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Chikudo Jerome Petersen

Jerome Petersen at City Center in 2009 by Shundo David Haye

Jerome Petersen at City Center in 2009 by Shundo David Haye.

Jerome Petersen / Chikudo Genki
June 12, 1928 – December 12, 2010

Jerome Petersen, who came to Sokoji Temple in San Francisco’s Japantown in 1961 when Suzuki Roshi was there and lived at Tassajara, Green Gulch, and for several years at City Center, died on Sunday, December 12, of heart failure. He was shuso at Tassajara in 1976.

Jerome received Dharma Transmission from Tenshin Reb Anderson, who will officiate at the funeral ceremony.

Funeral – Life Celebration Ceremony for Jerome Petersen

Saturday, February 5, 3 pm

San Francisco Zen Center
300 Page Street
San Francisco

Please contact the City Center office at 415-863-3136 for more information.

Interview with Jerome Petersen at (12-12-2010)

See also:


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  1. Jakushu Gregory Wood / Jan 26 2011

    Of my three main Teachers, Chikudo Jerome Petersen was the wise one. Suzuki roshi named him “Chikudo,” meaning “Bamboo Hall.” I could see a beautiful green grove-like room, open to everyone. “Genki” the refreshing breeze, the healthful energy, wafting though. Privately, to myself I referred to him as Sage Jerome. He was my teacher for more than thirty-five years.

    He was a big man, though his manner was amazingly soft. It was easy to ask a question of him. By contrast, to ask Baker-roshi any question, I’d have to gear myself up as if I was going to throw myself off a cliff or something. With Jerome, I could talk to him casually about anything. He was always available. His answers were usually succinct, just a few words. Yet, his short replies were so rich and resonant I began to think of them as Teisho’s (longer formal dharma talks).

    I said to him one time, “I’ve been studying some of the Tibetan stuff lately, and noticed they say that impermanence is paired off with interdependence. When things are seen as pressingly interdependent they are relieved through awareness of impermanence, and when things are experienced as difficultly impermanent, they are relieved through awareness of interdependence.”

    He said in his slow baritone, “Well—I think that, after all—impermanence is the main thing.”

    I said, “The problem is, when I think of impermanence, I associate it with failure.”

    And he said suddenly, “Oh, my boy, impermanence is success!”

    —I can never repay him for that.

    He was a consistently amazing resource. He’d just open things up in ways I’d never seen before.

    Yet, if you ever saw Jerome and you only noticed his surface appearance, you might have even mistook him for a derelict. He was not the anal-retentive, battened down, pressed-collar kind of monk. He had food stains on his robes. He couldn’t get around easily and though he’d gimp and lumber on his way from place to place he was never late.

    Toward the end of his life he’d starting to leak so his robes smelled like urine a little bit. But his mind was clear. He had an incredibly deep mind, especially for Zen questions.

    Have you ever seen those Japanese movies where the sword-master would pluck flies out of the air with chopsticks? Jerome answered Zen questions like that. People didn’t know what to make of him. He didn’t quite fit anywhere. He didn’t even fit inside the monastery, exactly. Yet he was unperturbed. He was completely himself and utterly authentic. Among old-timers at Zen Center, he really had something that was off the scale. He was unconventionally brilliant all the time, without even trying to be.

    I could ask Zen questions of him very casually, like, “Hey Jerome, is there anything that isn’t emptiness?”

    And he suddenly boomed, “Emptiness!”

    He didn’t hesitate. I have to laugh, because it was like hitting the bell with me inside it – Boinnng. ‘Emptiness!’ he said. He didn’t even hesitate.

    Another time I inquired about Suzuki-roshi’s comment, “Even if the sun was to rise in the West, a Bodhisattva would only have one way.” “What is that Way?” I asked.

    “That’s easy.” His voice was very soft. “Just turn toward the light.”

    Ah, Jerome, you were always the medicine, the antidote of clarity and calm abiding.

    The last time we met, it had been some time since I saw him. “I thought I’d never see you again,” I said. “That will never happen. No. You’d have to be blind for that to happen!”

    Your kindness is endless. You will forever be the example to me of wisdom and courage.

  2. Jacqueline Myoko Jago / Jan 31 2011

    When I was six, I lived on a Pacific Island and read about grandfathers in books. Eventually, mine arrived, wearing a grey felt hat and bearing honeycomb dipped in chocolate: a bag of Violet Crumbles, wrapped in purple foil, brought all the way from Australia for his grandchildren. He stayed a week, and died in Sydney a year or two later.

    Thirty years later, when I spent some time at SFZC, I exchanged occasional words with a big man in the basement. I thought he was homeless and loved his abruptness. Later, I saw him in the chanting hall wearing a brown robe.

    He came up to me in the student kitchen, where everyone stores their milk and cereal, carrying a brown paper bag. I got you something, he said. You gotta guess what it is.

    Animal, vegetable or mineral? I asked, pleased as punch. He shrugged, opening the bag so I could put my hand in. I came up with purple foil and squealed.

    Violet crumble!!!

    I went past the Australia shop today, Jerome told me, and got you some.

    Chocolate from an old man – f rom one singular soul to another.

    I see your beauty, he seemed to say, and I know my own.

    That was about our lengthiest exchange. Enough to leave me with a sense of terrible loss on hearing of his passing. Bless you Jerome. No faking that kindness of yours.

  3. John Renwick / Feb 18 2011

    Chikudo Jerome Petersen – I’m very sorry to find out that your body has died. You were the first person to instruct me on sitting. It was 1993. I came to inquire at HSZC one weekday afternoon, and you greeted me saying instruction was just about to begin. You left me in an awful posture – my knees up high, my back curved, my hands rumpled in my caved over abdomen – with a nasal exhalation and a sense of “better just leave it alone.”

    One day, you lit into me for coming to offer incense at an off-schedule hour — “we have sittings every weekday at 5am and 6pm.” Out of resentment, I came the next chance at 5am and listened to you snore and snore. My resentment melted and I had a hard time not laughing out loud.

    I sat every morning and most evenings for several months after that. One day, I missed a morning and I noticed the regularity of practice faltered a bit. So, I resolved to sit every morning and did until I moved to Tassajara.

    For better and worse, you started my practice and I vow to keep it continuously without end.


  4. John Renwick / Feb 3 2014

    Jerome san

    Time has passed. I got to Tassajara for fall 2012 PP. Your ashes in the Kaisando the entire time.

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