Zen Center Athens started as an idea by Konstantinos Sgoumpopoulos, who had the vision of offering the gift of Zen to Greece. Being an experienced teacher and martial arts practitioner, he realized early on that practicing martial arts solely as a physical exercise could only lead to physical health and robustness and not in the full flourishing of a student’s mental world and spiritual maturity.
While being an apprentice in China, a Shaolin monk told him: “Zen is the root, martial arts is the tree.” This phrase captured him, and after a lengthy and painful inner research, he moved to Japan, the core of Zen. There, he met the great Zen master Koten Roshi and started his apprenticeship which led him to acquire the Dharma transmission (Tokoundo), the permission to guide the meditation practices of the Center.
In 2013 he invited a group of interested parties and, against all odds, they began cultivating the seed of Zen in the heart of Athens. His vision had already started to shape. It did not take long for the Center to attract the best martial arts and yoga teachers. At the same time, the Center was open to anyone who wanted to practice Zazen.
Zen Center Athens has currently 40 regular practitioners in Zazen (Sangha), six of them have obtained their Dharma transmissions as official students of Koten Roshi. Three times each year the Center hosts sesshins for five days of intensive meditation, and once a year it organizes a trip to Japan , where participants have the opportunity to practice Zazen in the surroundings of an actual Zen monastery in Hosshinji, Japan.
Since September 2014, Koten Roshi, thanks to Konstantinos’s efforts, visits the Center twice a year, guides the sesshins, and gives zazen practitioners the unique opportunity to talk to him in person (Dokusan) about any problems they may encounter during their practice. Koten Roshi is always accompanied by another Zen teacher, Doiku Sensei, who translates from Japanese to English and supports the endeavor in any possible way.
Adding to this, many other zen teachers visit the Center, mainly from the San Francisco Zen Center. A special mention should be made here on the arrival of Shohaku Okumura in March 2020, who is perhaps the most important living teacher and author of many key books on Zen. Zen Center Athens has been responsible for the translation and publication of Okumura’s first book, a guide on the practice of Zazen.
Also we should not fail to mention the strenuous efforts on the aesthetic character of the Center, namely its transformation from a dilapidated building to a beautiful space that resembles a Zen monastery.
Zen Center Athens is the natural fruition of Konstantinos’s non-profit-oriented intention to offer to everyone, without discrimination, the benefits he had experienced through zazen. It is also an outcome of the sincere response of the numerous friends who have supported and still support the Center’s endeavors with their active presence and honest practice. Since 2013, the Center is continuously blooming and prospering, despite that many things have changed since then and even more will probably do so in the future. Yet, the goal remains the same. In Konstantinos’s own words, “we want to help those who wish to discover on their own, practically and without theories, that an empty and silent mind, exposed in the stillness of sitting meditation, the movement of martial arts, or even the motion of everyday life, can be the key in opening new and more meaningful horizons, wherein the spirit, the soul and the body will coexist in harmony between one another and the world, without adding or removing anything; simply by experiencing the totality. “