The Austin Zen Center began in 1995 when Austin psychologist, Flint Sparks, and his friend, Bill Magness, began a weekly zazen practice at Flint’s psychotherapy office. Over time, other people began to join them.
By the summer of 1998, the growing group decided to convert a small, unused room in the corner of the Clear Spring Yoga Studio into a tiny dedicated zendo. Devon Dederich generously offered the room at no rent to get us started. In early October of 1998, Seirin Barbara Kohn, then President of the San Francisco Zen Center, was sent by Abbess Blanche Hartman to formally dedicate the zendo. Within three months, the new zendo was overflowing into the hall and needed more space. By the summer of 1999, it was clear that if the sitting group were to continue it would need a bigger space and a more consistent form of support and guidance. The group formed a board, appointed officers, incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization called the Austin Zen Center, and raised funds to rent a beautiful old home near downtown Austin on West Avenue. Barbara Kohn returned to dedicate the new space in February of 2000.
By this time Barbara had received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman in the Fall of 1999, enabling her to work with her own students independently, and she attracted a number of Austin students. The AZC board invited her to join in the fall of 2000, when AZC opened its first practice period and held the first seven-day Rohatsu Sesshin.
Early in 2001, the Quakers listed their Friends Meeting House on Washington Square for sale so they could expand into a new space. An enormously generous donor, wanting to preserve the spiritual integrity of the house and support the new Zen Center, offered to purchase the structure as a gift to AZC. AZC has occupied this space since August 15, 2001. Because the first Head Teacher, Seirin Barbara Kohn, received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center, who had nurtured the Clearspring Zendo/Austin Zen Center and sent Seirin Sensei to look after it, it was agreed that the official temple name for AZC be Zenkei-ji. Zenkei, Blanche’s Dharma name, means “inconceivable joy,” and ji means, “temple.” Seirin Barbara Kohn served as the first Head Teacher of the Austin Zen Center from October 2002 until May 2009. Kosho McCall, who also received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman, then served as the Head Teacher from May 2009 through April 2015, when he was installed as the first Abbot of the Austin Zen Center. Kosho retired in November 2016.
In December of 2017, the AZC Board of Directors invited Reverend Unzan Doshin Mako Voelkel to become Head Teacher. Rev. Voelkel was officially installed in a Head Teacher investiture ceremony presided over by Senior Dharma Teacher Ryushin Paul Haller one year later. In the spring of 2022, Rev. Doshin stepped down as Head Teacher and takes up the position of Abiding Abbot at the City Center of San Francisco Zen Center in 2023.