Lineage & Legacy of the STO
To learn about the Lineage and Legacy of the Silent Thunder Order, watch the narrated slide show, or read the transcript below:
The Sangha of the Silent Thunder Order traces its origin to Master Eihei Dogen, founder of Soto Zen in 13th-Century Japan. A few generations later Master Keizan popularized Dogen Zen throughout Japan. Dogen is often called the "father" of Soto Zen in Japan, while Keizan is called its "mother." We have chosen cloud, or "un" in Japanese, as the family name for members of our Order, after the dharma name my teacher gave me: Taiun, meaning "Great Cloud."
Our lineage founder, Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Roshi, was born in 1912 and died in 1997. He came to the United States in 1939, when he was just 27 years old. He said his mother told him, "go die in America." He was tireless in propagating Soto Zen to Americans, first on the West Coast and later in the Midwest, and one of the first to promote the practice of Zen meditation for westerners. Sensei, as he asked us to call him, was a student and friend of Daisetz Suzuki, the famous scholar who popularized Rinzai Zen in the West. A black-belt in Judo, he was very active in the martial arts, adviser to the Chicago Police Department and National Karate Association, promoting the practice of zazen.
By the 1960s when we first met, Matsuoka Roshi had established the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple, where he conducted my lay ordination, when I was about 27 years old.
In 1970 I moved to Atlanta, and Sensei moved to Long Beach, leaving my senior dharma brother Kongo Roshi in charge of Chicago. We visited each other frequently during the next two decades, following Sensei's wish to "keep contact to each other." He developed a dedicated Sangha in Long Beach, training Disciples and teachers, many of whom still actively practice Zen. He often performed secular ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, and gave annual speaking tours in Japan and Korea, as well as across the US. Before and after the war, he was known as a peacemaker and bridge-builder between the two former enemies.
I began offering Zen meditation in 1974 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta. We incorporated the Atlanta Soto Zen Center in1977, and so will celebrate our 35th anniversary in 2012. Having moved from location to location for about a decade, in the 1980s, we settled into a one-room, stone-walled zendo in the Candler Park area. Over the 80s and 90s the Atlanta Sangha grew, and others affiliated with us. We welcomed many new members, and trained a growing faculty of Disciples and teachers. Many formed strong bonds with the Sangha, and are still active at Atlanta or an Affiliate group. Others have come and gone, some setting up their own sitting groups, wherever their lives have taken them. We celebrate Sangha with joy, just as we greet each New Year, with the understanding that Sangha, too, is impermanent, like clouds drifting through the sky, no barriers anywhere.
With the limitations of the Candler Park facility, we sought out other locations such as a summer camp at Lake Allatoona, accommodating much larger groups, and allowing us to hold longer sesshin in the spring and fall. Currently, we are exploring a wonderful opportunity for establishing a rural retreat center about an hour from our urban location. There, in a secluded, arboreal mountain hollow, we hope to be able to offer our 2012 program of longer retreats and practice periods in a bucolic setting.
In the year 2000, following a conference on Master Dogen in Palo Alto, California, where I first met Shohaku Okumura, we co-sponsored a weekend with Emory University's Department of Religion, "Traces of Dogen," featuring scholars as well as practitioners.
We are proactive in outreach programs, such as the annual Japanfest, where Sensei's niece, Yumi Matsuoka, demonstrated Shin Kendo, or "steel sword." From time to time we give public talks on topical issues, such as a series on Zen and addiction, at various venues in Atlanta, and throughout the Southeast, as well as our affiliate centers.
About 2001, having outgrown Candler Park, the move to our present facility enabled us to offer a far more extensive program, with greater capacity for residency, and food service for retreats. Over the years we have refurbished and renovated the facility as needed, and as time and circumstances allowed. This, in turn, allowed us to expand and enhance our daily, weekly, and annual program of Zen meditation and teaching. The more spacious accommodations, while modest, make it possible for members of our far-flung Sangha to stay over for intensive training in formal as well as informal aspects of Zen. We continue to "take good care of the practice place," as the saying goes, to make it as warm and welcoming as possible, as a practice center, and second home, for our Sangha members.
Ceremonies following the path of Zen Buddhism are offered to the Sangha, from Initiation, or Jukai, to Discipleship and Priesthood, to enable and encourage those who wish to progress along the formal path of Zen. They are thereby enabled to assume positions of responsibility in the Sangha, whether at the home temple or in their respective affiliate centers. In this way, we have been able to serve the growing needs of the larger Sangha, led by members of the Order, who are thoroughly trained in the practices of Soto Zen, and able to progress through the various training stages.
All this, of course, has been made possible through the efforts of our contemporary teachers, in addition to those of Matsuoka Roshi. To learn the formal requirements, we visited Akiba Roshi, then Soto Shu's Bishop of North America, as well as Shohaku Okumura and others, in Los Angeles. Akiba Roshi later visited us in Atlanta, a year or so before we renovated the zendo.
Thanks to the magnanimous mind and kind ministrations of Akiba Roshi, and especially Okumura Roshi and Seirin Barbara Kohn, Sensei, of the Uchiyama and Suzuki lineages respectively, we proceeded together through the prerequisites for Transmission. Honoring the genuine Zen practice of our Sangha, they led us through the necessary steps to formal recognition within the larger community of Soto Zen. It required several sesshin at Sanshinji and Austin Zen Centers. After Barbara had conducted my formal Novice Priest ceremony, or Shukke Tokudo, in Atlanta, we spent a 90-day practice period, or Ango, at the Austin Zen Center, in the summer of 2007, practicing daily as head student, or Shuso, under the auspices of Suzuki Roshi's lineage. While there I had the distinct honor of sharing a room with another student, and most memorably, with Meow-shin, the Zen cat.
Austin Zen Center hosted a Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference that summer, with many senior Zen teachers attending, and Barbara taking a bow at the end of skit night. At the end of the Ango, we held the Shuso ceremony, including Hossen Shikki, responding to koans from the Sangha. During the three months, a great many of Barbara's students and guest teachers came to the center, and while the practice period was enjoyable, a photo of me on the patio reveals how I really felt about being away from home: not a happy camper. Later that year, Barbara and Okumura Roshi came to Atlanta to lead a week-long retreat culminating in Transmission, or Shiho, which Matsuoka Roshi called the "PhD of Zen."
We offer a robust program of frequent guest teachers, who are invited to Atlanta for various events, including ceremonies, leading retreats and dharma dialog, which we hope to expand in the new year. We have been honored to host many Zen teachers, from many lineages, including Barbara, Akiba Roshi and Okumura Roshi, as well as Teijo Munnich, Therese Fitzgerald, Anshin Thomas, and senior dharma brothers from the Matsuoka line. We also welcome scholars, and conduct conferences with authors, such as Grace Shierson, David Chadwick and Bill Porter, better known as Red Pine; and from the next generation, Brad Warner. And we have had the great pleasure of listening to the wisdom of Tibetan leaders such as Geshe Lobsang, and Achok Rinpoche, of the Loseling Institute. We host Interfaith dialog with religious leaders of any and all faiths. And we feature guest speakers from the arts and sciences, such as Dr. David Finkelstein.
The living legacy of our lineage is the Silent Thunder Order Sangha, a network of Zen centers, sitting and study groups in the United States and Canada, as well as rugged individuals pursuing Zen practice on their own, and staying in contact via the Internet. We hold monthly Skype conferences and offer one-on-one practice discussions and dharma dialogs as well as personal interviews, or dokusan.
"Cloud" is an appropriate symbol for Sangha, as it is ever-changing. People come and go, sometimes disappearing for years, and then reappearing to rejoin the Sangha. The legacy bequeathed to us by Master Dogen and Matsuoka Roshi, as well as the lineages of Uchiyama Roshi and Suzuki Roshi, is nothing less, and nothing more, than the Three Treasures of Buddhism: Sangha, the harmonious community we belong to and serve; Dharma, the compassionate teachings; and Buddha, our original nature, which we share with Shakyamuni Buddha and all sentient beings. The central, seminal practice and seal of this truth is zazen, Zen meditation, sitting upright in self-fulfilling Samadhi.
Please join with us this November, as a treasured member of our Sangha, in observing the birth and death of Matsuoka Roshi, by celebrating his legacy and honoring our lineage. Remember that next year, in November of 2012, we will see the 100th anniversary of his birth, and the 15th anniversary of his passing. I am sure he is smiling down on us from Tusita heaven. Or laughing at us, perhaps. Please continue with your practice, no matter where you are. As Sensei would often say, "Don't give up!"