Dr. Glenn Kangan Webb

Dr. Glenn Kangan Webb in the early days of the Seattle Zen Center.

Seattle Zen Pioneer Receives Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun

In November the Consulate General of Japan announced the Fall 2011 recipients of Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun. Among them was Dr. Glenn Kangan Webb, a former University of Washington professor (1966-1987) in the School of Art and the Jackson School of International Studies. A renowned scholar of Japanese art, ordained Rinzai priest, Urasenke tea master, and enthusiast of Japanese culture, Webb was honored for his “contribution to the advancement of Japanese studies and the promotion of mutual understanding and friendship between Japan and the United States.”

First awarded by the Emperor of Japan in 1875, the Order of the Rising Sun was conferred on Dr. Webb on behalf of Emperor Akihito by Consul General Jun Niimi in Los Angeles on November 15. Among those who attended the ceremony were many old friends and former students, including early members of the Seattle Zen Center which Kangan Webb Sensei founded. Genjo Marinello Osho, director of Seattle’s Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji, the sangha that evolved from the Seattle Zen Center group, and Kankan Kurt Spellmeyer Roshi, now leader of the Cold Mountain Sangha in Rutgers, New Jersey, traveled to L.A. for the event.

As a gifted young pianist, Glenn Webb studied with Juilliard teachers in New York where, in 1951, at the age of 16, he became acquainted with Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki. Through his writing and teaching, Dr. Suzuki was then introducing Japanese Zen Buddhism to the West. For Webb, the encounter determined his future studies and career.

In 1964, Webb received a Fulbright scholarship to do doctoral work at Kyoto University for two years. There he connected once again with Dr. Suzuki, who became his mentor, along with other prominent Japanese scholars. In addition to his academic study of traditional Japanese arts, Webb also trained in Buddhist temples and was ultimately ordained in the Rinzai Zen priesthood, Kanzan (Cold Mountain) lineage. While in Kyoto he also studied the Urasenke “way of tea”, becoming an accredited tea master.

After receiving his Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the University of Chicago in 1966, Dr. Webb began his teaching career at the University of Washington. Among his many activities, he co-directed the Center for Asian Arts, ran the UW’s Kyoto exchange program, and published important contributions to the study of Japanese art.

Order of the Rising Sun

The Order of the Rising Sun was conferred on Dr. Webb at the residence of Japan’s Consul General in Los Angeles, November 15, 2011.

Kangan Webb Sensei’s teaching wasn’t limited to the academic arena, however. As he became known as an actual practitioner of Zen Buddhism and interest in Buddhism in the Seattle area began to grow, slowly and quietly at first would-be students of Zen sought him out. By the early 70’s, Webb led a zazen (sitting meditation) group in the art building on the UW campus.

“He was on the fourth floor and I used to carry a zafu and zabuton up four flights of stairs,” recalled Kannin Dorothy Deming, an early student of Webb’s. “He had 45 people sitting in an art room.” Deming, now deceased, was 55 at the time. She continued practicing, was ordained in 1995, and went on to found the Cold Mountain Hermitage in Seattle. Deming attributed her several decades of practice to “the shining light of Glenn Webb.”

Webb’s sitting group became the Seattle Zen Center, which he led until 1978 when, at his suggestion, the sangha invited Zen Master Genki Takabayashi to become its resident teacher. Kangan Webb moved to Malibu, California in 1987 to direct the Institute for the Study of Asian Cultures at Pepperdine University.

Under Genki Roshi, the Seattle Zen Center took the name Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji (“The Listening to the Dharma Zen Temple on Great Plum Mountain”), now under the direction of Genjo Marinello Osho.

“If you have ever heard me use the term kokoro (heart/mind),” says Genjo Osho, “or okage-sama de (I’m in your shadow), these come directly from my association with Kangan as one of my most influential teachers.”

Contributors: Julie Welch, Amy Groncznack, Genjo Marinello.
Photos: Courtesy of Dai Bai Zan Cho Bo Zen Ji.