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NOTES ON MONDAY NIGHT"S PRACTICE

 

Welcome to the Monday night practice period of our Zen meditation group. Here's some information about what we'll be doing. Most of the time will be spent in seated meditation, which is discussed first. After that come descriptions of several short activities that will come before meditation begins.

 

Sitting Meditation

We'll be still and silent for 25 minutes at a time, seated either in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Normally there are two of these periods each Monday night. Details about several ways to sit will be presented in your introductory session with a teacher, beginning at 7:00. A good written introduction to sitting is Zen Meditation in Plain English, by John Buksbazen.

 

Bowing

Upon entering the meditation room and before sitting down, each person will bow from the waist facing his floor cushion or chair, and then turn and bow to those who are seated facing him. During bows, your hands are held with palms together, about shoulder high. Once everyone is seated, the practice leader will rise from his seat and arrange some objects on the altar at the front of the room. He will then make three deep bows toward the altar, touching his head to the floor each time. After that, at the ringing of a bell, everyone will stand facing the altar and make three similar bows in unison, at signals from the bell.

 

Chanting

After bows are completed, we'll sit and spend about 15 minutes chanting together several short passages of liturgy. Some of these will be in English, but others will be in Sanskrit or Sino-Japanese languages from Asia, where the Buddha and his earliest followers lived. Some will be spoken and some sung. The chants will be punctuated occasionally with tones from bells and drums that make it easier for chanters to stay together. During some of the chants you'll hold your hands with palms together, as in bowing. On your cushion or chair you'll find a book that contains all of the chants, and as we go along a leader will announce the relevant page numbers. (Note: the closing refrain for the "Dedication" chant is printed on the front cover of the liturgy book, not on page 7 where the chant itself appears. Also, the Dedication chant is recited two different times in the practice period, one near the beginning and one at the end.

 

Walking Meditation

Once chanting concludes, we'll spend a few minutes doing walking meditation. As prompted by a leader, we'll walk around the first floor of the building in single file. At the end of walking meditation we'll return to our places in the meditation room, bow to our cushions or chairs, turn and bow to those seated facing us, and seat ourselves to begin sitting meditation. Three peals of a bell will signal the beginning of the seated meditation period. There will be a second period of walking meditation at the conclusion of the first sitting meditation. We'll walk at a slow pace at the beginning of that period, and change to a faster pace after a signal from the leader. (Note: if you should need to find a drink of water or a rest room, the time to do so is during walking meditation.

 

Why Do We Do These Things?

The Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, taught that he became awakened to the true nature of the world and of all people while seated in still, silent meditation. This activity, along with bowing, chanting and walking meditation, became the foundation of practice for his followers as Buddhism spread from India across China, Southeast Asia, Korea and Japan. Regular periods of sitting meditation, alone or in a group, remain the keystone of our practice.

 

Bowing and chanting together serve two purposes. First, acting in unison with our group reminds us that we support, and are supported by, a caring community of individuals all seeking a better way to live with ourselves and others. Second, even though most followers of Zen in the west live outside the Asian monastic tradition, we honor in our liturgy the ways of the generations who preserved and illuminated the Buddha's teachings in earlier times, and brought knowledge of them to us. Bowing is not an action of subservience to any being, but a symbol of opening our minds to awareness of the immense possibilities of our lives in the universe.