One of my primary motivators in developing the Victoria Zen Centre has been an effort to make Zen Practice accessible to as many people as possible.
For several years, I've been using technology to help with this. This blog, the Living Zen podcast, our eZendo,and I've connected with online communities around the world, through many websites and resources, I've even given talks at Kannonji, a virtual temple in Second Life.
Last year, we launched the Non-Residential Training Period, which gives practitioners all around the world an opportunity to engage with a formalized matrix of training components, and for those who are not connected with a Sangha formally, it is an opportunity to make relationship through forums, through Adobe connect and skype with others who are sharing the training period.
That said, there was still a huge hole as far as accessibility.
Many people who are exploring Buddhism and Zen find plenty of books and podcasts, and this often brings them to ask, "How do I get started?", or, "What do I do next?".
There are plenty of grainy "how to do Zen" videos, often with crummy sound quality, and also often with (usually asian) teachers who begin explaining the posture (starting with full lotus) and technique of Zen meditation.
Of course, this doesn't really help all that much, mostly because for many of the people that I have met over the years in North America (Zen Monks included), full-lotus isn't immediately possible, and it certainly isn't the place to start.
More than this though, it isn't the basic form of sitting that presents the challenge. It is the lack of guidance, not knowing how much to do, how often, and what kinds of challenges come up as a person develops a stable home Zen practice.
For the past 10 years or so here in Victoria, we've been running the Orientation to Zen Buddhist Practice course. The idea was that it would provide a bridge for people who were just starting out in Zen practice. It provides the information and background for the primary aspects of form that we use here at the Victoria Zen Centre, and it allows participants to gradually develop a strong and stable Zen practice. More than this, it provides an environment for participants to ask questions about their budding Zen practice.
It's easy to forget that at the beginning it's tough for a person to sit still and straight for even five minutes. Far too often I have seen newcomers tossed into a regular practice session at a Zen Centre, which often features multiple 30+ minute periods of zazen, without anything more than a quick "sit down and do your best". What a shame!
Based on our Orientation to Zen, I was inspired by the work and philosophy of Salman Khan of the Khan Academy to create resources, and use technologies that we already employ here at the Victoria Zen Centre to make it possible for anyone to access the information, resources, and support that is required to establish a thriving Zen practice, no matter where they are.
I hope that you will enjoy the Online Orientation to Zen Program and resources, and experience the powerful impact that a lifelong Zen practice can have in your life and relationships.