You’ve got to start somewhere, and not-knowing seems like a good place to start.

—John Tarrant on being a leader

2 Koans for Finding Your Path
as a Leader:


There’s a solitary brightness without fixed shape or form. It knows how to listen to the teachings, it knows how to understand the teachings, it knows how to teach. That solitary brightness is you.

—PZI Miscellaneous Koans, Case 38c, Linji

Rock Face, N. California —C. Hitchcock


It’s past midnight
The moon has not yet risen.
In the deep thick dark you see but don’t recognize a familiar face from ago
No need to be surprised by that.

—Record of Dongshan, 1st of the 5 Ranks

In the Territory Known as the Valley Spirit

In Chan we come together to find our own practice, to find our name, our gift, and our true path in which we are carried by the vastness. 

Awakening teaches awakening, and we keep following that light and that thread. And it’s a great thing to do together. We’re all going in a deeper way with this exploration. It’s not like there’s a bucket of knowledge that we’re pouring in—everybody’s bucket changes, and what we think of as knowledge changes and deepens.

Recently, I was preparing to teach and dreamed one night that I was assembling a patchwork of squares. I was cutting a blue plastic one into shape; the squares were cotton and other common and uncommon materials, the light shone beautifully through them.

The patches had some resemblance to the patchwork of rice fields seen from above, or the rakusu, the robe of refuge. The robe was a talk, a book, a garment to wear to dance, to wear to teach, to wear to die.

In the territory of the Valley Spirit, living and dying is one garment with no seams. 

—John Tarrant

At PZI Leaders Emerge from the Sangha

As community members find their own dharma practice and path they begin to work regularly with a teacher. They usually take refuge and step into various leadership roles when called upon for events, or in temple service. Sometimes, they begin to lead a koan meditation group locally, too.

Key Roles in Our Tradition and How We Hold Them

John Tarrant Roshi & David Parks Roshi

Roshi – Roshi is our version of a PhD, and within the Zen tradition means having received full dharma transmission from another active Roshi in our lineage. In the community role it means cultivating and supporting other leaders, evolving the tradition and curriculum, and supporting an active sangha.

Michelle Riddle Sensei

Sensei – Senseis have completed our koan curriculum and have been invited by an active Roshi to teach and work with students individually. In the community role it means supporting the community through talks, engagement, and one-on-one work, and deepening into the tradition as a whole.

Head of Practice Chris Gaffney opens the Temple

Head of Practice – Our Heads of Practice serve the community as mentors, guides, and emissaries of the dharma. During retreat, the HOP holds the meditation hall as his or her field of practice, providing direction, encouragement, and care to each member and the retreat as a whole. 

Cantor – A master of ceremonies during retreat, our Cantor leads our morning and afternoon tea rituals, our daily sutra and dedication services, and generally oversees the spirit and feel of other rituals or ceremonies we may hold during a given retreat or temple talk.

PZI Cantor Amaryllis Fletcher
Kinhin Bell

Time Keeper – One of the gifts of retreat is being able to descend fully into the experience and open beyond a usual sense of space and time. Part of what makes this possible is our Time Keeper, who becomes time itself for the duration of the retreat, not just by ringing the actual bells, leading walking meditation, and keeping the schedule, but by holding the ancient container of sesshin as a song that has its own rhythms and grooves.

Liaison – A deep part of retreat includes the chance to meet with a teacher in dokusan, a one-on-one meeting. Orchestrating and shepherding these meetings are the teacher-student liaisons: senior students who help guide retreat participants to their meetings and ensure our teachers have what they need. 

PZI Musician Jordan McConnell

Musician – Music as a gift and feature of practice stretches back through our tradition over 1,000 years, and PZI is lucky to have a number of talented musicians in our community. Beginning with Richie Domingue, who revivified the sutras and sang out into the meditation hall during retreat, we welcome musicians who transform andare transformed by their playing as part of the koan path.

Jan Brogan, longtime PZI Member & Head of Practice

Temple Volunteer – Whether helping tend the physical space of a retreat or center, transcribing dharma talks, or supporting our teachers or administrative team, we are always in need of dedicated bodhisattva volunteers to keep our KALPA Library, digital temple and in-person retreats running.

Would you like to contribute? Contact [email protected] for details.