Introducing Our Teachers
The causes and conditions leading to Ejō’s improbable trajectory as a Zen Buddhist priest begin most clearly in his adolescence. When Ejō was 13, a friend’s family invited him on a month-long trip to Japan. As Ejō began to observe Japanese culture more closely, he started to question his own way of doing things. “The biggest thing that happened during that period was that I began to ask deeper questions about life. What is life? Why are we here?” he said. The Tao Te Ching had a profound influence. “I’d been raised Catholic with no exposure to any Asian philosophy. First off, consistency is not as big a prize in Asian thought as it is in Western philosophy. What makes it so different is that it is not founded on a strict logical system because it distrusts logic. It has a kind of ‘playful spirit.’”
Ejō finished high school in 1988 and went on to the University of Oregon where he majored in Japanese language and Asian Studies. In high school, he had met and fallen in love with a young woman exchange student from Japan, Azusa Momma. She had returned to Japan after graduation. He moved to Japan and married Azusa in 1991. Not too long afterward, he picked up a book about Zen, reigniting his interest and leading him to search for a teacher. He discovered Shurinji temple at the bottom of the hill where he lived with his family in Sendai.
Ejō asked Keira-Rōshi for permission to become his formal student. Ejō was ordained on April 11, 1995. In the summer of 1996, Ejō visited San Francisco Zen Center. During a discussion with then-abbot Norman Fischer, he asked Ejō, “Why don’t you go start something new?” From this point, the resolution to establish a temple took firm hold of Ejō’s heart. He expressed this intention to his teacher upon his return to Japan, and Keira-Rōshi offered his full support.
Keira-Rōshi was born September 5, 1927, at Kōmyō Temple in Iwate Prefecture, Northern Japan, where his father was abbot. In 1930, when Keira was only 2 years old, the family moved to Taiwan. He grew up there and didn’t return to Japan until after the Second World War. In 1946, his family moved to Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, Northern Japan so his father could take over the abbotship of Shurinji, “Excellent Forest Temple,” the temple where he had trained as a young monk. After his father died, Keira decided to succeed to Shurinji’s abbotship.
He became the student of a nearby abbot, Kenshō Gishu-Rōshi and trained at Sōjiji in Yokohama, one of two main Sōtō Zen training monasteries in Japan. Keira-Rōshi then received certification as a fully-empowered priest. In 1953, he formally succeeded to the abbotship of Shurinji as its 32nd abbot. Keira-Rōshi remained in this position for more than sixty years, retiring finally in 2015 just shy of his 90th birthday. “When you think you understand,” he says, reflecting on many years of zazen practice, “you are only half-way there. When you think you have understood, it doesn’t help you at all. Training is a life-long practice.”
As the spiritual founder of Buddha Eye Temple, Ejō’s teacher, Jōshin-Keira Rōshi, has provided immeasurable and far-reaching support. Our gratitude to him is immense, as is our gratitude to Ejō for his inspiration and dedication.