First established in 1986, Anchorage Zen Community (AZC) has witnessed the coming and going of numerous meeting places, members, and teachers. Now they have their own dedicated practice center, or zendo, near downtown Anchorage, along with a resident teacher who has served the community for more than 10 years.
Located far from most other centers of Zen practice, AZC has made its own way in the unique surroundings and northern climate afforded by their Alaskan home. The latitude provides days in the summer when the sun only dips below the horizon for a few hours each night as well as nights in the winter that last more than 18 hours.
AZC’s resident priest Genmyo Jana Zeedyk noted that the Alaskan winters actually provide an ideal setting for practice.
“People have very active, sports lives in the snow, but when activities slow down, it gives more opportunity for zazen,” she said. “There’s the quiet that comes with the snow—the conditions make it easier to be inside and sit.” (KKTV)
In the summer, the community takes advantage of the long, warm days to practice walking meditation in nearby parks, according to Zeedyk.
“Zazen works best when done on a regular basis, day in and day out,” said Judith Haggar, the center’s treasurer. “However, in the summer when the light seems all pervasive, zazen seems to be a steadying influence amid all the energy of 19 hours of daylight.” (KKTV)
In their new home, just as in previous temporary meditation halls, the group replicates the practice of their tradition, tracing its way to Japan. Before becoming a Zen community in the 1980s, their was simply a group of meditators from a variety of traditions who met regularly to meditate and discuss their experiences.
In 1984, Katagiri Roshi, then at the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, accepted their invitation to visit and teach. From that visit, a connection to the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center was established and teachers from there, including Katagiri Roshi, would visit Anchorage regularly throughout the year.
The center grew steadily from there, both in the depth of practice of its core members and in overall size. In 1996, they hosted their first resident priest, Tozen Akiyama. After five years, Akiyama retired fully and invited Koun Franz to take his place. Koun Franz accepted and moved with his wife from Japan, where he had been studying. In 2006, after five more years and continued growth, Franz left and the center entered a period with no resident teacher, instead hosting a number of visiting teachers.
In 2012, Zeedyk joined the center as resident priest and has served there ever since. She had studied with Robert Aitken’s Diamond Sangha and was ordained as a priest in Japan.
Zeedyk reflected on the rugged conditions in Alaska as helping to form the particular ethos of the AZC community: “What’s unique about our community is that we’re far removed from everywhere and there’s still this commitment to come here, to practice in this very far-flung place,” she said. (KKTV)
Several of the community members volunteer at area prisons. According to Haggar, access to meditation training has been transformative for many women in prison. She has taught meditation, yoga, and the Dharma to women at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, some 20 kilometers from Anchorage.
“It was an education for me,” Haggar reflected. “This was not saintly on my part at all. I really loved going there. We had the most wonderful discussions. . . . We connected on many levels . . . and it enhanced my life tremendously.” (KKTV)
Anchorage Zen Community seeks awareness sitting in silence (KKTV)
A Brief History of Nothing Special… 30 Years of Practicing Zen in Anchorage, Alaska (Northwest Dharma Association)
Alaska Buddhists seek awareness sitting in silence (USA Today)
Meet a Sangha: Anchorage Zen Community (Tricycle)
Anchorage Zen Community
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