Roshi: Biography and Vision
After receiving a degree in Creative Writing from Vassar College in 1965 and studying painting at the New York Studio School, Roko Sherry Chayat began practice at the Zen Studies Society’s West Side apartment. She spent a year painting in the South of France, returning to find the New York Zendo newly established at 223 East 67th Street. Becoming an integral part of what is often referred to as the Dai Bosatsu Mandala, she was present at New York Zendo Shobo-ji when the decision was made to purchase the property in the Catskills, and served as co-director of the first residential community at Dai Bosatsu Zendo from 1974 to 1976. Moving to Syracuse, she became the spiritual director of the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-ji, which had been founded in 1972. In 1991, Shinge Roshi was ordained by Eido Roshi at Dai Bosatsu Zendo. He installed her as abbot of Hoen-ji in 1996, after the zendo moved from her attic to its current home on six acres along Onondaga Creek in Syracuse’s historic Valley district. In 1998, she received inka shomei, Dharma Transmission, from Eido Roshi. In 2008 he performed the shitsugo or “room naming” ceremony at Hoen-ji, recognizing her as a roshi and giving her the name Shinge, meaning “heart-mind flowering.”
In addition to her work as a Zen teacher, Shinge Roshi is an award-winning writer. She compiled and edited Eloquent Silence: Nyogen Senzaki's Gateless Gate and Other Previously Unpublished Teachings and Letters; Endless Vow: The Zen Path of Soen Nakagawa, with Eido Roshi and Kazuaki Tanahashi; and Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart. She is the author of Life Lessons: the Art of Jerome Witkin, and her articles and reviews have appeared in Buddhadharma, Tricycle, ARTNews, Sculpture Magazine and American Ceramics. Art critic for the Syracuse Post-Standard Stars Magazine for twenty years, she has taught courses at Syracuse University and LeMoyne College, and has been a guest teacher at many other universities and colleges. She serves on the Zen Studies Society Board of Trustees and is a member of the Round Table of Faith Leaders of InterFaith Works of Central New York and the American Zen Teachers Association.
During a childhood fraught with many deaths and family instability, Shinge Roshi intuitively found peace through the practice of Zen meditation, although she had no name for what she was doing. When she discovered it was called zazen, she thought she would have to go to Japan to find a teacher, but in 1967, through the turnings of the Dai Bosatsu Mandala, she met a young monk named Eido Tai Shimano at the Zen Studies Society, and began practicing with him and with Hakuun Yasutani Roshi and Soen Nakagawa Roshi on their periodic visits to the United States. “I walked into something I had been longing for,” she says. “It felt as though I had finally come home.”
“To have worked with Soen Roshi and Eido Roshi in dokusan, digging ever more deeply into koans and into the challenges of daily life—what a gift,” she says. Shinge Roshi is also grateful for her years of guidance by a woman teacher, MyoOn Maurine Stuart Sensei, at Cambridge Buddhist Association.
Shinge Roshi is committed to upholding authentic Rinzai training, as well as adhering to the ethical principles so well articulated by the Buddhist precepts. While maintaining the rigor of Rinzai Zen practice, she emphasizes “understanding the compassionate nature of formal practice, seeing it as holding, rather than repressing. True freedom is found through gladly embracing discipline. At the same time, we must beware of getting caught up in a superficial regard for form that then becomes rigid and cold. We are here to nurture bodhisattva mind. We are making a commitment to wake up to our true nature. That is the essence of our practice. It cannot be forced or rushed; we have to allow it to unfold.”