|August 29, 2019
- Robby Pellett died of a heart attack last week at the age of 62. He
was Hoitsu Suzuki's dharma heir in America. Robby was a sweet guy who
lived in Japan for years and started His student Nat Evans posted
this memorial tribute to Robby. It's
also posted below.
Hall is Robby's zendo in Seattle.
A straight-forward unpretentious person and practitioner. - Zentatsu
on Hoitsu Suzuki becoming
tanto of Eiheiji
Dan Welch's abbot installation,
Crestone Mt. ZC, May 12, 2012
L to R top row: Martin Macaulay, Richard
Baker, Peter Coyote, Hoistu Suzuki, Reb Anderson, Robby Pellett,
David Chadwick, Paul Shippee.
L to R Bottom Row: Shungo Suzuki, Steve Allen, Angelique Farrow, Gaelyn
Godwin, Damian Kwong.
Robby's calligraphy on the cover of the
Winter 1997 Wind Bell,
From the Sweeping Zen archive
Ryuzen Robby Pellett (born
August 28, 1956) is the resident priest of One
Pine Hall, a community of practitioners in the Soto
Zen tradition of Buddhism in
Seattle. Growing up in the rural Northwest,
close to the weather and nature, prepared him to
be touched by the hermit poets of China whom he
read of in high school. While at the University
of Oregon he was introduced to the practice of
Soto Zen by a Dominican brother who would drive
him to a local Buddhist priory once a week to
sit. Later he would sit with monks and priests
in Missoula, Boulder, Denver, Santa Rosa, San
Francisco, and wherever else he would find
When planning to visit Japan, Jakusho
Bill Kwong Roshi of Genjoji gave
him an introduction to Suzuki
Hoitsu Roshi, who became his
master. He received Jukai in May of 1988 at
Bairinin from Rempo
Niwa Roshi, later he again received
Tokudo) on May 10 1989 from Suzuki Hoitsu at
the temple Rinsoin in Yaizu city where he is the
abbot. He then received ordination (Shukke
Tokudo)on October 21 1994 from Suzuki Hoitsu
at Rinsoin. On May 18, 2001 Ryuzen
participated in the head monk ceremony (Shuso
Shiki) after a period of practice at Rinsoin
with Zenkei Blanche Hartman officiating. Ryuzen
received transmission (Shiho Shiki) on May 13,
2010 from his master, Suzuki Hoitsu at Rinsoin.
Since returning to Seattle, Ryuzen “lives a
simple life in Seattle, providing support and
encouragement to any who seek to practice the
way of Soto Zen.”
From the Seattle School of Aikido site
Thanks to Robby Pellett for teaching the Monday night aikido class. For
those who had a chance to train with Robby, you got a unique glimpse
into the teachings of one of the aikido giants – Minoru Mochizuki.
Mochizuki was a direct student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo,
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, and Gichin Funakoshi, the
founder of Shotokan Karate.
Robby trained with Mochizuki sensei for 6 years and you can see some
distinct differences between Yoseikan Aikido and the Aikikai Aikido
generally taught in this area.
If you didn’t get a chance to train with Robby or would like another
opportunity to experience Yoseikan Aikido, stay tuned for our Thursday
night special instructor series.
It’s with great sadness that I must announce the passing of Ryuzen
Robert (Robby) Pellett. I met Robby in 1999 when I was given his
name as a possible sword teacher. I spoke with him briefly on the
phone and then went to observe a class the next Saturday. I joined
immediately. Robby was one of the kindest people I have ever met.
Immediately after describing the intimacy of combat he would pause
class to help shepherd a crane fly off the mat before it was
accidentally stepped on.
Robby’s training history was incredible, studying aikido intensely
with Hiroshi Ikeda before his move to Japan where he trained
directly under Mochizuki Minoru sensei at the Yoseikan hombu dojo.
Years later, in Seattle, when asked to do a demonstration of
Yoseikan’s sutemi-waza (sacrifice throws) at a Japanese sword
tournament on hardwood floors, he was able to adjust each throw so
that he took the majority of the initial impact and was able to
place me gently onto the ground next to him. “Trust me and I’ll put
you down safely,” he said. While in Japan, in addition to his study
of zen and aikido, he studied kyudo, atarashi naginata, chado,
ikebana and Shinto Ryu Iai-Battojutsu, coming home with Yudansha
(black belt) ranks in each. I was lucky enough to travel to Japan
with him several times to begin a relationship with his Shinto Ryu
teacher Mochizuki Takashi and saw him slide effortlessly back into
the role of humble student rather than teacher.
Anyone who knew Robby knows that he struggled for many years
with health issues. We all went through the pain of his kidneys
slowly failing and the long wait for a donor. But watching him
reawaken from that experience was seeing him at his most joyful.
He was literally full of life and lust and embraced the gift of
existence as only someone who nearly lost it could. I remember
him coming to class one morning with his new girlfriend and
quietly, blushing, asking me to throw him around the dojo. In
that moment he wasn’t a sword teacher, or a mental health
worker, or a zen priest, he was a boy trying to impress a girl.
We put on a show and they left early with a twinkle in their
Robby was special and unique and I’m so glad to have known him.
Nat Evans posted
this memorial tribute to Robby.
#RIP Ryuzen Robby Pellett 1956-2019
Dear Friends - it is with great sadness that I must announce the
passing of Ryuzen Robby Pellett. He was long time priest to many,
and also as a fully empowered Soto Zen teacher, I was his student.
Robby passed away from a heart attack last week at age 62. Today,
August 28th, is his birthday.
Robby grew up on a farm in the foothills of the cascade mountains of
Oregon. His life was inspiringly varied and rich. He attended Naropa
University and created multimedia performance works with dance,
video, images and sound collages. Beginning in the early 80s he
spent over a decade living in Japan studying Aikido, Chado, Ikebana,
and Zen. He studied Zen as a student of Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi at
Rinsoin, a temple in Shizuoka prefecture. He became a Zen priest
there under Suzuki Roshi and upon is return to the U.S. started One
Pine Hall in Seattle in 1994. With a masters in psychology Robby was
a designated mental health professional working in Pierce and King
counties as well as for the state of Washington, helping to provide
mental health services to those in crisis. He also worked as a
Buddhist chaplain serving prison populations.
As our priest at One Pine Hall, he touched many lives by
illuminating the delight in the ordinary and inviting us to fully
imbibe in the mystery of life, one moment at a time. He was so well
trained, and so thoughtful and spontaneous. When my step dad was
dying and I showed up to meditation group in tears there was no
lapse in moment in him as he guided me through meditation that day
and led all of us in a service dedicated to him after meditation.
Once as we all sat together on Christmas eve, he looked up from his
chant book during service and said, "Well, it is Christmas, what
song should we sing?" Perhaps it is the only time Rudolph the Red
Nose Reindeer was sung in a zendo.
His dharma talks were extraordinary in their depth and range, making
the sacred ordinary and the ordinary sacred. Sometimes we would
delve deeply into Zen master Dogen's work, other times it would
illuminate the season, a call for noticing the moment or learn about
a seasonal cultural element within the context of Zen history. Or,
perhaps most famously among his sangha, his ongoing series of dharma
talks that started with, "I was listening to the radio on my drive
home and a lyric caught my ear..."
Robby was unconcerned with seeking out students once he became a Zen
teacher, and before that as a priest. His attitude was more like an
ancient Chinese Zen hermit who just happened to live in a city. He
provided endless direct access to meditation and the dharma. The
door was always open, you just had to bring it upon yourself to show
The forms of Japanese Zen Buddhism and the intricacies of ceremony
are often lost in the western context beyond the basics, but Robby -
whom you might encounter listening to country music at
extraordinarily loud volumes outside the zendo - was deeply
committed to these forms whenever he was in monks robes. In this way
he really took after his teacher Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi, who places
great importance on this aspect of Zen practice - serving through
ceremony. That is, that meditation extends to every movement we
take, not just while sitting on a meditation cushion. For instance,
only recently have I felt like I finally got things down to properly
to light incense at the altar for him, and have the ash on the altar
set appropriately. But, these simple gestures he insisted upon have
been like a mirror for me to hold up to myself, to the moment, and
to my ever-howling ego. Robby extended that ceremonial gesture
further to all aspects of everyday life - sweeping the floor,
enjoying a cold drink, or embracing a loved one - all just moment by
In Zen, when teacher and student greet eachother they exchange bows,
and in our last meeting at the beginning of August it seemed
particularly slow and respectful. The student does two full
prostrations to the teacher, and the third bow is simultaneous -
both teacher and student in full prostration to one another. This
particular summer day Robby seemed to bow longer than usual and I
was already up before he was. I watched the dedication in his hands
- he truly bowed with every ounce of his being. Saluting the void,
the empty circle, saluting me, saluting the universe and all beings
in ten directions.
We've all met Robby before in past lives, and we'll know him again
in future lives, but right now I will continue to sit with him every
day during meditation when I put on the rakusu he sewed for me. His
fire, his energy, burns on brightly, a lantern to us all.
Here's a comment by Robby from a
post on Japan Life and Religion
I fully understand both the conditions that lead to the angry
outburst with your wife and that embarrassment that resulted. Having
traveled a bit overseas and felt the effects of travel and
exhaustion, which you are well aware of as well having lived as well
as traveled often with your family.
But that is why we practice. Because we live in the world and are
not perfect. Your sense of humbleness is a great reflection of your
commitment to the Pure Land faith. That is why Amida’s vow is so
powerful and important as we are imperfect beings.
But I notice that I reacted to your suggestion that “I feel Zen is
best practiced in a strictly monastic setting, not so much a
lay-oriented way” with sadness as I am a Soto Zen Buddhist priest
living and practicing in the world. I may not be the best example of
a good priest or of Zen well lived but I do believe that the best
examples of the fruits of Zen practice are not found in the monastic
halls but in the marketplaces, bedrooms, and street corners of the
world. Clearly your are a deeply sincere student/practitioner of
Buddhism. And have a deeper understanding to the various facets of
the Dharma then I do but I would like to offer the observation that
it is reflection of the depth of your practice that allows you to
see the nature of your mind and comment on it in this blog in such a
clear and direct manner and that you had the ability to laugh about
it with your wife the next day is an inspiration to us all, lay and
deep bow for your efforts which benefit us all
Ryuzen Robby Pellett