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NOTES ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT"S PRACTICE

 

Welcome to the Wednesday 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 Wednesday night. Details about several ways to sit will be presented in your introductory session with a teacher, beginning at 7:15. 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 her seat and arrange some objects on the altar at the front of the room. She will then make a standing bow, return to her cushion, and commence the chanting ceremony.

 

Chanting

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.

 

Walking Meditation

Once chanting concludes, three peals of a bell will signal the beginning of the seated meditation period. At the end of this first period of seated meditation, 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. (Note: if you should need to find a drink of water or a rest room, the time to do so is during walking meditation.) 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 a second period of sitting 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.