American Soto Zen
American Soto Zen
Soto Zen Buddhism, one of the two major Zen Buddhist traditions in Japan, received new life in the United States in the 1950s with the arrival of two teachers from Japan to serve in the Soto Mission, the Soto Zen organization which had served the Japanese American community since the 1920s. Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi (1931-1995) began to teach at the Los Angeles zendo in 1956 and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1901-1971) arrived four years later to begin work in San Francisco. Both teachers attracted non-Japanese students and eventually led to the formation of two new organizations, the Zen Center of Los Angeles (1967) and the San Francisco Zen Center (1969), from which current Soto Zen in America would eventually blossom. Suzuki would initially be assisted by Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990), who had arrived in the United States in 1963 and who would relocate to Minneapolis (1972) and open the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. Also in 1969, Juyi Kennett (1924-1996), the first Western female to complete her training and be acknowledged as a Zen master and teacher arrived in San Francisco where after a brief stay at the San Francisco Zen Center, she founded the Zen Mission Society that would soon move to Mt. Shasta, California, and evolve into what is now known as the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. In 1959 Robert Aiken (1917-2010) and his wife would found a small meditation center in Hawaii which, after some ups and downs through the 1960s would emerge as the American center of a relatively new Soto lineage, the Sanbo Kyodan, notable for its attention to lay practitioners and mixing Soto and Rinzai Zen insights. In 1970, Aitken's work evolved into the Diamond Sangha.

Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles (ZCLA) in 1967. He would eventually pass his lineage to eight of his students most of whom eventually left and founded affiliated centers in other cities. The expansion in the 1970s was followed by a period of turmoil after the 1983 announcement that Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi was suffering from an advanced case of alcoholism and had entered a rehabilitation program. Subsequently, most of the affiliated centers led by his dharma heirs dropped their official connections to the ZCLA, and began the focal points for new networks of Zen centers. In the years since the controversy died, those people who traced their lineage back to Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi have become part of a cooperative fellowship, the White Plum Asanga.

Lineage in Zen Buddhism is traced primarily through those Zen masters who have the authority to transmit their own lineage to another recognized teacher. The teachers of the many centers affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center (SGZC) have received their authority from Shunrya Suzuki who left two dharma heirs: Hoitsu Suzuki or Richard Baker. A number of presently independent Zen groups began as branches affiliated with the SFZC and their teacher stands in Shunryu Suzuki's lineage. The same year the ZCLA experienced its problems, the SFZC went through its own trauma, when Richard Baker was forced out of leadership due to sexual misconduct.