Founding Teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn

Empty Gate Zen Center was founded in 1977 by Zen Master Seung Sahn, the great Korean Zen Master who first came to the U.S. in 1972. During his 32 years of teaching in the West, he founded the Kwan Um School of Zen, an international group of over 100 Temples, Zen Centers and groups around the world. Zen Master Seung Sahn was the 78th patriarch in his line of transmission in the Chogye order of Korean Buddhism.

His books include Only Don't Know, Dropping Ashes on the Buddha, The Compass of Zen, and The Whole World is a Single Flower - 365 Kong-ans for Everyday Life. Zen Master Seung Sahn died peacefully on November 30, 2004 at Hwa Gye Sah Temple in Seoul, Korea, surrounded by his students. He was 77.  For a more detailed biography, please click here.

Guiding Teacher, Zen Master Bon Soeng

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Since 1992, Empty Gate Zen Center has been led by Guiding Teacher Jeff Kitzes (Zen Master Bon Soeng). Jeff began practicing Zen in 1975, and began practicing with Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1979. In December of 1992, Jeff received inka, authorization to teach kong-ans (koans). In 2001, he received dharma transmission from Zen Master Seung Sahn and was given the name Bon Soeng which means “Original Nature.” Jeff is also a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in the integration of Zen Buddhism and Western Psychotherapy.


Vice Abbot, Teacher, Jason Quinn JDPSN

Jason Quinn JDPSN grew up in California and began practicing in 1997 with the Kwan Um School of Zen in Seattle. He resided at the Providence Zen Center for ten years where he held various staff positions, including Abbot. He trained as a monk for nine years, during which time he sat many long summer and winter Kyol Che retreats, and participated in retreats around the world. He now lives in Santa Clara, CA with his wife, son, and daughter. Jason received inka in 2015 and is a teacher and Vice Abbot at the Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, CA and leads the Empty Gate Zen Center group in Santa Clara. He is also a teacher for Kwan Um School of Zen Online Sangha and travels leading retreats throughout the US. For more info about the Santa Clara sitting group, visit here.

History of Empty Gate

In 1977 Dr. Ezra Clark met Zen Master Seung Sahn at a 7 day meditation retreat in Esalen, California. After the retreat, Ezra introduced his wife, Diana, to Zen Master Seung Sahn. These meetings led Diana and Ezra to begin Empty Gate Zen Center.

In 1978 a large house was purchased on Arch Street in Berkeley and Empty Gate Zen Center became a public, residential Zen Center. In 1979 Jeff Kitzes, our current Guiding Teacher, came for a 7 day meditation retreat with Zen Master Seung Sahn. After the retreat, Jeff moved into Empty Gate and remained in residence for almost 6 years.

In 1997, we moved into our present location at 2200 Parker Street in Berkeley. We are now a non-residential Zen Center with the continued purpose of providing formal Zen practice to a diverse group of practitioners. We also have 3 branches covering Santa Clara, San Francisco, and Boise, Idaho.



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Our practice forms are based on the traditions of Korean Son (Zen) practice. In the mornings we include 108 prostrations, a Korean tradition, which is both energetic and meditative. Our chanting has a unique character, using sounds and melodies from the Sino-Korean tradition. Our formal Zen sitting style will be familiar to anyone who has learned Zen or Vipassana meditation in most forms. We recognize the importance of posture and allow numerous sitting styles, including traditional floor styles, bench or chair sitting, and, if necessary due to medical condition, lying down meditation.

Our practice also includes Kong-An (Koan) training. We use the traditional kong-ans from the Blue Cliff Record and the Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate), plus kong-ans from Korea, and modern kong-ans taken from aspects of our everyday lives. Zen Master Bon Soeng offers Interviews with kong-an practice on most Saturday mornings and during retreats.


Our Sangha (community of practitioners) is spread out around Northern California. Thanks to our membership in the Kwan Um School of Zen, many of our sangha members are transplants from other parts of the world. Our school offers a unique international experience, including numerous long intensive retreats around the world. These offerings include winter and summer 90 day retreats in Korea, Eastern Europe and North America (at the Providence Zen Center)

Berkeley, CA Branch

2200 Parker St.
Berkeley, CA 94704

For general inquiries, please email

Contact our Vice Abbot, Jason Quinn

See practice schedule

Santa Clara, CA Branch

2175 The Alameda
(2nd floor, Suite 213)
San Jose, CA 95126

Contact Jason Quinn at:
Meetup Website

See practice schedule

Boise, Idaho Branch

901 N 15th St
Boise, ID 83702

Contact Clinton Smith at:
Phone: 208-661-6277

See practice schedule