Zendo Forms

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 gather for announcements and introductions. After a short break for tea and socializing, we take our seats again 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 unfamiliar with these forms.

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 do not get too hung up on details; the services generally flow along with subtle variations on all these themes.

Entering the zendo

Events are generally in the Sodo, the big new temple building on the left at the end of our drive. For Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings we have guestmasters who can help orient you as to where to put coats, shoes, and other belongings, where to sit, etc.

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 the palms of the hands together) and bow. Walk in front of as few people as possible to get to your seat. Whenever you pass in front of the altar, even if you are at the back of the hall furthest away from 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, bowing in gratitude for a place to sit, turn clockwise 180 degrees and bow to the center of the room, then take your seat. See our guidelines for sitting in chairs.

Main bell

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 is seated after this bell has rung for morning sitting and service, 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 apart.)


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 morning zazen on Sundays.

Formal Sanzen
Formal sanzen is part of our morning practice. You bring 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?

When you arrive in the morning, sign up on the list, if provided. On Sundays usually two teachers offer sanzen, and you choose one. Note which location you have signed up for, and go there after the jisha has announced that sanzen is available. Sit in the order in which you signed up.

Informal Sanzen

Informal sanzen is available to all DRZC members with most of the transmitted teachers. 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.

If you would like to schedule informal sanzen with one of the teachers, contact the Center and let them know which teacher you want to meet with and when you are generally available to meet. Staff will forward your request to that teacher, who will contact you to arrange a time.

If you have never done sanzen before, the jisha can instruct you on the etiquette. (If you need a chair in the sanzen room, tell the jisha.) When your turn comes, you stand outside the sanzen room next to a small bell on a table. 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, you can return the next week and ask the jisha to put you toward the front of the line, 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.

Kesa verse

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 in front of your zabuton, that is, the side closest 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 to their 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 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; 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 with others for the bells signalling the end of kinhin to go back into the zendo.

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 ring, return to your seats at a normal pace and remain standing there. On the third ring, 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 meditation.

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. 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. Chant books are passed down each row. Take one and put it on top of your zabuton when not in use. Otherwise hold it up in front of you. See the formal way to hold a chant book. This is called “book gassho,” 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 need the chant book, please carefully place it on top of your mat while you are sitting, and leave it neatly on your cushion when you are leaving your seat. Do not put chant books open on the floor.

We normally repeat the same full service each Sunday, switching between the traditional ancestral line and an offertory to women ancestors. 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, though most by the whole community together. This is indicated in the chant book. Make gassho during the three homages and during the ancestral line, which are sung by the entire community.

Final bows

The precentor will begin another “ring down.” This 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 chant 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 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.

Dharma talk

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.