In the Rinzai tradition, zazen (Za=sitting) and
(Zen=meditation) is the principal practice.
On Sunday mornings the Upper House Gardens becomes a temporary Rinzai Zen Zendo. At the entrance to the building, leaning
against the inner frame, is a wood calligraphy with the Japanese phrase “Sho Ko Kya Ka” which literally means “Be
aware of your step” or “See where you are”.
The words set the tone for the endeavor which is being embarked upon as
the student sits. Zazen is a time of
learning who one truly is.
With such intent, the atmosphere of the zendo is one of silence,
respect, and order. The following is
intended to provide an explanation of how the student prepares the environment
and the self for the study prompted by zazen.
- Arrive early. It is important
to be already seated when the han is
struck at 8 a.m.
- Wear loose, non-distracting clothing and white socks. Please no shorts, tank tops, hats or strong
- Shoes are removed outside the zendo door and are placed in an
orderly line with toes pointing outward.
Upon entering the zendo, a bow is made with hands in gassho (palms together with fingers
pointing upward, indicating respect).
After selecting and placing the appropriate zafu (small round or square cushion) on the zabuton (large cushioned mat), one bows again in gassho to the
cushion, turns and bows to the sangha,(community)
and is seated. It is desirable to sit in
this manner if at all possible, although chairs are available if necessary.
Be as comfortable as possible, moving as little as possible
during zazen. If a change in position
must be made, gassho first, shift, and gassho again before resuming zazen.
Respect and help maintain a quiet zendo atmosphere; be aware
movements and the sounds you make.
There should be no conversation in the zendo, except as necessary until
the final 3 bells and bow is completed.
Once on the cushion, the student, depending on comfort and
ability, will sit in one of several positions: lotus, half lotus, Burmese (legs
folded but not crossed), or seiza (kneeling). Hands are then placed on the lap forming a mudra
(left hand on top of the right and thumbs gently touching, forming an
oval). Eyes are generally half closed
with the focus being on the floor a few feet away. The back is kept straight.
Then comes the simple, and frequently the most difficult part of
zazen: quieting the mind so as not to have “monkey mind” (mind always shifting
away to thoughts, worries, dreams, plans, and even sleep!) Instead one focuses on the present moment and what is being
There are many techniques to assist the
student, with the most common one being to “follow the breath”. Counting “one”
on the inhalation, and “two” on the exhalation up to “ten” is one suggested method. It is surprising how very infrequently one
gets to ten without the mind wandering off on its own thoughts. When that is observed, it is important to
gently, and without judgment, bring the breath back to
“one” and begin again.
The zazen period begins with a short series of rituals including
a chant. We sit for 55 minutes, followed
by a short teisho (teaching).
Toward the mid-point of the sitting, students are given a
welcoming of heart to heart with the gentle use of the keisaku (a board
used to lightly tap the student’s shoulders).
This also communicates the message to “Wake up to this moment”.
Zazen is easy, hard, and natural and sounds more complicated
than it really is. We are each always
learning and practicing. In the words of
one Zen phrase, “We are always beginning again”.
For more detailed information, there are numerous websites
There is no charge.
However we do ask first time students to make a contribution of $50 if
possible. There is a basket for dana
(donations) which help cover expenses.