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Sokei-an opened 1st Zen center in US, married Ruth, 1st woman & 1st Westener ordained Zen priest in Japan & this is their love story

     The Story of Sokei-an & Ruth Fuller Sasaki Their Devotion to Each Other to Zen Buddhism.

For the the past 10 years I have been researching and now writing a biography of Ruth Fuller Sasaki and Sokei-an Sasaki. This is a true inspiring story of two large spirited, remarkable people. Sokei-an, born 1882, was raised in Japan. His father had been a samurai of the Sasaki samurai clan, who, when the samurai were disbanded, became a Shinto scholar/priest. Ruth, born 1892, was raised as an American aristocrat in Illinois, a child of wealthy parents, private schools and trips to Europe.

This is a story of a tradition coming out of fourteen hundred years in China and Japan, and the devotion of these two people to bring this tradition of Zen Buddhism to the West. And this is their love story.

Today, in the United States, there are more people practicing Zen Buddhism than there are Episcopalians. Little could Ruth and Sokei-an imagine there would be Zen centers and monasteries across the United States. There are now over 680 Zen centers in the United States alone. In the 1920s, few Americans had ever heard of Zen, but that was to change. In 1927, D.T. Suzuki published his Essays on Zen Buddhism, the first book on Zen written in English. Susuki’s writings were very popular and made Zen accessible to the West, but primarily on an intellectual basis. But the Zen experience, which is the very heart of Zen study, cannot be had through intellectual pursuit. The traditional transmission of Zen comes directly from a Zen Master, in a living human form, and before the late 1920s, it was only possible to access that experience in Japan.

In 1929, Sokei-an has a Zen awakening in Japan and returns to America began teaching as a Zen master. But he was not just your sit down and meditate monk. He was equal parts a sculptor, journalist and poet. A Zen master or teacher is not like a teacher of the West, who passes information and knowledge to his students. A Zen master embodies the teaching and transmits nothing more or less than the teacher's own quality of being. The student becomes the teacher's embodiment of Buddhism or the direct contact with the realization of Shakyamuni Buddha. Sokei-an then went on to open the first Zen center in the US in New York City in 1930.

And in 1930, Ruth Fuller Everett,  traveling in the Far East with her first husband Warren, met with D. T. Suzuki in Japan seeking information about Zen Buddhism. She was already an accomplished pianist, spoke French and Italian, and had studied yoga and Sanskrit. She then went back to Japan and was the first women allowed to sit zazen in the temple with the monks. Later, she was the first Westener and first woman to be ordained a Zen priest in Japan who had her own temple in Kyoto, Japan, through which many Westeners, including Houston Smith and Joseph Cambell, were able to enter into the Zen experience, within the very heart of the tradition, for the first time.

And this is a story of an ancient civilization and a young nation at the turn of the 20th century, both experiencing rapidely changing technology; women emerging from the obscurity of the home; and the bridging of cultural chasms. This is a story of a sacred tradition coming out of 1400 years of China and Japan, and the undeviating dedication and devotion of these two people, undeterred by war, misogyny, and xenophbia to bring this tradition of Zen Buddhism to the west.

I am an archivist of spoken audio recordings, with 13 archives under my care, the largest of which is the audio archive of Esalen Institute, the smallest is the audio archive of Aldous Huxley. I was publishing recordings selected from the archives, until analog cassette tapes became obsolete in the marketplace. I am now separately seeking funds to digitize these archives.    www.bigsurtapes.com

Within the archives are recordings of the philosopher, Alan Watts. One day Joan Watts, oldest daughter of Alan, brought me nine hours of an interview of her grandmother, Ruth, in Japan. The interviewer was the poet Gary Snyder. I was fasinated and so started the long journey I have been living. 

This book has been a labor of love, but I have now come to the point in the project where I need help. Kickstarter is God send. I seek funds to travel to Kyoto, Japan to complete my research; funds to hire a editor, who will help me polish the book; funds to hire an audio engineer, to edit the 9 hours of the interview of Ruth. I also seek funds to hire a screen writer. There have been a few, full length feature films on Tibetan Buddhism, but to my knowledge none on Zen Buddhism. There is no doubt this unforgetable story of awakening and love will make an inspiring book and extrodinary feature film.

Donations come with rewards of recordings about Zen Buddhism from the Esalen Archive and are tax deductable as Big Sur Tapes is a non-profit.

We thank you in advance for any support you can give us and we welcome any questions or comments.  Ted & Janica Anderson

Namaste'

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