Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi, now ninety years old, came to the United States thirty-five years ago. Today, he represents the last of a generation of pioneering Japanese teachers who brought dharma to the West.
Born in 1907 in Japan’s rural Miyagi Prefecture, he became a novice at the age of fourteen under Joten Soko Miura Roshi (who went on to head Myoshin-ji, a prominent Rinzai temple). Sasaki received his authority as a roshi and became abbot of his own temple in 1947. In 1962, Daiko Furukawa, Joten Roshi’s successor as abbot at Myoshin-ji asked him to relocate to America.
Sasaki Roshi spent his first years in the United States in Gardena, California, living in a small house where he conducted evening zazen and served simultaneously as jikijitsu (zendo supervisor), shoji (liturgy master) and tenzo (cook). As his reputation spread, sitting groups sprang up in homes throughout Southern California. Joshu Roshi and his students opened the Cimarron Zen Center in central Los Angeles in 1968. A few years later, Mount Baldy Zen Center was established at an old Boy Scout camp. Sasaki Roshi’s students founded Zen centers in Ithaca and Setauket, New York; Miami; Princeton; Albuquerque; Tempe, Arizona; Boulder; and in Vancouver, Montreal, Puerto Rico and Vienna.
Sasaki Roshi was interviewed for Tricycle at Bodhi Manda Zen Center, founded in 1973 at Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Serving both as a retreat facility and a residential practice center, Bodhi Manda is also home to the annual Summer Seminar on the Sutras, a program Sasaki Roshi began two decades ago. The seminars bring together Japanese and American scholars of Buddhism for two weeks of talks on dharma topics. Taking a break from his daily lecture schedule, Sasaki Roshi spoke to Michael Haederle with the help of a translator, Giko David Rubin, one of his monks.
Tricycle: This years marks the twentieth anniversary of the Summer Seminar on the Sutras. I wonder if you could talk about your original intention for the seminars?
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