Prairie Zen Center  515 S Prospect Av  Champaign IL 61820 217-355-8835

The Prairie Zen Center is located in Champaign and holds weekly meditation sittings and periodic workshops and sesshin, a period of intensive meditation over a number of days. Like most other religious institutions, weekly sittings are open to all.


The Prairie Zen Center was started around 1992 by a professor in the Department of East Asian Language and Culture at UIUC. It members included a group of faculty, university staffs, students, and local people. At that time, they either met at a place in Neil Street or used a room in the Japanese House. Their resident teacher, Elihu Genmyo Smith, was invited to hold meditation retreats, which happened six times per year.  Elihu Genmyo Smith began his Zen training in 1974 at the Zen Studies Society in New York with Soen Nakagawa Roshi and Eido Shimano Roshi. He continued his training at the Zen Center of Los Angeles, where he was ordained a Buddhist priest by Hakuyu Maezumi Roshi in 1979. After completing formal koan study with Maezumi Roshi, in 1984 he continued his training with Charlotte Joko Beck (an American Zen teacher) at Zen Center of San Diego. Genmyo received Dharma transmission (shiho) and authorization to teach from Joko in 1992. He is a cofounder of the Ordinary Mind Zen School and currently lives in Champaign, Illinois where he is the resident teacher of the Prairie Zen Center. (  

In 1996, they bought the current home of the center at 515 S. Perspective Street, Champaign, and Mr. Smith was invited to be the resident teacher, which he remains. Currently, the activities of the center consist of a weekday sitting from 6 to 6:50 a.m., Tuesday evening’s open sitting from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m., Thursday’s dharma teaching from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday’s meditation for beginners. In addition, there are six retreats in a year.

The Prairie Zen Center’s use of information technologies is framed primarily around the activities of the center. From 1992 to 1996, the major information technology used was the telephone, because the teacher lived in California and students contacted him and asked him questions by phone. When Mr. Smith moved to live at the current center, the major communication technology in 1997 was still telephone, because students had moved to various places, including Springfield, Chicago, Michigan, California, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. Now, the Zen Center is affiliated with another three practice Zen groups, Sangamon Zen Group in Springfield, Wetland Zen Group in Homewood, and Evanston Zen group in Evanston, Illinois. They ask questions via the telephone. They started to use a tape recorder to record the Zen teacher’s dharma talks (lectures on Buddhist teaching) a few years ago. Recently, they have broadened their usage of information technologies to include the telephone, computer, microphone, and digital recorder, among others. Two years ago, they also tried to use Skype to connect with other Zen Groups and members while giving teaching but the connectivity was too slow and either it was interrupted or the pictures were frozen. The connection did not perform well and so they stopped using Skype. Hence, they welcome the arrival of UC2B in their area, hoping that with the improvement of broadband connectivity, the connection between the Zen Center and students in other places can become better and faster.

This CU wiki entry began as a UIUC research project.  For more on that see Study of UC2B Anchor Institutions' Technology Use