April 21, 2023
Ed Sattizahn on Stepping Down as Central Abbot
Ed Sattizahn

Photo by Marcia Lieberman

By Tova Green

A Stepping Down Ceremony was held at Beginner’s Mind Temple/City Center on March 10 for Rinso Ed Sattizahn, marking the conclusion of his four-year term as Central Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. Prior to serving as Central Abbot, Ed had been the Abiding Abbot at City Center for five years.

Reflecting on how the role of Central Abbot differs from that of Abiding Abbot, Ed said, “As City Center Abiding Abbot, I lived at 300 Page Street. I would begin the day with the morning jundo, going around to all the important places in the temple, bowing to the breakfast cook, greeting students in the zendo. The intimacy with residents was wonderful. I ate meals in the dining room with students and could talk with them informally as well as in formal one-to-one meetings. At dinner and on Saturdays I met members of the wider sangha. It was a way to feel connected. I have a curiosity for people. Friendliness is a fundamental practice for me. My greatest pleasure as City Center Abbot was practicing with students, especially during the seven practice periods I led, five at City Center and two at Tassajara.”

“The role of Central Abbot is a wider, more global role. I looked at SFZC’s overall training and financial sustainability.” Ed’s time as Central Abbot was impacted by the onset of the pandemic a year after he stepped into that role. “A primary concern was SFZC’s financial sustainability. We lost all the income from Tassajara’s summer guest season and other forms of hospitality. Dealing with the immediate financial challenge set in motion by the pandemic had a rewarding side in that the wider sangha responded so positively to our request for support.

“It was also an emotionally challenging time. Many residents found it stressful to stay in their rooms for zazen and meals. I tried to support them. The beauty of the dharma comes forth in such situations. The pandemic asked people, new and experienced students alike, to deepen their practice. There was both suffering and joy in that.”

Ed came to the role of Abbot after many years of working in tech companies in leadership roles. “One of the things I learned in tech was that things are always changing fast. When big challenges emerged, you had to move quickly. When the pandemic hit, that experience helped. We had a one million dollar problem that had to be solved in a month! Not everyone was calm.”

As Central Abbot, Ed enjoyed working on several projects:

  • The renovation of Beginner’s Mind Temple (BMT or City Center at 300 Page Street), raising funds for the project and working with the design team.
  • Seeing Enso Village, the Zen-inspired Senior Living Community, develop from 2011, when he became Board Chair, to the present. Work on Enso Village continued and accelerated during the pandemic.
  • Ed had been on the board of Greens Restaurant prior to becoming abbot. He was involved in the reopening after it closed during the pandemic.

During his years as Abbot, one of the challenges Ed faced was giving lectures. “I don’t like to take center stage. I had to work at it, mostly through just doing it, living with the discomfort until it lessened. Eventually the anxiety I felt before a lecture was overpowered by my enjoyment of studying as I prepared a talk. During the actual experience of giving a lecture I came to enjoy the contact with those in the audience, and I learned, when I deconstructed a lecture after giving it, not to be too self-critical.”

Ed first came to SFZC in 1970, starting as a student at Tassajara. During his over ten years of residency he was Director of Tassajara, Vice President of the businesses, and President. He left in 1983 and got a job as CFO in a tech startup in San Francisco, one of five partners. He went on to positions of increasing responsibility in several other tech companies and was involved in growing one of those companies, The Learning Company, from a small company to $800 million in revenue. He developed skills in research, development, and marketing. He left the company when it was sold and returned to the Bay Area in 2000.

While living on the East Coast, Ed maintained his relationships with SFZC, returning to the Bay Area from time to time and connecting with his long-time Zen friends. After Ed returned to the Bay Area, his interest in old Zen stories led him to study The Gateless Gate with Norman Fischer. Lew Richmond started Vimala Sangha, a Zen group in Marin, in 2003 and invited Ed and Gib Robinson to assist him. Vimala Sangha proved to be a great source of growth for Ed.

In 2003, Eijun Linda Cutts asked Ed to be the shuso (head student) for a practice period at Green Gulch Farm. Soon afterwards, Lew asked Ed to co-lead Vimala Sangha with him. Eventually Lew moved to Sonoma and Ed became the guiding teacher of Vimala Sangha. Ed received lay entrustment from Lew in 2005. After a few years about six members of Vimala Sangha wanted Ed to give them jukai. He realized he had to be priest-ordained and to have received Dharma transmission in order to do that. In 2008, Ed spoke with Lew about priest ordination. Lew ordained Ed in 2010 and gave him Dharma transmission in 2012, a year before Ed was asked to be abbot.

In 2006, Ed was invited to join the SFZC Board and was asked to be Board Chair in 2008. “As board chair I was pleased to work with the organization on the Widening the Circle Capital Campaign, Zen Center’s first Capital Campaign.”

For the next year, Ed will be a SFZC Senior Dharma Teacher, focusing on supporting David Zimmerman in his transition to Central Abbot; continuing his work with Enso Village and a second Zen-inspired Senior Living Community, Enso Verde, to be built in Simi Valley, near Los Angeles; working with his senior students as a City Center practice leader (he sees this as “a primary commitment that will last as long as I’m alive”); and maintaining his relationships with donors and other members of the wider sangha as he expands SFZC’s fundraising to include the next generation of leadership. Ed also looks forward to traveling with his wife.

Ed’s Dharma name, given to him by Lew Richmond, is Insan Rinso / Innermost Mountain, Grove of Ancestors. He feels the support of his ancestors, past and recent. Lew Richmond wrote on the back of the rakusu Ed sewed for his Dharma transmission: “The ancestors have gathered in the grove on innermost mountain, where they will be now and forever, and with you always.”