Toni Packer

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Toni Packer
Toni Packer (1978).jpg
Toni Packer (1978)
BornApril, 1927
Died23 August 2013 aged 86
Livingston County Center for Nursing in Mt Morris, NY.
Known forMeditative inquiry
Spouse(s)Kyle Packer

Toni Packer (April, 1927 – August 23, 2013) was a teacher of "meditative inquiry", and the founder of Springwater Center. [1] Packer was a former student in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Zen Buddhism, and was previously in line to be the successor of Phillip Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center. [ citation needed ]



Toni Packer was born in Berlin, Germany in 1927. Her family was Lutheran in name only, as they endeavored not to divulge the fact that her mother was of Jewish descent. It was in her childhood, growing up amidst the turmoil of Nazi Germany, that Packer first developed mistrust for authority. The family eventually made a move to Switzerland, where she married her husband Kyle Packer in 1950. The pair moved to New York near the State University of New York at Buffalo, where Kyle came to earn a degree in psychology. Toni began reading the pioneering works about Zen Buddhism by Alan Watts, D. T. Suzuki and Philip Kapleau. It was the latter which had the greatest impact on her, and she soon joined the nearby Rochester Zen Center with her husband.

Throughout the 1970s she accepted minor teaching positions at Rochester, and in 1981 she ran the center for an extended period in Kapleau's absence. During this time she instituted many changes in the practice there; for example, she discontinued wearing the abbreviated Buddhist robe called a rakusu, worn in some Japanese Zen circles to distinguish more advanced practitioners.

In 1980, Toni visited Roshi Kapleau in Mexico, where he was on a sabbatical while she ran the Zen Center.  According to Roshi Kapleau's  assistant, who was present at the meeting, Toni had  “reached a point where she felt she could no longer practice in a Buddhist context.” [2]   When Toni's decision to no longer practice at the Center was announced to the Zen membership (sangha), there was a period of  dismay and even acrimony – more so among individual members than between Roshi Kapleau and Toni,  However, several years after Toni left the Zen Center, Roshi Kapleau visited the Springwater Center that Toni and her group had established. Several decades later, Toni was invited to speak by phone with Roshi Kapleau as he was dying.

In 1981 she founded the Genesee Valley Zen Center, in Rochester, New York. In 1986 the center relocated and changed its name, dropping the word Zen to become the Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreats in Springwater, New York. [3] [4] The Springwater Center is incorporated under New York State law as a religious institution.

Packer has rejected labels for herself such as a teacher or authority, though some of the individuals she has asked to carry on her work do not. [lower-alpha 1] The word "Zen" was dropped from the Center's name as a result of Packer's move away from Japanese Zen Buddhist traditions. [5]

Teaching style

Her discursion of meditative inquiry is informed largely by her own vision, but also by the talks and writings of J. Krishnamurti. [6]

Up to 16 retreats are held a year, giving a blend of ritual-less zen and Neo-Advaita silent retreats, and David Bohm style dialogues/group meetings.

Packer has been described as "...a Zen teacher minus the 'Zen' and minus the 'teacher,'" [3] emphasizing the importance of meditative inquiry without practicing Buddhism. [7] Though stripped of rituals, Packer still found the practice of zazen to be useful.


See also


  1. as evidenced on the Springwater Center web site

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  1. "Remembering meditation teacher Toni Packer (1927 – 2013)". Lion's Roar. August 24, 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  2. YouTube video: “Bodhin Kjolhede on the Late Toni Packer”
  3. 1 2 Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Wisdom Publications. pp.  159–62. ISBN   0-86171-509-8.
  4. Coleman, James William (2001). The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. Oxford University Press. pp.  82. ISBN   0-19-515241-7.
  5. Kraft, Kenneth (1988). Zen: Tradition and Transition. Grove Press. pp.  195. ISBN   0-8021-3162-X.
  6. Smith, Huston; Novak, Philip (2004). Buddhism: A Concise Introduction. HarperCollins. pp.  159. ISBN   0-06-073067-6.
  7. Prebish, Charles S.; Baumann, Martin (2002). Westward Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Asia. University of California Press. pp.  227–228. ISBN   0-520-22625-9.