Zenkei Blanche Hartman Roshi, the first woman to lead the San Francisco Zen Center, died early this morning. 

Hartman, 90, passed away at a hospital surrounded by her family, according to the San Francisco Zen Center. 

Hartman was born in Alabama in 1926 and started to practice Zen in 1969 at the Berkeley Zen Center. She was a student of Suzuki Roshi, was ordained as a priest in 1977 by Zentatsu Baker, and received dharma transmission from Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1988. 

“Her name was ‘inconceivable joy,’ but I would have also called her ‘fierce joy,’ said Susan O’Connell, president of the San Francisco Zen Center. “She was totally devoted to zazen.” 

Before ordaining, Hartman studied science and engineering and worked as a chemist in California. O’Connell said one of the reasons she was such a successful first female abbot was in part because her educational background and training helped her understand and relate to both the “male and female language.”

Hartman was devoted to training diverse students that would later become “the new faces of our lineage,” O’Connell said. 

“When you see a picture of her disciples, you see a picture of diversity,” O’Connell said. “And they are like her: fierce and kind.”

Read more about Hartman’s life in this obituary from the San Francisco Zen Center

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