Isthmus Zen Community

This profile was last updated in 2006

History and Description

The Isthmus Zen Community was established in Madison in 1996, and meets in space rented in an office building that also houses the Madison Shambhala Meditation Group. The variant of Zen Buddhism practiced by this community is known as the Kwan Um School of Zen, which was brought to the United States in 1972 by Zen Master Seung Sahn, the 78th Patriarch of the Chogye Order of Buddhism in Korea. Upon arrival in the U.S., Seung Sahn formed a Kwan Um center in Providence, Rhode Island, and it is from this center that over eighty Kwan Um Zen communities nationwide receive their leadership and inspiration.

Kate Pfeifer, a former resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, founded the Isthmus Zen Community when she moved to Madison in 1996. The group was organized based upon her experiences as a Zen practitioner in a Kwan Um Zen center in Racine, Wisconsin. Currently, administrative leadership of the community is carried out by Director Dave Peters, a dharma teacher in training. Training for the role of dharma teacher is regulated by the core group in Rhode Island, and is based upon Zen Maser Seung Sahn’s early attempts to empower his students to teach the Dharma.

Activities and Schedule

Practice sessions are held twice weekly at the Baldwin Street location, and include chanting and sitting meditation. It is estimated that only about six people are likely to attend each session, although the community has a core group of ten to twelve dues-paying members, and 100-150 occasional participants on their newsletter mailing list. Many of these occasional participants are likely to make appearances during intermittently scheduled events such as the two-and-a-half-day retreats (held at member’s apartments, the Baldwin Street meditation room, or space rented at retreat centers) or public talks given by visiting Dharma Masters.

Meditation sessions are on Wednesday at 6:30-7:30 P.M. and Sunday from 6:30-8:30 P.M.

New Members

Like many local Buddhist meditation groups, the Isthmus Zen Community tries to encourage the spread of the Dharma by providing free access to group meditation during regular meetings, while discreetly suggesting that donations are welcome. Visitors new to Zen meditation are encouraged to attend practice sessions during evenings of the third Wednesday of the month, at which time an introduction to Zen and an explanation of meditation are provided.