Zazen or sitting meditation is the heart of our practice. We sit in a stable posture, facing the wall, with eyes partially open. Shoulders and hips are aligned and the breath drops into the lower abdomen. One can sit in a variety of positions such as full-lotus, half lotus, or Burmese style with one foot in front of the other on the floor. There are also kneeling postures (often using a small bench).
Our Soto Zen School affirms the buddha-nature of all beings. Meditation is approached with what Suzuki Roshi called "no-gaining mind." Zazen is understood, therefore, not as a means to an end (awakening or enlightenment), but rather as the expression of our already present but not fully realized buddha-nature. In zazen we do not pay attention to any specific meditation object. Broadly speaking, attention is placed on the ever-changing conditions of body and mind from moment to moment, what Dogen Zenji calls the genjokoan--the koan of everyday life as it manifests in the present moment. More concretely, attention is directed towards posture and the breath. We strive to be fully present, to meet the changing conditions of life and mind free from conditions and preferences, with a mind that includes everything but clings to nothing.
Kinhin is our form of walking meditation. Usually practiced between periods of zazen, we walk slowly, taking a half-step with each breath. As in zazen, we continue to pay attention to posture and breath, expressing the mind and body of meditation in movement.
A sesshin is a meditation retreat. The word "sesshin" translates literally as “gathering the heart/mind." It is an extended period, lasting from one to seven days, in which most normal activities are suspended and we devote ourselves completely to a schedule of zazen, dokusan (individual meetings with the teacher), oryoki (formal meals), lecture, and work periods. Silence is observed.
Practice periods usually lasting from six to ten weeks, and is a time for intensifying our commitment to practice. Led by a teacher, students are encouraged and sometimes required to make heightened commitments to individual practice, the precepts, community service, and Dharma study
Community Practice Opportunitiies
We regularly schedule Work Periods or Work Days to tend to the house, zendo, and grounds of our property on Park Avenue. This is an opportunity to express our practice by working together in community.
Arcata Night Shelter Cooking
We participate with the All Faith Partnership in helping to provide meals for the Arcata Night Shelter. On the second and fourth Fridays of each month, a group of enthusiastic volunteers gathers in the kitchen, and many hands work together to create a nutritious meal.
Pelican Bay Prison Sangha
Members travel to Pelican Bay to sit with this sangha, typically on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and others maintain an active pen pal relationship with inmates.
Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF)
Arcata Zen Group, along with fellow local Buddhist groups, coordinates the Humboldt Area Chapter of BPF. BPF's mission is to be a catalyst and agent for socially engaged Buddhism, through a worldwide network of Buddhist chapters of all traditions. Programs, publications, and practice groups link Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion with social engagement and social change. BPF is open to all. You may subscribe to the chapter's mailing list by sending an email to humbpf-subscribe at yahoogroups.com.
AZG's house has an extensive lending library of books, recorded dharma talks, Soto Zen source and practice resources, as well as related materials from general Buddhist and other spiritual traditions. Members are welcome to check out books for up to one month. There is a sign out sheet in the library.