Nashville Zen Center

Information about this center is no longer updated. This data was last updated on 26 September 2013.

Contact Information

Address: 2301 12th Avenue South #202, Nashville, TN 37204

The Nashville Zen Center is the only non-residential Soto Zen sangha in Nashville that offers classic Japanese Soto style practice. The center offers a weekly meditation sitting, a formal worship service, dharma talks, and book study group sessions. In addition to this schedule, there are many opportunities for Nashville Zen practitioners to study at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center (ASZC). The Nashville Zen Center maintains a strong connection with ASZC, as most of its senior members are students of Sensei Taiun Michael Elliston, Roshi, abbott of ASZC, and head of the Silent Thunder Order of Soto Zen practice. The Nashville Zen Center offers traditional practice in the lineage of Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi. Soyu Matsuoka came to the United States after World War II to serve Japanese immigrants. In 1949, he established the Chicago Buddhist Temple, and by the 1960s, he gathered a following of Americans interested in Buddhist practice. The current leader of the Nashville Zen Center, Nat Brown, emphasizes that all are welcome to attend meditation sessions. “Buddhism is very welcoming,” Brown said. “Those [who] are gay—divorced—whatever—are accepted into our community.” Located at the 12South Dharma Center on 12th Avenue South, the Nashville Zen Center currently shares space with both Nashville Shambhala and One Dharma Nashville.


The Nashville Zen Center was founded by three college professors in 1982. Initially, the group met in private homes for meditation sessions and was associated with the Korean Zen School. When Nat Brown joined the group in 1996, meditation was held at Unity Church on Franklin Road. Due to growing numbers, the group changed it’s name from the “Nashville Zen Group” to the “Nashville Zen Center” in 2000. In 2008, the Center moved to the 12South Dharma Center on 12th Avenue South. While the Nashville Zen Center does not currently engage in collaborative projects with other Buddhist groups in the Nashville area, it was one of the founders of the Nashville Buddhist Festival, an annual event at the Unity Church from 2005 to 2008. The Buddhist Festival brought together all of Nashville’s Buddhistsanghas to share information about their practices with the wider Nashville community. The festival celebrated religious diversity and gave Nashvillians an opportunity to learn about various Buddhistsanghas in the area. “It was a way for people to shop around,” Brown said. “They could read brochures, speak with people, and just figure out which type of sangha was right for them.” The festival was discontinued due to scheduling complications and planning difficulties and, at the time of this writing, it is unknown whether there have been more recent efforts or expressed interest to revive the festival. 

Activities & Schedule

The Nashville Zen Center meets every Tuesday evening at 7pm for two 25 minute meditation sessions with a 5 minute walking meditation between. The sitting is followed by an informal dharma discussion and chant. On Saturday mornings at 7am, the Center offers an extended meditation followed by a Heart Sutra service. Group book studies are offered throughout the year, and attendees are encouraged to peruse the “News and Announcements” section of the Center’s website for information about upcoming group studies. During summer 2013, the Center held book study sessions discussing The Heart Sutra, translation and commentary by Red Pine.


Nyoze Chin-Gu Nat Brown is the Senior Practice Leader at the Nashville Zen Center. Although Brown was raised in a Methodist family, he was exposed to Eastern-style meditation as a teenager. Brown explored many different Christian denominations and particularly enjoyed the ritualistic liturgy offered by the Episcopal Church. He was drawn to Buddhism in 1996 when he attended his first Zen Group meeting at the Unity Church in Nashville. Brown trained with the lead teacher at the Atlanta Zen Center and became the primary leader of the Nashville Zen Center in 2006. He was ordained a novice Zen priest on June 29, 2013. 


Approximately 4-12 people attend any given service at the Nashville Zen Center. Tuesday night meditation sessions tend to attract more people than the formal worship service on Saturday mornings. Although the community is overwhelmingly composed of middle-aged, Caucasians, the Center’s proximity to Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, and David Libscomb University has encouraged interest and attendance from college students. The Center has continued to grow since its founding in 1982. Brown attributes this growth to increased interest in Buddhism throughout Middle Tennessee. “Buddhism is more rational and logical than faith-based religion,” he said. “It is a spiritual path wtihout the God package. It offers a way to cope with yourself and reality no matter how hard it is.”