Train to be a Zen teacher

Zenways Zen teachers-in-training 2017

Thank you for your interest in becoming a teacher of Zen. Down through the centuries there have been people, male and female, monastic and lay, who have been willing to stand up and share the joy, peace and satisfaction they have found for the benefit of others.

A s you read this, most likely you are a lay student of Zen. You need to know about Vimalakirti, the great Indian lay teacher whose understanding was so formidable that many of the Buddha’s monastic students were afraid to visit him. You need to know about Pang Yun, the enlightened Chinese lay Zen teacher who taught together with his wife and daughter. He left many verses including one that ends:

My supernatural power and marvellous activity —
Drawing water and carrying firewood

You need to know about Satsu, the young Japanese girl who was considered by Master Hakuin to be his most enlightened student. Once, explaining a koan to Satsu, Hakuin said: “Now do you understand?” Satsu said: “Will you please explain it again?” Just as Hakuin opened his mouth to speak, she interrupted and said: “Thank you for your trouble,” and with a bow, left the room. Hakuin exclaimed: “I’ve been overthrown!”

Being a Zen teacher is not an ego trip. On the contrary your training is fundamentally learning to get out of the way so that the Dharma, the Truth, the life of Buddha, can express itself through you. In this place, true satisfaction is found. Although there have been freelance people who call themselves teachers of Zen, there is a long tradition that says that a true teacher stands in a lineage. Expressing the truth of Zen is far more than the words you say. In fact many of the finest teachers don’t speak much at all. If your life is a sincere attempt to live the truth of the Dharma you might be suitable to be a teacher of Zen. Shinzan Roshi has asked that our teachers are in three levels:

  • Junior Zen Teacher
  • Senior Zen Teacher
  • Zen Master


  • You have taken the Precepts and have an ethical basis to your life.
  • You are a Zenways member.
  • You have an active Zen practice and a suitable level of understanding.
  • Your spouse or partner understands what you are doing and is in agreement.
  • You have qualified as a Zenways meditation and mindfulness instructor and maintain the qualification.
  • You have a sanzen relationship with a senior Zenways teacher and no conflicting relationships with teachers in other lineages.
  • You want to do it.

The request

If you fulfil or are close to fulfilling the above criteria, and usually after discussing the matter with Daizan Roshi, you can write a letter of request. Please write it in your own handwriting. You can compose it yourself or you can use the text below:

Dear Daizan Roshi

I am a Zen student.

I am a spiritual warrior and a member of Zenways sangha.

I seek to make society a better place.

I am a mature, responsible adult.

I realise that happiness is found in serving the people of the world and all sentient beings.

I understand that true Zen practice requires the best of me. I will never accept defeat or quit on my practice.

I will always respect and support my teacher and my peers even as I see their humanity.

I will teach my students to the best of my ability even as I see their fallibility.

I will always maintain my practice, my study and my health.

I undertake to keep the details of my practice and study confidential unless authorised by my teacher.

I will be humble and humorous to the end.

I will realise my true nature and seek to continually deepen my understanding.

I humbly request training to join your lineage and become a teacher of Zen.

With bows (your name)

If accepted, you will normally make a new regular donation to the work of Zenways.

Training to be a Zen teacher

Personal Understanding and Practice

Your personal practice is the source of your understanding and the foundation for your resilience and health. You can gain much from others but even Shakyamuni Buddha himself couldn’t help those who didn’t practice. As a Zen teacher you need a daily meditation practice, coupled with an effort to bring mindfulness into your daily activities and relationships. In addition, you need occasional retreats to boost your practice and you need to maintain a connection of taking refuge with your teacher.

It is fine (and recommended) to learn from other teachers. But when you present yourself to the other teacher, you do so in the context of being a student of Daizan Roshi. That way the other teacher will understand you are a guest student and can treat you accordingly.


The reading list for your training programme is listed below. As you study these books, Daizan Roshi will question you on your understanding and will ask you to explain some of the teachings, both verbally and in written form.

Use these links to buy your books and Zenways will earn a commission!
The Unborn: The Life and Teachings of Zen Master Bankei, 1622-1693
Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of ZEN Master Hakuin (Shambhala Classics)
The Zen Koan: Its History and Use in Rinzai Zen
The Three Pillars of Zen (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition)
The Undying Lamp of ZEN: The Testament of ZEN Master Torei
Two Zen Classics: “Mumonkan” and “Hekiganroku”
The Sword of No-Sword: Life of the Master Warrior Tesshu
The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon
Teachings Of The Compassionate Buddha: Early Discourses, The Dhammapada, ad Later Basic Writings
Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations (The Library of Religious Beliefs and Practices)
Teachings of the Buddha (Eternal Moments Series)
Zen Sand: The Book of Capping Phrases for Koan Practice (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion & Culture)


Within the Zen monastic context, you learn to be a teacher through receiving and fulfilling progressive responsibilities that help others. You may start off weeding or sweeping. A year or two later you may be cooking for the community or caring for the guests. Later still you may run a sub-temple. In the same way, as a potential Zen teacher you will be given areas of responsibility to engage in. You may find the tasks you are presented with very simple or extremely challenging. Your teacher may not explain fully what is required or may seem to change direction at short notice. Your job is always to respond positively and to do your best even when what you are asked to do seems incomprehensible or impossible. For one who has the eye to see, every situation is an opportunity for learning.


Even as a trainee teacher you will be expected to teach. The true teaching is how you live. As you have already become an instructor in Zen meditation and mindfulness, you may wonder what is different about the next stage. The difference is that in instructing you are talking about Zen, in teaching you are embodying Zen. In most cases you will be leading a Zen meditation group. In the early stages of your leadership you will be leading discussions (usually based on sections of the book “Teachings of the Buddha”). As you become more experienced, your teacher will ask you to make a more active teaching role. When your practice has developed enough, your teacher will have you appear in the ceremony of Hossen or Dharma Combat. This is the first time you formally teach. Your understanding will be vigorously tested by members of the Sangha. All are watching to see whether your responses come from the ego or from that which is beyond self.

When Daizan Roshi considers you ready to be named a junior Zen teacher, you will be presented with a special certificate called a Ketchimyaku – the bloodline. This certificate shows that the same spiritual blood that flows through the Buddha and the Zen Ancestors also flows through you and you have demonstrated that you can embody this connection.

In the fullness of time you may be ready to request your teacher to begin the training for senior Zen teacher and later still for Zen master.


The Future

On May 2011 at the inauguration of Yugagyo Dojo in London, Shinzan Roshi said:

“Zen has always travelled eastward, from India to China and then to Japan and now to the west. When we look in India, Zen has died out. When we look in China, Zen is almost dead. In Japan too there are many great temples where the master has the name but no understanding. I recently visited my own training temple, Shogenji. Before it had the reputation of being the strictest temple in Japan. I asked an unsui (a junior monk) who was weeding, “Does Roshi here talk about kensho?”

The unsui answered, “No, what is kensho?”

Now I believe the future of Zen is here in the West. It is my earnest desire that Zen masters of the future will come from amongst the men and women here. I have seen your earnest practice and I know that if you continue, you can live an ordinary daily life and be an extraordinary person. You can show the world the bright eyes of the Dharma. You can be happy and can help other people to be happy. This is my earnest wish. Please train well.”

However innumerable beings may be, I vow to save them all.

However inexhaustible the passions may be, I vow to transform them all.

However limitless the Dharma may be, I vow to comprehend it completely.

However infinite the Buddha’s Truth is, I vow to realise it.