For those of a similar name, see Norman Fisher (disambiguation).

Zoketsu Norman Fischer (c. 1946) is an American Soto Zen roshi, poet and Buddhist author practicing in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. He is a Dharma heir of Sojun Mel Weitsman, from whom he received Dharma transmission in 1988. After having served as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center from 1995–2000, Fischer founded the Everyday Zen Foundation[1] in 2000, a network of sanghas with chapters in Canada, the United States and Mexico. He has authored several essays on interreligious dialogues, and to that end has attended gatherings such as the 2002 Gethsemani Encounter held at The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky (where the Trappist Thomas Merton lived). Fischer has also stayed in touch with his Jewish heritage, occasionally attending services at Beth Sholom synagogue in San Francisco, California and offering instruction in meditation to interested parties there. In addition, he has also served as mentor to teenage boys—all of which is chronicled in his book Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up. Fischer also serves on the faculty of the Metta Institute[2] and on the board of directors for the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California.[3]


Norman Fischer was born to a Jewish family in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1946. As a child he attended services with his parents at a conservative synagogue—an activity he recalls fondly.[4] After studying poetry at the University of Iowa and then completing further studies at both the University of California, Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union, Fischer and his wife Kathie gave birth to two twin boys—Noah and Aron.[5] He was then ordained as a Zen priest in 1980 in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki. In 1988 he received Dharma transmission from his longtime teacher, Sojun Mel Weitsman.[6] He held the position of director at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County, California starting in 1981, and from 1995–2000 he served as co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) with Blanche Hartman (Hartman installed in 1996).[7] Today, as a senior Dharma teacher for them, Fischer continues to teach at SFZC. In 2000 he founded the Everyday Zen Foundation,[1] which today has practice groups in Canada, the United States and Mexico. That same year he was hired as a consultant by now-failed online fashion company, owned by Mel and Patricia Ziegler. Fischer said of the job, "I have absolutely nothing to offer ZoZa...which is what the Zieglers really love!"[8] As a poet, most of Fischer's work has been published in limited quantity, with nine publications released to date. Fischer is also one of three executors of poet Philip Whalen's work—a former abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center who died in 2002—along with Michael Rothenberg and Leslie Scalapino.[9]

Interreligious dialogue

Fischer is a proponent of inter-religious dialogue between the worlds' religions, stating, "I feel that in our period it is the challenge of religious traditions to do something more than simply reassert and reinterpret their faiths, hoping for loyal adherents to what they perceive to be the true doctrine. Looking back at the last century, with its devastating wars and holocausts and the shock of ecological vulnerability, I have the sense that religious traditions must now have a wider mission, and it is in the recognition of this mission, I believe, that interreligious dialogue becomes something not only polite and interesting, but also essential."[10] He currently sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, and inter-religious dialogue organization. [11] He also attended a five-day meeting between members of different religions in July 1996 held at The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky, where he gave a talk about Dogen, zazen, and the importance of religions coming together—despite their different philosophies—to serve humanity.[12]

Fischer will sometimes attend services offered at Beth Shalom synagogue in San Francisco, and offers members there instruction in meditation. He has struggled with the concept of God integral to Judaism and many other religions. In his book Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms, Fischer replaced the words "God", "King", and "Lord" with the word "You." He says of this, "For many of the religious seekers I encounter, the word God has been all but emptied of its spiritual power. The relationship to God that is charted out in the Psalms is a stormy one, co-dependent, passionate, confusing, loyal, petulant, sometimes even manipulative. I wanted to find a way to approach these poems so as to emphasize the relational aspect, while avoiding the major distancing pitfalls that words like God, King, Lord and so on create."[13]

Fischer describes Letters to a Buddhist Jew, a work authored by noted author and inspirational speaker Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz as "a fascinating book—the most serious contribution in this field to date."[14]

Personal life

Fischer, the father of two sons, lives in Muir Beach, California (near Green Gulch Farm) with his wife Kathie.[9]


  • Fischer, Norman. Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong. Shambhala Publications, 2013 ISBN 9781611800401
  • Fischer, Norman. Questions/Places/Voices/Seasons . San Diego, CA: Singing Horse Press, 2009. ISBN 9780935162431
  • Fischer, Norman. Sailing Home: Using Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls. Simon and Schuster, 2008. ISBN 1416560211
  • Fischer, Norman. Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. New York: Viking Press, 2002. ISBN 0670030619
  • Fischer, Norman. Taking Our Places : The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. ISBN 0060505516
  • Fischer, Norman. I Was Blown Back. San Diego, CA: Singing Horse Press, 2005. ISBN 0935162321
  • Fischer, Norman. Precisely the Point Being Made: A Book of Poems. Minneapolis : Chax Press, 1993. ISBN 1882022149
  • Fischer, Norman. Whalen, Philip. Slowly But Dearly. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 2004. ISBN 0925904414
  • Fischer, Norman. On Whether or Not to Believe in Your Mind. Great Barrington: The Figures, 1987. ISBN 0935724265
  • Fischer, Norman. Turn Left In Order to Go Right. Oakland, CA: O Books, 1989. ISBN 1882022009
  • Fischer, Norman. Jerusalem Moonlight: An American Zen Teacher Walks the Path of His Ancestors. San Francisco, CA: Clear Glass Press, 1995. ISBN 0931425468
  • Fischer, Norman. Berry, Patrick. Henry, Patrick (Ed.). Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict. New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. ISBN 1573221902
  • Fischer, Norman. Success: A Poem. Philadelphia, PA: Singing Horse Press, 2000. ISBN 0935162194
  • Fischer, Norman. The Devices. Elmwood, Conn: Potes and Poets Press, 1987. ISBN 0937013218
  • Fischer, Norman. Like a Walk Through a Park. Berkeley, CA: Open Books, 1980. ISBN 0931416019
  • Fischer, Norman. The Narrow Roads of Japan. San Francisco, CA: Ex Nihilo Press, 1998. ISBN 096632241X
  • Fischer, Norman. Why People Lack Confidence In Chairs: A Poem. West Branch, Iowa: Coffee House Press, 1984. ISBN 0918273072


  1. ^ a b Everyday Zen Foundation
  2. ^ Metta Institute: Board of Directors
  3. ^ Zen Hospice Project: Board of Directors
  4. ^ Loundon, Sumi (2006). The Buddha's Apprentices: More Voices of Young Buddhists. Boston: Wisdom Publications. pp. 125–130. ISBN 086171332X. 
  5. ^ Lattin, Don (2003-06-15). "Father, Buddhist are one and the same: Writer finds new truth through parenting role". SFGate. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  6. ^ San Francisco Zen Center: Lineage
  7. ^ Prebish, Charles S.; Martin Baumann (2002). Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 226. ISBN 0520226259. OCLC 48871649. 
  8. ^ Hellman, Peter (2000-09-28). "AT HOME WITH/MEL AND PATRICIA ZIEGLER; About to Hatch Their Third Republic". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  9. ^ a b Schelling, Andrew (2005). The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry. Boston: Wisdom Publications. p. 77. ISBN 0861713923. OCLC 57434351. 
  10. ^ Barnhart, Bruno; Yuese Huang (2001). Purity of Heart and Contemplation: A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 16. ISBN 082641348X. OCLC 47136534. 
  11. ^ The Elijah Interfaith Institute - Buddhist Members of the Board of World Religious Leaders
  12. ^ Mitchell, Donald William; James A. Wiseman (1997). The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life by Buddhist and Christian Monastics. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 41, 47. ISBN 0826411657. OCLC 47815345. 
  13. ^ Lattin, Don (2002-09-08). "'Buddhist' translation of biblical Psalms". SFGate. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  14. ^ Medical ethicist, mysticism expert to lecture locally

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