History of Empty Gate Zen Center


In 1977 Dr. Ezra Clark met Zen Master Seung Sahn at a 7 day meditation retreat in Esalen, California. After the retreat, Ezra introduced his wife, Diana, to Zen Master Seung Sahn. These meetings led Diana and Ezra to begin Empty Gate Zen Center.

In 1978 a large house was purchased on Arch Street in Berkeley and Empty Gate Zen Center became a public, residential Zen Center. In 1979 Jeff Kitzes, our current Guiding Teacher, came for a 7 day meditation retreat with Zen Master Seung Sahn. After the retreat, Jeff moved into Empty Gate and remained in residence for almost 6 years.

In 1997, we moved into our present location at 2200 Parker Street in Berkeley. We are now a non-residential Zen Center with the continued purpose of providing formal Zen practice to a diverse group of practitioners. We also have 2 branches in Santa Clara and Boise, Idaho.

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Founding Teacher: Zen Master Seung Sahn

Empty Gate Zen Center was founded in 1977 by Zen Master Seung Sahn, the great Korean Zen Master who first came to the U.S. in 1972. During his 32 years of teaching in the West, he founded the Kwan Um School of Zen, an international group of over 100 Temples, Zen Centers and groups around the world. Zen Master Seung Sahn was the 78th patriarch in his line of transmission in the Chogye order of Korean Buddhism.

His books include Only Don't Know, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, The Compass of Zen, and The Whole World is a Single Flower - 365 Kong-ans for Everyday Life. Zen Master Seung Sahn died peacefully on November 30, 2004 at Hwa Gye Sah Temple in Seoul, Korea, surrounded by his students. He was 77. For a more detailed biography, please click here.

Guiding Teacher: Zen Master Bon Soeng

Since 1992, Empty Gate Zen Center has been led by Guiding Teacher Jeff Kitzes (Zen Master Bon Soeng). Jeff began practicing Zen in 1975, and began practicing with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1979. In December of 1992, Jeff received inka, authorization to teach kong-ans (koans). In 2001, he received dharma transmission from Zen Master Seung Sahn and was given the name Bon Soeng which means “Original Nature.” Jeff is also a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in the integration of Zen Buddhism and Western Psychotherapy.

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Teacher: Jason Quinn JDPSN


Jason Quinn JDPSN grew up in California and began practicing in 1997 with the Kwan Um School of Zen in Seattle. He lived at the Providence Zen Center for ten years, where he held various staff positions, including Abbot. Jason trained as a monk for nine years, during which he sat many long summer and winter Kyol Che retreats, and took part in retreats around the world. He now lives in Santa Clara, CA with his wife, son, and daughter. Jason received inka in 2015 and is a teacher at the Empty Gate Zen Center and for the Kwan Um Online Sangha. Jason is the author of the book, No-Nonsense Zen for Beginners. You can find his teaching videos on his YouTube channel

Marshall White JDPSN

Marshall White JDPSN first became interested in Buddhism and Zen as a teenager when he started practicing the Japanese martial art Aikido and read one of Zen Master Seung Sahn’s books. He began practicing Buddhism in college, and spent several years living in Asia, practicing Soto Zen in Japan and Tibetan Buddhism in India. On returning from Asia in 2000, he began practicing with the Kwan Um School of Zen. Marshall is a graduate of Naropa University where he met his wife, with whom he has two children. He is currently 6th degree black belt in Aikido and works as a professional hospice chaplain in the San Francisco Bay Area. Marshall received Inka on April 1st , 2023, from Zen Master Bon Soeng.

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