Joshu Sasaki Roshi, a leading Zen Buddhist teacher, and founder of Mount Baldy Zen Center, died on Sunday July 27 at the age of 107, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sasaki died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, reportedly from complications associated with old age.
Originally from rural Japan, Sasaki spent most of the last 50 years in Los Angeles where he established Rinzai-Ji, an urban meditation temple, as well as Mount Baldy Zen Center. He also founded the Bodhi Manda Zen Center outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Many credit Sasaki as being among the foremost teachers to bring Zen Buddhism to the West, and he reportedly once promised his students he wouldn't die “until Zen is born in America."
In 2012 Sasaki developed aspiration pneumonia and later that year resigned from his role as abbot of the Mount Baldy Zen Center. Many of Sasaki's students, however, went on to open temples and training facilities around the world, which continued spreading his influence even as the Zen teacher stepped to the background due to his failing health.
In the midst of his illness and recovery, Sasaki's reputation took a hit when allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in 2013. Several students came forward saying they had been molested and in some cases even raped by the teacher, which lead to an independent investigation by a council of Buddhist leaders.
The Osho Council of Rinzai-ji, council of senior teachers trained under Sasaki, released an apology saying it had failed to properly respond to the allegations. The council wrote:
As practitioners tasked with teaching the dharma, we must take a look at ourselves, and the way we relate to each other, and at the question of power in our community, with fresh and unyielding eyes. It is our profound and immediate responsibility to make sure that this problem never happens again in our community.
Following Sasaki's death on Sunday, Gento Steve Krieger, the head monk at Rinzai-ji, told the L.A. Times that the teacher's legacy would live on despite his misconduct.
“[The allegations] tarnished his reputation," Krieger said, "but people who are devoted to his teaching are not particularly worried about reputation.. Roshi was a man, and we don’t believe in living gods or perfect beings."