New to MZC
If you're new to Zen practice, or new to MZC, don't worry. You're very welcome at our center, and there are some easy ways to get started. Visitors and new practitioners arrive all the time. Some of our sangha members have been here for many years, but some are just establishing their practice. Everyone had to start somehow and sometime. Maybe this is the time for you!
I've never done anything like this before. Where do I begin?
A good place to start is our free Introduction to Zazen session, offered at 8:20 on Sundays (unless we're closed for a holiday). If you are unable to come on a Sunday, we also offer a short zazen instruction on Wednesday night, at the beginning of the sitting, and a Dharma conversation afterwards. Zazen (seated meditation) is the central activity of our Soto Zen practice, and this one-hour session will give you the basics as well as other helpful information about our customs and activities. There's no preregistration necessary -- just show up and join in.
Following the introduction, you may choose to stay for the regular 40-minute zazen period and the dharma talk. We end the day with informal tea and the chance to chat and get to know each other.
I'm not sure Zen practice is for me. Can I try it out?
You are welcome to attend zazen, services, dharma talks, book discussions or anything else on our schedule as your life and circumstances permit. There's no prerequisite for any of our activities. See whether Buddha's teachings make sense to you, and whether our center feels like a good place to practice.
I'm writing a paper on Buddhism for school. Can I come and observe your practice, or can someone there talk to me about it?
We often have visits from students of comparative religion, Asian studies, sociology or other disciplines. Many come to the Introduction to Zazen and get most of the information they need. If you need to interview clergy or practitioners, that may be possible as well; folks are often willing to answer gracious and respectful questions about their practice. However, you are strongly advised to make your plans well in advance of the paper's due date. Practitioners are not always available for interviews on short notice--they have busy lives, too.
Can my class or group make a field trip to MZC?
Sure. If you'd like to come outside of the Introduction to Zazen sessions, just get in touch with us to arrange a time.
I've read that Zen practice is strict and difficult, and I'm a little intimidated. Can an ordinary person like me really do this?
MZC is not a training temple, where clergy might engage in some fairly rigorous practice as part of their training. It's a lay practice center, and our sangha members are ordinary laypeople of all ages with jobs, families, and regular lives. Some sit on cushions for zazen, but others use benches or chairs. We maintain some forms and protocols, and it's important to pay attention and make one's best effort, but most folks pick these up quickly and it's fine to ask for help. The real obstacles we encounter in practice are more often related to letting go of ego and self-involvement, and this can be as much of a challenge as sitting still and silent in zazen.
Do I need any special clothing or supplies to begin Zen practice?
Just wear loose-fitting comfortable clothes that are clean and neat; there's no need to buy or make something special. If you'll be sitting at home, you may want to invest in a set of cushions. Please note that when you come to the center during the warm summer months, skimpy clothing is not a good choice for the zendo as it can be distracting to others. Please cover your shoulders and refrain from wearing anything terribly revealing. Also, we ask that shorts not be worn for zazen in order to keep the cushions clean and free from perspiration and body oils. The sangha appreciates your cooperation.
I'd like to come to the morning or evening zazen, but I can't come for both periods. Can I come to just one?
Yes! Please come and go during the 10 minutes of kinhin (walking meditation) between the two zazen periods. The same is true of our two-day sittings and retreats -- please come for as much of the day as your schedule permits. You are welcome for even one period!
I've read a lot of books about Buddhism, and I'm mainly interested in it as a philosophy. Can I just skip the Introduction to Zazen and come to the talks and discussions?
You could do that . . . but that's not really how Zen practice works. It is a practice, after all. In our Soto Zen school, that means engaging in regular periods of zazen. Only by sitting, even for a few minutes a day, can we really gain insight into Buddha's teachings about the nature of reality and become able to move through the world in ways that accord with the dharma. Books and lectures can be useful complements to our sitting practice, but they can't replace it.
Is there any cost to practice at MZC?
The vast majority of our activities are free and open to the public, although donations are always welcome since they are our primary source of support. Many of our regular practitioners do choose to become financially supporting members of MZC, but this is not a requirement.
I've read that meditation is good for stress (or for anger management, addictions, or depression). Can Zen practice help me get my life together?
The short answer is "no." However, that's not because you wouldn't see some changes over time if you began to practice Zen Buddhism. Many people who establish and maintain a zazen practice feel that after awhile they become better able to see their lives clearly and act more skillfully in the world on behalf of themselves and all beings.
There seems to be a common misperception that Zen practice is a form of therapy. It is not. It can be a useful complement to work undertaken with a qualified therapist, but it cannot substitute for such therapy. The focus of Zen Buddhism is developing a deep insight into the nature of reality. The focus of therapy is improved individual daily functioning. While Zen practitioners may notice some improvement in their daily functioning as a result of their religious practice, it's a side effect, if you will, and not the goal.
It's better to find a qualified therapist to work with you on your life issues. During the course of your therapy, ask him or her about how Zen practice could fit into your work together. There are some folks for whom zazen is not recommended under some circumstances.