Live Zen at annual Buddhist seminar

While tree branches fell, along with the occasional whole tree, and without electricity due to Hurricane Gustav, Dr. Paula Arai, keynote speaker of the fifth annual Vashon Island Buddhist Seminar, talked of her keen interest in the realm of what she calls domestic Zen, which, she adds, is very different from monastic Zen.

“Within the tradition of domestic (or lay) Zen,” she explained, “there is a process of bringing rituals into homes, a way to make it (Zen) real, to provide a way to make real the things we are addressing in the seminar: gratitude, empowerment and healing.”

“Rituals shape, stretch, define and redefine the identity of their participants. As one engages in a ritual, one’s consciousness changes. The power of ritual lies not in the ability to communicate conscious knowledge, but to frame experience in such a way that it may be apprehended meaningfully,” Dr. Arai wrote in her book, “Women and Dogen: Rituals Actualizing Empowerment and Healing.”

Given that, and the knowledge that ritual plays such a significant part in any religious/spiritual experience, Arai expressed particular excitement at the opportunity a format of small group discussions, such as those planned for the afternoon of the seminar, would present to the participants.

Arai, associate professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Louisiana State University, has more than two decades of work in the experience, learning and teaching of Zen Buddhism. Her most recent book is “Healing Zen: Japanese Women’s Rituals of Transformation.”

In addition to Arai, Koshin Christopher Cain, Abbot of Puget Sound Zen Center, will provide an introductory talk about Zen practice. Abbot Koshin explained that the focus of the seminar is educational and provides a means to introduce concepts and various facets of Buddhism to the general public, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. Speakers are chosen with an eye toward those who can bring together academia and practice. This includes Buddhists of many different traditions and approaches to the practice, hopefully providing a broader and deeper understanding of what it means to practice Buddhism.

The seminar, “Living Zen: Gratitude, Empowerment and Healing,” will be in the elegant Javanese Kudus House and Chinese House of David Smith, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21, and is sponsored by Puget Sound Zen Center, in conjunction with the Northwest Dharma Association and Tricycle magazine. There will be two optional sessions of meditation, including chanting, and a vegetarian lunch will be served. Cost is $90 for non-members and $75 for Puget Sound Zen Center members, college students and seniors. Space for the seminar is limited. Registration information can be found at, or by calling 463-4332.

— Michael Shook lives in Tacoma and is a member of the Puget Sound Zen Center.

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