The Austin Zen Center began in 1995 when Austin psychologist Flint Sparks, who had been interested in the uses of meditation in medical care had begun to make regular trips to California to attend retreats and train at the San Francisco Zen Center, and his friend Bill Magness, began a weekly zazen practice at Flint’s psychotherapy office. Other people gradually began to join them.
By the summer of 1998 the group had grown so that it was decided to convert a small, unused room in the corner of the Clear Spring Yoga Studio run by one of the regular participants 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 of moving in 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 to grow it would need more space and a more consistent form of support and guidance. It was decided to form a board, to appoint officers, to incorporate as a nonprofit religious organization called the Austin Zen Center,and to raise funds to rent a larger space. The larger space turned out to be 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 was becoming known in Austin, and had received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman in the Fall of 1999, enabling her to work with her own students independently, and had in fact attracted a number of Austin students. These factors led the AZC board to invite her to join us, which she did in the fall of 2000. AZC opened its first practice period that fall and held the first seven-day Rohatsu Sesshin in December of 2000.
Early in 2001 the Quakers listed what had been their wonderful home since 1960, the Friends Meeting House, for sale. 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. Given that our first Head Teacher, Seirin Barbara Kohn received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Abbess of the San Francisco Zen Center, and that Zenkei Hartman had nurtured the Clearspring Zendo/Austin Zen Center in many ways and originally 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. She was succeeded by Kosho McCall (who also received Dharma Transmission from Zenkei Blanche Hartman), who 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 Doshi Mako Voelkel to become Head Teacher. Rev. Voelkel was officially installed in a Head Teacher installation ceremony presided over by Ryushin Paul Haller one year later.