Notes on the Corporate History of
the San Francisco Zen Center
Incomplete. Just what DC dug up here on cuke.
SFZC History main page
The Zen Center was located at Sokoji Zen Mission 1881 Bush Street in San Francisco. It has undergone one or more reincorporations for name and type of corporation changes. But these changes were hardly noticed by the membership and people we dealt with.Shunryu Suzuki, a Soto Zen priest from Rinsoin temple in Yaizu, Japan, arrived in San Francisco on May 23rd, 1959. He was the acting chief priest of Sokoji, Soto Zen Mission on 1881 Bush Street, members of which were entirely Japanese-American. In addition to ministering to that congregation speaking Japanese with them, another congregation immediately began to develop consisting of people interested in Zen practice and meditation. He lectured and taught this new group in English and in 1962 it was incorporated as the Zen Center of San Francisco. Also in that year Suzuki officially became the official abbot of the temple. In 1967 the Zen Center purchased Tassajara Springs in Monterey County and added the name Zen Mountain Center. In 1969 the Zen Center community and Shunryu Suzuki quit using Sokoji and moved to a building at 300 Page Street where students could, practice, work, and reside. Many others moved into the neighborhood.
Abbots of SFZC
Shunryu Suzuki was mainly called Reverend Suzuki but also Suzuki Sensei and sometime Suzuki Roshi or Roshi Suzuki until the fall of 1967 when Suzuki Roshi became the standard title and Suzuki Roshi or just Roshi the polite way to address him and refer to him. Suzuki died in December, 1971 after appointing Richard Baker as his successor. Richard Baker was and is called Baker Roshi. Since then, the title roshi has not been used consistently for any SFZC teacher.
Shunryu Suzuki was abbot of Zen Center from 1962 to 1971. Richard Baker served until 1983. Dainin Katagiri was abbot in 1984 and 1985. Reb Anderson was sole abbot from 1986 until 1988 when the policy of multiple abbots with term limits was instituted. Reb Anderson was co-abbot until 1995. Mel Weitsman served from 1988 to 1997, Norman Fischer from 1995 to 2000, Blanche Hartman 1996 - 2003, Linda Cutts 2000-2007 and 2014 to the present (2018), Paul Haller 2003 - 2012, Steve Stuckey 2007 - 2013, Christina Lehnherr 2012 - 2014, Ed Sattizahn and Nancy Schroeder 2014 to present. There are changes coming soon. It's November 2018, David Zimmerman was just chosen as a new abbot so someone is surely going to step down.
SFZC.org page for lineage/abbots
A brief interview with Grahame Petchey (RIP) about the initial 1962 incorporation of ZC
Below from SFZC Wind Bell Fall 1968, p.7
ZC Board Notes 1968 - By-laws of new Corporation Sole, name: Chief Priest of Zen Center
From this point, what we were told back then is that the abbot has one vote and the board has one vote. But this was a change for reasons that I've got to look into. I used to know but I forgot. I mainly remember that nothing really changed and the SFZC and board meetings continued as before with the abbot advising and decisions being made through consensus.
Below from SFZC Wind Bell Spring 1992
The Wind Bell article below is wrong when it says that ZC was a corporation sole from the first incorporation. As we can see from the article above from the Fall 1968 Wind Bell, corporation sole was instituted in 1968. And also it's wrong when it says all decisions were made by the abbot. They were made by the abbot and the board working together to different degrees depending on who was abbot. Suzuki was so revered the board always tried to do what he wanted and he would rarely argue if told what he wanted wasn't doable or practical or whatever. Baker was a man with a vision and great powers of persuasion. After Baker, the abbots became more like trusted advisors who did not dominate the board and after his departure, the Zen Center officers who went to board meetings became more and more dominant in decision making.
Regardless of the corporate structure or who was abbot, what we call Zen Center has actually been vital and evolving from its beginnings to the present day, like a sturdy ship that sails along in calm and storm, with changing crew, captains, and passengers. That ship set sail the first week that Shunryu Suzuki was in America late in May 1959 when his first students appeared and started practicing zazen with him. It steadily grew in membership but never expanded beyond its three centers in San Francisco, at Tassajara in Monterey County, and at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County. Zen Center has continued to grow in other ways. Friendly satellite groups with their own boards and membership spring up first in Mill Valley, Berkeley, Los Altos, later Hartford Street in the Castro of SF, and all over the US and beyond. Zen Center acquired businesses which flourished under Richard Baker's abbotship and decreased in number after his departure. The Zen Center has established outreach programs which have evolved through the years, like the businesses, depending on various conditions. Some it ran and runs, some it just helped get going. The Neighborhood Foundation, The Zen Hospice, the Outreach Program, a retirement complex in the planning are some examples.
An almost complete and accurate listing of Zen
Center board members in the early Suzuki years
- as identified in Wind Bells and early SFZC Board Notes
Through Suzuki and Baker's abbotships, all board members were students. Shunryu Suzuki was not a board member but attended many meetings as did his assistant Dainin Katagiri and ZC officers.
1962 - Paul Alexander, Della Goertz, Al Levinson, Janet Haley, Grahame Petchey, Richard Baker, Betty Warren, Bob Brown, Phillip Wilson
1963 - Janet Haley, Grahame Petchey, Richard Baker, Betty Warren, Bob Brown, Phillip Wilson, Ernie Davin, Jean Ross, Trudy and Mike Dixon, Bill Kwong
1964 - Graham Petchey, Betty Warren, Richard Baker, Jean Ross. Phillip Wilson Al Levinson, Della Goertz, Trudy and Mike Dixon, Bill Kwong, Seiyo Tsuji
1965 - Jean Ross, Grahame Petchey, Richard Baker, Betty Warren, Bill Kwong, Mike and Trudy Dixon, Pat Herreshoff, Phillip Wilson, Irene Horowitz, Della Goertz, Rob Gove
1966 - Richard Baker, Mike Dixon, Bill Kwong, Rob Gove, Silas Hoadley, Jean Ross., Toni Johansen
1967 - Jean Ross, Richard Baker, Betty Warren, Bill Kwong, Mike and Trudy Dixon, Rob Gove. LInda Burkett, Toni Johansen, Silas Hoadley
1968 - Jean Ross, Richard Baker, Tim Buckley, Claude Dalenberg, Bill Kwong, Peter Schneider, Silas Hoadley
1969 - Jean Ross, Richard Baker, Silas Hoadley, Tim Buckley, Claude Dalenberg, Bill Kwong, Peter Schneider, Silas Hoadley, Marian Derby, Yvonne Rand, Dan Welch
1970 (?needs corroboration) - Jean Ross, Richard Baker, Silas Hoadley, Tim Buckley, Claude Dalenberg, Peter Schneider, Silas Hoadley, Yvonne Rand, Bill Kwong, Dan Welch
1971 - Jean Ross, Richard Baker, Bill Kwong, Silas Hoadley, Claude Dalenberg, Peter Schneider, Yvonne Rand, Dan Welch, Reb Anderson, Mel Weitsman
Of course we're all distinguished in one way or another, but sometimes someone wants to know who among the students and friends of Zen Center have names they might recognize and that might impress someone they want to impress. So many people have been students or friends since the early days. Here are a few that come to mind. Happy to add to this list.
Elsie Mitchell met Shunryu Suzuki in 1959. Thus began the Zen Centers lasting relationship not only with her, but with her father Ed Johnson, and brother Ned Johnson. The Johnsons of Fidelity and Chester Carlson of Xerox were major contributors toward the purchase of Tassajara and establishment of the Zen Center on solid ground to be an institution that continued and flourished. Laurence Rockefeller has also been most generous with the SFZC.
Elsie Mitchell came from a prominent Boston family. But she was also a prominent Buddhist. She was founder of the Cambridge Buddhist Society in 1955 and when she met Suzuki, she and her husband John were returning from Japan where they'd been recording the sounds of Eiheiji (now available here on cuke.com and through Smithsonian). Many other well-known Buddhists have been friends of Zen Center including the Dalai Lama who was a guest at our farm and Thich Nhat Hanh who came a number of times. Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast is an author who's practiced Zen extensively at Zen Center and elsewhere. Zen Center was one of the last places Thomas Merton visited before his fateful last trip abroad. A few others in the religion field: Richard Alpert Ram Dass, Lama Anagarika Govinda, Chogyam Trungpa, the Dean of world religion scholars Huston Smith, and eminent sociologist Robert Bellah who served on the Zen Center board. Bellah's student Steve Tipton studied with Suzuki earlier and is Professor Emeritus of Sociology of Religion at Emory University. Prajna Paramita scholar Edward Conze, translator Thomas Cleary, and Lewis Lancaster of the Institute of East Asian Studies-UC Berkeley, Masao Abe, and Kazuaki Tanahashi are a few more of many revered Buddhist scholars to have taught at Zen Center or attended conferences there. Alan Watts was a good friend of Zen Center, especially helpful to Suzuki when he was first here. Writer Nancy Wilson Ross was a good friend of Zen Center and in her later years the Zen Center sent senior students to live with her.
Diane DiPrima, former poet laureate of San Francisco, was a student of Suzuki's. Many other poets, writers, musicians and artists were students or friends of Zen Center. Ed Brown was ordained as a priest by Suzuki and he's probably the most famous SFZC student due to the bread and cook books he's published. Phillip Whalen became a Zen Center priest, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, Richard Brautigan, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Bly. Stewart Brand, Herb Gold come to mind. Zen students poet Jane Hirshfield and writer Rebecca Solnit. Actor Peter Coyote has a long history with Zen Center and is an ordained priest in our lineage. Writer Peter Matthiessen spent time with us and was ordained in another Zen sect. Anthropologist and much more Gregory Bateson spent time with us and died at our hospice. Bil Graham was always good to us.
Some other notables off the top of my head who have had or still have a connection to the SFZC. Listed positions past and present.
Jerry Brown governor
Paolo Soleri - architect
Paul Disco, ordained a priest by Suzuki, Joinery
Structures in Oakland - Larry Ellison estate.
Angie Thieriot - Planetree Foundation to humanize hospitals
Paul Hawken - author, founder Smith and Hawken
Michael Murphey - owner Esalen Inst., author
George Leonard - author
Huey Johnson - President of the Nature Conservancy, founder Trust for Public Land, CA Sec. of Resources, Resource Renewal Inst.
Sim Van der Ryn - Former CA State Architect, author
Russell Schweickart - Apollo 9 austronaut, Science and Technology advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown
Huey Newton - founder Black Panthers
Alan Chadwick - master gardener, UC Santa Cruz
Paul Lee - Theology prof, UC Santa Cruz
George Wheelwright - co-inventor Polaroid Land Camera
Mike Phillips - VP Wells Fargo (created Mastercard), VP BOA, head of Glide Foundation, Briarpatch Network, author
Bob Gnaizda - attorney, founder Public Advocates
Rubin Glickman, Richard Blum - investors
Mark Kasky - Director of Fort Mason
Bill Whalen - Head of National Park Service
Percy Pinkney - Founder of SF Street Workers
This list is rude to many I didn't think of due possiblly to my declining brain cell count. A look at a list of names from the annual No Race at Tassajara, SFZC and Everyday board members would help to expand it a good deal. I could spend a month going over lists, collecting suggestions, contacting people and asking if they'd agree to be listed as a friend of the SFZC and a ridiculously long list would result. Zen Center's friends and supporters and those with just a favorable impression extend throughout and far beyond the Bay Area.
I remember when we first got Green Gulch Farm in early1972. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was established in October of that year. The National Park Service was taking possession of in-holdings in federal land and Green Gulch was in their sights. I wasn't involved in the campaign to keep it in ZC hands but I have two recollections. One, someone, I forget who, not in Zen Center, told me the phones at the Department of the Interior were ringing off the hook with calls from all over to let Zen Center keep that farm. And something George Wheelwright's close friend cattle rancher Boyd Stewart told me. I heard President Nixon signed the GGNRA legislation or did something official at an event at Stewart Ranch up north a ways near Olema. Boyd told me that at the height of the tug of war between the leave it and take it factions, that he drove Nevada Senator Alan Bible to a turnout on Highway One overlooking Green Gulch. Boyd said he purposely didn't bring him in. They just stood above looked at the beautiful valley. Boyd told him ZC would take care of that place like nobody else would and would do a better job of keeping the trails open for the public than the feds could. He said he concluded with, "Alan, there's good Buddhists and bad Buddhists. These folks are good Buddhists."