Enso (Zen circle) by Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi

Weekly sittings on Sunday evenings
7:30 - 8:30 pm
Miller Performing Arts Center, room 301
Alfred University

Founded in 1998, the Falling Leaf Sangha is a Zen practice group in Alfred, New York. Though grounded in Buddhist tradition, this is a non-sectarian practice, and our sittings are open, free of charge, to the general public. Newcomers are welcome.

Our sessions begin promptly at 7:30 pm. If you are sitting with us for the first time, please plan to arrive by 7:15 for orientation. Although we provide basic instruction, we strongly recommend that new participants prepare themselves by viewing the instructional video How to Meditate. For general information about Zen practice, go to One Time, One Meeting, and click on "An Introduction to Zen." To learn more about formal practice, watch "What is Zen Buddhism?"

On most evenings, our sessions consist of tea meditation, chanting, walking meditation (kinhin), a recitation from Zen teachings, and two twenty-minute sittings. The sessions last for about an hour. If you have a meditation cushion, please bring it with you. Chairs are available for those who prefer them.

All sessions are conducted by Dr. Ben Howard, Emeritus Professor of English at Alfred University, who has practiced Zen and Vipassana meditation for twenty-five years. His teachers include Jiro Osho Andy Afable and Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi. In 2002 he received the jukai precepts in the Hakuin/Torei lineage of Rinzai Zen at Dai Bosatsu Zendo.


Zazen, or seated meditation, is the central practice of Zen Buddhism. By sitting still and paying close attention to our breath and posture, we return to where we already are. We come home to the present moment. As our practice deepens, our minds become more balanced, and we become intimately aware of the impermanence and interdependence of all conditioned things. Cultivating clarity and stability of mind, we also cultivate compassionate awareness.

Zazen is a simple practice, but it is important that it be done correctly. Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Soto school of Zen, offers these instructions:

When sitting zazen, wear the kashaya (patched robe) and use a round cushion. The cushion should not be placed all the way under the legs, but only under the buttocks. In this way the crossed legs rest on the mat and the backbone is supported with the round cushion. . . .

Straighten your body and sit erect. Do not lean to the left or right; do not bend forward or backward. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders, and your nose in line with your navel.

Rest your tongue against the roof of your mouth, and breathe through your nose. Lips and teeth should be closed. Eyes should be open, neither too wide, nor too narrow. Having adjusted body and mind in this manner, take a breath and exhale fully.

Sit solidly in
samadhi (one-pointed concentration) and think not-thinking. How do you think not-thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen.

--Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen,
ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (North Point Press, 1985), 30

The Falling Leaf Sangha

A sangha is a community of dedicated practitioners. Traditionally, the sangha consisted of monks and nuns, but today the term includes both monastic and lay practitioners. We take our name from the story of a a Zen monk who experienced awakening upon seeing a falling leaf. Sagari Ha, a piece for the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo) flute, commemorates this event. Sagari Ha, performed by Rodrigo Rodriguez, may be heard on YouTube at Sagari Ha.

The Aim of Zen

Ruth Fuller Sasaki

From time to time, even dedicated practitioners of zazen may lose sight of the aim of their practice. Here is advice from Ruth Fuller Sasaki (1892-1967), a Rinzai Zen priest who established the First Zen Institute of America in Japan.

The aim of Zen is first of all awakening, awakening to our true self. With this awakening to our true self comes emancipation from our small self or personal ego. When this emancipation from the personal ego is finally complete, then we know the freedom spoken of in Zen and so widely misconstrued by those who take the name for the experience. Of course, as long as this human frame hangs together and we exist as one manifested form in the world of forms, we carry on what appears to be an individual existence as an individual ego. But no longer is that ego in control with its likes and dislikes, its characteristics and its foibles. The True Self, which from the beginning we have always been, has at last become the master. Freely the True Self uses this individual form and this individual ego as it will. With no resistance and no hindrance it uses them in all the activities of everyday life, whatever they are and wherever they may be. This is true self-mastery; this is true freedom; and this only is truly living. Now have the long years of Zen study and practice come into full flower.

Isabel Stirling, Zen Pioneer: The Life & Works of Ruth Fuller Sasaki (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2006), 178