In Zen, we cultivate a capacity to be present for life as it arises. As this capacity grows, we are more able to be present for our own suffering and to be a compassionate presence for the suffering of others.
To be liberated from suffering, we must look deeply into our minds, bodies, and karmic conditioning so that we might see their causes and conditions, realize they are ever-changing, and release our hearts from the fixation on them as necessary truths of who we are. To do this skillfully, we must learn to concentrate our bodies and minds; hence, our commitment to zazen every day.
All Brooklyn Zen Center-affiliated temples focus on looking at karmic conditioning around gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, and our relationship to the earth. How do we grasp conditioning in these areas that harm ourselves and others? How does this harm unfold personally? Socially? Is there a meaningful difference between the two?
The foundation of our practice is zazen, literally “sitting concentration,” an embodied ritual of awakening. Eihei Dogen, the founder of Soto Zen in Japan, taught shikantaza, or “just sitting”: allowing experience to arise without grasping or pushing it away, and ultimately resting in a nondual awareness. The practice of zazen is not to achieve a particular state of consciousness, but to become more intimate with life as it arises. This practice extends to all of life, and we cultivate awareness in zazen in order to bring it into everyday activity.
You can read Dogen’s instructions for zazen in his “Fukanzazengi,” which is still the practice we follow some 800 years later.
Please join us for zazen in our online zendo most mornings of the week, or in person at our Saturday programs at both our temples in Brooklyn and Millerton, NY. We encourage newcomers to attend zazen instruction, which we offer the second Saturday of every month at Boundless Mind Temple, Brooklyn (please see the Events page for exceptions).
We trace our practice of Zen Buddhism from ‘warm hand to warm hand’ all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha in India, who taught about suffering and the practice of liberation from suffering. In the centuries after the historical Buddha’s passing, Buddhism developed into many vibrant schools, including what is now known as the “Mahayana,” or “Great Vehicle,” emphasizing the liberation of all.
The legendary teacher Bodhidharma brought one of these Mahayana lineages from India to China, where he famously sat at Shaolin temple and faced a wall for nine years. His teachings became known as “Chan,” a transliteration of “dhyana,” or “concentration,” and the school flourished in China’s “Golden Age” of Buddhism during the Tang Dynasty.
In the 13th century, the Japanese priest Eihei Dogen traveled to China to study at various monasteries and received dharma transmission from his teacher in the Caodong Chan school. He returned to Japan and established Eiheiji, the first Soto Zen (a transliteration of Caodong Chan) monastery. Dogen’s followers took up his profound and poetic teachings and spread Soto Zen across Japan by emphasizing its capacity to reach people of all social classes and to offer a direct path to liberation.
Japanese immigrants brought Buddhism with them to Hawaii and North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, establishing temples that often served as cornerstones of the Issei and Nissei (first and second generation) communities. In 1922, with the guidance of Rev. Hosen Isobe, Japanese Americans in Los Angeles established Zenshuji, literally “Zen School Temple,” the first Soto Zen temple in North America; soon after that, the Japanese American community in San Francisco established Sokoji temple. Both temples closed when the U.S. government incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII, yet their communities reopened and rebuilt them after the war.
In 1959, Sokoji temple invited Shunryu Suzuki to move from his home temple in Japan to America and become its new head priest. Suzuki not only supported the community at Sokoji but attracted a following of young, non-Japanese students interested in Zen practice, part of a larger countercultural turn to Zen and other Asian traditions. Suzuki and those students established San Francisco Zen Center and, soon after that, Tassajara and Green Gulch Farm. These training temples offered intensive monastic practice modeled after Eiheiji. Scores of students and teachers trained there and went on to establish temples in the “Branching Streams” lineage across America, including the founders of Brooklyn Zen Center.
Brooklyn Zen Center is grateful and honored to carry on the practice carried, offered, and fought for by these countless generations of ancestors. Just as Buddhism and Zen have changed and adapted in every context, we aim to both honor tradition and meet the demands of our moment, and to pass on this radical tradition to future generations.
The ethical heart of Soto Zen practice and community life at Brooklyn Zen Center is our understanding of the Sixteen Great Bodhisattva Precepts: the Three Refuges, the Three Pure Precepts, and the Ten Essential Precepts. Our community endeavors to hold these intentions in our hearts.
To take refuge in Buddha – the vast stillness, clarity and kindness that is the true nature of all life
To take refuge in Dharma – the teaching of the way of life, day by day, that accords with Buddha
To take refuge in Sangha – the community of all beings that is our refuge and support
Three Pure Precepts
To refrain from action that increases suffering
To perform all action that increases awareness
To live for the benefit of all beings
Ten Essential Precepts