Ocean Light Zen Moves to New Seattle Center

Written by: Michael Schutzler

Teachers Tim Lerch (red), Michael Schutzler (green), after offering a precept ceremony, from left, Karen Armand, Marsha Kabakov, Lesly Sparks and Laura Nelson.

Teachers Tim Lerch (red), Michael Schutzler (green), after offering a precept ceremony, from left, Karen Armand, Marsha Kabakov, Lesly Sparks and Laura Nelson.
Photos courtesy of Ocean Light Zen Center

Ocean Light Zen Center has expanded into a new Seattle facility, after years  of moving among several sites.

The West Seattle Zen center now is operating out of the West Seattle Fauntleroy Schoolhouse, one of many groups renting space there.

Ocean Light Zen Center is very happy to have joined the West Seattle Fauntleroy Schoolhouse community. Fauntleroy Schoolhouse is a wonderful organization that provides access to a lovely 100-year-old elementary school building, to serve the communal needs of children, families, and neighbors in West Seattle. It’s perfect as our new home!

The non-profit Fauntleroy Schoolhouse in West Seattle, now the home of Ocean Light Zen Center.

The non-profit Fauntleroy Schoolhouse in West Seattle, now the home of Ocean Light Zen Center.

The biggest difference is that our practice now is smack in the middle of an existing community. This allows us to connect to curious Zen students quite easily, allows us to engage as contributors to the wider community, and makes it very easy for visitors to find us. Another nice benefit to this location is that the C-Line bus stops directly in front of the building. 

We have room four in the schoolhouse. We have had a precepts ceremony there with about 30 people. Normally our practice on Sundays attracts 10-15 people.

The building is comfortable and has wonderful lighting. We share the space with an Aikido group and sometimes we get to sit on their tatami mats. That’s quite luxurious.

We also have access to a separate room that we use for interviews (Dokusan) twice a month with our guiding teacher.

Ocean Light Zen Center is the Seattle chapter of the Kwan Um School of Zen. This tradition originated in China more than 1,500 years ago, travelled to Korea, and was brought to the U.S. by Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1972.

The new center celebrated by Guiding Teacher Tim Lerch (red), and Dharma Teacher Jonathan Bowra (blue).

The new center celebrated by Guiding Teacher Tim Lerch (red), and Dharma Teacher Jonathan Bowra (blue).

The Kwan Um School now operates more than 100 Zen centers around the world, all practicing the same ancient and beautiful meditation style. Ocean Light Zen Center has been operating in the Seattle area since 1980.

We moved into the new space in October 2016.  Our group started in Ballard in 1980, but has been in West Seattle for about 10 years now. In West Seattle we moved several times: from a yoga studio on Fauntleroy, to the parish house at Fauntleroy United Church of Christ, to a private house for about a year, before now setting into Fauntleroy Schoolhouse. We are grateful to have found a place to settle and build a community.

We left the yoga studio because it was going out of business. We left the parish house because the church found a new pastor who wanted to live there. We stayed in a private home until we could find a more stable location – which we finally did at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse. 

In the past 10 years we have felt a bit like wanderers. We were very fortunate that one of our newer Sangha members has experience in commercial real estate and knew where to look, and whom to ask. This is how we connected to Fauntleroy Schoolhouse.

Our tradition includes three main forms of Zen practice: bowing, chanting, and silent sitting or walking meditation. The practice forms are very simple, and once you’ve seen them, it is easy to follow along.

In China and Korea, traditionally only monastics engaged in Zen meditation – often spending at least six months each year in retreat. But in the West nearly all Zen practitioners are men and women with jobs, families and community obligations.

Ocean Light Zen Sangha sharing a meal after ceremony, in an earlier facility, in late 2011.

Ocean Light Zen Sangha sharing a meal after ceremony, in an earlier facility, in late 2011.

Few lay practitioners can dedicate themselves to full-time Zen meditation. So our school teaches the importance of daily practice.

Daily practice means keeping a not-moving mind in every life situation. How do you keep a not-moving mind? In each moment, let go of your opinions, fears, or wants. Only pay attention with an open heart and open mind.

When you are doing something – then do it authentically. This is how you keep a not-moving mind. In that practice we ask an open question: What is this?

With a not-moving mind and an open question, then moment-to-moment you perceive each situation clearly. You can perceive your relationship in that situation, and then your true function in that moment appears effortlessly.

To guide our daily practice we renew our four great vows each day:

  • Sentient beings are numberless, we vow to save them all.
  • Delusions are endless, we vow to cut through them all.
  • The teachings are infinite, we vow to learn them all.
  • The Buddha Way is inconceivable, we vow to attain it.
Preceptors Frank Denton, Chuck Bonsteel, Derek Kirkham, and Karen Armand, who took vows in late 2011.

Preceptors Frank Denton, Chuck Bonsteel, Derek Kirkham, and Karen Armand, who took vows in late 2011.

We practice every Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. in room four, at the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse.

Guiding teacher Tim Lerch offers interviews on the second and fourth Sunday of every month

On second Thursdays of each month, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., we offer the Compass of Zen Discussion Group. Through this we discuss sutras, practice forms, and other teachings based on the book “Compass of Zen” by Zen Master Seung Sahn. The book is a guide for conversation about how the teachings and practice help in our daily lives.

Locations rotate for this gathering, so please join our email list to find out where we meet each month. 

We host two Zen meditation retreats each year.

On June 25, 2017 we will hold our one-day retreat, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse

One Oct. 21-22 we will hold a two-day retreat – 7 a.m. Saturday to 3 p.m. Sunday, at a remote retreat location to be announced

We host two special ceremonies yearly at Fauntleroy Schoolhouse

On April 23, 2017, we will celebrate Buddha’s birthday  at 10 a.m., following regular practice

On Dec. 3 we will celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment, at 10 a.m. following regular practice.

Tim Lerch wears a red kasa over his robe, and Michael Schutzler wears brown, as they lead a precepts ceremony in 2011.

Tim Lerch wears a red kasa over his robe, and Michael Schutzler wears brown, as they lead a precepts ceremony in 2011.

Our guiding teacher is Tim Lerch. He received inka (recognition) from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 2001. From 2000 to 2006 Lerch was the abbot of the Providence Zen Center, the head temple of the Kwan Um School of Zen in America. He has trained extensively in the U.S. and Asia.

From 1995 to 1999 Lerch was the resident director of the Kwan Um School center in Seattle. Prior to joining the Kwan Um School he trained in the Japanese and Vietnamese Zen traditions.

Lerch was ordained a monk in 1996. After serving as a monk for 10 years, Lerch returned to lay life in 2006 and is currently a musician and music teacher living in Seattle.

If you have no prior experience with meditation, we will happily provide you instruction, answer your questions, and welcome you on the journey. Just email us and let us know you are coming. On the other hand, if you have prior experience with Zen meditation – just show up any Sunday!

Send us an email at oceanlightzen@gmail.com to join our mailing list. Stay informed about Zen retreats, special practice times, dharma talks, and other group activities.  If you have any questions, email us any time!  Also you can always find our key information, including calendar and contact information, at our website.

Author: Michael Schutzler

Michael Schutzler has been practicing with the Kwan Um School of Zen since 1995. He's a senior dharma teacher in that tradition, and serves as the community organizer for Ocean Light Zen Center. In his work life he’s a tech entrepreneur, and CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA).