The was founded in the late 1980s as the Second Generation Zen Teachers Group. It is a peer-group organization of ordained and lay Zen Buddhist teachers, all of whom have received either teaching authorization or dharma transmission from the mostly Asian Zen teachers who brought their practices to America in the second half of the twentieth century, or their heirs.
The first meetings of the AZTA were attended by a dozen or so people, reflecting what would be a Western Zen phenomenon of roughly equal numbers of men and women.
Today the AZTA has grown to over one hundred members, fifty or sixty of whom regularly attend its annual meetings. AZTA members serve Buddhist groups ranging from a dozen or so people who meet and practice in membersâ€™ homes or area churches to those serving three or four hundred members and who meet and practice in large temples and monasteries.
While it resists being a “credentialing body,” the prominence of the AZTA is such that with the increasing number of people who simply declare themselves “Zen masters” as well as the more problematic situation of people who can legitimately claim a technical lineage but have questionable preparation to actually guide others, the directory has become the defacto list of authentic Zen teachers in North America. As such, in addition to its stated mission of serving Western Zen teachers, the American Zen Teachers Association has become the principal way for those seeking authentic forms of Zen practice and teachers who stand within authentic lineages, whether derived from China, Japan, Korea or Vietnam, to find “real” Zen teachers.