San Francisco Zen Center Celebrates 50 Years

by Durrie Lawrence

Chanting and burning incense, members of the San Francisco Zen Center marched down Page Street in honor of their 50th anniversary on Monday.

A Buccha manikin joins the Zen Center procession. (Durrie Lawrence/KQED)

The anniversary marks the date in 1972 when a group of non-Japanese Buddhists left a temple in San Francisco’s Japantown to found their own fellowship.

A teacher in the Japantown temple, Shunryu Suzuki, had welcomed the group, but their presence made other ethnically Japanese practitioners increasingly uncomfortable, recalls member and historian David Chadwick.

“A lot of us were sort of grubby hippies and this and that,” he says. “They just wanted to get their temple back.”

At Monday’s procession, the group symbolically retraced the move from their original temple in Japantown to the current temple a few blocks away.

The group grew rapidly after its founding and fostered the growth of Buddhism in the United States.

“For some reason, the conditions were just right in San Francisco at the time,” Zen Center President Robert Thomas said. “Our group grew very fast, and we became the largest and one of the most important Buddhist groups in the West.”

Thomas is one of approximately 180 people living at the organization’s three locations in California. He estimates that 10,000 people participate in the Zen Center’s programming annually.

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