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Sutras and Gathas

Morning service liturgy

How Dharma change my life

Meditation class student — Justin Juswandi

I first stepped into the Zen Center of Sunnyvale in 2004. A friend has told me about this place and invited me to visit.  I immediately felt at home at the Zen Center and soon enrolled in the beginner class. What I like about the classes offered here is we not only learned about the principles of Buddhism but also learned how to practice meditation. I am so grateful to all Dharma masters at the Zen Center who dedicate their lives to propagate the teachings. Through them, I have learned many teachings which I apply in my daily life.  I would like to share some teachings which helped me most.


Understanding the principle of causality and karma is crucial and should be the foundation of our Buddhist practice. The principle of causality teaches us that all phenomena come into existence when their causes and conditions come together.  When their causes and conditions cease to exist, these phenomena will disappear. From teaching on karma we learned that wholesome actions will bring wholesome results, similarly, unwholesome actions will certainly bring unwholesome results in the future. Since we don’t want to suffer, we must not create causes and conditions which lead to suffering in the future.  This teaching has made me pay closer attention to all my actions. If an action will bring suffering to myself or others, I will not do it.  Conversely, if an action will bring benefits and happiness to myself and others, then I should do it.  However, sometimes we may not be clear if certain actions are wholesome or unwholesome.  Fortunately, the Buddha has established Five Precepts, Eight Precepts, and Bodhisattva Precepts for lay disciples which provide us guidelines on what we should or should not do. Upholding precepts may at first seem like putting more restrictions in our life, but it enhances our mindfulness in everything we do.  By knowing clearly what wholesome actions we should do and what unwholesome we should not do, we avoid suffering and create happiness for ourselves and others.


Correctly understanding the teaching of emptiness will liberate us. “Emptiness” is not an easy concept to understand, probably because we don’t have an equivalent English word for its Sanskrit term “sunyata”.  Emptiness in Buddhist teaching means all phenomena have no independent existence or inherent characteristic. For example, an apple tree does not exist in and of itself.  Its existence is dependent on many other factors, like sunlight, water, soil, etc.  A person is also not inherently pretty or ugly.  What we consider pretty in Asia may not be considered pretty in the United States.  And what was considered pretty 100 years ago may not be considered pretty now. So, the characteristic of a person changes with time and place, it is relative and not inherent in that person.  Understanding emptiness has a huge impact on my life.  It taught me to be less judgmental of people and developed more compassion toward them.  For example, when I see or hear a particular person commit a crime, I do not label them as an evil person.  There are many causes and conditions which lead one to commit a crime.  Moreover, with a different set of causes and conditions, that person could change and lead a wholesome life in the future.  There is no inherently evil person.  Emptiness to me also means infinite possibilities and hopes. Nothing in this world is fixed since they don’t have independent existent or inherent characteristics.  That means everything could be changed.  So, if we are not content with a certain situation in our life, we can change it.  The key is to know what the correct causes and conditions are to achieve the results we want.


Use the teaching of inter-dependence to sever our ego.  We often take ourselves as the center of the universe and believe our success and achievement were all due to our own effort.  However, if we contemplate on the inter-dependent of all things, we soon realize that to accomplish anything, many supporting conditions need to exist.  For example, to go to work daily to earn a living, we need these conditions: having proper education or necessary skills, transportation system, government, companies, co-workers, good health, peaceful country, etc.  If we go deeper and contemplate how each of the supporting conditions could come into existence, we realize each of them also depends on many other factors.  We realize that for anything to exist, it depends on the whole universe.  Inter-dependence contemplation helps me to be more grateful, less egoistic, and more appreciative to everything and everyone, knowing that everything I have done or accomplished will be impossible without them.


Embrace all, but attach to none.  There are many views, theories, or doctrines in the world.  Though we may not agree with some of those views, we should not quarrel or dispute with those who hold those views.  No view can describe the totality of the whole truth, but they can describe a certain part of the truth. It is like when we are hiking on the mountain.  As we stand in various parts of the mountain, the views all look different from one another, but they are all views of the same mountain, but from different angles.  When we interact with people in our daily life, we are certain to encounter views or opinions which are different from us.  I have learned to be more open-minded and accepting of others’ opinions, knowing that all views and opinions may be valid if you look at them from certain viewpoints.


Analyzing events happening around us using Buddhist teachings will deepen our understanding of the teachings.  For example, when I read the news, I would sometimes analyze the story in the news using principles of causality, karma, emptiness, etc to understand why things happen in a certain way, or how things could turn out differently if we apply Buddhist teachings and react differently.  Similarly, in daily life when I am upset or angry about a certain situation or person, I would reflect and analyze it using various Buddhist teachings.  By doing this exercise, over time, my understanding of the teachings deepen, and I am better prepared if and when I encounter a similar situation in the future.  It is also beneficial to memorize key points in Buddhist teachings, so we can always have them at our fingertips.  After all, how can we apply the teachings when we need them most if we don’t even remember them?


Having a calm mind is so important to deal with any situation in our daily life. That’s why meditation is a crucial part of our practice. At the beginning of my practice, I did sitting meditation practice once or twice daily.  Soon I realized that just doing sitting meditation is not enough.  How about the rest of the time when I am not on a meditation cushion?  I realized it is also important to practice mindfulness in everything I do.  So, brushing teeth, cleaning the house, doing laundry, etc are now also part of my meditation practice.  Furthermore, since our bodily and verbal actions arise from our thoughts, I also practice being aware of thoughts that arise in my mind at every moment. If we can observe our thoughts, we can let go of unwholesome thoughts the moment they arise, before they turn into harmful verbal or bodily actions.


Be patient in our practice.  When we start on the path of cultivation, sometimes it is not easy to know if we are making any progress or if the methods we are using are even effective. One way we can check is to observe the frequency and intensity of our afflictions. For example, in the past, we usually got upset 10 times a day on average.  But now after we practice Buddhism, we only get upset 5 times a day.  Yes, we still get upset, but the frequency of the affliction is now reduced 50 percent.  That’s a commendable improvement and you deserve a pat on the back.  In the past, when your affliction arose, its intensity maybe 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, but now the intensity is only 5.  This also shows your practice has improved. Noticing that we make progress in this way, we will have faith that with continuous practice, we can eventually eradicate all the afflictions and achieve liberation.


Welcome to join the completion of Medicine Sutra Recitation AT HOME

(no virtual service)

When the mind is pure, the land is pure.”

We are going to complete the Medicine Sutra Recitation. Sincerely invite you join the collective practice at home:

10/3 (Sunday)  2 pm  “The Medicine Buddha Sutra”

Detailed Flow

  • Bow to the Buddha (3 times)
  • Namo Shakyamuni Buddha (3 times)
  • Opening Gatha
  • Read “The medicine Buddha Sutra”
  • Dedication of Merits

“May I remove the three obstructions and all afflictions.

May I have the wisdom to perceive the truth.

May all beings be free of transgression and suffering.

I vow to practice the bodhisattva way, life after life.

  • Bow to the Buddha (3 times)


Lamp offering

“The eternal lamp represents perfect awareness. Likening the illumination of awareness to that of a lamp, those who seek liberation see their body as the lamp, their mind as its wick, the addition of discipline(precepts) as its oil, and the power of wisdom as its flame. By lighting this lamp of perfect awareness they dispel all darkness and delusion. And by passing this Dharma on to others they’re able to use one lamp to light thousands of lamps. And because these lamps likewise light countless other lamps, their light lasts forever.”

According to Buddhist scriptures, one can obtain many benefits by making a lamp offering to the Three Jewels:

  • Good Health
  • Clarity of Vision
  • Purity of Mind
  • Freedom from Fear and Worries
  • Patience and Gentleness
  • Extinction of Ignorance
  • Attainment of Wisdom
  • Supreme Enlightenment

Encompassing the Six Paramitas

Meditation class student /J.D.

1.How to practice the six paramitas by practicing praise.

Dana: We are practicing dana when we give people praise by being selfless and offeringencouragement without expecting any praise in return.

Sila: When giving praise to others, we are practicing Sila through our speech and will, instead of placing blame or insult. Even if someone has insulted us, we do not return the favor. Instead, we offer praise.

Ksanti: By enduring my self-ego, I will be able to give praise genuinely.

Virya: Diligence is needed to ALWAYS maintain the right attitude for giving praise.

Dhyana: Our minds must be calm and sincere when giving praise. We must also use insight to be mindful of how to appropriately give praise.

Prajna: When giving praise, contemplate the empty nature of “giver”, “recipient”, and “the praise I give.” Giving praise to eradicate my self-ego, furthermore, contemplate the empty nature of “giver”, “recipient”, and “the praise I give” is to detach from the dharma, the good deeds I have done.


2.How to manifest the six paramitas during pandemic.

Dana: Do shopping and other errands for those who are sick and cannot leave the house due to quarantine.

Sila: Be mindful to follow safety and health guidelines. Refrain from large gatherings and always wear face covering when leaving home.

Ksanti: Even if some people fail to follow health and safety guidelines, do not be rude or confrontational. If someone is standing too close to you, instead of demanding that they back off, simply move yourself instead.

Virya: Even though it may be difficult not being able to visit people, we must stay diligent not to get our friends and relatives sick. We may be asymptomatic carriers and could unknowingly pass the virus onto others unintentionally. Also stay diligent in washing hands and using face coverings.

Dhyana: Meditation is vital for our mental health during this worldwide crisis. If we do not remain calm and mindful we may cause harm onto ourselves and others. Contemplating the dharma and penetrating the mundane understanding of the pandemic will help us cultivate understanding of the situation and help us find solutions to make it better.

Prajna: Contemplating the impermanent nature of this pandemic and the empty nature of such phenomena can help us to accept adversity, adapt to conditions, and make changes earnestly.


3.How to manifest the six paramitas while chanting sutras.

Dana: Dedicating the merits from our meditation is practicing dana. This helps others generate the necessary conditions to also cultivate the bodhi mind.

Sila: Chanting the sutras generates good karma of the body, speech, and mind.

Ksanti: We need to be patient while chanting sutras. Our ears listen to the tempo of wooden fish and other’s chanting speed. Chanting harmoniously in the gathering practice instead of wanting to show off my own voice, we hold back our self-ego.

Virya: Taking advantage of the conditions to chant sutras is a blessing! We must remain diligent to try to recite, memorize, study, and practice as much as we can. Even when we get too tired, or if we feel like our life is already good, we must remain diligent.

Dhyana: We must chant the sutras with mindfulness and not allow ourselves to be distracted by wandering thoughts or sensations. Focus on each word to bring mind back. This is the purpose of chanting sutras.

Prajna: The sutras provide us with a deeper understanding of the dharma, which in turn helps us to chip away our false ego and realize our true nature.


Reflect Inward

  1. The paramita I practice the most is ksanti. By practicing ksanti at work and at home I need to have tolerance and not get upset when things don’t go how I want them too. This requires dana to use expedient means and help others in the process by being proactive, not just tolerant. Silacomes into play by being mindful and  not losing my temper with customers, my wife, and son. Virya is absolutely necessary to never regress. Dhyana is essential that I maintain a calm and clear mind, so that I can adapt to conditions. Everything I say, do, or think, must be accompanied with prajna to help me realize the true nature of all phenomena.


  1. The hardest paramita to practice is Virya. I understand why Shakamuni Buddha waited so many years to teach the Lotus Sutra, because many people would give up if they knew how difficult it is for us to remove all of our impurities! I believe the hardest thing for anyone to do is anything that we don’t want to do. Sometimes if I do not get the results I want I slowly start to lose motivation and sink back into laziness and sloth. I often remember Grand Master Wei Chueh lecture about sudden enlightenment and gradual cultivation and find it inspirational. 6th Patriarch Hui Neng is also very inspirational because he also believed sudden enlightenment and gradual cultivation are not apart from each other. Grand Master also taught us that when we are practicing, we are making progress, and when we are not practicing, we are not making progress. This teaching is very encouraging for me when I feel like I am not making progress because I have not attained samadhi.

Benefiting sentient beings

Meditation class student /M.V.

Before the pandemic I volunteered as a TA to many classes at Chung Tai, term after term. Although I am already in the Sutra Sturdy class and it takes extra time to be a TA in other classes, I just wanted to give back and shared the benefits of Chung Tai’s classes. In turn, I got a lot out of the TA experience:

Cooperate with Shifus and other TAs in a supportive environment to provide good experiences to class members. We put our heart on what we do, and resolve issues in a calm and friendly way. TAs are also cultivators so together with Shifus, they inspire and generated positive energy. Being a TA, I was able to listen to the Dharma again and again. Learning the Dharma is not like Algebra or Economics, you never master the topic unless you are enlightened! After repeating the class for years, my life experiences change and views also change, thus, each lecture brings me different perspectives and deeper meanings of the Buddha’s teaching. I think this is why the Buddha always encourages us to practice the bodhisattva way on the path— when we are benefiting others, we ourselves are the ones benefit most.

Illustrate the Importance of Kṣānti

Meditation class student /N.L.

Oftentimes we get irritated, vexed, or annoyed because the things we take for granted are no longer there. Our life despite its difficulties is a piece of cake when compared to those living in war-torn regions. There are many things we take for granted without ever giving it a thought and we get upset when those things do not follow our expectations. Like when the internet is not working, the tap water is shut down for service, there are ants in the bathroom, the car gets a nail in the tire, orders from amazon does not get here on time, spouses not putting their dirty laundry in the basket, colleagues gossip about us behind our backs…etc. etc. etc… The fact that we feel entitled to feel irritated, vexed, or annoyed may be we take for granted that our families, friends, and colleagues will tolerate, endure, and bear our moods.

Flexibility, adaptability, and tolerance are great assets in maintaining tranquility. Oftentimes we get upset because we don’t understand why someone does what they do, even if it is the smallest thing. Like “I cannot understand why my roommate keeps the window open! It’s the middle of the winter and we are in Chicago! I’m so upset!” Well, it turns out that the roommate is from Alaska and the middle of the winter in Chicago is like Springtime in her hometown. Whereas if we do understand why a person does certain things, even if it is a bad thing, or even it is a bad person, we can easily let it go. Like the protagonist in a novel, even if he/she is morally questionable, as long as the story is told from his/her perspective, we the readers will have sympathy towards him/her. There are many things in the world which we don’t understand. To get angry and irritated at every such encounter seems like an easy way to wear ourselves out. Practicing a little patience could go a long way to help us avoid all the unnecessary stress.

Feral cats teach me tolerance

Meditation class student /法賢

My next door neighbor is a very nice lady, we have been good neighbors for over thirty years. In the recent four, five years, with a sympathetic heart, she started to feed some feral cats in her yard. Every morning at 8:00 and afternoon 4:00, she would call their names( yes, she gave them names), and the cats showed up. When she and her family went vacation, she would bring the cat food and ask me to take over the feeding chores. I was happy to do that. But one problem came out unexpectedly- I started to see cats’ shit in my yard. Obviously they came from the cats when they walked through our adjacent yards. We knew cats are very neat animals, but these were not domestic cats, they were wild, didn’t get training. They wondered everywhere freely, only showed up when they needed food.

Should I complain to her? But she was not the master, could not control their behavior or build up good habits. Should I suggest she not to feed them any more? It didn’t sound like a good idea.

The questions bothered me for a while, finally I decided to drop them. I found a simple way to solve the problem: when I saw the shit in my yard, Just covered it by some soil, it is not difficult to do that. Therefore, cats, my neighbor, my family, we still live a smooth, simple, pleasant life.

Triple emptiness contemplation

Meditation class student/Thomas Yang

What is Triple Emptiness?

Emptiness of the giver

Emptiness of what is given

Emptiness of the recipient

Why are these three things not real?

The giver, as a human being, is impermanent and temporal. Once the act of giving happened, the giver is no longer in the state of giving.

What is given is not permanent as everything, material or mental, is trancient and subject to decline and destruction.

The recipient, as a human being, is impermanent and temporal. Once the receiving happened, the recipient is no longer in the state of receiving.

Should we keep practicing giving when we know the Triple Emptiness?

Through the practice of giving, a giver can reduce his or her greed and selfishness, and improve spiritual growth. The immediate goal is to improve the well-being of the recipient, and, by dedicating the merits of giving, the ultimate goal of giving is the enlightenment of all sentient beings.