classes and workshops

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

The Zen Buddhist path is an approach to realizing freedom from suffering for ourselves and others. Originally taught in India by Shakyamuni Buddha, this teaching was transmitted to China where it became established as the Zen school, and was then brought to Japan and the West over a period of more than 2,000 years. In this class we’ll look at the history, teaching and practices of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition through assigned readings and group discussion. There will be instruction in zazen, the meditation tradition of Zen, and the weekly opportunity to practice zazen together.

Meditation in Everyday Life

In this this six-week class, we will 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 will introduce students to transformative body-mind practices from various Buddhist traditions, offering a safe container to navigate ourselves back to wholeness. We will 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.


A Cessation of Suffering: The Four Noble Truths 

What is suffering and why do we suffer? Can our suffering be diminished–even eliminated? Can we live a life that’s vibrant, sane, and fulfilling? 2,500 years ago, the Buddha addressed these questions in his teachings on the Four Noble Truths and his insights remain as timely, vital, and practical as when they were first spoken. Our class will be based on Ajahn Sumedho’s book but will always return to our own personal experience–of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the role that meditation practice plays in this this. The class welcomes both experienced practitioners and people new to meditation.

Other Classes
“The Song of the Jewel Mirror Samadhi”
September 20 to November 22, 2019

This fall, Kosen Greg Snyder will be leading a eight-week study course on this 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. Together we will 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.

Diamond Sutra: Thinking Like a Buddha
September 26 to November 21, 2019

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 will 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.

Just Cooking: Dogen’s Instructions to the Cook

In this six-week class, we will 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.

The Practice-Realization of the Pāramitās in Upright Sitting

This eight-week class will offer physical practices which support the upright sitting posture of zazen. They will be presented in relationship to the Pāramitās, a basic Mahāyāna Buddhist teaching. Each class will offer one hour of experiential and preparatory physical practices, followed by 30 minutes of discussion.

Following the Spring Wind: Training in the Six Pāramitās

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 will begin to explore these boundless teachings.

The Heart Sutra: the Five Skandas and the End of Suffering

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 will 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 will 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 will 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 will 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 in me is how engaging the provocative language of these enigmatic dialogues seems to open up the wisdom of all involved in the conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever left a koan group without a feeling of joy and awe for the unexpected, dynamic insights born of the collective study process. I 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

What is mindfulness? Why do we practice it? According to The Buddha, the deepest truths aren’t remote or mysterious but available through direct awareness of our own experience. The seemingly modest practice of attending to each momentbody, breath, feelings, states of mind, phenomenacan bring insight and peace into our daily lives and ultimately the freedom from suffering. In a culture devoted to frantic distraction and materialism, these insights, whether we merely glimpse them or realize them fully, can transform how we live in the world.

The class is based on The Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s mindfulness teachings, but takes a practice-based approach, using classroom exercises and drawing on students’ life experience. Students are asked to commit to a regular meditation practice for the duration of the class. Both new and experienced meditators are warmly welcome.

Precepts Study Group

In this class, we will engage in an experiential exploration of the 10 Bodhisattva precepts. Our Buddhist precepts are specific, ethical guidelines meant to support the everyday actualization of the wisdom and compassion born of our meditation practice. 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 allow] compassion to enter all aspects of our lives.” Participants will be asked to commit to an ongoing engagement with the precepts. Our discussions will not be theoretical and will arise from our direct, personal experience with this rich, ethical practice. Each class will begin with an optional 30 minute period of meditation. Participants are expected to attend regularly and begin and end the class together. In order to support the group process and our practice together we require participants to miss no more than two classes.

This class is limited to 15 participants. Class is offered to those who sit at least once a week in community at Brooklyn Zen Center and have already taken one of the introductory classes at Brooklyn Zen Center.  Continued weekly zazen at BZC will be expected while participants are in class.

Hidden Wisdom: The Teachings of Our Female Zen Ancestors

This class will explore the inspirational history and teachings of female Zen teachers from the past and present. We will 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 will use their stories and teachings to explore the personal challenges and opportunities we face today as female and lay practitioners.

We will be using 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.