Mindfulness is a key part of Zen practice. By being conscious in our interactions with others, things go more smoothly, both practically and spiritually. Aligning ourselves with the ancient spiritual practices of Soto Zen assists us in transcending our limited ego-selves.
Start with the basic guidelines and as these become a natural part of your practice, if you wish you can step further into the advanced guidelines.
- Please watch this excellent video on zazen (sitting meditation) Do not worry if you cannot sit in lotus position, as noted in the video you can sit on a chair or other positions that you find more comfortable on cushions on the floor. Arrive fifteen minutes early to get basic zazen instruction.
- Dainin Katagiri, the founding teacher of our Soto Zen lineage in the Midwest, once said, “Don’t disturb your neighbor, or be disturbed by your neighbor.”
- It is important to arrive promptly, at least 10 minutes before the start of zazen (sitting meditation) to avoid disturbing meditation. If you arrive after the start of meditation, please meditate in the outer room, rather than entering the sodo (meditation hall).
- When you first enter the Zen Center, take off your shoes in the genkan, the tiled area in front of the door. Go barefoot, or wear socks or slippers inside the Zen Center.
- Wear loose clothing, comfortable for sitting meditation. Avoid anything tight, revealing or bright colored.
- When the han (wooden gong) is hit, enter the sodo and take your place in the sodo (meditation hall), facing the wall.
- The 40 minute zazen period is begun by three hits of the small gong.
- Do your best to sit still during zazen. See if you can ignore transient itches, irritations or minor pain. On the other hand, don’t ignore significant pain. If you need to move, please do so as quietly as possible. However, in an emergency, you can leave the sodo, again, please do so as quietly as possible.
- Zazen ends with one hit on the small gong and a short sutra chanting service.
- Black t-shirts, black sweatshirts and black sweatpants without logos or decoration are excellent for zazen (sitting meditation). Lay ordained Sangha members may wear their rakasus and lay robes. Ideally socks are not worn and meditators go barefoot in the sodo, but socks or slippers are fine.
- Enter the sodo (meditation hall) with your hands in shashu (left hand in fist with left thumb held in fist, right hand covers left hand) on the left side. Enter with the leg nearest the door, in this case the left. When you enter the sodo, bow in gassho (hands held palms together) in the direction of the altar). Return to shashu, walk to your seat, without walking back and forth in front of the altar.
- When you arrive at your seat, bow towards the seat in gassho, then turn and bow in gassho to the opposite seats.
- Sit on your zafu (round cushion) facing out, bend your legs, turn to the right on your cushion until you face the wall. Arrange yourself in your chosen sitting position.
- When the bell rings at the end of zazen, bow in gassho, slowly get up by bending your legs, turn to the right on your cushion until you face out.
- Stand facing in to begin the sutra chanting service. While each service is different, there are some common elements. Usually a service begins and ends with three gotai-tochi (prostrations). Standing bows are acceptable in place of full prostrations.
- At the end of service, the doshi (officiant priest) folds up their zagu (bowing cloth) and at the first ring of the inkin (hand bell) bows to the altar, at the second ring of the inkin, bow to the doshi in gassho. Then at the third ring of the inkin bow to the altar in gassho and turn and face the meditators across from you bow at the fourth ring in shashu.
- Turn and go on your knees, rather than bending over. Quietly plump your zafu (round cushion) and brush off your zabuton (square cushion). Then stand and bow in gassho in the direction of your cushion, turn and gassho to the meditators across from you. At the final ring of inkin bow in shashu to the meditators across from you. The meditator on the right hand side closest to the altar leads out, followed by the meditator on the right hand next closest to the altar. When the entire right side has left, the meditator next to the doan seat on the left side follows, followed by the other meditators on the left side.
- If the doshi stands outside the sodo, gassho to the doshi, otherwise, do not bow. Leave the sodo on the left side leading with the left foot