The American Zen Teachers Association is a peer-group organization of ordained and lay Zen Buddhist teachers. It began in the late nineteen eighties as the Second Generation Teachers Group, which consisted of disciples who had received either teaching authorization or dharma transmission from the mostly Asian Zen teachers who brought their practices to America in the second half of the twentieth century. These second-generation disciples were all teaching independently in the United States and were of European ancestry. The first meetings of the AZTA were attended by a dozen or so people, male and female.
Over the years, first generation Asian teachers gave transmission to and authorized more and more disciples, and these disciples have given transmission to and authorized their own disciples. Subsequently, the AZTA has grown to more than two hundred members, with as many as possible regularly attending our annual meetings. AZTA members serve sanghas ranging from a dozen or so people who meet and practice in members' homes or area churches to those composed of three or four hundred members who meet and practice in large temples and monasteries.
The AZTA is not an authorizing body, nor is it a credentialing body. It exists to facilitate peer contacts and exchanges among authorized teachers in recognized Zen lineages. Over the years, the AZTA Membership Committee has formulated an application process based on specific criteria to determine prospective members' eligibility. This process was adopted by the membership as a whole, and the criteria are listed on our website, at www.americanzenteachers.org. When a person inquires about AZTA membership, the Membership Committee sends him or her a questionnaire based on those criteria, reviews the response, and makes a recommendation accordingly.
Once an applicant is invited to join the AZTA, he or she may attend our annual meetings, which are held at various temples or monasteries throughout the United States. Discussion topics and presentations - some by members, some by outside professionals - at past meetings have included:
- Boards of Directors
- Koan Practice
- Legal Issues
- Sanzen and Dokusan
- Receiving the Precepts
- Working with Students who exhibit Psychological Problems
- Zen and the Healing Arts
- Ordination and Training, Priest and Lay
- Member Pilgrimages to Their Ancestors' Temples in Asia
At annual meetings, members also have the opportunity to cultivate relationships, network, and renew friendships.
The AZTA also maintain an on-line listserv through groups.io. There are about one hundred current members. Listserv topics range from questions about the availability of a sangha and teacher for a student who is moving to another city to questions about Buddhist quotations, setting up a training schedule for lay students practicing mostly at home, or the ontological status of Buddhist priests - which might include issues of probation or returning priest robes. The AZTA's private listserv site also provides files that contain special ceremonies, ethics statements, and fundraising materials.
The AZTA maintains a website currently under re-organization. It will eventually include a group history, provide a list of members and their practice places with links to individual websites, and present other materials that will provide access to information about Zen Buddhist practice and teaching.
The American Zen Teachers Association was formed to be of service to Zen Buddhist teachers and is envisioned as a service not only to them but also to the general public well into the future.