Katherine Thanas (March 17, 1927 – June 24, 2012).
Sobun Katherine Thanas, renowned dharma teacher and Abbot of the Santa Cruz Zen Center, died at home in Santa Cruz, California on June 24, 2012. She was 85.
Born in Berkeley, California Katherine was deeply influenced by her family's Greek roots and the early death of her mother. While growing up, she worked in her parents' Greek restaurant, where one of her tasks was to help make baklava every week. Katherine started zen practice in January 1967 at Sokoji, the Japanese Buddhist Temple in Japantown, San Francisco. At that time, she had already completed a B.A. in Journalism, an MA in Sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York, a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and was enrolled in an MFA program in painting at UC Davis. She remembers asking herself, "what was I doing collecting all these degrees?" She went with a friend to meditate at Sokoji, and, on her third visit, reported that after difficulty sitting still, she had a breakthrough experience, and "was sitting on the ceiling" for the rest of the period. While she found graduate studies in painting stressful, often accompanied by migraines and depression, her Zen practice deepened. In a student teacher exchange with Suzuki Roshi, Katherine asked, "Inside me there is a yes and a no. Which should I follow?" Roshi responded, "Follow the yes." For Katherine, the simplicity of practice, cutting through to deep matter, emotional, physical, psychological, drew her into sustained commitment to zen buddhism.
From 1967 on, Katherine was a devoted student and teacher of Buddhism. She trained with Suzuki Roshi, the founder of the Soto Zen lineage of Buddhism in the West, at Sokoji, San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara, and Green Gulch Farm. She was lay ordained by Suzuki Roshi, priest ordained by Zentatsu Baker Roshi in 1975, and received shiho (dharma transmission) from Tenshin Reb Anderson in 1988. She founded the Monterey Bay Zen Center in 1988, became head teacher of the Santa Cruz Zen Center in 1989, and was installed as the Abbot of the Santa Cruz Zen Center in 2002. Since 2009, though partially retired, she continued to teach classes and retreats, lead meditation periods, and supervise her students' training.
Katherine's dharma name, Sobun (Grass Writing), reflects her artistry in expressing the heart of Buddhist practice through language. She brought keen editorial skills, including a stint as editor of Daily Californian, the school newspaper for the University of California, Berkeley, to zen practice. She was an editor of Wind Bell, a publication of the San Francisco Zen Center, and a co-translator of Dogen's writings, as well as a contributor to Kazuaki Tanahashi's Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen (Shambhala, 2006) and Moon in a Dewdrop (Northpoint Press, 1985). Her many talks, some which are transcribed, are catalogued by the Santa Cruz Zen Center.
Katherine's legacy as a Zen teacher is her unusual ability to translate formal monastic training into meaningful understanding of our everyday life. Her sharp wit, scholarly engagement with scripture, and deep compassion defined her teachings. She has touched the minds and hearts of many students. Her dharma lineage includes shiho (dharma transmission) to Eugene Bush, Patrick Teverbaugh, Robert Reese, and Kathy Whilden, and lay entrustment to Tey Roberts, Patricia Wolff, and Susan McDonald. She ordained 8 priests and dozens of lay practitioners.
She is survived by nephews Steve Lansky of Cincinnati, Ohio, David Lansky of Burlington, Vermont, and close friends Rosy Penhallow of Watsonville, Teena Gruman and Michael Weissman of Monterey, Suzy Spradlin of Oakland, and Pamela Jackson of Pasadena. Katherine was predeceased by her father,Vacilios Athanasiadis (Bill Thanas), her mother, Smaragda Daros (Mary Thanas), and sister, Dona Lansky of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Funeral services will be held at the Santa Cruz Zen Center, 115 School Street, on Sunday, July 1, 2012, 2:30pm, reception following. An additional funeral service for the San Francisco Zen Center community, will take place at either the San Francisco Zen Center or Green Gulch, in a month or two..
In lieu of flowers, her family and close friends request donations be made to The Santa Cruz Zen Center, The Monterey Bay Zen Center or one of the many organizations she supported. (See list below.)
Buddhist Peace Fellowship www.bpf.org
The Nature Conservancy www.nature.org
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness www.nami.org
Doctors without Borders www.doctorswithoutborders.org