Windhorse Zen Community first came into being in the late 1990’s, after Lawson and Sunya left the Rochester Zen Center to begin teaching on their own. A sitting group formed and, in 2003, they and some members of their group packed up and headed south, eventually relocating to a beautiful spot just outside of Asheville, NC.
The Windhorse property includes 16 acres of wooded and open land. The original house serves as our main center, and we also have a fine retreat lodge, used to house sesshin participants, guests and Airbnb visitors. But the real jewel of the property is the sweeping back-deck view of the ancient mountains of the Pisgah National Forest.
The mountains in this region—among the oldest in the world—have a deep, quiet power conducive to strong practice. With wooded trails and gardens, we cultivate an engaged form of practice grounded in both Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions, while exploring creative possibilities attuned to an emerging Zen in the West.
Over the years, Windhorse seems to have become well rooted in these misty mountains. We’ve held many dozens of sesshins and introductions to practice, a wide range of ceremonies and celebrations, and have also been involved in supporting community change in ecological awareness, and gender and racial equality.
Many have joined us for longer or shorter periods of training, working to sustain their practice on the mat and in the activities and relationships of everyday life. We remain committed to join with others to plumb the depths of our own buddha-nature, to bring the spirit of the Great Way of Buddha into our daily lives, and to do whatever we can to keep this transformative dharma teaching and practice alive and accessible for generations to come.
The Windhorse Teachers
Sunya Kjolhede and Lawson Sachter
The founders and spiritual directors of Windhorse, Sunya Kjolhede and Lawson Sachter, were ordained and sanctioned to teach by Roshi Philip Kapleau. The teaching and practice at Windhorse blend the strengths of both the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen, using breath, open awareness and koan inquiry. Both Lawson and Sunya have been practicing Zen for many decades, and have conducted sesshins (silent Zen meditation intensives) and workshops in the United States, Mexico, and abroad.
Sunya-roshi, along with her other teaching activities, has traveled regularly for over two decades to Poland, where she serves as spiritual director of the Bodhidharma Zen Center, a Polish Zen community founded by Roshi Kapleau in 1975. She has trained in Clinical Pastoral Education, working for a period of time as a hospital chaplain, and has also worked as a storyteller in schools.
Lawson-roshi is spiritual director of the Clear Water Zen Center, and is also a licensed psychotherapist with years of specialized training. Many of his clients have been engaged in dharma practice, and he leads Zentensives — unique retreats accredited by The Washington School of Psychiatry for a range of mental health professionals.
Sunya and Lawson are married and have four grown children and five grandchildren.
Our Teachers’ Teacher
Roshi Philip Kapleau
Born in 1912, Roshi Philip Kapleau was one of the primary figures of American Zen Buddhism as it flourished in the second half of the 20th Century. He was the author of The Three Pillars of Zen, the first book in English to focus on the actual practice of zazen, with clear instructions and inspiring teachings that made authentic Zen much more widely accessible to seekers in the West. Philip Kapleau’s literary legacy also includes other widely read books like Zen Merging East and West, To Cherish All Life, The Zen of Living and Dying: A Practical Guide, and Awakening to Zen.
As a young man, Philip Kapleau served as court reporter in state and federal courts. After the war he was appointed chief Allied court reporter for the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, and later was sent to cover the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo.
In 1953, Kapleau abandoned his life as a businessman in America to seek the Dharma in Japan. During his thirteen years there he studied initially with Nakagawa Soen-roshi (1907-1984), then extensively with Harada Daiun-roshi (1870-1961), and finally with Harada’s Dharma heir Yasutani Hakuun-roshi (1885-1973).
While on pilgrimage in Asia, Philip Kapleau met a Canadian woman, Delancey, another spiritual seeker who would later practice Zen with him in Japan. The two married and had a daughter, Ramana.
Eventually Kapleau was given lay-ordination by Yasutani-roshi, and received permission to teach Zen Buddhism in the West. He then returned to the United States in 1966 and established the Rochester Zen Center in Rochester, NY. There he served as abbot for the next 20 years, retiring in 1986.
After many years of dealing with Parkinson’s, Philip Kapleau died peacefully in the spring sunshine on May 6, 2004, surrounded by dharma students chanting the Heart Sutra. He was 91 years old.
Windhorse Zen Community is a non-profit religious corporation (501 (c) 3) and we rely on the generosity of our members and others to maintain our programs and activities. All events and activities at Windhorse are funded solely by contributions from members and by others, local and distant, who support our dharma work. All donations go directly to supporting our programs — no one at Windhorse is paid for their work. Without an endowment fund, we depend on this support to keep going. If you participate in Windhorse activities, and/or value the spirit of what we’re doing, please consider becoming a member.
A letter from the roshis, staff, and trustees of Windhorse:
February 17, 2021
The Year of the Ox is just beginning: an auspicious time to take a fresh look at becoming a member of Windhorse:
According to Chinese astrology, those born under this sign tend to be hard-working, stable, dependable sorts, humbly serving others. When Joshu asked his teacher Nansen, “When one realizes This, where should he go from here?,” Nansen replied, “He should go down the hill to become a buffalo in the village below.”
Especially now, in such tumultuous and precarious times, this dharma center so needs the ox-like stability and spirit of service that comes from the support and practice efforts of sangha members! As with a drawing compass, one end must be firmly anchored so that the other arm can swing freely. During this pandemic we have become acutely aware of the need for a strong foundation, one that can sustain our efforts to bring forth the heart of Zen teachings and practice, and to serve the greater good with a regular offering of dharma programs.
And so, as we begin this new lunar cycle and Year of the Ox, we encourage anyone who is not yet a member, and who finds value in what we’re doing, to join the sangha formally as a member of Windhorse Zen Community.
Aside from some practical advantages of becoming a member—reduced retreat costs, priority acceptance to sesshin and workshops, etc.—the primary reason to make this commitment is the benefit it can bring to one’s own life-practice while directly supporting the sangha as a whole, in spirit and through regular donations. Windhorse membership is also a prerequisite for anyone wishing to become a formal student of one or both Windhorse teachers, and to receive a rakusu and Buddhist name.
Although on the application you’ll see a suggested monthly or quarterly pledge, please understand that no one has ever been turned away because of financial hardship. Signing up to become a member is a concrete way of saying, “I support the work Windhorse is doing, and you can count on me to contribute to that work to keep it going, through my practice and through regular financial donations and/or work service.”
If you are not already a formal member,* the first step is simple: just click here and fill out the application. We will be following up, letting you know we’ve received your application, and responding to any questions or concerns you may have.
Wishing you good health and deep practice!
The Windhorse Trustees and Staff
*Because of our new record-keeping system, it would also be very helpful if existing members would fill out the new online application form — particularly if any of your contact information needs to be updated.
For those who may not know, for the past nine years the teachers at Windhorse have received no direct financial support. All pledges and donations go directly to supporting Windhorse programs, and the building project. If you wish to offer tax-deductible support directly to the teachers, please click on the button below.
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