Eko Jeff Kelley, Priest and Spiritual Director
In addition to his work with the SSZ sangha, Jeff currently shares the leadership of two groups within the Washington State prison complex in Monroe.
Jeff came to the Seattle area in 2009 from Minnesota where he practiced Zen for fifteen years at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, first with Dosho Mike Port and then with Byakuren Judith Ragir. He was ordained as a Soto Zen priest by Byakuren Judith Ragir in May of 2008 in the lineage of Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Jeff worked as a licensed architect for over twenty years before retiring in 2008. He has two children in their twenties. His life is also enriched by a life-long passion for literature, poetry and myth. Jeff married Bonnie Drew in 2013.
While at Clouds in Water, Jeff helped found the children's practice program and taught children in that program for many years. He served on the board of directors from 2003 to 2006, as both vice-chair and chair, during the two and a half years that Clouds in Water was without a teacher. He served on the Training Council, a group that was responsible for the spiritual leadership of the community, during that time. He taught a variety of introductory classes on various aspects of Buddhist practice and served as ino from 2007 – 2009.
Elsewhere in Minnesota, Jeff co-led a meditation group at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City from 2006 – 2009. In addition, he continues to serve on the board of the Hokyoji Zen Practice Community, a retreat center started by Katagiri-roshi in southeastern Minnesota
After a number of years exploring various Buddhist traditions, John began his formal Zen practice 30 years ago at the Zenshuji Soto Mission temple in Los Angeles. At that time his principle teacher was Tozen Akiyama (who subsequently became the head priest at the Milwaukee Zen Center). It was from Akiyama Sensei that John learned the power and ordinary practicality of shikan taza, “just sitting”, that is the core of Soto Zen practice.
Early in that practice, John’s path was strengthened by two key events. The first was participation in the summer ango at Zen Center Los Angeles, led by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi. The second was receiving the precepts at a formal jukai ceremony at Zenshuji, officiated by Rempo Niwa Zenji, abbot of Eiheiji in Japan.
Over the years John has come to realize that Zen has no teaching as such but is a spirit and attitude of being in this world. “Just living.” He has come to this understanding through encounters with some extraordinary teachers (gassho to Dainin Katagiri Roshi, Charlotte Joko Beck, Shohaku Okumura, Issho Fujita, and especially Tozen Akiyama). He has benefitted through the teachings and example of the many priest at Zenshuji, most recently Shumyo Kojima Sensei and Myoshin John Lang Sensei.
After arriving in Seattle many years ago, without a Soto Zen zendo available, John once again wandered through the practice centers of many other Zen traditions. Finally he found One Pine Hall, with its Soto Zen priest, Ryuzen Robby Pellett, and was able to reconnect to the traditions of Dogen Zenji's zen. It was there he met Sandy Taylor, and it was from there they began Seattle Soto Zen.
Sandra Taylor began her study of Buddhism over 30 years ago in the Suzuki Roshi lineage at San Francisco Zen Center. She deepened her practice as a monk at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, as well as continuing studies both at Green Gulch Farm and City Center. Her first teacher was Tenshin Reb Anderson, from whom she received the precepts. She sewed her okesa under the guidance of her sewing teacher, Zenkei Blanche Hartman, former co-Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. Her teacher is Zoketsu Norman Fischer, also former co-Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center and founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. Norman ordained Sandra in 2003.
Sandra served on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Zen Center. She was asked to set up a Retirement Fund and Endowment Fund and chaired the Investment Committee overseeing the assets of both funds.She took early retirement from a major investment firm in 1996 and relocated to the Pacific Northwest; first to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula where she started a small sitting group and then to Seattle where she founded Seattle Soto Zen. While living in Seattle, she trained as a chaplin at Harborview Medical Center/University of Washington, primarily attending patients and their families in the emergency room and intensive care units. Her mission is to make the Dharma available and open to all beings.