One foundational aspect of Zen training is to engage in particular customs, or forms of practice as a way to cultivate mindful presence as well as to harmonize with one another in our shared endeavor to awaken. Through these forms we cultivate stillness of body and mind, within and without, to help us more deeply encounter and embrace our lives in each moment.
“Rituals are more than just training. Through rituals we communicate and transmit the teaching in a true sense. We put emphasis on selflessness. When we practice together, we forget our own practice. It is each individual's practice, yet it is also others' practice. For instance, when we practice chanting, we say, "Recite the sutra with your ears." Then with our ears we listen to others, while with our mouths we practice our own practice. Here we have complete egolessness in its true sense.” - Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Entering the Zendo
The zendo is a place for cultivating quiet and stillness. We enter the zendo with mindful attention and respect others’ efforts to be still. Be as quiet as possible upon entering and during meditation periods.
Please arrive at least five minutes before the scheduled period of meditation begins. If you are late, enter the zendo quietly and slowly and make your way to an available seat.
Leave shoes, jackets, hats, and other extraneous personal items on the shoe rack prior to entering the zendo. Personal belongings such as purses and bags may be brought inside for safe keeping, but please ensure that your cell phone is turned off completely.
After removing your shoes enter the zendo, take a step inside and offer a gassho bow to the room (with palms together and fingertips at nose level) and proceed to an available seat.
Before sitting down, stand facing your seat, bow toward it in gassho, then turn clockwise to bow toward the center of the meditation hall. Be seated facing the wall and assume your zazen posture.
The meditation bell is struck three times to mark the beginning of each period of zazen. It is struck twice to indicate the end of a period being followed by kinhin, and once at the end of the last period of zazen.
After the meditation bell rings ending the period of zazen, bow in gassho while seated. Move off the zafu and zabuton and stand at your seat facing outwards.
How to Sit Zazen - Posture and The Physical Form
We tend to see body, breath, and mind separately, but in zazen they come together as one reality. The most effective positioning of the body for the practice of zazen is the stable, symmetrical position of the seated Buddha.
There are a number of ways to sit zazen. The two more common methods are Burmese and Seiza. There are also alternative seated and lying down postures for those needing more support.
We sit facing the wall, either on a cushion or in a chair, arranging our legs in a cross-legged, kneeling, or other posture. The back is kept straight yet relaxed, and the eyes left slightly open. The breath is allowed to settle naturally into the lower abdomen. The hands are formed into an oval encircling the lower abdomen, with thumb tips lightly touching.
In Burmese position the legs are crossed and both ankles rest flat on the zabuton, the large flat cushion. The knees should also rest on the zabuton, though sometimes it takes a bit of stretching for the legs to drop that far. After awhile the muscles will loosen up and the knees will begin to drop. To help that happen, sit on the front third of the zafu (the round cushion), shifting your body forward a little bit. By imagining the top of your head pushing upward to the ceiling and by stretching your body that way, get your spine straight—then just let the muscles go soft and relax. With the buttocks up on the zafu and your stomach pushing out a little, there may be a slight curve in the lower region of the back. In this position, it takes very little effort to keep the body upright.
There is also the seiza position. You can sit seiza without a pillow, kneeling, with the buttocks resting on the upturned feet which form an anatomical cushion. Or you can use a pillow to keep the weight off your ankles. A third way of sitting seiza is to use a seiza bench. It keeps all the weight off your feet and helps to keep your spine straight. These benches are provided in the zendo below the tan (sitting platform).
Introduction to Zazen is offered once a month; Please join us!
Bowing and Hand Postures
Bowing is done standing or sitting, with hands in gassho or shashu.
Gassho is a gesture of respect, with hands together palm to palm, fingers pointing up, with fingertips one fists distance from the tip of your nose. Shashu is a gesture of mindfulness, with your hands held in front of your chest, with your left fist wrapped around your left thumb and the right hand wrapped around the left. In the video to the right are shown hands in shashu, and then in gassho while bowing.
A full prostration is done from a standing position, lowering to one’s knees, bringing the forehead down to the floor, and raising the palms facing upward. This is an expression of reverence for, and aspiration to, awakening.
Kinhin is walking practice. The word kinhin means sutra walk in Japanese. In traditional Buddhist cultures there's a customary practice of circumambulating. Walking meditation is something you can do indoors or outdoors.
Kinhin is also done between periods of zazen. The meditation bell is struck THREE times to mark the beginning of each period of zazen. It is struck TWICE to indicate the end of a period being followed by kinhin, and ONCE at the end of the last period of zazen.
After getting up from your seat, turn and form a clockwise circle with the others in the zendo maintaining even spacing with them. Holding your hands in shashu, take a half step forward as you breathe out, shift your weight as you inhale, and step forward half a step with the other foot on the next out-breath. When the end of kinhin is signaled by one bell ring, stop and bow, keeping your hands in shashu. Return to your place in the zendo at a normal walking pace. When you reach your seat, wait for everyone to return. Then gassho-bow toward the center of the room as a group, and sit down for zazen, once again sitting facing the wall. Or you may leave the zendo after the group bow.
Oryoki, often translated as “just the right amount,” is a highly choreographed ritual of serving and eating food—a ceremonial dance of giving, receiving, and appreciation. It is a practice that was codified in China during the T’ang dynasty and was the model for the sweeping grace of the tea ceremony. Practiced, with a few variations, throughout the Zen schools, it was also adopted in America. Practically speaking, it is perhaps the most efficient, aesthetically pleasing, and least wasteful way to feed a large group of people sitting in a meditation hall, or a single person at home for that matter. Yet more specifically, and arising from Zen’s insistence on blending the sacred and the mundane, oryoki unifies daily life and “spiritual practice.” It is essentially a state of mind, a way of being.
Oryoki practice uses a set of three nested bowls tied in cloth with a topknot resembling a lotus flower. The set also contains—in a narrow cloth pouch—a wooden spoon, a pair of chopsticks, and a small spatula-like utensil called a setsu, which is used to clean the bowls. The outer cloth, when untied and refolded in an exact manner, doubles as a place mat upon which the bowls are laid in a prescribed sequence. To complete the package, there is a regular-sized cloth napkin and a smaller cleaning towel used to wipe the bowls dry after they are filled with hot water and scraped clean with the setsu. Watch the video for instruction in how to participate in Oryoki.
Adapted from Tricycle.
A number of people participate in the flow of our rituals during services and zazen by volunteering for a temple role. Temple roles for the daily schedule include the doan, fukudo, and jiko. Typically volunteers commit to a specific temple role on the same day each week. For sesshin retreats and special ceremonies there are other roles that support our practice. If you are interested in learning a temple role you can speak with the Ino, the manager of zendo roles.