Zen Master Joshu Sasaki


Since Kyozan Joshu Roshi’s arrival in the West fifty years ago, over thirty Zen centers have been established in North America and Europe within Rinzai-ji, the lineage he founded. Countless people have been inspired by his teaching, many going on to be ordained as monks and nuns, and many of these becoming authorized teachers carrying forward the vitality of his Zen practice.

Roshi was born into a farming family in 1907. At age fourteen he became a novice Zen monk training under Joten Soko Miura Roshi. He attended Hanazono school in Kyoto and Komazawa University in Tokyo. At age twenty-one he became an osho (Zen priest) and a roshi (Zen Master) at the age of forty in 1947, receiving the name Denkyo. He then became the abbot of Yotoku-in and in 1953 of Shoju-an, a remote temple on Hokaido founded by Shoju Ronin, Hakuin’s master. Roshi restored this historic site and taught there until he was invited to come to America.

He arrived in Los Angeles in 1962 at a time when genuine Zen practice had yet to establish a firm foothold in the West. His sponsors rented a small house for him and his reputation spread in the following years. During this time the first people received tokudo (Zen monk ordination). In 1968 Rinzai-ji was legally established and purchased its first property, Cimarron Zen Center, as head temple.

Mt. Baldy Zen Center was obtained in 1971 as the main training center, high in the mountains east of Los Angeles. Traditional summer and winter training periods have since been held there. A large number of people have received Zen training, many going on to be ordained and some maturing to become oshos. In 1974 Bodhi Manda Zen Center was created in New Mexico to serve as a second training center. Over thirty Zen centers have been established by Roshi’s students, many led by oshos who teach their own students.

Joshu Roshi has traveled extensively to conduct dai-sesshins (retreats). Besides the United States, he has taught Zen in Canada, Puerto Rica, Poland, Norway, Austria, Germany, Spain, Belgium and New Zealand. From 1972 for nearly a decade he held regular dai-sesshins for Trappist monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts. As well, an academic Summer Seminar on Buddhism has been held annually since 1977. Initiated by Kyozan Joshu Roshi as one of the ways to study Zen, it is jointly sponsored by the University of New Mexico.

In 1996 Kyozan Joshu Roshi received the Meritorious Achievement Award of the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, an organization for promoting Buddhism. A special dai-sesshin and dinner marked his 100th year in April 2007. Age caused retirement from teaching in January 2012. Later that year his 105th year and his 50th year teaching in the West was celebrated. In late 2012 and early 2013 reports of sexual misconduct engulfed Roshi and Rinzai-ji resulting in this response by the organization.