Our Story

The Soto Zen practice lineage at Warm Jewel Temple comes from Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived in India in the fifth century B.C.E…

These three images represent the founding and the ancient path of Zen Buddhism in Asia.

Shakyamuni Buddha (left), is the teacher upon whom Buddhism was founded. He is believed to have lived around the 5th century B.C.E.. At that time, it was not a practice in northern India, where he taught, to iconicize persons in paintings or sculpture, but rather to use symbols, such as footprints. This Ghandaran sculpture shows the influence of ancient Greek art its facial features and toga. Ghandara, now part of Pakistan, was part of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. The entire effect — the enlightened Buddha figure, displayed with Greek cultural influence — visually demonstrates the spread of Buddhism, and how many cultures added to the tradition or adopted it as part of their own, even in ancient times.

The middle image depicts Bodhidharma (5th/6th century, C.E.), who is credited with bringing Zen, or Chan in transliterated Chinese, from India to China. This painting is entitled “The Moon Through a Crumbling Window” in “A Hundred Aspects of the Moon”, by Yoshitoshi, 1887. The earrings and facial hair remind us that this iconic Chinese figure would actually have been a monk from southern India. Also, while all of our early ancestors are usually credited as men, scholarship now shows that Prajnatara, the teacher of this central figure, may actually have been a woman.

Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), brought the tradition to Japan from China founding the Soto School of Zen. This enhanced image is actually known as a self-portrait entitled “Viewing the Moon”. The moon (also referenced in the previous image) was a common metaphor for enlightenment. ‘The wall’ referenced in the poem that accompanies this painting, like the ‘crumbling window’ of the second picture, indicates our family style of wall sitting and implicitly, Bodhidharma. The poem reads:

If you take this portrait of me to be real,

Then what am I, really?

But why hang it there,

If not to anticipate people getting to know me?

Looking at this portrait,

Can you say that what is hanging there

Is really me?

In that case your mind will never be

Fully united with the wall.

Over the the course of millenia, the Buddhist tradition wove its way up from the Indian subcontinent, growing and adapting to the cultures that embraced it -- places we know as Nepal; Tibet; Korea; China; Japan.  In 1967, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi invited his fellow priest Kobun Chino Roshi to the U.S. from Japan in order to serve as his assistant at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. (You can learn more about these ancestors at our Root Teachers Page.)

In 1970, Kobun began offering sitting, service, and lectures  to the Santa Cruz Zen group. They met in a small Unitarian church, rented for the occasion. In 1971, several regular members of the group rented a house at 114 Swift Street and converted the living room into a zendo, or meditation hall.  Daily sittings began. Ruth O’Neal provided much of the patronage and encouragement at this early time. In spring 1972, Kobun led the first weekend sesshin in Santa Cruz. That summer, the first business meeting was held with the following agenda items: With the Swift Street house for sale by ownership, everyone had to move; the group was broke; and Ruth O’Neal was leaving for Japan.

The first problem was solved when a group member, Jim Goodhue, offered his living room at 113 School Street as a temporary zendo.  Jim had been living there with a group of friends, but as people left, they were replaced by people interested in Zen. Gradually, the temporary zendo became permanent and Jim discovered that his house had been taken over by Zen. Thus began the hammering-out of how to organize a Zen life and a Zen household in the modern world - a conversation which continues to this day.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (right) invited Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi (left) to the U.S. from Japan in 1967 in order to serve as his assistant at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which Kobun did until 1970. Kobun was integral in the formation of Santa Cruz Zen Center as well as other centers in the U.S. Please learn more about these ancestors at our  Root Teachers Page .

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (right) invited Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi (left) to the U.S. from Japan in 1967 in order to serve as his assistant at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, which Kobun did until 1970. Kobun was integral in the formation of Santa Cruz Zen Center as well as other centers in the U.S. Please learn more about these ancestors at our Root Teachers Page.

The group became an official non-profit corporation with by-laws, a board of directors, and an official name: The Santa Cruz Zen Center.  In 1973, Jim Goodhue announced that he was going to Japan -- for a very long time. He offered to give the two School Street houses to the group if they would pay off his debts—a small sum, but  more than the amount of spare cash floating around the group. Nonetheless, everyone successfully came up with $10,000 in three weeks, and Jim was off to Japan. The Santa Cruz Zen Center was the new owner of a very valuable spot near downtown Santa Cruz.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Francis Brier, who had been living at 115 School Street for 25 years, decided to move.  That building became the zendo where we continue to sit today. While these events seem incredibly auspicious in retrospect, the feeling was not unanimous at the time.  What had been solely a group of devoted sitters had become a corporation, and landlords. To some, this seemed like the end of the golden age of Santa Cruz Zen, rather than the beginning.

Still, participation in sitting and sesshins only increased.  The first seven-day sesshin was held in 1976, and monthly one-day sittings began.  Kobun’s support remained strong, and more experimental. For example, in 1975, suggestions for practice period included learning new sutras, full moon ceremony, calligraphy, tea ceremony, and archery by Kobun.  Daily services were discontinued in 1976 and even decreased during sesshins, which became less elaborate but more rigorous. While these ideas were not universally embraced, the spirit of learning how to practice, and the consideration of what comprises the practice that best fits our society as a discussion rather than a prescription, is important.

Jim Goodhue (left), and a priest in Japan in the early 1970s.

Jim Goodhue (left), and a priest in Japan in the early 1970s.

The library/dokusan/guest hut was completed in 1977.  This building would later be razed and built again as the dokusan hut and office space completed in 2018 and dedicated to the memory of first abbott Katherine Thanas.

During the early days, social events including the entire sangha also comprised sangha life.  These included potlucks, which remain a SCZC specialty; lay ordinations; weddings; teas; breakfasts; picnics; and even a degree of imbibing.  Also in 1975, an early edition of the Sangha journal, from which much of this history is shamelessly copied, was published. As the journal states, “So many individuals have made contributions to the group that it seemed best to give only those names necessary for continuity.  Also it seemed that this history is history of a group and not separate people. What has happened to the group,” says the journal, “Is so invisible and difficult to express.”

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