Kelsang Tsogtor (Van Vorheis)

Cuke Podcast with guest Kelsang Tsogtor 🔊

December 13, 2022 - Help Kelsang Tsogtor get his Kadampa teaching credentials:


Kelsang Tsogtor wrote: Suzuki roshi came to San Francisco and stayed to teach us in 1959 and never left. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso came to England in 1977 to teach us and never left. I had the great good fortune to know both. One spread the Zen Buddhist Tradition the other the New Kadampa Buddhist Tradition into modern society throughout the world.


Katrinka and my friend, Jeffrey Trotter (of Shakespeare at Stinson and Rock Sober Fest fame) met Kelsang in Oaxaca and thus Kelsang and I reconnected in early 2018. He was part of the gang that came right before Tassajara started. He'd done a lot of carpet laying and did a great deal of that for Zen Center. It always made me worry about his knees because carpet is kept tight in the installantion by repeatedly kicking a carpet laying device with one's knee. And Zen students don't want knee problems. Here are a few lines that he wrote me. - dc


Tsogtor wrote:
I started sitting with Suzuki-Roshi in 1966 and my friend Chris Flynn, from my neighborhood, suggested I go to the first training period. He went and is in this photo, but I didn't feel ready, and also I was being drafted. I did go to Tassajara for three training periods in 1970. I was active within Zen Center for 20 years and know and practiced with 80% of the people in this picture (the group photo at Tassajara 1967 featured on the home page of Kelsang Tsogtor ( Van Vorheis ).

I’ve been living in Oaxaca four years and will continue to be here into the near future. I’m enrolled in a Buddhist study program now in its 5th year and will finish this September. I left High School after the 11th grade and didn’t go to college or university. This Buddhist program is the formal education I’ve always wanted.

I grew up in San Francisco and in 1966 I wanted to learn about Buddhism and meditation. I asked my best friend's mother where I should go to study and practice Buddhism and she said “if I can’t do it here, I can’t do it anywhere.” I got out the yellow pages and looked up Buddhist churches in S.F. There were five, but they didn’t teach meditation. My last stop was Buddhist Churches of America on Pine street. The Japanese priest told me about a Japanese Zen teacher around the corner, on Bush teaching westerners Zen Buddhism and meditation.

I knocked on the door and Yvonne was sitting at a table at the bottom of the stairs. She helped me and took me upstairs to meet Suzuki-Roshi. He basically gave me zazen instruction and told me the schedule. I made a commitment to myself to practice every day. I went to morning zazen and weekly lectures. The only people I knew were Chris Flynn, William Shaw and Denise Sloan. That was the beginning of my Buddhist Path.

My teacher is Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who I met in 1986, and have been with ever since. Even though I wear Tibetan style Buddhist robes, I am not part of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. Geshe Kelsang has established an entirely new Buddhist tradition, in modern society, called the New Kadampa Tradition and all the ordained wear the robes of our teacher.

(Opps - I just wrote or said on a podcast recently—something somewhere—that Kelsang was now in the Tibetan tradition. Well, sure looks like it robe-wise. - dc)

New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union
Founder Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoch
Kadampa dot org

Here's one of their podcasts - Wake Up! It's all a Dream. 🔊

Tsogtor with Jeffrey Trotter in Oaxaca, 2018


Van at Tassajara around 1970.


In August, 2021 Van sent this pencil drawing of Shunryu Suzuki done in Thailand from a photo he gave to the SF Zen Center. He looks so young but since no one recognized it at Rinsoin, his home temple in Japan, I think it's from a photo taken after he arrived in America in 1959. So far Van doesn't remember where he got the photo from. A high resolution copy of this image can be downloaded from this page on

These pictures below were done by an artist here in Oaxaca.

Even though I’m in a different tradition, Zen Center was my life from 1966 to 1989 and that experience is the foundation for what I have now. I'm never separated from Suzuki Roshi’s lineage. love, tsogtor 

Mitsu Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki, Jerome Peterson

These three are Van Tsogtor

Two idealized drawings with Shunryu Suzuki.