The First Zen Institute of America is a Rinzai institution for laypeople established by Sokei-an in New York, New York in 1930 as the Buddhist Society of America (changing its name after World War II). The emphasis on lay practice has its roots in the history of the organization. In 1875, the Japanese Rinzai Zen master Imakita Kosen founded a Zen institute, Ryomokyo-kai, dedicated to reviving Zen in Japan by recruiting talented and educated lay people.
Kosen's most celebrated disciple, Soyen Shaku, visited America in 1893 to attend the World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago. In 1902 he returned to America where he lectured and taught briefly. Soyen Shaku assigned responsibility for this lay Zen institute to his heir, Sokatsu Shaku. The First Zen Institute's founder, Sokei-an, was Sokatsu's student and came to America with him in 1906 to establish a Zen community.
When Sokatsu returned to Japan in 1910, Sokei-an remained to season his Zen and familiarize himself with the American character. After wandering across America and perfecting his English, Sokei-an made several trips back to Japan and in 1924 received credentials from Sokatsu as a Zen master.
Ongoing Practice at the First Zen Institute:
Despite having no teacher in residence, the institute does invite teachers such as Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi and Isshu Miura Roshi to provide instruction periodically. The institute holds public meditation once a week on Wednesday evenings, 7:30-9:30 p.m. and offers two-day meditation retreats, usually on the second weekend of each month."