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Robbie Pellet

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.

One Pine Hall is Robby's zendo in Seattle.

A straight-forward unpretentious person and practitioner. - Zentatsu Richard Baker

Robby Pellett
on Hoitsu Suzuki becoming tanto of Eiheiji

Hoitsu Suzuki page

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, Vol.31-1

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 himself.

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 Jukai  (Zaike 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.

Ryuzen Robbie Pellet

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 eyes.

Robby was special and unique and I’m so glad to have known him.

Chris Moses

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 up. 

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 moment unfolding. 

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

Hi Doug,

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 monastic alike.

deep bow for your efforts which benefit us all

Ryuzen Robby Pellett

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