Practice Periods Every Friday Evening 6-7pm and Saturday Morning 7-8am
People of all experience levels and walks of life are welcome to come to the Snow Mountain Zen (SMZ) for any of our practice periods. You do not have to be a member to participate in our programs.
What to wear
It’s recommended to wear loose, comfortable clothing. Anything that’s too restrictive could become uncomfortable or distracting to you. Please also keep in mind the other people who will be sitting with you, and avoid wearing anything that could be overly distracting to them, as well (including strong fragrances). In cooler weather, a light sweater or similar garment could be helpful if the zendo is chilly.
When you arrive
Please try to arrive early (around 10 minutes) before the start of the meditation period, so that you can pick a zafu (meditation cushion) or chair and settle in before the practice period begins. If you are new to Zen, we recommend you arrive 15 minutes prior to your first practice so that the practice leader can explain basic forms and answer any questions you may have before we go into silence.
Zendo Etiquette and Forms*
Entering and Leaving the Zendo
When we enter the zendo (meditation hall), we pause at the door and bow from the waist, with hands in gassho towards the Buddha altar. We then go to our places, and bow to our cushions or chairs. Then we turn and bow to the community, even if no one else is in the zendo. Before zazen begins, others 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.
Zazen (Sitting Meditation)
Zazen begins with the sound of clappers, and then three bells. From the moment we take our seat 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 (zafu), 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 of balance is our buttocks. We don’t lean back in the chair, but sit gently upright. On a cushion or bench, our knees are on the mat (zabuton) and our buttocks are on the edge of the zafu, or supported by the seiza 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 do not yawn, sigh, itch, 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 re-adjust our posture to sit up straight. If we cough or sneeze involuntarily, we lift our elbow, or a tissue or handkerchief, to cover our nose and mouth.
During chanting, we chant with our whole bodies, joining our voices together with energy. If we know the chant, we leave the liturgy books at our sides, on our cushions. (Only people playing instruments can place their books on the floor.) If we do not know the chant, we hold the book in front of us, so that our posture stays upright, without bowing our heads to look down. We use two hand positions for chanting, either the zazen mudra indicated by a symbol resembling two open hands at the beginning of the chant, or gassho. If we are holding our books for a chant that uses gassho, we hold our hands palm-to-palm and support the book with our thumbs. If the chant has the other symbol, we make a bookshelf with our hands, with the thumbs and little fingers facing us, and the three other fingers facing away from us.
Kinhin (Walking Meditation)
When the zazen period ends with the sound of two bells, we bow and come to standing. Then, at the sound of the clappers, we bow again and line up behind the practice leader with our hands in gassho. At the next sound of the clappers, we bow again, and bring our hands into the kinhin position (shashu), in which one hand is held in a gentle fist in front of the stomach, with the other hand covering it lightly. The head is upright with the eyes down. We then walk in step with the person in front of us, staying about a forearm’s length behind them. When they step left, we step left. When they step right, we step right. If a gap arises between us and the person in front of us, we close the gap by taking a few extra steps. When the clappers sound again, we bring our hands into gassho and, staying in line, walk quickly until we reach our places. At the next set of clappers we bow to each other and then bow to our seats. During kinhin, we may go to the bathroom. When we exit the line, we make a small bow as we leave. When we return, we join the end of the line. If we return after the final clappers that end kinhin, we wait at the door until everyone has reached their place, and then bow with everyone from the doorway.
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 touch the floor, with hands resting palm up. Then we lift our arms from the elbows, so that our hands rise up and then lower. We then come back to standing with our hands in gassho.
Dharma Talk and Dharma Dialogue
Snow Mountain Zen offers a dharma talk the first Saturday of the month. During a dharma talk we maintain our practice of zazen such as observing the breath. The words of the dharma talk will fill the zendo and resonant or not with us as we practice. After the talk, we are encouraged to ask questions about the talk or practice.
Be Gentle with Yourself
These practice forms are guidelines, not rigid rules. Please take your time to learn them, and always feel free to ask the practice leader for help to understand or model any of the forms. Remember that Zen practice is not about right and wrong, but about learning the true meaning of being human.
*Original Text retrieved from Boundless Way Temple website and modified to fit Snow Mountain Zen