About Us

Spring Sesshin participants in 2019

East Rock Sangha students study under the guidance of Nelson Foster, dharma heir of Robert Aitken. We offer Zen training in the lay tradition of the Diamond Sangha. East Rock Sangha has close ties to the Honolulu Diamond Sangha and to the Ring of Bone Zendo in Nevada City, California. Our practice groups are located in Chilmark, Massachusetts (Martha’s Vineyard) and New Haven, Connecticut.

Our teacher: Nelson Foster

Nelson Foster - East Rock Sangha
Nelson Foster – Photo by Masako Courdray

East Rock Sangha’s teacher is Nelson Foster. He belongs to the Diamond Sangha lineage of Robert Aitken Roshi, a lineage especially geared to the needs of laypeople that embraces the heritage of both the Soto and Rinzai streams of Japanese Zen. Our sangha maintains this tradition along with numerous sister groups in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Argentina, and Chile.

Nelson began his Zen practice as a college student in 1972, started teaching in an apprentice capacity in 1983, and was authorized to teach independently in 1989. (Under Japanese custom, he’d be addressed as “Roshi” but prefers to go by his given name.) Eight years later, he succeeded Aitken Roshi as master of the Honolulu Diamond Sangha and since then has taught Zen full time. Nelson’s previous work included stints as Aitken Roshi’s personal secretary, high school English teacher and administrator, organizer for social change, editor, and writer.

From his home base at Ring of Bone Zendo in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Nelson regularly visits East Rock Sangha to provide face-to-face guidance. He also makes annual visits to Diamond Sangha communities on O‘ahu and Maui. He’s been married to Masa Uehara since 1990 and lives with her in the forest near Ring of Bone.

In 1995, Nelson published The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader, profiles of 46 Chinese and Japanese masters, with selections from their works. Since then, he’s confined his writing on Zen topics to essays, forewords, and book reviews while gathering material for a second major book, now in progress.