How to Practice Zazen at the Temple
General Information | Zendo Etiquette
Zazen is conducted on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7-8:45 pm and Wednesday through Friday mornings from 6-7:00 am. Doors are opened one half-hour before sittings begin and locked five minutes before the start, so please arrive by 6:50 pm. Those attending a sitting should wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing of a subdued color. Please do not wear shorts, short skirts, revealing clothing, clothes with printed messages, or strong scents. Cell phones and pagers should be turned off or set to vibrate mode.
Those coming to the temple to sit for the first time should attend one of the introductory instruction sessions (held one Tuesday and one Thursday a month), arriving no later than 6:45 p.m. Instruction is available only to those 18 years and older with a personal interest in Zen meditation. We are no longer able to accommodate school students during our evening meditation periods. A person known as the Jisha (wearing a blue sash) greets people at the door, and will answer questions. Instruction in the fundamentals of Zen meditation is provided beginning at approximately 6:50 p.m. A donation of $5 to help support the Zen Center is requested for the initial evening instruction, and a donation of one’s own choosing is requested thereafter when attending meditation at the Zen Center. After receiving instruction, you are welcome to attend any evening, morning, or Sunday sittings you wish. It is not necessary to receive instruction every time you come unless you would like a refresher course. On occasion, the Center is closed for holidays or retreats (sesshin), so please contact the office or check the calendar before coming. Information about Sunday sittings can be found in Zen Talks.
The tanto oversees the zendo, adjusts posture, leads chanting during regular sittings, and makes announcements.
The jisha is the teacher's attendant, greeter, and provides assistance to newcomers.
The jiki is the timekeeper, who signals beginning and end of zazen, leads kinhin and plays bells.
The anja is the altar attendant who lights candles and incense.
The ino is the lead chanter for chanting services and ceremonies
Gassho (Formal Bow)
The gassho is one of the most important and frequently used gestures in Zen. When done wholeheartedly it evokes feelings of respect, gratitude, and humility.
The gassho is formed by holding your hands and fingers firmly together, palm-to-palm, a few inches away from the body, with fingertips at chin level. Hold your elbows up, slightly away from your body.
To make a standing bow with hands in gassho, incline your trunk from the waist at about a 45-degree angle. The bow should be natural—neither mechanical nor lax, neither extreme nor rigid.
If one hand is full or otherwise in use, such as when carrying support cushions, one may gassho using one hand.
Raihai, if done no-mindedly—unselfconsciously with full attention—will diminish ego, deepen faith in your True Nature, and strengthen your karmic bond with Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Raihai are done in sets of three after the Great Vows for All, at the beginning of the morning meditation period and chanting services, and during ceremonies.
To perform raihai, stand up during the accelerando played on the inkhin bell (timer’s bell) or keisu (lead chanter’s bell) and face the Buddha with hands in gassho. At the first strike following the accelerando, bend down on your knees, buttocks on heels. Touch the tops of your feet and forehead to the floor. Place your hands palm down on the floor slightly in front of your ears. Slide the hands, palms down, in line with your ears. Then turn your hands up and raise them a few inches off the floor, keeping them level and close to your ears.
At the bell’s deadbeat, lower your hands and rise with hands in gassho, by pushing back on your toes. If necessary, use one hand for balance, keeping the other in a half-gassho. Stand with hands in gassho until the next raihai or bow is signaled.
Most evening sittings have three 25-minute rounds of zazen, with five minutes of kinhin (walking meditation) in between. It is not necessary to stay for the entire evening; if you plan to leave early, write a note to the tanto before the sitting and leave during kinhin. Be sure to close the outer door tightly behind you for security reasons. Some Thursday evenings, a chanting service is held during the third round. Use the chant book and follow along as well as you can. Ceremonies, discussions, and question-answer periods are sometimes scheduled. These take place during the third round.
At the end of the third kinhin, the jiki says, “Please sit facing in.” Everyone sits facing the center of the room for the evening ritual. The text for this can be found in the chant book under your mat. The evening concludes with “Great Vows for All”, followed by three raihai.
Morning sittings begin with three raihai and the morning ritual. After the raihai, everyone sits facing the center of the room. The text of the morning ritual is in the chant book under your mat. Following the morning ritual, everyone rises and makes a standing bow, then turns and bows to their places, and takes their seat for zazen. Two rounds of zazen follow. In the morning, there is no kinhin; a bell is rung to signal the end of the first round. People change posture and resume sitting. At the end of the second round, a bell is rung three times. “Great Vows for All” are chanted, followed by three raihai.