Village Zendo Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Village Zendo?

The Village Zendo is a community of people who meditate, study, and observe rituals together. Our lineage comes through both the Soto and Rinzai lines of Japanese-style Zen, and yet we are a recognizably ‘American-style’ Zen community.

Does one have to be a member to participate?

No, everyone is welcome, and encouraged to join all of our activities. Membership is not necessary, but does help to support the Zendo through dues that we can depend on.

How is the Zendo financed?

The Zendo supports itself through donations, membership dues, store earnings, and program fees.

Who runs it?

The Zendo is volunteer-based, and runs itself through a Board of Directors that makes financial and policy decisions, and an Executive Committee that meets monthly to coordinate the various activities. Roshi Enkyo O’Hara acts as the Spiritual Director and guides the teaching functions of the Zendo. If you would like to help out, just sign up for a committee.

What about the robes?

It is not necessary to wear a robe. Members wear them for various reasons: robes are worn in many traditions; they foster a sense of ‘visual quiet’, a sense of similarity among the sitters; a material reminder of preparing for meditation; they are comfortable.

I see people wearing bib-like garments around their necks, what are they?

The rakusu is a miniature ‘buddha robe’ and signifies that the wearer has taken refuge and a vow to follow the Bodhisattva precepts (Buddhist ethical guidelines). Typically, the wearer has practiced for a year or so with the teacher and community, and studied the precepts, before making the commitment. The commitment ceremony is called “Jukai”.

Some people are wearing more elaborate robes and have bowing cloths. What does that mean?

The novices who wear the traditional black Soto robes are training to serve as priests.  These are practitioners who over the course of practice feel that they wish to take on the role and appearance of a caretaker of the Zendo and its community. Being a novice or a priest indicates nothing about a person’s spiritual insight, seniority, or position in the community.  The majority of advanced practitioners are not ordained.

What about the head shaving?

These days shaving your head can be a fashion statement, or a message saying, “I am interested in spirituality”. It is traditional to shave your head when ordaining, but no longer required for novices or priests. Originally it conveyed the sense of cutting off one’s attachments but these days it is rarely understood in such a way.

What about the people who do not wear the priest’s robes?

They are lay practitioners. The co-founder of the Zendo, and senior teacher, is Barbara Joshin O’Hara who leads the lay path of practice here at the Zendo. This path emphasizes the humility and simplicity of practice and eschews outward display of one’s inner dedication. Lay practice is very strong at the Village Zendo.

Who gives talks and teachings?

It is easy to talk about Zen; it is not easy to speak with genuine insight. Therefore, the path to giving talks is long and carefully checked. After years of practice and working with the teacher, a Zen student is recognized as a practice leader, and during a formal ceremony presents a talk and dialogue with the community. After that, the ‘senior’ is permitted and encouraged to give talks at the zendo.

What is a Zen student?

We call a practitioner a ‘student’ because we value the mind of the seeker, one who looks at experience and wishes to investigate, to learn more.

What do the titles ‘roshi’ and ‘sensei’ and ‘hoshi’ mean?

Roshi means old teacher. Sensei means teacher. Hoshi means dharma holder (assistant teacher). These are titles of respect that indicate authorizations to teach.

What is the monthly ‘Practice and Inquiry Circle’ meeting?

Many spiritual traditions have group meetings where silence and speaking interact. Ancient Buddhist and Native American practices have emphasized the value of listening to one another and offering a simple truth. Within the context of our meditation, we explore these forms in a Practice and Inquiry Circle the first Sunday every month. Usually there is a topic selected, and each of us in turn offers a few words, or silence, about the subject. It is a practice of intimacy and community.

Sometimes there is a call for ‘daisan’ or ‘dokusan’ – what are they?

Both of these are face-to-face interviews with a Zen teacher. They are an opportunity to ask a question and test one’s understanding.

What’s a retreat like?

Retreats, whether held here at the Zendo or at a retreat center, are ways to deepen our practice by engaging in intensive meditation for an extended period of time. They also include dharma talks, private interview and liturgy. The Zendo runs monthly one-day retreats (zazenkais) and longer retreats (sesshins), held at various times throughout the year.

I notice some people are struck with a stick during sitting. What is that?

The kyosaku or ‘encouragement stick’ is a flat hollow stick that has long been used to aid practice in the Zen tradition. People sometimes request the stick when they are feeling sleepy or when they wish to release tension in their neck, back, or shoulders. The stick is used only at the request of the sitter!

Say something about the chanting.

Chanting serves many purposes. We chant poems and verses that have been handed down because of their wisdom value. And we chant seed syllables that are valued for the quality of their sound. Blending all voices into one sound, harmonizing, and joining together are vital aspects of community practice.

How can I learn more about Zen Practice at the Village Zendo?

Monday nights are ‘beginners night’ where detailed instruction in meditation is available. The zendo also offers an “Introduction to Zen” workshop three or four times a year. Dharma talks, given on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, are good resources for learning about practice, as are all the workshops offered at the zendo.

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