Who We Are

Please click on a link to learn more about Memphis Zen Community’s teaching lineage.

Unrin Uji Elizabeth Bridges – MZC Practice Leader / Soto Zen Novice Priest

Elizabeth with Taiun Elliston, Roshi

Having first encountered Zen in a series of lectures and zazen classes offered by Keido Fukushima, Roshi, who regularly visited her college, Elizabeth has practiced meditation since the mid-1990s. She began  attending the Bloomington Zen Center in 2000 during her Ph.D. program at Indiana University. During that time she practiced with Zen teachers Myoyu Andersen of the White Plum Asanga and Shohaku Okumura of the Sanshin Zen Community.

Elizabeth maintains a daily zazen practice and has participated in or led numerous 3- to 7-day meditation intensives (sesshins) and zazenkai (1- to 2-day sits) and has trained with Taiun Elliston-Roshi, Abbot of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, since 2007. She has also spent several stints as a guest student at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, California, as well as briefer stays at other temples. She received Zaike Tokudo (Zen lay ordination) in 2011 from her Elliston-Roshi, who granted her permission to teach meditation and the basics of Zen philosophy and practice. In 2015 he conducted the Shukke Tokudo (priest ordination) ceremony, conferring on her the title of Soto Zen Novice Priest. Elizabeth maintains close ties with the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and is a member of Abbot’s Council and the retreat committee of the Mokurai Silent Thunder Order, the overarching Zen organization of which MZC is an affiliate group.

Her Zen name, “Uji” (有時), comes from a teaching by 13th-century master Dogen Zenji and translates roughly to “each moment is the Universe.” She aspires to realize this teaching in her own practice and to help other practitioners experience the unfolding of each moment unconditionally. Her second name “Unrin” (雲林), received at ordination, means “cloud forest.” The word “un,” meaning cloud, is included in all ordination names in our Order and serves as a kind of family name. It also serves as a symbol for the transient nature of all phenomena, a key aspect of the Buddha’s teachings.

Elizabeth is available to perform weddings, child dedications, memorials, and other life transition ceremonies for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston, Roshi – MZC Guiding Teacher
Elliston-Roshi is our Guiding Teacher and Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order, based at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, Atlanta, GA.

Elliston-Roshi is our Guiding Teacher and Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order, based at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, Atlanta, GA.

Born on a farm outside the small town of Centralia, Illinois, in 1941, where he grew up, Michael Elliston completed high school with honors. He attended the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from which he received a B.S. in 1964 and an M.S. in 1970. From 1966 to 1970 he taught art and design at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sensei’s involvement with Zen began in 1966 when he met Matsuoka-Roshi, founder and head teacher of the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple. After two years of training under Matsuoka-Roshi’s supervision, and at his suggestion, Sensei underwent a combined initiation and discipleship ceremony, during which he was given the Dharma name Taiun (太雲), translating as “Great Cloud”.

Taiun Michael Elliston was registered with the Japanese Soto-Shu in Japan July 13, 1969 and ordained as a Zen Priest March 22, 1970. He continued his duties at the Chicago Zen Center until 1970, when he moved to Atlanta, where he soon began offering Zen meditation and teaching. In 1977 he founded the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (ASZC), and in 1983 Matsuoka-roshi presented him the title of “Roshi”, which he called “the Ph.D. of Zen,” in Atlanta.

Sensei continues to offer his ordinary-everyday style of Zen practice and training as the head teacher of ASZC, where he oversees the training of lay practitioners and priests and encourages the growing membership to lead a Zen life and maintain a harmonious balance with the demands of family and livelihood.

In 2006 Sensei underwent “Shuso” training and a precepts ceremony with Seirin Barbara Kohn of Austin Zen Center (Suzuki lineage), and sesshin with Shohaku Okumura in Bloomington, Indiana, and completed transmission with them in early 2007 in a ceremony that recognized the authenticity of Matsuoka-Roshi’s transmission and lineage.

Taiun M. Elliston, Abbot of the Silent Thunder Order is a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association (SZBA).

Seiko Kaaren Wiken, Sensei – Zen Sewing Instructor
Kaaren Wiken, Sensei

Kaaren Wiken, Sensei

Zen has a long tradition of hand-sewn robes and vestments, which involves specific, exacting techniques. Kaaren-Sensei studied nyoho-e (traditional Zen sewing) with Tomoe Katagiri of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. She comes to Atlanta once or twice yearly for a sewing retreat to lead practitioners in the sewing of rakusus for lay ordination and okesas for novice priest or priest ordination.

We are happy to have Kaaren, one of a handful of experts in this quintessentially Zen art, to help as we incorporate nyoho-e into our regular sangha practice.

Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi – Our Lineage Founder
Matsuoka-Roshi, STO Lineage Founder

Matsuoka-Roshi, STO Lineage Founder

Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi (松岡 操雄) is an important historical figure in the propagation of Soto Zen in the United States. Matsuoka-Roshi was born in Japan, in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Hiroshima on November 25, 1912, into a family with a history of Zen priests dating back six centuries. He attended Komazawa University in Tokyo, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree. From there, he studied and practiced Zen at Sojiji Zen Monastery. After several years at Sojiji, he was given an assignment to establish a Zen Temple in northern Japan, on Karafuto (Sakhalin) Island. Prior to his coming to America, Matsuoka-roshi earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, from Political Science University in Tokyo.

In 1939, Soto Zen Headquarters asked him to travel to the United States, where he first became an assistant minister at the Los Angeles Zen Buddhist Temple, and later the Superintendent of the San Francisco Zen Buddhist Temple, which became the San Francisco Zen Center. After serving as a Zen Priest on the West Coast of the U.S., he attended Columbia University in New York, where he undertook further graduate study under the guidance of Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki.

Immediately following these studies, he moved to Chicago, where he founded the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago. In addition to teaching meditation (zazen), Matsuoka-Roshi extended his activities beyond the temple. He lectured extensively to local high schools and colleges, and served as an instructor of zazen for the Chicago Judo-Karate School, and later as a special instructor at the Colorado State University and Chicago Central YMCA College. Beginning in 1968, he made a yearly tour of Japan. His initial tour was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to Japan, during which he lectured on the topic of “Unknown America” in order to promote cultural understanding. In 1971, he established the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple. His life was dedicated to establishing Soto Zen in America.

He frequently quoted a saying: “Moku-rai,” meaning “silence is thunder.” Much of what one learned from Sensei (teacher), as his students called him, was not from preaching, but from his manner, the way he expressed himself through his attitude and actions. His Zen dharma was transferred silently, naturally, through his presence. The core of his teachings is the practice of zazen, Zen meditation, and the realization of its power in daily life. His disciples lead temples around the USA and Canada, under the Silent Thunder Order. Matsuoka-Roshi died on November 20, 1997.

Many of Matsuoka-Roshi’s teachings have been collected into two volumes of easily readable and wonderfully insightful talks.  Click here for more information and link to purchase them from Lulu.com.

Eihei Dogen Zenji – Soto Zen Founder

Dogen Zenji, 1200-1253

Eihei Dogen 永平道元, (1200 – 1253) was the founder of the Japanese Soto Zen school, which he brought to Japan following his studies in China with Caodong master Ju-ching (1163 – 1228) at Ching-te-ssu monastery. Dogen emphasized the importance of zazen above all else, advocating shikantaza – which means “just sitting.” In Dogen’s view, shikantaza is not a means to enlightenment, but enlightenment itself. He believed that the practice of shikantaza is the natural expression of our true nature, and he is remembered as one of Japan’s greatest religious thinkers.

“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between oneself and others.” – Eihei Dogen Zenji

Bodhidharma – Original Zen Teacher in China

Bodhidharma brought Buddhism from India to China.Bodhidharma (440AD—528AD) was a legendary Indian monk who, according to mythic recollections, is responsible for the emergence of the Chan (J. Zen) school in China. Bodhidharma is commonly referred to as the First Patriarch of Zen—his Dharma heir was Dazu Huike, the Second Zen Patriarch. To many martial arts schools, Bodhidharma is also the accredited founder of Kung Fu, which is practiced to this day at Shaolin Temple. The historical accuracy of his life and contributions remains largely in the realm of legend. One of the seminal quotes in all of Zen literature is attributed to him. It is used frequently to describe the silent Zen approach to enlightenment, or “seeing into one’s true nature”:

“A special transmission outside the scriptures; Not based upon words or letters; Directly pointing to the heart mind Seeing into one’s true nature; Attaining the Buddha way.” – Bodhidharma

Shakyamuni Buddha – Our Original Teacher
Siddartha Gautama, also called The Buddha

Siddartha Gautama, also called The Buddha

Born in approximately the 5th century BCE in Northern India, Siddartha Gautama became known as Shakyamuni Buddha (“sage of the Shakya tribe”) or simply The Buddha, meaning “Enlightened One” or “Awakened One.” In Zen we do not worship Shakyamuni, but we honor him as our original teacher and pay our respects and gratitude to him for the compassionate teachings he brought to the world.

By sitting zazen, we engage in the same practice as he did 2500 years ago. The fact that he was human just like us shows us that we can live an awakened life.