When you first receive an orientation at Adelaide Zen Group you are given a quick once-through of our Zen rituals and forms, and then encouraged to “watch what others do and follow along.” There is way too much to learn all at once. Please don’t be at all concerned if you get things “wrong” at first!

But what if the different people you watch are all doing different things? As an aid to everyone’s practice and for the harmony of our practice together, please try to learn the details of the forms over time, and do your best to follow them. 

Of course, “our best” will still include mistakes! And we would much rather have you sit with us in your work clothes, or quietly entering late, or not having studied the Forms, than not sit with us at all. 

What are zen “forms” or rituals?

Forms are established ways we enact our practice with our bodies…they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, sit in the meditation posture, chant and offer incense, show respect for one another.

Why do we use them in our meditation practice sessions?

Forms help to promote and extend awareness. We extend our awareness not only to what is going on inside as we meditate, but also how we are walking, standing, holding our hands, and how we are chanting. Extending our awareness into all those other places we begin to get the idea that meditation is not just something that happens on our cushions.

We honour a particular set of Diamond Sangha Forms that we have received. If we did our own forms, if we walked and stood and struck bells and beat on drums the way we wanted to, and not according to forms, it would really feel odd. It would feel odd to the person doing it, and we would all see the oddness of it. When we walk or stand or strike bells or hit drums, not the way we want to, but the way that practitioners throughout the ages would do it, we are liberated from ourselves. We feel like we are joining with others across the centuries who have also practiced in this way.

The way we practice together, move and stand together is more beautiful than if we all came in and plopped down and had our different sets of pillows and purses and water bottles and computers to measure our heart rate. If we had all that, the zendo would be a lot less beautiful. The way it is, the Forms create the possibility of our harmonizing together.

Arriving: Clothing and Shoes

The Han

When the Jiki sounds the Han—a series of taps on the clappers—it’s time to enter the zendo. Stop talking, enter the dojo and settle in.

Entering the Zendo

Inside the room are two rows of mats (zabutons) and an altar maintained by the Ino/Tanto, forming a horseshoe with the Teacher’s zabuton at the front. It’s a room within a room. The zabutons form the walls and the opening at the front is the door. To enter, step through this door. 

  • Step into the zendo (“meditation hall”) from the left-hand side.
  • Bow with your hands in gassho (palm to palm) at the threshold, in the direction of the altar. This is your bow to the Buddha. Do this every time you come in, even if it is only to get a zafu (sitting cushion).
  • If you are coming in for zazen (seated meditation), place your hands in kinhin (walking meditation) position (right thumb in the closed palm of the right hand, and this fist covered lightly by the left hand at the level of the solar plexus, forearms held parallel to the floor) and walk quietly clockwise around the edge of the dojo to your seat. Please do not walk through the centre of the dojo.
  • When you arrive at your seat, bow towards your seat. This is your bow to the Dharma.
  • Turning in the direction of the altar, face the room and bow. This is your bow to the Sangha.
  • Turning in the direction of the altar, take your seat. If you find sitting on a zafu too difficult, please use a sitting stool or a chair. Fold your zabuton in half in front of the chair.

Leaving the Zendo

  • When you leave the zendo, walk quietly clockwise to the edge of the zendo, turn and bow to the Buddha on the altar before stepping out. 
  • There are two instances when you do not do this; when you go to dokusan (dharma interview with a teacher) and when you leave during kinhin (bow while still in the line).
  • Whenever you turn in the zendo, turn in the direction of the altar. 

Practice In the Dojo

  • Please walk quietly in the zendo, and keep your hands in kinhin position. The only exception to this is when you go to dokusan: then your hands should be in gassho, and your zafu (meditatioin cushion) under your arm.
  • Sit still during zazen, chanting and other activities in the zendo. If you are in pain, moving often makes it worse. Kneepads, spare zafus and chairs are available to use if your knees are sore. 
  • If you are using a chair, you may choose a zabuton (meditation mat) and fold it in half for your feet to rest on. When seated, make sure your spine is upright and not leaning back into the chair.
  • If you feel a sneeze or a cough coming, do not hesitate to cover your mouth (into the crook of your elbow). At such times consideration for others should be your first concern. 

Kinhin (walking meditation) hand position 
Right thumb in the closed palm of the right hand, and this fist covered lightly by the left hand at the level of the solar plexus, forearms held parallel to the floor.
Gassho (“palms of the hands placed together”)
Holding the hands in front of the face signifies non-duality. Gassho often accompanies a bow. To bow, bend only at the waist, keeping the back straight. 

Gassho is symbolic of the Dharma, the truth about life. For instance, we place together our right and left hand, which are opposites. It represents other opposites as well: you and me, light and dark, ignorance and wisdom, life and death.

Gassho also symbolizes respect, the Buddhist teachings, and the Dharma. It is an expression of our feelings of gratitude and our inter-connectedness with each other. It symbolizes the realization that our lives are supported by innumerable causes and conditions. 
It is important to find a posture in which you maintain your upper body in an upright position while being softly relaxed. Several postures can be used: full or half lotus, Burmese, Seiza – kneeling astride a zafu (cushion) or sitting on a meditation stool or a chair.
The mudra of Zen, or the position of the hands in the posture of Zen meditation, is unique:  the hands are placed in the lap with the palms upward, the fingers of one hand resting on the fingers of the other, and the tips of the thumbs just touching.

Kinhin (Walking Meditation)

  • When you hear the bell struck twice, it is time for kinhin.
  • Still sitting on your zafu, bow.
  • Stand up and place your hands in kinhin position. If your foot has gone to sleep, be careful when standing. It is all right to stay sitting down until you can safely stand. If you cannot join the kinhin line straight away, wait on your zafu until your place comes back. Then gassho and join the line.
  • Gassho when you hear the Jikijitsu’s clappers.
  • Turn to your left and start walking immediately. The Jikijitsu sets the pace. Please maintain the distance between you and the person in front of you.
  • Keep your head up and your eyes lowered during kinhin.
  • Continue your zazen practice during kinhin and at all other times.
  • The Jikijitsu will clap the clappers before you reach your zafu to let you know kinhin is finishing. Stop at your place with your back to your zafu.
  • Gassho with everybody together. Then turn in the direction of the altar to face your place. Gassho again and take your seat.
  • Once you are settled, the Jikijitsu will sound the clappers once more before ringing the bells for zazen.

Going to the Toilet or Getting a Drink

If you need to go to the toilet or get a drink, it is important to leave immediately after you hear the bell for kinhin. Gassho at the threshold.

If you cannot leave quickly, walk in the kinhin line until you get to the door. Gassho while in the line, but not at the door.

If the person in front of you leaves, maintain the gap.

If you use the toilet, leave the door open when you leave. Sometimes people wait for ages in front of a closed door.

When you get back to the dojo, wait until your place in the line comes round. Gassho quickly and step in.

If your place has already passed or you are too late, wait, near the threshold until the line has stopped. Gassho with the final bow. Only then return to your place. If you need to get a chair, a kneepad or another zafu, please wait until the final bow of kinhin.

If you are late for the beginning of zazen, do not enter while the Jiki’s shijo bell is ringing. Wait until it has finished, gassho and move quietly to your place.

Remember, kinhin is not a rest period. Leave the line only to go to the toilet, to get a drink or if you need to attend to something outside the zendo.

Dokusan (dharma interview with the Teacher)

It is important to meet the Teacher in dokusan. Dokusan is a chance for creativity and mutual deepening. The Teacher’s intention is to guide us towards realisation of our essential nature, not to judge us.

Dokusan is a time to ask questions about our practice. You don’t have to have a reason to go. Say what is in your heart. If you have nothing to say, that’s all right. Tell the Teacher you have nothing to say. This is your presentation.

Dokusan is completely confidential. The Teacher does not discuss it with anyone else, and it is requested that you do the same. The teaching given to you may be inappropriate for someone else.

Two different methods to access to dokusan
(depending on which meditation practice session you attend you will encounter two different ways to access dokusan, either directly from your cushion or with the guidance of a Jisha in a dokusan line) 

1. Dokusan line

The Jisha will announce “Dokusan”. Then the Teacher rings their bell. The Jisha responds with an accelerando on the Kanshô bell. The Teacher rings again. Finally, you will hear the Jisha ring ‘dong, dong’. These two bells are the signal for dokusan to begin. Usually the Jisha sees the teacher first. 

You may join the dokusan line:

  • when you hear the Jisha announce it, but after the two bells, 
  • at the start or end of kinhin, or 
  • when somebody else returns from dokusan. 

Place your zafu under your arm, and with your hands in the gassho position, move to the dokusan line. Sit on an empty mat on the dokusan line, and continue your zazen. Please refrain from going to the toilet or to get a drink, while you are at the head of the line.

When you hear the teacher’s bell, the person at the head of the line rings the Kanshô bell twice, striking it on the rose. Do not strike the bell harshly, or at a point away from the rose. Strike the bell as soon as the teacher rings their bell, there is no need to wait for the teacher’s bell to stop. Your ring of the bell does not need to be heard by the teacher, it is a signal to the zendo that a place is free in the dokusan line. 

2. No line

Once meditation practice has commenced the teacher will ring their bell to announce that dokusan is open. You may go to dokusan directly from your cushion. You may go in any order, when somebody else returns from dokusan, and as soon as you hear the teacher’s bell.

Great Vows for All

At the end of each formal Zen gathering we recite “Great Vows for All”. Holding your hands in gassho, recite the following verse three times.

The many beings are numberless;
I vow to save them.

Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly;
I vow to abandon them.

Dharma gates are countless;
I vow to wake to them.

The Buddha Way is unsurpassed;
I vow to embody it fully.


After three recitations you will hear an accelerando on the Jikijitsu’s bell (called an inkin). This signals that it is time for Raihai (formal bows).

Stand and turn in the direction of the altar.

When the Ino strikes the final bell, bow, then lower yourself onto your hands and knees. Drop your forehead to the floor and raise your upturned palms above your head. Then stand up again. Repeat three times. Finally, turn to face the sangha and bow.

In the dokusan room 

Walk to the dokusan room with your hands should be in gassho, and your zafu (meditation cushion) under your arm.  Leave your zafu in the hallway. Enter and do a full bow. This is the bow to the Buddha. Close the door behind you. With your hands in gassho, walk towards the Teacher and do a full bow. This is the bow to the Dharma. Sit on the zafu in front of the Teacher, in any formal zazen position. Give your practice – “I am doing Mu”, “my practice is breath counting” – etc.

Leaving Dokusan 

When the Teacher rings the bell, do a tea ceremony bow. Stand up and gassho. Tidy the zafu and zabuton for the next person. Step back and open the door. Do a full bow at the door before leaving. This is the bow to the Sangha, so it is done in the direction of the zendo (the door). If the next person has arrived, close the door as you leave. Otherwise, leave the door open. 

Collect your zafu and return to the zendo, hands in gassho. Return to the zendo in the ordinary way, unless kinhin is in progress, in which case wait just inside the door until kinhin is over. At the final gassho of kinhin, gassho and quietly walk to your place. Please, do not join the kinhin line with your zafu under your arm.

Key Terms

Zendo – Literally “place of practice”, where we set out our altar and cushions.
Dokusan – Dharma interviews with the teacher.
Gassho – A bow, palms together.
Inkin – the small, higher-pitched bell used by the Jikijitsu.
Ino – The person who leads chanting and sutra services in the dojo.
Jikijitsu – The person who rings the bells to mark each round of zazen.
Jisha – The teacher’s attendant, responsible for coordinating the dokusan line.
Kinhin – Walking meditation.
Raihai – Formal bows at the end of a Zen gathering.
Tanto – Literally “head of the line”. The person responsible for tending practice in the dojo.
Zazen – Seated meditation.
Zafu – A small round sitting cushion.
Zabuton – A rectangular sitting mat, roughly 900 x 900mm.

Layout of the Adelaide Zen Group meditation space (zendo) at Hutt St Adelaide