Greater Boston Zen Center

This data was last updated on 25 August 2021. 

Address: 552 Mass Ave, Second Floor, #208, Cambridge, MA 02139

History and Affiliation: Greater Boston Zen Center (GBZC) is an independent, non-residential Zen center which incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2012.[1] From 2012 to 2019, GBZC was located in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA. In April, 2019, GBZC moved to its current location in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge.

GBZC does have affiliate sitting groups, many of which were likewise formed around the same time by former BWZ members. GBZC acts as a central node for many of these affiliates, though—on account of the newness of the independent formation of GBZC—the formal structure of these relationships are still being established among the affiliates. These groups share some of the same teachers, hold sesshin (intensive multi-day zen retreats) together, and have some programming overlap. For example, Ecosattva Sangha, is an affinity group connecting affiliate members who are committed to integrating Buddhist views of the eco-crisis with members’ daily lives via study, practice and community activities. These affiliate groups include: Benevolent Zen in Providence, RI; Bright Sea Zen in North Weymouth, MA; Broken Broom Zen in South Natick, MA; Grass Hut Zen in Durham, NC; Kalyana Mitra Zen  in Worcester, MA; and Mustard Seed Zen in Middletown, CT.

Leadership: The Greater Boston Zen Center is under the spiritual direction of a committee of Zen teachers consisting of Sensei Steve Wallace, Reverend Laura Wallace, and its Spiritual Director, Roshi Josh Bartok. The board of directors consists of five members elected annually by dues-paying members. Each board member may serve up to three consecutive years.

GBZC has no paid staff; all leaders and coordinators are member volunteers. While considering the next stage of growth for GBZC, the community created a Membership Vision Project to democratize GBZC and increase the level of engagement from all community participants. The result of this project was an increase in the number of folks on the board of directors and the creation of various committees—called working groups—on issues such as: programming, communications, membership, development, facilities, finance, retreats, affiliates, and Eco-Sattva.

Programming: GBZC teachers offer guidance in various forms of Zen meditation including breath practices, koan introspection, and shikantza—or just sitting. GBZC offers orientations and a full schedule of sits, retreats, teachings, discussion groups, and sesshins. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all programs moved online, and many virtual sits were conducted with the wider affiliate community.

The most common programming offered by GBZC are sits. Morning sits are held every weekday. Evening sits are held Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and include dharma talks or individual meetings. And Saturday mornings include sits, discussion, dharma talks, and individual meetings with teachers. Other sitting groups that meet monthly include the persons of color (POC) affinity sitting group and the LGBTQIA+ sitting group.

Discussion groups include: Turning Toward, White People Working to Dismantle White Supremacy; Dogen Study Group; Writing as a Spiritual Practice; Precepts Discussion Group, and EcoDharma.

Other Activities: At GBZC there are also various initiatives designed to serve the sangha and the larger community. Samu practice is physical work done with the same intention as zazen practice. This work practice is undertaken quarterly to clean and care for the physical space of  GBZC.

Indra’s Net is a communication’s channel for social justice actions and allows community members of the GBZC mahasangha (greater sangha) to take action together as one way to continue actualizing bodhisattva vows. The channel, developed by sangha members and the Programming Committee, is for members of the sangha to post actions that they are committed to doing and to organize other members to join them. Such actions may include showing up to racial justice protests, showing up to labor actions, or creating new programming. 

Relatedly, GBZC members and leaders have also been expanding their justice work to the larger community. GBZC members have been attending Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) in district meetings; in fact, Roshi Josh Bartok did an opening prayer for one such meeting. Members have also taken part in GBIO actions and organizing efforts.

In response to COVID-19, GBZC began the Sangha Care and Connection initiative as a means to support its members and build community during the pandemic. The initiative is intended to care for members and their wider communities and is expansive in its support and connection possibilities, including: support groups for caregivers and those who are sick, pastoral support, coordinating virtual social gatherings or sits, planning memorial services, provisions delivery, and whatever other needs may arise in the community in response to the pandemic.

[1] Between 2012 and 2018, GBZC was affiliated with Boundless Way Zen (BoWZ). Jill Gaulding, GBZC Board Member. Interview conducted by Jimmy O'Leary on September 24, 2020.