Perhaps some quiet evening near the corner of 25th Street and Cimarron you might hear the repeated sound of a heavy piece of wood being struck. That sound is the kai-han and it is struck
every day at first light and at the close of the evening meditation period at Zen temples around the world. It is a reminder to those who practice Rinzai Zen Buddhism that life passes quickly and so we should use that time to gain wisdom and compassion not waste it chasing after material things that sooner or later fall apart and leave us with nothing.
In January 1968, a small group of Buddhists led by Mr. Dan Sunada helped Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, Roshi, a Zen master from Japan, purchase and renovate the property at 2505 Cimarron Street just above Adams in Los Angeles.
The building was constructed in the 1920’s by a California Senator as a gift for a friend. The house, surrounded by a high wall, was comprised of a courtyard, dining area, private quarters and a spacious main hall.
Now white-washed and well tended, Cimarron Zen Center was not always such a pleasant place. In 1967, the house had been unoccupied for more than a year and was serving as a hangout for the homeless. The City of Los Angeles had condemned the residence as unsafe for occupancy.
One must remember the state of Los Angeles and the nation in 1968. The country was at war with Vietnam. It was a time of race riots and assassinations. Only a year before, Newark and Detroit had been engulfed by riots, closing down those cities completely for a time. January 1968 marked the peak of the Vietnam War with the Tet offensive. Following John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Malcom X in 1965, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis TN, April 4th 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles, June 5th 1968.
Undeterred by the state of our nation or perhaps inspired to better it, work on the property continued and was finally completed. The main hall was converted to the Zendo (meditation hall), the heart of Zen practice. The carved timber ceilings and tile floor created a unique open space within which to hold our daily meditation. This coupled with a flagstone garden court and elegant fountain/bird-bath created a unique haven from the busy confusion of the city.
Cimarron Zen Center became the ceremonial center for Roshi’s Sangha (group of people who practice Buddhism).
Cimarron Zen Center, now called Rinzai-ji Zen Center, continues to be the location for the annual celebrations of
Hanamatsuri (Buddha’s Birthday), Buddha’s death day, Rinzai’s Memorial day, Bodhidharma’s Memorial day, Roshi’s birthday, and Roshi’s arrival in America day on July 21st.
Sasaki Roshi recently celebrated his 102th Birthday and 46th Anniversary in America. He is one of the oldest Zen
master’s alive in the world and still keeps a demanding schedule of practice for himself and his students.
Joshu Sasaki Roshi was born into a farming family near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, April 1907. At the age of 14 he traveled five hundred miles to Sapporo in Hokkaido, northern Japan, to become a Zen student under a well known Zen master.He was ordained an Osho (priest) at the age of twenty-one, receiving the name Kyozan. In 1947, at the age of forty, he received his authority as a Roshi (what we refer to as a Zen master) and became Abbot of his own monastery. Roshi arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 21, 1962. Roshi had but a rudimentary command of English and brought with him little more than two essential items; one a Japanese-English dictionary and the other an English-Japanese dictionary.
“I had thought of having five or six students who really lived the life of Zen and that would be it,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “I would die in America. I had no plan to create temples or centers.”
The intensity of Roshi’s teaching has never wavered since he first arrived in California more than 40 years ago on a mission to bring Zen to Americans. As Roshi has brought his teaching to thousands of students, a sizeable network of training centers and urban Zen organizations have grown up to facilitate practice and preserve the tradition he represents.
There are currently five full-time students living at Rinzai-ji Zen Center on the corner of 25th And Cimarron. The current director of the Center is named Kigen. He has studied with Joshu Roshi since 1988 and is an ordained Zen priest in Roshi’s lineage.
Rinzai-ji Zen Center is open most days to the public for morning, 5:45 a.m. and evening, 7:00 p.m. meditation although a short orientation course is required to learn the proper customs used in the formal setting of the zendo. We invite you to come and sit with us. Contact us at 323-732-2263 to arrange an orientation.
Our web page can be found at Click here
UPDATE April 2014 Suzaki Roshi is now 106yrs old.
Photos by Dianne V. Lawrence