Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, a Japanese Zen priest belonging to the Soto lineage, came to San Francisco in 1959 at the age of fifty-four. Already a respected Zen master in Japan, he was impressed by the seriousness and quality of "beginner's mind" among Americans he met who were interested in Zen and decided to settle here. As more and more people of non-Japanese background joined him in meditation, the San Francisco Zen Center came into being and he was its first abbot. Under his tutelage, Zen Center grew into City Center, Green Gulch Farm, and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He was undoubtedly one of the most influential Zen teachers of his time. Some of his edited talks have been collected in the books Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. Suzuki-roshi died in 1971.
Zentatsu Richard Baker-roshi was second abbot of Zen Center, serving from 1971 until 1983. He was instrumental in the purchase of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center and Green Gulch Farm. He was also the leading force in setting up Zen Center's financial base of support, including Greens Restaurant at Fort Mason and Tassajara Bakery in San Francisco. In his teaching, Baker-roshi emphasized Zen's yogic teachings and the relevance of Zen to contemporary philosophical and social issues. He is presently the spiritual head of Dharma Sangha, with locations in Crestone, Colorado, and the Black Forest of Germany.
Tenshin Reb Anderson was born in Mississippi in 1943 and grew up in Minnesota. He came to Zen Center in 1967 and was ordained as a priest in 1970 by Suzuki-roshi, who gave him the name Tenshin Zenki ("Naturally Real, The Whole Works"). He received dharma transmission in 1983, served as abbot from 1986 to 1995, and is currently senior dharma teacher. He lives with his family at Green Dragon Temple (Green Gulch Farm). See Reb's lecture schedule.
Sojun Mel Weitsman began practice at the old Sokoji Temple in San Francisco in 1964 with Suzuki-roshi. He received priest ordination from Suzuki-roshi in 1969 at Berkeley Zendo which he founded in 1967 with Suzuki-roshi's blessing. He was shuso at Tassajara in 1970 with Tatsugami-roshi and director of Tassajara in 1972-1973. In 1984, he received dharma transmission from Suzuki-roshi's son, Hoitsu. In 1985, he was installed as abbot of Berkeley Zen Center; in 1988 he was installed as co-abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. His tenure as abbot ended in January 1997. He is currently a senior dharma teacher.
Zenkei Blanche Hartman began sitting in 1969 at the Berkeley Zen Center with Sojun Mel Weitsman and in San Francisco with Suzuki-roshi. She was priest ordained in 1977 by Zentatsu Baker-roshi and received dharma transmission with Sojun Mel Weitsman in 1988. Zenkei became abbess of San Francisco Zen Center in February of 1996. She was married to Shuun Lou Hartman. They had four children and five grandchildren. Shuun Lou Hartman died in 2011 and Zenkei Blanche Hartman died in 2016.
Seirin Barbara Kohn was ordained as a priest by Tenshin Reb Anderson-roshi and received dharma transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman-roshi. Consequently, her lineage is both traced through Tenshin Reb Anderson and Zentatsu Richard Baker to Suzuki-roshi as well as through Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Sojun Mel Weitsman, and Hoitsu Suzuki to Suzuki-roshi. Seirin Barbara Kohn was president of the San Francisco Zen Center as well as head cook. She served as the first Teacher and Head Priest of Austin Zen Center from 2000–2009. Barbara now lives in San Anselmo, Calfornia.
Kosho McCall, originally from Maine, practiced at San Francisco Zen Center for 20 years. He trained for 12 of those years at Tassajara Zen Mountain monastery where he became Head of Monastic Practice. He received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Hartman Roshi in 2003. He became Teacher and Head Priest of Austin Zen Center in May of 2009, and Abbot in 2015. He retired in 2016.
We thank San Francisco Zen Center for the majority of the above biographical information.