On Monday, February 23, Shinge-shitsu Roko Sherry Chayat visited Colgate, leading a Zen meditation session at the Chapel House. With about 15 people in attendance, Chayat spoke about the meaning of Zen and guided the group of professors and students through Zen meditation.
Chayat is a Zen abbot who works out of a monastery in Upstate New York. She also has two temples: one in Syracuse and one in New York City.
She began studying Zen Buddhism at a young age, around seven or eight, and soon after dedicated her life to it. She will turn 72 this year.
“I became interested in Zen because I really experienced a lot of suffering in my childhood and I was … trying to find a way to understand injustice, understand the way people were treating each other so oppressively, and I really asked, ‘Why? Why is this happening?’ and I couldn’t find any reason. I couldn’t understand, so I finally just sat down outside, under a tree and I started opening to the universe. I felt everything – the breeze blowing through me. I just kept opening, opening, opening and becoming more one with everything and less caught up in my own suffering,” Chayat said. “And by sitting still that way … I thought this is something I can do, I can’t control my circumstances, but I can really control something within myself to make myself feel not so cut off, not so alienated, not so miserable. And so that experience led me to do this kind of thing.”
Throughout the meditation
session, Chayat focused on breathing, emphasizing the importance of becoming aware of one’s existence. She began by talking about the benefits of practicing Zen meditation and led into a description of what it entailed. Chayat ended the hour-long session with a 15 minute period of quiet meditation.
Because Chayat’s visit was out of the ordinary, there were more people in attendance than on typical Monday nights. Interested professors and students alike came out to experience Zen meditation and to hear what Chayat had to say.
“It was really fantastic having Roshi here because the meditation is normally run by students, so it was fantastic to have a real spiritual leader here to show us what we’re actually meditating about. To hear her speak was a wonderful experience and I’m so glad she could come,” sophomore Emily Haines said.
“I have never been to Monday night meditation at Chapel House before, but it was a really unique experience, and I’m glad I went. It was a relaxing way to take a break from school work, and I never realized Colgate offered such cool experiences,” first-year Lindsey Derbyshire said.
Chayat believes Zen meditation can be especially helpful to college-aged students who are overwhelmed with work and
preoccupied with busy schedules.
“I really reverberate very deeply with the struggles of this particular age. I just feel there is so much – you’re carrying around a lot of heavy burdens, and yet, there’s some openness, there’s a real sense of wanting to know who you are, wanting to know what reality is all about. Deeply personal philosophical questions … can get lost in the realm of having to prepare for an exam or whatever, but they’re there anyway so it’s nice to
connect that way,” Chayat said.