Advice about Buddhism & Buddhist Centers

Parent Q&A

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  • I am in search of in-person guided family meditation classes.  I used to belong to this Buddhist center in Brooklyn NY, where they had an hour of guided meditation with some Buddhist teachings and I loved it. I really want to introduce our 7-year-old to mindfulness practices and have a place where we meet once a week with other like-minded people. Can anyone recommend similar classes/centers here in the East Bay? Many thanks!

    Hi there! I know East Bay Meditation Center has a mindfulness class/group for parents but I’m not sure about offerings that would include your kiddo. Spirit Rock has family programming including some family retreats, but again not sure about regular sessions that are what you’re looking for. I would reach out to East Bay Meditation Center, because sometimes there are more informal groups like this that emerge from the greater practitioner community. Good luck!

    Google Berkeley Sangha  There are many sanghas in the area, which do dharma talks and meditate, depending on the group.  Also perhaps chant the sutras etc.  Some Buddhists do a lot of meditation, some don't, but I hope you can find something that works for you. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Buddhist meditation that is family friendly?

Oct 2009

Hello, I am new to the area and was wondering if there is a place for public meditation that has children or family service? We belonged to a wonderful Zen temple in Chicago that has a family meditation once a month, and I was wondering if there is something similar here.

I don't know where you live or how far you're willing to travel, but Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre (Marin county) is fabulous. They have a wonderful family program. Check it out at Their approach is from the Vipassana Buddhist tradition; somewhat Americanized, very relaxed and accessible to beginners. A beautiful setting, too! Judy in Berkeley

Welcome! I know of Spirit Rock (Therevadan Buddhism) in Woodacre, Marin, which offers wonderful day long Family Programs several times a year, as well as a very popular, lottery-based, family retreat. Also, a local dharma practitioner, dharma musician in the area is revitalizing the East Bay Family Sangha. I'm sure there must be Zen groups in the E. Bay, too. Take care

Hi! I know there were, at one time, several children that lived within the Berkeley Zen Center community, so you may want to check them out:

Also, the San Francisco Zen Center used to offer a weekly (?) childrens program on Saturdays - not sure if they still do or not: OR Green Gulch Green Dragon Temple, in Muir Beach (another branch of the SF Zen Center): I just Googled it & found: Cheers! KC

March 2008

Re: Longtime atheist looking for spirituality
Buddhist meditation changed my life-it's so very intelligent, and based completely on ones experience, no dogma. Try the East Bay Meditation Center, which is in Berkeley.

There are lots of options, Buddhist-wise, in the bay area I recommend picking up a copy of Inquiring Mind for listings of sitting groups - and do go to as many dharma centers and sitting groups as you can to find the best fit for you. I' like going to the first Tuesday of every month at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery when the monastics from Abhayagiri come down from Ukiah. On the other end of the spectrum, Orgyen Dorje Den is a GREAT Tibetan temple in Alameda (the Nyingma tradition) - it's the most beautiful I've seen locally - and they have a pretty active Sangha. Tibetan Buddhism is very catholic and mystical, so you might want something a little more straightforward. I've heard good things about Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, I don't know anything about Berkeley Zen Center. I really like going to Ed Brown's one day sits at Green Gulch, he's my favorite Zen teacher. Try a bunch of different styles - the Buddhist magazines are a good resou! rce - the key is finding a teacher and a tradition that speaks to you. Good Luck! jennifer

Soka Buddhism vs Tibetian Buddhism

Oct 2006

I am becoming very interested in buddism and wondering if anyone could suggest a few books for beginners, I am interested in Tibetian ( Lama) and the difference in the other forms of buddism that chant Nam GeRengo Ko and or Zen as well. Thanks, Natalie

I would recommend Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron, as an excellent introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and meditation practice. Or from a Zen angle, I love Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki. I practice Tibetan Buddhism at the Berkeley Shambhala center, where there is an open house every Sunday morning from 9am-noon. There is a dharma talk at 11.15 a.m. (followed by tea and cookies) that would give you a good feel for the teachings.

See for more info. Zen and Tibetan Buddhism have very different ''flavors'' and I think all that matters is to find the one that clicks with you and try it out. meditating mama

Buddhism? Meditation? Peace?!

March 2004

My post's title, I'm sure, suggests a certain desperation. Yes. As many typical, Bay Area, working parents of young children, with mortgages and/or other bills; worries that range from keeping the house clean, to body image, to the state of the public schools, to the violence and commercialism our culture seems to insist on...I worry. None of these are mutually exclusive or inclusive catagories, I realize. Let them serve as a backdrop to parts of my self. Perhaps that's ''part'' of my search. To decrease the sense that I feel departmentalized and catagorized differently from moment to moment and I'm looking for an outlet. Not the meaning of life neccessarily. I'm an educated person drawn to the literary. At the same time, the wonders and joy of new motherhood have ''drained my brain'' in ways I didn't expect. In short, I'm lookin' to combine, hopefully, my longtime interest in Buddhism, Zen and meditation (that I've never had time pursue) need for a little peace! I'm not looking for ''the answer.'' I'm just wondering what Eastern philosophy has to offer. More background? I grew up in an entrenched, German Protestantism ( but have not been a part of the Church in my adult life...agnostic at best). So any leftover stoisicm or skepticism that that may suggest may also suggest my need to tread carefully. I'm not a joiner either. I've read other posts about the Berkeley Zen Center and Spirit Rock. Are these orgs good for families or individuals who are serious beginners? Where might I start? How about books? Primary or secondary sources will do.Thich Nhat Hanh looks interesting, but he has so many books, I dont know where to start. Something introductory, but skillfull written; rich in ideas and language and absorbing while not so overwhelming that a working mom of a toddler feels she needs to ''wade through it.'' I'm just beginning what I hope will be a journey. I know this is a rant...but I feel rushed...... and don't want to be. Any suggestions?
desperately seeking mindfullness

Just sit! To help start a regular meditation practice (if you haven't already) read Zen Mind, Beginners Mind - Shunryu Suzuki, and Taming The Mind - Chogyam Trungpa. Visit different centers, see where feels ''right'', get a meditation instructor and stick with it.

My own path has been largely through Shambhala Buddhism (, which appeals to me largely because of the emphasis on mindfulness in day to day living. This has been an enormous help through these early years of motherhood. There is a centre in Berkeley and in SF. As far as reading, I cannot recommend Pema Chodron's writings enough, as a source of wise and gentle guidance through the perils of our day to day life and mind. And for some more in depth teachings, guaranteed to provide intellectual stimulation, anything by Chogyam Trungpa, particularly, Shambhala: Path of The Sacred Warrior. All these can be found at Shambhala books on Telegraph (if it hasn't closed down yet?), at the Berkeley Shambhala center, or via the above web link. maya

For a first book, I recommend Pema Chodron's ''The Wisdom of No Escape.'' As a typical Bay Area parent of young children I'm sure that title already resonates! What she makes so immediately clear is how we all have the opportunity to use the very personal difficulties and confusions of our own circumstances as the building blocks of our own mindfulness practice. You don't escape from all your baggage, you work with it. All her books are neat, but I like this one the best. I was lucky enough to be able to read this book together with a group at the New York Shambhala Center for my introduction to Buddhism, and it really started me off right. Check out the course offerings and open meditation schedule at the Berkeley Shambhala Center--they're a Westernized form of Tibetan Buddhism- -if they're anything like they were in New York, they might have weekly talks and be very welcoming of newcomers. Spirit Rock has teachers and groups who meet in Berkeley, which you can find on their website. That would probably be more convenient than finding your way to Woodacre. A beginning meditation class at any of these places will introduce you to the style, philosophy and general gestalt of the groups, and you'll be able to tell where you feel comfortable (if you don't get stuck thinking about how UNcomfortable you feel when starting out!). Good luck! See you around the sangha-- Heidi

Firstly, your simple act of seeking peace and clarity is a wonderful beginning in and of itself! As for specific guidance in this effort, I do not have any particular recommendations, only to suggest that you simply pick anything that draws you. If you like Thich Nat Hahn then don't worry about which book, just pick one that jumps out at you and start there. I generally go for things that are recommended to me so if friends have told you about Spirit Rock, then just go check it out! If you like it and the place and people resonate with you, then great. If not, try the next place. Maybe you will like Spirit Rock for a couple of months and then someone there tells you about another place and you check it out and you like it better or also, or... you get my point? There is no right way or best place - just honest seeking! Have fun finding each and every resource that helps you on your way!!! Peace :) sister seeker

You might want to read ''The Buddha in Your Mirror'', by Woody Hochswender, Greg Martin, And Ted Morino. It is published by Middleway Press and you can find it at your local Barnes and Noble. It explains Buddhist concepts in an accessible, practical way, yet it is very profound. Laura

Dear Desperately Seeking Mindfulness,
I know the feeling! Overwhelm, brain lapses and little feeling of rejuvenation. I have had a vipassana meditation practice for most of my adult life. However, I didn't fully understand mindfulness until I began working with the Alexander Technique. I work with someone who brings Alexander Technique, mindfulness, and spirituality together. I have found a relaxation in my body that I didn't know was possible and my relationship to worry is forever changed. It's not that worry doesn't still happen, it's just that I understand the habits of my body and my mind and I can use what I learned about attention, breath and relaxation with my teacher to practice unwinding, moment to moment. I really needed the addition of having a highly skilled teacher with a strong spiritual practice put her hands on me to deepen my understanding so profoundly. It's particularly helpful in relating with my two children, so I don't snap at them like I used to. Now they even know to breath deeply when emotions start running high. I've learned to open my mind, heart, and spirit during anything that is occurring. It's powerful work, really. And as an aside, it's opening my relationship with my partner in all these wonderful ways as well. I have a lot more to say about this practice and I'd be happy to connect with you personally about it. Galen

I know you asked about Buddhist meditative practices but there are also Christian ones that are often overlooked. If you are interested, you can check out the Centering Prayer website, My church, St. Alban's in Albany, has a group that meets Monday evening. Before I joined the Episcopal Church, I read many of Thich Nhat Hanh's books and one of my favorites is the Blooming of a Lotus, which has specific meditative exercises in it. It's crucial to find a way to calm down, so I hope you find what works for you. Nancy

You mentioned books -- I recommend Polly Berrend Berend's ''Whole Child, Whole Parent'' (Harper Collins 1983). anon

Interested in Buddhism - where to begin?

December 2003

I have reached a point in my life when I would like to pursue some kind of spiritual training, and from my readings, I am most interested in Buddhism. I would be grateful for information from any Buddhists who could advise me on where to begin. I live in Berkeley. Thank you.

My recommendation is not based on personal practice, but I have been consulting for the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association for their construction of their new International Campus in Ukiah and have found all of the people I have met there spectacular. One of the most interesting and fascinating people is Rev. Heng Sure, and he is here in Berkeley (he runs the Institute for World Religions). I have heard him speak a few times and have been intrigued. I know they have services, where all are welcome, and personally I've been wanting to go. They are located at 2304 McKinley Ave. and their phone number is 510-848- 3440.

There is also Green Gulch in Marin. I've been their a few times (my college room mate grew up their) and it is quite beautiful. I believe on Sunday's they have open services.

Again, I do not practice Buddhism, but I was SO impressed by Rev. Heng Sure that I tell everyone I meet to go and hear him talk, it will most certainly be enlightening and thoughtful. He is a very special soul. Good Luck. new to Buddhism

I'd recommend you go to Green Gulch Zen Center (Marin County) or San Francisco Zen Center (they are affiliated). They have a wide range of classes and offer opportunities for the public to come and sit at the zendo. Green Gulch is Sunday mornings, SF Zen Center is daily. You can investigate all they have to offer on their website Catherine

I truly enjoy Thich Nhat Hanh's writings. I would start with ''Teachings on Love.'' It has some basics in buddhism but is not at all academic - very real life practical application. I give this to many friends and suggest skipping the first chapter, read the book, then go back and read the first chapter (it's a bit technical on various buddhist ideas.)

Then for a more in-depth dive into buddhism is, ''Heart of Buddha's Teaching.'' Some monks from korea i met with recommended this book as a great primer, and i agree!

i try not to get caught up in the different variations of buddhist teachings, my cultural background is more zen and Hanh is vietnamese tradition, but find i can learn from all the approaches how to live a mindful life.

The path to mindful living is in front of you! it start's with your breath!

Empty Gate Zen Center sponsors an open house every Wednesday evening at 7pm. The program includes chanting, meditation and a dharma talk by one of the sangha members and Zen Master Jeff Kitzes, during which any questions that you have about Buddhism, meditation, or Empty Gate can be addressed. The Center is located at 2200 Parker, (corner of Parker and Fulton). Information about the center, as well as practice and retreat schedules can be found on the EGZC website Empty Gate is part of the Kwan Um School of Zen, introduced in the U.S. in the early 70's from Korea by Zen Master Seung Sahn. Bill

I am sure many people will write in to tell you about Spirit Rock, a Vispassana meditation center in Marin. A very gentle place. The website I believe is

There are also weekly meditation sittings in Berkeley with teachers/leaders associated with Spirit Rock. James Baraz leads one on Thursday nights. Kevin Griffin holds one on Wednsday nights. The locations of these two ongoing sitting groups are listed on the East Bay Dharma website ( You could speak to either James or Kevin about meditation classes for beginners, or just kind of where to start out. There is also a meditation group that meets on Mondays at the Seventh Heaven Yoga Studio in Berkeley, lead by a man name Daniel who is also affiliated with Spirit Rock.

So there are a lot of resources out there. And I wish you luck on your journey. And if you would like to contact me please feel free to. margo

Hi there there was a recent, similar post and many people responded. Several of us recommended James Baraz' class at the Northbray Community Center/Church. It's a buddhist/mindfulness class, he is one of the best teachers in this field. I had tried to meditate for 8 years but was ''unsuccessful'' and I finally was able to learn it in this class. James is connected with Spirit Rock and he has a regular meditation group in Berkeley on Thursdays where he brings in the best teachers from around the country and also teaches himself, so you will be able to continue your practice in a wonderful community that is already established. Call Spirit Rock and find out when his next class starts. 415-488-0164. Metta, Martina

Berkeley has numerous Buddhist spiritual training groups, but the 2 that I have had personal experience with is the Shambhala Center at 2288 Fulton Street and the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center on Loma Street. Both have instruction and classes. Both are welcoming groups whose members appear to be dedicated and encouraging. A good way to visit is to go to their Open House Sundays. Nyingma and Shambhala both have them, check their website and call each Center before going -- sometimes their Sunday schedule changes depending on whether there are special events going on. In my opinion Nyingma literature & studies are a bit more estoteric, while the Shambhala's is a bit more accessible. It gets all involved on who is the founder of the respective centers and their particular Buddhist viewpoint and approach to teachings. They have different ''styles''. I go to both when I can because I find the 2 centers each have something to offer me. I have not pursued a whole course of studies at these centers -- my family obligations take most of my spare time. But I have participated in numerous activities, classes and workshops conducted by both groups and find them to be enlightening and wonderful. Best Wishes in your studies! frankie

Spirit Rock ( is wonderful. James Baraz offers an introdutory class in Berkeley that is a great beginning, just look at Spirit Rock's website. the Berkeley Zen Center is also good, I started my practice there. me

Sogyal Rinpoche, who is the author of the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, has a center in San Francisco, where ongoing courses are given and Tibetan Buddhist masters give teachings. You can look at their website at or call 415 777-0052. There is also a meditation evening at one member's house in Berkeley on Wednesday nights that you can inquire about. In the meantime, you could read his book, to see whether you have a connection with this particular teacher.
student of Sogyal Rinpoche

I think most all of the suggestions made so far are good ones -- Spirit Rock is quite wonderful (particularly if you want your meditation practice shorn of almost all ''religious'' trappings), and the temples of the San Francisco Zen Center -- Green Gulch in Marin, Tassajara near Carmel, and the Center in SF -- have been my spiritual home for (yikes!) 20 years.

But I was a little surprised that there was only a passing mention of the Berkeley Zen Center, which is an affiliate of SFZC (the abbot at Berkeley is a Senior Teacher and ex-Abbot of SFZC). BZC is located on Russell, above MLK, and has meditation instruction and an open program most every Saturday morning, often w/ kiddie activities/childcare provided There is a strong community feeling there, and it is much more oriented toward family/''householder'' practice than most Zen, etc., groups. peace, monshin

Family friendly Buddhist temple

July 2003

I am becoming more and more interested in Buddhism and was wondering how I could learn more about it. I only know a little bit and I'm wondering how I can involve myself, my kids, and my (very skeptical) husband. Is there a family-friendly temple anyone would recommend (the Berkeley Zen Center)? Any books? Help. Thanks, Seeking

Hi -- I think you'll find several local Buddhist centers to be quite family friendly. Berkeley Zen Center has a regular Saturday program that includes childcare and activities for kids; San Francisco Zen Center (saturday) and the beautiful Green Gulch Farm (in Muir Beach, on Sunday)have once-a-month programs geared to kids. Probably the Buddhist center that is going to seem least like a church or temple of some sort (and so be least off-putting to your skeptical spouse) is Spirit Rock, also in Marin, and I think they do lots of kids and family things. good luck and please have fun with it.
cold mountain

Also received 2 reviews for Spirit Rock Meditation Center

How can I learn more about Buddhism?

July 2003

I am becoming more and more interested in Buddhism and was wondering how I could learn more about it. I only know a little bit and I'm wondering how I can involve myself, my kids, and my (very skeptical) husband. Is there a family-friendly temple anyone would recommend (the Berkeley Zen Center)? Any books? Help. Thanks, Seeking

Hi -- I think you'll find several local Buddhist centers to be quite family friendly. Berkeley Zen Center has a regular Saturday program that includes childcare and activities for kids; San Francisco Zen Center (saturday) and the beautiful Green Gulch Farm (in Muir Beach, on Sunday)have once-a-month programs geared to kids. Probably the Buddhist center that is going to seem least like a church or temple of some sort (and so be least off-putting to your skeptical spouse) is Spirit Rock, also in Marin, and I think they do lots of kids and family things.

good luck and please have fun with it.
cold mountain

Spirit Rock Meditation Center has a lovely family day in Marin every few months. It's nice for little kids, bigger kids, and there's a meditation for the grownups. Scoop (Wes) Nisker is leading a program for grownups on fun and zen (I think) in the next few months.

Berkeley Zen Center also has some family events, as does Green Gulch Farm (in Marin). merry

Hi there I know this is not a buddhist temple but Spirit Rock is a buddhist community and meditation center and we attend their family days and retreats. We also are part of the East Bay Family Sangha that meets twice a month at the Buddhist Monastery in Berkeley. This sangha was started 2 years ago by a group of parents. The monastery gives us their space for dana which is very generous. The organization of the sangha however is fully in the hands of the parents, which is why some things are developing slowly. We have childcare and a child curriculum in the making and parents get a chance to sit and discuss mindful parenting. The age of our kids is around 2-7. We would like to expand the age range, but there has not been anyone with an older child who could help make that happen. If you want to find out more about the East Family Sangha you can write to me I'll send you more information. Best wishes and Metta, Martina

Buddhism for myself and 2 yr old

January 2003

I'm interested in learning more about Buddhism. I would like to find somewhere that myself and my 2 year old daughter (more of a family atmosphere) could go to learn more. I would appreciate any information or suggestions. Thank-you. Janet

Check out Berkeley Zen Center. Some of their Saturday morning lecturesinclude a children's program. They have a web site ( where you can find out more. Also, Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin (teaching in the ''Vipassana'' tradition) is well known for their children's and family programs. Their web site should have the specifics-- Scott