Zen Study Group

See our practice schedule for meeting times.

February 2023

Practicing Zen in North America

For February, the Zen study group will focus on the topic of Zen practice in North America. The study group will be led by Rev Gendo Thornberry and will meet on the following Wednesday evenings in February, 2/8, 2/15, and 2/22nd, at 6:50 pm, both in person and virtually via Zoom. 

This past year marks 100 years of Zen Buddhism in North America. One quality of Buddha’s teachings is a fluidity to connect with and become grounded in various cultural contexts in which it is practiced. With several generations of ordained and lay Zen Buddhists practicing in North America, one question is commonly asked: “What exactly is Zen that is practiced here, today?” Zen forms have been transmitted from Japan and Korea via a vast lineage of teachers. Today’s Zen Centers have teachers that point to the dharma against the backdrop of a modern Western society. In this context, we will look at Zen as it has been practiced in Western contexts by reading from several different Western Buddhist writers.


  1. Creating a Culture of Love – bell hooks
  2. Are You Joining a Cult – Donna Lovong
  3. Whats Really Crazy – Layla Mason
  4. Suffering Too Insignificant for the Majority to See – Alice Walker

    Readings drawn from The Best Buddhist Writing 2007, edited by Melvin McLeod and the Editors of the Shambhala Sun, Shambala Publications, Inc.

March 2023

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma

For our February study group, Gendo focused on Zen practice in contemporary North America. For March, the focus will switch to the other end of Zen history in what is reputedly a foundational Zen frontier—in China almost 2.000 years ago. When we’re introduced to Bodhidharma as beginning Zen students, the information we often receive is that he was an Indian Buddhist patriarch, twenty some generations removed in the direct line of descent from Shakyamuni Buddha.

We also hear that he emerged out of the west to revolutionize the existing Chinese Buddhist institutions and lay the groundwork for crafting the subsequent development of Zen in China, as well as Zen’s further proliferation in Japan and, finally, North America and Europe. This narrative turns out to be highly over-simplified, and even a little reading reveals a much more complicated and nuanced story that you can access in numerous online sources as well as Red Pine’s introduction to The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, the volume we’ll draw readings
from this month.

Of the four texts in Red Pine’s translation, the only one that might be directly attributable to Bodhidharma is the first one, Outline of Practice. Apparently the other three can be traced to him but may have been written down by his students, students of students, and others interested in developing and promoting his approach to Zen.

We’ll proceed by starting with the first chapter, Outline of Practice, and then move sequentially through various selections from the three “sermons” in the text. I have no designs on “covering” this book (just as I long ago gave up designs on becoming a Buddha!); what I hope we can do, though, is get a sampling of the roots of our practice that might serve as a reference point in our fuller understanding of what we do at Zen Center.


The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma, translated by Red Pine (1989), North Point Press: San Francisco.