Starting Zen Practice
Zen emerges from the vast 2,500 year old religion of Buddhism. From our original Indian teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha ("the one who woke up"), Zen Buddhism has been passed down through many generations of practitioners, ever evolving as it takes root in different countries and cultures. At the heart of Zen Buddhism is the simple yet profound practice of zazen, a form of meditation, often known simply as "sitting." The regular practice of zazen, under the guidance of a teacher and with the support of a practice community, offers all individuals the opportunity to awaken to, and express, their own natural wisdom.
In addition to the information on this page, we also offer an Introduction to Zen Practice booklet, available as a PDF download.
Introduction to Zen Workshops
To help you get started, the Zen Center urges you to attend one of our monthly Introduction to Zen Practice workshops. These workshops provide practitioners with basic, practical information on how to meditate, how to establish regular home and daily Zen practice, the aims of practice, and what opportunities for additional or more advanced practice are offered. Attendance at an introductory workshop is required of anyone who would like to become a member of the Great Plains Zen Center.
Workshops are half-day events (8:30 to 11:30 AM) and are generally held at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine, Illinois. An optional, informal lunch is provided. First-time workshop participants are asked to make a $25 donation. (There is no charge for repeating the workshop!) For more information and to register for upcoming workshops, please see our calendar.
The Zen Center holds zazen every Sunday at 7:00 PM at Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church at 1025 N. Smith Street in Palatine, Illinois. Practitioners at all levels of experience are welcome to attend. Meditation cushions or chairs are provided. Participants should wear dark, loose-fitting clothing. For comfort and decorum, we ask that visitors refrain from wearing shorts and jeans (sweatpants are ok).
Our sittings officially begin at 7:00 PM. People start gathering as early as fifteen minutes prior to this to get the zendo set up and otherwise organize the sitting. Typically, we may not actually start sitting until a few minutes after the official start. The minutes before we start sitting are a good time to introduce yourself and chat.
Our weekly sittings are composed of two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) of approximately thirty minutes each, with an approximately ten-minute session of kinhin (walking meditation) in between.
After the sitting starts, newcomers are led out to another room for a short instruction and discussion on how to do zazen, etc. Even if you have experience, it is a good idea to attend these instructions as our particular traditions might be different than what you are accustomed to. This group usually rejoins the sitting before the end of the first zazen period, or during kinhin at the latest.
At some point during the zazen periods, a monitor may walk around with a stick called the kyosaku, the "stick of compassion." Used as an aid for the participants to ward off drowsiness and to help concentration, the kyosaku is not a form of punishment, and is used only by request. As the monitor approaches them, some participants will request the kyosaku by placing their hands together in gassho. The monitor will carefully strike them with measured force on a part of their shoulders or back near the neck. Besides the obvious effect of increasing alertness, many find that receiving a blow from the kyosaku can actually relax tense muscles.
Frequently, at some point during the sitting, there will be an opportunity to meet privately with Myoyu Roshi. This is called dokusan. When dokusan is announced, those who wish a private interview leave the zendo and line up in a room or hallway outside.
After the second zazen period ends, we chant the Four Great Vows three times:
Afterwards, there are brief announcements, and the sitting is over (generally around 8:30 PM). People are welcome to stay for a while afterwards to chat and enjoy tea and cookies.
Please wear dark, modest, comfortable clothes. Your legs should be covered; don't wear shorts or short skirts. The philosophy is that you shouldn't wear clothes that might be distracting or stand out. Zazen sessions are not the time to express your individuality. If you attend one of our sittings, you will probably notice that most practitioners wear black, dark blue, or gray clothes at sittings.
There is no registration for our weekly sittings; you can just show up.
Our weekly sittings very consistently occur each Sunday, except fusatsu and teisho nights and some major holidays. Fusatsu is held one night each month, in place of the usual sitting. It's usually held the third Sunday of each month. Roshi generally gives a formal talk, or teisho, on the first Sunday of each month. Please check our calendar for our fusatsu schedule.
We are sometimes asked whether it is alright to just watch a typical practice session on a Sunday evening. This question usually comes from students taking a class on Buddhism or a related subject. As it would be distracting to participants, we usually do not allow people who are not participating to be in the room. However, if you are a student and wish to actually participate, even if only for the learning experience, that is quite alright.
Other Practice Opportunities
Finally, the Zen Center holds bi-monthly three-to-seven day silent retreats (sesshin) throughout the year. Students may also attend the longest intensive residential training period (ango) held each summer. These periods of sustained, intensive practice, with many hours of zazen each day, provide an ideal opportunity to focus on and deepen practice. Please see our retreats page for more information on these forms of practice.