The lineage of the STO traces its roots to Japan through its founding pioneer in America, Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Roshi (1912-1997). The 13th Century founder of Soto Zen in Japan, Master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), received Soto Transmission from his teacher Master Nyojo in China, and had received Rinzai Transmission from Master Eisai in Japan. An unbroken line of teachers and students from Master Dogen to Matsuoka Roshi means that we share both great ancestral lineages from Japan, China and India.
Matsuoka Roshi was one of the first generation of Zen Priests to move to the USA, arriving here in 1939. O-sensei transmitted the genuine practice of Master Dogen as a missionary to the country that, soon after, went to war with his homeland. Matsuoka Roshi was the first—or one of the first—Zen masters to emphasize zazen for Westerners.
O-sensei’s dharma heir and surviving successor, Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston (Sensei), is the founder of the Order and its current spiritual director. Sensei received dharma transmission informally from Matsuoka Roshi, as well as formally from Shohaku Okumura Roshi of the Uchiyama lineage. Matsuoka Roshi and Uchiyama Roshi were both born in 1912, and shared a philosophy of Zen practice that emphasizes Zen meditation, zazen, over all other aspects, such as dharma study and ritual. Uchiyama Roshi never came to the West, but his dharma heir, Shohaku Okumura, did. As a result of his formally entrusting the dharma to Sensei through the Transmission ceremony, the dharma family of the Order includes the Uchiyama lineage. Seirin Barbara Kohn, of the Suzuki Roshi lineage, was Sensei’s Precepts teacher for Transmission, so the STO are “dharma cousins” with the Suzuki lineage.