What is Zen?

Sitting still, letting your thoughts calm down, and become aware of your surroundings again. Direct experience.

From birth, we learn to see the world and our ‘self’ through a filter of thoughts, opinions and desires. We set goals that we ‘have to’ achieve and constantly focus on the future. More than often, however, reality turns out different than we thought and wanted it to be.

Zazen is sitting while conscious. Sitting with a straightened back, cross-legged, on a chair or a kneeler, you focus on your breath. It’s a simple exercise, but also quite difficult. We are used to be constantly busy with something… Everytime you lose your focus, you return to your breath.

Zen meditation teaches you to let go of thoughts, opinions and desires. You learn to see the world and your ‘self’ for what they really are. This gives you peace, and teaches you to enjoy the little things. You learn to see that nothing stays as it is, and that this is just fine!

Sitting with heart and soul

Ever wonder what it’s like not to be plagued by that eternal stream of thoughts? Or are you looking for your true self? Zen meditation is an ancient Chinese method to find your way back to yourself. Here you move with both your body and your mind to be in deep peace and confidence in the here and now. Anyone who can sit upright can practice this age-old spiritual tradition.

In the great world traditions, spirituality is sought through meditation and contemplation. Zen meditation is a proven method that has been used by thousands of women and men over many millennia to penetrate the deeper layers of consciousness. The search for the answer to life’s fundamental questions has shown time and time again that these techniques provide an answer beyond words. Zen meditation is one of the methods that pursues the direct experience of the deepest forms of consciousness. Zen tries to point directly to the root of our consciousness. We should keep in mind the statement of a famous Zen master: “When I point to the moon, look at the moon and not at my finger.”

Ongoing group

We are a Zen group related to Maha Karuna. Maha Karuna Ch’an (MKC) is an open Sangha (Buddhist community) of lay people devoted to the Zen Way.

‘Maha Karuna’ means ‘Great Compassion’

As a group we are inspired by various movements and teachers within Zen. We have a special bond with Zen River Temple and the Zenboat in Groningen. Several members have attended retreats here or are otherwise connected to Zen River and the Zenboat and their teachers.

Olaf and various members work selflessly to organize the lessons and activities such as the introductory course, Zen Sundays and the occasional film evening.

The guidance is provided by Olaf van Kooten. Olaf has over 50 years of experience with zazen under the guidance of various Zen masters.

An evening of Zen

We are every Wednesday from 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM. We start with 25 minutes of sitting meditation. This is followed by 10 minutes of walking meditation and then we read a text and talk about it. Then we sit again for 25 minutes. We recite the four vows and end the evening with a tea ceremony.

The first Wednesday of the month is an evening in complete silence, we sit for two periods after which we do 25 minutes of slow Kinhin. This evening lasts until 10 p.m. In the second and third periods there is the possibility of Daisan (individual conversation with the teacher)

The Wednesday evening classes can also be followed via Zoom.

‘Be a little more zen’…

…has become an acceptable Dutch expression. In everyday and commercial language, zen stands for things like purity, balance, origin, etc. This kind of zen is something that concerns everyone, but what is it exactly, this ‘zen’ or ‘ch’an’ as it was originally called in China? The answer can be found in a legend from the life of Buddha.

A long time ago, when Buddha was going to give a speech on a mountain, he simply held up a flower. His followers waited with anticipation, but Buddha kept his mouth shut. Only the monk (Mahakashyapa) smiled. Then Buddha said: “I have the all-pervasive true dharma (teaching), the unforgettable nirvana, the excellent teaching of the shapeless shape. It does not depend on words and letters, and it is transmitted outside writings. I pass it on to Mahakashyapa now.”

Mysterious. What did he pass on? It was the first true zen-question, one that last a lifetime. Everyone holds a unique ‘flower’, find out what it is. Zen cannot be clearly defined, and Mahakasyapa understood this. Discovering this flower, and being able to express it, is something that calls for the involvement of mind and heart. Our exercise is called zazen, like a mountain. Zazen is a form of meditation, ‘sitting’ could be a better word, being relatable to everyone. On a pillow or a chair, it doesn’t matter, the silence will do the job. The weekly group-setting improves the exercise and motivates you. This can be done at KenKon, with Zen in Wageningen.


Zen Sundays

The Zen Group is organizing four Zen Sundays in 2024. This is a day where we sit together in silence. On the day there is a lecture (dharma talk), room for Daisan (interview with the teacher) and we alternate sitting with movement exercises and walking meditation. Although sitting all day seems like a long time, the varied program makes it doable for everyone.

Dates 2024:

Sunday February 11 led by Olaf van Kooten Sunday,

June 9, led by Senko Sensei from the Zenboat in Groningen Sunday,

September 8, led by Senko Sensei from the Zenboat in Groningen Sunday

November 24 led by Olaf van Kooten

You can register by email at Zeninwageningen@gmail.com. Clearly state which day you want to register for. To cover all expenses together, we ask for a contribution of 35 euros. If you are short on cash, we propose a contribution of 20 euros. Please pay in cash on the day itself. A special discount rate applies to Spectrum students.


Introductory course

If you want to start with Zen and you have little or no experience with meditation, you can participate in the introductory lessons. Depending on the number of registrations, we give two introductory lessons every 4-6 weeks. You will be shown around the meditation room and will receive instructions about posture, sitting and customs in the meditation room. After these two lessons you can join the continuing group. We will not let you go yet, but there will be regular one-on-one contact with the teacher or one of our experienced group members. You can ask questions here and receive instructions about sitting and how to deal with obstacles that you may encounter while sitting. Zen does not stop in Zendo but takes you into your daily life. Daily practice is therefore certainly recommended.

If you already have experience with Zen meditation, it is possible to join the ongoing group immediately after consultation. The first time you can take a trial lesson for free.

If you would like more information or have questions about the introductory lessons, please send an email to: zeninwageningen@gmail.com

Register for introductory lessons

Olaf van Kooten

Since 2003 I have been leading Zen meditation at Kenkon in Wageningen at the request of Sydney. I am grateful to him for this request, because guiding people has brought me a lot. I started this Zen group in Amsterdam (Zen aan de Amstel) in January 2015. I have been training myself in the dharma under various Zen masters since 1973. When I started at Kenkon, I asked Ton Lathouwers to be my teacher. With this I went from the Japanese Zen tradition to the Chinese Ch’an tradition. Ton has received transmission from master Teh Cheng in the lineage of Lin Chi (Rinzai in Japanese) and recognition from Masao Abe in the FAS society. Ton calls his sangha ‘Maha Karuna’, which is Sanskrit and means great compassion. I was always very strict and serious with my practice, but Ton opened my heart to the gentle way of Kuan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion throughout East Asia. In July 2015, Ton authorized me as a teacher in the Ch’an tradition of Lin Chi and in the tradition of the FAS society of Shin’ichi Hisamatsu. Characteristic of this is that I renounce the authoritarian teacher role and try to help people find their way back to their original heart-mind through the technique of ‘Mutual Inquiry’ and the Chinese Kung An (koan in Japanese) training.