John Tarrant

John Tarrant (born 1949) is a Western Zen teacher who explores koans as a way to discover freedom and unexpected openings. Tarrant is the founder and director of the Pacific Zen Institute (PZI). PZI has large centers in California, Arizona, and Canada as well as "small groups" in many states throughout America. Tarrant teaches and writes about the transformation of consciousness through the use of the Zen koan and trains koan meditation teachers. Tarrant grew up in the City of Launceston on Bass Strait.

Tarrant was born in Australia and came from an old Tasmanian family. He was influenced early in his life by English literature, especially poetry, the Latin Mass, the Tasmanian bush, and Australian Aboriginal culture. Tarrant worked at many jobs, ranging from laboring in an open-pit mine, to commercial fishing the Great Barrier Reef. Eventually he also worked as a lobbyist for the Australian Aboriginal land rights movement. Tarrant attended the University of Tasmania and then the Australian National University, where he earned a degree in Human Sciences and English Literature. He later earned a Ph.D. in Psychology from Saybrook Institute in San Francisco. He wrote his doctoral thesis on "The Design of Enlightenment in Koan Zen" and for twenty years was a Jungian psychotherapist working on dream analysis at the same time as he developed his teaching of koans.

Tarrant's first Buddhist studies, in the early 1970s, were with Tibetan Lamas who visited Australia. He discovered koans (stories sometimes given to Zen practitioners to hasten and refine insight and enlightenment) and, lacking any teachers in the Southern Hemisphere, worked on them by himself for a number of years. Later in the United States he passed his first koans with Korean teacher Seung Sahn. He studied with Robert Baker Aitken in Hawaii for 9 years and was Aitken’s first dharma heir. He also did advanced koan work with Koun Yamada. He began teaching in 1983. In 1987 he founded the organization that evolved into the Pacific Zen Institute (PZI) in Santa Rosa, California, devoted to koan work and the arts.