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.

People practice Zen for many reasons, including physical and mental well-being, as a support for other disciplines (other religious practice, music, art, sports, martial arts, healing, etc.), as a way to address their own personal suffering, as a way to better serve others, or simply because they are drawn to practice. Many people successfully combine Zen practice with other religious faiths or practices. Although Zen actually developed as a “school” of Buddhism, it is not necessary to declare yourself a Buddhist to practice Zen.

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, you are encouraged 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 held at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine, Illinois and Myoshinji (Subtle Mind Temple) in Monroe, Wisconsin. At the Palatine location, 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.

Weekly Zen Practice

There are opportunities for weekly Zazen practice in both of our locations. Click the links below to view the weekly schedule at your preferred location. For more information about our locations, including maps and driving directions, please click here.

Myoshinji Temple (Monroe, WI)

Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church (Palatine, IL)

 

Weekly Zazen Practice at Myoshinji, Monroe, Wisconsin

Zazen takes place Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:00 PM and on Friday mornings at 5:30 AM at Myoshinji (Subtle Mind Temple) in Monroe, Wisconsin. On Saturday mornings, a full morning service with chanting takes place at 8:30 AM followed by two periods of zazen at 9:00 with informal tea afterward. Practitioners at all levels of experience are welcome to attend. Meditation cushions or chairs are provided. Participants can arrive at 8:30 if they wish to take part in the morning service, or they can simply arrive a few minutes before 9 AM for sitting. Participants should wear dark, loose-fitting clothing. For comfort and decorum, we ask that visitors refrain from wearing shorts and jeans (sweatpants are ok).

Sittings are composed of two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) of approximately thirty minutes each, with a ten-minute session of kinhin(walking meditation) in between.

After the sitting starts, newcomers are led out to another room for brief zazen and procedural instruction. Even if you have previous experience, it is a good idea to attend this instruction to become familiar with procedures and traditions at GPZC. 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 to have individual instruction leave the zendo and line up in the entryway. An attendant will help if you are unfamiliar with this procedure.

After the second zazen period ends, we chant the Four Great Vows three times:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.

Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.

The Dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

One Saturday per month, Fusatsu (Renewal of the Vows) is held following the second sitting. Please check our calendar page for specific dates.

Participation in our weekly sitting schedule also offers an opportunity for those interested to learn to perform liturgical roles (ringing bells, setting up the altar, handing out sutra (chant) books, acting as timekeeper for sitting periods). This is not only wonderful training, but gives practitioners an opportunity to take on responsibilities and leadership roles.

Volunteer opportunities at Myoshinji

Fridays (all day) and Saturday afternoons are open work days at Myoshinji. Members of the community are welcome to come and spend a few hours weeding, planting, cleaning, sewing, painting and participating in special work projects. Meals and overnight accommodations (if needed) are provided for those coming to volunteer their time to help at Myoshinji.

 


 

Weekly Zazen Practice at GPZC, Palatine, Illinois

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). Please plan to arrive by 6:45, particularly if you are coming for the first time.

Our weekly sittings are composed of two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) of approximately thirty minutes each, with a ten-minute session of kinhin(walking meditation) in between.

After the sitting starts, newcomers are led out to another room for brief zazen and procedural instruction. Even if you have previous experience, it is a good idea to attend this instruction to become familiar with procedures and traditions at GPZC. 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 to have individual instruction leave the zendo and line up in a room or hallway outside. An attendant will help if you are unfamiliar with this procedure.

After the second zazen period ends, we chant the Four Great Vows three times:

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.

Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.

The Dharmas are boundless; I vow to master them.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable; I vow to attain it.

Afterwards, there are brief announcements, and the sitting is over (generally around 8:30 PM).

Our weekly sittings occur each Sunday, with some exceptions, such as major holidays. Fusatsu (Renewal of the Vows) is held one night each month, in place of the second sitting. Also once per month, Roshi or a senior student gives a formal talk, or teisho, during the second period. Please check our calendar page for specific dates.

Participation in our weekly sitting schedule also offers an opportunity for those interested to learn to perform liturgical roles (ringing bells, setting up the altar, handing out sutra (chant) books, acting as timekeeper for sitting periods). This is not only wonderful training, but gives all practitioners an opportunity to take on responsibilities and leadership roles.

We are sometimes asked whether it is OK 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 would be fine.