Zen River offers a varied program following three intertwining paths. Firstly and most obviously, Zen River is an ‘open’ monastery. This means that — while the continuity of the daily training is maintained by a dedicated team of monastics — everybody is welcome to join for any length of time. Newcomers and old-timers, laypeople and monks, women and men, practice together in a family-style setting. All participants support each other in deepening their understanding, following Master Joshu’s famous dictum: “If I meet a seven-year-old girl who is more accomplished than me, I want to learn from her; if I meet a seventy-year-old man who is less accomplished than me, I would like to teach him.” In other words, this path is for everyone, regardless of seniority, gender or religious ranking. All can make their specific contribution to the dharma, so it may spread throughout the three worlds.

Secondly, Zen River also functions to some extent as a church; it is even officially registered as such. Public services for the local community are held every Sunday, followed by zazen and a meeting with the abbot or one of the senior students. Every year an ‘Open House’ event attracts people from all walks of life. Groups from schools and universities and members of professional or social organizations are welcomed regularly and receive special attention. An outreach programme includes workshops led by senior students. Weddings and funerals take place whenever the need arises, either at Zen River or at other locations. While these activities are carried out to benefit the larger public, they simultaneously offer sangha members a wonderful opportunity to serve others and give back freely whatever they have received from their training.

Thirdly, Zen River can be seen as a pioneering seminary, where those aspiring to leadership roles in the Zen community can plunge into the depth of the training for a longer period of time. The truth to be found requires sudden awakening, which is the standard for mind-to-mind transmission, but at the same time the phenomenal level calls for gradual cultivation. Therefore, thorough training in the Four Elements — zazen (including koan practice), ritual, buddhist literature, and social interaction — is seen as indispensible for becoming a senior student, teacher, priest or dharma successor. Using the style of the American White Plum lineage and the directives of the Japanese Soto School as a general framework, Zen River is developing a path that allows participants to go through the traditional stages of practice, while various rites of passage provide transparency to the process. Lay-people and monastics essentially follow the same path, although monastics ordained at Zen River usually enter full-time residential training and commit to serving the sangha as their life’s vocation. Those who wish to be part of the international network of the Soto School can be registered with Shumucho (Administrative Headquarters). This paves the path for registration of Hossenshiki (dharma combat ceremony), Shiho (dharma transmission) and Zuisse (ceremonies held in the two main Soto temples, Eihei-ji and Soji-ji). In order to be fully certified according to Soto School standards, monastics need also to attend two three-month Ango training periods in a designated temple in Japan.

N.B.: Shoken is a small private ceremony during which teacher and student both acknowledge a mutual karmic link. The practitioner officially takes on the responsibility of being a student and the teacher officially takes on the responsibiliby of teaching the student. Timing needs to be discussed with Tenkei Roshi personally and it is customary for a student to request Shoken at least three times before it can be considered. Ask Robert in the office for further details. Jukai is a public ceremony during which a student receives the precepts and formally becomes a Buddhist. Jukai ceremonies are preferably held at the end of the Sakura Spring sesshin and the October Jukai sesshin during which Tenkei Roshi gives special instruction on the subject, but they can also be scheduled at other dates if needed. Important elements in the preparation for Jukai are the sewing of one’s own rakusu and the copying of the lineage chart. Ask Robert in the office for further details.