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The Interconnectivity of The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Buddhism, Mahayana, Zen, Soto Zen, Matsuoka-Roshi, Taiun Elliston-Roshi, Atlanta Soto Zen Center, Silent Thunder Order, and the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha

Interconnectivity is alive. You as a reader and/or member of the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha are standing on a whale fishing for minnows. As a teacher, I can get carried away using words as if they are understood by others in exactly the way I intend. Assumption is a rut into which I can fall. It happens when my view becomes narrow and entrenched. A kind of fixation. I can forget that newcomers (explorers) initiates (vow-takers-Jukai), or seasoned practitioners may have a murky understanding of terms I use in teaching. The string of nine items in the title line above, suggests interrelationships which always need retelling. Here is the fundamental interplay as I see it in October 2021.

Buddhism refers to the followers of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddha was not a Buddhist, he was awake. Buddhism is the study and practice of what he did. We too are Buddhas but may be ignorant of that The direct teachings of Buddha speak to and are captured in sutras analogous to scripture in other faiths. There are thousands of verses codified as canonical, or agreed to by scholars as direct teachings now some 2500 years old. This may be called classic or orthodox teachings.

Mahayana refers to a movement that began five hundred or so years after the Buddha’s death or para-nirvana. While having many facets, the branching was based on accepting interpretation by ancestors, of the basic emphasis or the teachings. This is roughly analogous to the Protestant Revolution. The traditional view is primarily referred to as Theravada.

Zen refers to a school of practice within Mahayana. Mahayana’s unfolding begins in China in the seventh century CE, as practitioners explored the inter-play of classic Buddhism brought from India, with Chinese beliefs of Taoism and Confucianism. The amalgam resulted in a Chinese Buddhism that produced many schools, with the two major ones being Chaudon and Linchi.

Soto Zen is a school of Zen in Japan that includes teachings from the Cardong school of Chan in China. The basis for this school’s input came from Ehei Dogen (1200-1253 CE) when he returned from a four year trip to China (1223-1227 CE) where he was searching for an answer. The question was, if we are all Buddhas why do we continue to practice the teachings of Buddha? Dogen-Zenji made significant strides in revitalizing Buddhism in Japan as he is seen as one of Japan’s most important thinkers and his writings are considered must reads in all Zen centers including The Atlanta Soto Zen Center founded in Atlanta Georgia in 1977. . Keizan Jōkin (1268–1325 CE), who was born fifteen years after Dogen Zenji’s death, is recognized by Sotoshu the governing body of the School, as the co-founder of the Soto Zen School in Japan. Kezan Jokin is know for helping transform Dogen’s thinking into action by creating training centers, enhancing the role of women practitioners, and writing a history of transmitted Buddhist ancestors from Shakyamuni Buddha through Master Dogen: the Denkōroku (Transmission of the Light).

Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka Roshi was one of the early pioneers in bringing Zen to America. He came to the United States from Japan in 1939 and ultimately settled in Chicago, IL, where he founded the Chicago Buddhist Temple in 1949 (now the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago). In 1970, Matsuoka moved to Long Beach, CA and founded the Long Beach Zen Center. You can learn directly from Matsuoka Roshi by reading his compiled lectures in the books, Kyosaku and Mokurai. O’roshi was born and died in the month of November, Both the Silent Thunder Order (STO) and The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha (FSZS) were founded in 2010. THe Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha was founded in November of 2021. The Silent Thunder Order, The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha (FSZS) recognize the birth and death of Matsuoka-Roshi and all our ancestors during November Founders’ Month celebrations. We equate Matsuoka coming to the United States to Bodhidharma going to China.

Hojo Taiun Michael Elliston-Roshi is my guiding teacher. In 2020 I received transmission from him allowing and encouraging me to share the Dharma as “Sensei,” or teacher. As he left Chicago, I in turn left Atlanta.

Born and raised on a farm outside the small town of Centralia, Illinois in 1941, Michael Elliston completed high school with honors. He attended the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from which he received a B.S. in 1964 and an M.S. in 1970. From 1966 to 1970 he taught art and design at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.Elliston Roshi’s involvement with Zen began in 1966 when he met Matsuoka Roshi, founder and head teacher of the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple. Taiun Michael Elliston was registered with the Soto Shu in Japan July 13, 1969 and ordained as a Zen Priest March 22, 1970. He continued his duties at the Chicago Zen Center until 1970, when he moved to Atlanta, where he soon began offering Zen meditation and teaching. In 1977 he founded the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (ASZC), and in 1983 Matsuoka-roshi presented him the title of “Roshi”, which he called “the Ph.D. of Zen”. In 2006 Sensei underwent “Shuso” training and a precepts ceremony with Seirin Barbara Kohn of Austin Zen Center (Suzuki lineage), and sesshin with Shohaku Okumura in Bloomington, Indiana, and completed transmission with them in early 2007 in a ceremony that recognized the authenticity of Matsuoka-Roshi’s transmission and lineage.

Elliston Roshi continues to offer his ordinary-everyday style of Zen practice and training as the head teacher of ASZC, where he oversees the training of disciples and priests and encourages the growing membership to lead a Zen life and maintain a harmonious balance with the demands of family and livelihood. Elliston Roshi also serves as Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order and is a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA).

The Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Elliston-roshi moved to Atlanta in the early 1970 and hosted sitting groups in his home. In 1977 the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (ASZC) was formally organized. Below is the current description of the role and scope of the Center

ASZC supports its members by providing a Sangha, or group to sit with. Zazen, or sitting meditation, is available mornings and evenings every day of the week. Experienced teachers are available to respond to any questions that arise. ASZC hosts daily and weekly discussion groups and has an extensive lending library. The Center also conducts a prison outreach program and offers meditation instruction to prisoners throughout the state of Georgia.

ASZC has affiliated groups (see diagram below in Chattanooga,Tennessee; Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; Huntsville, Alabama; Statesboro, Georgia and Wichita, Kansas. We call our network of affiliated Zen groups the Silent Thunder Order. The ASZC Sangha (community of members) is comprised of lay practitioners (that means we’re regular folks with regular jobs - we’re not full-time monks) from throughout the greater Atlanta area and our affiliate centers. We welcome new members to our practice. Our members are as varied as our lives. The Atlanta Soto Zen center also offers a residency program to serious students looking to deepen their practice.

The Silent Thunder Order was established in 2010. The Abbot is Taiun Elliston-roshi. The Silent Thunder Order functions as an umbrella organization to facilitate communication between Members of the Order wherever they may reside in the world, and to guide and provide training opportunities in each Member’s continuing relationship with Soto Zen Buddhism. Its primary operating objective is to enhance each individual Member’s service to their affiliate Sangha. By becoming a Member, one takes the first formal step (Zaike Tokudo-Disciple) on the Path toward recognition as a Lay Teacher or Transmitted Priest of Soto Zen (the latter authorizing presence hereafter referred to simply as “the Sensei.”

STO, as a lay Order of Disciples of Buddhism, exists to save all beings in order to actualize the Bodhisattva vow. The STO is the broadest organizational level of its community (Skt. sangha), and serves to support Disciples and Priests of the Order and to provide the various affiliated Zen Sanghas with local trained and sanctioned leadership. As such, it is intended to provide overall stewardship for allowing and nurturing the natural growth of the STO Network.

The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha (FSZS). The sangha was founded in November, 2010, by Sangaku Dan Joslyn-sensei after moving to Falmouth Massachusetts, from Atlanta Georgia. While in Atlanta he served on the Board of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and was involved with Hojo Elliston in conceptualizing the Silent Thunder Order. November is auspicious as the month in which our Order’s Root-Teacher Soyu Matsuoka-roshi, was born and died. The year 2010 also saw the formal creation of the Silent Thunder Order. The purpose of the Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha is to share the Dharma, honoring the Three Treasures, and doing so in the everyday Zen way practiced and taught by Soyu Matsuoka-Roshi and Taiun Michael Elliston-Roshi. Overall we seek to reduce suffering in ourselves and others.

As of September 2020, The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha, as the result of Sangaku-sensei becoming a fully transited priest (commonly called a brown robe) in a Shiho ceremony conducted by Hojo Taiun-Roshi. The FSZS now has its own students and can offer recognition of its members who are on the Soto Zen Practice Path from vow-taker (Jukai) to Shiho (fully transmitted priest or brown robe). We've become the third star in the Matsuoka firmament along with the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and Mission Mountain Zen in Dayton Montana (Zenku Jerry Smyers-sensei’s guiding teacher Daikaku Kongo Richard Langlois [1935 – 1999] was a dharma brother of Taiun-roshi who transmitted Zenku-sensei in 2012). This relationship is depicted in the diagram below.

The Falmouth Soto Zen Sangha in addition to sharing the Dharma and offering a Practice Path Guide to its members, has four service directions. The first is to offer the teachings of zazen practice to people in recovery from substance abuse. The second is teaching zazen at the Falmouth Senior Citizen Center. The third is development of The Women Ancestors Project, wherein we are compiling a review with commentaries of the sixty-two women Buddhists dating back to the time of Shakyamuni Buddha 2500 years ago. This will greatly inform our Practice Path Guidelines. The fourth is to develop a working relationship with the Falmouth Interfaith community offering to share the Dharma through our living by vow. Finally in support of all of this, the Sangha compiled a list of vows and values as the interconnectivity of hope we see our harmonious community.



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