Sangha lineage. She was the co-founder of the Lassalle-Institute within the Lassalle-House in Bad Schönbrunn/Zug, Canton of Zug. She was co-initiator of the Jerusalem-Project.

Chân Không is an expatriate Vietnamese Buddhist Bhikkhunī (nun) and peace activist who has worked closely with Thích Nhất Hạnh in starting the Plum Village Tradition and helping conduct spiritual retreats internationally.

Jimmy Yu

, also known as Guo Gu, is a Chan teacher and a scholar of Buddhism. He was the bassist for the American 1980s hardcore bands Death Before Dishonor and Judge. After his youthful days in hardcore straight edge, he returned to Buddhism and became a monk under Chan Master Sheng Yen. In 2000, he left monasticism to pursue academia. He received an MA degree in Chinese Buddhist studies from University of Kansas in 2002 and a Ph.D. from Princeton University’s Department of Religion in 2008.

Niklaus Brantschen

is a Swiss Jesuit, Zen master of the White Plum Sangha line and founder of the Lassalle-Institute within the Lassalle-House in Bad Schönbrunn/Zug, Canton of Zug. He is co-initiator of the Jerusalem-Project.

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