A Message to the Sangha from AZC’s Head Teacher

Dear Sangha members & supporters,

It is with much love and affection, as well as a great deal of sadness, that I am writing to let you and the wider sangha know that I will be stepping down from my position of Head Teacher of Inconceivable Joy Temple at the end of May 2022.

The Austin Zen Center has been my home and place of practice since 2013, when I first arrived to be Tanto (Head of Practice) under AZC’s second Head Teacher, Rev. Kosho McCall. These past nine years of guiding practice at the temple and engaging with so many dedicated and sincere fellow practitioners of the way have been filled with an abundance of joy, respect, and deep affection. I believe we as a sangha have matured and evolved mightily together during these years, through myriad challenges as well as times of sustained contentment and ease.

While my deepest aspirations have been to encourage individual and community practice and to support awakening to our true nature through our Sōtō Zen practice of upright sitting, ethical conduct, Dharma study, and ceremonial life, I’ve not always been as efficacious as I’d have liked. I hope you will forgive my many mistakes.

As you may know, a few months ago I was invited by the SFZC Board of Directors to become the next Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. As I prepare for and consider next steps, my wish for my remaining time is to continue to sit together, meet with and train students, officiate ceremonies, and most importantly of all, to be present, kind, and compassionate with all that arises. I hope you will join me in this endeavor – for the well-being of our community in Austin, and for the benefit of all beings.

With deep faith and confidence in Austin Zen Center’s spiritual and administrative leadership, as well as the steadfast community of practitioners, I find myself encouraged and excited to see what unfolds out of this transition. It has truly been an honor and privilege to walk this path of practice with all of you!

With deep bows of love and gratitude,
Rev. Dōshin Mako Voelkel

The basic teaching of Buddhism is the teaching of transiency or change. That everything changes is the basic truth for all existence. No one can deny this truth and all teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us. Wherever we go this teaching is true. This teaching is also understood as the teaching of selflessness. Because all existence is in constant change, there is no abiding self.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

[Message sent to the Sangha on February 16th, 2021]

I am writing to you today with some rather large news – both for myself personally, and for the Austin Zen Center community. I have recently been invited by the San Francisco Zen Center Board of Directors & Elder’s Council to become the next Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center – Beginner’s Mind Temple (“City Center”). As you might imagine, it is a tremendous honor to be asked, and I am deeply humbled, exhilarated, and even a little terrified at the prospect. While I’d far prefer making this announcement directly to folks in-person, pandemic conditions have made that difficult. For better or worse, we’ve all had to adapt to zoom meetings and email exchanges over the face-to-face, embodied connecting that is the character of our zen school. That said, I’m very sad to have missed the opportunity to share this news with you in-person, in the way I’d have wanted.

I’ve begun discussions with both AZC & SFZC senior leadership about what it will mean for me to transition into this new Dharma Seat – from Head Teacher of the largest Zen Center in Austin to the “mothership” in San Francisco. Were I to accept this invitation, I would step down as AZC’s guiding priest by early summer in order to have time to settle and turn inwards to my own practice before relocating to San Francisco a few months before the Mountain Seat installation ceremony in early 2023. The term of SFZC Abbot is four years (minimum), and while my intention would be to return to my home to Austin afterwards, my specific role at Austin Zen Center would be open to whatever is appropriate at that time.

Despite the impact of such a potentially disruptive change for the AZC community, I believe it is also a great opportunity for dedicated practice as well as community-building. The sangha is strong and sincere, and certainly up to any challenges ahead, regardless of whether I am here or away for some time in San Francisco. AZC’s board of directors, practice leadership, residents, and senior practitioners have all been exceptionally supportive and sympathetic in taking care of the center, the needs of our sangha, me in my role as Head Teacher, and our temple’s infrastructure. Having a beautiful treasure like the Austin Zen Center requires the attention, engagement, and support of people like you who appreciate its unique offering and want to make sure it continues to be a resource for others. I encourage each of you to continue to support the Austin Zen Center in myriad ways through this time of transition – not only for your benefit, but for the benefit of all beings.

Please know that whatever I decide, I have thoroughly appreciated practicing alongside all of you, and have been deeply touched by the sincerity of practice at AZC. I hope that I have been able to provide some support and encouragement to each of you, especially during these past years of weathering the pandemic together.

I feel profoundly fortunate to be one small part of a global Zen practice community that this world so greatly needs. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you at our upcoming community gathering, and hopefully to sitting together in our zendo soon! Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

Yours in the Dharma,
Dōshin Mako Voelkel