Dharma Studies / Seminary


Dharma Studies / Seminary Program classes are intended to create and maintain a shared body of knowledge and understanding about Dharma and Soto Zen within the sangha. Classes may be taken for formal Seminary Program credit toward graduation, or for personal enrichment without concern for credit. In either case, Dharma Studies / Seminary Program classes are intended for senior practitioners with an understanding of fundamental Buddhist and Soto Zen concepts and vocabulary.

Dharma studies classes are in-depth explorations of Dharma available to members of Dharma Rain for personal enrichment. Students may choose to audit the material by attending classes and reading, or do the class assignment for their own experience. Tuition is $50 per class series.

The Seminary Program is for the training of members who expect to move into leadership and instructor roles. These students must apply and meet the criteria listed below. Their class work will be subject to a higher level of observation and review, with a focus on their ability to integrate and express the material. Tuition will likely be raised from past amounts by the Board for the 2017-2017 academic year.

Prerequisites and Eligibility

Before taking any seminary class for personal enrichment, sangha members are expected to be experienced practitioners and senior members of Dharma Rain (practicing and pledging regularly for at least a year.) All students are required to attend the Foundational Teachings and Precepts classes before any other seminary classes. Each class is offered annually without charge. Certain seminary classes may have further prerequisites as well. Seminary instructors who feel a student does not have adequate knowledge or understanding to benefit from a particular course may ask the student to do extra work for preparation, or to leave the class in order to avoid slowing down the discussion and progress of other students.

Those who want to participate in and graduate from the Seminary Program will need to take the Precepts and Foundational Teachings classes for Seminary Program credit. Individual instructors of each series will develop projects for seminary students. Those senior members who have already taken these classes informally and feel they are able to do so may challenge these classes by arranging to do so with the seminary student advisor and instructor. Such challenge may take any form a seminary instructor or the seminary student advisor and student together determine is adequate and appropriate. The seminary student advisor will inform the seminary registrar of successful challenges. Other seminary courses cannot be challenged in ordinary circumstances. College coursework in subjects such as psychology, religious studies or education does not fulfill requirements for seminary.

Eligibility to enter the Seminary Program requires an application (see below) and approval by the seminary student advisor, regular contact with a teacher (at least once a term), three years of practice, status as a senior member at DRZC, attendance at a term student program, and attendance at a sesshin. To finish the Seminary Program, seminary students must complete the class requirements listed below. They must also maintain contact with a teacher and the seminary student advisor, assist in an instructor capacity (Wednesday class, sitting group, affiliated group or public outreach) and make a public oral presentation, to be determined.


Tuition is charged for all seminary courses taken for credit, regardless of whether they are designed specifically for seminary students or offered as open classes to the sangha at large. The seminary student requires extra attention from the registrar as well as the instructor. The instructor must develop and review a project and be vigilant toward the seminary student’s progress, even in a Wednesday night class with shifting members. There are also costs and time associated with recording and posting the lectures, and monitoring students’ progress toward graduation.

Tuition fees are due and payable in full by the first class. We allow a one-week grace period for late payments until the second class. After the second class, the official class roster is finalized and enrollment is closed. Any prospective student who cannot meet the tuition payment deadline for a particular class series should contact the Seminary Program Registrar before the first class to arrange a mutually agreeable fee payment plan.

Distant Students

Distant students may take seminary classes, for the same tuition fees required for Dharma Studies or Seminary Program credit at the Center. Distant students are required to register, listen to lectures and do a project in the same way as other members. They are encouraged to stay in regular contact with the instructor and make comments to the class through letters or e-mails. Direct links to class recordings will be made available to distant students after tuition fees requirements are satisfied.

Seminary Program Class Requirements

The successful completion of a total of ten classes is required to graduate from the Seminary Program. These include the following six core classes:

  • Foundational Teachings (to be taken as early as possible)
  • Precepts Study
  • Buddhist History and Texts
  • Dogen Studies
  • Wisdom Sutras (including the Platform Sutra)
  • Daily Scriptures

Seminary students are also required to take one class from each of the following four categories.

Major Sutras

  • Lotus Sutra
  • Avatamsaka Sutra
  • Lankavatara Sutra
  • Vimalakirti Sutra


  • Bodhidharma and the Chinese Ancestors
  • Keizan and the Japanese Ancestors
  • Nagarjuna
  • Women’s Lineage

Issues of Leadership

  • Spiritual Ethics
  • Group Dynamics and Conflict Resolution

General Dharma Studies

  • The Bodhisattvas
  • The Paramitas
  • Methods of Practice
  • Brahma Viharas
  • Abhidharma
  • Shantideva
  • Other offerings to be determined

Applying to the Seminary Program

To apply to the Seminary Program, fill out the application form and submit it to the Seminary Program Student Advisor (currently Rich Koken Mackin). Applications can be given directly to Koken or mailed to Dharma Rain Zen Center (Attention: Koken) at 8500 NE Siskiyou St, Portland, OR 97220.

At the time the application is submitted, the prospective student needs to schedule a meeting with the Seminary Advisor to review the application for completeness, discuss the prospective student’s goals, Seminary program requirements, etc.

When the meeting is completed, the Student Advisor will send the application and approval to the Seminary Registrar (currently Suzanne Sushin Ragsdale). The registrar files the application and sets up a transcript for the new Seminary student. Once that is completed, the Registrar sends an email to the new student informing them that they are officially accepted into the program and may begin taking classes for Seminary credit.