soji zen center
zen garden

Frequently asked questions

What is Soji Zen Center?

Soji Zen Center is a community of people who meditate, study, and observe rituals together. Our lineage comes through both the Soto and Rinzai lines of Japanese – style Zen, and yet we are recognizably an ‘American-style’ Zen community.

How do I learn more about zen practice at Soji Zen Center?

The Basics: How to Meditate and Practice Zen workshops are held throughout the year that provide detailed instructions in meditation. Dharma talks, given on Sunday mornings are a resource for learning about practice, as are all the workshops offered at Soji Zen Center.

Do I have to be a member to participate?

No, everyone is welcome and encouraged to join our activities but membership does help support the Zendo through dues that we can depend on. Student Membership level is necessary to participate in the Study Group on Wednesday evenings.

How is Soji Zen Center financed?

Soji Zen Center supports itself through donations and program fees.

Who runs it?

Soji Zen Center is volunteer-based, and runs itself through a Board of Directors that makes financial and policy decisions. Jules Shuzen Harris Roshi, under the guidance of Enkyo Roshi, leads the teaching functions. If you would like to help out, just sign up for a committee.

What about the robes?

It is not necessary to wear a robe. Members wear them for various reasons; robes are worn in many traditions; they foster a sense of ‘visual quiet,’ a sense of similarity among the sitters; a material reminder of preparing for meditation; they are comfortable.

I see people wearing bib-like garments around their necks, what are they?

The rakusu is a miniature ‘Buddha robe’ and signifies that the wearer has taken refuge and a vow to follow the Bodhisattva precepts (Buddhist ethical guidelines). Typically, the wearer has practiced for a year or so with the teacher and community, and studied the precepts, before making the commitment. The commitment ceremony is called “Jukai.”

Some people are wearing more elaborate robes and have bowing cloths. What does that mean?

The novices who wear the traditional Soto robes are training to serve as priests. These are practitioners who over the course of practice feel they wish to take on the role and appearance of a caretaker of Soji Zen Center and its community. The majority of senior practitioners at Soji Zen Center are not ordained.

What about the head shaving?

These days shaving your head can be a fashion statement, or a message saying, “I am interested in spirituality.” It is traditional to shave your head when ordaining, but no longer required for novices or priests. Originally it conveyed the sense of cutting off one’s attachments but these days it is rarely understood in such a way.

What about the people who do not wear the priest's robes?

They are lay practitioners. This path emphasizes the humility and simplicity of practice and eschews outward display of one’s inner dedication. Lay practice is very strong at Soji Zen Center.

Who gives talks and teachings?

It is easy to talk about Zen; it is not easy to speak with genuine insight. Therefore, the path to giving talks is long and carefully checked. After years of practice and working with a teacher, a Zen student is recognized as a practice leader, and during a formal ceremony presents a talk and dialogue with the community. After that, the ‘senior’ is permitted and encouraged to give talks.

What is a zen student?

We call a practitioner a ’student’ because we value the mind of the seeker, one who looks at experience and wishes to investigate and learn more.

What do the titles Roshi, Sensei, and Hoshi mean?

Roshi means ‘old teacher.’ Sensei means teacher, Hoshi means Dharma holder (assistant teacher). These are titles of respect that indicate authorizations to teach.

Sometimes there is a call for 'Daisan' or 'Dokusan' - What are they?

Both of these are face-to-face interviews with a Zen teacher. They are an opportunity to ask a question and test ones understanding.

What's a retreat like?

Retreats, whether held here at Soji Zen Center or at a retreat center, are ways to deepen our practice by engaging in intensive meditation for an extended period of time. They also include dharma talks, private interview and liturgy. Soji Zen Center runs one-day retreats (zazenkais) and longer retreats (sesshins), held at various times throughout the year.

I notice some people are struck with a stick during sitting. What is that?

The kyosaku or ‘encouragement stick’ is a flat hollow stick that has long been used to aid practice in the Zen tradition. People sometimes request the stick when they are feeling sleepy or when they wish to release tension in their neck, back or shoulders. The stick is used only at the request of the sitter!

Say something about the chanting?

Chanting serves many purposes. We chant poems and verses that have been handed down because of their wisdom value. And we chant “seed” syllables that are valued for the quality of their sound. Blending all voices into one sound, harmonizing, and joining together are vital aspects of community practice.

How can I learn more about zen practice at Soji Zen Center?

“The Basics: How to Meditate and Practice Zen” workshops are held throughout the year that provide detailed instruction in meditation. Dharma talks, given on Sunday mornings are a resource for learning about practice, as are all the workshops offered at Soji Zen Center.

Who is the founder of Soji Zen Center?

Jules Shuzen Harris Roshi is a Soto Zen Priest who received shiho (dharma trans-mission) from Enkyo Roshi and is the founder of Soji Zen Center as well as Abbot. He holds an Ed.D. with a concentration in human development. As a psychotherapist, Shuzen has found creative ways to synthesize Western psychology and Zen to achieve dramatic results with his patients. He also focuses on the relationship between Zen and the martial arts. He is a fourth-degree Dan Black Belt in Iaido and a Black Belt in Kendo.

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