Enso (Zen circle) by Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi
Weekly sittings on Sunday evenings
7:30 - 8:30 pm Miller Performing Arts Center, room 301
Founded in 1998, the Falling Leaf Sangha is a Zen practice group in Alfred, New York. Though grounded in Buddhist tradition, this is a non-sectarian practice, and our sittings are open, free of charge, to the general public. Newcomers are welcome.
Our sessions begin promptly at 7:30 pm. If you are sitting with us for the first time, please plan to arrive by 7:15 for orientation. Although we provide basic instruction, we strongly recommend that new participants prepare themselves by viewing the instructional video How to Meditate. For general information about Zen practice, go to One Time, One Meeting, and click on "An Introduction to Zen." To learn more about formal practice, watch "What is Zen Buddhism?"
On most evenings, our sessions consist of tea meditation, chanting, walking meditation (kinhin), a recitation from Zen teachings, and two twenty-minute sittings. The sessions last for about an hour. If you have a meditation cushion, please bring it with you. Chairs are available for those who prefer them.
Zazen, or seated meditation, is the central practice of Zen Buddhism. By sitting still and paying close attention to our breath and posture, we return to where we already are. We come home to the present moment. As our practice deepens, our minds become more balanced, and we become intimately aware of the impermanence and interdependence of all conditioned things. Cultivating clarity and stability of mind, we also cultivate compassionate awareness.
Zazen is a simple practice, but it is important that it be done correctly. Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Soto school of Zen, offers these instructions:
When sitting zazen, wear the kashaya (patched robe)and use a round cushion. The cushion should not be placed all the way under the legs, but only under the buttocks. In this way the crossed legs rest on the mat and the backbone is supported with the round cushion. . . .
Straighten your body and sit erect. Do not lean to the left or right; do not bend forward or backward. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders, and your nose in line with your navel.
Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Lips and teeth should be closed. Eyes should be open, neither too wide, nor too narrow. Having adjusted body and mind in this manner, take a breath and exhale fully.
Sit solidly in samadhi (one-pointed concentration) and think not-thinking. How do you think not-thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen.
A sangha is a community of dedicated practitioners. Traditionally, the sangha consisted of monks and nuns, but today the term includes both monastic and lay practitioners. We take our name from the story of a a Zen monk who experienced awakening upon seeing a falling leaf. Sagari Ha, a piece for the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo) flute, commemorates this event. Sagari Ha, performedby Rodrigo Rodriguez, may be heard on YouTube atSagari Ha.
From time to time, even dedicated practitioners of zazen may lose sight of the ultimate aim of their practice. In her essay "What is Zen?" Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi, Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo and the Zen Center of Syracuse, offers this advice:
is Zen? It’s both something we are—our true nature expressing itself moment by
moment—and something we do—a disciplined practice through which we can realize
the joy of being. It is not a belief system to which one converts. There is no
dogma or doctrine. Zen is the direct experience of what we might call ultimate
reality, or the absolute, yet it is not separate from the ordinary, the
relative. This direct experience is our birthright. The practice of
zazen—meditation—is a way of realizing the non-dualistic, vibrant, subtle, and
interconnected nature of all life. . . .
"So, again, what is Zen? Stop now. Stop trying to get an intellectual
lock on something that is vast and boundless, far more than the rational
mind can grasp. Just breathe in with full awareness. Taste the breath.
Appreciate it fully. Now breathe out, slowly, with equal appreciation.
Give it all away; hold onto nothing. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe
out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each
time we inhale and exhale. To do so with conscious awareness, on a
regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen."