Our Teacher and Heritage

Born into a family of farmers in Japan, 1907, at the age of only fourteen Joshu Sasaki left his public schooling and entered into Myoshin-ji, the most prominent Rinzai Zen organization in Japan, to begin formal training as a Buddhist monk. At twenty-one Joshu became an Osho (Zen priest), and at forty he was recognized as a Roshi (Zen master). Inspiringly, he is the eighty-first Zen master in a recorded lineage of direct dharma transmission reaching all the way back to the historical Tathagata, Shakyamuni Buddha himself.

Responding to both Japanese devotion to transmit the universal nature of Zen and growing American desire to receive sobering spiritual guidance, under the instruction of the head of Myoshin-ji, Daiko Furukawa Kancho, Zen Master Denkyo Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi left his native home of Japan for the first time in his life and arrived in Los Angeles on July 21, 1962 knowing only rudimentary English. With a Japanese-English dictionary in his right sleeve and an English-Japanese dictionary in his left, the Roshi first settled in Gardena California with the firm determination to plant the true seed of Tathagata Zen in America.

In a very small house graciously sponsored by two American Zen students Dr. Robert Harmon and Mrs. Gladys Weisbart, for five years the Roshi tirelessly offered zazen (sitting meditation), sanzen (koan practice/private meeting), teisho (formal Dharma lecture), tea and food to anyone interested in learning about Zen practice. At one point he loaded a station wagon with meditation cushions and travelled through Los Angeles from Long Beach to Laguna Beach to Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills—wherever he was invited. On the evening of July 21st, 1967, the first seven day Dai-Sesshin (daily eighteen-hour zazen intensive) was held to commemorate his fifth anniversary in the United States.

Joshu Roshi once stated in an interview that when he first came to America he had no plans to create temples or centers and expected to have perhaps five or six students at most. Only five years after his arrival, however, the amount of aspiring practitioners overwhelmed the house in Gardena, and as a result of neighborhood complaints about overcrowding and limited street parking, many helped find and purchase a new property. On April 21st 1968, the Roshi’s sixty-first birthday, the Rinzai-Ji Zen Temple was established in South Central L.A. where it continues to provide authentic Zen teaching and where the Roshi currently resides.

Since the founding of Rinzai-Ji, over thirty-five Zen temples around the world have been established under the Roshi’s guidance, Mount Baldy located in the Saint Gabriel mountains of California being his first, and Bodhi Manda being his second official monastic Zen training centers. In addition to the United States and Japan, Kyozan Joshu Roshi has taught in Canada, Poland, Norway, Austria, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Puerto Rico and New Zealand, tirelessly giving sanzen, teisho, and leading Sesshin after Sesshin.

At 105 years of age and after over fifty years of teaching in the United States, with boundless wisdom and compassion Joshu Roshi continues to guide beings to this day as the seed of his Zen teachings begins to bloom.