Our Zen Ancestors

The information below comes from: Dharma Ancestors: A Collection of Readings. Given in Gratitude, Fall 1992. ROBZ Library — for use within the sangha.

“Roshi Reads” in Pathless Path September-October, 2001

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen. Shambhala Publicactions, Boston, 1991

—Mary Frost-Pierson Spring, 2002

The dedication list was updated by Katie Egart and Sam Branson, Spring 2007. There are many sources now available to research women ancestors in Zen traditions. Some of the sources that we used were Mountain Source Sangha, Le Bouddhisme vécu au féminin, The Roaring Stream (Foster and Shoemaker, eds.) and Women of the Way by Sallie Tisdale, 2006

Jump directly to
• The First Sutra Dedication
• The Second Sutra Dedication
• Zen in Yellow Springs



The Ancient Seven Buddhas, Dai Osho Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical Buddha, is not the first and only Buddha. The very earliest Hinayana texts list six others who came before him, and these seven are often referred to as the “seven mortal Buddhas” in the Mahayana texts. The accounts of first six – Vipashyin, Sikhin, Vishvabhu, Krakuchchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa – do perhaps not represent actual historical figures, but even the most critical of scholars think that there is evidence for Kanakamuni and Krakuchchanda. If you see a painting of seven Buddhas, all in identical poses, and all golden, chances are you are seeing a depiction of The Ancient Seven Buddhas.

Shakyamuni Buddha, Dai Osho Born Siddhartha Gautama c. 563 bce, the “Buddha of our age” gained (among others) the titles “Sage of the Shakya clan,” Shakyamuni, and “Tathagata, the thus-gone, thus perfected one”.

Mahaprajapati, Dai Osho Shakyamuni’s aunt and foster mother. Indian Ancestor. We felt she is of utmost importance in that she led the demonstration that, with Ananda’s help, finally convinced Buddha Shakyamuni to consider women equal to men in terms of capacity for enlightenment and suitability for monastic life.

Boddhidharma, Dai Osho Revered as the teacher who brought the “face-to-face transmission” to China, Boddhidharma was the 28th patriarch after Shakyamuni Buddha in the Indian lineage, and the first Chinese patriarch of Ch’an (zen). There are several tales of his encounters with the famous Emperor Wu of Nanking; somewhat concerned at the thick-headedness of the Emperor, Boddhidharma traveled to the north of China, perhaps ending his days in the monastery of Shao-lin (c. 550 ce). He is often called “the barbarian from the West” and portrayed as a thick-set, heavy-browed man dressed for hard traveling, crossing a broad river on a reed.

Tozan Ryokai, Dai Osho Information about Tozan Ryokai, a Chinese Ch’an master (807-69 ce) can often be located by looking up his original Chinese name, Tung-shan Liang-chieh. He began training in the Vinaya school, but troubled by a line from the Heart Sutra, he left his first master, and became a pilgrim, traveling to visit a number of Ch’an masters. He reached enlightenment after years of struggling with his master’s injunction to “just say: ‘Just that, that!’” Revered as one of the co-founders of the Soto school, he formulated the five degrees of enlightenment.

Matsuzan Ryonen, Dai Osho (Summit Mountain) (9th century – Chan). Chinese Ancestor. She is the first woman dharma heir in the Chan tradition, a student of Ka-on Ta-yu. She is the first recorded woman with a chapter in Transmission of the Lamp, the official Chan transmission line, and cited as a role model for her wisdom by Dogen in his essay Raihai Tokuzui “Paying Homage and Acquiring the Essence.” Also known as: Mo-shan Liao-Jan, Laoran, Massan Ryonen, Myoshin, Miao-Hsin. Moshan Liaoran.

Dogen Kigen, Dai Osho  Dogen Kigen is often referred to as Dogen Zenji or Eihei Dogen. (1200-1253 ce) Dogen Kigen brought Soto Zen to Japan, and although soon famous, he feared falling under the undue influence of imperial power and worldly matters in the royal city, and retired to a small hut in Echizen Province, which has now grown to the world-famous Eihei-ji Monastery. His most famous work is the Shobo-genzo, Treasure Chamber of the Eye of True Dharma. Dogen Kigen did not reject koan training, usually considered to be part of the Rinzai school, but put together a collection of 300 koans, with his own commentary.

Keizan Jokin, Dai Osho Keizan Jokin (1268-1325 ce) was the 4th patriarch of the Japanese Soto school of Zen. He founded Soji-ji Monastery and wrote the Denko-roku, which is a collection of transmission stories in the Soto school that preserves for us many fascinating stories about the 52 Patriarchs. He also wrote the Zazan-yojinki, “Precautions to be Taken in Zazen”.

Mokufu Sonin, Dai Osho (Ordered Silence, Enduring Ancestor) (14th century – Soto) Japanese Ancestor. One of several female students of Keizan Jokin. She was one of the first Japanese women to receive Soto Dharma transmission. Keizan and the nuns founded Enzuin convent, dedicated to the well-being of women forever, and meant to honor Keizan’s grandmother (who he believed was reincarnated as Sonin with whom he had a very deep spiritual connection). She was the first abbot there.

Daiun Sogaku, Dai Osho Harada Roshi’s full name was Daiun (Great Cloud) Sogaku Harada Roshi (1870-1961). Trained originally in the Soto tradition, he also became a monk at Shogen-ji, at the time a great Rinzai monstery. He thus was fitted to teach an integral zen, and more than anyone else in his time, revived the teachings of Dogen. Because he was so famous as a fiercely exacting teacher at his monastery Hosshin-ji, located on the Japan Sea, where the climate was equally fierce, with incessant rains, snowstorms, and typhoons, not everyone remembers that for 12 years he was a very rare phenomenon in the Japanese academic world – a brilliant professor during the academic year, and a Zen master during the summer vacation. Ultimately he found the academic life too narrow, and spent 40 years as abbot of Hossen-ji. Most of us have encountered his writings through his commentary on Shushogi, a codification of Dogen’s Shobogenzo.

Hakuun Ryoko, Dai Osho Yasutani Roshi’s full name was Hakuun (White Cloud) Ryoko Yasutani Roshi (1885-1973). As Aitken Roshi has so lovingly recounted, “our Rodaishi Sama, by his own great power, planted a little tree of international Zen, and then cultivated its field”. For nine years he traveled to the United States. He would first conduct sesshin in Hawaii, then travel on to California, and finish in New York. He kept this workload, answering every letter he received, even as he continued to publish many books. And as Yamada Koun notes, Yatsutani Roshi brought to fulfillment something that Daiun Sogaku had long advocated: when permission finally came for the separate independence of temples, he separated from the Soto sect, adopting a position of direct connection with Dogen Zenji.

Koun Zenshin, Dai Osho You may more often see Koun (Cultivating Cloud) Zenshin (1907-1989) referred to as Yamada Roshi. His high school room mate was the Soen Nakagawa who would one day be so instrumental in bringing Zen to the West, but he himself took a degree in German law and worked in insurance. While on assignment in Manchuria, he once again met Soen Nakagawa, who pursuaded him to take up the practice of zazen. Throughout his life he labored to find teachers who could assist groups of lay practitioners, and although he continued to work “in the world” he became Yasutani’s successor, having the great kensho described in The Three Pillars of Zen. When Yasutani Roshi retired, the Diamond Sangha was left without a visiting teacher, and Yamada Roshi took his place. As Aitken Roshi’s teacher (and head teacher of the Daimond Sangha for 13 years) Yamada Roshi is largely responsible for the vitality of the Diamond Sangha today.



Rinzai Gigen, Dai Osho His proper Chinese name is Lin-chi I-hsuan. (d. 866 ce) During a time of great persecution of Buddhists, he founded the Rinzai school of Zen. There are many colorful stories about his skillful use of shouts and blows; however the single greatest innovation in Zen after Lin-chi was the koan or “public notice” of that which cannot be solved by reason.

Hakuin Ekaku, Dai Osho Hakuin Ekaku, 1689-1769 ce, is often referred to as the father of modern Rinzai Zen, because he reformed a school which had been gradually deteriorating since the 14th century. In his time the Rinzai school was famous for its intellectual pursuits; he re-emphasized the importance of zazen. He systematized koan training, and what may be the most famous koan in Zen – “what is the sound of one hand clapping” is from him. He was also a prodigious artist, excelling in calligraphy and sculpture, as well as painting (several of his self-portraits still exist). He also stressed the importance of work as part of “practice in action”.

Satsu, Dai Osho (18th century – Rinzai) Japanese Ancestor “Brilliant and iconoclastic” student of Hakuin, from age 16-23. She continually engaged him in dharma combat. After her enlightenment, Hakuin recommended she get married and have children, bringing Zen into everyday life practice, which she did. We felt she was important to us as we are a lay lineage, influenced by Hakuin’s encouragement of lay practice.

Torei Enji, Dai Osho We meet Torei Enji Zenji (1721-1792 ce ) every Saturday during our sutra service as we recite his “Bodhisattva’s Vow” . He is among the most famous of Hakuin’s heirs, and there are numerous translations available of his famous “Discourse on the Inexhaustible Lamp”. He was by all accounts a very precise teacher and self-contained man, and his traditions at Ryutaku Monastery are still lovingly preserved by Eido Shimano Roshi, for every sesshin there still begins with The Seven Regulations of the Monastery. (Available in translation online at http://www.zenstudies.org/ssoolead.html)

Choro Nyogen, Dai Osho Choro Nyogen (1876-1958) is most usually referenced under the name Nyogen Senzaki Sensei. Choro means “morning dew” and Nyogen means “like a phantasm”. He himself commented many times on his pilgrimage as a nameless and homeless monk, remembering that he began life as an abandoned baby in Siberia, the son of a Japanese mother and a Russian father. A brilliant young student, he finished the Chinese Tripitaka by age 18, and became a monk. He loved his teacher, but came to reject what he called “Cathedral Zen” with its rather worldly hierarchy of titles and authority. He loved his years in Japan as priest of a little temple where he was a “hands-on” director of its kindergarten. When he set up a Zen center in San Francisco, he called it a “mentorgarden”. Strout McCandless reports that he once said “I want to be an American Hotei, a happy Jap in the streets”. (Ironically, he was interred in a camp during WWII). Senzaki actively searched for and encouraged Japanese Zen masters willing to come to the United States, and as Aitken Roshi comments “the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii, the Zen Center of Los Angeles, the Zen Studies Society in New York, and the Rochester Zen Center – all can trace their lineage through the gentle train of karma that Senzaki began.

Hannya Gempo, Dai Osho Yamamoto Gempo Roshi (1866-1961) is often called the “twentieth-century Hakuin, yet his life story reads like something out of a myth. Left exposed as an infant by poverty-stricken parents, he grew to be the teacher of hundreds of monks, artisans, and prime ministers. Yet he never attended a day of school in his life (as a young man he worked as a woodsman) and was virtually an illiterate until middle age. At 19, blinded by eye disease, without money (or even shoes), he vowed to cure his blindness and to dedicate his life to mankind. He made the round of all 88 temples on Shikoku 6 times (an ordeal of years), and on the seventh round, collapsed at the gate of the only Zen temple on the circuit. The kindly abbot nursed him to health, and encouraged Gempo to adopt his own name (Yamamoto) and to undertake the study of Zen. Gempo Roshi regained part of his eyesight and became a modern master of shodo. He was one of the first Zen masters to travel throughout the world: to India, Africa, Europe, and the United States.

Mitta Soen, Dai Osho Nakagawa Soen Roshi (1908-1983) was a brilliant scholar of the poet Basho, and his love for the ancient bard/wandering monk not only led Nakagawa to the monastery, but was ultimately the source of his first personal connection with Robert Aitken. In 1952 Aitken had a fellowship to study haiku and Zen in Japan, but could not manage the difficult practice at Engakuji while studying at Tokyo University. Aitken enclosed a haiku with his letter of inquiry to Soen Roshi, and received an answering invitation via another haiku. Somewhat eccentric, perhaps quietly “humored” by other Zen masters of more conventional habits, Mitta Soen lived a life of ritualistic imperatives, a “body artist”. Robert Aitken has compared him to Black Elk, and called him the Balanchine of Zen, because of the way he would choreograph his students into ecstatic bowing exercises or elaborite kinhin through the qarden. Eccentric or not, his teacher Gempo Roshi did see him installed as his successor at Ryutakuji, even though Mitta Soen was uncomfortable with the role of teacher. Aitken and other American Zen teachers hoped that Mitta Soen would settle in the United States, but in 1962 he referred his American students to Yasutani Hakuun.

Maurine Myoon Stuart, Dai Osho Most of us know something about Stuart Roshi thanks to the collection of her talks gathered by her student, Roko Sherry Chayat, published under the title Subtle Sound (Shambhala, 1996). Stuart Roshi, a student of Soen Nakagawa Roshi, lived most of her life in Massachusetts, where she served the Cambridge Buddhist Association as a Rinzai Zen Priest. She was a concert pianist, and also raised a family. She passed away in 1990 at the age of 68, after a long struggle with cancer. As Pat Hawk says, “[her] talks are simple, direct, and exactly to the point”.



When Ken Simon met Aitken Roshi, Aitken told him that Yellow Springs was one of the first places to practice Zen in the United States. In 1963 Betty Fraley invited Yasutani Roshi and Eido Shimano to come to Yellow Springs. They brought with them a priest named Kokai Fukui (Kai-san). Later Kai-san returned and practiced with the group in the Vale for almost a year. The group began to disband; Martie Jensen moved to California to practice at Green Gulch (but has returned and currently lives in Goes, Ohio). The group, including Carmine Anastasio, moved to Dayton and practiced in Wayne Floyd’s home. A remnant of the group still practices in Dayton, as the Dayton Zen Group. Contact is Steve Steiner, 937-277-2328.

Eido Shimano became Eido Roshi and met Robert and Dianeah when he took his students on one of their Insight Pilgrimages. In 1994 he donated the calligraphy which hangs in the meditation hall as a gift to our newly formed dharma center. Later, in 2013, that calligraphy was given to a sangha member and replaced with a calligraphy by Daniel Terragno Roshi, our current Zen teacher.

December 19, 2009, Wayne Floyd gave a Way Seeking Mind talk to the Zen group. He spoke of this early history and “returned the bell to Yellow Springs”. The small bell on the altar is the one which Kai-san had brought from Japan and which the group had used in those early years.

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