Jules Shuzen Harris Roshi, Zen Buddhist teacher and founder of the Soji Zen Center in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, died in his home on 8 May. He was 83 years old. According to his Dharma heir, John Ango Gruber Sensei, Shuzen Roshi had been suffering from several health issues.
Shuzen Roshi was a Dharma successor of Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara and a member of the Zen Peacemakers and the White Plum sanghas. He was a practitioner of 40 years, teaching Soto Zen at the Soji Zen Center. In spite of his health problems, Shuzen Roshi maintained a full teaching schedule.
Ango Sensei praised Roshi’s devotion to his students, noting that despite his poor health, he had continued “showing up, week after week, to sit with us, chant with us, see students in interviews, and offer the teachings of the Dharma in both his words and his example.” (Lion’s Roar)
Shuzen Roshi held a PhD in education from Columbia University. He worked as a psychotherapist, blending Zen Buddhist wisdom with secular psychology. He was also a skilled martial artist, holding a black belt in kendo and fourth-degree black belt in iaido.
Shuzen Roshi founded the Soji Zen Center in 2005, describing the center’s purpose as a place “where people can go to slow down, meditate, and learn about the healing qualities of the mind. We all agree that training the body through exercise and diet is beneficial, but rarely in Western society do we focus on awakening the healing energies in our brain.” (Soji Zen Center) In the White Plum tradition, Soji combines elements of both Soto and Rinzai Zen, incorporating Soto meditation and Rinzai koan study.
Under his leadership, the Soji Zen Center placed an emphasis on wide-ranging outreach and community involvement programs. They include leading a Waxing Moon meditation group at the Federal Detention Center of Philadelphia, training Villanova University students in meditation to incorporate into their Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP), an entirely student-run homeless shelter, and bringing a contemplative caregiving approach to weekly visits with veterans in a local hospice setting.
The center’s website details this focus on community involvement in the following statement:
Soji Zen Center’s outreach includes social engagement and service outside the Center—on and off the cushion. Soji students reach out to people who are facing major life challenges such as incarceration, drug/alcohol addiction, mental illness, homelessness, hunger, and discrimination or who are dying. We engage with veterans, the LGBT community and individuals in prison, as well as people at key developmental stages—most often youth and seniors.(Soji Zen Center)
After founding the Soji Zen Center, Shuzen Roshi became a Dharma holder of Enkyo Roshi, abbot of the Village Zendo, in 2006. He received full ordination in 2007, and in December 2019 Enkyo Roshi gave him Dharma transmission, making him her second Dharma heir.
Enkyo Roshi described Shuzen Roshi’s approach to the Dharma: “As a longtime psychotherapist and educator, Shuzen Roshi brought contemporary skills to his many years of Zen study. He dedicated his life to teaching Zen, to serving those who practiced with him, using all the tools he had honed in his many years of a life that truly expressed the compassion and wisdom of contemporary Zen practice. We will miss his intelligence and compassion—and his great heart!” (Tricycle)
The Soji Zen Center held a special in-person program on 14 May that allowed participants to honor the memory of Shuzen Roshi via reflections and shared memories. They also held a Zoom circle on 16 May for individuals to participate remotely.
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