What books do you recommend to learn more about Zen meditation and Buddhism?
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
OTHER RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
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.
Louisville Zen Center
What is Zen?
Zen is known as the meditation school of Buddhism. It generally refers to the cultivation, chiefly through meditation, of one-pointedness, stillness, and stability of the body-mind. Additionally, entering into every activity with mindfulness is Zen.
Can I practice Zen even though I'm not a Buddhist?
Yes. Zen teachings emphasize the personal experience of awakening and its integration into one's daily life regardless of religious and/or philosophical affiliation. In other words, you don't have to be a Buddhist to practice Zen nor will we attempt to convert you. Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, Co-Spiritual Director of the Rochester Zen Center, answers this and other questions about Zen and how it relates to Buddhism in this 5-minute video.
What is "awakening"?
Awakening, or enlightenment, is a spiritual unfolding to the truth lying beyond dualism and discrimination. With awakening the world of Onenesss, of harmony and peace, is experienced directly.
How do I do that?
Through zazen, or Zen meditation. Zen meditation recovers the mind's original openness by dissolving life-learned conditioning. Since Zen meditation isn’t limited to a seated position but continues through practicing mindfulness in every activity, one is freed to respond whole-heartedly to situations at hand rather than being enslaved by reacting through habitual, deluded notions about oneself, others, and the world. In this 12-minute video, Roshi Bodhin talks about the practical benefits of Zen meditation and the process of awakening.
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.
How much is the workshop?
Louisville Zen Center operates as much as possible on the Buddhist virtue of dana (or giving). There is no fee for the workshop, but you may give a donation, small or large. Giving from your heart whatever your circumstances allow will grant to future attendees what past contributors made possible for you. And because the organization is run by volunteers, donations go directly toward activities that support Zen practice allowing us to continue offering these services to others in the future.
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 continuing meditation instruction (Finding Your Seat, group instruction, Private Instruction, one-to-one advising) to address practice-related questions and other matters as they arise.
How long are periods of meditation?
During group practice, periods of sitting meditation (zazen) usually last 25 to 35 minutes each and walking meditation (kinhin) is 5 to 7 minutes each.
Do I need to bring my own meditation cushions to sittings?
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 gestures are used at the Louisville Zen Center? How do I do them?
Gestures often used at Louisville Zen Center, as well as most other Zen centers and sitting groups, are gassho, standing bow, seated bow, and prostrations.
Gassho is a gesture indicating respect, gratitude, humility, or all three. It prevents the scattering of attention, unifies seeming opposites (such as left and right, passive and dominant, etc.) expressing Oneness. The gesture is made by pressing the hands together, palm-to-palm, in front of the face so the hands meet without forming a gap. Fingers (including thumbs) are straight, not bent, with no spaces between them. Elbows are somewhat out and away from the body, although the forearms are not quite parallel with the floor. There is about one fist's distance between the tip of the nose and the hands. Fingertips are at about the same height as the nose. At LZC, we gassho when entering and exiting the zendo, after zazen, before kinhin (but not after), and for the Four Bodhisattvic Vows. Standing or seated bows as well as prostrations are usually accompanied by gassho.
Standing bow is most often used when entering and exiting the zendo, before kinhin (but not after), and at the end of sittings. To do a standing bow, stand up straight with the feet parallel to each other and hands in gassho. Bend at the waist so the torso forms about a 45 degree angle with the legs. The hands remain in gassho and move with the whole body.
Seated bow is the same as a standing bow, but is done while sitting down. It is often used when transitioning from a seated position to something else. At the Center, we do a seated bow before getting up from zazen (sitting meditation) to do kinhin (walking meditation). Also, during longer rounds of zazen, a bell is rung around mid-way for a posture change. We perform a seated bow before the posture change. And during formal Zen talks (teisho or Dharma talk), we maintain a zazen posture, but it’s o.k. to discreetly change positions once or twice during these longer talks. We do a seated bow before changing positions.
Prostrations are deep, full-body bows expressing respect and humility. To make a prostration, start in a standing position with hands in gassho, then lower oneself to the floor. Fold at the waist to flatten the body so the tops of the feet, both knees, elbows, and forearms touch the floor. Extend both hands beside (or slightly in front of) the head, palms upward. Then, bending the arms at the elbows, raise the hands off the floor, palms upward, to just above the ears. This gesture is usually performed after chanting the 4 Bodhisattvic Vows, for offerings and ceremonies, and most notably, before dokusan, the private meeting between teacher and student.
In his book Zen: Merging of East and West, Louisville Zen Center's Dharma grandfather, Roshi Philip Kapleau, speaks of his initial resistance to prostrating before his teacher in dokusan saying, "Why should I bow down before another human being? Are we not all supposed to be equally endowed with the Buddha-nature? Why doesn't he bow down before me? Anyway, what does all this have to do with Zen?" His teacher, seeing the conflict in his student responded, "Kapleau-san, when you make prostrations in dokusan, you are not bowing before me but before your own Buddha-nature." This revelation made all the difference in the world for Kapleau. "Aha! So I'm not bowing down to him, I'm bowing down to myself! That's different!" From then on, his prostrations came more easily.
Not only in the dokusan room, though. Anytime and anywhere we do prostrations, we are bowing before our own Buddha-nature. We are embodying, for everyone's sake, the aspiration to continually elevate our True Mind of wisdom, compassion, and virtue above our egoic, small-minded tendencies.
ENCOURAGEMENT STICK (KYOSAKU)
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 request 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.
ZEN CENTER LEADERSHIP
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 twelve 3JO priests and householders serving as leaders, teachers, and spiritual models for the 450+ members of Rochester Zen Center and its subordinate groups.
What is that bib-like thing 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.
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.