For over fifty years, Rev Zenkai Taiun Elliston Rōshi has combined Zen practice with family life and a career in academia and the professional world of industrial design and research. Born in 1941 on a farm outside the small town of Centralia, Illinois where he grew up, he completed high school with honors. He met his teacher, Rev Dr Sōyū Matsuoka Rōshi, in Chicago, Illinois, after attending the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where he received the Bachelor of Science degree in 1964 and a Master of Science degree 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.
His involvement with Zen began in 1966 when he met Matsuoka Rōshi, founder and head teacher of the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple. After two years of training under Matsuoka Rōshi’s supervision and at his suggestion, he underwent a combined initiation and discipleship ceremony and was given the dharma name Taiun, meaning “Great Cloud.” Taiun was registered with the Sōtōshū in Japan on July 13, 1969 (Priesthood Register No 164, Sōtō Zen Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan) and ordained as a Zen Priest on March 22, 1970. He continued his duties at the Chicago Zen Center until 1970, when he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, at the same time Matsuoka Rōshi moved to Long Beach, California, to establish a temple there.
In the early 1970’s Elliston Rōshi began offering Zen meditation and teaching, and in 1977 he founded the Atlanta Sōtō Zen Center (ASZC). Matsuoka Rōshi presented Elliston with the title of Rōshi and his second dharma name, Zenkai, meaning “Whole World of Zen,” in a special ceremony at the ASZC on September 20, 1983.
Elliston Rōshi continues to offer his services as the Abbot of the ASZC. He encourages its membership to lead a Zen life and to maintain a harmonious balance with the demands of family and livelihood. As superintendent, he oversees the training of disciples and priests (Silent Thunder Order), as well as ministering to the needs of a growing group of members, newcomers, and prison inmates. The ASZC and its affiliates have prospered owing to the sincerity of practice of its members and the shared commitment and support of many qualified trainees and teachers who have adapted Elliston Rōshi’s ordinary, everyday style of Zen practice and training.
In 2006 Elliston underwent “Shuso”¹ training and a precepts ceremony with Seirin Barbara Kohn, who recently retired from the Austin Zen Center (Suzuki lineage). He also did sesshin with Shohaku Okumura of the Sanshin Zen Community in Bloomington, Indiana (Kosho Uchiyama – Kodo Sawaki lineage) and completed transmission with him in early 2007 in a ceremony that recognized the authenticity of Matsuoka Rōshi’s transmission and lineage.
Elliston Rōshi is a member of the Sōtō Zen Buddhist Association.
To read about Elliston Rōshi’s teacher, Matsuoka Rōshi, click here.
¹From The illustrated encyclopedia of Zen Buddhism by Helen Josephine Baroni: “Shuso – ‘Chief Seat,’ the highest ranking officer in a Zen temple after the abbot. The shuso is one of six monastic officers…. Together, [the officers] assist the abbot in managing the spiritual direction of the monastic community. However, the shuso directs all activities within the monks’ hall…and meditation hall. He is entrusted with guiding the meditation practice of the other resident monks. Thus to be qualified for appointment as shuso, a monk must have many years of experience in the practice of Zen meditation, usually more than ten years.”