Rinzai-ji Zen Center was first known as Cimarron Zen Center of Rinzai-ji. The Center, at the corner of 25th and Cimarron Streets in the Adams District of Los Angeles was opened officially April 21, 1968 as part of Roshi’s 61st birthday celebration. The building that houses Rinzai-ji was constructed in the 1920’s by a California Senator as a gift for a friend. The house was comprised of a court yard, dining area, private quarters and a spacious main hall. The main hall was converted to the Zendo, the heart of Rinzai-ji. The cathedral ceilings with wooden beams have created a unique combination of open space above in contrast to the compressed space of the heart of a major city. This theme is carried further into the flagstone court yard and Buddha bath surrounded by plants and trees to provide a serene space from the busy confusion of the city.
Cimarron Zen Center was not always such a pleasant place. One must remember the state of Los Angeles and the nation in 1968. The country was at war without in Vietnam and within in the states, city, and towns. It was the time of race riots and assassinations. Only a year before Newark and Detroit had been engulfed by riots, closing down those cities completely for a time. January 1968 marked the peak of the Vietnam War with the Tet offensive. Following John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Malcom X in 1965, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis TN, April 4th 1968 and Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles, June 5th 1968.
The house at the corner of 25th and Cimarron Streets has been unoccupied for more than a year serving as a hangout. The City of Los Angeles had condemned the residence as unsafe for occupancy. A group led by Dan Sunada helped Roshi purchase and renovate the derelict structure with the help of students.
Following a Dai-sesshin in Vancouver in April 1968, Roshi returned to Los Angeles where more than 200 students helped Roshi celebrate his birthday and the official opening of Cimarron Zen Center April 21st. After six years of work, Roshi had established the first permanent Rinzai Zen Center in the United States. For the next two years Roshi Sasaki set the tone for the traditional strict practice he brought to America. Sanzen was given morning and evening. Roshi patrolled the Zendo correcting postures and applying the Keisaku as required. Those who stayed grew stronger under his rigorous discipline. Following the purchase of Cimarron, two other neighborhood houses, Gentei-an and Genro-an were donated by senior students to the center. The additional spaces allow students to live and practice at the center.
The role of Cimarron has changed through the years. Mt Baldy Zen Center and Jemez Bodhi Manda were founded in 1971 and 1974 to host formal monastic training. Cimarron Zen Center became the ceremonial center for Roshi’s Sangha. An example of this role was the visit of the Kancho of Myoshin-ji, Kajiura Roshi, to Cimarron in 1977. Myoshin-ji is the source temple for Roshi’s lineage and Rinzai-ji is registered with it as a betsuin. Cimarron, now Rinzai-ji Zen Center, continues to be the location for the annual celebrations of Rinzai’s Memorial day (Rinzai-ki), Nirvana day, Buddha’s Birthday (Hanamatsuri ), Bodhidharma’s Memorial day (Dharma-ki), and the anniversary of Roshi’s arrival in America on July 21st.
In the early 1990s Cimarron Zen Center of Rinzai-ji became Rinzai-ji Zen Center to be more in accord with the role of this Zen Center in Sasaki Roshi’s Sangha. Most recently Roshi celebrated his 106th Birthday, his 51st Anniversary in America.
Much of this information was compiled from The Zen of Myoshin-ji Comes to the West: 25 Years of Joshu Roshi in America 1962- 1987 and Zen Master Joshu Sasaki: The Great Celebration