Ancient Dragon Zen Gate is a community of practitioners committed to being a home for Soto Zen Buddhist meditation practice in Chicago. We are a member of Branching Streams, a network of Dharma centers affiliated with San Francisco Zen Center in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. We hope to make this practice available to anyone interested, and welcome everyone to join us for meditation and Zen practice. We welcome people of every race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, creed, and religious background. We welcome single people, people in committed relationships, and families.
Please join us in unfolding the way of wholehearted compassion and meditative awareness inspired by Shakyamuni Buddha and generations of people dedicated to living for the benefit of all beings.
Supported by the guidance of Taigen Dan Leighton, a Dharma teacher in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate evolved from a small meditation group that began meeting once weekly in 2003. By 2009, Taigen had moved from California to Chicago to become our Guiding Teacher and we relocated to a storefront temple space in the North Center neighborhood. At the end of 2020 we abandoned that space due to COVID issues. We have continued all of our programs on Zoom, and are in process of searching for a new full-time temple space and renting a space for some events temporarily. We offer a variety of meditation and Zen practice opportunities most days of the week and have been honored to host many prominent Buddhist teachers and scholars for special events.
What’s In A Name?
A ZEN GATE is an entry to the Buddha Way through Zen practice. Our Zen activities – meditation, listening to the Dharma, meeting with our teacher, mindful service to each other – are all practices that help us to be aware that we live every moment on the threshold of a deeper awareness of ourselves and our community. We strive to take that step toward truth and self awareness at every opportunity, and just continue to enter the gate that is always before us. Our intention is to be inclusive and available to all, and we welcome a diversity of participants.
In the Four Great Vows, which we chant in every meeting, we affirm our awareness that Dharma gates are boundless. That is, that the opportunity to encounter Buddha’s teaching, right in the middle of our daily lives, is always present. We vow to enter each one of these gates, to realize, moment after moment, our actual place in the world.
DRAGONS, to our East Asian ancestors, were guardians of the great wisdom, symbols of the truth itself. Although we have ideas about how dragons should look and behave, they actually appear in countless forms! Any being who, in her everyday activity, expresses and preserves Buddha’s truth is actually a dragon. Just to find our place where we are, right at this moment, is to become a dragon, right at this moment.
In a famous passage from the essay in which he recommends zazen to everyone, our thirteenth-century Japanese founder Eihei Dogen wrote: “Please, honored followers of Zen, do not be suspicious of the true dragon.” He was asserting that the practice of Zen meditation is the true dragon, the actual practice by which all enlightened beings negotiate the way. Furthermore, he said that everyone who ever enlightened, throughout history, has engaged in this simple practice of just sitting. At the same time that zazen is the Zen gate, it also is “the true dragon,” the ANCIENT path followed by all our spiritual ancestors, and the essence of our ancestors themselves.
So really, zazen is both the ancient dragon and the Zen gate! Our name, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate is just a poetic way of saying, “Here we practice zazen.”
Our Guiding Teacher
Ancient Dragon Zen Gate’s Guiding Dharma Teacher is Taigen Dan Leighton. Taigen relocated to Chicago from the S.F. Bay area in 2007. He now works to develop accessible practice and training programs in the Chicago area through Ancient Dragon Zen Gate. Taigen is an author, scholar, and translator, as well as a fully authorized teacher in Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Soto Zen lineage and a Dharma heir of Tenshin Reb Anderson. He still teaches online through the Institute of Buddhist Studies of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley.
Taigen practiced and resided for years at San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara monastery, and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. He also practiced for two years in Kyoto, Japan, 1990-92, translating Dogen with Rev. Shohaku Okumura, and practicing with several Japanese Soto Zen teachers, including one monastic practice period. Taigen founded the Mountain Source Sangha meditation groups in Bolinas in 1994, then added branches in San Rafael and San Francisco. He received Dharma Transmission in 2000 from Reb Anderson.