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Taigen Dan Leighton is a Soto Zen priest and Dharma successor in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Taigen first studied Buddhist art and culture in Japan in 1970, and began formal everyday zazen and Soto practice in 1975 at the New York Zen Center with Kando Nakajima Roshi. This led to his returning to graduate in East Asian Studies, and to study Japanese language at Columbia College. Through the 70s Taigen was an award-winning documentary film editor in New York and San Francisco, including work for NBC News and Bill Moyers Journal. While editing TV news, it was necessary for Taigen to learn about the one who is not busy.

Taigen left his filmmaking career in 1979 to work full time for the San Francisco Zen Center at the Tassajara Bakery and later Greens Restaurant. He was ordained in 1986 by Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi, receiving the Dharma name Taigen Shizan (Ultimate Source Polishing Mountains). Taigen practiced and resided for years at San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara monastery, and Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Taigen was an elected member of the Board of San Francisco Zen Center, which he Chaired for three years. He also practiced for two years in Kyoto, Japan, 1990-92, translating Dogen with Rev. Shohaku Okumura, and practicing with several Japanese Soto Zen teachers, including one monastic practice period.


Taigen has been active in many interfaith dialogue programs, including co-leading Buddhist-Christian dialogues, and he also has studied Native American spiritual practice.

Taigen has long been active in various Engaged Buddhist programs for social justice, peace, and environmental activism. His activism goes back to his teens when he worked against the Vietnam War, including as a student at Columbia College in New York where he participated in the 1968 week-long building occupation and was arrested with 700 others. Since then he has continued speaking for peace and for climate justice.

Taigen founded the Mountain Source Sangha meditation groups in Bolinas in 1994, then added branches in San Rafael and San Francisco. He received Dharma Transmission in 2000 from Tenshin Reb Anderson. Taigen is an authorized teacher (Kyoshi) in the Japanese Soto school. Taigen has written many books of commentaries and translations of Soto Zen and bodhisattva teachings. See Writings link for details. Taigen is now a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of American Soto Zen teachers, and the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists, teachers recognized by the Japanese Soto school. Taigen has taught academically in a number of universities, and has a Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, where he has taught at the Institute of Buddhist Studies since 1994, teaching online since 2007.

At the beginning of 2007 Taigen relocated to Chicago, and was Guiding Dharma Teacher for Ancient Dragon Zen Gate until mid-2024, now ADZG Dharma Teacher emeritus. Taigen has worked to develop accessible practice and training programs in the Chicago area. He performed lay ordination for a few dozen practitioners, and has performed seven priest ordinations. Taigen developed Ancient Dragon practice leaders to guide Ancient Dragon Zen Gate into the next generation. He continues working with individual practitioners and offering online teachings at various sanghas. Taigen lives with his wife, two cats, and a dog a bit north of Chicago. 

Academic Teaching

Taigen teaches online at the Institue of Buddhist Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, from where he has a Ph.D., and where he has taught since 1994. He has also taught in the Bay Area at Saint Mary’s College, the California Institute of Integral Studies, University of San Francisco, and University of Creation Spirituality; in Japan at Kansai and Otani Universities; and in Chicago at Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary, and for four years at Loyola University Chicago. His classes have ranged from graduate seminars on sophisticated Zen and Buddhist topics to undergraduate classes in Comparative Religion and Introduction to Japanese Religion.

Dharma Heirs

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