The SZBA Blog

SZBA Call to Abolish the Death Penalty and Halt All U​.​S. Federal Executions

November 30th, 2020

I vow not to kill. Not killing life, the Buddha seed grows.
Transmit the life of Buddha and do not kill
—Eihei Dogen Zenji

Every version of the Buddha’s ethical precepts begins with this principle: Do Not Kill. Buddha and all the great spiritual teachers — Jesus, Mohammed, the Hebrew prophets, Gandhi — tell us that life is sacred; that violence only begets violence. The logic of cause and effect, karma and its fruit, are inescapable even when you dress them in the emperor or president’s clothes of punitive and retributive justice.

On November 25, 2020 the U.S. Justice Department announced new regulations allowing for the use of new, or rather, old methods for federal executions, including the firing squad and electrocution. According to The New York Times:

Last week, the Justice Department announced that it plans to execute three more inmates on federal death row. If the administration does so, along with two other executions already scheduled, it will have put 13 prisoners to death since July, marking one of the deadliest periods in the history of federal capital punishment since at least 1927…

As Soto Zen Buddhist priests and teachers, as people of faith, we vigorously oppose state-sponsored murder and this rush to punish. We see capital punishment as the enactment of a cruel and primitive urge for vengeance draped in the fabric of legality. We believe that capital punishment degrades and brutalizes our society by teaching violence in reaction to violence.

The harm of capital punishment does not just fall on the person put to death, but on our whole society — on guards and technicians, wardens, governors, on families of victims, and on each of us allowing this barbarism to go forward in our name.

Capital punishment is the cutting edge of America’s penal system. Social scientists, clergy, politicians, and communities of color all know that this is a broken system, although it is remarkably effective for sowing the seeds of violence. We see no evidence or statistics that capital punishment serves as an effective deterrent to crime. Resting on a foundation of inequality, based on racism and privilege, capital punishment cannot be fixed. Let’s end it now, everywhere!

People of faith and conscience wish to build a new system of justice based on love, restoration, and redemption. Let those be the lights that guide us. We believe that social and personal transformation are always possible, and that even wounded people can change and contribute to society. While it is true that people reasonably expect protection from those who—by reason of mental illness, and extreme physical or psychological trauma — prey on others, the great majority of all prisoners are capable of transformation. This is our understanding of human nature. As for the handful who must be restrained or separated for their own protection and the safety of others, even these prisoners must be afforded life, a humane environment, and the possibility of meaningful work.

We believe that there is no fair or practical way to arrive at a sentence of death. Our criminal justice system is so weighted against the poor and against men and women of color that an even application of the law is impossible. In recent years we have seen many death sentences overturned by new DNA evidence and prosecutorial misconduct. We also see that capital cases are often based on forced confessions, mistaken identification, and jailhouse informants. To continue with capital punishment in its present state means that more innocent people will be executed.

In his version of the First Precept, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
“I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.” This is pretty straightforward, but the hard work is before us.

What is our work? Organize against the death penalty in your communities, in your centers and temples. Study and talk about the death penalty; debate it with your friends. Write to the U.S. Attorney General and the President—outgoing and incoming—and speak your opposition and convictions. When federal or state executions are scheduled, join with sisters and brothers of all faiths sitting at the prison gates to bear witness. This is important. We must speak for humane policy and compassion with our bodies.

Verse 129 of the Dhammapada, Shakyamuni Buddha’s early teaching, says: “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” May we live with this awareness and save all beings.

• We ask the U. S. Federal Government to immediately halt all planned Federal Executions.
• We ask for a Nationwide moratorium on Federal and State Executions.
• We ask for our legislatures to reform the justice system to be one of restoration and redemption.

Action Items and Information on the Death Penalty
Sign our petition

SZBA Announces Executive Director

October 30th, 2020

Following an extensive national search that drew 140 applicants, the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA) Board of Directors has hired Alison Miller as its first Executive Director effective October 26, 2020.

“Alison’s experience and success in fund development, non-profit leadership, and administration have positioned her to serve SZBA and its members at this unique time,” states Sosan Flynn, SZBA President. “With Alison’s leadership and support, SZBA is poised to provide even more value to our members, and vision, thought leadership, and advocacy in the broader Buddhist community in North America.”

Founded in 2000, SZBA serves to preserve and promote the Buddhadharma through the teaching and practice of Soto Zen Buddhism in North America; to facilitate trust, respect, communication, ethical conduct, and education among the many sanghas of Soto Zen lineages and in the wider community; and to compassionately widen the transmission of Dogen Zenji and Keizan Zenji’s practice and understanding in the Western World. SZBA’s 300 members represent a diverse array of sanghas across North America and beyond, and includes some of the leading teachers and thinkers in Soto Zen Buddhism today.

Miller holds an M.A. in Anthropology from Michigan State University, with a concentration in Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change, and a B.A. in Business Administration and Finance from Alma College. She brings experience in fund development from Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, and Special Olympics Michigan, where she served as Chief Development Officer. At Special Olympics, Miller was responsible for raising more than $8.2 million annually to provide support and opportunities to thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Miller lives in central Michigan with her husband, Daniel. She is a devoted yoga teacher and practitioner, enjoys studying the Yoga Sutras, keeps a daily meditation practice, and is a long-distance runner.

Protected: SZBA Member Support Meetings

March 24th, 2020

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SZBA Equity Statement

September 24th, 2019

The Soto Zen Buddhist Association seeks to make Soto Zen practice available to everyone.  We work to transform barriers based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, political affiliation, economic class, sexual orientation, age, and ability.  We find harmony in both our differences and what we share.

SZBA Board Member Profiles

September 21st, 2019

Sosan Flynn (President)
St. Paul, Minnesota

Sosan began practicing in the Katagiri-roshi lineage and received dharma transmission from Joen Snyder O’Neal. She has done residential training in the U.S. and at Plum Village in France. Sosan has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and a B.A in Business/Economics. She serves as served as Guiding Teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center in Minnesota. Sosan is interested in diversity, equity & inclusion; inter-generational practice; and ethics–as well as biking and cross-country skiing.

Marc Lesser (Vice President)
Mill Valley, California

Marc Lesser is a Zen priest and head teacher of  Mill Valley Zen. He was a resident of the San        Francisco Zen Center for 10 years including        director of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He is an executive coach, CEO, mindfulness teacher, author, and speaker. He has led mindfulness and emotional intelligence programs at many of the world’s leading businesses and organizations. He is currently CEO of ZBA Associates, a company providing mindfulness-based leadership trainings, executive coaching, and consulting to companies and social entrepreneurs.

Dokai Georgesen (Treasurer)
Eitzen, Minnesota

Dokai Georgesen started practicing Zen with Dainin Katagiri Roshi in 1973 at the Minnesota Zen Mediation Center. After taking a two-year pilgrimage to India and Japan he returned to Minnesota and was ordained by Katagiri Roshi in 1984. In 1989 he participated in the dharma transmission ceremony with Katagiri Roshi. He moved to Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in 2003 and continues to reside there serving in the role of Guiding Teacher.

Inryū Bobbi Poncé-Barger (Secretary)
Washington D.C.

Inryū received Dharma Transmission from Dairyū Michael Wenger. Inryū currently serves as the Resident Priest and Guiding Teacher for the All Beings Zen Sangha in Washington, D.C.

Charlie Pokorny 
Sebastapol, CA

Charlie practiced as a resident at Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm for 12 years and was ordained as a priest by Reb Anderson in 1999. He and his family now live in Sebastopol where he teaches at Stone Creek Zen Center. Charlie also teaches courses at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California. Particular interests right now include inclusivity, ritual practice and crossfit.

Chimyo Atkinson
Alexander, NC

Chimyo Atkinson received Dharma transmission under Rev. Teijo Munnich in 2015.  She received her monastic training in Japan and the US.  She currently serves as Head of Practice at Great Tree Zen Women’s Temple in Alexander, North Carolina.

Mamta Prakash
Harlem, New York City, NY

Mamta Prakash is a financial consultant who works with nonprofits in thinking about their finances strategically. She works with clients in solving fiscal management, operational, and leadership challenges in accord with best-practices.

Prior to her current job, Mamta served as Finance and Administration Director at the South Asian Youth Action (SAYA). Under her leadership there SAYA implemented a participatory budgeting process, efficient financial monitoring practices and overhauled IT infrastructure and HR policies. Mamta saw the organization through the transition between Executive Directors and led the Finance Department to unprecedented stability, enabling a smooth transfer of leadership.

Mamta earned a Master of Science in Architectural Studies and Urban Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received an Executive Masters in Public Administration from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.  She is a peace and nature lover and lives in Harlem-NYC with her two teenage children.

Thomas Bruner
Portland, OR

Thomas  has 25 years of executive level organizational leadership, a master’s degree in clinical psychology, a diversity management certificate from Cornell, numerous awards and recognition and a substantial portfolio of civic volunteer engagement.

Through Bruner Strategies, Bruner helps businesses and organizations do great work in the areas of Leadership & Governance, Development, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. As a consultant, he has worked with 50 organizations in the U.S., India and Venezuela.

Bruner is a lay disciple at Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland, Oregon, where he has been a member since 2003.

Gyozan Royce Johnson
Houston, TX

Gyozan began practicing at the Detroit Zen Center in 2006. In 2009, he became a resident at Houston Zen Center and then went to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 2012. Gyozan received priest ordination in 2014.

Gyozan recently returned to Houston Zen Center from California, and is in full-time residence as an assistant priest. Gyozan joins the SZBA board as our associate member representative. If you are an associate member, he would love hearing your thoughts.

Koshin Paley Ellison
New York City, NY

Koshin Paley Ellison, MFA, LMSW, DMIN, is an author, Zen teacher, Jungian psychotherapist, and ACPE Certified Chaplaincy Educator. Koshin began his Zen training with John Daido Loori, received jukai from Pat Enkyo O’Hara,  and dharma transmission from Dorothy Dai En Friedman. Koshin co-founded and is a Guiding Teacher, with his husband Robert Chodo Campbell, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, which serves through contemplative approaches to care through education, direct service, and Zen practice. He is currently on the faculty of the University of Arizona Medical School’s Center for Integrative Medicine’s Integrative Medicine Fellowship. He is the author of Wholehearted: Slow Down, Help Out, Wake Up (Wisdom Publications, 2019) as well as the co-editor of Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care (Wisdom Publications, 2016).

2018 SZBA Conference

July 7th, 2018

2018 Soto Zen Buddhist Association Conference

Interconnecting: One Soto Zen, Many Expressions

September 19-23

Zen Mountain Monastery

Mt. Tremper, New York

8th Biennial Conference of the SZBA

2014 Conf Informal - MediumFull and associate members of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association are cordially invited to attend the 8th biennial SZBA conference. If you are a Soto Zen priest but not yet a member of the SZBA, please consider joining the organization!

The conference begins Wednesday evening, September 19, and ends Sunday morning, September 23.

Interconnecting:  One Soto Zen, Many Expressions

As Soto Zen priests, we have many ways of expressing the Dharma. Even so, if we are to truly be of benefit in the world, we must move beyond the idea that we are independent, separate Zen centers and temples to the understanding that we are interconnected, as one Soto Zen body. What we offer the world becomes more available when we are more available to one another.

Our Zen training teaches us to be fully present to suffering and the causes of suffering from a place of deep knowing. From this strength of knowing what is most fundamental, what is at the center of our offering, how can we explore ways we might begin to change shape to truly meet people where we are—especially those who, for whatever reason, feel they do not or cannot be a part of Soto Zen Buddhism? What are the walls between us? And what are the walls we have built around us?

Dharma Heritage Ceremony

The conference includes a Dharma Heritage ceremony, which is a ritual of affirmation by one’s peers, a welcoming into the circle of Soto Zen priests in the West. If you are a dharma transmitted priest and have not participated as a candidate before please consider doing so at this conference!


Zen Mountain Monastery, Mt. Tremper, NY

Built in the 1920s and 30’s, Zen Mountain Monastery was originally a Benedictine monastery and boys’ camp. Now, for over three decades, it has offered practitioners from all walks of life a refuge from a culture of distraction and a way to become immersed in Buddhist teachings and practice. Located on 250 acres of protected woodlands that are home to an extraordinary variety of plant and animal life.

Zen Mountain Monastery2.jpg

Find out more at:

Keynote Speaker

Ann Gleig is an Associate Professor of Religion and Cultural Studies at the University of Central Florida. Her primary research area is Buddhism in America. She has published a number of articles in journals such as Journal Of Global Buddhism and Contemporary Buddhism: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Her first monograph, American Buddhism After Modernity, will be published by Yale University Press in 2019. Dr. Gleig won the UCF Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2017. You can read her articles on The Shifting Landscape of Buddhism in America and The Dukkha of Racism online

Separating Immigrant Families Statement (6/18/2018)

June 18th, 2018

The SZBA released a public statement on the US policy of separating families seeking refugee at the US-Mexico border. It was signed by over 20o Buddhist leaders.

As Western Buddhist leaders, we unreservedly condemn the recently imposed policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of children have been inhumanely taken from their parents by US Customs and Border Protection, in a policy that has been condemned by the United Nations and many international human rights observers. Indeed, no other country has a policy of separating families who intend to seek asylum.

Whatever the legal status of those attempting to enter the US, separating children from their parents is a contravention of basic human rights. Parents seeking asylum make long, dangerous and arduous journeys in an attempt to find safety and well-being for their precious children. Ripping these vulnerable children from their parents is cruel, inhumane, and against the principles of compassion and mercy espoused by all religious traditions. From a Buddhist perspective, it is the close bond between parents and children that nurtures not only the physical well-being of children, but their psychological health and their moral formation.

Separating children from their parents and holding them in detention inflicts terrible and needless trauma and stress on young children that hampers and damages their development, causing long-term damage. This policy being employed on United States soil is morally unconscionable. That such egregious actions be employed as a deterrent for families seeking entry and/or asylum in the U.S. – using the sacred bond between innocent youth and their parents – is unjustifiable on any level. We suggest that our current defenders of this policy visit some of these border crossings and child detention centers so they can experience for themselves the present effects of their decisions. It is difficult to conceive that anyone having compassion for our world’s children and their families, and who witnesses such pain and anguish for themselves could continue to uphold such a practice.

As people of faith and conscience, we feel that it is important that we speak out clearly in defense of basic human rights at this time, calling for an immediate end to this heartless practice. In doing so, we join the voices of many religious leaders and congregations that have unreservedly condemned this policy of separation. This policy is a serious violation of the rights of the child and must be stopped today.

To view signatures: Separating Immigrant Children_Buddhist Statement

Donate to the SZBA

January 2nd, 2018

2016 SZBA Conference

July 27th, 2016

2014 Conference Attendees

Wednesday, September 28th (evening arrival) –
Sunday, October 2nd (morning departure)


Camp Courage Conference & Retreat Center

 Maple Lake, MN


Click here to register!

2014 Conference Meeting Hall - SmallerMembers of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, full and associate, are cordially invited to attend the 7th biennial SZBA conference. If you are a Soto Zen priest but not a member of the SZBA, please consider joining the organization!




The conference will include:


  • 2014 Dharma Heritage Ceremony - SmallerThe Dharma Heritage Ceremony, a formal welcoming for full members that have not yet done this ceremony
  • Lots of opportunities to engage with your peers formally and informally
  • Special breakout sessions presented by members
  • Presentation of SZBA projects and activities, with opportunities for feedback and discussion


Responding to the Cries of the World:
Soto Zen Priests and Sanghas in an Age of Climate Change and Social Suffering

One of the themes for this conference will involve exploring the many creative and compassionate ways Soto Zen priests and sanghas are responding to pressing concerns beyond their temple walls. While a priest’s core mission may be to nurture community and support the spiritual practice of individuals, this mission takes place in world with ever-increasing climate disruption, environmental degradation, violence, and social and economic injustice. As Soto Zen Buddhists working in our sanghas and with each other, how can we address the cries of the world to create positive change in society?


Keynote Speaker


David Loy, PhD was the Besl Family Chair of Ethics/Religion and Society at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH from 2006 to 2011. Before that he served as professor of philosophy at Bunkyo University in Chigasaki, Japan from 1991 through 2005. He is an authorized teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Zen Buddhism, having studied with Robert Aitken Roshi and Koun Yamada Roshi.

David’s lectures focus on ecological and social issues, and on the encounter between Buddhism and modernity—what each can learn from the other. At our conference, David will speak about “Healing Ecology” to Zen teachers, sharing tools for working with our sanghas, and exploring what Buddhist practice today says about our personal and collective predicament in relation to the rest of the biosphere. David is co-editor of A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency (Wisdom Publications, 2009).

David’s books include, among others: Nonduality: A study in Comparative Philosophy; Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism; Money Sex War Karma: Notes for a Buddhist Revolution; The World Is Made of Stories.


Guest Presentation – Successful Fundraising: From Hesitance to Confidence
by Thomas Bruner
TB Head Shot - PBJ
From CEO of a scrappy start up in Texas, to Vice President with the nation’s largest humanitarian organization in Washington, D.C., to volunteer at a Buddhist temple in Portland, Oregon, Thomas Bruner has been helping businesses and organizations do great work for decades. As a fundraiser, Bruner has helped an array of organizations across the country raise $300 million to advance their missions – including the successful completion of the first phase of Dharma Rain Zen Center’s capital campaign.

Thomas will facilitate an interactive, hands-on workshop about how we can raise more funds in our Sanghas in ways that are consistent with our values and principles. We will learn how we can be more successful in our fundraising through following topics:

  • managing our ambivalence about money
  • assessing the giving capacity of our sangha
  • building a compelling case for support
  • mobilizing ordained and lay leaders as “askers”
  • developing action plans and tracking systems
  • recognizing and celebrating our successes



After many conferences on the West coast (and only one on the East coast!) the SZBA conference will be held at Camp Courage, which is a little over an hour from the Minneapolis/St.Paul airport (charter busses will be arranged).


Cost & Registration

The conference is open to SZBA members who have paid 2016 dues. Full member dues are $125, associate dues are $40, although you can pay less as necessary. The conference fee for full and associate members is the same. Contact the SZBA Coordinator (coordinator(at) if you want to apply for membership or have any questions.

The SZBA makes every effort to keep conference fees low in order to make the conference as accessible as possible, including to the many priests on limited incomes. There is some scholarship money already available, so if you can’t afford the full conference cost be sure to inquire with the SZBA Administrative Coordinator (coordinator[at] about your interest in attending and how much you would be able to pay.


Conference Fees – Three Options

  1. $375 – Conference Fee + help priests on a limited income attend
  2. $325 – Basic Conference Fee (includes conference, housing and meals)
  3. I would like to come but can only pay $ _____ (we will contact you about this possibility; register but do not submit payment)


Registration – Two Options

  1. Click here to register using our event management software (Wild Apricot).
    From within Wild Apricot, you can
    – submit payment immediately using paypal, or
    – submit your registration information without payment (your registration will still go through), and then send a check or wait for the email invoice. 
  2. Mail in the paper registration form included in the conference brochure that will be mailed to all members in May.

Please contact the SZBA Coordinator (coordinator(at) if you have any questions! Thanks.


Still debating whether to come? Check out these pictures and resources from past conferences!

Remember: if you’ve forgotten how log on to the member’s section of the SZBA website, contact the SZBA coordinator (

2014 Conference resources, including:

2012 Conference Resources
2010 Conference Resources