A two-hour block of practice will consist of three periods of sitting, with two periods of walking meditation in between. On Saturdays, there is usually a dharma talk in the second period and the opportunity for an interview with the teacher.
Be silent and sit as still as possible in the zendo. Once the sitting has begun after the third strike of the gong, do not move in any way. That means no changing of your posture, scratching of itches, nose blowing or going to the bathroom (all of which you can do during the breaks in between the three blocks). If you cannot avoid either one of those, make a seated bow on your cushion, do what you have to do, and proceed sitting still. Because in ordinary life we avoid many varieties of discomfort; we try to expand our ability to tolerate discomfort by practicing to sit still in the midst of our experience, attending to the forms it takes as well as to our reactions and resistances to experiencing it.
Bowing expresses our gratitude for this opportunity to practice, for the support that the group offers each one of us, and most fundamentally, for the teaching offered each moment by life just as it is. Please offer three standing bows (palms together with the tips of the fingers on line with the tip of your nose, bending at the waist 45 degrees) as follows: 1. on first entering the doorway to zendo 2. facing your cushion (zafu) at the beginning of the sitting period 3. to the person (or empty zafu) directly opposite you in the zendo.
Please enter the zendo when the leader begins striking the Han and settle into your posture shortly before the beginning of each sitting period. The leader will end the period with two rings of the gong. After the second ring, place your palms together (called "gassho") and make a seated bow before getting up.
At the end of a sitting period, stand in front of your cushion with your hands in gassho. At the sound of the clappers, bow to the person opposite you, and turn right (keeping hands in gassho). When the clappers sound again, fold you hands (right over left) together over your belly ("shashu") and begin slow walking meditation (kinhin). You can leave the line at this point to use the bathroom. When you return to the zendo, stand at the doorway with your hands in gassho while the kinhin line passes until you can re-enter the line at your original position.
During kinhin we practice maintaining our attention in activity as well as stillness. At the beginning of the walking period, take one small step with each inhalation and each exhalation. When the clappers sound again, bow (keeping your hands folded in the shashu position) and beginning walking at a normal pace, keeping close to the person in front of you. When the clappers sound for the last time, put your hands in gassho and continue walking until the kinhin line passes your zafu. Stand at your seat with your hands now in gassho until the bell sounds, then bow and resume sitting practice. Face the wall for the first and third periods; face the center during the second period, during which there may be a brief Dharma (teaching) talk. Continue your regular sitting practice during the talk, keep your eyes half closed, focusing on the floor in front of you.
The chant leader will signal the beginning of the Dharma talk by striking the hand bell three times (one ring, a muted rind, a third ring), and then, hands in gassho, all recite:
This Dharma, incomparably profound
and minutely subtle,
is rarely encountered
even in hundreds of thousands of millions of ages.
Now we can see it, Hear it, hold and maintain it.
May we completely realize
the Tathagata's true meaning.
At the end of the third sitting period, instead of the usual two rings of the gong, there will be one ring, followed by a muted ring, followed by a third ring. We then chant together the Fours Vows: with hands in gassho: (chanted three times)
Caught in a self-centered dream
Holding to self-centered thoughts
Exactly the dream
Each moment, life as it is, the only teacher
Being just this moment, Compassion's way.
The bell will ring two times and we stand, hands in gassho, for three full bows. The leader will ring the hand bell three times, followed by a run of rings, and then a fourth ring, at which we do the first full bow. At the end of the bow, we are once again standing, hands in gassho, awaiting the next bow. A single ring signals the second and third full bow. As we are completing the third bow, the bell will ring twice more, and on the third ring, we turn and do a standing bow, hands in gassho, towards the altar. The bell then rings one final time and we bow, hands in shashu to the person standing opposite. We then straighten our cushions, and then resume standing in front of them, hands in gassho. We make one final standing bow, and the teacher exits the zendo first. All then exit, informally, hands in shashu.
We strive to follow these procedures to the very best of our ability. Sitting may mean facing pain, inner conflicts, emptiness, and simple boredom. These rules themselves may give rise to resentment, fear of making mistakes, or pride at following rules perfectly. Our practice consists of watching all these reactions as they arise, physically, as they manifest in the tensions of our body, and mentally as the expectations we all have of how we want each moment of our life to go. The zendo is a place to practice fully living your life just as it is.