The roots of the North Carolina Zen Center were established in 1972, when Susanna Stewart began a sitting group in her home north of Pittsboro, near the site of the present Center. After several dai-sesshin with Joshu Sasaki Roshi she decided to build a small zendo near her house so he would have a place to hold sesshin on the east coast. This became known as the Squirrel Mountain Zendo of the North Carolina Zen Center, which was incorporated in 1977. In the same year she married Sandy Gentei Stewart, a student of Joshu Roshi.
Sandy became the Center’s first Osho and Abbot, and guided the Center’s daily life and development for the next 35 years. Regularly scheduled practice and retreats were originally held at the Squirrel Mountain Zendo. However, knowing that for many years Sandy had envisioned the creation of a residential center, in 1995 one of Sandy’s students contributed 15 acres of nearby land to the North Carolina Zen Center. Shortly thereafter construction began on the Brooks Branch Zendo. The meditation hall was completed in 1998, the kitchen building in 2001, the multi-use/dormitory building in 2003 and the shower house in 2005.
The Brooks Branch Zendo was formally dedicated in 2007 by Joshu Sasaki Roshi, who was 99 years old at the time, and traveled to the Center for the dedication Ceremony. At that time the Center received its temple name of Sosen-ji.
After being the guiding force behind the North Carolina Zen Center for more that 35 years, and making the Center his life’s work, Sandy Gentei Stewart ended his services as Abbot and Teacher of the North Carolina Zen Center in April of 2015. The Center is currently operating as an unaffiliated Rinzai Zen center. It is not associated with any particular Zen lineage in America, but continues its practice in the Rinzai Zen tradition.
Those who carry on with the Center wish to gratefully acknowledge Sandy Gentei Stewart’s devotion to a life of teaching Zen, and the many lives he touched. The North Carolina Zen Center is his legacy, and his gift to the Dharma.