* Rinzai Hakone Zendo is not affiliated with Hakone Gardens in Saratoga CA.

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 fragrances. 
  • 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 of  your  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 experienced.  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 including www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/zazen 

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.