Who We Are

The Dharma Centre is the home of contemporary Zen in Africa, and was started by Heila and Rodney Downey during 1981 in Somerset West.

At the end of 1994 we relocated to the beautiful country town Robertson, whilst at the same time establishing a new urban centre in Rondebosch, Cape Town. Since the beginning of 2018 we moved from Rondebosch to our new home, the Sufi Temple, in Newlands. We now have a dynamic and energetic sangha, ever growing in numbers!

Our Zen heritage and African Dharma

For some years the Centre based its activities and teaching format on that of the Rochester Zen Centre, led by Philip Kapleau Roshi, who after many years of formal training at Japanese Temples, had become one of the pioneers of American Zen.

In 1991, inspired by the teaching of Zen Master Seungh Sahn, who in the early 70’s established Korean Zen on American soil, we changed direction and formally adopted the teaching and practice style of the Kwan Um School of Zen, whilst still drawing on our insights and experiences gleaned whilst practicing with the Rochester Zen Centre. It was during this year that we were officially appointed as the Head Temple of the school in Africa under guidance of Su Bong Zen Master, who played a pivotal role in the further development of the Centre and school until his death in 1994.

With changing times, our practice and teaching has evolved to express a style in harmony with our African heritage resulting in our resignation from the Kwan Um School of Zen. With this change, we function as an independent Zen Center, whilst expanding our MAIA program – (Mindful Awareness in Action), currently predominantly taught in prison, as part of the sustainable rehabilitation protocol for inmates. We have also developed a very unique program called The 20 Steps. A detailed program enabling participants to bring meticulous awareness to every activity in daily life.

In 2001, at the invitation of Tania Lohman from Porto Allegre, we started teaching in Brazil on a yearly basis and the ‘Modesto Grupo de Meditadores’ was started. This group too has relinquished their relationship with The Kwan Um School of Zen.

As the African Dharma continues to develop and grow, Zen Master Seung Sahn’s legacy and teaching will continue to sustain and encourage us in the never-ending quest of “Who am I” and “How May I Help You?