Participation and Membership
All regularly scheduled activities are open to anyone who wishes to participate.
If you would like to become a member of the AZG, please complete a membership form. Memberships are renewed annually; there is no fee. The AZG depends on the generous donations and regular pledges of participants and members for its continued support.
The AZG has an extensive lending library of books, audio tapes, and other materials on Buddhism, Zen and related topics, which are housed at Rin Shin-ji and may be checked out for use by members.
The AZG Board of Directors is elected each January by the membership.
Take your shoes off before entering the zendo.
Arrive at least five minutes before zazen, or sitting meditation, begins. Avoid entering during periods of zazen. If arriving late, it is best to wait and enter during the kinhin (walking meditation) period.
Be as quiet as possible upon entering the Zendo and during meditation periods.
Bow in gassho, hands held with palms together, at the threshold when entering the meditation hall and proceed to an available seat (zafu, zabuton, bench, or chair). Additional cushions may be obtained by the door.
Before sitting down for zazen, stand facing your seat, bow toward it in gassho, then turn and bow toward the center of the meditation hall. Be seated facing the wall and assume your zazen posture.
The meditation bell is struck THREE times to mark the beginning of each period of zazen. It is struck TWICE to indicate the end of a period being followed by kinhin, and ONCE at the end of the last period of zazen.
After the meditation bell rings TWICE ending the first period of zazen, bow in gassho while seated. Move off the zafu and zabuton. Clean off any lint from the zabuton and plump and arrange your zafu in the center of the zabuton. Stand in gassho and bow toward your seat, then turn to face the center of the room and bow in unison with the Sangha. Circle to the left and form a line behind the kinhin leader, who is holding the wooden clappers. Hold your hands in the shashu mudra. That is, with the left hand in a fist curled around the left thumb, right hand curled around left with right thumb on top.
The leader announces, "Continuing our meditation we walk coordinating our breath and steps, taking a half step on each exhalation. Begin on the left foot at the sound of the clappers." ONE clap begins kinhin and TWO ends it. At the sound of the two claps ending kinhin, stop, place your feet together, bow in gassho with the group, and return at a normal walking pace to your meditation seat.
At the end of the last sit of zazen, a single 'clunk' of the bell will sound to begin the Robe Chant:
Dai zai ge da pu ku
If you need to use the restroom or to depart, do it during kinhin. When you return during kinhin, wait for a space in the line or until the end of the line; bow, and re-enter. Those in kinhin do not stop when someone re-enters.
Sunday Morning Services
Each Sunday a brief service is held after the last period of meditation. The service begins with nine full bows (from a standing position with hands in gassho, kneel toward the altar, touch your forehead to the floor, hands palms up on the floor at the level of your head, then gently raise and lower your hands). After the last bow, the Sangha is seated and a sutra is chanted, according to the following schedule:
. First Sunday of the month: Heart Sutra
The kokyo (chant leader) begins by chanting the name of the sutra, then all join in and chant together. Upon completion of the sutra, the kokyo intones a dedication, after which the following is chanted by all:
At the conclusion of this dharani, the group stands and performs three full bows, followed by two standing bows in gassho: the first is toward the altar; the second done after turning to face each other. This ends the service.
After the service on Sunday mornings, the group forms a circle with the zabutons and the activities continue. Although not obliged, anyone may participate in the ensuing reading and discussion. Feel free to share your thoughts and feelings about the reading or discussion. Offer your insights and experience.
After announcements at the end of the discussion, the group will bow together in gassho to end the Sunday activities. We welcome your help in putting away the zafus, zabutons, and chairs, and cleaning up the hall. This activity may provide you with an opportunity to meet members of the Sangha. All are welcome to an informal gathering immediately following cleanup.
Immediately before a Dharma talk is given, the Sangha chants the following verse:
An unsurpassed, penetrating, and perfect Dharma
At the close of the Dharma talk, and ensuing question and answer period, the Sangha chants the Four Great Vows:
Maylie Scott ~ Founding Abbess, Rin Shin-ji
March 29, 1935 ~ May 10, 2001
GREAT WISDOM BEYOND WISDOM HEART SUTRA
"Oh Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness
Oh Shariputra, all Dharmas are marked with emptiness;
Therefore in emptiness, no form,
With nothing to attain a bodhisattva depends on prajna paramita
Therefore know the prajna paramita,
MAKA HANNYA HARAMITTA SHIN GYO
Kan ji zai bo satsu gyo jin hannya ha ra mitta
Chant Leader alone:
HAKUIN ZENJI'S SONG OF ZAZEN
All beings by nature are Buddha, as ice by nature is water;
This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise,
Let one be strenuous, upright and sincere,
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over and
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down, during all one's
Not holding to fixed views, abandoning vague discussions,
SANDOKAI: THE IDENTITY OF RELATIVE AND ABSOLUTE
The mind of the Great Sage of India
ENMEI JUKKO KANNON GYO
Kan ze on
I want to talk about zazen or zen meditation. The first part of the word, za, means sitting and the second part of the word, zen, is from the Chinese word "Ch'an" which is from the Sanskrit word "dhyana" which means concentration. So zazen literally means sitting concentration. It is recommended that you begin zazen practice by first being aware of your posture. After you are able to maintain mindfulness of posture fairly well, you can begin mindful awareness of your breath.
Zazen can be done sitting cross-legged on a cushion, sitting in a chair, or lying down while paying attention to most of the same points of posture. If you are sitting cross-legged on a cushion, please experiment with where you place yourself on the cushion. Many people sit close to the edge of the cushion. Only your spine needs to be supported by the cushion, not your legs. I also recommend trying out different heights of cushions. Sit on a thin cushion; sit on a thick cushion; try sitting on two cushions. Experiment and see how different heights work with your posture.
Cross-legged sitting is considered a stable way to sit because there are three points of support, your two knees and your sitting bones. If you are sitting on a cushion your knees should be supported. If they don't touch the floor, it will be hard to have the strength you need in your lower back. So place a cushion under your knee or knees if they are not touching the floor so they won't be dangling. If you are sitting cross-legged, alternate which leg is on top. Even if your less-flexible side feels pretty awkward, alternate your legs. If you don't your body will become asymmetrical over the years.
Many people who find that sitting cross-legged doesn't work for them, sit Japanese style or seiza by kneeling with their knees together and tucking their feet underneath them. Using a cushion or a small wooden bench takes the weight off the feet. If you are sitting on a chair, your feet should be flat on the floor. If you have a physical difficulty that won't allow you to sit, you can practice zazen lying down. When you do, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the surface. This allows your lower back to come into line with the upper back. This is all preliminary to taking zazen posture. Find a position that you can be in for a while relatively still.
Two characteristics of zazen are energy and being relaxed. There should be energy in zazen and some effort, but not too much effort. If there is too much effort, you will become tense, your zazen practice will be a strain. While sitting, you should be relaxed but awake. If you become too relaxed you will day dream or fall asleep.
In Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, Suzuki-Roshi said, "The most important thing in taking the zazen posture is to keep your spine straight." So whether you are lying down, sitting in a chair, or sitting on a cushion, try to keep a straight back. Push in a little at the back of your waist, or arch your back a little, but just a little. You do not want to be sway-backed, and when you push in at the waist if your back gets sore, that's too much pushing. Your spine should be straight all the way up through the top of your head, and your head should be parallel to the ceiling or if you like, parallel to the sky.
Notice Posture and State of Mind
I would like to mention two of the ways we can work with our posture. One is to bring your attention to your posture, or your spine, throughout the period of zazen, and readjust it, so you are noticing your back over and over again and continually readjusting it if it is not straight. Another way is to bring your attention to your posture and note your position: is your back crooked or curved, straight or leaning. Notice what your state of mind is, how you are breathing - whatever position you find your back in, notice it and see how it affects this moment.
Relax your shoulders and place your ears over your shoulders. We sit with our eyes open, and we face the wall. To do zazen with your eyes open means that they shouldn't be wide open and they shouldn't be closed, but somewhere in between. You shouldn't be staring at anything or even have your eyes focused. Your eyes should be opened enough to allow light in. Look downward so your gaze comes to the floor about two or three feet in front of you. When gazing downward, keep your face straight ahead so that if your eyes were wide open you would be looking straight ahead. Only your gaze is cast downward, not your head.
Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and hold your teeth together without grinding them or holding your jaw tightly. Pull your chin straight in so that you are facing straight ahead with the top of your head parallel to the ceiling. If your chin is tilted downward, you can easily become dreamy or drowsy. If your chin is drifting upward, you tend to start thinking and getting kind of "out there." The chin need only be pulled in slightly: it is almost more an attitude than a physical action.
Usually at this point, if we are sitting on a cushion, we rock back and forth from side to side to find the center of our posture. This is to help us keep from leaning to the left or right or forward or backward. We start by rocking from side to side in smaller and smaller arcs until we rest upright.
The next point is the position of our hands, called the mudra. We place our hands, one on top of the other, with the palms facing upward. Fingers should overlap and thumb tips come together forming a circular shape. The edge of the hands should be held against the abdomen with the thumbs at the navel. The thumb tips should remain in contact, touching with enough pressure to support a single sheet of paper. If you become sleepy or dreamy, the thumbs tend to drift away from each other. If you are agitated or putting too much effort or tension into your zazen your thumbs tend to push against each other making a "peak." So you may want to return your attention to your thumbs from time to time throughout the period of zazen.
This is a description of an ideal zazen posture. But we have to start with the body we have, the body we are. We have no choice. By placing our attention in the minute details of our physical posture, we get to know our body, where we have tension, where we are crooked, where we are holding, where we are at ease. We can know our limitations, we can own our body. These points of posture can be a way of engaging our practice, a way of entering the path.
In terminating a period of seated meditation do not rise abruptly, but begin by rocking from side to side, first in small swings, then in large ones, for about half a dozen times. You will observe that your movements in this exercise are the reverse of those you engage in when you begin zazen. Seated meditation is often followed by a period of walking meditation called kinhin.
KINHIN: WALKING MEDITATION*
Kinhin is performed with the hands in the shashu mudra. Walk closely behind the person immediately in front of you in the kinhin line. The walking starts as the kinhin leader sounds the clapper; the entire group begins on the left foot.
Kinhin is zazen in motion. Concentration on the relationship between the breath and body should be maintained. Even though this walking relieves the stiffness in your legs, such exercise is to be regarded as a mere by-product and not the main object of kinhin.
ON PRACTICE: BREATHING
When we practice zazen our mind always follows our breathing. When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. We say "inner world" or "outer world," but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, "I breathe," the "I" is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call "I" is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves: that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing, no "I," no world, no mind nor body: just a swinging door.
So when we practice zazen, all that exists is the movement of the breathing, but we are aware of this movement. You should not be absent-minded. But to be aware of the movement does not mean to be aware of your small self, but rather of your universal nature, or Buddha nature. This kind of awareness is very important, because we are usually so one-sided. Our usual understanding of life is dualistic; you and I, this and that, good and bad. But actually these discriminations are themselves the awareness of the universal existence. "You" means to be aware of the universe in the form of you, and "I" means to be aware of it in the form of “I.” You and I are just swinging doors. This kind of understanding is necessary. This should not even be called understanding: it is actually the true experience of life through Zen practice.
Time and Space are One
So when you practice zazen, there is no idea of time or space. You may say, "We started sitting at a quarter to six in this room." Thus you have some idea of time (at quarter to six) and some idea of space (in this room). Actually what you are doing, however, is just sitting and being aware of the universal activity. That is all. This moment the swinging door is open in one direction, and the next moment the swinging door will be opening in the opposite direction. Moment after moment each of us repeats this activity. Here there is no idea of time or space. Time and space are one. You may say, "I must do something this afternoon," but actually there is no "this afternoon." We do things one after the other. That is all. There is no such time as "this afternoon" or "one o'clock" or "two o'clock." At one o'clock you will eat your lunch. To eat lunch is itself one o'clock. You will be somewhere, but that place cannot be separated from one o'clock. For someone who actually appreciates our life, they are the same. But when we become tired of our life we must say, "I shouldn't have come to this place. It may have been much better to have gone to some other place for lunch. This place is not so good." In your mind you create an idea of place separate from an actual time.
Or you may say, "This is bad, so I should not do this." Actually, when you say, "I should not do this," you are doing not-doing in that moment. So there is no choice for you. When you separate the idea of time and space, you feel as if you have some choice, but actually, you have to do something or you have to do not-doing. Not-to-do something is doing something. Good and bad are only in your mind. So we should not say, "This is good," or "This is bad." Instead of saying bad, you should say, "not-to-do"! If you think "This is bad," it will create some confusion for you. So in the realm of pure religion there is no confusion of time and space, or good or bad. All that we should do is just do something as it comes. Do something! Whatever it is, we should do it, even if it is not-doing something. We should live in this moment. So when we sit we concentrate on our breathing and we become a swinging door, and we do something we should do, something we must do. This is zen practice. In this practice there is no confusion. If you establish this kind of life you have no confusion whatsoever.
Dependent and Independent
Tozan, a famous Zen master, said, "The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain." This is a pure, clear interpretation of life. There may be many things like the white cloud and blue mountain: man and woman, teacher and disciple. They depend on each other. But the white cloud should not be bothered by the blue mountain. The blue mountain should not be bothered by the white cloud. They are quite independent, but yet dependent. This is how we live, and how we practice zazen.
When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door, and we are purely independent of and at the same time, dependent on everything. Without air, we cannot breathe. Each of us is in the midst of myriads of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment after moment. So we are completely dependent and independent. If you have this kind of experience, this kind of existence, you have absolute independence: you will not be bothered by anything. So when you practice zazen, your mind should be concentrated on your breathing. This kind of activity is the fundamental activity of the universal being. Without this experience, this practice, it is impossible to attain absolute freedom.
GENJO KOAN: ACTUALIZING THE FUNDAMENTAL POINT
Translated by Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi Revised at San FranciscoZenCenter. Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) was among the first to transmit Zen Buddhism from China to Japan. He is recognized by many as the founder of the Soto school.
Zen Buddhism has emerged in a historical process involving India, China, Korea, and Japan. The words that are used to describe
elements and practices of Zen reflect this genesis. Here are a few terms that have been used in this handbook. Other than the
exceptions noted, most terms are Japanese.
Dharani: [Sanskrit] Literally "holder;" short sutras that contain formulas of knowledge comprised of syllables with a symbolic content such as mantras. They can convey the essence of a teaching in a particular state of mind that is created by repetition of the dharani. They are generally longer than mantras.
Doan: Bell ringer
Gassho: Literally means "palms of the hands placed together." In Zen, used as an expression of the ancient gesture of greeting, request, gratitude, veneration, or supplication common in many cultures. In this gesture of "palms of the hands placed together," a state of mind is spontaneously manifested that suggests the unity of the antithetical forces of the phenomenal world.
Jisha: Priest's attendant
Kokyo: Chant leader
Sangha: [Sanskrit] Literally, "crowd, host;" the Buddhist community. In a narrower sense, the sangha consists of monks, nuns, and novices. In a wider sense the sangha includes all of the lay followers of Buddhism.
Shashu: Hand mudra for kinhin. Left hand: the thumb is held in the palm of wrapped fingers. Right hand wraps around the left fist and both are held against the sternum.
Zabuton: Literally a "sitting mat;" a mat usually filled with kapok covered with a dark fabric on which zazen is practiced.
Zafu: Literally a "sitting cushion;" a round, firmly stuffed cushion covered with dark fabric that is used for zazen.
Zendo: Literally "zen hall;" the room in which zazen is practiced.