This profile was last updated in 2011
Research was conducted by Dr. David Reis and the Wells College Pluralism Project.
The Zen Center of Syracuse was started in 1976 by a small group of graduate students from Syracuse University. The students met once a week for meditation. Their interest in zazen increased when Eido Tai Shimano Roshi came to speak at the University. Eido Roshi was the abbot of the Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the Catskills and the Shobo-ji Zendo in New York City. On his second visit, Eido Roshi dedicated the room the students were using to meditate, naming it “Hoen Zendo,” Dharma Salt Zendo. He gave it this name because during the nineteenth century Syracuse had been nicknamed “Salt City” for its influence on the salt industry.
After this, two of the students, Robert Strickland and Howard Blair, began attending both the monastery in New York City and the monastery in the Catskills. There they met Shinge Roshi, then Roko Sherry Chayat, and her first husband, Louis Nordstrom. In 1976 Roko Sherry Chayat and her husband moved to Syracuse and with their leadership the Zen practice flourished. Between 1977 – 1978 the Hoen Zendo moved from basement to basement, as the university had ended its funding of the Zendo building.
In 1984, the Hoen Zendo found its home in Roko’s converted attic. There the Zendo (“meditation hall”) remained for many years, with a growing practice and following. Five years later, the Hoen Zendo was incorporated as the Zen Center of Syracuse, with Roko Sherry Chayat as its abbot.
In 1991 Eido Roshi changed the meaning of the center’s name. He changed the meaning of the “En” character from “salt” to “connection” in order to show the link between his lineage and the Syracuse sangha. He also added “ji” to the name in order to show recognition of the center as an authentic practice of Zen Buddhism.
For the following few years, three of Roko’s students, Saigyo Terrance Keenana, Doshin David Schubert, and Enstu Scott Rosecrans, went to Japan be trained as monks by Eido Roshi and were then ordained. The Hoen-ji continued to grow, developing and expanding its programming.
After searching, the group found 266 West Seneca Turnpike, bordered by Onondaga Creek, both names indicative of the vital and continuing presence of Haudenosaunee culture in the region. The zendo (meditation hall), a converted carriage house built in the Arts and Crafts period, seats 40. It is nestled among ancient trees behind the main house, a majestic white Portuguese brick structure built in 1810 by Joshua Forman, who was the first president of the Village of Syracuse and a driving force behind the construction of the Erie Canal. Local lore has it that the Forman House was one of the stops on the Underground Railway during the movement to abolish slavery. In 2000, Hoen-ji acquired 276 West Seneca Turnpike, which is now used as the main residence hall. 266 West Seneca is mostly used for hosting public events, Dharma Studies, discussion groups, classes, and official Zen Center activities.
The day before the opening of the Hoen-ji Zendo on October 18th, 1998 the renovated carriage house burnt down. Although the police suspected foul play, they concluded that religious intolerance or anti-Buddhist sentiment was not a factor. Rather, they believe that the fire was set by teenagers who were angry that their former play area was about to be taken over by a new group. While the fire did destroy the Zendo, the opening was still held on the 18th, although it had to take place in a large tent on the grounds. After this inauguration, the Zendo was rebuilt and since October 18th, 1998, 266 West Seneca Turnpike has been the home of the Hoen-ji Zendo and its followers.
Presently, 266 West Seneca Turnpike has six acres of woodlands along the Onondaga Creek and along Seneca Turnpike. In the gardens wildlife such as herons, hawks, deer and wildflowers are abundant, creating the perfect setting for a zendo and the Zen experience.
On January 1, 2011, at 1:11 PM, Shinge Roshi Roko Sherry Chayat was installed as abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo, Hoen-ji’s affiliate monastery in the Catskill mountains of New York. She will continue as abbot of Hoen-ji while leading all sesshins at Dai Bosatsu Zendo.
Activities and Schedule
9am – Noon Chanting, zazen * **
7am – 7:45am Short chanting service, zazen
6:30pm – 7:30pm Tibetan meditation
8:30am – 9:30am Zazen *
6pm – 7:30pm Zazen
6am – 7:45am Chanting service, zazen
7am – 7:45am Short chanting service, zazen
6:00pm – 8pm Short chanting service, zazen * **
12:00pm – 1:30pm Tibetan service and meditation
On Sunday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m there is Yoga and from 9:00 On the first Thursday of the month tea and discussion follow zazen. Dokusan, private meetings with Roko Sherry Chayat Ni-Osho, takes place on the second and fourth Sunday morning, Tuesday morning, and Thursday evening of each month. On alternating Sundays Shinge Roshi offers Teisho, a Dharma talk. Early morning sittings, jōza, take place daily from 6-6:45 AM, except for Wednesdays (5-5:45 AM).
Tibetan practice on Monday and Saturday is led by Shinge Roshi’s husband, Andy Hassinger.
Yoga is offered after service on Sunday from 1-2PM, as well as Friday evenings from 5:30-7PM.
The Zen Center of Syracuse also facilitates meditations daily Monday through Friday in Hendricks Chapel on Syracuse University campus.