Zen Tradition


Buddhism originated in India and, over the course of centuries, branched out to many other Asian countries. As it migrated and took root, Buddhism incorporated aspects of the indigenous religions and cultures of each country. The Zen school developed in China and was later brought to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. It is a tradition that most often has emphasized direct religious experience through meditation, as well as the love and compassion this experience can generate; whereas scriptural expertise, ritual observances, and adherence to codes of conduct have been variously emphasized across different schools and time periods.

Over the last few decades Zen has become popular in the West. Particularly because it champions actual practice over doctrinal belief, Zen seems to resonate deeply in the modern mind. Its age-old and well-tested training methods for cutting through deeply rooted delusions about ourselves and the world can help us contribute to a more harmonious society. The guiding principle is that everyone can share in the wisdom of the Buddha, who directly experienced the oneness of all beings and found ways to express that experience through the activities of daily life. This living essence of the tradition has been maintained and passed down by generations of practitioners to the present day.

Zen River works to contribute to this process by providing a comprehensive training programme that, while based on the Japanese tradition, allows experimentation and adaptation — in accord with the White Plum lineage — to suit the needs of our time. The importance of having both a direct connection with a qualified teacher and a cohesive community of practitioners is emphasized. Long-term and short-term residents as well as visiting members practise together and support each other in training. The semi-rural location of the temple and the layout of buildings and grounds have proven very conducive to in-depth practice of the various elements of training.

Four Elements of Training

Oryoki meal
Oryoki meal

In Zen training we learn to recognize our Buddha nature and to allow it to manifest freely in everyday-life situations. The joy and happiness found within can naturally bring about an unconditional love for all life and inspire us to contribute to the welfare of others. In order to follow through on this grand vision, Buddhist practitioners take refuge in the Three Treasures — the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Most effective when addressed together, these Treasures are reliable buoys in the sea of confusion. They are intricately interwoven and can be appreciated on many different levels. Most obviously they stand for the face-to-face relationship between teacher and student (Buddha), the actual training that is required (Dharma), and a close association with other practitioners (Sangha).

At Zen River the Three Treasures are articulated in Four Elements of Training:

1) Meditation, 2) Ritual, 3) Study and 4) Bodhisattva Activity.

1) Meditation is the main focus of Zen River and serves as a base for all other elements. The lineage that Tenkei Roshi and Myoho Sensei represent belongs to the Soto school of Zen, but is also influenced by the training methods of other schools. That means that besides shikantaza, koans are practiced extensively. This combination has the advantage of providing a broad range of methods so that the needs of individual students can be met. In shikantaza one learns to stop interfering with the natural functioning of the mind and to become aware of the basic goodness inherent in all of us. In its simplicity it is the most natural and at the same time the most difficult practice. By turning our own light inward we find more space for people and situations to speak to us directly, so that our responses become more natural and fitting. This wonderful ability can be experienced on many different levels, and is for most people hard to appreciate fully without actively questioning conditioned patterns of thoughts and feelings. Koans have proven to be very helpful in this respect. These are recorded dialogues between masters and students of old that express the teaching in a nutshell. In actual practice they are used as meditation devices. The teacher gives the student a koan as a question and expects a lively response in dokusan (private interview). Nonrational in character, the koan cuts through dualistic thinking and allows students to experience themselves and the world as one undivided whole. More advanced koans deal with the apparent variety within this unity, the inseparability of these two aspects, and the way we can express this paradox in loving speech and beneficial action. The complete curriculum transmitted in the White Plum Lineage involves a series of introductory koans, the collections of the Mumonkan, Hekiganroku, Denkoroku, Shoyoroku, Tozan’s Five Ranks and The Precepts.

2) Ritual is seen as an essential counterpart to meditation; they complement each other in many ways. For example, whereas zazen cultivates our independence and our individual responsibility, in ritual the emphasis is more on our dependency on the Buddhas and ancestors for their instruction and also on our interdependency with all sentient beings. This corresponds with the basic tenet of Mahayana Buddhism that we all can realize buddhahood but need the help and vision of the bodhisattvas. Looking at it from another angle, we could also say that in zazen we are in a prime position to receive Buddha wisdom, whereas in ritual we have an opportunity to give back freely. At Zen River, besides daily morning services there are also midday and evening services during Ango training periods and sesshin. In these services all participants play an active role, and over time learn to take on various positions. Fusatsu (atonement ceremony) and Segaki (ceremony for hungry ghosts) are held regularly while others including Jukai (lay ordination), Tokudo (monk ordination), weddings and funerals are performed whenever the need arises. Oryoki (formal meals in the zendo) is practiced during retreats. These ceremonial activities allow us to diverge from standard behavioral norms and to communicate a deep sense of interconnectedness in a time-tested choreography. In that sense they also serve as active group meditations and as a counterbalance to the stillness and solitude of zazen. Moreover, these ancient rituals can give us cues on how to move through life, as ordinary activities — like getting up in the morning, eating breakfast, washing up, parking the car, saying hello and shaking hands — can all be seen as ritual.

3) The study of Buddhist texts is primarily geared towards discovering how the scriptures of the various time periods can help us wake up to our innate wisdom. In combination with actual meditation training with a living teacher, the words of the old masters start to resonate on ever deeper levels and also serve as a testing device for true understanding. On Wednesday nights during the regular daily schedule and on every day during sesshin, Tenkei Roshi gives Teisho (a live presentation of dharma) often using for inspiration a koan, a short text by Dogen Zenji (like chapters from Eihei Koroku) or other examples of dharma literature. And while a growing library gives ample opportunity for individual reading, there are various weekly study groups. In one that meets every Sunday morning, a classic Buddhist text is read one chapter at a time and discussed in the light of its practical application. The emphasis is on works by Dogen Zenji (mostly Shobogenzo in various English translations), with commentaries by modern masters if available. On Monday nights the River of Zen group studies excerpts of texts in a historical sequence, from the early Indian sutras to the Chinese koans, the Japanese literature, and works of contemporary teachers. The Right Speech group, held on Tuesday afternoons, allows students to verbally present their understanding on a particular subject. Sometimes the subject is chosen beforehand, for example certain chapters of the Nikayas, the Lotus or other sutras, and sometimes Tenkei Roshi spontaneously raises an issue that suits the occasion. Either way, it provides opportunities for everyone to practice speaking up and to learn how to express the dharma in live words.

4) Bodhisattva Activity as an element of training explores ways to manifest our true nature in the everyday world — in other words, where it really counts. In principle, the first three elements naturally wake up the Bodhisattva within us; yet most of us need clear reminders during the course of the day for responding to life’s situation with wisdom and compassion, and not to fall back into conditioned self-centered patterns of behavior. These reminders include the Precepts (errors to refrain from), the Paramitas (virtues to be cultivated) and particularly the “Four Ways of the Bodhisattva” of Dogen Zenji (Generosity, Identification with Others, Right Speech, Beneficial Action). Rather than a strict set of rules, they are all seen as springboards for meditation in action, offering suggestions for personal transformation in social interaction with others. Zen River functions as a spiritual community and offers ample opportunities for practicing Bodhisattva Activity during, for example, services, samu (temple cleaning, kitchen duties, renovation projects, gardening, sewing, administration, etc.) and events like Family Week with its special program for children. The hosting of other teachers and students from abroad, particularly from training temples in Japan, has also proven to be very useful in this respect since cultural differences help us to question our habitual behavioral norms. Engagement in Bodhisattva Activity within the conducive context of the temple, can provide the incentive and inspiration for practicing it in daily life circumstances beyond the temple. Gradually, this can transform our character and lifestyle and clarify our particular Bodhisattva calling.

Zen Paths

Vast sky

Zen River offers a varied program following three intertwining paths. Firstly and most obviously, Zen River is an ‘open’ monastery. This means that — while the continuity of the daily training is maintained by a dedicated team of monastics — everybody is welcome to join for any length of time. Newcomers and old-timers, laypeople and monks, women and men, practice together in a family-style setting. All participants support each other in deepening their understanding, following Master Joshu’s famous dictum: “If I meet a seven-year-old girl who is more accomplished than me, I want to learn from her; if I meet a seventy-year-old man who is less accomplished than me, I would like to teach him.” In other words, this path is for everyone, regardless of seniority, gender or religious ranking. All can make their specific contribution to the dharma, so it may spread throughout the three worlds.

Secondly, Zen River also functions to some extent as a church; it is even officially registered as such. Public services for the local community are held every Sunday, followed by zazen and a meeting with the abbot or one of the senior students. Every year an ‘Open House’ event attracts people from all walks of life. Groups from schools and universities and members of professional or social organizations are welcomed regularly and receive special attention. An outreach programme includes workshops led by senior students. Weddings and funerals take place whenever the need arises, either at Zen River or at other locations. While these activities are carried out to benefit the larger public, they simultaneously offer sangha members a wonderful opportunity to serve others and give back freely whatever they have received from their training.

Thirdly, Zen River can be seen as a pioneering seminary, where those aspiring to leadership roles in the Zen community can plunge into the depth of the training for a longer period of time. The truth to be found requires sudden awakening, which is the standard for mind-to-mind transmission, but at the same time the phenomenal level calls for gradual cultivation. Therefore, thorough training in the Four Elements — zazen (including koan practice), ritual, buddhist literature, and social interaction — is seen as indispensible for becoming a senior student, teacher, priest or dharma successor. Using the style of the American White Plum lineage and the directives of the Japanese Soto School as a general framework, Zen River is developing a path that allows participants to go through the traditional stages of practice, while various rites of passage provide transparency to the process. Lay-people and monastics essentially follow the same path, although monastics ordained at Zen River usually enter full-time residential training and commit to serving the sangha as their life’s vocation. Those who wish to be part of the international network of the Soto School can be registered with Shumucho (Administrative Headquarters). This paves the path for registration of Hossenshiki (dharma combat ceremony), Shiho (dharma transmission) and Zuisse (ceremonies held in the two main Soto temples, Eihei-ji and Soji-ji). In order to be fully certified according to Soto School standards, monastics need also to attend two three-month Ango training periods in a designated temple in Japan.

N.B.: Shoken is a small private ceremony during which teacher and student both acknowledge a mutual karmic link. The practitioner officially takes on the responsibility of being a student and the teacher officially takes on the responsibiliby of teaching the student. Timing needs to be discussed with Tenkei Roshi personally and it is customary for a student to request Shoken at least three times before it can be considered. Ask Robert in the office for further details. Jukai is a public ceremony during which a student receives the precepts and formally becomes a Buddhist. Jukai ceremonies are preferably held at the end of the Sakura Spring sesshin and the October Jukai sesshin during which Tenkei Roshi gives special instruction on the subject, but they can also be scheduled at other dates if needed. Important elements in the preparation for Jukai are the sewing of one's own rakusu and the copying of the lineage chart. Ask Robert in the office for further details.

Recommended Literature

Anthology I and II

cover anthology I              cover anthology II

The two Anthologies of Buddhist texts (250 pages each), compiled by Tenkei Roshi and for sale in our reception office, are in-house publications that serve as guides for in-depth study. They are not available for download, as the copyright dues only cover printed copies. Click on the image to take a look at the table of contents.


For an overview of the whole Buddhist path and a presentation of general Buddhist principles, the following publications are recommended:

Here follows a list of recommended literature in various categories:

Maezumi Roshi and Genpo Roshi

Other successors in the White Plum lineage

Related contemporary teachers

Dogen Zenji

Dogen Studies

Selected Old Masters

Koan Collections


Zen General

Tibetan Buddhism

Buddhism General

Western Mystics

Spiritual Psychology


Absolutely Basic Zendo Etiquette
Not to be taken too seriously.
Naturally, it is preferred that attendees follow the basic idea...

1.Introduction & Arrival

Going to sesshin? If you are looking at your first encounter with a meditation retreat please do not be alarmed! Instruction will be available to help you become acquainted with the ways and methods you may encounter. If you feel you are already familiar with our Sangha please read anyway because you never can tell! The following is a very rough guide as to how to conduct your person whilst in the zendo (meditation hall). It is by no means anywhere near complete and definitely not completely accurate but may help you to feel a little more comfortable, so here we go!

After you have arrived for a sesshin and found your room, you can go to the zendo and, when seats are not assigned ( During sesshin at Zen River they usually are, so look for your name on a wee black name card pinned on the wall in front of your seat-to-be), choose a seat. But first things first - before entering the zendo please remove your shoes. If you are particularly keen on sitting in a particular spot pick one early as most seats are available on a first come first serve basis. If there are no name cards, find a zafu (cushion) on a zabutan (mat) that looks unclaimed. To “reserve” it leave either your name on a piece of paper, a Rakasu bag (will explain later) or something small and personal on the zafu. Once the sesshin starts, remove your reservation mark. If you happen to just be dropping into a local Zendo for the odd period or two, then no need to find a place to sleep and no need to reserve a seat. Just ask whoever looks in charge of the pad where to go.

Confused as to what to wear? It may not escape your attention that most participants will be wearing various shades of black. Sadly, bright and beautiful colours will only serve to draw unnecessary attention to your self. Just be sure your dark colour clothing will be loose enough and modest enough –those faithful old Levi's will play havoc with your circulation, let alone the pins and needles they inflict on the unsuspecting. Sleeveless T-shirts and /or shorts are not recommended. And Ladies! Feel free to give your face a welcome break - have a face-free week! Leave the lipstick at home...

As there are many pairs of feet therefore many pairs of shoes, we would ask that you line up your pair next to the last, outside the zendo. Double check to see if the soles of your feet are clean and your nails are neatly trimmed. If not, wear some plain, dark socks. Clean bare feet are most welcome.

If you are still in any doubt as to where to sit and don't know whom to ask, sit on any plain black zafu or one with the name of the organization on it. You can be relatively confident that someone will be more than happy to direct you to another empty seat if you took the wrong one! Alternatively, ask the monitors, who are there to help you and will be identified during the opening meeting of the sesshin and will sit in strategic spots in the Zendo. (Usually those seats either side of the Teacher and the two seats opposite. The Teacher always sits directly in front or opposite the altar, so don't make the mistake of sitting there!) During sesshin the seat you have chosen will be yours for the remainder of the retreat – unless, of course, there is a lot of coming and going of participants.

2. During Zazen

If you find yourself suddenly staring at a zafu that's not to your liking please don't follow the urge to appropriate your neighbours' zafu. Trade it for one from the main collection. Or, better still; pick one you like from the main collection, usually just outside the Zendo, or at Zen River in the kaisando, and bring it in with you. If you use a second zafu, please take the extra one away with you when the "block" of zazen is over.

One “block” of Zazen is usually comprised of three individual "periods" of zazen (sitting) with Kinhin (walking meditation) in between.

After each block of zazen, or before leaving both the zendo and your zafu, make sure the zafu is placed central on the zabutan with any name tag facing outward neatly. Between individual periods place the zafu towards the back of the zabutan ready and waiting for your next half hour of zazen. Any props, gizmos, or extra zafus you needed during your meditation please take them away with you and bring them back next sitting block.

For reasons that will become apparent, please take to your knees when undertaking any manoeuvre relating to the arrangement of your seat or zafu. Use both hands rather than your feet. And remember –always turn clockwise.

During zazen please sit still and quietly. For ways to help you achieve this desired effect and cause the least possible disturbance to your neighbours please consider the following precautions:

Once the bell has been struck and the period has begun, please remain on your seat. Only leave the zendo if it's absolutely necessary or is some kind of emergency or by staying you feel you would create more of a disturbance than by leaving. (Don't be surprised if one of the monitors comes to check to see if you are OK). If you really have to make a dash for it, and we hope you won't need to, wait until the period has ended and the fast Kinhin has started before re-entering the zendo. The one time you may leave the zendo during the period is for going to Dokusan (Private interview) with the teacher but be sure to come back immediately after the interview is over or the attendant will get very confused as to who is next in line. Ask, and the Jisha (attendant to the teacher) will be happy to enlighten you on Dokusan procedure before you go in.

When sneezing or coughing muffle the sound by raising your arm up and directing the sound into the elbow of your sleeve. This manoeuvre also prevents germs from flying at high speeds around the zendo, thus preventing the transmigration of various strains of colds and flu. As sound in the zendo carries as fast and far as a pin drop, please unwrap any lozenges you might have put into your kimono sleeve or pocket. Once they are in your mouth, please don't follow the urge to crunch them or rattle them against your teeth.

If your nose happens to drip and run, please let it run and drip. A Kleenex can be used quietly after the period is over. Whatever you do don't blow your nose like a ships fog horn in the Zendo, it may only serve to really annoy your neighbours. If the urge to blow is too strong to overcome, wait patiently until the fast kinhin comes and you can slip outside and blow your nose to your hearts content, away from sensitive ears.

Sniffing is definitely not encouraged, but a discreet sniff may get over looked if it doesn't become a habit (There are inoffensive and delicate ways to sniff and not be noticed, so be observant and keep a lookout for those that have mastered the art of sniffing....) Any tissues you have on you, keep in your kimono sleeve and if they came in a handy plastic wrapper, leave the wrapper behind!

Breathe quietly. You can tell this by listening to your own breathing. If you can hear your self so can the other thirty in the room.

Are you sure you are sitting comfortably? Please take the time to find a comfortable posture for yourself at the beginning of the period. Remember—wriggling later on will only serve to increase your discomfort!

3.After Zazen

When the sitting period is over, ape-like stretching is best avoided as it might result in accidentally thwacking your neighbour on the nose or revealing the condition of the soles of your feet to the rest of the zendo. Not a good idea. We therefore recommend discreet shoulder shrugs, twists and foot wriggling to get the circulation going again before the Kinhin (walking meditation) starts.

Out of respect for the teacher, please wait for the teacher to stand first. If the teacher is not in the zendo then follow the most senior person there. Don't worry, you can be assured that they will know who they are.

During the slow Kinhin please remember to keep walking. Slowly. ½ a foot per step, feet just touching. Time each step with one breath and close the gap with the person ahead of you. When the fast kinhin starts continue closing that gap between you and the person in front. This means the walking may get fast. That is why it is called fast kinhin. You will notice that by walking too slow a serious traffic jam will be created behind you! (And that someone may feel terribly inclined to step on your heels!)

Between the sitting periods you can exit the zendo during the fast kinhin (fast walking meditation) You have five minutes to do whatever you need to do before the next period begins. Making a mental note of the person walking in front of you will enable you to file back into the fast kinhin before it's over.

As a quaking zafu may seriously interrupt some peoples concentration and as wooden floors are sensitive to noise please try to slide and glide rather than stomp through the zendo. This can be accomplished by treading on the balls of your feet rather than on your heels. It will need practice but it's not impossible.

You are welcome to sit overtime whenever the zendo is open. Please be aware of the candle and incense bowl, as someone may have dutifully cleaned them both up in preparation for the next sitting block. Ask the Chiden ( the one who cleans the altars) for an alternative candle or at least let them know. To make sure the zendo is still there in the morning please extinguish it before you leave.

4. During Dharma Talks

When yawning, attempt to keep your mouth closed, especially when listening to Dharma talks. We would also ask that, out of politeness, your knees remain close to the floor during the Teisho (dharma talk) especially if you find yourself on the front row. At all times attempt to remain upright, sitting on top of your zafu and keeping your feet on the zabutan (mat). Try to maintain the semblance of a zazen posture. Please refrain from nodding off during a talk or leaving the zendo unexpectedly, except in extreme circumstances. It can be quite discouraging for the teacher to be faced with sleepyheads or impromptu departures!

5. Dokusan

More often than not you will hear the term "The Dokusan / dokusan Line is..." announced in the Zendo, or have something similar whispered into your ear, like: "Do you want to go to Dokusan / dokusan?" Or just "Dokusan" or "Dokusan". Sometimes it is without any verbal indication, save that someone is suddenly making a standing bow in front of you, or tapping you on th shoulder, as you sit there quietly minding your own business. No fear...Dokusan and dokusan is a Japanese term for "Private Interview" (Literally "Great Meeting") and is always with the head teacher or one of their assistants. SO, if you happen to get bowed at, tapped on the shoulder or have Dokusan whispered into your ear, then make a bow in Gassho and leave the Zendo immediately, without making any effort to straighten you cushion or bow to anyone else. You will be led to a queue of students sitting on the floor awaiting their turn to see the teacher. Sit down on the zabutan (mat) offered to you and maintain a composed zazen posture and frame of mind as you wait your turn. As people disappear into the Dokusan room, everyone moves up a seat, till you are in the front of the queue--This is what is tenderly referred to as: "The Dokusan Line".

So here you are, waiting your turn. Wondering what to say. Well, please don't worry about what to say. If you really don't know what to say, its a good enough start. Try to ask something or see if the teacher has anything they would like to say to you, or if they have any advice. Failing that, and if it is your first time, don't be afraid to just simply introduce yourself.

Sitting in line, the oft repeated sound of a little tinkley bell will come to your attention, followed by the door to the Dokusan room opening and a student standing there waiting for next one to come in. This is the sound of the Dokusan bell, which indicates the end of one meeting and the beginning of the next. When you are at the head of the queue and you hear the little tinkley bell, if there is one, hit the bell in front of you, stand up and wait on the right hand side of the door--or the side the door handle happens to be on, and wait for the person inside to open it. They will then do one of the following:

a) Step outside the door and stand next to you, possibly to your left

b) Open the door, stay inside the room, then wait for you to step forward into whatever side of their person they have left space for you to fill.

When you are standing together you will do one of the following depending on the teacher, the size of the room, or the width of the corridor.

a) Make a standing bow together

b) Make a full bow together

At Zen River dokusan is held in the Kobaian, in the back of the garden. So when you hear the little tinkley bell, hit the gong, and run across the grass. The last person in will have already completed their exit bows and closed the door behind them. In this case, take off your shoes outside the door, open the door and walk in. Close the door, omit the bow in the doorway, and follow the rest of these instructions.

After you have made the bow in the doorway, keep your hands in Gassho and walk to, but don't step on, the nearest corner of the Zabutan. Side step to the centre of the zabutan, make a full bow and complete it with a standing bow, step on to the zabutan, kneel down, tidy your robes ( But not ostentatiously!) put your hands in Gassho and say:

" My name is... and my practice/koan is..."

Upon which you lower your hands to the mudra position and let the interview take its course. You will know when it is ended when the teacher picks up the little bell and shakes it. What seemed like a tingle from outside the door now sounds like a loud ringle! This means the Dokusan/interview is categorically over - even if you were in mid-sentence - and go you must. So, put your hands in Gassho, make a bow, stand up and then walk backwards, yes, backwards, to the door and open it without turning around. Stay on the side of the door as it opens, allowing the next person to enter and stand next to you. Make your bows together and as the next person walks towards the teacher, close the door and return to the zendo.

Again at Zen River, it changed a bit according to circumstances. When the dokusan is over, make your full bow and yes, still walk backwards to the door then leave closing the door behind you. This is because the next person in line will be dashing across the lawn and will be too late to get there while you are making your bows.

And don't be surprised if this interview is over is less than a minute.

6. On Temperature, Timekeepers and Colds

Due to the close proximity of other sitters if you happen to be suffering a cold, cough or flu please stay in bed or sit somewhere other than the zendo until you feel better and hope that no-one else will catch it!

If you happen to be well enough to sit, but have enough of a cold that you don't feel quite well, please decline the invitation to go to private interview with the teacher until another time or check with the Jisha to see if it would be OK. The teacher might thank you for it later, as may the rest of the zendo!

As the job of the jikido (timekeeper) is to also maintain a cool comfortable temperature in the zendo, the windows may or may not be open. Please don't touch them unless requested to do so by the jikido or monitors. If the temperature is not to your liking please sit in an alternative spot either closer to or further from open windows or draughts, or simply change your clothes. (But don't try doing this in the zendo.)

As the jikido (timekeeper) has his or her own clock he/she will not need a constant hourly reminder of the time so please turn off your beeper.

Read the previous section on how to handle the nose.

7. On Gassho, Shashu and Bows

When walking into and around the zendo your hands should remain in the Shashu position. (Lay your open right hand over left fist and hold arms parallel to the floor - for an example check out the ones wearing the funny black robes) Arms loosely dangling by ones side does not, in this situation, appear particularly dignified.

Gassho, gassho, everybody gasshos'. Almost all of the time. Note that most movements you make are preceded or completed by a gassho and a bow.

Enter the zendo, gassho. Bow.

Arrive at your seat, gassho. Bow

Turn around, gassho. Bow

Greet a fellow sitter, gassho. Bow

End the period, gassho. Bow

Start kinhin, gassho. Bow

End kinhin, gassho. Bow

See! Everybody's doing it.

For the uninformed, Gassho is when you put your palms together, almost level with your nose, a fist away from your face with elbows up, usually followed by a small bow. A small bow is actually a small bow and not a duck dive. To avoid duck diving first stay upright in Gassho and keep torso straight as you bend from the hips, which may mean your butt feels like it's sticking out, but if no one says anything it probably isn't.

For a full bow, which will seem to happen at several unexpected moments of the day, move your zafu so it is behind you.

First stand on the middle of the zabutan in Shashu.

When the small bell begins to "ching", stand to the back of the zabutan and face whatever direction the crowd faces, which might be towards the altar or towards one another.

Put your hands together in Gassho. Leaning forward from the hips and without moving your head, make a standing bow. now go back to being almost upright, but not quite.

Next, squat onto your heels, put the right knee down, then the left knee down, onto the zabutan.

Lower your forehead to the mat and as you do so, place both palms just below your ears and turn them to face the ceiling.

Raise your palms as if there was a Buddha standing on them, and esoterically speaking, there is, so don't go carelessly tossing him behind you! Next, lower him to the level of your temples.

Bring your head back up, put your hands back into Gassho.

Raise your torso and put your weight back onto your heels then return to a standing position. If you need to, use the first two fingers of your right hand for balance as you get up. All the while keep your hands in gassho and those fingers and thumbs close together. Repeat as necessary, but generally it goes in threes.

After the last bow, conclude it with a small standing bow towards the altar then return to standing in the centre of your zabutan and put your hands into the Shashu position.

Finish off with a standing bow in shashu to the person opposite you.

8. On Services

Except for the evening sitting block, each block of Zazen is followed by a service. During services don't panic, don't do anything and stay where you are. Wait until someone shows you to another seat where you can enjoy the service in relative comfort, especially if you ended up sitting on the centre section during the sitting block. Once you have been shown to a seat just follow the rest, or read on for some more helpful hints on how to behave! If you are lucky you may just get to stay where you are!

Service begins with everyone standing. Move your zafu so it's behind you or out of the way and stand patiently in the middle of your zabutan with your hands in the shashu position. This part is the same as the start of a Teisho (Dharma Talk)

After all the dings and dongs and commotion that precede a service, it will finally begin with everyone making three full bows at the morning & noon service and a standing bow at the evening service, on their zabutan, in time with the little “chings”. Again, follow the direction of the group when making a full bow. On this occasion, when you finally get to sit down, you don't need to cross your legs, instead sit in the seiza position (kneeling or sitting on your heels) Its perfectly OK to use a Zafu to support your buttocks.

When someone hands you a sutra (chant) book keep a hold of it and don't drop it. Hold it vertical at all times and always with both hands, vertical on your lap, vertical in gassho, and vertical when chanting from it. Don't bend it! Check out the others who look like they know what they are doing. To make it easier, remember that all the chants are in the book and, hopefully, in the right order.

Be aware that the title of each sutra (chant) is opened by the Ino (chant leader) and at the end of each sutra there is a dedication sung by the Ino. Sometime during this dedication everyone's head will go down at the sound of a little bell. Go down too with your hands in gassho, sutra book closed and tucked behind both your thumbs. Sneak a look at the others if your not sure how to do this. When you hear the bell for the second time, that's your queue to sit up. The book can go back to resting, vertically, on your lap. Hold it close to your torso, with thumb and little finger behind the book on lower right and left sides and the remaining 3 fingers in front of the book. Look around once more to see how most people are holding the sutra book. It changes quite often. When the time comes that you start to know a few chants off by heart---and yes, it really does happen--you can politely indicate you don't really need a sutra book anymore by raising your right palm up toward the ceiling a few inches. If you need it some of the time, but not all the time, take one and keep it vertically on your lap closed when not required.

Some traditions will put it on the floor covered in a cloth cover, and others more correctly slip it into the breast overlap of their robes--providing the sutra book does not exceed the size of a small birthday card. In our case, the Sutra books are often the size of an A4 piece of paper, which are best suited to being held in the first afore-mentioned manner.

At the end of the service someone will scurry around to collect the books. When those little bells get started you know it's time to start on standing up and getting ready for three more bows. Now it's time to go eat.

One thing you may hear frequently are the claps of the wooden clappers clapping around the corridors, or ( as in Zen River) the loud tingle of the hand bell. This means something is about to start or is about to finish. If in doubt as to what exactly that might be, check the posted schedule. Remember, most activities are preceded or completed with the sound of wooden clappers /hand bell.

9.Sesshin Precautions

If at any time the procedure mystifies you, feel free to ask anyone who looks like they might know what they are doing. If they don't, hope that they will refer you to who ever else does. As the zendo is a silent area we recommend that you save your questions until after zazen is over. If it really cannot wait, leave the zendo during the fast kinhin (quick walk) and subtly grab the attention of one of the friendly monitors (because they're supposed to know what they are doing). Whisper your question away from public spaces so no one will hear you.

If you are still not sure what you are supposed to be doing or how to do it, simply imitate the crowd. This is an interesting technique that allows you to practice both your skills of attentiveness and awareness without appearing too stupid. (How you may feel about it is something else) But remember—anything you learn here is subject to change depending on who is telling it and when, so stay flexible!

Please don't be offended if the people on the retreat appear to be ignoring you. Sesshin etiquette requires everyone to remain silent, so they're only attempting to do just that. On sesshin, everyone remains silent ALL of the time. No need to fret, this silence is an awareness skill, not an anti-social skill! If you happen to get more involved with the Sangha and its activities, you may find that they are, after all, quite friendly.

As this is a chance to attempt to clear some of that excess clutter from your mind, we recommend to neither read nor write anything else for the remainder of the sesshin-unless instructed by the teacher to do so.

The schedule for the sesshin will be posted somewhere in the building. Be smart and anticipate getting to everything 2-3 minutes early--especially for Zazen, when 5 minutes is recommended. The head teacher will enter on the dot, and so you really need to be seated before they come in. Remember, if you hear the wooden clappers or han being hit, or the bell being rung, then you should be seriously considering making your way to something.

Dishwashing is a big part of the sesshin. If you are on dishes, the dish crew will be expecting you in the kitchen as soon as the meal is over...sorry, that coffee and cigarette will just have to wait! Remember it is not just dishes--the tenzo (cook) will love you forever if the floor, stove, sink, counters and dining room get cleaned too.

One small detail that they never seem to tell you is how to address the teacher during sesshin. Unless they ask otherwise, address them in the following ways. First is to call them by title only i.e. “Roshi” or “Sensei”. Second is to put their Dharma name first followed by their title. “Genpo Roshi” or “Tenkei Roshi” But not just by their first name! It's just a matter of etiquette.

If, for some reason, you need to leave the sesshin earlier than you planned, please let the Jisha know. You might even get one last chance in Dokusan or at least be able to wish the teacher goodbye. The teacher would appreciate it.

Whilst on retreat, you will be living in close quarters with many other people. One trick to help not get on one another's nerves is to practice moving around the building quietly, whether or not the sesshin is silent. So please avoid the following:

a) yelling to attract others attention or having loud conversations with friends two doors away.

b) taking showers after Lights Out or before Wake-Up time. If there is a limited number of showers, or if they occupy the same space as the toilets, then only take showers during scheduled breaks, avoiding showering before dawn Zazen, after evening zazen and 20 mins before and after each Zazen Period.

c) coughing & spluttering or blowing your nose with great gusto

d) clearing your throat each time you enter or leave a room

e) whistling, humming and singing to your-self

f) slamming doors and stomping around the hallways and staircases

basically anything that may cause undue attention directed towards oneself.

You may find it normal, and it probably is normal under most circumstances, but it might have your peers looking for your OFF button. And as part of the practice is to be aware of the effect we have on others, we may wish to take them into consideration!

And last but not least:

h) forgetting to use a deodorant or failing to take a shower at all.

Yes, it's true, traditionally there is no showering/bathing on sesshin. But that rule was created for another time and place...

Just imagine a hot sweltering summer day and sit 2 inches from or do slow Kinhin behind a fellow practitioner who has not stepped foot near a shower in a few days, let alone used any trace of deodorant what-so-ever. You will be sure as anything to notice it. Especially when trying to breathe long and deeply...

10.Final Notes and Other Points of Interest

During sesshin everyone from beginners to lay practitioners to monks all practice together. If you are at all curious, the formal attire worn by lay practitioners and monks in the zendo comes from Japan and is, for the most part, black.

So now you might ask yourself “which ones are lay practitioners and which ones are monks?” It is not of any great importance to know this but a rough description of their robes may help you distinguish one from the other. Until you are familiar with the outfits it will be very hard to tell.

Lay robes are the robes with the shorter sleeves-only one foot long and one foot wide. The length of these robes is similar to the monk's robe, except they are less full and have fewer pleats. The kimono underneath tends to hover above the ankles or sometimes creeps up toward the shins. This is not particularly correct, but it just seems to happen.

Monk robes are the robes with the humongous sleeves as long as a yardstick and just as deep and would easily drag on the floor if you'd let them. The kimono tends to hover just around the ankle or just below it. Monks will often, but not always, look as if they're half wrapped up in a black poly-cotton blanket with the right arm free. No it's not for keeping warm—it's actually called an Okesa and is the official clothing of the Buddha, diligently hand sewn by the monks themselves.

Lay and monk practitioners also wear something called a Rakasu. (Remember the “Rakusu bag”?) It looks like a black cloth “bib” worn around the neck, often with a white or wooden ring in it. It is another item of the Buddha's clothing in small-scale.

As all this will require further explanation, please quietly ask one of the instructors any other questions you may have related to this to topic at an appropriate time.

That's all for now, Folks!