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Buddhadharma : Summer 2011
buddhadharma| 85 |winter 2005 Profile O ne great thing about family is that even if you see other members only rarely, still, you belong. Beneath all the stresses of day-to-day struggles, there lies a connection – to something older, bigger, and more colorful than you. This is how teachers in White Plum see their sangha. Yes, they operate their centers autonomously. Yes, they have vastly different practices and beliefs. But they come from the same root and get together once a year. Doesn’t that sound like family? The White Plum Asanga was founded by Taizan Maezumi Roshi, who came to the United States from Japan in 1956. Reaching out from his base at the Zen Center of Los Angeles (ZCLA), he spent forty years building temples, teaching students, and choosing heirs to receive dharma transmission. He chose twelve successors, and while encouraging their new approaches to Zen, set up White Plum so they would stay in touch follow- ing his death. The original twelve included many teachers who are now well known in their own right, including John Daido Loori, Bernie Glassman, Jan Chozen Bays, Dennis Genpo Merzel, Gerry Shishin Wick, and Charlotte Joko Beck (although she cut her ties over twenty years ago). White Plum serves as a loose associa- tion of teachers and centers. All members honor their connection to Maezumi Roshi, sit zazen, and study koans. However, it’s not clear how many centers or students come under its umbrella. “I couldn’t even give you a ballpark figure,” says White Plum president Genpo Roshi. The uncer- tainty, he says, comes from being unsure of what to count. Many students become teachers and begin their own centers, with no formal attachment to a greater body. So while he thinks White Plum is “prob- ably” the largest Zen organization in America, counting is not his priority. We do know there are now almost fifty dharma heirs to Maezumi Roshi. His twelve successors gave transmission to a second generation, who extended it to a third generation, a couple of whom have initiated a fourth generation. While White Plum has helped Maezumi Roshi’s heirs to keep in touch, that con- tact has not always been without fric- tion. “You know how siblings can be,” Genpo Roshi says. “I think after his death there was a lot of sibling stuff. I don’t want to say rivalry because I don’t think it was rivalry; it was just stuff. We were all peers under him, and all of a sudden he’s not there anymore. How do we move on? How do we carry on his teachings? Everybody had different ideas, so some- times there were conflicts.” It helped, he says, that around the time that Maezumi Roshi died, White Plum bylaws were restructured in order to make it less institutional. “Seeing it more like a family and less like a corporation has benefited us. These last few meetings have been fun. We have a good time, we enjoy sharing in what each other is doing, and we enjoy each other’s company. This wasn’t always true. We’ve had our hard times. But for the most part we’ve come through more united, with more solidarity and less friction.” Most senior teachers in the White Plum lineage attend the community’s annual meeting, but the agenda is kept The WhiTe Plum asanga By David swick Meeting of the White Plum Asanga in 1989. Left to right: Peter Muryo Matthiessen, Jan Chozen Bays, Bernie Tetsugen Glassman, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, Dennis Genpo Merzel, Helen Yuho Glassman (Helen Harkaspi), and John Daido Loori. PhotobyEmmEttho,fromthEarchivEsofthELosangELEsZEncEntEr.