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Thread: Sitting with a bit of ceremony

  1. #1

    Sitting with a bit of ceremony

    Over the last week or two I have been trying to be a bit more formal in some of my daily zazen sessions. In the past (some years ago) I was very resistant to the ceremony side of things but I have come to see how various forms are a help along the way, although I don't always like them. Encountering and dropping mental resistance is good practice. I doubt I'll ever learn more than a few of the detailed forms that Dogen wrote about, but I'd like to know some of the basics out of respect.

    Trouble is I've never been to a brick-and-mortar zendo to watch what happens. I've tried to use our weekly zazenkai and Jundo's videos as a guide, but it's hard to see what's going on my phone's screen. I'm coming two years here and I'm still following along like a lost child every zazenkai.

    I think I understand how to do the basic elements (gassho, putting on robes, etc.) separately, but I don't get how to put them together. I assume that the general order of things goes something like this:



    1. Gassho, enter meditation room

    2. Walk to front of shrine, gassho

    3. Prostrations?

    4. Put on Kesa/Rakusu (I keep it on my cushion, might need to store it elsewhere so I start with this step)

    5. Light candles/incense

    6. Gassho

    7. Chant heart sutra? Do we usually sit or stand when chanting? I've been wondering which is the norm ever since I joined but have yet to figure it out.

    8. Bow in gassho? prostrations?

    9. Go to seat (my space just enough room to sit or stand, so not much walking to do)

    10. Bow towards sitting space, bow towards room, sit down

    11. Adjust robe/clothing, settle down into zazen posture

    12. Sit for set time

    13. Gassho, 4 vows

    14. Turn around, stand up, squeeze zafu, bow towards zafu and room

    14. Put out candle

    15. Boogie on out

    16. Maintain practice throughout day and life

    If anyone can help get that list straitened out I would be very grateful. All of the ceremony is certainly not necessary - most days I just plop down and sit however I am - but I'd like to learn how to do the forms and not just muddle through our zazenkais.

    Gassho

    Nanrin

    Sat today

  2. #2
    Hi Nanrin,

    A little ritual and formality can help someone realize that this is a sacred moment in a special place. Of course, all of life is always a sacred moment in endless special places, but there is something about putting on a robe, lighting a candle and such that is a "re-MINDer" to be present in this moment, somehow stepping away from all our distractions and thinking during our ordinary day (although, of course, the "ordinary day" is also sacred and special when we see it as such).

    As to entering the room, walking through the Zen room and sitting, see if this video helps ...

    Sit-a-Long with Jundo: Zazen for Beginners (12)
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...nners-%2812%29

    There is no particular sequence for lighting the candles and incense at the altar so, after entering, just approach the altar respectfully, Gassho, light the candle, then the incense, Gassho again, then go to one's sitting place.

    You can place on your Rakusu before coming into the room or once seated, just before commencing Zazen. This is the basic Chant and Procedure ...



    Let us know if something is still unclear.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    A little ritual and formality can help someone realize that this is a sacred moment in a special place. Of course, all of life is always a sacred moment in endless special places, but there is something about putting on a robe, lighting a candle and such that is a "re-MINDer" to be present in this moment, somehow stepping away from all our distractions and thinking during our ordinary day (although, of course, the "ordinary day" is also sacred and special when we see it as such).
    I strongly agree. I've found that the ritual helps clarify the sacredness of everything. It's not that the robes and incense are sacred and everyday life is not, rather those things help me see the sacredness of everyday life.

    Hmm. Those two videos are part of what I watched before asking my questions. I've also re-watched your explanation of when to bow here -https://youtu.be/GR6POpsXh9Q, but I'm still a bit confused and time hasn't fixed that :P


    * Do we stand or sit while waiting for the ceremony to start?

    * When chanting, is standing or kneeling the norm?

    * For the ceremony portion of zazenkai, is the basic order gassho, light candles and incense, three bows (prostrations?), chant heart sutra and dedication, three bows (prostrations?), then on to zazen?

    * When do we do full prostrations and when do we just bow gassho?

    Thanks again,

    Nanrin

    Sat today

  4. #4
    Hi Nanrin

    Iíll tell you what I do during our Zazenkai.... it is just my approach

    * Do we stand or sit while waiting for the ceremony to start?

    I stand in gassho facing the screen.

    * When chanting, is standing or kneeling the norm?

    I stand in gassho during the chanting and bow at the appropriate times

    * For the ceremony portion of zazenkai, is the basic order gassho, light candles and incense, three bows (prostrations?), chant heart sutra and dedication, three bows (prostrations?), then on to zazen?

    Sounds right


    * When do we do full prostrations and when do we just bow gassho?

    I only gassho and bow so I canít help you there.


    I would think that just so long as you do what you do with respect and good intentions you canít go wrong but when in doubt just follow along as best you can. I tend to watch the Unsui for cues if I am lost.


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Nanrin View Post
    ... but I'm still a bit confused and time hasn't fixed that :P
    There is a joke that, if one goes to two Zen temples in Japan, they will each do things slightly differently, yet insist that their way is "how it has been done for a thousand years." It is true. In fact, in groups I have known both in Japan and the west, sometimes the procedures for things seem to change WEEK to WEEK! I have learned, in visiting hundreds of Zen groups in Japan, China, Korea, Europe and the Americas ... "When in Rome, Bow as the Romans Bow."

    Because our group is many many people at home joining together, and rather experimental, I don't think that we always have one "official" way. That is okay. I think that many of these procedures just develop over time by consensus, like the famous "temple cat" story ...

    When the Zen master and his disciples began their evening Zazen, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the master ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the master died, the cat continued to be tied up during the Zazen session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the Zen master wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for Zazen practice.
    Japanese, by the way, are know for being real "proper form" fanatics in Asia. In my experience, Buddhist folks from Thailand to Tibet to Taiwan tend to be slightly looser in form,

    Sometimes these procedures develop by consensus of the group (everybody just stands like most other folks seem to stand), or by the whims of whomever is in charge that day. I will say that, yes, there are ways that are all orthodox (e.g., Gasshoing with finger tips at nose level and Gasshoing at chin level) and not orthodox (Gasshoing at belly button level), so we try to pick some way that is more or less orthodox. Just do your best to be poised and respectful in doing so, not careless and slack.

    * Do we stand or sit while waiting for the ceremony to start?
    Yes you do, or recline if there is medical need. I would say that, for our Sangha, it mostly depends on the position of the camera for the individual in their home Zendo. Pick one, and stick with it! Just be poised and respectful in doing so, not careless and slack. In most Zen groups I have attended, sometimes people are standing for certain ceremonies and chanting, and sometimes seated for other events.

    * When chanting, is standing or kneeling the norm?
    Yes it is. See above. Just be poised and respectful, not careless and slack.

    * For the ceremony portion of zazenkai, is the basic order gassho, light candles and incense, three bows (prostrations?), chant heart sutra and dedication, three bows (prostrations?), then on to zazen?
    In our weekly Zazenkai, I do a very very abbreviated version (we are rather ceremony minimalists in our Lineage) of a Soto service (see video below of the full service at Sojiji Head Temple). What you write is the basic order, although there is a little preliminary standing bowing by me (not onlookers). As explained in the video called "When to Bow" that you linked too, folks join me in Bows basically for the 3 standing Bows (or full Prostrations if they wish) following the two Ring Downs, on the last line of the Heart Sutra (and the Sandokai which we also chant during our long Zazenkai each month), and for the first part of the Dedication to the Ancestors. Also, a quick standing Gassho when I call "Zazen" at the end of the ceremony, just to say we are done.

    HOWEVER, for you in your own home ... it is fine to adapt, abbreviate or create a new way that resonates with you in your heart. Just be poised and respectful, not careless and slack, in whatever you do.



    * When do we do full prostrations and when do we just bow gassho?
    The Full Prostrations would follow the two ring downs (tinnnng .... ting ting ting ting ting ting ting). HOWEVER, this depends on several things, including the physical condition of the persons' aging back and knees, the flooring in the room (if in a room with hard floors, have some kind of mat or large cushion on which to place those knees) and one's personal preference. Although I believe that full Prostrations are a wonderful practice of humility, in which the world lifts us up as we raise the world over our heads in bowing ...

    Bowing and Prostrations
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...l=1#post254105

    ... some folks do not care for the symbolism, or physically struggle. So, in support of those folks, I usually do a deep standing Gassho during ceremonies, but full Prostrations during our monthly Zazenkai and some more formal times.

    I hope that helps. As Tairin said so nicely: "just so long as you do what you do with respect and good intentions you can’t go wrong but when in doubt just follow along as best you can."

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-13-2020 at 09:03 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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