A New Soto Zen Association for North America

A New Soto Zen Association for North America November 22, 2023


Soto Zen Buddhist Association
2012 Dharma Heritage Ceremony







An old friend  just announced on his Facebook page the formation of the Soto Zen North America project.

Now the posting on social media was quickly taken down. So, it might have been a bit premature. But the website remains. So…

As it happens this past year following an extended period of discernment I resigned my membership in the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, which exists as an attempt to create an association for priests standing within Soto Zen’s several lineages. I sent a letter of resignation to the SZBA membership committee, and changed my status on my social media sites. At my personal professional site I said I’d resigned due to a lack alignment. That was it.

Well, not completely it. There remain tangling threads. Of course.

I worked within the SZBA for many years including serving as doshi for one of the Dharma Heritage ceremonies (the image above is from that gathering) and on the board for a term. I felt they were doing something important. But over time there was a growing chasm between what was presented within the SZBA and myself over both how teachers and priests were formed and actually the whole point of Zen.

While I cherish my own Soto Zen monastic experience as part of my formation, and in a very real way consider myself a priest within the lineage, at base my practice is householder oriented. My practice and my teaching is driven by retreat and emphasizing the Harada Yasutani koan curriculum as central to the path of awakening. Whatever else, in my view, Zen exists to forward the project of awakening.

Of course I have been aware for a long time of the tensions between the Sotoshu, that is the Japanese Soto Zen church and the SZBA and their own different requirements of formation leading to ordination. I took part in some of this while I served on the board. The conflict turned on definitions of monastic formation, and what is actually expected. There were reasonable points on both side, in my view. And I felt an alignment with neither side.

That said there is a central importance to dedicating one’s life to the way. And the organization of clerics are the traditional holders of the discipline. While not the only holders of the way, and that was part of my dissatisfaction with what felt to be a pretty rigid clericalism, clerics, monastic and priestly, are the people who have unambiguously given themselves, their lives, to the project. So, I care that they succeed.

Of course, with my resignation from the SZBA, this dispute within the Soto community at large is no longer my direct concern. But I do love many of the people involved. And to the degree they’re engaged in the work of awakening, they remain in some deep way, my people.

And now the official representatives of the Sotoshu in North America organized as the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists have officially launched an alternative North American institution with official links to the Sotoshu, the SZNA.

Still, I feel a twinge of sadness at the divide.

And. My wish is that both institutions flourish.

May all beings be at ease.


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