Our Approach to Practice Period

Since 1989, Berkeley Zen Center has had an annual six-week practice period in the spring or fall. Sojun Roshi regularly offered words of encouragement and perspective for those intending to participate. For our Spring 2021 Practice Period, I offer a similar message, drawing on Sojun’s expression and my own.

Practice Period has roots in Buddha’s time and continues through our Soto Zen tradition. In India and Southeast Asia, the Buddha established a Rains Retreat each year. During the monsoon season, monks and nuns would cease their wandering and gather in monastic centers for collective practice. This tradition migrated through East Asia and continues today. In Japan there is ango, which means “peaceful dwelling.” Practice period at BZC translates ango into our urban setting.

This spring we can concentrate our effort, renewing the practice of beginners’ mind. Study will center on zazen and basic Buddhist teachings. The practice period has some minimum requirements, but within these requirements each person should create his or her own realistic schedule. This is the nature of lay practice. According to the demands of our whole life, some will be able to do a minimum, while others can stretch themselves further in formal practice. In general, sangha members are not required to participate. You are free to come to zazen, even if you are not signed up for practice period.

The schedule you sign up for should incorporate zazen into your rhythm of  life as an intention rather than as a special activity. When we design our schedule for these six weeks, taking into consideration the other factors and responsibilities in our life, we have a foundation for practice, honoring all our commitments.

Sojun Roshi wrote: “I like to think of the spirit of practice period as the wish to do it all, and then narrowing it down to what is practical or possible, rather than simply picking and choosing pieces of it based on preference or convenience.  This helps to create an edge; something to push against but not enough to be inhibiting. When we all have this attitude, it creates a strong sangha feeling of mutual support and encouragement. We also manifest the spirit of zazen in our home and work life as continuous, well rounded practice; not just something we do on the cushion”

This provides an encouraging atmosphere for those who sit from day to day but are not in a position to throw themselves into this practice period. Please remember that we are all practicing together.

After this strange year of isolation, practice period can prepare us for the renewal of our intimate practice together.

—Hozan Sensei