Stepping Forward and Backward ceaselessly and endlessly

Forms & Ceremonies


The monk asked, ‘How did the ancient master finally cease doing things and completely settle down?’ Longya replied, ‘It was like a thief slipping into a vacant house’…

The point of this sitting practice is to keep the upright posture and awareness of whatever is going on, within and without our life. We are already in the mountain. And yet we cannot live above the clouds. We are always conditioned. If we notice only what happens below the clouds, we are overwhelmed by each condition we experience. We need faith that the blue sky and sunlight are always there above the clouds even though we cannot see them.

- Shohaku Okumura, “The Mountains and Waters Sutra: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Sansuikyo”



Zendo Forms

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 encourage stillness of body and mind, within and without, to help us most deeply encounter and embrace our lives in each moment.




Talk to group about linking zendo forms here instead of in teachings.




A number of people participate in the flow of our rituals during services and sitting by volunteering for a temple role. Typical temple roles for the daily schedule include the doan, jiko, and fukudo. Typically volunteers commit to any given temple role on the same day each week. For sesshins and ceremonies there are other roles that support our practice. If you are interested in learning a temple role contact the Ino, Neti Parekh.




Sesshin means to collect the heart/mind. As Dogen Zenji says “to study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self.” Putting ourselves in a tight container which is sesshin, we have the opportunity to really study ourselves. Throughout a day of sesshin many things arise. Fear, anger, loneliness, sleepiness, clarity, joy... In this container we have the opportunity to watch what arises and let it go. We have the opportunity to see the transitory nature of our thoughts and feelings. When one sits long and hard enough, at some point, all of this disappears, we forget our self and open up to our true nature. We have the opportunity to have the same experience as the Buddha and all the Buddha ancestors of all time.

During sesshin we spend 3, 5, or 7 days meditating, eating, and working in silence, devoting every aspect of the day to the realization of the Buddha Way. Sesshin meals are generally served and taken in the traditional oryoki style.




Jukai ("Receiving the Precepts") is a formal ceremony where participants publicly take refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and affirm their intention to live ethically and with awareness, in accord with the Bodhisattva Precepts of the Zen tradition. After requesting to receive the precepts from one of the senior teachers students, with the help of a sewing teacher, sew a rakusu (a small version of Buddha's robe) which will be given in the ceremony. They will also meet with their teacher in practice discussion (dokusan) twice a month to explore the meaning of living with the precepts. A donation for the ceremony is requested. Jukai students will have participated in the practice at Santa Cruz Zen Center for at least one year, and done at least one sesshin of 3 days or more, before requesting to receive the precepts. After receiving the precepts, people will be expected to participate in the ongoing practice at Zen Center, including zazen, ceremonies, Practice Periods, dokusan, filling doan roles, etc.



Zaike Tokudo

Zaike Tokudo, literally "remaining at home and attaining the Way", symbolizes and reinforces a life path devoted to practice. It is the penultimate ordination prior to ordination as a novice priest (the first initiate ceremony being Jukai). It includes renewing precepts and more responsibility, is for those who wish to make a formal commitment to a teacher and this particular lineage. In Zen, the transmission of the way happens face to face, warm hand to warm hand, and is traced back from teacher to student to the historical Buddha.



Shukke Tokudo

Mahakashyapa followed the World-Honored One, aspired to leave the household, and expressed hope to awaken all beings.

The World Honored One said, “Come, monk.”

Then, Mahakashyapa’s hair dropped all by itself and a Kashaya wrapped around his body



The Zen Priest’s Koan


The occasion of a priest ordination always brings up questions about what it means to be ordained. We can look at this by examining what ordination has meant in Zen tradition, and also by considering our practice in the present day.

When I was about to be ordained in 1969, I asked Suzuki Roshi what it meant to be ordained as a priest and what I should do. He said, “I don’t know.”

Then I asked Katagiri Sensei, and he said, “Oh, I don’t know.”

…In the Sixties, our morning service consisted of bowing nine times and chanting the Heart Sutra three times in Japanese. At the end of morning zazen, we recited the robe chant, also in Japanese. One time, Suzuki Roshi and I were in the anteroom at Sokoji and I asked, “What is the meaning of the [robe] chant that we do in the morning right after zazen?” Suzuki Roshi hesitated and Katagiri Sensei started looking through the drawers to see if he could come up with a translation. Suzuki Roshi stopped him and pointed to his heart and said, “Love.” This is how he used to teach. He didn’t like to explain things literally, but he didn’t miss an opportunity to go right to the essence.

I began to realize how important not knowing was, even though I felt that I needed some answers. So I practiced with “don’t know” in front of me as my priest’s koan, and it’s still there. From time to time, people want to define a Zen priest, or the role of the priest, or the functions of a priest. There are historical functions and role model functions; we should know what they are, and practice and absorb them. But at the same time, we must be open to what the present situation calls for and be ready to respond to new situations, differences in culture, and the circumstances of a particular place and time. Suzuki Roshi was concerned that in the transition from Japan to America, the true essence not be lost. At the same time, he made a big effort to follow as well as to lead us.