Hidden in Tribeca: The Village Zendo

I like to use St. John’s Lane as a downtown bike route to avoid the mess that is Canal/West Broadway/Sixth Avenue/Laight, but somehow I never spied The Village Zendo, the 40-year-old Soto Zen meditation center, tucked in the shadows.

The practice was in the West Village for about 20 years and then Soho, and in spring 2022, quietly (and partially) opened in Tribeca. Last summer they reopened fully, offering daily meditation, dharma talks, Buddhist services, retreats and workshops. Participation in mediation sessions is open to all — at no cost. (See the schedule here or below.)

The non-profit was co-founded in 1986 by the current abbot, Pat Enkyo O’Hara (in the photo below) and her partner Barbara Joshin O’Hara, and currently has a board of nine teachers and longtime practitioners that manage the business. (For those in the know, Enkyo received dharma transmission in the White Plum lineage of Taizan Maezumi Roshi, which incorporates both the Soto and Rinzai Zen traditions.) The zendo was given the Japanese name Dotoku-ji, or True Expression Temple.

The space is truly relaxing, with windows on the alley providing a little diffused natural light in the main practice room. It’s also bare bones — minimal without trying to be minimal — which is so refreshing. I visited during an off hour, but most people come once a week for one of two daily meditation sessions.

“It’s really beneficial to sit with other people — to do it together,” said Traven Rice, an assistant teacher (and film producer) who gave me a tour. She’s been a member since 2006, when a friend recommended it as an authentic and welcoming space. “It’s a very supportive environment, especially when people are doing it together. You really experience the support and community.”

Pat Enkyo O’Hara

There is a membership model, which includes private instruction from the teachers and discounts on talks and retreats, with dues of $108 per month; half price for members under 25 or over 70 years old. The move was basically a rent story, Traven told me; they were in a commercial building on the 11th floor. But the pandemic changed that landscape and this space — just a few steps off the sidewalk — ended up being a good fit.

Income from members, students and programs covers some of the costs; they rely on donors to keep the doors open.

And of course there’s a great old Tribeca story, which Traven sent along: the space used to be the nightclub Madam Rosa, and before that, Blackbird. From The Times in 1986: “Madam Rosa opened Aug. 1 in the defunct TriBeCa club Blackbird on St. John’s Lane behind the American Thread Building. Redecorated to resemble a palm-reader’s salon, it offers bands, performances and guest deejays such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, the artist. Among those who have mixed with Madam Rosa’s downtown art and music crowd: Jean-Paul Gaultier, the designer; Matt Dillon, the actor, and Prince’s band the Revolution. Prince stayed outside in his limousine. Rick Temerian, a co-owner, said ‘overt yuppie types’ are not welcome. But, he added: ‘If they have flair, they’re in. Khakis and L. L. Bean, forget it.'”

The Village Zendo
260 West Broadway
Entrance located on St. John’s Lane

Tuesday and Wednesday
7:30 to 8:30a
6:30 to 8p

7:30 to 8:30a
5:30 to 6p

Service, Zazen, Dharma Talk
9:30 to 11:25a

First Sunday
Body, Breath, Mind: Intro to Zen
9:30 to 11a