Dharma Rain Zen Center - service
Meditation and Full Morning Service
On Sunday mornings we have two periods of zazen (sitting meditation) followed
by Full Morning Service. Sanzen (private
interview with a teacher) is available concurrent with zazen during
term. Following morning service we leave the zendo and
gather downstairs in “sangha circle” for announcements and introductions.
After a short break for tea and socializing, we go back to the zendo for a
dharma talk and question and answer period.
The forms used in the zendo (meditation hall) can be somewhat confusing at
first. If possible, come to one of our regular workshops for detailed instruction
in zazen posture and method, and the meaning and use of our zendo forms. It’s
easier to walk through the process than to explain it. When
you come to an event for the first time, watch what others do during the service
and follow along, or quietly ask your neighbor for direction. There is someone
new at almost every Zen Center event, so we always expect some people to be
You will find that the forms are nearly the same for the various services.
Below is a basic outline of how things are done, but don’t get too hung up
on details; the services generally flow along with subtle variations on all
these themes. Click here to
see the glossary for any terms unfamiliar to you.
Entering the zendo
We normally enter the Zendo
building through the downstairs entrance near the front of the building, where
you can leave your shoes and
coat. Lockers are available for valuables, with locks and keys inside them.
If you arrive late and the downstairs door is locked, come through the double
doors up the stairs at the front of the building, and someone will come out
to greet you.
When you enter the meditation hall itself, take a moment to stop and enter
the mental space of the room — that is, consider where you are going
and how you will get there in a mindful way. Try not to take seats the end
of the rows closest to the altar (often used by people with additional responsibilities).
At the entrance,
make gassho (press
palms of the hands together) and bow. If you are crossing to the far side of
the room, go to the haishiki (the bowing mat in the center of the room, pronounced
high-shee-kee). Facing the altar at the foot of the haishiki,
standing near one corner rather than in the middle, make gassho and bow. Do
not step on the haishiki. Try not to walk in front of those already seated.
is, if people are seated for zazen and facing the wall, walk between the inner
row of seats and the haishiki to get to your own seat. If they are facing the
center of the room for a service, walk next to the wall. Whenever you pass
in front of the altar, even if you are at the back of the hall furthest away
the altar, it is respectful to pause and make gassho and a short standing bow
toward the altar as you pass.
Choose the least disruptive route and quietly come
to a seat.
Approach your seat from its “front,” which is toward the center
of the room. At your seat, make gassho and bow to the zafu (round cushion),
turn clockwise 180 degrees and bow to the center of the room, then take your
seat. See our guidelines for sitting in chairs.
The large densho bell is rung as a signal
that everyone should enter the zendo. Enter quietly and take a seat facing
the wall. When everyone
after this bell has rung, the Chief Junior performs kentan (rounds), ceremonially
passing all the seats to see that everything is in order.
First meditation period
Zazen starts officially
when a small (rin) gong is struck three times. (The rings may be spaced widely
The clappers are struck at the end of
the first period of zazen; make gassho. Monastics and Lay Buddhists place their
wagessas, rakhusus or
kesas upon their heads and everyone slowly chants the Kesa Verse three times:
How great the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
Wrapping ourselves in Buddha’s teaching
We free all living beings.
Those with vestments then put them on. Then the bell is struck once; make
gassho and bow.
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 meditation the precentor will ring the bell once and announce
kinhin. Make gassho and bow in a seated position, then stand up and briefly
straighten your seat, placing your sutra book on the cushion. Make gassho and
bow to your seat and turn to the center of the room.
The precentor then rings the inkin (a small gong) once; make gassho and
bow. On the second ring, those in the innermost rows should turn 90 degrees
left; those in the middle rows turn to their right; those in the outer rows next
to the wall turn to their left. This results in three separate groups, each walking
clockwise in a rectangle. (People in chairs should simply join
the nearest line.) 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. The precentor will ring the
inkin a third time; 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 can enter and leave the zendo. After the line begins to
move, if there is room, step to the side and walk out quietly. Please do not
cushions to leave the line; if you don’t have enough room to get out
of line, wait to reach the end of a row of cushions to leave. Wait downstairs
with others in the gaitan area for the bells signalling the end of kinhin to
go back upstairs.
At the end of kinhin, the precentor will ring the inkin once. Stop moving,
make gassho, and bow. Place the hands in shashu again, and on the second
to your seats at a normal pace and remain standing there. On the third ring,
make gassho and bow to the center of the room, then bow to your cushion and
take your seat for the next meditation session.
Second meditation period
Be seated as before for
meditation. The small gong is struck three times to begin and twice to end
Full morning service
The precentor announces Full
Morning Service. Stand, make gassho and bow to your cushion, turn around, make
gassho and bow towards
the center of the room. Stand quietly with hands in shashu until the precentor
starts the “ring down” on the inkin, to signal the first three
of nine full bows. Make three full bows facing the altar. To make room for
everyone to bow with no collisions, every other person should make a sidestep
away from their cushion to make staggered rows. Carefully kneel and place your
forehead on the floor, slightly lifting your hands, palms upward. Turn to face
the center, and make three full bows facing the people across the room from
you, and finally, rows staggered again, make three more full bows facing the
wall with the altar. After the final bow, take your seat, facing the center
of the room.
If you have physical problems which prevent you from doing a full prostration,
simply stand in place and bow at the waist, raising your hands palm upward.
The Precentor will announce the service and describe any changes in our regular
program. Sutra books (chant books) are passed down each row. Take one and put
it under your zabuton when not in use. Otherwise hold it up in front of you.
The formal way to
hold a sutra book is shown to the right. This is called “book
and it means that you don’t have to put the book down in order to make
gassho during times when people in the hall are making gassho. If you do not
the sutra book, please carefully place it beneath your mat while
leave it neatly on your cushion when you are leaving your seat. Do not put
sutra books open on the floor.
repeat the same full service each Sunday, switching between the traditional
Several times a year there are special services. These are announced
and sometimes additional explanation given. Portions of the service are sung
only by the Precentor, and most by the whole community.
three homages and during the ancestral line, which are sung by the entire community.
The precentor will begin another “ring
is the signal to stand and do another nine full bows. You do not have to straighten
your seat first. After the bows, stand quietly with your hands in shashu for
six more standing bows. For the first three, which represent the Buddha, Dharma
and Sangha, turn towards the altar and bow in gassho on the first ring, back
to the center and bow in gassho on the second ring, and bow in shashu toward
the center on the third ring. After this, the celebrant and jisha will leave
the zendo. Then there will be three quick rings, and the community bows in
gassho to the left, right and center, as a way of showing respect to all beings.
Leaving the zendo
Following the precentor’s lead,
make gassho and turn around to plump up your zafu and straighten your seat.
Pass sutra books forward 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
As you leave, stop at the haishiki and bow to the altar, turn and walk to
the back of the hall, go around to the stairs, and bow once again at the top
the stiars as you leave. Go downstairs and join the sangha circle
After sangha circle and a break, the
densho bell will ring. Go into the zendo and take a seat, turning to face the
podium where the speaker will sit. Following the talk there is
a question and answer period. When it is over, wait for the speaker to leave
the hall before straightening your seat. You may leave the zendo informally,
but please remember not to walk between the haishiki and the altar.
For other meditation periods and services, please click here.