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. Please do not worry about getting them “right.” We have a gentle, accommodating approach.
These “forms,” or standards of deportment, are intended to support us in waking up to our inherently wise and compassionate nature (as well as to other people and even to inanimate objects). Forms manifest as particular ways in which we sit, stand, walk, eat, chant, bow, as well as how we as practitioners interact with one another and with the Dharma. When first beginning Zen practice, the forms can seem like an endless array of “rules”: stand this way, turn that way, don’t put your hands in your pockets; straighten up; don’t move your cushion with your foot; when to bow, when not to bow; don’t eat while standing up; And on and on and on. It is common for new students to experience a wide range of feelings and reactions when practicing new forms- from confusion or frustration to self-aggrandizement and conceit! Whatever the experience, training in the forms provides a rare opportunity to directly encounter our own minds with the wisdom and compassion we cultivate in our meditation: open awareness without judgment.
As there are countless misunderstandings that can come up about forms, a lot of time and energy is spent in demonstrating, explaining and reviewing students’ use of them.
Basic Zendo Forms
Leave shoes, jackets, hats, and other extraneous personal items in the foyer or on a hook next to the restroom unless you require shoes for physical stability.
Please do not bring cellphones into the zendo. Leave them in your car or in the foyer set to silent mode.
You are welcome to come into or leave the zendo at the beginning or end of any period of zazen or kinhin. Please make an effort to arrive at least five minutes before the scheduled period of meditation begins. If you are late, the form is to very quietly and slowly enter the zendo to find a seat.*
To enter the zendo, take a step inside and offer a gassho bow (with palms together at heart-level) to the room and proceed to an available seat (zafu/bench/chair on a zabuton). Additional cushions may be obtained by the front door of the foyer.
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 (or into the room if seated in the middle of the room) and assume your zazen posture.
Be as quiet as possible upon entering the zendo and during meditation periods.
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 TWICE ending the period of zazen, bow in gassho while seated. Move off the zafu and zabuton and stand at your seat facing outwards until the beginning of walking meditation (kinhin), which is signalled by the clackers (kaishaku). urn to the left and form a line behind the kinhin leader, who is holding the wooden clappers. Hold your hands in the shashu mudra. That is, with the left hand in a fist curled around the left thumb, right hand curled around left with right thumb on top.
Clean off any lint from the zabuton and plump and arrange your zafu in the center of the zabuton. Stand in gassho and bow toward your seat, then turn to face the center of the room and bow. The leader announces, “Continuing our meditation we walk coordinating our breath and steps, taking a half step on each exhalation. Begin on the left foot at the sound of the clappers.” ONE clap begins kinhin and TWO ends it. At the sound of the two claps ending kinhin, stop, place your feet together, bow in gassho with the group, and return at a normal walking pace to your meditation seat.
Zazen is sitting meditation, wholeheartedly engaging this moment, dropping off thoughts and views and returning to the present moment here and now, again and again. When you reach a seat, turn to face your place and gassho and bow to your companions — who gassho-bow in return. Sit down facing the wall for zazen, or facing into the room for talks, service, and the zazen immediately before talks. The beginning of zazen is signaled by three bells. During zazen, you may shift your position quietly as needed. Sit upright on cushions or a chair, facing the wall, eyes open, hands folded in the zazen mudra.
The end of zazen is signaled by two bells if kinhin follows, or by one bell otherwise. When the bell rings, gassho-bow before moving, and then turn, stretch your legs, and rise. Fluff your zafu, straighten cushions or chair, gassho-bow to your place, and turn around. When you leave the zendo, first gassho-bow to the altar and group from your seat (not in the doorway).
Kinhin is slow walking meditation which is done between periods of zazen. Turn and form a clockwise circle with the others in the zendo and maintain 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 to their seats and shashu-bow with the group. Then turn, gassho-bow to your seat, and sit down for zazen, or you may leave the zendo after the group bow. You are welcome to use the kinhin period for a bathroom break.
Please “chant with your ears,” listening for the pitch and pace set by the chant leader, and then continuing to adjust your tone to harmonize with the assembly. Chanting is a body practice. Please chant with your whole being. Chanting is a manifestation of our collective energy and harmony. Please chant with vigor, presence and intention.
Please feel free to discover and explore the variety of chants used for service .