Zen Center’s new home offers room and grace

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By SUSAN RIEMER

Staff Writer

From its new home overlooking KVI beach, the Puget Sound Zen Center has room to grow. The center moved into this new space, with its bamboo floors, skylights and abundant windows, last September.

“It’s like being in the trees,” said Koshin Chris Cain, the center’s abbot, who is happy to have this space for its beauty and for what it will enable the center to offer to the community as a whole.

Cain, his wife Soshin Lidunn Cain and their first child came to the Island in November 2002 to create a Zen center here. They were looking for a location to start a Zen center, as Koshin had just completed 12 years of study at Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California.

“Everyone leaves and starts something from there,” he said.

Islanders John and Caroline Candy, friends of the Cains, had suggested they consider Vashon. After their trip here — and trips to other places as well, including Norway, where Soshin is from, and North Carolina, where Koshin is from — they felt the Island was the right choice.

They opened the center in January 2003, in the former Human Touch Studio in downtown Vashon, with a handful of people. But it has grown over time and now, according to Cain, 30 to 40 people come in any given month.

When the woman who rented Human Touch decided to move on from there, the Zen center decided to move as well. Center members Van Crozier and Karen Hersh, who rent the house that adjoins the center, approached their landlords Joy and Chai Mann about renting the studio space to the Zen center. The Mann’s house, incidentally, is known to many Islanders as the cedar-sided house with a graceful air on one of the main corners in Ellisport. The Manns agreed to the dea.

Now, with a bigger space and a good number of members, they can open their doors to more people and more activities, according to Cain.

“I see the Zen community as a series of concentric circles,” Cain said. “Some people will be closer to the middle in what looks like a conventional Zen practice. Others will be in circles further out. They may attend a program now and then or just the family program. … It’s really important to have a rich variety of people in all the circles and not have them feel pressure to move further into the circle.”

Currently, the Zen center schedule includes zazen meditation from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. weekdays and 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, occasional Zen classes and retreats and a large annual Buddhist seminar, which sells out every year and draws people from on Island and off.

The center launched its newest program, a family day, on a recent Sunday. Twenty-five people attended in what is expected to be a monthly event. The group was evenly split between adults and children, who ranged in ages from 2 to 18. The teenagers served tea silently; then the group chanted, which is customary at the center, with some children playing drums, and then the group sat together in silent meditation, while the kids came and went, playing, coloring and spending time together in the adjoining room, Cain said.

Later they all had breakfast together, seated on the floor, and then read a story for the younger children.

The people of the Zen center are still in the envisioning process, but their list of possibilities to draw people in to those concentric circles is a long one and includes full moon meditations on the porch (with the moon rising over KVI), a women’s group, movie nights with Zen or Buddhist-influenced films, a contemplative New Year’s program, a Zen community garden, yoga classes for sitting (seated meditation) and a monthly Zen jam session, with danceable jazz.

“I want more dancing at the Zen center, “ Cain said and noted that the member behind the jam session is a player in the popular Island band, Portage Fill.

At the heart of the Zen Center, though, are the regular Zen practice times, where members come, share in a tea service, chant and sit in zazen meditation. The Wednesday evening sessions often include a dharma talk or discussion.

There is no creed for people to believe in at the Zen center, and all people are welcome, including those of differing faith perspectives. People are drawn to the Zen Center for a variety of reasons, Cain said. Some people find it a relaxing way to start the morning; some people are attracted to chanting, which, Cain said, is an active meditation that opens people and prepares them for meditation; some people are drawn to “sitting,” as Zazen mediation is called, and others to the Zen philosophy.

“Zen meditation allows people to take a break from their lives and come back,” Cain said. “It changes the way people look at the world.

“Sitting still and not thinking is powerful stuff. It’s not just nice. It’s transforming.”

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