Shohaku Okumura Roshi first read Dōgen’s work at the age of 17. Drawn to but unable to understand it, Okumura studied Zen Buddhism at Komazawa University and became a student of Uchiyama Roshi. Through the years, Uchiyama impressed upon Okumura the need to learn English to assist foreign visitors who had come to Japan to practice Zen. As Okumura gained proficiency, his teacher asked him to begin translating Dōgen and Uchiyama’s own writings.
Okumura Roshi came to the United States in 1975 with the express mission of bringing these teachings to a Western audience. There were then very few translations of Dōgen available in English. He went back to Japan in 1981 for a time, practicing, teaching, and working on translations. In 1993 he returned to the United States and began to teach at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center.
From 1997 until 2010, he was director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center. In 2003, he founded Sanshin-ji in Bloomington, Indiana and has lived there since that time. Since first arriving in the United States, ten books of translations by Okumura have been published: original Dōgen texts as well as a number of Uchiyama’s commentaries. Okumura’s recent work, Realizing Genjōkōan, is the first book of his own commentary. His second commentary, Living by Vow, was published in June 2012.
Having entered his seventh decade, Okumura Roshi recognizes that his remaining creative time is limited. He wishes to work in a more focused way on original commentary, translation, and lectures, and to make these available to anyone interested. This intention is the impetus for the Dōgen Institute.
The Institute provides the framework for Okumura Roshi to continue and augment the work he has been doing for 35 years. His current plans are for ten more books, including his own commentaries on Dōgen texts, commentaries on practice, translation of Dōgen texts, translation of Uchiyama’s commentaries, and works culled from hundreds of hours of Okumura’s own recorded talks.