Taizan Maezumi

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Fast Facts
Spiritual Teacher
Zen, Buddhism
Main Countries of Activity: 
Date of Birth: 
February 24, 1931
Place of Birth: 
Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
In His/Her Body ("alive"): 
Date Left His/Her Body: 
May 15, 1995
Other Related Gurus: 
Tetsugen Bernard Glassman Dennis Genpo Merzel Charlotte Joko Beck Jan Chozen Bays John Daido Loori Gerry Shishin Wick John Tesshin Sanderson Alfred Jitsudo Ancheta Charles Tenshin Fletcher Susan Myoyu Andersen Nicolee Jikyo Miller William Nyogen Yeo


Hakuyū Taizan Maezumi ( February 24, 1931—May 15, 1995) was a Japanese Zen roshi and lineage holder in the Soto, Rinzai and Harada-Yasutani lineages—an unusual background for any Zen teacher. He combined the Rinzai use of koans and the Soto emphasis on shikantaza in his teachings, influenced by his years studying under Haku'un Yasutani in the Harada-Yasutani school. Through his decades of teaching he founded or co-founded several institutions and practice centers, among them being the Zen Center of Los Angeles, White Plum Asanga, Yokoji Zen Mountain Center and the Zen Mountain Monastery.

Taizan Maezumi left behind twelve Dharma Successors, appointed sixty-eight priests and gave Buddhist precepts to more than five hundred practitioners. Along with Zen teachers like Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim, Maezumi greatly impacted the landscape of Western Zen practice. Several Dharma Successors of his—for instance Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, Dennis Genpo Merzel, John Daido Loori, Jan Chozen Bays, and Charlotte Joko Beck—have each gone on to found Zen communities of their own. After many years spent struggling with his alcoholism, Maezumi died in Japan in 1995 following a night of drinking—drowning in a bath after falling asleep.

Maezumi was born on February 24, 1931 to Baian Hakujun Kuroda—then a prominent Soto Zen roshi—in in his father's temple in Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan. In later years he would decide to take the name Maezumi, the last name of his mother. He was ordained as a monk into the Soto lineage at age eleven, and in high school began studying Zen under a lay Rinzai instructor named Koryu Osaka. While studying under Koryu-roshi he attended Komazawa University—receiving degrees in Oriental literature and philosophy. After college he trained at Sojiji, and then received shiho from his father in 1955. In 1956 he was sent to the United States to serve as a priest at the Zenshuji Soto Mission in Little Tokyo—a Japanese-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. He worked part time at a factory and then was married, getting a divorce not long after.

The Zenshuji Soto Mission was comprised of a Japanese-American congregation that placed little emphasis on zazen. So, Maezumi began sitting zazen occasionally with Nyogen Senzaki, in nearby Boyle Heights, for the next two years. In 1959 Maezumi took classes in English at San Francisco State College, the year he first met Shunryu Suzuki—visiting Sokoji occasionally for ceremonies. Feeling somewhat of an outsider at Zenshuji, Maezumi wished to be affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center during its early years—but tension between himself and Zentatsu Richard Baker likely kept this from happening. Early in the 1960s Maezumi began holding zazen at Zenshuji with Western students, which led to the opening of the Zen Center of Los Angeles (or, Buddha Essence temple) in 1967. Maezumi began studying Harada-Yasutani Zen under Haku'un Yasutani that same year, completing koan study under him and receiving Dharma transmission in 1970. He also received transmission from Koryu Osaka in 1973, making him a lineage holder in the Soto, Rinzai and Harada-Yasutani schools.
Koryu Osaka

In 1975 Maezumi married his second wife, Martha Ekyo Maezumi, and later the couple had three children (his daughter Kyrie Maezumi is now an actress). In 1976, Maezumi founded the non-profit Kuroda Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Human Values—an institution which promoted academic scholarship on Buddhist topics.The White Plum Asanga was also established during this period. His student, Tetsugen Bernard Glassman, opened the Zen Community of New York in 1979 with Maezumi's blessing and encouragement. In 1980 John Daido Loori, a student of Maezumi, acquired land in the Catskill Mountains of New York and established Zen Mountain Monastery (ZMM) with Maezumi; Loori was later installed as Abbot at ZMM in 1989. That following year Maezumi founded a summer retreat for the ZCLA called the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, which today serves as a year-round residential and non-residential Zen training site. In 1984 another student, Dennis Genpo Merzel, left ZCLA to establish the Kanzeon Sangha, an international network practicing in the Harada-Yasutani line.

Maezumi died on May 15, 1995 while back in Japan visiting with his family. He had been out drinking and returned home one evening to take a bath, where he feel asleep and drowned. Not long before dying he had given inka to Tetsugen Bernard Glassman. He did this to emphasize the Harada-Yasutani connection of his past into the Dharma transmission tradition of White Plum Asanga, naming Glassman President of the organization in his will.



Due to his training in three Japanese lineages, Maezumi employed both Rinzai koan study and Soto shikantaza (a specific form of zazen) in his teaching curriculum—a practice he learned to fully appreciate from his studies with Haku'un Yasutani. He was known to be especially strict about the posture of his students while sitting zazen—unafraid to use the keisaku to bring alertness back to his sitters. Father Robert Kennedy recalls, "Maezumi Roshi was so adamant in his insistence that we sit well that he advised us not to sit at all if we were not attentive to form." Maezumi used a vast range of koans from the sources such as the Blue Cliff Record, the Gateless Gate, The Transmission of Light, and the Book of Equanimity. According to author and Dharma Successor Gerry Shishin Wick, Maezumi was also fond of a particular saying he used often—"appreciate your life." This also is the title of a compiled book of teachings by Maezumi, published by Shambhala Publications. In it Maezumi says, "I encourage you. Please enjoy this wonderful life together. Appreciate the world just this! There is nothing extra. Genuinely appreciate your life as the most precious treasure and take good care of it."



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