Enso (Zen circle) by Shinge Sherry Chayat Roshi
Sittings have been suspended until further notice

Founded in 1998, the Falling Leaf Sangha is a Zen practice group in Alfred, New York. Our sittings are open, free of charge, to the general public. If you are interested in sitting with us, please contact Shiju Ben Howard at fhowardb@alfred.edu.

Our sessions begin promptly at 7:15 pm. If you are sitting with us for the first time, please plan to arrive by 7:00 for orientation. Although we provide basic instruction, we strongly recommend that new participants prepare themselves by viewing the instructional video Orientation to Zen 01. 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, 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.

Shiju Ben Howard

All sessions are conducted by Dr. Ben Howard, Emeritus Professor of English at Alfred University, who has practiced Zen and Vipassana meditation for thirty years. His root teacher was the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. His subsequent teachers include Jiro Osho Andy Afable and Shinge Sherry Chayat Roshi. In 2002 he received the jukai precepts in the Hakuin/Torei lineage of Rinzai Zen at Dai Bosatsu Zendo.


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.

--Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen,
ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (North Point Press, 1985), 30

                    Traditional postures for zazen: 

The Falling Leaf Sangha

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, performed by Rodrigo Rodriguez, may be heard on YouTube at Sagari Ha.

The Aim of Zen

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 Sherry Chayat Roshi, Abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo and the Zen Center of Syracuse, offers this advice:

 Shinge Sherry Chayat Roshi

"What 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."