Students are welcome at Sanshin!
Sanshin and its community are frequently the subject of student projects. In areas ranging from media studies and journalism to history, anthropology, arts and comparative religion, students can find something interesting to discover, consider, record, write about and discuss. We're happy to help introduce scholars to Buddhism and Zen, make ourselves available for interviews and questions, and invite observation and participation in our practice in appropriate ways.
Things you can do here
Our free Getting Started sessions are a great place to start your project. Fill out the registration information and let the facilitator know during introductions that you're working on a project; it may be possible to focus a bit on your topic. If you need to record video as a part of your project, please do let us know ahead of time just so our facilitator can be prepared. Out of respect for other participants, we'll need to ask at the start of the session whether folks are comfortable being recorded, but the facilitator himself won't mind and may be available afterward for interviews and questions.
If you're looking for liturgy, you'll need to get up early and join us at 7 am on any weekday; prior to our chanting services we do two periods of zazen (silent meditation). Sunday mornings are the times during which we see the most members of our community in person in the zendo. There is zazen at 9:10 am on Sundays followed by a dharma talk by our abbot, vice abbot, or a senior member of our community. All of these events are open to the public on a drop-in basis. Again, if you need to do video recording, please let us know ahead of time so we can make sure that's OK with participants. Our speakers are used to being recorded and may be available afterward for interviews and questions. It may be possible also to talk with other practitioners.
You may wish to look over the rest of this site, including our About Sanshin page and our monthly newsletters, to get a sense of who we are and what happens here.
Appropriate dress and behavior
Students sometimes worry about being disrespectful or making a mistake that may cause offense. We appreciate that, but don't worry! We have first time visitors at Sanshin all the time. Some are students who simply want to observe and record, while others are interested in learning to practice and participating in the community in the longer term. We know that visiting a Buddhist temple for the first time is not something that Western people frequently do, and we don't expect you to know all the protocols. The most important thing is to maintain a gracious attitude, a spirit of inquiry, and attention to any guidance we may give. Wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders (no shorts) in dark or subdued solid colors. Just watch and follow along with what others are doing as well as you can.
Please read our FAQ for more detailed information on what to wear and other useful things to know.
Soto Zen: An Introduction to Zazen (free downloadable booklet)
Understanding Sanshin Style (another free downloadable booklet)
Shohaku Okumura: A Good for Nothing Life
(video interview with Sanshin's abbot and founding teacher)
Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama
(book outlining the basis for Sanshin's particular style of practice)
Official website of the Soto Zen denomination
(videos about Soto Zen in North America may be particularly helpful)
Academia.edu (search for papers to see what others are studying and concluding about Buddhism and Zen and get ideas for your project)
Sanshin people who can help
These folks have agreed to make themselves available to students as their time permits. All have some particular areas of interest or expertise as well as years of experience with Zen practice. They can answer questions, suggest resources, help narrow your project focus and facilitate a visit to Sanshin. You can learn more about them on our About Sanshin page under Practice Leadership. To arrange a meeting, please send us an email.
Mark Myogen Ahlstrom: Mark is a database administrator and philosopher who is actively involved at Sanshin as a lay practitioner preparing for ordination. He lived in Korea as a child and also has experience practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Seigen Hartkemeyer: Seigen is a retired teacher of languages at the high school and university levels. He ordained in Europe more than 30 years ago and is fluent in Spanish and French as well as having familiarity with a number of other Western languages. His practice includes providing pastoral care to prison inmates.
Hoko Karnegis: Hoko is the vice abbot at Sanshin. Her secular career was in broadcast and public information, and she's spent a lot of time in temple administration. She's learned to sing Soto Zen hymns accompanied by handbells, and she provides backup for Sanshin's sewing teacher in the construction of clerical robes. She has a particular interest in the way that Soto Zen has developed historically in the West.
Doju Layton: Doju recently earned a master's degree in religious studies from IU, and he ordained as a novice priest at Sanshin in 2017. While at IU, he was the president of the IU Buddhist Study Association and helped establish a daily meditation program on campus. He has degrees in German studies and evolutionary biology and he oversees the prairie restoration project and other environmental activities at Sanshin.
Ritoku Robinson: Ritoku is of Cherokee descent and has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion with particular interests in Eastern thought and indigenous philosophies. In addition to his university teaching he's worked with the Peace Corps in Samoa and with the dying in a San Francisco hospice. He has ordained as a novice at Sanshin.
Hosshin Shoaf: Hosshin runs his own building and remodeling business and is also an abstract painter with a fine arts degree. He generally leads arts-related practice here as well as taking charge of facilities improvements and maintenance.
Tips for a successful project
Decide on your project's objectives -- but don't draw conclusions about us just yet. Your instructor will probably provide some goals for your project -- things you'll need to be able to show you can do. Think about what you'd like to find out about your topic, develop a hypothesis and then see whether it still holds up after you visit Sanshin. If it doesn't, that's fine. You might be surprised at the myths or preconceptions that are exploded, both because we're Westerners practicing in a tradition that came from Asia and because Zen is the subject of much popular misconception..
Rather than simply doing a broad general overview of Zen practice, consider intersecting it with another area to see what interesting things come from that connection. Think about a topic related to your major, a hobby or a personal experience and find out what Zen might have to say about it. Have a look at the Sanshin People Who Can Help section of this page and connect with someone who shares your interest.
Don't rely entirely on the internet to learn about Buddhism. There's a lot of misinformation out there, so make sure your sources are reliable. Those "Buddha" quotes on scenic backgrounds that get shared around on social media are frequently incorrectly attributed to him and may even be the opposite of what he actually taught. Just because a blog or website is large or has an attractive design, don't assume that the content is accurate without investigating the credentials of the author. Beware of information on Zen teachings or practices taken out of context for purposes like increased productivity, decluttering the home or stress reduction. Those who write about such things are frequently not well versed in actual Buddhist traditions.
Narrow your focus to a manageable scope. Just as there is no one Christianity, there is no one Buddhism. There isn't even one Zen. You can't cover all of Buddhism or "what Buddhists believe about [subject]" unless you're writing a book (and probably not even then). As you do preparatory reading, make sure you know in what Buddhist tradition the author practices and from what point of view he or she is writing. While there are central teachings common to most practitioners, like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, specific practices, texts, guidelines and emphases vary widely from sect to sect. Since you'll be visiting Sanshin, read up a bit on Soto Zen in particular and perhaps Mahayana more generally so that you'll know what to expect. For instance, Theravadin monks are celibate, eat two meals a day and don't handle money. Clergy in the Soto Zen tradition don't follow these guidelines and we can't tell you about them.
Ask us questions that get you what you need. If you've prepared well, you'll know what you need to see, do, record and ask while you're here and you'll be able to make best use of your (and our) time. If you've read something that wasn't clear to you, if you wonder how modern Westerners are working with particular teachings, if you'd like a closer look at something we use or do, please ask. This is your time to gather the recordings and answers you need from actual living practitioners to make sure your project is compelling and meaningful. Again, specific questions will get you better information than vague inquiries. Rather than asking "What do Buddhists think about reincarnation?" you might ask "What role if any does rebirth play in your own practice of Soto Zen?"
Don't wait until the last minute to make your visit. Sometimes students contact us about visiting the next day -- because the project deadline is two days later! Remember that the activity you need to see may happen only on a weekly or monthly basis, and that all regular activities are cancelled for days at a time when we're holding a closed silent retreat. During such times, we will be completely unable to help you.
As soon as you've chosen your topic, make a plan to visit Sanshin on a day that will allow you enough time afterward for writing, editing, review by an instructor or tutor, or collaboration with your classmates.