Guidelines for Practice Forms and Rituals at Boundless Way Zen
Here are some guidelines for forms and rituals we have developed at Boundless Way Zen to contain, unify, and express our practice. Boundless Way Zen is a combination of many Zen lineages, primarily Japanese Soto, Korean Rinzai, and a combination of Japanese Soto with Japanese Rinzai elements. Our forms and rituals are influenced by the various places our guiding teachers have trained. You won't find these precise forms anywhere else in the world, but many of them would be recognizable in any Zen practice setting.
Entering and Leaving the Zendo
When we enter the zendo (meditation hall), we pause at the door and bow with hands in gassho to the Buddha alter. Gassho position is hands palm to palm and fingers together. We bow from the waist. We then go to our places and bow to our cushions or chair. Then we turn and bow to community before sitting down.
Before zazen begins, others sitting facing us and on either side return our bows. Once the zazen period begins, we no longer bow to those who enter late, but stay in our zazen posture.
Sitting Meditation (Zazen)
Zazen begins with the sound of the clappers and then three bells. From the moment we take our seats until the sound of the third bell fades, we can move to adjust our posture. After that, we sit in stillness.
During zazen, we sit in an upright and dignified posture with eyes slightly open and unfocused down on a spot on the floor or wall in front of us. Whether we sit on a chair, a cushion, or a kneeling bench (seiza), we create a three-pointed foundation with our bodies. On a chair, both feet are flat and the third point is our buttocks on the chair bottom. We don't lean back in the chair, but sit gently upright. On a cushion or bench, our knees are on the rectangular floor mat (zabuton) and our buttocks are on the edge of the cushion or are supported by the seize bench. Our hands form the zazen mudra - left hand resting palm upward on top of the right hand with the thumbs forming an oval shape, the tips of the thumbs lightly touching.
We can adapt any of these postures to fit the needs of our bodies, including adjusting hand positions or adding extra cushions to support the knees or for the back against a chair.
During zazen we maintain stillness. We don't move, yawn, sigh, stretch, or look around. We do not leave the zendo unless there is a physical emergency. If we find ourselves slumping or falling asleep, we can readjust our posture to sit up straight. If we cough or sneeze involuntarily, we lift our elbow, or a tissue to cover our nose and mouth.
During chanting, if we know the chant we leave the liturgy book at our sides on the zabuton cushion. If we don't know the chant, we hold the book in front of us so that our posture stays upright without lowering our heads to look down. The hand position for holding the liturgy book is indicated by a symbol at the beginning of each chant for either gassho (palms together) or hands open.
Walking Meditation (Kinhin)
When the zazen period ends with the sound of two bells, we bow and then come to standing. At the sound of the clappers, we bow again and line up behind the practice leader for kinhin (walking meditation). At the next sound the clappers, we bow again and bring our hands into the kinhin position (shashu) with the left hand held in a gentle fist at the lower ribs and the right hand covering it lightly. We then walk in step with the person in front of us staying about a forearm's length behind. When the clappers sound gain we bring our hands into gassho and, staying in line, walk quickly until we reach our places. At the next clap of the clappers we bow to each other and then turn (in the direction of the altar) and bow to our seats before sitting for the next period of zazen.
Bowing in Full Prostration
At the end of the final chant of our practice period, we come to standing and face the altar to do bows toward the Buddha. We have the option of doing standing bows or full prostrations.
To begin a full prostration, we bow in gassho and then, without moving our feet, come down to our knees. Our forehead and forearms are brought to the floor with hands resting palm up. Then we lift our arms from the elbows so that the hands rise up and then lower. We come back to standing with our hands in gassho.
Be gentle with Yourself
These Boundless Way Zen practice forms and rituals are guidelines, not rigid rules. Please take you time to learn them and don't worry about making mistakes as you learn. Feel free to ask teachers and practice leaders for help to understand or learn any of these forms. Remember that Zen practice is not about right and wrong, but about learning the true meaning of being human.