MAY 2009, Vol. 1 No.4

Greetings from the Zen Center of Pittsburgh as we enter a most exciting month! The May sesshin promises to be one unlike any other as we welcome the Dean of Buddhist Studies at the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), the Rev. Dairyu Michael Wenger. Please be sure to join us as Rev. Wenger leads our weekend intensive retreat and show a warm welcome to our distinguished guest. A Dharma heir of Rev. Sojun Mel Weitsman, Rev. Wenger is also a former president of the SFZC. Two of his Dharma talks are available online from DharmaWeb and three of his books are listed below. This promises to be a truly unique experience as we are lead through the weekend by the head of Buddhist scholarly work at the largest Zen center in the United States. The May sesshin will culminate with two very special ceremonies and a pot-luck party welcoming back our very own Rev. Jisen Coghlan.

More information and last minute updates can be found at Zen Center of Pittsburgh. If you are new to Zen Center or just curious, please check the Just for Beginners page.

Books by Rev. Wenger:

Wenger, Michael (2002). Wind bell: Teachings from the San Francisco Zen Center 1968-2001. North Atlantic Books. ISBN 1556433816. http://www.worldcat.org

Suzuki, Shunryu; Weitsman, Mel; Wenger, Michael (1999). Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. University of California Press. ISBN 0520219821. (Click here to read an excerpt.)

Wenger, Michael (1994). 33 Fingers: A Collection of Modern American Koans. Clear Glass Publishing. ISBN 0931425352.

Weekly Zazen Schedule
Location Schedules
Jisen's Shuso Ceremony
June Practice Period
Pan-Buddhist Vesak Celebration
Please arrive 10-15 minutes before starting time.

ZCP Weekly Schedule
  • Deep Spring Temple: 124 Willow Ridge Road Sewickley, PA 15143 (map)
  • Mattress Factory: 505 Jacksonia Way Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (directions)
  • Zen Friends: 4836 Ellsworth Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (map)
  • World Peace Ceremony: Sunday, May 3; 10:00am-12:30pm
    • Celebrated on the first Sunday of every month, this ceremony helps us rededicate our practice to bringing about a more peaceful world.  An open discussion of Zen practice follows the ceremony.
  • May Sesshin with Guest Teacher Rev. Dairyu Michael Wenger: May 8, 7:00pm - May 10, Noon
    • Please join us for this relatively short, but intense, period of practice. Numerous 75-minute-long meditation periods are interspersed with short rest breaks, walking meditation, formal meals, and short periods of work, all performed with the same mindfulness practiced in meditation. In addition, Rev. Wenger will be giving two dharma talks and offering dokusan (private interview).
    • There will be two services at noon closing the sesshin on Sunday, May 10th. The first is a Remembrance Ceremony where we will speak the names of those friends and family that have passed away. The second is a special ceremony to mark the completion of Rev. Jisen's Shuso, where she served as head monk in training and has now crossed the threshold as a senior priest. These services will be followed by a special pot-luck lunch party to welcome Rev. Jisen back to Pittsburgh.
    • Those not attending sesshin are welcome to join the group on Sunday at 10am.
    • Please register for sesshin in advance: kyoki@prairiewindzen.org.
    • Suggested donation to register: $100; $30 minimum Donate
  • Precept Renewal (Ryaku Fusatsu): Tuesday, May 12; 6:00-7:00pm
    • This evening of the full moon ceremony offers practitioners an opportunity to renew their commitment to the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts.  All are welcome to attend!
    • Read more about Ryaku Fusatsu here.
  • Intro to Zen: Thursday, May 21; 6:00pm
    • These two-hour introductory workshops are a combination of gentle sitting, lecture, question and answer, and walking meditation.  They also provide instruction on the forms of Soto Zen practice (bowing, entering the zendo, chanting), how to sit comfortably (should you use a cushion, a chair or a bench?), and suggestions for reading material in a variety of areas.
    • Please wear loose-fitting clothes. Jeans don't work, but sweats are great.
    • Please use these directions.
    • After this introduction, please plan to attend our regular sittings on Sunday at Deep Spring Temple or any of our other locations.
    • For more information or questions call 412-741-1262 or send an email to kyoki@prairiewindzen.org.
    • Suggested donation to register: $15 Donate

  • Zen Center Closed: Sunday, May 24 - Friday, May 29
  • Wednesday evening zazen; 6:00pm-7:15pm. Friends Meeting House (map).

  • Tuesday morning zazen; 7:00am-7:40pm. Mattress Factory (map).


On April 28th, 2009 Rev. Jisen Coghlan will have her Shuso Ceremony at Shasta Abbey, Mt. Shasta California, Rev. Master Eko Little presiding.  Nonin and Kyoki will be attending. On May 10th we will have a welcome home celebration for Jisen, immediately following our Remembrance Ceremony.

There are three ordination milestones in a Soto Zen priest's life. The first is priest ordination or Shukke Tokudo which means to "leave home and practice the Way." (This is in contrast to Zaike Tokudo or "stay home to practice the Way", which is used as our lay initiation.) Priest ordination usually comes after years of Zen practice. At the priest ordination one receives a black okesa (full size Buddha's robe), koromo (priest robe), oryoki (priest bowls), and lineage papers with your ordination name on it. The novice priest spends the next couple of years learning to wear the priest robes, serving the community in a variety of roles, and handling a wide range of temple jobs with increasing responsibility. Having "left home", one's emphasis is on serving community rather than gaining wealth and fame.

During this novice phase one also completes one's monastic training. This normally might require 1-2 years practicing with fellow "monks". One follows a strict schedule of zazen, service, meals, work, and study.  It is at this important time in one's training that the conceptual barrier of self and other with which we normally go through life is broken down so one embodies the reality of the oneness of all beings. Practicing intimately with each other, one begins interacting in the same manner as the left and right hand; not the same, but always available, always expressing interconnectedness.

At the end of one's stay at the monastery, one might be invited to serve as "head monk" or Shuso. For a 100-day practice period the Shuso takes on the responsibility not only for his or her own practice, but also for leading the practice for the group. Normally you take the seat in the zendo beside the abbot, and then throughout the day display the practice for your fellow monks, teaching by example. At the end of the practice period the abbot invites you to give a dharma talk and answer questions. In Japan, this talk with questions and answers is scripted and the Shuso displays their understanding much as an actor does upon a stage. Completion of this three-month period and ceremony serves as an intermediate ordination and the end of one's novice priesthood. (Jisen is Shasta Abbey's first Shuso from outside their lineage!)

As a senior priest, one usually returns to one's ordination teacher for further training. Perhaps sutra study or further education makes sense. Perhaps study with different teachers is in order. In Jisen's case, for her next step, she has been accepted to the Chaplaincy Program at Shadyside Hospital this summer. Through additional study and training with one's teacher or other Zen Masters, one deepens one's practice and grows in understanding. The apprentice becomes a master.

This then heralds the third and final step for our Zen priest. At that time when one's teacher feels that the understanding of the student and master is the same, the teacher offers dharma transmission to the student. In a midnight ceremony, a brown robe and lineage papers are transmitted to the student authorizing her or him to act as an independent teacher. They are then free to go their own way, ordain their own students, and offer the precepts to others. My own experience has been that my Master has continued to be a nurturing presence in my life, guiding and encouraging me through many difficulties. I can't imagine what it would be like without his great wisdom and kind heart. It has been said it takes ten years to make a priest, ten years to make a teacher, and ten more to make a Master.

Jisen, Congratulations on your Shuso and our deepest gratitude for the strength of your practice.

Ever wonder what it is like to be Zen monastic? Once again we will be having our June Intensive where we follow a monastic schedule which includes zazen, service, formal Zen meals (oryoki), temple job training, work, and study. People are welcome to sign up for a day or the entire period. We will be starting on June 5th and ending on June 28th. We will be having two sesshins (silent retreats) and a communication workshop. The second sesshin will be for 5 days. While we encourage everyone to sit the full five days with us, one can sit any part of it they wish with a minimum 1 day commitment. Please e-mail Kyoki with your commitments. (All dharma activities at Zen Center are offered freely to anyone wishing to attend. However, we are often asked what might be an appropriate amount. Please choose a level of giving in relationship to your income.)

Here are the monthly and daily schedules:

5-Intensive begins w/ sesshin at 7 PM
7-Sesshin (until noon); Sunday Schedule
8-personal day
9-12-Regular schedule
13-14-Communication Workshop (no Sunday Schedule)
15-Personal Day
16-20-Regular Schedule
21-Sunday Schedule
22-Monks' Day Out
23-Regular Schedule
28-Sunday Schedule; Intensive ends at noon

5 am-wake-up
7:15-oryoki breakfast
11-end of work
11:45-noon service
12 noon-lunch (informal)
1:30-work or class
8:30-end of day

The Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh is sponsoring a Vesak celebration on Sunday May 17, 2009 from 3-5 pm at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside (corner of Morewood and Ellsworth Avenues). Vesak is a Buddhist holiday that commemorates the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing away (generally called his "parinirvana"). For this celebration, many local Buddhist organizations are joining together to offer prayers, chants and rituals in honor of Buddha Shakyamuni, as well as a special meditation for world peace. Participating groups include the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center (Theravadin Buddhists); the Zen Center of Pittsburgh; Three Rivers Dharma Center and the Shambhala Center of Pittsburgh (both Tibetan Buddhists); Laughing Rivers Sangha (Thich Nhat Hahn followers); and others. Highlights will include the ritual bathing of Baby Siddhartha; chants in different languages; and a performance by the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center choir. The world peace ceremony will involve a blessing of the waters; the blessed water will then be released into the Ohio River at Point State Park at 6:30 pm, carrying our wishes for world peace throughout the country. There will also be refreshments on the lawn of the church afterwards. This is a family friendly event and children are welcome. You do not need to be a Buddhist to participate, and we invite everyone to join us in this celebration. The event is completely free of charge; donations to the Buddhist Society of Pittsburgh are welcome.

For more information, contact Bhante Pemaratana of the Pittsburgh Buddhist Center at 724-295-2525; email pema@pittsburghbuddhistcenter.org. Or John Bogaard of the Three Rivers Dharma Center at 412-273-1930; email threeriversdharma@ymail.com.

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2009
3:00-5:00 PM
  • In the next few months, we will be sending out a survey about our Intro to Zen classes. If you have been to a recent Intro to Zen, your feedback will be greatly appreciated.
  • Remember that our June practice period will run from June 1st through June 28th.
  • Please check out the latest edition of Prairie Wind Online, the quarterly newsletter offered by Abbot Rev. Nonin Chowaney.
  • To make a tax-deductible contribution to the Zen Center of Pittsburgh, please click the 'Make a Donation' button. We are deeply grateful for your generosity.
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