September 16, 2022

Dear Sangha,

I’m pleased to announce that in a ceremony next month, on October 16, I will be sanctioning Donna Kowal as a Zen teacher, and that when I return to Florida in late October she will succeed me as Spiritual Co-Director of the Center with Sensei John Pulleyn.

Last year, you’ll remember, I enlisted John-sensei to partner with me as the presiding teacher in Rochester based on alternating six-month periods. He served in that position from late fall until the spring, and then since May 1 I’ve been back in that role. This was an arrangement prompted several years ago by my conviction that after thirty-five years as the sole Spiritual Director/Abbot and presiding teacher, it was time for me to move over and make room for another voice from that seat. From the outset, Sensei and I saw our leadership arrangement as temporary, partnering only until another qualified teacher could take my place. With this new, shared model of leadership having proven successful, I now feel it’s time for me to step aside. This year, then, will be my last in Rochester.

John-sensei unreservedly endorses my choice of Donna as his new Spiritual Co-Director and a fully authorized teacher in her own right. We both recognize in her the qualities of character needed in a spiritual teacher: insight, integrity, stability, and emotional stamina. And her experience at the Center speaks for itself: Chapin Mill Head of Zendo; sesshin monitor; accomplished in the koan curriculum; skillful communicator and Sangha leader. Prior to joining staff, she was an active volunteer, including longtime Editor of Zen Bow. She also had a successful career in academia as an award-winning professor and author.

Splitting time between Arnold Park and Chapin Mill, where she lives with her husband, Tom, will require more commuting than Sensei or I have ever faced. She’ll be counting, then, on Trueman Taylor, a seasoned Zen priest with much staff experience and many abilities of his own, as her Arnold Park lieutenant. And we have all learned how technology now can compensate for geographical absence.

My own teaching career is not over. While in Florida I will continue to offer online dokusan to my personal students (knowing that it’s a pale substitute for in-person dokusan). Donna has invited me to lead the June 7-day sesshin at Chapin Mill next year, and I look forward to doing that. And I also expect to come to Rochester later next year to conduct two ceremonies: an ordination and, still later, a Dharma Succession ceremony for Donna.

These new appointments for Donna – for the Sangha – signal one more step in an evolutionary shift in Zen Center leadership that has already been underway. It marks an adaptation, I believe, that will ensure that we continue to accommodate to a world facing extraordinary turbulence. I trust that you all will give Donna your full support.

In the Dharma,
Bodhin Kjolhede

P.S. In my teisho this coming Sunday, I will speak more broadly to the matter of teaching and succession in Zen.