History of ZBTC

The Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago was founded in 1949 by Soyu Matsuoka Roshi. Originally located on Halsted Street on the north side of Chicago, the Temple moved to its current location in the 1980s. We also share space with the Chinese Cultural Academy which offers classes in Tai Chi Chuan.

Soyu Matsuoka Rōshi

Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Rōshi is an important historical figure in the propagation of Soto Zen in the United States. Matsuoka Roshi was born in Japan, in Yamaguchi Prefecture near Hiroshima on November 25, 1912, into a family which had a history of Zen priests dating back six centuries. He attended Komazawa University in Tokyo, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree. From there, he studied and practiced Zen at Sōji-ji Zen Monastery which is one of two of the Japanese Soto Zen headquarter monasteries. . After several years at Sōji-ji, he was given an assignment to establish a Zen Temple in northern Japan on Karafuto (Sakhalin) Island. Prior to his coming to America, Matsuoka Roshi earned a PhD in philosophy, from Political Science University in Tokyo.
Matsuoka Roshi seated in his formal robes before an altar.
Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka Rōshi
In 1939, Soto Zen Headquarters in Japan asked him to travel to the United States, where he first became an assistant minister at the Los Angeles Zen Buddhist Temple, and later the Superintendent of the San Francisco Zen Buddhist Temple, which later became the San Francisco Zen Center. After serving as a Zen Priest on the West Coast of the US, he attended Columbia University in New York, where he undertook further graduate study under the guidance of Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki. Immediately following these studies, he moved to Chicago, where he founded the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago in 1949.

In addition to teaching meditation (zazen), Matsuoka Roshi extended his activities beyond the temple. He lectured and traveled extensively to local high schools and nationally to colleges and universities. He also served as an instructor of zazen for the Chicago Judo-Karate School, and later as a special instructor at Colorado State University and Chicago Central YMCA College. Beginning in 1968, he made a yearly tour of Japan. His initial tour was sponsored by the US Embassy to Japan, during which he lectured on the topic of “Unknown America” in order to promote cultural understanding between Japan and the United States. In 1971, he moved to Long Beach, California where he founded the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple.

His life was dedicated to establishing the spirit of Zen in America. He frequently used the phrase "moku-rai" (or "silent thunder") as an expression of his deep understanding. Much of what one learned from Sensei ("teacher"), as he preferred to be called, was not from preaching but from his manner and the way he expressed himself through his attitude and actions. His Zen dharma was transferred silently, naturally, through his presence. The core of his teachings is the practice of zazen, Zen meditation, and the realization of its power in daily life. His disciples lead temples around the USA and Canada. Matsuoka Roshi died on November 20, 1997.

Kongō Langlois Rōshi

Rev. Kongō Richard Langlois Rōshi was the Abbot of the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago for twenty-eight years. He also served as the Director/Head Instructor of the Chinese Cultural Academy in Evanston, Illinois. As one of the first Americans to teach the spiritual practices of Zazen and Tai Chi Chuan, Kongō Roshi played a crucial role in determining how these arts would be transplanted from their deep roots in Asian culture and the philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism to the American mind. Kongō Roshi inherited his deep understanding of these arts through direct transmission and decades of study with two teachers: Rev. Soyu Matsuoka Rōshi, founder of the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago, and Professor Huo Chi-Kwang, the founder of the Chinese Cultural Academy.
Black-and-white headshot of Kongo Langlois Roshi, who is pictured with a bald head and long beard.
Kongō Langlois Rōshi
Kongō Rōshi was born Richard Valentine Langlois in Chicago, Illinois on January 25, 1935. His “first love” was the piano, which he began studying at age ten. Richard Langlois served two years in the United States Army from 1954 to 1956. Following military service, he enrolled in the American Conservatory of Music, majoring in piano.

He began his spiritual study in 1956 under the guidance of Swami Vishwananda, of the Vedanta Society and continued the study and practice of Yoga as a disciple of Sri Nerode. Although this training involved much intellectual study, his main work with Sri Nerode was intense meditation practice.

Richard began training in Soto Zen Buddhism under Matsuoka Roshi in 1960 and officially became his disciple in 1963. Matsuoka Roshi gave Richard the Buddhist name Kongō, meaning “Diamond.” This name signifies more than just a sparkling gem. Its spiritual essence is that of enduring brilliance, dignity, and strength. More significantly, “Kongō” signifies the Diamond Sutra and its teaching of the Diamond Sword of Discriminating Wisdom, which cuts away all doubts. He became the first American to be ordained a Zen Buddhist priest in 1967.

In 1970 when Matsuoka Rōshi left Chicago to found another Zen Center in Long Beach, California, he appointed Reverend Kongō Langlois his Dharma Successor and Abbot of the Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago. In 1974, Matsuoka Rōshi bestowed the Rōshi degree upon Rev. Langlois. The title Rōshi is bestowed upon a Zen priest by another who holds the Rōshi degree to acknowledge a high level of understanding and realization.

Kongō Rōshi began his training with Professor Huo Chi-Kwang in 1966 as a private student. Prof. Huo imparted a thorough grounding in the internal connections and spirit of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, as well as their meditation traditions. Kongō Rōshi studied and mastered an extensive list of arts from Professor Huo. He learned the Yang, the Chen, andthe Wu sStyles of Tai Chi Chuan, Tai Chi Push Hands, Pa Kua, Hsing Yi, and Tai Chi Sword, and the Chinese Health Methods. He then spent six years learning both script and cursive styles of Chinese calligraphy using traditional philosophical texts. Through this study of the classics in the original Chinese language, Kongō Rōshi received a thorough grounding in the essence of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian philosophy. In May 1988, Kongō Rōshi became Prof. Huo’s successor and was appointed Director of the Chinese Cultural Academy.

After months of battling cancer, Rev. Kongō Langlois Rōshi died on October 28, 1999.

All current Temple teachers studied under Kongō Rōshi.