Louisville Zen Center
How can I get started?
Those new to Zen meditation, wanting a refresher, or new to practicing with Louisville Zen Center can attend the Introduction to Zen Meditation. We ask that you stay for the entire session(s). Afterwards you may participate in most of the Center's other activities and even become a member.
What if I already know how to meditate?
Everyone is still asked to follow Louisville Zen Center's forms and customs (see below) while in attendance so be sure to arrive about 15 minutes early for a brief orientation before your first group meditation.
I attended the Introduction to Zen Meditation workshop but still have questions. What do I do?
Zen has always been a mentor-based path. It can be very helpful to consult with a spiritual friend along the way. For that reason, Louisville Zen Center offers different forms of continuing meditation instruction to address practice-related questions and other matters as they arise.
Do I need to bring my own meditation cushions?
Feel free to bring your own cushions. Traditional meditation equipment is provided at Heart of Perfect Wisdom Zendo (HPWZ) and yoga equipment (bolsters, blankets, blocks, and chairs) are provided at Infinite Bliss Yoga (IBY).
What should I wear?
Wear loose-fitting clothes. Pants should be loose; it can be difficult to comfortably sit cross-legged in jeans, for example. Skirts should be ample enough to sit with the legs crossed.
How can I get more involved?
Through membership in the Louisville Zen Center. The more you participate in Zen Center sittings, meditation retreats, and other activities, the more support you draw from our welcoming community and, just as important, the more support you provide to the community. Volunteering and work practice are other ways to feel more connected to the Center, the sangha, and your practice of meditation.
What is that stick for?
The encouragement stick is applied during periods of sitting meditation at the request of the individual practitioner. It has been used in Zen training for centuries to rouse energy, lift sitters out of drowsiness, dissolve nagging thoughts, and relax tired or tensed muscles (one teacher calls it a “Japanese massage stick”). The stick is never applied punitively; it serves to keep the zendo atmosphere crisp and awake, and monitors who use the stick do so only after thorough training. A more complete history and explanation of the use of the stick in formal sittings and sesshins is available here.
Do I have to receive the stick?
No. At Louisville Zen Center, the stick is used only upon request as an aid to meditation. You never have to ask for the stick, nor will you be pressured into receiving it. It, generally, is not applied to pregnant women.
How do I ask for the stick?
Place the hands palm-to-palm at forehead-level as the zendo monitor approaches. Remain in that position until the monitor touches your right shoulder with the stick, then drop the hands in your lap keeping the head still and shoulders relaxed. You will be struck twice on each shoulder at points corresponding to acupuncture meridians. After the stick has been applied, again raise the hands palm-to-palm briefly as a sign of gratitude before returning them to the sitting meditation position.
Why do you chant?
Chanting is another way of embodying the direct, non-conceptual way of Zen. Even though most of the chants at the Center are in English, conscious understanding of the meaning of the words is unimportant. Of primary importance is the mind-state cultivated by chanting - namely, absolute oneness to the point of self-forgetfulness.
How can I learn to chant?
Listen to sutra chanting often and practice. To find your chanting voice:
First, read the text in your regular speaking voice allowing the pitch to rise and fall naturally.
Next, read the same text in a monotone without allowing the pitch to "rise".
Keep reading the text in a monotone. Divide the words into even, choppy syllables.
Soften and relax the choppiness by slurring syllables together to form one continuous drone of sound.
Allow the monotonic droning to resonate in the chest and head cavities.
What is that bib-like garment that some people wear?
The rakusu is a traditional Zen Buddhist vestment dating back to the ninth century. In our Zen lineage, those who have met certain criteria, which includes Jukai (taking the precepts ceremony), may receive a brown one. Senior students who join the Three Jewels Order receive a black one. Other colors indicate the person is a sanctioned teacher or is practicing in a different Zen lineage.
What is the Three Jewels Order (3JO)?
The 3JO is a Buddhist order of priests and householders who, after extensive Zen practice, training, and study, have committed to making service to Buddha (awakening), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (community) the focal point of their lives. 3JO members are acknowledged as clergy and can perform the functions normally associated with this vocation. Currently there are about a dozen 3JO priests and householders serving as leaders, teachers, and spiritual models for the 450+ members of Rochester Zen Center and its subordinate groups.
Who makes decisions at the Center?
Our group leader is responsible for spiritual affairs (Zen practice and training activities) and is assisted in this by zendo monitors and others in the sangha. Our Group Leader is a member of the Center’s Board of Directors. Our Board is responsible for financial matters and other secular affairs. The Board of Directors establishes administrative policy, makes long-term planning decisions, and ensures LZC is administered legally and in a fiscally-responsible manner.
Louisville Zen Center operates as much as possible on the Buddhist virtue of dana (or giving). The organization is run entirely by volunteers. Our Group Leader, zendo monitors, Board of Directors, and other workers and advisers are freely giving their services to Louisville Zen Center.
What books or other resources do you recommend?
The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau
Zen: Merging of East and West by Roshi Philip Kapleau
To Cherish All Life by Roshi Philip Kapleau
The Zen of Living and Dying by Roshi Philip Kapleau
Awakening to Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau
Straight to the Heart of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau
Finding Your Seat by Sensei Amala Wrightson
What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
Buddhism: A Way of Life and Thought by Nancy Wilson Ross
Buddhism by Huston Smith and Philip Novak
Golden Age of Zen by John Wu
Zen Essence translated by Thomas Cleary
Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran
The Practice of Perfection by Roshi Robert Aitken
Encouraging Words by Roshi Robert Aitken
Zen Bow published four times a year by the Rochester Zen Center. Can be read on-line. A complimentary paper subscription is offered to Louisville Zen Center members.
Podcasts. Zen talks by our teachers and other RZC members are available to be streamed or downloaded.
Streaming audio. Practicing with live audio streaming of Rochester Zen Center formal sittings, chanting, and Zen talks feels like practicing with others and can be a real help to maintaining a regular home sitting schedule.
Videos. Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede speaks about the basics of Buddhism, Zen, and practicing Zen in our lineage.
Endless Knot Cushions provides zazen mats, cushions, and customized sitting robes. When ordering a robe, be sure to select the brown, Rochester Zen Center-style lay outer robe.