What is now known as Issan-ji, the Hartford Street Zen Center, was established in the late 1970’s as a Dharma center for students of Tibetan Buddhism in the lineage of Ch¨ogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. The building is a typical threestorey Victorian with a garden at the rear, and by 1979, the Dharmadhatu tenants had determined that they needed a larger space. One of the residents stayed on, however, and what began as a weekly evening meeting of a Buddhist Club in the neighborhood’s burgeoning gay community, evolved into a regular Zen practice, with an official Zendo opening in on 8 December, 1981, by which time the group had purchased the property. They invited Rev. Issan Dorsey, then the Director at S.F. Zen Center’s Page St. temple, to join them regularly for zazen and other practice events as the Spiritual Director. This group comprised the founding members of the Hartford Street Sangha.
In the late 1980’s, during some of the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, Rev. Dorsey could see that not enough was being done to take care of those who were falling ill and dying, and when one of his own students became ill, Rev. Dorsey brought him to stay at 57 Hartford, where he lived for many months before passing away. This young man was the first resident of what was to become the Maitri Hospice, a ground-breaking residential program for those with end-stage HIV disease.
Ironically, Abbot Dorsey himself succumbed to AIDS-related illness in September of 1990, and the abbacy was assumed by Rev. Kijun Steve Allen.
The activities of the Maitri Hospice continued, but disaffections among those most closely involved with operations led to Rev. Allen’s departure after roughly a year. His successor was celebrated Beat generation poet and Zen teacher Rev. Zenshin Philip Whalen. During Rev. Whalen’s tenure, the Maitri Hospice, by then an independent non-profit entity, moved to a new, custom-designed location at Church and Duboce Streets, ending an important era in the history of the temple.
Rev. Whalen’s chronic heart condition eventually obliged him to leave Issan-ji for Laguna Honda Hospital, where he passed away in June of 2002.
Rev. Ottmar Engel was Practice Leader at Hartford Street until his own health unexpectedly collapsed and he was obliged to return to Europe. Subsequently, one of the founding members of Issan-ji, Rev. John King, generously devoted his time to supervising the temple practice.
In 2002, the Board of Directors invited Rev. Seigetsu Lahey, known to most of his associates as “Myo”, to consider the post of Practice Leader at Issan-ji. Rev. Lahey agreed, and has occupied the position since the Fall of that year.
Click on the national flags on the map, or on those at the left, to zoom to each country and see a list of its temples.