Practicing Together

Zendo Procedures When we enter the zendo, we always do a standing bow with hands in gassho: Palms together, fingers straight, fingertips roughly a fist’s distance away from the nose. After your bow, place your hands in shashu: Left hand in a fist around the thumb; right hand covering the left with fingers extended; hands placed against the upper abdomen.

Your hands should remain in shashu while you are in the zendo, never in your pockets or hanging at your side. Keep your eyes lowered. Walk softly and stay close to the edge of the sitting-mats. Avoid crossing through the middle of the room. There should be no talking or looking around in the zendo. However, please do pay attention and see how and what to do if you are in doubt.

The Jikido (time keeper), or the monitor in charge of the zendo, determines whether the doors are to be opened or closed, the appropriate lighting, and the temperature in the zendo. Place your zafu (meditation cushion) on the zabuton (black sitting mat), then do a standing bow toward your seat, with hands in gassho. With hands still in gassho, turn and do a standing bow away from your seat. Stand in shashu, facing out, until service begins.

Service The service begins with the entry of the Officiant, who offers incense at the altar. When the Officiant arrives at the haishiki (the bowing mat at the center of the room), the Doan (bell ringer) begins the fudosampai (a run on the inkin bell) to signal the three bows. If you are able, these should be three full bows. If you cannot do full bows, it is perfectly okay to do standing bows.

At the end of the round on the inkin (small bell) there is one hit on the inkin (one ching) at the beginning of each of the three bows. On the final bow there is a second ching, as the knees come to the floor. When standing after this final bow there is a short “finishing” bow, with hands in gassho.

After the three bows, the Dennan (altar attendant) passes out the sutra books. The Chanter announces the name of the sutra to be chanted. After the sutra, the Chanter recites a dedication. At the words “We dedicate its merits to” we make a standing bow in gassho, and holding the bow until the end of the dedication.

As part of the service the Officiant reads the sick list, beginning with the words “We pray for the health and well-being of...” The Chanter will say “And to...” as an invitation to speak the names of others you wish to add to the list. At the end of the service the Dennan collects the sutra books and the Doan begins the fudosampai to signal another three full bows.

Zazen: First Period After the three bows the Jikido announces preparation for zazen (seated meditation). Do a standing bow toward your seat, with hands in gassho. With hands still in gassho, turn and do a standing bow away from your seat.

Back up and sit on your cushion. When everyone is seated, the Jikido strikes the bell three times to signal the beginning of the first sitting period.

In most zendos, it is improper to enter the zendo after the bell signaling the beginning of the period has sounded. If you arrive late to Crows End, however, you may enter the zendo if you wish. Please make as little noise as possible.

The first period ends with two bells, signaling the transition to kinhin (walking meditation). At the second bell, make a sitting bow in gassho. Make a smooth, slow transition from seated zazen to standing. If your foot is asleep, take the time necessary to revive it before standing up. Straighten and fluff-up your zafu and bow toward your seat. Turn and stand in gassho, facing out.


Kinhin The Jikido hits the wooden clappers once to begin kinhin (walking meditation). Do a standing bow, then turn to your left with hands still in gassho. A second hit on the clappers signals the beginning of slow kinhin. Place your hands in shashu and begin to walk, slowly, starting with your left foot. Take about one step with each full breath.

The Jikido strikes the bell to signal the beginning of fast kinhin. At this point you may leave the line to go to the bathroom or depart if you need to leave early. The clappers are hit to signal the end of kinhin. Place your hands together in gassho and continue walking to your seat. Stop in front of your seat, bow toward your seat, then turn and face the aisle, still in gassho.


Zazen: Second Period The Jikido strikes the bell once to signal that it is time to sit. Do a standing bow in gassho, sit down, and prepare for the next zazen period. If you’ve arrived late and remained outside, you may enter the zendo at this time.

The Doan signals the end of the second zazen period with one long and one short strike on the kesu (large bell). This signals the chanting of The Four Bodhisattva Vows.


The Four Bodhisattva Vows Remain seated, place your hands in gassho, and chant:

Numberless beings,

I vow to serve them.

Inexhaustible delusions,

I vow to end them.

Boundless dharmas,

I vow to practice them.

Unsurpassable Buddha Way,

I vow to embody it. (x3)


After the third repetition, make a seated bow. After the Four Vows, the Doan strikes the inkin (meditation bell) twice to signal us to come to standing. The Doan begins the fudosampai (a run on the inkin bell to signal we will all bow). Move your zafu (cushion) to one side and come to standing on your zabuton (mat), with hands in gassho.

At the end of the round there is one hit on the inkin (one ching) at the beginning of each of the three bows. On the final bow there is a second ching, as the knees come to the floor. When standing after this final bow there is a short “finishing” bow, with hands in gassho.


The Evening Verse After the final bow, the evening verse is recited. This is a call and response chant:

[Leader] Let me respectfully remind you:

[All] Life and death are of supreme importance.

Time swiftly passes by,

And opportunity is lost.

Each of us should strive to awaken.

Awaken! Take heed! Do not squander your life!


The Final Four Bells Then there will then be four more hits on the inkin. These are done as if Roshi Egyoku, or another officiant, were in our midst:

First ching · we do not bow; this is for the officiant, who makes a bow to the altar from the top of the haisihiki (the brown mat)

Second ching · standing bow to the officiant, hands in shashu; the officiant bows back

Third ching · standing bow to the altar, hands in gassho

Fourth ching · standing bow, hands in shashu

Note that the last two chings are normally done in tandem with the officiant’s Jisha (attendant), who also is carrying an inkin, as the officiant exits the zendo. The Jisha’s hits on the inkin are signals to the Doan.


And that’s it. Not to worry, this will all become clear as we practice together.