Founding sangha

The Des Moines Zen Center (DSM ZC) was established by a small group of individuals with interest in Zen thought and writings, drawn to the awakening offered through zazen sitting meditation, and seeking the support of community, sangha.

An initial workshop presented in 1992 by Rev. Nonin Chowaney, late Abbot of the Nebraska Zen Center, marked the inception of the DSM ZC.  Soon thereafter weekly meetings began at the Thoreau Center on Kingman Boulevard, sitting zazen, following Soto Zen practices as carried to the West from Japan.  Those earliest sittings In The Thoreau Center’s community room included an “altar” and supplies stored in a shoebox between meetings, cushion carried back and forth.

Rev. Shoken Winecoff

In August of 1998, Rev. Shoken Winecoff of Ryumonji Zen Monastery near Decorah and Rev. Zuiko Redding of the Cedar Rapids Zen Center began visits to Des Moines to instruct several sangha members in their preparation for Jukai, lay ordination, by overseeing the sewing of rakusu, a small patchwork neckpiece, symbolic of the Buddha’s and priest’s robes, sown by the student with priest supervision as a meditative form, an opportunity for wholehearted attention to this very moment, the heart of zazen. August 22, 1999, five members’ rakasus completed, Rev. Winecoff administered our first Jukai ceremony, assisted by Rev. Redding and Kondrick. Jukai begins the process of “living in vow” with recitation of the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts and the verses of Formless Repentance as well as bestowal of Rakusu.

As the Des Moines sangha grew, the Center migrated from the Thoreau Center through a series of rented sites.  First to a Drake area apartment (2001), next a basement space South of Grand (2010), followed by a 35th St storefront (2013), finally purchasing the current site in 2018.

In 2002, DSM ZC adopted bylaws, defined organizational structure, and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit religious organization.

The Des Moines Zen Center has benefited greatly from a number of noteworthy visiting priests. Initially, several DSM ZC members traveled to Omaha to participate in sesshins with Nonin-san.  He later came to Des Moines to lead sesshin, as did Daiyu Klumpf, student of Harada Roshi, Dokai Georgesen, guiding teacher at Hokyoji Zen Practice Community in Eitzen, Minn, Rev.Teijo Munnich, Abbess of Great Tree Zen Temple in Alexander, N Carolina, the late Rev. Jikan Kondrick, and, of course, Shoken Winecoff roshi, Abbot of Ryumonji.  Most of these priests either studied with or are dharma heirs of Dainin Katagiri, late abbot of Minnesota Zen Center, a seminal figure in the 20th century transmission of Soto Zen to the West. It is in his lineage that our practice rests.

We’ve also been fortunate to host monks and priests visiting from Japan, particularly Rev Shohaku Okumura early in his U.S. residency.  Shohaku-san is dharma heir of Kosho Uchiyama roshi, late abbot of Antaiji Monastery in Japan, one of the foremost Zen masters of the 20th century.  Shohaku is himself a highly respected teacher, scholar and translator, with special focus on the writings of Uchiyama and Eihei Dogen, founder of Soto Zen. Our sesshin with Shohaku-san was memorable in its rigor and his kind support.

DSM ZC holds a deep affiliation with Ryumonji Zen Monastery and Rev. Shoken Winecoff with several members going there to practice, attend sesshins and angos.

Rev. Eido Espe

Rev. Eido Espe, assumed the full mantle as DSM ZC’s first head priest following dharma transmission from Rev. Shoken Winecoff in 2010.  During his tenure (2010-2023), Eido-san ordained Rev. Eishin Houghton and Rev. Gendo Thornberry, oversaw the acquisition of our current site and stewarded the several year pursuit of temple recognition.

Deep River Temple, Shinsenji, received designation by Sotoshu, the international Soto Zen Mission, on May 19, 2021, establishing Des Moines Zen Center’s home temple.  Sotoshu offered the prayer that our temple would continue to develop within the doctrines and rituals of Soto Zen.

Rev Eishin Houghton, having received dharma transmission in 2022 from Eido, rose to the role of Deep River Temple head priest in April 2023.  Eido then transitioned to emeritus priest.

In 2022, Des Moines Zen Center celebrated its 30th year of practice.  The pursuit of suchness remains ongoing.