Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago

2019 Newsletter

founded 1949 by Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi
608 Dempster
Evanston, IL  -


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The Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago was founded by Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi in 1949.  We relocated from Chicago's Lincoln Park to Evanston in 1988 and as 2019 dawns we celebrate 70 years of offering Zen Meditation instruction.

The Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago is a Soto Zen Center dedicated to helping practitioners realize their true nature through Zazen, seated meditation.

Zen holds that all living beings are pure Buddha nature that seems to be obscured by the workings of the discursive mind, fueled by the pressures of modern life. Through daily practice of seated meditation, we allow the discursive mind to settle, and let this true nature be expressed in our daily life. 

Buddhism is non-theistic. The historical Buddha is not worshipped as a deity, but rather serves as an example of the realization that is expressed through our Zazen practice. Practitioners of other faiths may cultivate themselves through Zazen, supplementing their existing spiritual practice.



A collection of audio talks by our late abbot Kongo Langlois, Roshi is now available at Northwestern University Libraries
Is there a shortcut
Across the sky, summer moon?
Within this blue pond

Ki, Your Dormant Energy

A Teisho given by Kongo Langlois, Roshi on
O’Higan, Sunday, 12 October, 1975

How can you explain or define what makes the seasons change?”  This is the power of ki, universal spirit or universal energy.  So, like a fool I got caught up in this trap.  As a Roshi, I’m supposed to be infallible; but as a human being I’m not.  I tried to answer the question in this way and that way; not realizing that someone who intellectualizes to the degree that this man did, would never be satisfied with any answer.  It’s like Louis Armstrong said, when he was once asked to define jazz: "If you got to ask it, you’ll never know it.”  In a sense, this is the same with ki or chi.  I can try to explain it to you; but you must practice to understand it, to reap its benefits.

 In the practice of Zazen, when you allow your consciousness to settle in the tanden, this area approximately two inches below the navel, and practice regularly; you begin to feel a change coming over your life.  This is the manifestation of ki.  You see, we’re out of balance with ourselves in our everyday life.  You know the Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang?  Well, there is this perpetual balance taking place.  When we’re out of balance, out of whack, what happens?  Anxiety, frustration, nervousness, depression, all of these things happen and it is endless.  When you practice Zazen and allow your consciousness to drop, to emanate from the tanden; you begin to realize what ki is, the force of ki.
In the martial art Aikido, they always emphasize one point: keeping your mind at one point.  One point is just that point, this area below the navel.  Now, this is tricky.  This is not a tangible point.  It’s not something you can grab hold of.  It’s not a concentration exercise.  You should not put your mind at that point.  You must learn how to allow your consciousness to drop there and maintain this one point.  This comes with practice.  This is not something you can philosophize about.  It requires practice, diligent practice.
There’s a Chinese proverb: “All language is not in books, nor all thought in language.”  Any of us who appreciate art as a very basic example realize that “all language is not in books.”  “Nor all thought in language.”  You must learn how to not think, but be aware when you sit Zazen; learn how to extend yourself.  Now by extend I mean just this: extend or expand your consciousness.  This is how ki flows, by extending, expanding your consciousness.  There’s a Zen practice I’d like to tell you about.  It’s highly effective.  I don’t know if it’s exactly a Zen practice or not.  It’s a meditation practice and it’s quite a legitimate Buddhist practice.  Whether it’s unique to Zen, I don’t know.  Too often, I know from the questions and the comments you make to me that so many of you approach your Zazen in the wrong way.  You’re negative.  You’re passive.  You’re sucking in when you should be extending.  So I recommend you try this exercise.  Try it for yourself and you’ll know.  That’s the only way.  Don’t just listen to me. expand, extend, sending love, sending well-being and then finally, just sending yourself.  Extend yourself further and further in every direction.  See what happens.Before you actually begin shikan taza, sitting in Zen meditation with no thought, use thought to expand.  Visualize yourself extending throughout the whole universe.  Start in your very room, then branch out through the walls, through the ceiling, through the sky.  In every direction ki is so important; that you are aware of ki.  This is why it’s so important that when you meditate, you allow the consciousness to settle in the tanden.You’ll find the ego has diminished to point zero.  Speaking of point, the importance of ki, let’s assume that you have the power of ten, the number ten.  Regardless of how little experience you have had observing with your mind, you can probably handle a common everyday situation with the power of ten.  But should emergencies occur one after another, your power is going to diminish from ten down to seven, to five, to two and finally to zero and then, you have chaos.  Then you have insanity.  Then you have loss of yourself.  Then it’s all over. 

Then you just sit.  Just sit.  Thoughts occur.  They pass.  As we tell you time and time again, this is the practice of shikan taza, but ki is everything.  Ki is all-powerful.  Ki will manifest itself if you learn to develop it, if you learn to allow it to manifest itself. After you open your meditation with this exercise, with this extending, expanding of consciousness, then consider yourself a microcosm, which you are!  Each and every one of us is a microcosm.  We are a miniature universe.  Then after extending, allow yourself to contract, down to this.

Years ago before I knew anything about ki, before I was aware of Eastern philosophy and this is nothing unusual.  This is not unique to me.  I know this as a fact; I know this exists.  This is common with, I’m sure, all artists; but it can be common with all people, with all beings.  Every daily act, every little thing you do you can do with the power of ki.  So please, try to understand it not intellectually as this man was trying to do, but feel it.  You know I am a musician by profession.  My training was as a musician, since childhood.  A jazz musician, improvisation… and when conditions are right, there is, if I might say so, another power that takes over and plays.  I am merely a witness.  This is something I hit on many years ago. 

Descartes said: “I think, therefore, I am.”, but I would prefer: “I am aware, therefore, I am.”  Even when you finish this expanding exercise; when you are sitting in Zazen just observing, always sit with the sensation of extending yourself.  Then you allow ki to flow through you, for it is a constant flow.  It is a perpetual flow.  Then equanimity, balance occurs within you.  This is the power of Zen.  This is what you have come to realize when you practice your Zazen and practice it diligently.
I can always tell when someone is not practicing or just talking about Zen or just thinking about Zen.  It’s amazing how you can fool yourself.  When a person is practicing Zazen, things are simple.  Suddenly, I’ll get a phone call: someone would like to come for a private consultation.  Okay.  At such and such a time, on such a date and there are many problems, one after another.  Life is not going right. This is not going right, that is not going right.  You know what they say about the man who says the whole world is crazy? 
I sit and listen, and inevitably when I ask are you practicing daily?  “Well, yes, but…”  Always that ‘but’.  Sure that ‘but’ is always there.  That ‘but’ will always be there if you give it room.  Don’t just think Zen.  We do too much thinking about Zen and not enough working at it.  Don’t be a Zen student.  Be a Zen practitioner!  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.  Zazen requires time.  The practice of Zen requires time.  It’s not going to come to you.  You must go to it.  If you’re going to reap the benefits of Zazen, practice!
Time and time, I’ve said: Zen is an art.  Not just painting, not just music, sculpting, dance; Zen, Zazen is an art.  Sitting is an art, because as you’re sitting, it requires constant adjustment.  This.  This.  Oh, you’ve fallen asleep.  Oh, my mind is wandering.  Oh, my posture is off.  Constant adjusting, very subtle adjusting is required.  As you develop, as you grow; you’ll find that the problems lessen.  Your sitting deepens and becomes endless.  This is the beauty of Zazen when you reach that point.
But work and get past that breaking point.  Get past that point of no return.  Then Zen is not just arduous, rigorous discipline that is more or less a pain.  It’s something that we go through because we think it’s right and the books that we’ve read have told us that it’s right and we agree.  Sure it’s right!  We all know it’s right.  That’s why you’re sitting here.  If you didn’t think so, you wouldn’t have shown up. 
Practice ladies and gentlemen!  That’s where it’s at: practice!  Practice, practice and more practice.  Then you know for yourself.  You won’t have to come and listen to talks by me about ki.  You’ll have your own talk.  It’s in-built.  You have your own Zen Master within you, each of you.  It’s there.  Just dig a little deeper.


August 2019


Regular Services

Three Regularly Scheduled Services are held in Evanston each week.

All are welcome to attend our regular Zen Meditation Services.  Instructions are given at each.
10:00AM to 12:00PM
2:00PM to 4:00PM
7:00PM to 9:00PM

September 7th
 October 5th

One Day Zen Meditation Retreat in Evanston
We invite you to join us for a one day intensive Zen Meditation retreat.  We begin at 12:30PM and finish at 10:30PM with breaks for mindful work and supper.  While we encourage you to join us for the entire day, we welcome you for whatever portion your schedule allows.  A donation of $50 for the entire day is suggested.  Pre-registration is not required.  Please note that our monthly Saturday retreats are normally held on the first Saturday of the month.
Sunday 2PM to 4PM

August 18th September 15th

Introduction to Zen Meditation Workshop

While we welcome newcomers to all of our regular services, and instructions are given at each, once every month [typically the 3rd Sunday] we offer a introductory workshop for those who prefer a more structured exposition of our practice.  All Are welcome. 
A donation of $20.00 is suggested..
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