Soto Zen in Long Beach & Orange County
The other day I received a note from the Reverend Gyokei Yokoyama together with a link to his blog “Soto Zen Mission in North America.” It is mostly concerned with the activities he leads as minister at the Long Beach Buddhist Church, priest at Sozenji Temple, and as secretary to the Sotoshu in North America. Things that interest me.
At the end of the note, with his signature he added in links to groups he considers “friends.” One of the five groups listed was the Empty Moon sangha, which I lead. I was quite touched by this small gesture. And found myself thinking of the friendship and often collaborations we’ve found ourselves bound up with together over the past several years. It also set me to thinking about the Soto Zen project in Long Beach and Orange County.
First a little history
When people who are familiar with Japanese-derived Buddhism in North America hear the name “Long Beach Buddhist Church,” they might naturally assume it is a member congregation of the Buddhist Churches of America, the North American branch of the Nishi Honganji school of Shin Buddhism. But in fact, it is an independent congregation with a non-sectarian Buddhist mission. And, it is officially registered as a branch temple of the Sotoshu. All four its ministers have been Soto priests. Including the current incumbent, my friend, Reverend Yokoyama.
The church was founded in 1957. Its mission to be an ecumenical Buddhist presence mostly for Japanese immigrants and their children built around Sunday worship services and seasonal Japanese Buddhist celebrations. Its second minister, the Reverend Soyu Matsuoka, arrived in 1970. He only served the church briefly, but while there attracted a number of people interested in Zen practice. And out of that group he established a Long Beach Zen Center. So, at least since that time there have been opportunities for people with a deserve to do so to practice within the Soto style in Long Beach.
(I want to note: Zen as a discipline beyond Japanese-derived Soto is also represented within Long Beach and Orange county by a community in the lineage of the Korean master Seung Sahn, a Chinese based monastery in Long Beach, a Korean based temple and a Vietnamese based temple, both in Orange county. Perhaps more. These last three, at least, have been principally concerned with serving their immigrant members and their children. There is also an independent Zen group in Orange County that has offered instruction and classes for a number of years, which was founded by former students with the Zen Center of Los Angeles. So, if you’re interested in Zen but not within the Soto style, there are alternatives.)
Soto in Long Beach & Orange County today
A successor organization to Reverend Matsuoka’s original center continues in a low key way, offering a weekly opportunity for zazen. Lacking a web presence only the most diligent can find them. But I’ve been told they’re a good group to sit with.
A little easier to find are three groups representing the Soto stream here in Long Beach and northern Orange County.
The longest established offering regular Zen meditation to all is the Yokoji monastery affiliate, led by Reverend Arthur Wayu Kennedy, a Dharma heir in the White Plum lineage. The second to be established is the Zen monastic practice group hosted at the Long Beach Buddhist Church and led by Reverend Gyokei Yokoyama. The third is our own Empty Moon affiliate, the Anaheim Zen Sangha.
What I especially like is the range of overlap between Reverend Yokoyama’s organization and our own, with people sitting in both groups at different times. There are differences among us, with the one group very traditional Japanese in style and with a priestly training focus and the other with a clearer emphasis on lay practice along side priestly disciplines, while also including an emphasis on koan introspection in the Soto reformed style first offered by the late Daiun Sogaku Harada Roshi. That said, in my view, more binds us together than separates us.
And, it really feels for some of us the differences might only be who is your primary teacher.
Monday: 7pm zazen led by Reverend Seigaku Amato, a senior student of Gyokei Sensei, meeting at the Universal Mind Science Church, 3212 E 8th St., Long Beach.
Tuesday: 7pm zazen Anaheim Zen Sangha at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim, 511 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA
Wednesday: 6am zazen at Long Beach Buddhist Church, 2360 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach, CA
Friday: 6am zazen at the Long Beach Buddhist Church, 2360 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach, CA
Saturday: 9am zazen and program, Anaheim Zen Sangha, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Anaheim, 511 S Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, CA
Sunday: 8:30am zazen at the Long Beach Buddhist Church, 2360 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach, CA
And, if these six days aren’t enough, the Yokji group meets on Thursday evenings!