Leadership changed at Seattle Soto Zen in September, with new spiritual director Kanshin Allison Tait replacing Eko Jeff Kelley as resident teacher. Kelley has retired after serving in the role for nearly 10 years.
Shortly after the teacher transition ceremony Seattle Soto Zen conducted its annual September sesshin at Camp Indianola, west of Seattle.
Tait and Kelley shared teaching responsibilities for a topic Kelley had chosen, “Impermanence Is Buddha Nature.” The sesshin participants were very aware of the truth of impermanence, as they said farewell to their beloved teacher.
“Now things are changing,” said Kelley in his closing remarks. “That’s the world we live in. But I do believe that we are always walking this path together, and that is my solace as I go through this change.”
Tait is excited by the opportunities and challenges in taking her teaching and experience out into the world. She sees a lot of growth potential in herself and in the Seattle Soto Zen sangha. Many members of the community report feeling inspired and encouraged by seeing a young woman step into a leadership role.
Going into 2020 Seattle Soto Zen and its new teacher are hoping to expand Dharma offerings, with more classes, sesshins, and one-day sits planned.
Following a successful lay practice period in fall 2019 on the four brahmaviharas, starting Jan. 26 Seattle Soto Zen will offer a winter lay practice period on Zen chants. Also in 2020 the community hopes to begin offering regular one-day sits, in collaboration with Empty Moon Zen Network.
Tait also is very interested in strengthening relationships with other Northwest Dharma Association communities. Tait’s teacher Norman Fischer has encouraged Allison to keep up her chaplaincy work, and the Seattle Soto Zen Sangha wants to expand its outreach into the larger community.
Tait has been a serious Zen practitioner since 2004, having practiced for several years in a Chan temple in her native Canada. She attended her first Soto Zen retreat in 2009, where she met her teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer.
Tait felt an immediate connection with Fischer, and received lay precepts from him in 2010, as well as the name Kyoji Kanshin (Humble Self, Generous Heart). Shortly afterwards she moved to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center for residential training, and was ordained there by Fischer in 2013.
In late 2014 after nearly five years at the monastery, she moved to San Francisco Zen Center’s Beginner’s Mind Temple. Living in San Francisco gave her more opportunities for public service, and she was certified as a Buddhist chaplain by Gil Fronsdal at the Sati Center for Buddhist Chaplaincy, as well as being certified as an interfaith chaplain by the Sojourn Chaplaincy organization.
In her training for Dharma teaching Tait served as shuso (head student) during the fall 2017 practice period at Beginner’s Mind Temple. This practice period was led by Abiding Abbot Rinso Ed Sattizahn.
Tait served as shuso a second time at the winter 2019 practice period at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, led by Fischer. At that time Norman strongly encouraged her to leave the monastery and to share her Zen attitude, spirit and practice with the world.
In a moment of beautiful synchronicity during this practice period, Pacific Northwest Sangha leader Nomon Tim Burnett (of Red Cedar Zen Community in Bellingham) reached out to Allison by letter to encourage her to apply for the position of resident teacher at Seattle Soto Zen. She had met Kelley at Tassajara several years before but had never been to Seattle, so she traveled there in May to visit the Seattle Soto Zen community.
Seattle Soto Zen was founded in 2010, by American Zen students in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki roshi and Dainin Katagiri roshi. The sangha is a member of the Everyday Zen Foundation, and meets in the Queen Anne area of Seattle.
The community meets every Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and every Tuesday from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday evening classes are offered during practice periods from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 pm. The mission of Seattle Soto Zen is to honor the tradition of Soto Zen, to realize the Bodhisattva vows, and to foster peace and well-being among all beings.
Kanshin Allison Tait is a Soto Zen priest ordained at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center by Norman Fischer. She became the spiritual director of Seattle Soto Zen in September 2013.