Our teachers and lineage

Philip Kapleau (Founding Teacher)

Roshi Philip Kapleau, founder of the Rochester Zen Center, New York, was the author of numerous books on Zen, including the classic The Three Pillars of Zen, in print since 1966, To Cherish All Life, The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical Guide, Awakening to Zen, and many others. Philip Kapleau was born in 1912 and grew up in Connecticut, studying law in his youth and serving for many years as a court reporter in the state and federal courts of Connecticut. At the end of the war he was appointed chief reporter for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, then was sent to cover the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. In 1953 he gave up his business in America and left for Japan to seek the Dharma. He remained in Japan for thirteen years and trained under three masters, briefly with Nakagawa Soen-roshi (1907-1984), then extensively with Harada Daiun-roshi (1870-1961) and his Dharma heir Yasutani Hakuun-roshi (1885-1973). He was ordained by Yasutani-roshi and returned to the United States in 1966 after being given permission to teach there by Yasutani-roshi. Philip Kapleau retired in 1986 after 20 years as Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center. He died after a long illness on May 6th, 2004.


Bodhin Kjolhede (Abbot of the Rochester Zen Centre)

Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede was born in 1948 in Michigan and received a B.A. in Psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor prior to coming to the Rochester Zen Center in 1970. He was ordained in 1976, and completed twelve years of koan training under Roshi Philip Kapleau before beginning to teach in 1983. In 1986 Roshi Kjolhede was appointed by Roshi Kapleau as his Dharma-successor and Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center. This appointment marked the culmination of a sixteen-year teacher-student relationship, the last decade working intimately together. Since then Roshi Kjolhede has worked with students from all over the United States, and from Canada, Mexico, Europe and New Zealand, and has sanctioned several Dharma heirs.

Amala Wrightson (Teacher)

Sensei Amala Wrightson was born in Auckland in 1958, and worked in theatre before taking up full-time Zen training. She and her husband Richard began Zen practice in 1982 after attending a workshop led by Roshi Philip Kapleau in Sweden. In 1986 they became students of Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, Roshi Kapleau’s Dharma heir and then newly-appointed Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center. Amala-sensei began full-time residential training in Rochester in 1989, shortly after completing an M.A. in Italian at Auckland University, and was ordained in 1999. From 1996 to 2003 she was the Center’s Head of Zendo (head priest in charge of training) working closely with Roshi Kjolhede, offering daisan (private one-to-one meditation instruction) to Zen Center members and leading shorter sesshin (intensive retreats). During her final year she was also acting spiritual director of the Center while Roshi Kjolhede was on sabbatical.

In late 2003, upon completion of formal koan training under Roshi Kjolhede, Amala-sensei returned to resettle in New Zealand and, since then, has dedicated her time to the creation of a place for authentic Zen practice and training in Auckland. She was given formal permission to teach by Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede in 2004, and was sanctioned as a full Dharma heir in a ceremony held in Auckland in 2012. She continues to spend some time each year at the Rochester Zen Center and is a member of the American Zen Teachers' Association (AZTA). 


Richard von Sturmer (Lay Senior)

Richard von Sturmer was born in Auckland in 1957. Throughout the 1980s he worked as a writer, performer, and film-maker, and continued to write in the 1990s in between extended periods of training at the Rochester Zen Center. During his time at the Zen Center he edited Zen Bow, the Center's quarterly publication, acted as Roshi Kjolhede's secretary, and organized ceremonies and other events. He completed his formal koan training under Roshi Kjolhede at the end of 2002, and returned to New Zealand the following year. Many of the pieces in Richard's book, Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose (Headworx 2005), were inspired by his time in training at the Rochester Zen Center. His other books are: We Xerox Your Zebras (Modern House, 1988), A Network of Dissolving Threads (Auckland University Press, 1991), Images From The Center, a collaboration with photographer Joseph Sorrentino (Rochester Zen Center, 1998), and On the Eve of Never Departing (Titus Books 2009).