We humbly ask you to respect the forms without letting them be an obstacle to practice. None of us knew what to do when we came for the first, second, third time. None of us know all the forms, or do any of them perfectly, even our most revered teachers. Be kind to yourself and others. We are all in this together.
We currently meet at Celtic Spirit Yoga Studio, at the old historic white church in Sandy, Oregon. When you enter the front door you’ll be in a small anteroom where you can leave your shoes.
When you enter the meditation hall itself on a Wednesday evening, if the main bell has not yet rung (before 6:25 pm) there will be people gathered on the seats by the door, chatting. Our guestmaster will greet you, introduce her/himself, show you where to put personal belongings, where to sit and give you a brief description of how the evening will go and what to expect. The guestmaster is there to orient you before the service and to answer any questions you have before and after we meditate.
Entering the Zendo
At 6:30 pm our precentor will do the “ring-down” - this is a pattern of bells inviting us to enter the meditation space (“zendo”). As we enter the zendo we “make gassho” (press the palms of the hands together) and bow from the waist, then make our way to our cushion, bench or chair. You can sit anywhere there is not a “reserved” note. Whenever you pass in front of the altar it is respectful to pause and make gassho and a short standing bow toward the altar as you pass.
We approach our seat from its “front,” which is toward the center of the room. Facing your seat, make gassho, bowing in gratitude for a place to sit, turn clockwise 180 degrees and bow to the center of the room, then take your seat facing the center of the room.
Brief chanting service
Before our first meditation period we have a short chanting service. Chant books will be at your seat. The precentor will announce the chant and the page number.
This is the formal way to hold a chant book. It is a way of making gassho while holding the book. If you do not need the chant book, please carefully place it on top of your mat while you are sitting, and leave it neatly on your cushion or chair when you are leaving your seat. Do not put chant books open on the floor
First meditation period
After the chanting service the precentor will announce Zazen, or sitting meditation. At this time we turn around to face the wall, turning our chair or bench if we are using one. Zazen starts officially when a small gong is struck three times. (The rings may be spaced widely apart.) The first meditation period lasts 20 minutes, from 6:40 to 7:00 pm.
Kinhin is slow, walking meditation; it is not done to stretch the legs, but to teach us how to maintain the serene and still mind of zazen even while moving. At the end of the first meditation period the precentor will ring the bell once and announce kinhin. Make gassho and bow in a seated position, then stand up in front of your zabuton or chair, that is, the side closest to the center of the room. Follow the precentor’s instructions to proceed through kinhin.
During kinhin, make a fist with the left hand with the thumb inside, cover it with the right hand, and place against your chest. This placement of the hands is called shashu. Keep the arms at straight angles, the body erect and the eyes resting on a point about two yards in front of you. When instructed by the precentor begin walking slowly with the group, starting with the left foot, exhaling as you put your foot down for each new step. Kinhin in the Soto tradition is done very slowly — each step is only one foot-length long — and follows the breath.
Inhale slowly as you raise one foot, exhale slowly as you lower it, and begin to inhale as you raise the other foot. Follow the person in front of you, making square corners when turning.
During kinhin, you may leave the zendo if you wish to use the restroom. After the line begins to move, if there is room, step to the side and walk out quietly. Please do not step over cushions to leave the line. When you return simply step quietly back into line. At the end of kinhin, the precentor will ring the inkin once and instruct the sangha on the rest of the kinhim form.
Second meditation period
At the precentor’s instruction, be seated as before for meditation. The small gong is struck three times to begin and twice to end meditation.
Sanzen is an interview with a teacher. The same form is used for interview with a Priest or Lay Teacher. It may be formal or informal, but it is always voluntary. Formal Sanzen is offered during our Wednesday evening meetings when there is a teacher present.
Formal sanzen is a voluntary part of our regular practice. You bring to the teacher one question or statement which should be brief, honed down to the essential nub. It is a presentation of your practice at the present moment. What is the most recurring or most urgent theme or question in your practice, right now?
If you would like formal sanzen, when you arrive in the zendo sign up on the list you will find on the podium near the door. Please feel free to ask the guestmaster or the jisha (teacher’s assistant) if it is not clear how to sign up. The jisha will be happy to answer any questions about sanzen etiquette.
When the person before you comes out from sanzen, take a moment to center yourself, then ring the bell, signaling the teacher that you are ready to come in. The teacher will ring a bell when he or she is ready for you. When you hear the teachers’s bell, enter the sanzen room, make a slight greeting bow in gassho, and close the door behind you. In the sanzen room is an altar, and the teacher seated in one of two meditation seats. Step in front of the altar, and make one full bow, forehead to the floor as at the beginning and end of service. Sidestep over to the empty seat, facing the teacher, take your seat, make gassho and bow.
Ask your question. It does not have to be formally phrased, but do be succinct because others are waiting. The interview usually consists of a short conversation. You may ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. When the interview is over, the teacher will indicate it by ringing the bell; make gassho in acceptance, stand, and bow slightly to the teacher. Sidestep to the altar and make a bow from the waist. Go to the door, face the teacher and bow from the waist, and then leave.
Our teachers would like the Sangha to know that sanzen is available for all. So please, if you wish to go to sanzen, sign up and get in line, and don’t feel you need to hold back to give others the opportunity. If you are turned away due to lack of time, ask the jisha to put you toward the front of the line the next time, or schedule informal sanzen with a teacher during the week. If you have an urgent question for sanzen, let the jisha know, and s/he may be able to put you further up in the line.
Informal sanzen is a one-on-one dharma meeting with a teacher outside the calendar-scheduled formal sanzen times. It tends to have a more open structure than formal sanzen. It may extend longer, may cover several practice questions, and may be a more inviting and comfortable setting than formal sanzen for some people. You can schedule informal sanzen with either of our teachers HERE.
Leaving the zendo
Following the precentor’s lead, make gassho and turn around to brush off your zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat). Pass chant books back to be put away. Leave the zendo formally two-by-two, one from each side of the room, starting with the two people nearest the altar in the innermost rows. As you leave, stop at the haishiki and bow to the altar, turn and walk to the back of the hall, and bow once again as you leave. Go and join the sangha circle for announcements.
After sangha circle and a break, we will rearrange the cushions and chairs in a circle for book reading or semi-circle if we have a teacher. Following our reading there is sangha discussion of what we’ve read. If we’ve had a Dharma talk the talk there is a question and answer period.
We then leave the zendo informally and put away altar, zafus, zabutons and chairs and clean the zendo. Help with cleanup is always appreciated. If you have time to participate in cleanup our guestmaster will point you to a task, or you can ask.