By Alison Baitz
You don’t need to be a meditation aficionado or an avid chanter to visit the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-ji. The center welcomes all people, regardless of experience, to pull up a pillow and fulfill their yen for Zen.
Located on West Seneca Turnpike, the center sits next to Onondaga Creek, and offers programs ranging from daily meditation sittings to classes on “deep presence,” how to use meditation for wellness.
No newcomer to the realm of meditation, the Zen Center Hoen-ji is one of the oldest Zen Buddhist centers in the United States and has been in continuous operation since 1972, according to its Web site.
The three-house compound includes the Joshua Forman House, an all-white building complete with a wraparound porch. It was built in 1810 by the first “president” of the Village of Syracuse.
The main room of the house is subtly beautiful, with fully-stocked bookshelves nestled up against a fireplace and Buddhist-themed decor accenting the clean, white walls.
Meditation services are held in the Carriage House Zendo. The interior screams (or rather, whispers) serenity with vast hardwood floors, white walls, and several cushions on raised platforms. An altar sits at the front of the room, and the walls are lined with evenly spaced windows. To the left of the Forman House is the third house, which doubles as a residence for students studying Buddhism and a meeting area.
Though attending a chanting service may seem intimidating, the Zen Center enthusiastically welcomes newcomers. First-timers are asked to arrive early so they can receive words of wisdom from members of the congregation and a small book with the chants. They teach how to sit comfortably, when to stand, and how to chant with the best of them. Play your cards right and someone might even give you a one-on-one meditation lesson.
If the center’s programming isn’t a big enough draw for you, then the abbot, Roko Sherry Chayat, will be. She’s kind of a big deal in the Zen Buddhism world. According to the Center’s Web site, she was the first woman to receive official Rinzai Zen transmission, or initiation. She was recently given the title of Osho, a huge honor for teachers.
Before you go, remember these important tips: do not wear perfume, noisy jewelery, digital watches, tank tops, or distracting clothing. Dress subtly, leave happy.