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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
FALL 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 PHOTOMINORUAOKI,COURTESYOFSFZC Participants in the first practice period held at Tassajara, 1967. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, center. at Tassajara Springs in Los Padres National Forest. Women and men practiced there together, following Japanese forms in a new way and chanting in both languages. The retreat center also opened the gates to the public for the summer guest season, which kept the community grounded in society, brought in much-needed revenue, and exposed thousands to the practice of Zen. In 1969 Suzuki and his assistant, Katagiri, left Sokoji, in a mutual agreement with the board of the Japanese-American congregation, and moved to the new City Center on Page Street. Residential practice expanded there, and positions and options increased. There were priest and lay ordinations, but “We’re neither priest nor lay,” Suzuki said. He expressed concern about the growing size of Zen Center; some elders lamented a loss of intimacy. After Suzuki’s death from cancer in December of 1971, his sole American heir, Richard Baker, became abbot. Green Gulch Farm was acquired, adding a third site to the San Fran- cisco Zen Center, the official name that was adopted in 1995. The center also started several businesses, including a grocery store, bakery, and restaurant, which provided financial sup- port to the organization and opportunities for work practice. Outreach to the neighborhood and society increased, as did the emphasis on scholarship. Baker’s well-publicized departure in 1983 was like an unsettling divorce in the community and was followed by reflection, downsizing, and a decentralizing of teaching and administrative authority. There was a shift from a single lin- eage holder in the position of leadership to multiple abbots with term limits, as well as a new emphasis on training more teachers, some of whom went on to start other centers. Suzuki’s and his students’ spirit of acceptance and toler- ance has always been a key part of San Francisco Zen Cen- ter’s story. The hippies came, and Suzuki said, “I am very grateful to them.” That spirit continues today. Women have played a central role from the beginning. Gays and lesbians have found acceptance. The percentage of young people at the centers continues to be greater than at most small zazen groups. Members have always welcomed diversity, though most have been white college-educated people from the middle and upper-middle classes. Students and teachers have been active as therapists and in social work, environmentalism, peace work, harm reduction, hospice care, administering meals to the homeless, and other forms of service and right livelihood. The SFZC has been a hub of culture and art and has created friendly spaces where people and outside organi- zations can meet. One of SFZC’s strengths is that it didn’t keep expanding but became the source of a wide-ranging community of inde- pendent centers, groups, teachers, and individual practitio- ners in America and Europe, some close to the mother ship and some not. Add those who share this lineage through the printed word and other media, and the ripples of what began fifty years ago extend far, even washing back up on Asian shores. DAVID CHADWICK is the author of Crooked Cucumber, a biography of Shunryu Suzuki, and Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki. His website, cuke.com, is an archive of the world of Suzuki Roshi and those who knew him.