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Eido Shimano Roshi, Zen Pioneer in America, Dies at 85

Eido Shimano Roshi. From
Eido Shimano Roshi. From

SEATTLE—Rinzai Zen Buddhist roshi Eido Shimano Roshi died on 18 February 2018 in Gifu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. He was 85 years old. Shimano served as abbot of the Zen Studies Society in New York from 1965–2010, when he resigned in the face of allegations of decades of sexual misconduct. No cause of death was given on the Zen Studies Society Facebook page, where the announcement was made.

Shimano was born in Tokyo in 1932. He first encountered the Buddhist scriptures at the age of nine, when he was instructed to memorize the Heart Sutra. He was ordained as a novice monk at a Rinzai temple in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. His ordination name, Eido, combines the names of two monks credited with propagating Zen in Japan, Eisai (1141–1215) and Dogen (1200–53). He received further training in Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture, with the late Soen Nakagawa Roshi.

In 1960, he traveled to Hawaii to assist at Robert Aitken Roshi’s Diamond Sangha. In 1964, allegations of sexual misconduct arose and Shimano returned to Japan. Robert Aitken, whose archives were published in 2008, wrote that during a hospital visit, staff confided suspicions that Shimano “wanted to prey on weak women.” A few months later, Aitken wrote a letter to an associate in which he stated: “I am in a position of enough authority to bounce him [Shimano] back to Japan on the next flight if I determine that he actually did bed down with one or both of these two girls.” (Shimano Archive). A few months later, Shimano returned to Japan.

After a short time in Japan, Shimano moved to New York City, where, he related, he built a sangha by walking the streets of the city:

All I did was simply walk Manhattan from top to the bottom. And in my Buddhist robe. And many people came. “What are you doing? Where are you going?” So I said, “I am from Japan and doing zazen practice. . . . Little by little, every single day, I walked entire Manhattan. . . . And every single day I picked up two or three people who were curious. And that was the beginning of the sangha. (The New York Times)

In 1965, Shimano became president of the Zen Studies Society. He went on to establish New York Zendo Shobo-Ji in 1968, where he received Dharma transmission from Soen Nakagawa in 1972, and then the International Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji in 1976.

However, reports of inappropriate behavior with female students continued. “Rumors that Mr. Shimano, who was married, was having sex with some of those who had come to him for enlightenment circulated for years,” The New York Times reported.

In 2010, when many had hoped that Shimano had reformed his behavior, a woman stood up at a gathering in his monastery in New York and announced that she had been having an affair with Shimano for two years. Subsequently, both he and his wife resigned from the Zen Studies Society board of directors, and soon afterward Shimano stepped down as abbot. His successor, Shinge Sherry Chayat, took over the following year.

Despite the questions over his conduct, Shimano was widely praised for his ability to teach Zen to Westerners, and authored a number of popular works, including Points of Departure: Zen Buddhism with a Rinzai View (Tuttle Publishing 1992) and Zen Word, Zen Calligraphy (Shambhala 1992).

On 19 February the Zen Studies Society published the following announcement on Facebook:

Dear Zen Studies Society Sangha,

With a heavy heart I must inform you of the sad news of the passing of Ven. Eido T. Shimano Roshi, while he was in Japan. Early this morning I received a telephone call from Fujin-san Formhals. She said that at Shogen-ji Junior College, in Gifu, he had delivered a teisho on Dogen’s Life-Death that she felt was the best teisho she had ever heard him give.

Some time ago, Eido Roshi had asked that Sogen Yamakawa Roshi, abbot of Shogen-ji, conduct his funeral service in Japan. There are still many details to be arranged. We will keep you informed once we know the arrangements for the service there and at Dai Bosatsu Zendo.

Let True Dharma Continue!


Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi, Abbot

See more

Zen Studies Society Post on the Passing of Shimano Roshi (Facebook)
Eido Shimano, Buddhist Leader Who Resigned in Scandal, Dies at 85 (The New York Times)
Sex Scandal Has American Buddhists Looking Within (The New York Times)
Shimano Archive

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