Is this your first visit? Are you new to Zen? Welcome!
People of all experience levels and walks of life are welcome to come to the Temple for any of our practice periods. You do not have to be a member to participate in our programs.
When you arrive
Please try to arrive early (around 15 minutes) before the start of the meditation period, so that someone can greet you and give you a personal introduction to meditation practice. Whether you are new to Zen, or just new to the Temple, one of our resident teachers or practice leaders can explain basic forms before we go into silence, and answer any questions you may have.
Remove your shoes in the vestibule and place on the shelves there, then enter through the main door. The first doorway on the left is the parlor, where you may hang your coat in the closet. If someone hasn’t already greeted you, they will likely be along shortly.
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, but there are also blankets available to borrow.
If you walk past the parlor towards the mirror, on your left just beyond the stairs, you’ll see a door. That’s the first floor restroom. If the door is closed and your needs are urgent, someone can direct you to other available facilities in the building.
The zendo (the meditation room) is the room to the right after you enter the Temple through the front door; it is directly across the hall from the parlor. It is fine to do zazen on a chair — in fact that is a good way to begin. Some people use a seiza (a Japanese word that means “to sit down”) meditation bench, which allows you to kneel in comfort. You may also use a zafu (a word that literally means “cattail seat” in Japanese — a round stuffed cushion) and zabuton (“seat-cloth-sphere” in Japanese — a flat padded cushion. There are zafu and seiza to borrow in the foyer.
Whenever we enter or exit the zendo, we stop just inside the doorway, turn towards the altar at the far end of the room (it has a statue of Buddha, flowers, candle, etc. on it) and bow towards it with hands in gassho (palm-to-palm, often known as “prayer position”). Before taking a seat, whether in a chair or on a cushion, we also bow in gassho towards our seat, turn around, and bow to the community before sitting down. Additionally, before zazen begins, we return the bow from our seated position when someone bows in our general direction.
The liturgy book
Please treat this book with respect. Do not place it on the floor (unless you’re playing an instrument), but rather on your cushion, on an unoccupied seat next to you, or if you’re sitting in a chair, pass books down to someone who can place it on an empty chair or the stool at the end. Please also avoid stepping on or over the liturgy book.
It has been said that the basics of zazen consist of three things: sit down, shut up, pay attention.
For newcomers, we recommend sitting in a chair at first. We sit upright, not leaning back in the chair, with both feet on the floor. A cushion under your feet may help if the chair is too high for you. With three points of contact (your bottom and your two feet), you have a stable base, allowing you to sit with less effort. When you first sit down, if you rock a bit from side to side, and front to back, you’ll find a position where your weight settles, and your weight is supported by your naturally curved spine, and you’re expending as little energy as possible to hold your body up.
The hand position is to rest your left fingers on top of your right fingers, and the tips of your thumbs just touching each other, forming an oval. The person who greeted you can help you with this. Find a comfortable position to rest your hands in this position on your lap.
If you choose to sit on a flat cushion (zabuton) on the floor rather than in a chair, there are seat cushions (zafu) and kneeling (seiza) benches in the hallway. The person who greeted you can help you pick the appropriate equipment and help you get comfortable, but the key is still to have three points of contact with the floor: your bottom and your two knees. We also recommend to not cross your ankles, as this will be more likely to cut off circulation. Burmese or one of the lotus positions are preferred if you’re not sitting in seiza. Again, someone can demonstrate these for you.
When zazen begins, we sit in stillness. We do not scratch, stretch, yawn, fidget, etc. If you find yourself slouching, you can restore your posture. If you have to cough or sneeze, please do so into the inside of your elbow, as a courtesy to those around you. Other than for physical or medical emergencies, we do not move or leave the zendo.
In between zazen periods, there are brief periods of walking meditation (kinhin). This is a good time to get a drink of water from the kitchen, to use the restroom, to get/return a blanket, or to change seating positions.
While meditating, you will not be able to turn your mind off. (If you actually manage this, we’ll probably have to call 9-1-1 while someone runs for the defibrillator, so please don’t. There’s a lot of paperwork to be done afterward.) Thoughts will come. Notice them, but try not to follow them “down the mind road” too far. Let them go. That itch in the tip of your nose? It will go away, even if you don’t scratch it. Just be present in the moment, not trying to force yourself to do anything (which includes not trying to force yourself not to do things!). It may help to focus on your slow exhales, or even counting them. But only count to 10, and then restart at 1.
There’s a page detailing our practice forms, details of which aren’t covered here, but if you pay attention to what the teachers and more experienced members do, you can pick many of those up on your own.
Don’t sweat it. You may feel confused or lost at times. You may feel like you’re making mistakes. But as you walk down this path, whether for an hour, for a lifetime, or anywhere in between, you will be surrounded by loving kindness and people who will help and guide you.