Zendo Procedure at SMZ
Each Zen center has its slight variations in practice. Please read over the information below and refer to it whenever you are unclear about a procedure in the zendo. Please don’t feel overwhelmed by these guidelines. They will soon become familiar to you. If you are unsure what to do next when in the zendo, just look discretely to see what others are doing at that point.
And remember that this disciplined procedure is a necessary part of Zen structure and training.
Preparation: Always try to arrive at least 10-15 minutes before any sitting so you can have time to turn your attention to the work at hand. Line your shoes up neatly. Zafus, seiza benches and stools from the zafu closet are available for your use. If you become a member, you are able to bring your own zafu or bench and have a designated place for it, with your name on the shelf.
Please do not bring anything into the zendo except, if you need it, the Short Verses chant card available on your left at the entrance to the zendo Please keep this card tucked out of sight under your mat until ready for use.
When you first arrive, you may place your zafu/bench or stool on your place in the zendo and then return to the outer room until the gong sounds.
Entering the zendo: Enter at the striking of the gong, or earlier if you wish. (No gong sounds for the Tuesday -Friday morning sitting when you should try to be on your place by 7:25 am, if possible).
Bow in gassho when you enter the zendo. Gassho is the raising of your hands, with palms together, in front of your face. It is an expression of respect, gratitude, humility.
When you get to your place: Bow in gassho facing your place (a sign of respect for those who are sitting or will be sitting next to you ), then turn and bow to the opposite row(s), even if the mats are still empty.
If you are already seated, and the person opposite comes in, return the bow from zazen position with hands in gassho. Please do this only to the person opposite and not anyone else.
Beginning zazen: There is a short period of about 5 minutes before zazen formally begins and is a time for you to collect yourself and become present.
The bell rings once. Rise. Turn to the altar as the teacher enters for lighting of the incense and the opening bow. After the incense is lit, the teacher will do the full prostration but all others just bow from the waist as the bell rings. Only one bow, except for special occasions. No opening procession for the weekday morning sittings. At this time, the Remembrance Book is also carried in and placed on the altar. It contains names of people or other sentient beings who you may wish to hold in the sitting. The names are not read aloud. More about the Remembrance Book can be found on its front page. Before the sitting, it is located on the small table by the entrance to the daisan room.
Opening chant: We then chant The Gata of Repentance. Please refer to your chant card. Note: There is no chanting at all during the weekday morning sittings.
Zazen (1st period): Sit, facing the other side of the zendo. The bell rings 3 times (the signal for zazen to begin). Zazen for 25 minutes. At close of 25 minutes, the bell rings twice (the signal to end a zazen period). Bow, with hands in gassho. Stretch you legs if you need, as it is important you have feeling in your feet before you rise, but please do this mindfully and don’t slump etc. when zazen is over. Please wait for the teacher to rise first. In the absence of a teacher, wait for the jitsu.
Kin-hin: The clapper will sound for kin-hin. This is the signal to bow, with hands in gassho. Second clapper means to turn, place hands in kin-hin position, and begin the slow kin-hin. After a few minutes of slow kin-hin, the clapper will sound again. Bow, with hands in gassho, then resume hands in kin-hin and begin the faster kin-hin pace, closing any gaps that may have developed. After some time, the clappers will sound again. Place hands back in gassho and keep moving until you reach the front of your place. Stop. When everybody is in place, clapper will sound, everybody bows and sits. In general, whenever you hear the clappers sound, you need to change hand position in some way. Just see what everyone else is doing until you get the idea of it.
Zazen (2nd period): During the 2nd period of zazen, please face the wall. This is part of the Soto Zen tradition and allows for greater concentration in the sitting. The second period is followed, again, by kin-hin.
Monitor: A monitor may move through the zendo during the 2nd sitting to help maintain attention and assist with posture. The monitor will lightly touch you on the shoulder before making any necessary adjustment. Please remember the monitor is not there to be critical but to help you with the maintenance of your attention and your posture.
Daisan: During the 2nd period, the teacher(s) leaves the zendo for Daisan along with a student.
At the sound of the two bells that end the period, turn immediately back to face the center.
Dharma Talk (3rd period): In the 3rd and final period, a Dharma Talk by a teacher or a short talk we call ‘Words of Encouragement” given by a senior student, is given. The format is slightly different on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings (please see the Calendar for details). All Dharma Talks are available in streaming version online to members.
The Gata on Opening the Sutra is chanted before the Dharma Talk. At the end of zazen, the bell rings twice. Rise. Chant sheets are distributed to all who need them.
Chanting: The Heart Sutra. Sit. Then we chant The Four Great Vows 3 times, followed by the Evening Gata chant done by the chant leader. Rise. Chant sheets are collected.
Close of formal sitting period:
Turn to the altar for the closing bow.
Announcements are made at this time. Please remain standing. After announcements, the clapper will sound once. Bow and then carry your zafu, bench or stool to the closet and put it back where you found it.
Leaving the zendo: If you must leave the zendo during a zazen period, please do so only if absolutely necessary and only during kin-hin. Simply move in kin-hin until you are by the door, bow, leave and then return, waiting by the door with hands in gassho until your turn in the l ine comes up. Bow, slip into the line, and resume the kin-hin hand position. Do not simply join the line at the end. Should you need to leave the zendo during zazen because of some emergency situation, please do not return until the next kin-hin.
Work Practice: Work Practice is carried out at the close of our Saturday morning sittings. It lasts about 15 minutes and is a short period of silent, mindful work cleaning the zendo.You will be given simple instructions on how to carry out the task assigned to you. Extended Work Practice is practiced daily during our out of town sesshins.
Oryoki (the formal meal in the zendo): This is the traditional meal in the zendo which is practiced at SMZ in a modified form during zazenkai (all day sittings).