REVEREND STEVE KANJI ANGYO RUHL, M.Div. Reverend Steve Kanji Ruhl, M.Div., is an innovative Zen Buddhist minister ordained in the Zen Peacemaker Order by Roshi Bernie Glassman, and is also a lay Zen dharma holder and preceptor authorized by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko. Formerly affiliated with Green River Zen Center in western Massachusetts, where he helped to teach and assisted Roshi Eve, he now operates independently, teaching Zen students in person and through his Touch the Earth cyber-sangha to “be clear, be kind, be present” through instruction in koans, ethical precepts, and shikantaza ("just sitting") meditation.
Training and Education: Having trained with Watanabe roshi at Taiyo-ji Zen Temple in Kanegasaki, Japan in 1997 and subsequently at Zen centers in the United States -- including with Roshi John Daido Loori at Zen Mountain Monastery, Roshi Dai-En Bennage at Mt. Equity Zendo, and Toni Packer at Springwater Meditation Center -- he received his B.A. in Religious Studies with high honors and Phi Beta Kappa from the Schreyer Honors College of Penn State University in 2005, where he did intensive study of Christianity, ancient Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, as well as Native American spirituality and Taoism. He received his Master of Divinity degree in Buddhist ministry from Harvard University in 2008, where he collaborated in helping to develop the earliest phase of the program and co-chaired the Harvard Buddhist Sangha. Kanji then trained with Roshi Bernie Glassman and Roshi Eve Myonen Marko at Montague Zen Center and Green River Zen Center, and graduated from the Maezumi Institute of the Zen Peacemakers' Seminary of the Residential Ministry Program for Socially Engaged Buddhism.
Teaching Background: A faculty member of the Shogaku Zen Institute and a member of the nationwide Lay Zen Teachers Association, Kanji also has served as a Buddhist adviser at Yale University, where he currently guest teaches as a core faculty member for Yale Buddhist Life. Additionally, he is a meditation instructor at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and for three years served as a core faculty member in the multi-faith Spiritual Guidance Certificate Training Program at the Rowe Center. He also works in private practice one-on-one with spiritual guidance clients. He has been featured in articles in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and EnlightenNext magazine, and he has been a guest speaker or workshop facilitator at Yale Divinity School, the Omega Institute, Harvard's Center for World Religions, the International Conference on Socially Engaged Buddhism, Grace Farms, and elsewhere.
Writing and Publishing: Kanji is the author of Enlightened Contemporaries: Saint Francis, Dogen, and Rumi (Monkfish Books) as well as two volumes of poems, Paintings of Rice Cakes Satisfy Hunger and The Constant Yes of Things (Off the Common Books). He also is a contributing author to The Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work (Wisdom Publications). He recently has completed a book-length manuscript of a wellness memoir, The Whole Earth is Medicine: A Zen Buddhist's Recovery from Cancer Using 20 Factors of Natural Healing, and is in the process of revising the manuscript of a spiritual memoir called Appalachian Zen: Journeys of an American Buddhist. His poems have appeared in numerous literary journals nationwide, and his writing has received awards from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Additionally, he has worked as a professional journalist and editor, publishing articles in The Boston Globe, The Massachusetts Review, Santa Fe Reporter, and elsewhere.
Broad Spiritual Focus: Kanji is dedicated to reforming American Zen to eliminate the idolatry of the teacher ("no gurus!"), to include the traditions of women's domestic Zen, and to counter the toxic influences of spiritual consumerism, commercialism, and spiritual celebrity.
In addition to his Zen practice Kanji has a strong interest in mystical Christianity, Hindu Tantra, Sufism, Native American spiritual traditions (particularly Lakota), the Jewish Essenes, Taoism, dream yoga, Jungian depth psychology, Earth-based goddess traditions and nature spirituality, the contemporary kohenet Hebrew priestess movement, and back-to-the-land African-American spirituality (e.g., Leah Penniman's Soul Fire Farm and her book Farming While Black).
Socially Engaged Buddhism: Kanji is also a lifelong environmentalist, from serving as a high-school grassroots organizer in central Appalachia for the very first Earth Day in 1970 to joining 400,000 others on the streets of New York City for the People’s Climate March in 2014 and four million people worldwide in the Climate Strike marches of 2019. He is committed to Green Buddhism and lives simply and close to nature in the woods of western Massachusetts. Raised in a working-class family in rural Pennsylvania -- seven generations of German immigrant and Irish indentured servants, farmers, soldiers, and factory workers -- Kanji was the first person in his family to graduate from college and he has a deep interest in issues of social class in America. As a hippie teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s he also, at significant personal risk in his small, conservative hometown, publicly opposed the Vietnam War. In the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s he was involved in the music and social protest of the punk rock movement. Today Kanji seeks to harmonize peaceable ideals with Zen's samurai tradition (which he values for its courage, boldness, and rigor) by creating a "new samurai" model for 21st century men and women that combines these traditional qualities with a new vision of compassionate service, heart-based loving warriorship, and peacemaking. He has performed private blessing ceremonies and participated in personal bearing-witness pilgrimages at the site of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a week after the massacre there; at Hiroshima in Japan; and at the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Kanji also actively supports a dharma that welcomes and affirms people of all racial identities and genders.
Embodied Mysticism: Augmenting his strong scholarly background in world religions, Reverend Kanji is a mystic who emphasizes direct experience of a sacred reality that is immanent, always, in the here-and-now of this world. He also is deeply familiar with embodied spiritual practices, including personal experience with tai chi, Iyengar yoga, holotropic breathing and shamanic journeying, ecstatic dance, Reiki, tantra, qigong, kyudo (Zen archery), judo, and -- in Japan -- training in classic taiko drumming and iai-do, the meditative art of using the sword.
Counseling for Psychological, Spiritual, and Physical Healing: Kanji is a cancer survivor as well, with a powerful interest in, and commitment to, alternative healing practices. He is well-equipped to provide spiritual counseling for people challenged by life-threatening illnesses. He also has endured the suicides of a close friend and of his beloved sister, has been present at the deaths of both parents and his brother, has performed end-of-life ministry, and has conducted funerals, so can offer spiritual counseling as well on issues of death, dying, and complicated grieving. Additionally, he specializes in counseling on the spiritual dimensions of midlife passages.
General Interests: Aside from Zen Buddhist ministry, teaching, and writing, his other interests include international travel, art and art history, independent and foreign films, architecture, organic vegan dining, theater, dance, studies in world history, in the sciences, and enjoyment of an eclectic range of music, as well as nature and the outdoors, hiking, jogging, bicycling, kayaking, and weightlifting. An avid and indefatigable reader, he was an English honors major many years ago and maintains a passionate devotion to exploring books of fiction and poetry.