These classes are offered regularly. If the class is available for registration, you can use the link on the class title to register for it.
Beginner’s Mind Classes
Introduction to Zen Buddhism through Ancestor Stories – Registration is now open
This class is an introduction to the practices and teachings of Zen Buddhism, a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China and later spread to other parts of the world. At Brooklyn Zen Center, we practice in the Soto Zen Buddhist tradition which was transmitted to us from Japan by our lineage’s founder, Suzuki Roshi. We will study a few of the essential teachings of Zen through ancestor stories, exploring what this ancestral compassion and wisdom has to offer our own lives. As zazen (meditation) is foundational to Zen, instruction and guidance on meditation practices and Zen forms will also be offered.
In this this six-week class, we practice releasing each thought, emotion, and sensation as they arise: exploring how these passing phenomena are not who we truly are and how identifying with them causes suffering. By meeting the mind in the stillness of the body and allowing the breath to be our gentle guide, this class introduces students to transformative body-mind practices from various Buddhist traditions, offering a safe container to navigate ourselves back to wholeness. We practice methods that help us pay closer attention to what is happening in the body, bring awareness to our habitual reactions, and generate a deeper sense of self-compassion.
It’s often noted that the teachings of the Four Noble Truths—which are about suffering and the cessation of suffering—are both simple and profound and contain the essence of the Buddha’s way: the beginning, middle, and end of the path. For people new to Buddhism, this class offers an introduction. For those already acquainted with the teachings, it offers an opportunity to revisit them, perhaps more deeply. In this class we study portions of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, considered to be the Buddha’s first teaching, as well as contemporary writings on the Four Noble Truths, to help us bring the teachings into our everyday lives.
“Fukanzazengi” (universal encouragement for the ceremony of sitting meditation) is Soto Zen founder, Dogen’s, instruction and description of “the essential art of zazen”. This text, chanted every evening in Soto Zen monasteries in Japan, expresses the Soto Zen understanding and approach to the practice of Zazen. “Fukanzazengi” is based on a Chinese text “Zuochan yi.” Dogen wrote his first version right after returning from China in 1227 and edited it several times throughout his life, producing different versions. In this study group, we will read and discuss the various versions of “Fukanzazengi,” as well as the Chinese text it was based on, and some recent commentaries.
“The Lotus Sutra” is one of the foundational scriptures of Mahayana Buddhism and is of
central importance in East Asian Buddhism especially. It was also hugely influential for
Dogen, the founder of our Soto Zen school in Japan. In this class, we will explore the vast universe of “The Lotus Sutra,” its poetry and prose, and its parables and stories. Along the way we will unpack its central themes and teachings: the notions of skillful means and the one vehicle, the universality of
buddhahood as a human (and even non-human) capacity, and the dynamics of faith and
devotion in the life of the bodhisattva.
A eight-week study course on the beautiful 9th century Chinese poem by Dongshan Liangjie 洞山良价 – Tozan Ryokai in our ancestral list – regularly chanted by practitioners of Soto Zen around the world. Among other aspects of practice, the poem primarily addresses Dongshan’s Five Ranks and the Buddhist teaching of suchness. In this class we work through the poem line-by-line with the Chinese characters at hand, collectively bringing Dongshan’s poetic teachings to life in our current time so that we too might keep well the teachings of suchness.
The Diamond Sūtra is one of the most prominent texts in the Zen tradition, along with The Heart Sūtra. The text of the Sūtra is the response of Shakyamuni Buddha to his student, Subhūti’s foundational question: “On the bodhisattva path, how does one stand, walk, and produce a thought?” In other words, on the path to being Buddha, how does one embody and manifest Buddha? Buddha’s response has instructed his followers ever since. In this class we study the text line by line, looking at the original Sanskrit, and at the various ways it has been translated to bring forth the meaning of the Buddha’s response.
In this six-week class, we study and discuss Dogen’s Tenzo Kyōkun which shows us the way to understanding and realizing that Zazen is nothing other than our life as it is in this very moment, whether sitting in meditation posture or chopping carrots.
This eight-week class offers physical practices which support the upright sitting posture of zazen. They are presented in relationship to the Pāramitās, a basic Mahāyāna Buddhist teaching. Each class offers one hour of experiential and preparatory physical practices, followed by 30 minutes of discussion.
As Zen students taking up the Bodhisattva vow to live for the liberation of all beings, we are asked to open to an immensely painful, joyous and profound human world. At times it might feel that all of this will simply topple us over. How can we possibly go along with Hongzhi’s verse and “…follow the spring wind into the scars of the burning?” Fortunately our ancestors have long placed the joyful practice of the six pāramitās at the center of Mahayana ethics, considering it to be the training program for those who take up the Bodhisattva path. The perfections include the critical teachings of dāna (generosity), sīla (behavioral discipline), kṣānti (patience/perseverance), vīrya (energy/effort), dhyāna (concentration/meditation) and prajñā (wisdom). This practice path strengthens our capacity for praṇidhāna (vow), karuṇā (compassion) and upāya (skillful means) that are the ever-deepening expression of the Bodhisattva way of life. Our class explores these boundless teachings.
The Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra is the most important text in the Zen tradition, chanted daily in Zen monasteries. The basis of understanding this text is in understanding and meditating on the five aggregates or skandas, one of the earliest teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. The teaching of anātman or no self is based upon this formulation, and understanding the teaching of the five skandas is fundamental in all Buddhists traditions. In this class, we chant The Heart Sutra, learn its history, discuss the skandas in class and explore their meaning in meditation, and engage in the traditional Buddhist practice of copying by hand The Heart Sutra.
Socially Engaged Buddhism
In our commitment to embody the Buddha’s liberation from dukkha caused by attachments of the mind, socially engaged Buddhism often stresses liberation from all forms of oppression and injustice in the world. Together we explore how these two aspects of Buddhist practice are interrelated and expressed in our Bodhisattva vow to end suffering for all. Our readings and conversations touch upon how the teachings of the Buddha relate to those of socially engaged dharma teachers and look to learn from past and current social liberation movements led by Buddhists. In doing so we unfold some of the most important issues facing American Buddhist practitioners today. All are welcome, though familiarity with basic Buddhist teachings would be helpful.
Essential Zen Koans
Studying Zen koans can seem like a strange business to contemporary Buddhists. What do we make of these old Chinese tales of words between masters? Though so much is certainly missed in translation, what continues to inspire a deep sense of appreciation is how engaging the provocative language of these enigmatic dialogues seems to open up the wisdom of all involved in the conversation. Koan study often evokes joy and awe for the unexpected and dynamic insights born of the collective study process. We invite you to take part in wrestling with and resting in some of the key koans of Zen practice. All are welcome, though familiarity with basic Buddhist teachings would be helpful.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (The Mahasatipatthana Sutta) is the Buddha’s “down to earth” systematic training in the practice of being present with the impermanence of all aspects of human experience, which is the source of our suffering. Shakyamuni was not a teacher of theory. He himself had actualized through his own practice these very teachings, and he trained his students in these very same practices.
In an online class, we will read, study, discuss and practice together the teachings of Buddha’s Four Foundation of Mindfulness. This is an extraordinary time to bring this training into our meditation practice and into our lives—a time that has demanded that we focus our attention and limit our excursions, the very conditions recommended for the study of meditation.
Our Bodhisattva vow to live for the benefit of all beings is an awe-inspiring request. It can also feel far out of reach — for ourselves, for our communities and for the world. Thankfully, our Buddhist ancestors passed down to us sixteen ethical teachings, know as the Bodhisattva precepts, that clarify how an aspiring Bodhisattva moves through the world.
The practice of the precepts offers us a way to navigate every moment in a way that realigns us with our collective vow. Over time we develop faith that each small, intentional action can positively affect life. Precept practice offers us a way to work with collective karma so that histories of harm can be transformed into healing potential. When viewed from the truth of interdependence, the precepts teach us, as Reb Anderson writes, “how to protect and bring the spirit of compassion to complete maturity and enter all aspects of our lives.” Choosing to live as the precepts is a choice to live as an undivided heart.
This class will be a group discussion on the precepts, exploring these ethical teachings by studying and practicing them through our lived experience and what unfolds between us. We will be looking at the precepts with a recognition of the intersections of individual, interpersonal, collective and ancestral perspectives. With an understanding that we come to community with histories of oppression and privilege, our discussions will be firmly grounded in both our precept practice and our community guidelines.
Hidden Wisdom: The Teachings of Our Female Zen Ancestors
This class explores the inspirational history and teachings of female Zen teachers from the past and present. We study their life stories and the challenges they faced as female practitioners in male-dominated religious and cultural contexts, as well as the teachings and insights these female Zen teachers offer to us as practitioners. We use their stories and teachings to explore the personal challenges and opportunities we face today as female and lay practitioners.
We use passages from the following texts:
The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women, edited by Florence Caplow and Susan Moon.
Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens, and Macho Masters by Grace Schireson.
Receiving the Marrow: Teachings on Dogen by Soto Zen Women Priests, edited by Eido Frances Carney.
Requirements: BZC attendance for at least 3 months, a regular home meditation practice, and sitting with the BZC community at least once weekly during the length of the class.