Zen Practice in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley

About Shenandoah Zen

Shenandoah Zen is a group of people who come together weekly for Zen meditation. The style of Zen practice through Shenandoah Zen is basic and accessible, with a strong focus on intensive meditation. Zen practice with Shenandoah Zen mixes elements of both Soto and Rinzai Zen. We began meeting in 2015.Shenandoah Zen is organized by Benjamin Mui Pumphrey, Roshi, a Zen teacher who received Dharma Transmission in the White Plum Asanga lineage from Charles Shinkai Birx, Roshi, in September 2016 and Inka in April 2022. He began his Zen practice with Charles Shinkai Birx, Roshi, Ellen Jikai Birx, Roshi, and the New River Zen Community in 1996.Contact: shenandoahzen (at) gmail (dot) com

Shenandoah Zen abides by the Ethics Policy of the White Plum Asanga

What is Zen?

This is a question that necessarily does not have any ready-made answer. Once started with Zen practice, it is a question that you should continue to ask.More conventionally, Zen is a contemplative school of Mahayana Buddhism that focuses on meditation as a principle practice for awakening. It spread east from India through Asian countries before reaching the western hemisphere. With each culture that it contacted, Zen developed into different flavors particular to each region, while preserving its core. We are currently witnessing, and are part of, the development of Zen in American modes.Even though intellectual understanding is not a focus of Zen practice, it may be helpful to have some context for this work. Some good introductory books about Zen include: Healing Zen and Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. Some good introductory books about Buddhism include: What the Buddha Taught and The Heart of Buddha's Teaching.For a resource on Buddhist ethics and Zen precepts, I recommend The Mind of Clover by Robert Aitken, Roshi.If you are interested in the intersection between Zen and Christian practice, I recommend a few books: Embracing the Inconceivable: Interspiritual Practice of Zen and Christianity by Ellen Birx, Roshi; Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit by Robert Kennedy, Roshi; and Zen Gifts to Christians also by Robert Kennedy, Roshi.Zen may be practiced alongside any religious or spiritual affiliation you may have. There are Zen teachers who are also Christian Priests and Jewish Rabbis. If you have a current religious or spiritual perspective, Zen practice may complement and deepen your understanding of your current faith tradition.This work is not about making anyone a better Buddhist. Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, involve approaches and practices for helping us discover and live our lives as full, more intimate, human beings. To engage in Buddhist practice to become something or someone other than Who or What we already are --even a "Buddhist"-- is to miss the point.

Getting Started

Fundamentally, there is not anything else that you need to do, to get started.There are, however, items that may help support your Zen meditation.Helpful items include a meditation cushion and a meditation mat. It is also helpful to have some protected time and space for meditation every day.Of these three supports, time and space for daily meditation are the most important. If you do not have a meditation cushion and mat set, that is completely fine; any chair or firm pillow will work.If you wish to purchase a meditation cushion (a zafu) and a meditation cushion (a zabuton), some good websites to visit are Zen Works (through Zen Community of Oregon), Carolina Morning, and Dharma Crafts. If you do not yet have a meditation cushion, you may want to try one filled with buckwheat hulls, rather than kapok filling, first.Zen meditation is largely a personal practice but it also helps a great deal to sit with the support of a meditation group.Currently, Shenandoah Zen meets in-person on the first two Sunday nights of each month, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waynesboro. We meet online, via Zoom, for the remaining Sunday nights of each month.Please send an email to shenandoahzen (at) gmail (dot) com if you are interested in attending in-person or online zazen, for more information.

What Does Zen Cost?

Practicing Zen does not require or involve any transaction, fundamentally.Occasionally, there are costs associated with use of spaces, retreat costs, and opportunities to make donations to organizations supporting Zen practice. However, it is important to consider the true relative costs of Zen practice: only your serious intention to practice, your appropriate efforts, and support of the Zen community.Practice with Shenandoah Zen is offered free of charge otherwise, out of respect and thanks for my teachers, all the Zen teachers of the past, and in deepest gratitude for their substantial efforts.It can be confusing and detrimental when money and Zen training mix. Charging for access to Zen practice and teaching carries risks of commodifying that which is freely available, readily accessible, and is each of our birthrights. Zen is not a practice that one can profit from.

Are There Risks?

The potential for risks or adverse effects of intensive meditation is a topic that is not discussed as much as it should be.Every person is different and each person's physical and psychological tolerance for deep meditation and the shifting physical and mental states that it may provoke need to be considered carefully. If you have any acute or chronic medical concern, especially of a cardiovascular or neurological variety, please speak with your primary care provider and/or specialist to determine if intensive meditation is safe for you.If you have any acute or chronic psychological or psychiatric difficulty, please discuss with your mental health provider whether or not intensive meditation is appropriate and safe for you. You may not want to begin any meditative practice, Zen or otherwise, without having these conversations.

More Zen Resources

Contact: shenandoahzen (at) gmail (dot) com

Zen Precepts

These Precepts are drawn from those developed by the Zen Peacemaker Order

The Three Treasures

Recognizing my place in the Infinite Circle of Life, I take refuge in:

  • Buddha, Oneness, the awakened nature of all beings

  • Dharma, Diversity, the ocean of wisdom and compassion

  • Sangha, Harmony, the interdependence of oneness and diversity.

The Three Pure Precepts

  • I vow to do no harm.

  • I vow to do good.

  • I vow to cultivate the awakened mind for the sake of all beings.

The Three Tenets

  • I will embody Not Knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas.

  • I will Bear Witness, opening my heart to the joy and suffering of life.

  • I will take Loving Action arising out of not-knowing and bearing witness.

The Ten Precepts

Embodying The Three Tenets, I practice these Precepts:

  • Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is. This is the precept of Non-Killing.

  • Being satisfied with what I have. This is the precept of Non-Stealing.

  • Meeting the diversity of life with respect and dignity. This is the precept of Chaste Conduct.

  • Listening and speaking from the heart. This is the precept of Non-Lying.

  • Cultivating a mind that sees clearly. This is the precept of Not Being Ignorant.

  • Bearing witness to the offering of each moment. This is the precept of Not Talking About Others’ Errors And Faults.

  • Speaking what I perceive to be the truth. This is the precept of Not Elevating Myself And Blaming Others.

  • Using all the ingredients of my life. This is the precept of Not Being Stingy.

  • Bearing witness to emotions that arise. This is the precept of Not Holding On To Anger.

  • Honoring my life as a Peacemaker. This is the precept of Not Disparaging The Three Treasures.

The Five Commitments of the Zen Peacemakers, Based on the Global Ethic Adopted By the 1993 Parliament of the World Religions

  • I commit myself to work towards a culture of non-violence and reverence for life.

  • I commit myself to work towards a culture of solidarity and a just economic order.

  • I commit myself to work towards a culture of inclusiveness and a life based on truthfulness.

  • I commit myself to work towards a culture of equal rights for all people, respecting and appreciating human diversity.

  • I commit myself to work towards a culture of sustainability and care for the earth.

Please Note

If you are a current patient of Ben Pumphrey's through his work as a psychiatrist and want to begin Zen meditation, that will require conversation with him to determine the best course of action for you as he does not supervise Zen practice of current or former patients.Engaging in Zen practice with Shenandoah Zen neither creates nor implies a clinical treatment relationship with Ben Pumphrey. Nothing said in the context of Shenandoah Zen or outside of Ben Pumphrey's psychiatry practice is a clinical recommendation or represents clinical advice. Zen is not psychotherapy or a clinical treatment of any kind.There are other area Zen practice groups you may want to consider, should you be a current or former patient of Ben Pumphrey's or if there is another barrier to practice with Shenandoah Zen.

Copyright 2023 Benjamin Pumphrey
(except for precept/refuge/vow-related material)