The purpose of these procedures or rituals is to encourage practice in the dojo by reducing distraction allowing for a minimum of speaking and providing for a graceful expression of practice. Many of us have practiced with other groups having other ways of doing things. However, we ask that everyone who sits with The Zen Center of Spokane follow these procedures while participating with us. We request this not because our way is right, but because it is smoother and aesthetically simpler if we all perform rituals in
the same way.
Don’t feel that it is necessary to know all the procedures described below to participate; just follow along.
For practice in the dojo, clothing that is loose and comfortable is recommended. Dark colors are best (black, navy or brown), preferably without words or contrasting patterns.
Silence and stillness are important elements of zazen. At the entrance to the zendo, bow toward the altar while standing. A bow is performed either sitting or standing. During a bow, hold hands in the gassho position: palms together with fingertips pointing upwards at nose height. Bend slightly from the waist (about 45 degrees) and then straighten. Cushions are arranged around the room, and chairs are also available. Select either a cushion that has no personal effects already on it or bring a chair to an unoccupied cushion. Use a chair if this will allow you to maintain quiet and stillness and the good health of your body.
When selecting your cushion position, walk around the perimeter of the room rather than cutting across the space. Sit facing the wall except when requested otherwise.
While walking in the dojo, hold hands together in kinhin position, rather than down or swinging at the sides.
Kinhin hand position consists of right hand wrapped around right thumb, left hand wrapped around right hand with forearms parallel to the floor.
Bow to the cushion, turn clockwise and bow to the sangha. Turns in the dojo are clockwise to avoid bumping into each other. When leaving the dojo at the end of the day or during a meal break, walk to the door in kinhin position, turn back to bow toward the altar and then step out.
Zazen periods are 25 minutes and each begins with three bells. At the end of the period, two bells signal kinhin while one bell signals that something else is happening, such as a talk, sutras, a meal or the end of sitting. When the bell rings at the end of each period, gassho and bow while still seated at your place.
Turn clockwise, face the middle of the room and stand slowly, maintaining practice. If your feet are asleep, remain sitting with your legs clear of the kinhin line. Join the line the next time your place in line passes your cushion. Stand facing the sangha with hands in kinhin position. At the sound of the clappers, gassho and bow.
Standing at your cushion, turn to your left and promptly step out to follow the person in front of you.
Maintaining your practice, walk slowly while keeping the distance between you and the person in front of you steady as you proceed around the room. As people step out of line to use the restroom, let the gap remain open. When they return, allow them to rejoin the kinhin line by entering at their place. When the clappers sound, maintain the same pace until you are in front of your cushion and stand facing in toward the sangha. Bow to the sangha, turn clockwise and bow to your cushion. Sit facing the wall and resume zazen.
Leaving the dojo and returning during kinhin—to take a restroom break, etc.—is done in one of two ways. First, you may leave immediately after the bow and before walking begins, with your hands in kinhin position. The second is to leave when your place in line reaches the door by bowing slightly where you are and stepping out. When returning, stand at the door and wait to rejoin the line. Bow and enter the line when your place passes the door. If the clappers are struck while you are waiting by the door, don’t try to enter the line while people are returning to their seats. Wait for the timekeeper to raise the clappers, bow with the sangha where you are and then return to your seat.
Sutra cards are located under your chair or cushion. When chanting from memory, hands should be either resting in the lap or in the gassho position.
Observe the chant leader for the gesture appropriate to the sutra. For sutras read aloud from the book, hold it at eye level with both hands. For sutras done in gassho, do not put down the sutra book, just continue to hold the book with thumbs inside, fingers outside.
When you are not using your sutra book, place it on your zabuton rather than on the floor in front of you. Recite or chant sutras as one voice, not too loud, too soft, too fast or too slow – follow the ino’s lead. Maintain formal sitting position during sutras.