About Us

Everyone is Welcome

Our Zen practice community is open to everyone. We are always encouraged by the interest and participation of new people.  You do not need experience in meditation or other aspects of Zen practice.

What we offer

  • Meditation instruction (6 pm; 2nd Monday of each month)
  • Discussion and practice circles
  • Retreat nights (sitting and walking meditation)
  • Special topic classes
  • Public talks by visiting Zen teachers
  • Practice interviews with our guiding teacher, Rev. Myo Lahey or Jim Hare
  • One-day and half-day Zen meditation retreats

Teaching

Myo Denis Lahey is the guiding teacher for our sangha.  Rev. Myo became interested in Zen as a teenager and started full-time residential practice at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1982. He received dharma transmission from Tenshin Reb Anderson in 1999 and served as head of practice at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery from 2000 – 2002. He is now Abbot of Hartford Street Zen Center in San Francisco. (http://www.hszc.org)
Jim Hare serves as Tanto, or head of practice. He lived in the San Francisco Zen Center community from 1980 to 1984, and was lay ordained by Tenshin Reb Anderson in 1985. He served as Head Student at Green Gulch Farm during the spring 2002 practice period.
Linda Dekker serves as Ino, or head of the meditation hall. She served on the first Valley Streams Board of Directors. Linda was lay ordained by Tenshin Reb Anderson in 2001 and lived at San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm for 18 months beginning in February 2003.

Your First Visit

If you are new to meditation or zen practice forms, we recommend timing your first visit to the second Monday of the month, when we offer meditation instruction and introduce Zen practice forms beginning at 6:00 p.m. If you have experienced sitting in a zendo before (particularly one affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center) you should feel at home without the introductory session. Our practice evenings always begin with at least one period of sitting meditation (zazen). And every evening includes a devotional service during which we offer incense, flowers, bows, and chants. You may do either standing bows or full prostrations at the beginning and end of service. Chant books are passed out during service, and collected at the end.

Depending on our varying schedule (see Calendar), you will be invited to join a discussion, practice circle, or dharma talk after service. The zendo is often rearranged at this point. At the end of the evening we ask everyone to help put away the zendo equipment, and there is time for informal and social conversation.

Zazen

Sitting meditation is the heart of our practice.  Also known as shikantaza (just sitting), this type of meditation practice emphasizes devotion to the present moment without trying to control our experience or reach for a particular state of mind.  We aspire to take this non-grasping effort off the cushion and into relationships with everyone and everything we meet.

Offering incense, bowing and chanting

These practices are part of our inheritance of Zen Buddhism as it has been practiced for centuries in Asia and particularly, in Japan. We retain most of these forms to honor the tradition as we received it from our forebears; this includes reciting some of our chants in Sino-Japanese (though most of our chanting is in English translation). For health reasons, we now offer flower petals instead of burning incense during our services.

When we chant we make an effort to blend our voices; when we bow, to bow and rise together.  Our relationship to these practices often changes over time;  noticing and feeling these changes is part of our mindfulness practice.

Here is some guidance on bowing from Suzuki roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“By bowing we are giving up ourselves.  To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas.  So there is no difference between zazen practice and bowing.  Usually to bow means to pay our respects to something which is more worthy of respect than ourselves.  But when you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha himself.  When you become one with Buddha, one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.”

What to Wear

Loose, comfortable clothing is best for cross-legged sitting. Please dress modestly, with shoulders and legs covered. Our room is air-conditioned in summer, heated in winter. It is traditional to remove your shoes before entering the meditation hall.

The Zendo is Accessible

There are always chairs included in the set-up for people who cannot, or prefer not, to sit in the traditional cross-legged sitting posture.  In addition, the zendo is fully accessible by wheelchair.

The Practice of Giving

Valley Streams Zen Sangha is supported by those who attend. You will find a Dana (giving, generosity) basket near the entry. The suggested donation is $5 – $10 each meeting. When our guiding teacher, Rev. Myo Lahey, is giving a dharma talk, we put out a second Dana basket to support his teaching, with a suggested donation of $5 – $20.  Please make a donation (including no donation) that best fits your circumstances.

Dedicated practitioners are invited to set up a regular donation through Paypal by clicking on the Donate button on our home page.

Do I need to call before coming?

No, it’s okay to just show up. However, we’d be happy to hear from you (and answer any additional questions) in advance via email to info@valleystreamszen.org or by phone  to 916-456-7752.  A phone call will put you in touch with Jim Hare, who serves as Head of Practice.