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Joshu Sasaki
Mary Gilliland with Kyozan Joshu Sasaki in 1982
Mary Gilliland with Kyozan Joshu Sasaki in 1982
Religion Zen Buddhism
School Rinzai
Lineage Myoshinji
Dharma names Kyozan
Nationality Japanese
Born (1907-04-01) April 1, 1907 (age 109)
Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
Spouse Haryo
Senior posting
Based in Mount Baldy Zen Center
Bodhi Manda Zen Center
Title Roshi
Predecessor Joten Soko Miura
Religious career
Students Leonard Cohen
George Bowman
Shinzen Young
Genki Takabyashi
Ron Olsen

Joshu Kyozan Denkyo-Shitsu Sasaki (born April 1 1907) is a Japanese roshi of Rinzai Zen in the Myoshinji line, one of few teachers in the Rinzai tradition actively teaching in the United States. Sasaki moved from Japan to the United States in June or July 1962, where he arrived in Los Angeles, California. A Dharma heir of the late Joten Soko Miura, a former abbot of Myoshinji, Sasaki is known as something of a traditionalist regarding his approach to teaching. Having taught in the United States for nearly forty-six years and currently age 101 (a centenarian), Sasaki spends approximately half of the year at his Mount Baldy Zen Center and the other half at Rinzai-Ji (formerly Cimarron Zen Center) in Los Angeles.[1] Perhaps one of the oldest Zen teachers in the world,[2] one of Sasaki's more well-known students is the poet and singer Leonard Cohen (who spent several years living in residence at Mount Baldy Zen Center).[3]

A common question posed to Sasaki revolves around his naming of a successor, because to date he has not done so. In an interview with Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times, Sasaki has said, "There are things that I cannot announce. There are things that are joyful to announce but I haven’t yet decided about my successor. If someone would turn up who can totally abandon their ego and that can manifest that zero state that is neither subject nor object and that is a complete unification of plus and minus then I think I would make them a successor. However such a person has not yet appeared, a person that knows that true democracy is a manifestation of true love and that the manifestation of true love is the manifestation of the state that is neither subject not object. If such a person did, then I could finally take a break and be happy about that."[4]


Joshu Sasaki was born in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on April 1, 1907 to a family of farmers. He was ordained an unsui at age fourteen by Joten Soko Miura and received the Dharma name Kyozan. Ordained an osho at age twenty-one and relocating to Myoshinji with Joten Soko Miura, Sasaki spent the following nineteen years at the monastery. In 1947 he received Dharma transmission from Miura, becoming abbot of Yotokuin until 1953—the year he was made abbot of Shojuan (which he led until 1962).[5] In June or July 1962[5] Sasaki moved to the United States, where he arrived in Los Angeles, California under invitation from Dr. Robert Harmon and Gladys Weisburg. It is said that he came with very few belongings, including an English dictionary and a Bible. He was set up in a small one bedroom rental house in Gardenia, Los Angeles, where the garage became a working zendo and his bedroom a sanzen room. Over time more and more American students came to Gardenia to study under him, leading to the eventual establishment of the Cimarron Zen Center (now Rinzai-Ji) in 1966.[6]

Following the establishment of Cimarron Zen Center, Sasaki's students founded Mount Baldy Zen Center in the San Gabriel Mountains of Claremont, California in 1971, followed by Bodhi Manda Zen Center located in Jemez Springs, New Mexico in 1974.[5]

Teaching style[edit]

Understanding that a good number of his American lack a background in monastic Buddhism, Sasaki decided to develop his own method of kōan study for beginning American students, i.e. “How do you realize your true nature when driving a car?” or “Where is god when you see a flower?”[2] Despite his advanced age Sasaki remains extraordinarily active in his golden years, leading more than twenty sesshins each year. He has become known as a somewhat strict and relentless roshi, with students enduring a meticulous and sometimes painstaking regimen of practice under him.[7] Suzuki does not speak fluent English, which is surprising considering his many years in the United States. Instead, he often has a translator with him and always delivers his teisho in Japanese.[6]


Allegations of misconduct have been leveled at Sasaki in the past, though James Ishmael Ford writes that, "...this never gave rise to the institutional shakeups that occurred in other founding Zen centers."[5] Author Rick Fields elaborates:

This man, fresh from the monastery and used to the conventional morality of Japan, had been swept off his feet by the freedom of American women, and had slept with one or more of his students.


Main article: Oshō
Marcia Olsen Eshin John Godfrey Ungan Kido Osho Seido Clark
Ron Kodo Olsen Jiun Hosen Genro Seiun Koudela row 2, cell 3 row 1, cell 1
row 1, cell 1 row 1, cell 1 row 1, cell 2 row 1, cell 3 row 2, cell 3
row 2, cell 1 row 2, cell 2 row 2, cell 3 row 2, cell 3 row 2, cell 3


  1. ^ Bennett, Andrea (2008-04-04). "Last master of Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism shares insights at age 101". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  2. ^ a b Haederle, Michael (2007-03-27). "A Century of Zen". Tricycle:The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  3. ^ Schatz, Robin D. (2006-06-05). "Leonard Cohen Talks About `Book of Longing,' Monk's Life, Fame". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  4. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (2007-12-09). "Excerpts From Interview With Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-06.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. pp. 111–112. 
  6. ^ a b Fields, Rick (1986). How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America. pp. 244–247. 
  7. ^ Murphy, Sean (2007-08-01). "Being True Love: Sasaki Rosi, a founding father of American Zen, turns one hundred". Tricycle:The Buddhist Review. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 


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Category:1907 births