​​​Our Teachers and Lineage

Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede (Guiding Teacher)

Bodhin Kjolhede is Co-Spiritual Director of the Rochester Zen Center. Prior to coming to the Center in 1970, he received a B.A. in psychology from the University of Michigan. He was ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976 and went on to spend several years traveling extensively with the Center’s founder, Roshi Philip Kapleau, and working closely with him on three of his books.

After completing twelve years of koan training under Roshi Kapleau, Roshi Kjolhede spent a year on pilgrimage through Japan, China, India, Tibet, and Taiwan. In 1986 he was installed by Roshi Kapleau as his Dharma successor and, the following year, Abbot of the Center. Since then he has conducted hundreds of meditation retreats, most of seven days, in the United States, Sweden, Germany, and Mexico. He has published numerous articles and travels widely to participate in Buddhist teachers’ conferences. He now devotes most of his time to teaching at the Rochester Zen Center and conducting retreats at Chapin Mill, its country retreat center, and playing tennis when he can.

In his more than 30 years of teaching, Roshi Kjolhede has sanctioned six of his students as Zen teachers; they now lead Zen centers in Mexico, Sweden and Finland, Germany, and New Zealand. One of them co-directs Rochester Zen Center alongside him.

Roshi Philip Kapleau (Founding Teacher)

Philip Kapleau was born in 1912 and grew up in Connecticut studying law in his youth and serving for many years as a court reporter in the state and federal courts of Connecticut. At the end of WWII, he was appointed chief reporter for the International Military Tribunal at Nurenberg, then was sent to cover the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in  Tokyo. In 1953 he gave up his business in America and left for Japan to seek the Dharma. He remained in Japan for thirteen years and trained under three Zen masters before being ordained by Hakuun Yasutani-roshi in 1965 and given permission to teach. 

Roshi Kapleau published The Three Pillars of Zen, the first book to explain the practice of Zen to Westerners in 1966. Shortly thereafter, Roshi Kapleau came to Rochester, New York, and founded the Rochester Zen  Center. Other books soon followed including Zen: Merging of East and West, Straight to the Heart of Zen, Awakening to Zen, and The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical and Spiritual Guide.  Philip Kapleau retired in 1986 after 20 years as Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center.  He died in May 2004 at the age of 91. 

Sensei John Pulleyn (Guiding Teacher)

John Pulleyn is Co-Spiritual Director of Rochester Zen Center.  He has been practicing Zen for over 50 years, working with the late Roshi Philip Kapleau, founder of Rochester Zen Center, as well as Kapleau’s successor, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, by whom he was sanctioned as a Zen teacher in 2021.

After graduating from Oberlin College in 1968, Sensei John Pulleyn joined Rochester Zen Center’s staff.  He later worked for many years both as a paint and wallpaper contractor and as a software developer.  He became a pediatric nurse at the age of 50, with a nursing degree from SUNY Brockport, and worked for 10 years on the adolescent unit of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY.

For 15 years, Sensei was Head of Zen Training at Rochester Zen Center and Assistant to Roshi Kjolhede.  He regularly leads sesshin (intensive meditation retreats) in New York and Wisconsin.