NYC Meditation Centers
Finding the right community in which to learn and practice meditation can be difficult. So, periodically, we invite our intrepid interns to visit various meditation centers in NYC and share their experiences. Often, they have little or no familiarity with meditation or mindfulness, so their reflections are representative of what newcomers might experience when going to these places.
In 2013, Ms. Susanna Johansson, a psychology student from Stockholm University, visited centers throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. In 2010, Ms. Alyssa Barba, a psychology student at SUNY Stonybrook, made the rounds. Their mission? To participate mindfully in the meditation instruction provided and describe their experiences. Collectively, they attended meditation classes at the following centers:
- Brooklyn Zen Center
- Chakrasambara Buddhist Center
- Dharma Punx
- Fire Lotus Zen Center
- The Interdependence Project
- Jewish Community Center - Makom
- Jewish Meditation Center
- New York Insight Meditation Center
- Rigpa NYC
- Rock Blossom Sangha
- Shambhala Meditation Center
- The Three Jewels
- Tibet House
Because most centers vary in their explicit incorporation of Buddhism, we have adopted a rating system to describe their orientation, ranging from…
In addition, we described the clarity and extent of explicit meditation instruction, ranging from…
Disclosure Statement: We don’t receive any money, goods, or services in exchange for these reviews. They are provided here for the purpose of description, not evaluation. We recognize that different people want different things, so we have provided descriptions of what the sittings are like in order to help newcomers decide where to visit.
Brooklyn Zen Center
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were 10 new practitioners that listened to the beginners instruction on Saturday morning. The more experienced participants were approximately 30 persons. The participants were seated on cushions in rows facing the walls or windows.
The Space: Brooklyn Zen Center is located in a large space divided in three rooms; a kitchen/community area, a library/office and a sitting hall. The three rooms represent the Buddhist concept of the sangha, the dharma and the Buddha, and are equally important on the path to enlightenment.
Structure and Content of Meditation: On Saturdays Brooklyn Zen Center welcomes beginners to meditation. The new-comers are introduced to the space and to Zen customs, such as how to bow when entering a room and how to fold hands and walk in the meditation hall. The introduction also includes a talk on posture and how to focus on the breath in meditation. In the Zen tradition meditation is practiced with eyes open to cherish the intention to stay in the present moment (it is also a way to avoid sleepiness during long meditation sessions). After the introductory session new-comers are invited to meditate together with the experienced participants. The meditation is held in silence with no guidance for about 40 minutes. The participants are encouraged to try to sit still for this time but are given a moment to adjust or change posture in the middle of the sitting if needed. After the sitting the participants recite prayers and chant together. A ritual of bows is conducted followed by a dharma talk. This Saturday the head dharma teacher and Zen Buddhist priest Teah Strozer talked about emptiness and form and how to understand these concepts as intertwined. Teah Strozer also talked about the illusion of the self as constant and encouraged the participants to let go of held beliefs about one self and embrace a changing perception of the self. The participants listen in quiet to the talk. The Saturday morning session ends by cleaning the space together in a Zen way. This means bringing awareness and mindfulness into everyday actions such as sweeping or dusting. Afterwards practitioners are invited to stay and enjoy a meal that has been mindfully prepared by Brooklyn Zen members (10 dollar donation is encouraged).
Background/Mission/Religiosity: Brooklyn Zen Center is a Soto Zen Community (founder Shunryu Suzuki) that offers a place to study Buddhist ethics and practice as well as a space for sitting together in meditation. Brooklyn Zen Center wishes to embody and carry on the compassion, wisdom and community of the Buddha. The Buddhist practice at the center is based upon the belief that all beings are Buddha. On Brooklyn Zen Center’s website you can read about Zen center practice and customs and listen to recorded dharma talks.
Where/When: Beginners and new comers to the center are asked to join for an introductory zazen (meditation) instruction on one Saturday before coming to other sittings. After the introduction the center offers meditation on a regularly basis in mornings and evenings, see website for schedule.
Fees: Saturday sitting is drop-in based and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation. 10 dollars is recommended. An additional 10 dollars is encouraged if the participant stays for lunch at the Center.
Overall: Brooklyn Zen Center offers a supportive community of dedicated practitioners that wish to deepen their meditation practice and learn more about the teachings of Buddha. The meditation is held in silence but outside the sitting room practitioners may speak to teachers to receive further guidance.
Class/Date: Saturday morning session, 9.00 am- 12.30 pm, 3/30/13.
Chakrasambara Buddhist Center
322 8th Ave, Suite 502 (Enter @ 26th Street), Manhattan
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The daily lunchtime meditation classes are small and personal. The two other attendees present were young adults.
The Space: The space is influenced by Buddhism. It is a large, well lit, white room containing several religious statues of Buddha. Although the statues are present, it is not a space that should be to overwhelming for persons of other religious backgrounds.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The whole 45 minute lunchtime session is spent on the actual practice of mediation. Practitioners have the option of open or closed eyed meditation. During the session the teacher often speaks softly in order to subtly guide the meditation.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: This center is a Buddhist Center of the New Kadampa Tradition. The New Kadampa Tradition is a Western Buddhist order based on the teachings of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gelug school is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It has spread to many countries through the work of Buddhist monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The academic degree title “Geshe” translates to “spiritual friend.”
Where/When: Lunchtime meditation sessions are held Monday through Thursday from 12:00-12:45 pm. Other classes such as day retreats, Dharma talks and chanted prayer sessions are also offered throughout the month. The classes are based in New York City’s Chelsea at 322 8th Ave, Suite 502. See website for details about other classes and branch locations.
Fees: Lunchtime meditation works on a drop-in basis. It is $5 per class and free for cardholding members. A membership at the center costs $80 per month with a time commitment of one year. A membership includes access to basically everything going on in the center for that month including events, dharma talks and special classes.
Overall: Overall, I’d say that lunchtime meditation at this center is best suited for those who have practiced meditation before and are interested in sitting for the whole session. Practice is more of a priority in this class than instruction.
Teacher/Class/Date: Grace Glebowska, Monday Lunchtime Meditation, June 2010
302 Bowery, 3rd Floor, Manhattan
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The weekly Tuesday Night Meditation + Dharma gathering was swarming with over 60 ambitious attendees. Most of the attendants that were present were youthful.
The Space: Dharma Punx holds its meditation classes in the same neutral yoga studio as the Interdependence Project. The space is a large room with wood floors.
Structure and Content of Meditation: Tuesday Night Meditation at Dharma Punx is a drop-in class that lasts for about an hour and a half. The first 30 minutes of the session consisted of a guided meditation led by Josh Korda. Following the meditation practice, Josh deeply engaged the class into a Dharma talk with his vibrant and youthful spirit. During the Dharma talk we discussed many psychological concepts relatable to our 21st century modern society such as the arising of conflicts in our daily lives. The Dharma talk portion at Dharma Punx is great for anyone who is seeking advice into the nature of their problems. By the end of the talk I felt as though I had just left a donation based session with a therapist or an Intro to psych class where tuition was generously based on contributions. Josh showed his knowledge of Buddhism by reveling in Buddhist parables. He also showed his knowledge of Psychology by making references to Mary Ainsworth when discussing the psychological concepts of secure attachments. After the Dharma talk there was a question and answer portion of the class where students could ask any questions related or unrelated to the talk. The class concluded with a final meditation of about 5 minutes.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The background and foundation of Dharma Punx gears itself to a youthful environment fueled by dissatisfaction with the material based culture we live in. “Dharma Punx” describe themselves as a community of alternative Buddhist meditation practitioners who work to infuse the Buddha’s teachings with the ideology of punk rock. The community was started by author Noah Levine and is based on the Theravaden tradition of Buddhism which was founded in India and is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. Noah’s book “Dharma Punx” has received a lot of positive attention. Noah seems to be another innovator of Buddhism in the West and I am excited to see where his journey takes him and those who follow him and his teachings.
Where/When: Dharma Punx offers drop-in classes on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The Tuesday night class that was discussed in this review goes from 7:00-8:30ish. The Thursday night class goes from 7:00-8:00 and consists of 40 minutes of meditation with a short sharing session afterwards. There is no dharma teaching on Thursday nights. Classes are ongoing and are located at the Lila Wellness Center in New York City’s East Village (302 Bowery, 3rd Floor).
Fees: Classes at Dharma Punx are donation based.
Overall: Overall I really enjoyed the sangha at Dharma Punx. The outstanding number of attendees present at the class proves the community is highly efficient in their teaching and overall presence. I think Dharma Punx is a great response to the yearning for Buddhism in the west.
Teacher/Class/Date: Josh Korda, Tuesday Night Meditation, 8/24/10
Fire Lotus Temple, Zen Center Branch of the Mountains and Rivers Order
500 State Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: Beginners are welcome to the Sunday Meditation Session before entering other meditations at the Zen center. There are about 15 new-comers this Sunday and 40 experienced practitioners.
The Space: The meditation is held in a beautiful house in Brooklyn. The house functions as a monastery and a temple where both lay practitioners and advanced practitioners can share practice. The rooms have Buddha statues and the practitioners are seated in chairs or cushions.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The Sunday session recommended for beginners are 3 hours long. The session starts with chanting prayers together. We are told that the function of the chanting, bowing and praying is not to worship Buddha but rather to celebrate the identity and unity of Buddha and all humans. The chanting is followed by an introduction held for the beginners. The teacher talks about the concept of Zen Meditation and lets us try different seating postures, finding the one that suits us. Zen Meditation (called Zazen) is practiced with open eyes and lowered gaze, stillness is emphasized and participants are asked to not move during meditation. This is to relearn our habitual response to instantly move to avoid pain and difficulties. The beginners are invited to a short walking meditation and then a 30-minute, silent (without guidance) seated meditation. Afterwards beginners and more experienced practitioners listen to a one hour long Dharma talk held by one of the monks. The talk this Sunday is about searching for spiritual qualities in life and finding the path to enlightenment. The talk is also about looking truly to the essence of things being and all things interdependence. The talk is quite abstract and difficult to understand as a beginner, but the teacher uses stories and metaphors that make it a little bit easier. Questions about meditation are welcomed after the Dharma talk when also some refreshments are offered.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Zen Center of New York, Fire Lotus temple, is a branch of the Zen Mountain Monastery. The order was founded in 1980 to be an organization of practice centers and sitting groups in the US and abroad. The Center offers residential Buddhist training in the midst of Brooklyn. The residential are engaged in a schedule of liturgy, meditation and community work, making all daily activities a part of awareness training. The Zen Center often offers retreats outside of the city.
Where/When: Sunday morning session 9.30 am-12.30 pm is open for beginners. When you have joined one Sunday morning session you are welcome to the Zen Centers other sittings that are held everyday mornings and evenings (please look at website for schedule).
Fees: The sitting is drop-in and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation, 5 dollars is recommended as a minimum.
Overall: The Zen Center offers an opportunity to be a part of a community of dedicated Buddhist meditation practitioners where one can earn a lot about the Buddha teaching and deepen ones practice. The instruction of seating postures was very exact and helpful although there where no guidance during meditation which some beginners might find difficult.
Class/Date: Sunday morning sitting 9:30 am-12.30 pm, 3/17/13
The Interdependence Project
302 Bowery, 3rd Floor, Manhattan, NY
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were approximately 10 participants at the Sunday sitting. The instructor said that this were fewer than usually attend. The attendees were seated on cushions in a wide circle formation. There are chairs available if needed.
The Space: The interdependence project share space with a yoga studio and Dharma Punx (another meditation center). The space is light and has varied pictures of Buddha but also secular decorations.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The instructor emphasized that the practitioners should take time to introduce themselves and to get to know each other. The Sunday session at the Interdependence project is intended to teach the basics of meditation. The instructor started with guiding us into our meditation posture with our eyes open and with a comfortable and straight spine. The instructor invited us to lay down and participate in a guided body scan to settle into our bodies and relaxing. The body scan was about focusing our attention to different body parts and letting go of tensions there. After the body scan we where invited to an awareness of breath meditation for 10 minutes. The participants should focus on the natural feeling of their breath and gently lead wandering minds back to the breath. The meditation was held in silence. Afterwards, the participants shared their experiences of the meditation and asked questions in order to get further guidance from the instructor. The session ended with a talk about what is precious in our lives. Participants identified specific areas of values in their lives, which facilitated a dialogue between the instructor and learners.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Interdependence Project is a secular Buddhist center, which means offering Buddhist teachings and practices that are free from rituals that are included in more traditional Buddhist practices. The Interdependence Project wants to bridge the gap between the individuals personal development and the collective engagement in the world/community through combining mindfulness with outreach programs, ecology, activism and arts. The Interdependence Project offers both drop in meditation and weekly classes and study groups.
Where/When: Introduction to Meditation Beginner’s Mind is held every Sunday at 3:00 - 5:00 pm.
Fees: Sunday sittings are drop-in and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation, 5- 10 dollars are recommended.
Overall: The Interdependence project offers a space where to practice secular Buddhism. Participants are encouraged to get to know each other, ask questions, share and contribute to the sessions with their experiences. The practice is well instructed and suitable for beginners.
Class/Date: The Sunday session's Introduction to Meditation Beginner’s Mind, 3/31/13, 3:00 - 5:00 pm.
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The Introduction to Meditation class consisted primarily of people who were new to meditation. The class is small and personal. The majority present are young adults.
The Space: The space is a very neutral yoga studio. It is a large space with wood floors.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The whole hour and 15 minute Intro to Meditation session was broken down equally between a teaching portion and the actual meditating practice. Ellen Scordato the instructor was awesome! She gave us each individual attention and was excited to answer any questions that the class had. We would meditate in progressions from 5 to 10 minutes. In-between we took short breaks to discuss what we experienced and how we felt. One specific teaching that stuck out to me was a technique specific for beginners with wandering minds. Ellen taught that by mindfully counting from 1 to 10 we can tame our wandering minds. While meditating, if we notice that we have counted beyond 10, it is a subtle reminder that we have lost focus. Practitioners have the option of open or closed eyed meditation.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Interdependence Project (I.D. Project, a.k.a. IDP) is an educational non-profit organization started by Shambhala Buddhist teacher Ethan Nichtern who has proven to be an incredibly intelligent innovator of Buddhism in the west. The I.D. Project provides a sangha (community) to anyone interested in practicing meditation as a way of dealing with our complex 21st century lives. The community’s mission includes committing to the practice of sitting meditation, mindfulness, loving kindness, building a compassionate community and participating in responsible consumption. IDP is based on informal meditation and nonsectarian Buddhist teachings.
Where/When: IDP offers several different classes and events to get involved with throughout each month. Buddhist Studies and Meditation Classes (a.k.a. Dharma Talks) are offered every Monday and Wednesday from 7:00-9:00pm & Saturdays from 4:30-6:30pm. These classes consist of both Dharma teachings and meditation. The Intro to Meditation class discussed in this review is offered every Sunday from 3:00-4:15pm. Unguided Open Sitting & Walking Meditation is also offered every Monday from 6:00-6:45pm and Saturday from 2:00-4:00pm. IDP usually has 2-4 guest lecturers per month. The classes are based in New York City’s East Village on the 3rd floor of 302 Bowery. For entry, ring the middle buzzer. IDP has more groups in Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas. See the website for more details.
Fees: Classes at IDP run on a drop-in basis. The suggested donation for the Intro to Meditation class and Open Sitting and Walking Meditation class is $5. The Buddhist Studies Classes (a.k.a. Dharma Talks)—which are grouped in series of different topics—cost $10-15 per class depending on the class. See website for details about the topics of upcoming Buddhist Studies Classes.
IDP has several different levels of membership. A full membership is $25 month and $15 month for full-time students. A full membership includes 1/3 off most classes and retreats. It also includes free admission to salons, member’s events, select art workshops, and more! See the website for more details regarding the various types of memberships.
Overall: Overall I found the beginner meditation at IDP to be a perfect balance between teaching and actual meditation practice. It was also incredibly clear and fun! IDP is the perfect place to bring friends who might be new to meditation and are looking for a sangha (community) to comfortably get started in. Also, IDP website offers useful blog posts and podcasts and is an awesome resource for those interested in studying the integration of Buddhism and Psychology.
Teacher/Class/Date: Ellen Scordato, Sunday Intro to Meditation, 7/11/10
(Disclosure: I (Jonathan Kaplan) have given talks at IDP, and I did not influence Alyssa’s review. I am, however, in agreement that IDP is a wonderful Buddhist community in NYC: why else would I be giving talks there?)
Jewish Community Center - Makom
334 Amsterdam Avenue at West 76th Street, Manhattan, NYC
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were about 10-15 practitioners seated on chairs in a circle formation. (Cushions are also available).
The Space: The meditation is held in a white painted oval room with a small window overlooking the rooftops on Upper West Side. There are no religious symbols present.
Structure and Content of Meditation: All teachers at MAKOM offer some kind of guidance, although the degree of the instructions varies. This Monday evening, we were invited to begin with focusing on their breath and relax their body. The teacher asked us to exhale and let go of difficulties, then inhale peace and tranquility. We were then encouraged to enter deeper into meditation and follow our own meditation path, observing arising thoughts and emotions. A couple of times during meditation, the teacher offered guidance to practice loving-kindness and gratitude in order to expand our hearts around difficult subjects.
Loving-kindness could be understood as to practice the ability to experience and feel friendliness and warmth to all beings on earth, starting with oneself. It can grow out of the knowledge that we are interdependent and more similar than different. Through understanding of this basic concept, we can be more compassionate and empathic towards oneself and others. After the meditation, there was time for questions and sharing experiences of the recent meditation. This evening, the participants discussed the degree to which the teacher’s instructions during the meditation were helpful or distracting. Most people in this group preferred to look at the instructions as suggestions that they may or may not follow.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Jewish Community Centers mission is to cultivate an inclusive and engaged community based on Jewish values. They embrace diversity and welcomes all. The JCC offers Jewish learning, arts programs, urban retreats and wellness activities. MAKOM is JCC’s department of spirituality, mindfulness and meditation and welcome beginners and advanced participants that want to explore the self through meditation.
Where/When: Gently guided sitting meditation with time for Q&A is held every weekday morning 7:30 - 8:30 am and Monday- Thursday afternoons at 5:45 - 6:45 pm.
Fees: Sittings are drop-in and registration is not needed. Donation is encouraged.
Overall: The JCC MAKOM offers meditation on a regular day basis for those who want to make meditation a daily morning or evening habit. The meditation is gently guided and space is left for independent practice. The meditation focuses on awareness of breath, body, emotions and thoughts as well as the practice of loving-kindness. When I visited the MAKOM, the meditation was secular.
Class/Date: Monday, 3/18/13, 5:45-6:45 pm.
Jewish Meditation Center
505 Carroll St, between 3rd & 4th Aves, Brooklyn, NY
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The weekly Monday Night Meditation Sitting was a full sized class (about 20 people) consisting mostly of attendee’s who appeared to be regulars at the Jewish Meditation Center.
The Space: The space was a beautiful neutral space that had a lofty, contemporary feel to it. It consisted of two rooms. One appeared to be for gathering and the other was for meditation practice. The meditation room was a large room with white brick walls and large windows.
Structure and Content of Meditation: According to the Jewish Meditation Center (JMC) website, “Jewish Meditation” refers to a meditation practice that works to infuse the Jewish language, intentions, texts, and understanding with the practice of meditation. The one hour sitting was broken down into two 20 minute sittings. In the beginning of the class and between each sitting the teacher recited quotes from the Talmud which led the class into discussion. The Talmud is a sacred text of mainstream Judaism. She also focused the meditation around the Jewish calendar. For example in the Jewish tradition, the month of “Elul” is a time of repentance in preparation for the upcoming High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Since the meditation class I attended was during the beginning of “Elul” the teacher used that as the focus of the meditation. Besides using the quotes from the Talmud and the Jewish calendar as guides, nothing else mentioned during the session I attended seemed to distinguish Jewish Meditation from any other kind of meditation practice. The meditation sitting is open to all but I sensed that the teacher assumed everyone present was Jewish because of the structure of the center.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Jewish Meditation Center is one year old. The center is sponsored by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and supported by the Joshua Venture Group. The center is composed of a Jewish community of meditation practicioners but open to all. It seemed that the people who were present were interested in the center because of its identity with the Jewish background and appreciate this distinction as an important characteristic of this sangha.
Where/When: Sittings at the Jewish Meditation Center are held weekly on Mondays at 8pm. The beginner sits are the first Monday of each month. According to the teacher, the beginner sits contain more instructions than the sit that this review is based upon. Sittings are held at the Brooklyn Zen Center at 505 Carroll St, btw 3rd& 4th Aves. Check out Jewish Meditation Center online for more details on various study sessions, guest lectures, workshops, educational trips and other special events.
Fees: Weekly sittings work on a drop-in basis. The sittings are free but the center does accept donations.
Overall: Overall, I’d say that the Monday Night Meditation sitting at Jewish Meditation Center provides a wonderful experience and sangha to those with a Jewish background who can relate to the Jewish wisdom that is referred to during the sitting.
Teacher/Class/Date: Allison Laichter, Monday Evening Meditation Sitting, 8/9/10
New York Insight Meditation Center
28 West 27th Street, 10th Floor, Manhattan
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: The weekly Tuesday Meditation Session for beginners is a class of about 10-15 participants. After the introductory hour the class is invited to join the more experienced meditation practitioners (about 50 persons) for meditation and dharma talk in a larger room.
The Space: The larger meditation room is a bright room decorated with some fresh flowers and Buddha statues. The participants are seated in chairs, but there are also some cushions to use if wanted.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The 2-hour sitting at Tuesday evenings is divided in two parts. First beginners are welcomed and introduced to the center and the concept of meditation. Beginners are guided in sitting and standing meditation with focus on awareness of breath. Between meditations there is time set a side for asking questions to the instructor about the meditation practice. The second part of the evening is held in a larger room together with more experienced practitioners. The instructor guides the group in meditation on loving compassion. Encouraging the group to try to open up their hearts and minds and practice to be compassionate to people around us and in the world. Then a dharma talk is held on the subject of letting go and accepting and dealing with painful emotions such as anger. The talk is held on a down to earth level and seemed to resonate with common difficulties in people’s everyday lives. The atmosphere is open and kind and the listeners ask questions and share their own experiences so that a dialogue forms between teacher and listeners.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: In l976, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg established Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. They had studied insight meditation in Asia and wanted to bring their experience and knowledge to the west. The New York Insight and Meditation Center was founded in 1977 to create an urban center to foster contemplative life. Many of the original founders and volunteers who helped build the center are still valuable supporters and serve as advisors to the Center.
Where/When: The Integrated Orientation for Beginners are held on Tuesday evenings at 7:00-9:00 pm. For more experienced practitioners there are also sittings on Thursday evenings 7:00-9:00 pm and Fridays 12:30-2:00 (open sit with no instruction). Insight dialogue practice (working in dyads) is held second Sunday of each month 6:00-8:00 pm. The New York Insight Meditation Center also has sittings in Brooklyn and Queens.
Fees: All sittings are drop-in and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation, 20-40 dollars is recommended.
Overall: The Integrated Orientation for Beginners is a nice sitting to start practicing meditation. There are several newcomers every Tuesday which gives opportunities to share and talk about experiences of meditation. There is a very welcoming and supportive attitude towards beginners and time set aside to ask questions to instructors.
Class/Date: Integrated Orientation for Beginners, 3/5/13
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The weekly Lunchtime Meditation Sitting was a full sized class consisting of about 15 practitioners. The meditation practitioners present were from all age groups.
The Space: Lunchtime Meditation Sittings are held at Yoga Sutra. Yoga Sutra is a yoga studio that holds many different classes at once. The studio where the meditation was held was a very neutral yoga studio with no religious symbols present.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The one hour Lunchtime Meditation Sitting was broken down into two separate parts. The first 30 minutes were spent in sitting meditation. Practitioners have the option of sitting in a chair or on a zafu. The teacher spoke very subtly in order to guide the sitting portion of the meditation. Following the sitting meditation, the teacher led us into a 20 minute session of walking meditation. During walking meditation we used the experience of walking as our focus. Walking meditation can sometimes be referred to as mindfulness meditation. When practicing walking meditation our eyes were open and fixed about 4ft in front of our feet. As we walked the focus was on continuing to remain mindful and cultivating awareness into each step. After the sitting and walking meditation portions were complete we had a short discussion on how our mind states play such a crucial role in dictating our actions.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Insight Meditation Society was initially founded in 1976 in Barre, Massachusetts by Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. The three contributors are American teachers who studied the practice of Insight Meditation in the east. Following them, Peter Doobinin, Tamara Engel, Joseph Schmidt, Gina Sharpe and Sandra Weinberg went on to begin the Insight Meditation Center of New York in 1997. At the core of the practice of Insight Meditation is the cultivation of mindfulness.
Where/When: Sittings at the New York Insight Meditation Center are held at the Manhattan location (28 West 27th Street, 10th floor) on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7:00-9:00pm. The Lunchtime sitting that this review is based upon is held on Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30pm and is located at the Yoga Sutra Studios, (6 E. 39th Street, between 5th Ave, and Madison). See the New York Insight Meditation Center’s website for information and details on sittings going on at the center’s Brooklyn and Queens locations.
Fees: Weekly sittings work on a drop-in basis. The sittings are donation based. Recommended donation for this center is $10.
Overall: Overall I’d say that the New York Insight Meditation Center is perfect for those who intend on practicing meditation (both sitting and walking) for the whole session. I wouldn’t recommend the lunchtime sitting for beginners.
Class/Date: Lunchtime Meditation Sitting, August 10th, 2010
227 West 29 Street, Manhattan, NY
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were 3 participants.
The Space: The space is a large room with big windows and plants. The space holds an alter with lots of flowers, offerings, pictures of Buddha and of meditation leaders. The participants can choose to sit on chairs or cushions.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The session starts by participants reading an incentive meditation prayer together. Then the participants sit a few minutes in silence, letting the body and mind settle. The meditation teacher shows a recorded video of one of Sogyal Rinpoche teachings. The teaching this Wednesday was about how to sit, gaze and have the right mind when meditating. In Rigpa meditation tradition the participants meditate with open eyes with the intention to stay present and not get sleepy. Rinpoche emphasized the importance of short practices for beginners to promote better focus and concentration. After watching the video the participants practiced meditation for 10 minutes at a time with short breaks in between, just as Rinpoche had suggested. The meditation leader read inspiring quotes to start each 10-minute sit. After meditation, participants were offered tea and biscuits. We were also invited to upcoming events at the Rigpa, such as a movie night with potluck.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: Rigpa is an international organization with retreat facilities a number of city centers and many students worldwide. Rigpa is based upon Tibetan Buddhism and the teachings of Sogyal Rinpoche. Sogyal Rinpoche was one of the Buddhist teachers that in the 1960’s presented Buddhism to the western world. The New York City Rigpa center offers open sitting as well as courses, public talks and other public events.
Where/When: Wednesdays at 7:00-8.15 pm. All is welcome to drop-in, from beginners to more experienced practitioners. Rigpa also offers courses and talks, see schedule on website for more information.
Fees: The fee is by donation. 5 dollars is recommended.
Overall: Rigpa offers a friendly environment and a community of meditation with many happenings and activities. The meditation is quite free from instructions although the evocative teaching of Sogyal Rinpoche functions as guidance.
Class/Date: Wednesday evening class, 7:00-8:15pm, 3/27/13.
Rock Blossom Sangha - Brooklyn Community of Mindfulness
Church of Gethsemane, 1012 Eighth Avenue, between 10th and 11th Streets, Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: The weekly Sunday Meditation Session is open for beginners as well as experienced practitioners. Approximately 40 attendances are seated on cushions in a wide circle formation.
The Space: The meditation is held in the basement of the Church of Gethsemane. The space is decorated with pictures of the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh, small statues of the Buddha, and lighted candles.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The 2-hour sitting on Sunday evening is divided in two parts. First, there is a 20-minute silent meditation. Some evenings also include walking meditation and guided meditation. After the meditation, participants are invited to join in chanting prayers. The teacher then recites the 5 mindfulness-based practices that community members are dedicated to follow. A part of the second hour was devoted to sharing and listening. The members of the community discussed both positive and negative experiences from their lives and their meditation practices. The listeners were asked to turn their awareness to the speaker and deepen their listening. The statements shared are not supposed to be answered or commented during the session, simply shared. The session ended with announcements of happenings in the community and reciting taking refugee in the Dharma, Buddha and Sangha.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Rock Blossom Sangha belongs to The Order of Inter-being which is an international Sangha founded by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The sittings are inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh's writing and teaching. The values that are reflected in the sittings are commitment to opposing oppression and social injustice. The guidelines outlined by the International Sangha written in the Five and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings are often recited and discussed in the purpose of bringing mindfulness in to the daily life of the members of the community. The Sangha strongly appreciates the support that members give each other on their path to spiritual awakening.
Where/When: Every Sunday evening between 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm at the Church of Gethsemane in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Fees: The sitting is drop-in and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation, by what you can offer, but 5 dollars is recommended as a minimum.
Overall: The Sunday sitting I attended did not offer much guidance for beginners because the meditation was done in silence. The community has a strong emphasis on mutual support and is engaged in creating positive change in the world, starting with each member's personal mindfulness practice. The community emphasis is also evident in the chanting and sharing sessions.
Class/Date: Sunday, 3/10/13
Shambhala Meditation Center
118 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor, Manhattan, NY
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: The “Learn to Meditate” class I attended consisted of a large group of Korean International students and a group of English speaking students. Both groups seemed to be beginners. The class was large and filled with people of all ages.
The Space: The space is a large room with wood floors. There is a row of windows in the front of the room which provides for a well lit space.
Structure and Content of Meditation: Most of the hour of the “Learn to Meditate” class was spent on teachings. In between the teacher would take very short breaks to meditate for one to three minutes. One specific teaching that stuck out to me was a technique specific for beginners with wandering minds. The teacher taught that as soon as we notice the mind wandering we should use the term “thinking” to bring us right back to focusing on the breath. By doing this we are preventing our mind from wandering off any further. The “thinking” technique provides for a quick acknowledgement that we have drifted away from the present moment of meditation and does a great job to condition our mind to bring our attention directly back to the breath. Since there was a special group of Korean International students at the session there was also a Korean translator present who would translate everything our teacher said to the Korean students. On the positive side, it was incredibly interesting to listen to the teachings being spread between two different cultural groups within the same setting. On the other hand, the time that it took to translate every message said by the teacher left less time for the actual practice of meditation. Overall I would say about 6-8 minutes of the hour session were spent on the actual practice of meditating. Meditation is practiced and taught at Shambhala with open eyes.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Shambhala Meditation Center is an international community of meditation and retreat centers founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and led by his son and lineage holder Sakyong Miphan Rinpoche. The term “Rinpoche” is an honorific term used in Tibetan Buddhism which translates to “precious one”. The term is used to address or describe reincarnated Tibetan lamas. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a major figure in the spreading of Tibetan Buddhism to the west. The center combines the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. The two lineages both make up two out of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Where/When: Shambhala offers several different classes and events to get involved with throughout each month. The beginner Learn to Meditate classes operate on a drop in basis on Wednesdays at 6pm and on Sundays at 12pm. Weekly Dharma gatherings are every Tuesday at 7pm. Topics for each Dharma gathering are mentioned online. Shambhala also offers several introductory programs to Buddhist studies, Shambhala training programs, and various events throughout the month that can be inspected in detail on the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York site. The main Shambhala center in New York is located on the 6th floor of 118 West 22nd Street. For more centers and details see the Shambhala site.
Fees: Classes at Shambhala run on a drop-in basis. The suggested donation for the “Learn to Meditate” class is $10. The suggested donation for the Dharma gatherings is $5. All the Buddhist programs and special events vary in price. See the site for details on various programs. General memberships cost $60-75 per month. Low income/student memberships cost $30 per month and Golden Key Society memberships cost $125 per month. The Benefits of the membership include; 20% discount on the programs, 15% discount at the Shambhala center bookstore, 15% discount at Sky Lake Lodge (Shambhalas rural retreat center), Access to the Shambhala library and audio library talks, as well as invitations to special member events.
Teacher/Class/Date: Friedman, Learn to Meditate, 7/25/10
The Three Jewels
61 Fourth Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), 3rd Floor, Manhattan, NY
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were 3 participants.
The Space: The space functions both as a small yoga studio and a meditation room. The room has one small window and dark wooden foors. There are a few decorations of Buddha and pictures of meditation leaders. There are cushions available for sitting.
Structure and Content of Meditation: The meditation teacher guided us through approximately 40 minutes of meditation. The meditation started with an awareness of breathing. Focusing on the natural rhythm of my breathing, my mind and the body settled down. The teacher then gave suggestions for visualization. One suggestion was to visualize a teacher and send gratitude to him/her. The participants were invited to internalize one of the visualized person's admirable qualities. Many of the suggested meditation guidelines were similar to loving-kindness meditation, such as wishing others well and opening up our hearts. Reportedly, the specific meditation may vary from day-to-day as meditation teachers choose different topics. After the meditation session, there was some time to talk about our experiences.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The Three Jewels where established in 1996 with the mission to create a space of tranquility and reflection in New York. Three Jewels is a multipurpose center with yoga, meditation, spiritual study group, a bookstore, and outreach program helping those in need. The founders and directors of the Three Jewels belong to the Gelukpa order of Buddhism, which began about 500 years ago. The meditation sessions are based on Tibetan meditation practices such as Tong Len (Taking Suffering/Giving Joy) and Heart Sutra Meditation (to examine the nature of mind and objects).
Where/When: Drop-in guided meditations are held Monday through Friday 8:00 - 9:00 am. On Fridays at 7:00 pm, practitioners that want to learn more about Tibetan Buddhist Meditation are welcome to meditate and listen to the teacher Venerable Phuntsok explaining the foundations.
Fees: All sittings are drop-in and registration is not needed. The fee is by donation.
Overall: Three Jewels offers a space where one can develop a daily practice. The meditation is guided and includes suggestions on visualizations which beginners might find helpful.
Class/Date: Tuesday, 2/26/13, 8:00 - 9:00 am.
Review by Alyssa Barba
Attendance: Every cushion was filled at the Friday Night Meditation I attended at the Three Jewels. There were approximately 30 practitioners of all ages present in the space. Based on the structure and content of the meditation it was clear that the practitioners present had a strong meditation background.
The Space: The Three Jewels holds its meditation classes in a great space. Automatically upon entering the space I sensed the incense burning and felt a fresh fragrant energy. The room for meditation was decorated with what appeared to be Tibetan art and pink Christmas lights hanging around the perimeter of the space. There were plenty of zafus and cushions offering maximum comfort to all practitioners.
Structure and Content of Meditation: Friday Night Meditation at The Three Jewels was taught by the very well liked monk Venerable Phuntsok. Upon Venerable Phuntsok’s arrival I knew this was going to be a very special session. His dynamic presence seemed to be enough to change the tone of any filled room. He was greeted with bows from the class. The class lasted for about an hour and a half beginning with 30 minutes of guided meditation. Venerable Phuntsok did not ring a gong to begin the meditation but just immediately sat down and started meditating. Slowly he began to speak encouraging the class to follow their breathing. He emphasized that we should not reprimand ourselves if our mind happens to wander away from the meditation. Following this guided session Venerable Phuntsok went into a deep discussion on the true nature of reality, the arising and ceasing of things, and a brief mention of the complex concept of emptiness. Following this impressive discussion we were led into another shorter meditation. During this meditation Venerable Phuntsok had us meditate on the deconstruction of reality. By this he implied that we should break down everything from its appearance into the small parts that cooperate with each other (for example cells) to create our reality and make it perceivable. Upon conclusion of the meditation students made offerings to the monk, such as various foods and fruits. It was a wonderful experience of which to be a part.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: The current Three Jewels center is founded and directed by students of the Gelug order of Tibetan Buddhism (one of the four main orders of Tibetan Buddhism). Two students of Khen Rinpoche, Geshe Michael Roach and Ani Thupten, initially created the framework for the original Three Jewels center in 1996. (Khen Rinpoche was one of the most senior Tibetan Buddhist monks to bring the teachings to the west.) The current staff members at The Three Jewels are all students at the Asian Classics Institute which is an institute dedicated to the study and practice of the Buddha’s original teachings. The center offers meditation, yoga, a lending library, a bookshop, spiritual study groups and an outreach center.
Where/When: The Three Jewels offers guided meditation Monday through Friday morning from 8:00-9:00am. Every Friday evening Venerable Phuntsok teaches the meditation described in this review at 7:00pm. See the Three Jewels website for more information on bookshop hours and yoga classes. All classes are held on the 3rd floor of 61 Fourth avenue, Btw 9th & 10th streets.
Fees: Classes at The Three Jewels are donation based.
Overall: Overall my favorite meditation class was the Friday Evening at the Three Jewels with Venerable Phuntsok. If you are someone who is very interested in Buddhist teachings and developing your meditation skills, then this is a perfect class to go to. Learning directly in the presence of someone who has devoted their entire life to the teachings changes your experience entirely. Although I don’t think the Three Jewels center is any more religious then a few of the other centers, I rated it with high religiosity since the specific class I attended was taught by Venerable Phuntsok.
Teacher/Class/Date: Venerable Phuntsok, Friday Night Meditation, 8/27/10
22 West 15th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, Manhattan, NYC
Review by Susanna Johansson
Attendance: There were about 70 practitioners seated in chairs in rows.
The Space: The meditation is held in a large room that also functions as an art exhibition hall. Tibet house has plenty beautiful decorations of the Buddha as well as Tibetan art.
Structure and Content of Meditation: This particular Tuesday, the Introductory meditation was led by Sharon Salzberg. Ms. Salzberg talked about the concept of meditation and the difficulties that can arise when focusing on the breath, like intrusive thoughts and emotions (i.e., “the wandering mind”). Ms. Salzberg emphasized that returning the awareness to the breath is an important moment of mindfulness. The moment that we realize that our minds have wandered gives us an opportunity to begin again, refocusing our attention to the process of breathing. Ms. Salzberg led two meditations this evening; both were guided and focused on breathing awareness.
Background/Mission/Religiosity: Tibet House US was founded in 1987, upon His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wish to create a long-term cultural institution to support Tibetan civilization. Among many things Tibet House holds an art gallery, library, and archives to present and cultivate Tibet’s ancient tradition in the west. Every week, the Tibet House offers lectures, workshops and meditation. The house is also open to those who want to spend some time in the library, look at the art, or learn more about Tibet.
Where/When: The Introduction to Meditation class is held weekly (often Tuesday evenings) with different teachers, including Jospeh Loizzo, Sharon Salzberg and others. Please look at the website for the schedule.
Fees: No registration is needed for the Introduction to Meditation class. The fee is by donation. 10 dollars is suggested.
Ratings: This will vary depending on the Instructor. On this particular night, the rating was
Overall: Tibet house offers many Introductions to Meditation sessions, often led by well-known teachers. These teachers are adept at answering questions from both beginners and experts. The meditation this particular week was more secular and welcoming of people from different religious backgrounds. The space is large and there is room for both community and anonymity, depending on your preference.
Class/Date: Introduction to Meditation with Sharon Salzberg, 3/12/13.