The Wholehearted Practice of Zoom Zen
by Rev. Choro Antonaccio, AZC Tanto (Head of Practice)
Like many other sanghas, our Austin community has been online, and on Zoom, for over a year now. We didn’t know how long it would be when we entered lockdown, and we yearn to return to the zendo and other parts of the temple and grounds, to the shared activities of work, preparing and sharing food, the movements and sounds and energy of in-person ceremonies and Zen meditation. And as we move into summer, we expect to be able to resume (in stages) the embodied group practice at the heart of Zen training and expression.
Nevertheless, we are very likely to continue to Zoom at least some of our activities into the future. This seems like a good time to renew our Zoom Zen. The following thoughts reflect discussion in the AZC Practice Committee and are offered as encouragements to practice both as individuals and as sangha.
Please review the “Online Zendo Forms and Etiquette” document below, which was posted last March when we first opened our online zendo. While most of us are now familiar with Zoom and its various features, the guidelines emphasize how even online, we can be supported to support others as well as ourselves to practice in this unprecedented time and virtual space.
- Review your at-home Zoom setup: if you choose to be on camera, are visual distractions (such as flickering candle flames, rotating ceiling fans and the like) visible to others? Are viewers looking upward at your face? A reminder that the recommendation is to be in profile, rather than frontal, while sitting zazen on camera (practice leaders are an exception).
- If you choose to be off camera for zazen (and many of us do), consider joining on camera for service, announcements, and other parts of the meeting.
- If you join morning service or another ceremony on Zoom with video on, please face forward. When you stand up for the bows, is your head visible while you are standing?
One thing missing from the posted guidelines is dharma talk etiquette.
Listening to a dharma talk is an extension of zazen. Since we are mostly in our homes, it is easy to take a casual approach to hearing the teaching, and not be as present as we are during other zendo activities.
- Sit comfortably but upright and still. Bring your whole attention to the talk, and to questions and answers that follow for as long as you are present. Try not to get up and down, or engage in unnecessary movement.
- Do not be anonymous during the Q&A, but use a real name instead of a telephone number (if joining by phone) or an anonymous label such as “iPad”. If possible, consider showing yourself to the speaker and to others if you raise your hand to be recognized.
- If you are in a busy public place while listening, such as a store, on a street or busy path, or driving your car, consider refraining from posing a question or comment for that talk.
Zoom Zen can be the awesome practice of dignified buddhas! Thank you for your effort.
AZC Online Zendo Forms & Etiquette:
Please help facilitate a calm and settled space for everyone to enjoy our silent illumination together. To this end we offer the following guidelines:
1. Familiarize yourself with the Zoom platform *before* entering the online zendo to minimize distractions for those already sitting.
2. A few controls within the Zoom App to adjust when you enter the online zendo:
a. Mute Your Audio: Make sure your microphone remains muted. The microphone (or phone) icon is located in the lower left corner of the Zoom screen, and should have a red slash through it.
b. Adjust Your Video: You may adjust your video presence in the online zendo by toggling the Start/Stop Video (bottom left) and/or selecting Enter Full Screen Click (top right).
c. Other useful controls:
Chat: connects participants with each other by text chat.
Participants: allows participants to see who else is in the online zendo.
*Note*: Please do NOT click the Share Screen button.
3. Minimize visual distractions (when your video is on)
a. Face your camera away from any direct light sources, including candles.
Avoid having any personal clutter visible on-screen, especially visually stimulating text or pictures. If at a desk, consider draping a cloth over any papers.
b. Try sitting in profile, facing away from the computer screen. This reduces distractions caused by any movements of other sangha members, and mirrors our formal practice of facing the wall during zazen.
c. Participants are also welcome to sit off-camera if they prefer.
4. Minimize audible distractions:
a. Check that your microphone is muted upon entering the zendo.
b. Please try to enter the online zendo *before* the scheduled start time.
c. Stay muted until the end of zazen and after the brief metta chant.
5. Continue to pay attention to AZC’s regular zendo forms, which include bowing to and from your seat before and after sitting (there is no need to bow to and from your seat if you remain in the online zendo during kinhin).
6. The doan will begin and end each period with the usual bells, and will use clackers to signal the beginning and end of kinhin. The second period of the morning will end with one bell, followed by the Robe Chant:
Dāi sāi ge dā puku
mu sō fuku dēn e
hi bu nyo rāi kyō
kō do sho shu jō (2x)
Great robe of liberation,
Field far beyond form and emptiness;
Wearing the Tathagata’s teaching,
Saving all beings
7. Chanting Service: After AM formal zazen we will have service (chanting the Heart Sutra in Japanese/English), followed by a short reading, announcements, & Soji – please stay muted during the service to avoid asynchronous distortion.
After PM Zazen we chant the Pail refuges together, except on Wednesdays when we have our Well-Being Ceremony.
If you appreciate the teachings and activities offered at the Austin Zen Center, please consider making a donation or becoming a member today. Your support will enable us to continue offering a full schedule of stillness and activity that helps all of us deepen our understanding of Zen practice and our own humanness.