Shohaku Okumura was born in Osaka, Japan in 1948. He studied Zen Buddhism at Komazawa University in Tokyo and was ordained by Kosho Uchiyama-roshi in 1970. They practiced together until 1975, when Okumura-roshi came to the United States. After practicing at the Pioneer Valley Zendo in Massachusetts until 1981, he returned to Japan, where he began translating Dogen Zenji's and Uchiyama-roshi's writings into English. Okumura-roshi was a teacher at the Kyoto Soto Zen Center and later at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has led sesshins and Dharma study groups in the United States, Japan, Europe and Latin America.
Kosho Uchiyama-roshi, Shohaku Okumura's teacher, is one of the most highly respected modern Japanese Zen Masters. In 1912, he was born in Tokyo, Japan. He received a Master's Degree in Western philosophy from Waseda University in 1937 and was ordained as a Soto Zen priest in 1941 under Kodo Sawaki-roshi. Upon Sawaki-roshi's death in 1965, Uchiyama-roshi became the abbot of Antai-ji, a monastery and temple then located in Kyoto, Japan. In 1975, he retired from Antai-ji and lived with his wife at Noke-in, a small temple outside Kyoto until his death on March 13, 1998.
Kodo Sawaki-roshi has been described as, "like an ancient Zen master: fearless and unconventional", by his disciple Uchiyama-roshi. By age 7, both his parents had died, an uncle who adopted him had also died and he was adopted by a professional gambler. At age 16, he went to Eihei-ji aspiring to become a monk. The next year he was ordained by Koho Sawada, abbot of Soshin-ji, and given the name, "Kodo". In 1923, he began travelling around Japan giving lectures and leading sesshins (retreats). He became a professor of Zen literature at Komazawa University in 1935 and taught there until 1963. He established Antai-ji Shichikurin Sanzen Dojo in 1949 and died there in 1965.