Frequently Asked Questions

Zen Basics and Much More about the Practice of Buddhism

The Practice of Zen

The Buddha had one message throughout his life: the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All of his 45 years of teachings were elaborations on this core message. The Eightfold Path is the foundation of our practice and the Buddha organized it into three training areas:
Training in Moral Discipline (Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood) Training in Mental Discipline (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration) Training in Wisdom (Right View and Right Thought)
Zen places a great deal of emphasis on the second area, Training in Mental Discipline, through the practice of Zazen. It is felt that both morality and wisdom flow from this practice. The Great Master Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen school in Japan, taught that Zazen should not just be practiced on the cushion but 24 hours a day. In everything we do, washing dishes, using the toilet, cooking a meal, sweeping, the mind of Zazen should be maintained.

Chanting

The following chants are used at our temple for various ceremonies. These are in Adobe pdf format (Note: updated Fall 2010). They are typically chanted in the order given, beginning with the Heart Sutra and ending with the Short Chants, but alternating the middle chants and adding chants over the course of the seasons. Additional chants are being added to reflect our liturgy. Note that a link to Note that a link to the Ceremony of Reaffirming the Precepts (done at the end of every month), those Vietnamese Chants we use and to the Metta of Peace have been added below the recording.
Maha Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra

Identity of Relative and Absolute

Hakuin’s Song of Zazen

Short Chants (Bodhisattva Vows, Well-wishing Prayer and Offering of Merit)

A recording of these chants can be found here.

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Additional Chants used at DZC: New as of 8-2012****CEREMONY FOR REAFFIRMING THE PRECEPTS.  To download the chant in RTF, click here.

Vietnamese Chants

Metta of Peace

Here are the Percussion Symbols used in the Chants:

O Ring large bell

Ø Muffled ring of large bell

X Use handle of bell awakener to strike bell

? Hand bell

µ Fish

Ceremony of Reaffirming the Precepts

This ceremony takes place on the last Sunday of every month at 11:00.

REAFFIRMING THE PRECEPTS

OPENING PRAYERS

Please Stand

Incense Chant  (Master recites) 

The incense burns in the holder;

It spreads out into the dharma realms

All Buddhas in the oceans’ assembly hear from afar.

The sincere mind is accepted and blessed and

All Buddhas appear, clearly revealing themselves.

I respectfully bow to Incense Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva.  (3X)

 

Incense Offering  (Master recites)

I pray this wonderful incense cloud will spread out to all the worlds in the ten directions,

As an offering to all the Buddhas,

Wonderful Dharmas and Bodhisattvas, endless Sravaka assembly

And all saints and sages.

I pray it will form an altar of light and do the Buddha’s work according to its true nature.

I pray it will benefit all sentient beings, so they all will raise the Bodhicitta,

Depart from evil karma and attain the highest way.

Homage to the Buddha (all monks recite)

Dharma King without higher honor

In three worlds without comparison,

The guiding teacher of heaven and man,

Father of the four kinds of being,

I now in one thought take refuge

Able to destroy three times karma.

Praise and admiration

even 100,000 kalpas cannot extinguish.

Ðanh Le (Prostrations) (everyone recites)

I bow respectfully to all directions of space, all realms, past, present and future, the ten directions, all Buddhas, the honored Dharma, the enlightened Sangha, the permanent three treasures.

One Prostration

I bow respectfully to the Master of the Samsara world, our own teacher Sakyamuni Buddha, to the future coming Maitreya Buddha, to Great Wisdom Manjusri Bodhisattva, to Great Effort Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Dharma Protector Bodhisattvas and the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas assembling at the Great Holy Mountain.

One Prostration

I respectfully bow to the Great Love, Great Compassion Amitabha Buddha of the Western Paradise, to the Great Compassionate Avalokitesvara Buddha, to the Great Power Mahastamaprapta Bodhisattva, to the Great Vow Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva and to the Bodhisattvas in the Pure Ocean.

One Prostration

Please be seated. (everyone recites) 

MAHA PRAJNA PARAMITA HEART SUTRA 

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita clearly saw that all five skandas are empty and passed beyond all suffering.  Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form.  Form then is emptiness, emptiness then is form.  Perception, conception, volition and consciousness are also like this.

Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness: not born and not dying, not stained and not pure, not gaining and not losing.  Therefore, within emptiness there is no form, no perception, conception, volition or consciousness; no eye, ear, nose, tongue, body or mind; no form, sound, smell, taste, touch or dharmas; no realm of sight ’till we come to no realm of consciousness; no ignorance and no ending of ignorance ’till we come to no old age and death and no ending of old age and death; no suffering, origination, extinction or path; no wisdom and no attainment with nothing to attain.

Because the Bodhisattva follows Prajna Paramita, his mind has no hindrance.  Having no hindrance, he has no fear and far from all fantasy finally dwells in Nirvana.  Because all Buddhas of the three times follow Prajna Paramita, they gain complete perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know that the Prajna Paramita is the great holy mantram, the great bright mantram, the highest mantram, the unequaled mantram, which can destroy all suffering—truly real and not false.  So he gave the Prajna Paramita mantram which goes:

GA-TE, GA-TE, PA-RA-GA-TE, ·PA-RA-SAM-GA-TE, ·BO-DHI SWA-HA.  (3X)

______ . ______

(everyone recites)

VOWS AND PRAYERS

I bow to all Buddhas in the ten directions.

I bow to all Dharmas in the ten directions.

I bow to all Sanghas in the ten directions.

Please acknowledge me.

*

With all my heart

I have the following prayers.

Please let me forever have an immense respect,

Greater than mountains or oceans,

For all Buddhas of the ten directions.

*

Forever let me have a timeless love,

Spreading out from the three high levels of existence

Like rain on all sentient beings,

Creating peaceful lives for them all.

*

Together without hatred, together without war.

Let those who commit wrongdoings

Believe in reincarnation and karma,

So that they may turn toward right action.

*

Please let the blind see,

And the deaf will hear,

The poor have clothes and food,

And the sick be cured of all illness.

*

Please let animals

Be free from ignorance,

So they will be born into human form,

And learn the Buddha’s way.

*

Please let the roaming ghosts

In the other world

Be free from a destiny of constant hunger

And follow the Buddha’s teaching.

*

Please let the ones suffering in the hells

Kindle the light

Of compassion in their hearts,

So that their pain will end.

*

Oh, Buddhas of the ten directions

And Bodhisattvas,

I pray that you will bring the holy Dharmas

To shine in the thousands of worlds.

*

So that no matter where we happen to be

We always will meet with the wonderful teachings,

And always have a chance to practice:

Being humble, respecting all people, embracing virtue,

Sharing and worshipping goodness, and

Helping others who are in need.

*

Please let me be calm

No matter what the situation I’m in

Even if somebody hurts me with words

Or by design.

*

Let me be happy

When somebody is successful

Or when they do good deeds.

Let me be happy for them,

As if the good deeds were mine.

*

Please let me learn to control my speech

So I can be quiet

And not speak of others’ faults.

Let me learn the way

To use words wisely

To help correct others’ wrongdoings.

*

Please let me get rid of

Possessive love,

And replace it with compassionate love,

For everybody and everything.

*

I bow to all Buddhas of the ten directions.

I have been in great pain for so long,

In the never-ending cycle of lives,

In and out, out and in, bitter and tired.

*

Now I am making this prayer

To end my cycle.  I want to stop it.

I want to return to my “Buddha nature.”

*

The wisdom:

Then, help others,

In order to show gratitude to the Buddhas.

Please let me be strong

In my determination to study the way,

Not a minute of straying,

Not an hour of dreaming.

*

Let me be in a perfect serene state of mind.

Let me master deep meditation

Which will bring a clear mind.

*

My true nature will manifest.

My ego will eventually dissipate.

Let me be awakened

Without a trace of pride.

*

Without a trace of pride.

No matter how advanced

The stage I’m in,

I will always find my weakness.

*

Let me keep going

Without stopping at any time.

I have to go on to the absolute state

Without boundaries,

Where my mind is one with the

Buddha’s mind.

*

And in million forms of life,

Of birth and death cycles,

Incessantly, I will always help others.

*

Oh, Buddhas of the ten directions!

Please come and acknowledge my prayers.

Hear my earnest vow,

Rising, I offer to the Three Treasures.

______ . ______

Please stand for Prostrations to the Buddhas- 

(chanted by Master, then by everyone in call-and-response format)

 Homage to the Buddhas of the ten quarters.

-One prostration-

Homage to the Dharma pervading the ten quarters.

 -One prostration-

Homage to the Sangha in the ten quarters.

-One prostration-

Homage to Sakyamuni, the Buddha who is our master.

-One prostration-

Homage to Vairocana, the Buddha of the Pure Dharmakaya.

-One prostration-

Homage to Locana, the Buddha of the Sambhogakaya.

-One prostration-

Homage to Maitreya, the Buddha of the future.

-One prostration-

Homage to Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise.

-One prostration-

Homage to Manjusri, the Bodhisattva personifying Wisdom.

-One prostration-

Homage to Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of compassion and skillful means.

-One prostration-

Homage to Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva who is the great compassionate and pitying one, ready to save beings from afflictions.

-One prostration-

Homage to Kshitigarbha, the Bodhisattva of the six realms.

-One prostration-

-Please be seated for the confession- (all recite)

All the evil karma created by me, since of old,

On account of greed, anger, and folly, which have no beginning,

Born of my body, mouth, and mind-

I now make full open confession of it.

All the evil karma created by me, since of old,

On account of greed, anger, and folly, which have no beginning,

Born of my body, mouth, and mind-

I now make full open confession of it.

All the evil karma created by me, since of old,

On account of greed, anger, and folly, which have no beginning,

Born of my body, mouth, and mind-

I now make full open confession of it.

The following is recited by one priest only;

all remain silent reflecting on the precepts.

The first precept is: Not to take life- keep this precept.

The second precept is: Not to commit adultery- keep this precept.

The third precept is: Not to become intoxicated- keep this precept.

The fourth precept is: Not to take what is not given to one- keep this precept.

The fifth precept is: Not to speak that which might harm others- keep this precept.

I take refuge in the Buddha, who has complete compassion and wisdom.

I take refuge in the Dharma, which guides to detachment.

I take refuge in the Sangha, which is harmonious and respected by all.

______ . ______

 

jNamo Sakyamuni Buddha (chanted by all until the double bell sounds)

(j Each syllable, done with small bell on handle)

Three Prostrationsdone quickly. Å Bow  Å Bow Å Bow

Metta of Peace

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Dharma Talks | Meditation

  • Dharma Talks – Sunday 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM
  • Meditation Class – Every Thursday @ 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM (30 min of sitting meditation | 30 min of walking meditation and 30 min of sitting meditation. Followed by a Tea and Discussion)

Gathas

Gathas are short poetic chants which are memorized and recited during daily activities by monks and laypeople. They focus the mind and remind us that our practice is paying attention to *everything*. Gathas for Coming and Going

Zendo Etiquette

We ask all who join us in the Zendo to follow the following rules of Etiquette to facilitate everyone’s practice of Zazen and reduce distractions:

  • Please do not wear strong perfumes or cologne.
  • Please do not wear bright clothing.
  • Wear loose clothing so you can be comfortable.
  • Please wear clothes that preserve your modesty. No shorts, halter tops.
  • We maintain silence in the Zendo. This starts at the Tori or Gateless Gate that marks the beginning of the path into the Zendo. It is also important to remain quiet when leaving the Zendo, until you are past the Tori.
  • We leave our shoes outside unless it is raining or in the winter.
  • Please do not slam the door to the Zendo.
  • We bow to the Buddha in the Zendo upon entering and to our cushion before sitting. This is to show respect to our Great teacher and to the cushion. It also helps us leave our ego behind at the door.
  • Once seated please try and remain still, with minimal or no fidgeting.
  • Dont use any bad language within the Zendo

The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path

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Lay Precepts

In the time of the Buddha, in the beginning of his ministry, he only ordained and took monastic students. Many lay people saw the wonderful effects of the life practice that the Buddha taught his monks and wanted him to teach them too. 

Traditionally, when the three refuges (also known as the three jewels) are proclaimed either publicly or in private this is the overt act that marks one as a follower of the Buddha.

These are:

  • I take refuge in the Buddha
  • I take refuge in the Dharma
  • I take refuge in the Sangha

With the understanding that Dharma means the Buddha-dharma or the Buddha’s teachings. The Sangha is the community of those who follow the Buddha.

In the time of the Buddha, in the beginning of his ministry, he only ordained and took monastic students. Many lay people saw the wonderful effects of the life practice that the Buddha taught his monks and wanted him to teach them too. However, these lay people had families and other responsibilities that prevented them from becoming a monk or a nun. They entreated him to teach them and asked to be his followers so he created five precepts for lay people.

These are:

  • Do not kill
  • Do not steal
  • Do not engage in sexual misconduct
  • Do not engage in talk that harms others
  • Do not become intoxicated

By following these five precepts, the Buddha taught that we could reduce or eliminate suffering in our lives and the lives of others. These precepts are also like the north star that is used by a traveler when navigating. They are impossible to achieve but they can guide us in the direction we should live. Note also that if a particular precept is one you feel you cannot take whatever the reason, it is okay only take as few as one precept during such a ceremony.

When a person finds a teacher and wants to become a lay disciple, asking to take the three jewels and five precepts is the traditional way of acknowledging that deepening of a relationship with that teacher.

Many people have been given lay precepts at the Desert Zen Center. The time for precept taking is generally following a retreat or at a special service celebrating a Buddhist holiday.

Ceremonies

Marriage ceremonies, funerals, memorial services, dedication ceremonies (of children), blessings of newborns and of new homes are just some of the ceremonies that the priests of the center are available to perform. If you or your family would like our temple to perform one of these ceremonies, please contact us for more information.

Roshi and the senior priests of the center are available to speak to groups.

Zen Basics

A series of talks entitled “Zen Basics” was recorded in the winter of 2004. These recordings were orginally released on CD, and were made available as MP3 files.  Click on the Play button below and the mp3 file should begin to play. To download it right-click and select “Save target as…”. You can then select where to store the file on your local computer.

The story of Zen begins with Bodhidharma, and a lineage of masters in China recreate the core of The Buddha’s Teaching.

Link Here

Recommended Readings (Books)

The Desert Zen Center over its time has found what works best in regards to readings, to audios and other purchases online retail outlets or otherwise.

  • Zen’s Karma is contrasted with Grace from revealed religions.  Download here.
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  • The West’s relationship with an external God, and Jesus as Zen Master.  Download here.
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  • Forming your self image, and the Universal Buddha as True Self.  Download here.
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  • Zen begins with Bodhidharma’s declaration of the first principle.  Download here.
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  • Monk in Viet Nam sets fire to himself to try to bring peace.  Download here.
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  • Bodhidharma’s time; background and history.  Download here.
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What Hui-k’o’s dismemberment tells us about the practice of Zen.  Download here.

  • Hui-neng’s awakening.  Download here.
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  • The early Chinese lineage, the Mongols provide a boost to Buddhism, and what Bodhidharma actually brought us.  Download here.
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  • Hui-neng’s famous verse, and the difference between practice and understanding.  Download here.
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  • How Pai-chang gave us monastic rules, and cemented the work ethic of Zen by a famous story.  Download here.
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  • Lin-chi raises his whisk, just as Shakyamuni raised a flower; and expressed the truth.  Download here.
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  • Lin-chi strikes students with his staff and students give shouts, and what this means for us.  Download here.
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  • An introduction to Dogen and his trip to China.  Download here.
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  • The story of Dogen’s awakening.  Download here.
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  • Dogen shows us that Zazen is Buddhism, and should be continuous.  Download here.
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  • How Dogen’s simple practice expresses the root of Zen, and how the word Zen is used.  Download here.
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  • Keizan brings Zen to lay people, and differences between Soto and Rinzai appear.  Download here.
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  • Delightful stories about Ryokan, famous for his poetry.  Download here.
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  • The story of Hakuin’s awakening, and the question if awakening is the end to practice.  Download here.
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  • Zen in later day Viet Nam.  Download here.
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  • Different schools of Buddhism taking root in America.  Download here.
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  • Being ordained in America, and a sense of how this is evolving.  Download here.

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Summer and Winter Retreat FAQ

The Rains Season
A time for intense practice and cultivation – September through December

Suggestions for Participation

The Desert Zen Center observes the Rains Season from the middle of September to the middle of December when the Bodhi Day/Rohatsu weekend retreat commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha is held. This time period follows the Japanese tradition and honors the intent of the Asian tradition, which observes Rains Season training during their winter (monsoon) period. During this period of time, there will be a retreat, Day at the Temple or workshop on the second full Saturday of each month.

– Meditate daily in front of your home shrine

– Increase your daily meditation: 10 to 15 minutes, 20 to 30 minutes.

– Keep a vegetarian diet on the 15th and last day of the month.

– Read and study a sutra for 15 to 20 minutes a day.

– Recite the Heart Sutra daily at home.

– Bowing, offer incense and fresh water at your home shrine daily.

– Recite the name of the Buddha (Namo Sakyamuni Buddha) when rising in the morning and when going to bed at night.

– Learn some of the gathas recited by the monks for daily activities.

Explaining What Winter/Summer Training Is?

Giao Roshi explains our “Summer/Winter Training” In the time of the Buddha, all monks and some laypeople came together for training during the Rains Season. Our Rains Season observance is just about to begin.

In the beginning, monks traveled throughout the year, going from village to village spreading the Dharma. But during the time of monsoon, when it was very wet, people complained to the Buddha that new life (plants and animals) was being harmed when the monks slogged through the water and mud on their travels.

Recognizing that this was a problem, the Buddha called the Sangha together. He announced that from that time forward monks and nuns would cease traveling for 90 to 100 days during the Rains Season and would gather together for a period of self-cultivation. Older monks would teach the newer monks through sutra recitation, dharma talks and group meditation. The season, which became known as Summer Training, lasted from April 15 to July 15 on the lunar calendar. The training period began as an act of compassion for all life during a time of year when life is bursting forth from the earth.

Many problems arose with this practice from the very beginning: who would be in charge (not all monks could stay with Sakkyamuni, there were just too many)?, who would teach?, how would food be obtained and managed (with the monks not going out on their alms rounds)? From this situation arose the framework for the monastic system that would later flourish. Dharma age — which determined one’s senority — changed from how long it had been since one’s ordination, to how many Summer Training sessions in which a monk had participated. Monks were asked their age –Dharma age — when they joined the group for the Rains Season. The eldest then would function as the leader (later Abbot), the second eldest would be the Head Monk (in charge of the daily routine), and so on. Monks would sit, walk in procession, and take meals according to their age. Lay people began to bring food to the encampment of monks, and the wealthy donated parks and buildings for the use of the Sangha.

Almost from the beginning, there were too many monks for the Buddha to personally train. He turned them over to his senior disciples for training. As time went by, monks asked the Buddha to set standards of authority and responsibility: who was qualified as a teacher, who could train monks, and who could ordain. Using this new notion of Dharma age, the Buddha established, over time, the following:

– The time one served as a Novice Monk was set at two years minimum and then the monk was eligible for full ordination.

– Once fully ordained, one was required to stay and study, and care for the master for five years.

– Having finished five Summer Training periods a monk was considered qualified to teach, given the title of Acharya, and could go off on his own.

– Having finished ten Summer Training periods as a monk, the monk was considered a senior monk (Thera, elder) and could ordain and train a novice.

– Having finished twenty Summer Training periods, a monk was considered a very senior monk (Mahathera) and could lead the full ordination of a monk receiving the 250 precepts.

Having finished thirty (in some cases thirty-five) years as a monk, the monk was considered a most senior monk and was often in charge of many groups of monks. This became our notion of Patriarch.

Today, Summer Training period begins with the feast and ceremony commemorating the birth of the Buddha and ends with the Ullambana (Vu Lan) feast and ceremony performed in honor of our ancestors, past and present. During the training period, monks participate in an intense training practice where they are not allowed to leave the temple grounds (at least in Asia). The laity increases their own practice by attending Dharma lectures, retreats at temples, and as many ceremonies as they can.

The Desert Zen Center observes the Rains Season from the middle of September to the middle of December when the Bodhi Day/Rohatsu weekend retreat commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha is held. This time period follows the Japanese tradition and honors the intent of the Asian tradition, which observes Rains Season training during their winter (monsoon) period. During this period of time, there will be a retreat, Day at the Temple or workshop on the second full Saturday of each month.

Some suggestions for personal participation during this time are:

– Meditate daily in front of your home shrine

– Increase your daily meditation: 10 to 15 minutes, 20 to 30 minutes.

– Keep a vegetarian diet on the 15th and last day of the month.

– Read and study a sutra for 15 to 20 minutes a day.

– Recite the Heart Sutra daily at home.

– Bowing, offer incense and fresh water at your home shrine daily.

– Recite the name of the Buddha (Namo Sakyamuni Buddha) when rising in the morning and when going to bed at night.

– Learn some of the gathas recited by the monks for daily activities.

What to Expect During the ReTreat (Leave Your Expectations Aside)

Days at the Temple are ideal for beginners or those who are new to practice at Desert Zen Center.  

  • These are formal retreats  designed to provide the experience of Temple life, and space for us to dive deeply into the practice for one day. The 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. day includes an orientation, Zazen (sitting) and Kinhin (walking) meditation, a formal vegetarian lunch, a Dharma talk by Roshi, and an ending ceremony.  Formal and intense, but of limited duration, being held from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on one day, usually a Saturday.
  • Weekend Sesshin are formal meditation retreats, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday, and continuing through the end of lunch after Service on Sunday afternoon.   Longer Sesshin may also be arranged.
  • The focus is on meditation (sitting, walking, working, eating… just being) in a formal group setting.  Meditation sessions in the Zendo begin in the morning at 6 a.m. and there are chanting services during the day.  Roshi gives Dharma talks and is available for Dokusan ( individual, formal interviews with the Master).
  • Teaching or Workshop Day at the Temple or Sesshin are slightly less formal, with lectures or workshop taking the place of several meditation periods.  

    What to do, to bring, to expect:  

Arrive early, so that everyone is settled and we may begin promptly at 8 p.m. It is important that newcomers attend the opening session of the Sesshin. Plan to  stay at the temple overnight on Friday and Saturday.

  • Bring: Sleeping bag/bedding, towels & personal toiletries.
  • Dress: comfortable, loose clothing; layers are a good choice. You will need a jacket, work clothes, sturdy shoes, hat and gloves. Weather is unpredictable, hot to cold -and back again- in the same day.
  • Leave the world (e.g. cell phones, watches, and so forth) outside the Zendo door.  Please do not bring these items to the Sesshin.
  • Formal, ample, vegetarian meals provided.
  • Advise in advance of dietary restrictions and, unless medically necessary, please do not bring snacks or treats.

Temple Work Day

9 am. to noonish (sometimes ending at about 3 p.m. if we’re on a roll), vegetarian lunch included. A concerted experience of a day of samu (work meditation) in community.

Note: Desert Zen Center schedules temple events on the second Saturday of every month.

The Rains Season: A time for intense practice and cultivation

The Desert Zen Center observes the Rains Season from the middle of September to the middle of December when the Bodhi Day weekend retreat commemorating the enlightenment of the Buddha is held. This time period follows the Japanese tradition and honors the intent of the Asian tradition, which observes Rains Season training during their winter (monsoon) period. During this period of time, a retreat, Day at the Temple or a workshop is held on the second full Saturday of each month.

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