What is Zen? 
Zen is the meditation school of Buddhism. It generally refers to the cultivation, chiefly through meditation, of attention, stillness, and stability of the body-mind. Additionally, entering into every activity single-mindedly is Zen. 

Can I practice Zen even though I'm not a Buddhist?
Yes. Zen teachings emphasize the personal experience of awakening and its integration into one's daily life regardless of religious and/or philosophical affiliation. In other words, you don't have to be a Buddhist to practice Zen nor will we ever attempt to convert you. No one is required to adopt any prescribed set of beliefs.  

What is the difference between Zen meditation and mindfulness?
Recently there has been a lot of publicity around and popularity of “mindfulness.” In general, these practices promote “easy” methods of relaxation, stress-relief, a decrease in anxiety or depression, some health benefits, and a general sense of well-being. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these!! However, Zen meditation offers the potential to go further, helping us to go deeper in our quest to answer many of life’s most basic questions: Why was I born? Why do I die? What am I supposed to do while I’m here?  Zen’s 2500 year-old path invites and supports us on our way to a profound spiritual awakening or enlightenment in which we directly experience the Truth beyond separation, ego, and suffering – experiencing the world and ourselves as we and it really are. With awakening, the world of Onenesss, harmony, light, and peace unfolds.

How do I do that?   
Through Zen meditation we learn to recover the mind's original openness by dissolving years of conditioning. Since Zen isn’t limited to sitting meditation (zazen), but continues to include every activity, one is freed to respond whole-heartedly to situations at hand rather than being caught in habitual reactions and deluded notions about one’s self, others, and the world. But this takes practice! There is no magic wand that suddenly lets us “be in the moment.” Zen meditation practice is a simple practical path that slowly and steadily develops our ability to be more fully present in our lives -- building patience, connectedness, awareness, and compassion. 

How can I get started? 
Those new to Zen meditation, wanting a refresher, or new to practicing with the Cleveland Zazen Group can attend an Introduction to Zen Meditation Practice.  This workshop is held once a month at our Cleveland Heights location. Afterwards, you are welcome to participate in many of the Group’s sittings, other activities and events. 

How much is the workshop?
The Cleveland Zazen Group operates as much as possible on the Buddhist virtue of dana (or giving). While there is no fee for the Introduction, those who are able are encouraged to give a donation, small or large. Giving from your heart whatever your circumstances allow will grant to future attendees what past contributors made possible for you. And because the organization is run entirely by volunteers, donations go directly toward activities that support Zen practice allowing us to continue offering these services to others in the future.   

The next workshop is a month away.  Can I still sit with you?
Yes. You don't have to attend the introductory session before practicing with us at the Cleveland Zazen Group. You can be given basic meditation instructions that will keep you moving forward until you're able to go to a workshop. But prior arrangements must be made with the group leader so we can be available to you. 

What if I already know how to meditate?
Each meditation center approaches practice in different ways. We want you to feel comfortable while sitting with us so be sure to arrive about 15 minutes early for a brief orientation before your first group meditation

How long are periods of meditation?
During group practice, periods of sitting meditation (zazen) usually last 25 to 30 minutes and each walking meditation (kinhin) is 5 minutes.

Do I need to bring my own meditation cushions to sittings? 
Feel free to bring your own cushions.  However, meditation supplies for your use are available at Cleveland Zazen Group including cushions, benches, and chairs

What should I wear?
Wear solid dark-color loose-fitting clothes.  While there are many postures in which to do zazen, jeans or short tight skirts might make many cross-legged postures difficult or uncomfortable. No hoodies, spandex or tank tops please which might interfere with some aspects of practice or which might be distracting to others. 

 How can I get more involved?
Through membership in the Cleveland Zazen Group.  The more you participate in Zen Center sittings, meditation retreats, and other activities and events, the more support you draw from our welcoming community and, just as important, the more support you provide to the community.  Volunteering and work practice are other ways to feel more connected to our Group, the sangha, and your practice of meditation. 


Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center, answers this and other questions about Zen and how it relates to Buddhism in this 5-minute video.

In this 12-minute video, Roshi Bodhin talks about the practical benefits of Zen meditation and the process of awakening.


The Group Leader of Cleveland Zazen Group is Susan Rakow.


Susan Bosnick Rakow was born in New York in 1949. She was a secondary English/Gifted teacher and university professor of education for 40 years before becoming a licensed mental health counselor (LPCC). She is married to Larry and has two grown children and four grandchildren.

Susan began practicing Zen in 1968 under her root teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau, founder of the Rochester Zen Center and author of The Three Pillars of Zen. Since then she has been maintaining a daily personal practice and regularly attending group sittings and sesshin (intensive meditation retreats). She works closely with her current teacher, Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede, Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center. Susan has been the group leader for the Cleveland Zazen Group for about 35 years. In 2004, she was invested as a member of the Three Jewels Order (3JO) of the Rochester Zen Center. She has conducted weddings, funerals, all-day sittings and facilitated other ceremonies for the Cleveland Zazen Group and its sangha members. 

Susan feels grateful to serve Zen sanghas (communities) in Cleveland, OH and Rochester, NY….and the dharma wherever her life experiences take her. 

What is the Three Jewels Order (3JO)?
The 3JO is a Buddhist order of priests and householders who, after extensive Zen practice, training, and study, have committed to making service to Buddha (awakening), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (community) the focal point of their lives. 3JO members are acknowledged as clergy and can perform the functions normally associated with this vocation. Currently there are twelve 3JO priests and householders serving as leaders, teachers, and spiritual models for the 450+ members of Rochester Zen Center and its affiliated groups.