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Who We Are

Our History - by Robert Althouse

My zen practice began in the early 70's at the Zen Center of Los Angeles. I had the good fortune of studying with Taizan Maezumi Roshi and was ordained as a Zen priest when I was just 22 years old.

After five years at the Zen Center, I went to study with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. Those were formative years for me. I worked as a care-taker for a retreat property run by Vajradhatu in Southern Colorado. I was involved in the first few years of Naropa University's birth. I helped when His Holiness Karmapa made his first visit to the United States and participated in numerous "Black Hat" empowerment ceremonies that he performed throughout the United States.

In the late 70's I returned to Los Angles to study art and eventually set up a studio in Venice Beach, California.

Maezumi Roshi performed a beautiful ceremony at the Zen Center of Los Angeles when June and I married in 1988. Shortly after that, we moved to Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii. I continued to paint and take odd jobs. For a while I ran my own business taking tourists out to do their own landscape paintings.

During most of these years, I had continued studying Vajrayana Buddhism and was practicing with Gyaltrul Rinpoche in the Nyingma Tibetan tradition. Gradually, I found myself coming back to Zen. It was my original spiritual path, and I found it more direct and easier to integrate with my daily life.

I had the good fortune to sit some sesshins with Robert Aitken Roshi. It began to dawn on me that I had taken vows as a priest, much earlier in my life, and that I was not fully living up to those aspirations. So I decided to renew my vows as a priest. I reconnected with Maezumi Roshi in Los Angeles and began studying with him again. I served as the Head Trainee for a three-month intensive training period (ango) at Zen Mountain Center in 1992.

Shortly after that, with Maezumi Roshi's blessings, my wife and I founded the Zen Center of Hawaii. We began offering regular meditation instruction and grew by offering traditional Zen meditation retreats.

Our Zen Center of Hawaii was active in our community. We sponsored a large "Walk for Family Nonviolence" for three consecutive years. I did homeless street retreats in New York, Seattle and Hilo during the 90's.

Our Zen Center also started a community garden, called "I Ka Pono" (Cultivating the Goodness) with a mission of practicing sustainable farming, celebrating biological and cultural diversity, and nurturing community. Using biointensive farming techniques learned from John Jeavons, the garden flourished. The garden held classes for local children and a weekly farmer's market. We received many local grants for the garden along with a Federal Grant from the USDA.

In 2001, my wife and I moved to California to join Bernie Glassman Roshi and the Peacemaker Community. I directed the Zen Peacemaker Order for two years, traveling to Europe, Israel and Auschitz. I lead and participated in Bearing Witness Retreats.

A month after 9/11, I began teaching workshops around the country called "Inner Disarmament". I developed these workshops based on Nonviolent Communication skills I had learned from Marshall Rosenberg. I felt that we did not handle 9/11 well as a country and that I could participate in helping people learn to deal more effectively with conflict.

At the same time, while I was living in Massachusetts, I picked up playing the mandolin, which has been a source of joy in my life ever since. I enjoy playing bluegrass, blues, jazz, Hawaiian music, and some classical music.

In 2003, June and I moved to Chicago when she was hired at Feeding America to administer the child hunger programs . We co-founded, what was first known as the Zen Community of Oak Park in 2004. We ran the Zen Community out of our home in Oak Park. June, who over the years had studied hula with Michael Pang in Hawaii, was empowered as a Kumu Hula (Master Hula Teacher) just before we left Hawaii. She began teaching hula at our home in Oak Park and New York City.

In 2009, with the American economy sinking into a deep recession and more and more people losing jobs – with a country in crisis, I decided to begin teaching Zen in a more secular way that would make these teachings available to a larger audience.

To survive in these tough conditions, I needed to find a way for our Zen Center to remain viable, sustainable and responsive to people's everyday sufferings and needs. In the middle of 2008, I began working to develop a comprehensive core curriculum that would provide people with practical tools for living a Zen-inspired life that was effective and empowering.

June received her final transmission as a fully ordained Zen Priest and Teacher in October 2014.

We are proud to be Chicago's place for mindfulness meditation. We have been offering meditation for beginners now for 18 years. Whether it be meditation classes or meditation retreats, the Zen Life & Meditation Center offers a clear teaching for our times, rooted in a wisdom tradition that is translated into our secular-scientific culture.

June teaches Zen and continues to develop her hula school, known as Halau I Ka Pono - The Hula School of Chicago. I continue to teach Zen, and more and more, I am advocating the need for some down-to-earth practical wisdom that is the basis for respecting ourselves and those around us.