Below are a few resources to assist with your practice.

The Method of Zen

By Rev. Dr. Zengaku Soyu Matsuoka


The thought of Zen is the flower.

The mind is attracted by its beauty.

The art of Zen is the fruit.

Its Savor comes home to one's heart.

The practice of Zen is the life.

By it the body and mind become strong and continue

to prosper for eternity.

The place of the practice of Zen is Zazen.

The ideal of Zen is the seated figure of Buddha.

We love the flower of Zen.

We rejoice in the fruit of Zen.

We yearn for the life of Zen.

Disposition of the Body

"Lotus form sitting" or sitting with the folded legs is characteristic of an ideally seated figure of the Buddha. The right leg is folded and placed on the thigh of the left leg. Then the left leg is folded and placed on the thigh of the right leg. It is permissible to reverse this order. There are various kinds of seated figures of the Buddha. It is sufficient so long as one folds one's legs and sits. It does not matter if one cannot place one leg over the other. It is also acceptable to sit on a chair and have the feet rest on the floor. However, the feeling of stability which one experiences when one sits with his legs folded is so wonderful that one cannot help but wish to sit in this manner.

Once the disposition of the legs is completed to the best of one's ability, the hands should then be rested in the front of the lower abdomen. The palm of the right hand should be turned upward. The palm of the left hand should also be turned upward and placed on the right palm. The thumbs of both hands, the left lying on top of the right, are then raised with the right thumb in contact with the left thumb. The thumbs which are raised, one in contact with the other, then face the palm of the hands and form a beautiful, gem-like ellipse.

Next is the disposition of the upper half of the body. The lower abdomen (below the navel) if forcibly pushed forward. The lower back becomes straight, and strength enter into the lower abdomen. If strength should rather penetrate into the upper abdomen at this time, one should attempt this over and over until the strength enters only into the lower abdomen.

When strength has entered into the lower abdomen, one's posture will be as if he is lifting the ceiling with the vertex of his head. The neck will stretch with strength. The face will be cast downward just a fraction.

When strength enters into the lower abdomen and one has established a posture as described above, then his upper body will assume a straight poised appearance. His mind will be clear and refreshed.

Disposition of the Breathing

When the disposition of the body has been established, the next step is the disposition of the breathing.

Inhale the breath as much as possible through the nose. One should inhale the breath–keeping in mind the thought of having it go deep into the bottom of the lower abdomen, filling it entirely. The inhaled breath should then be let out through the nose in a thin stream, beginning quietly, lightly and slowly. Then the breath should be exhaled gradually in a thick stream, stronger and then rapidly, until it is gone.

Inhaling breathe deeply through the nose is known as "kyuki" or "drawing in breath." Exhaling breath is known as "koki" or "expelling breath."

Disposition of the Mind

When zazen is being practiced satisfactorily, one's mind is always quiet, peaceful, clear, and serene. The mind then functions perfectly. The intellect is crystal clear, without a cloud to dim it; the emotions and will are pure and strong.

When one is practicing zazen, there are times when one becomes sleepy, when one's mind become cold and heavy; when one is restless like a monkey jumping from tree to tree. Such conditions are due to an unsatisfactory zazen practice.

It is most effective to recompose one's body when you find that you are not doing zazen satisfactorily. It is also traditional to ask to receive the kyosaku.

Perfection in Zen

When one is able to put into actual practice the disposition of the body, the disposition of breathing, and the disposition of the mind, then one's zazen is already in the stage of perfection. Here are some of the effects which will appear when one's zazen is in the stage of perfection.

The body is filled with the feeling of good health, and has the elasticity of a rubber ball.

The mind is clear and refreshed. Its functions are agile and quick.

One finds happiness in whatever one does. One finds richness of life in everything one attempts.

One knows clearly one's life's direction and has no hesitancy.

One is calm, brave and happy in thought, speech, and conduct.

One is openhearted, unsophisticated and spontaneous. One does not hide things from others.

One is in harmony with the surroundings into which one assimilates oneself.

One does everything with sincerity and initiative.

Daily Practice at Home

Create a space

A quiet space with a wall that is bare is necessary. Place a zabuton or folded blanket near the wall. If you have a zafu, place it in the center otherwise use any still cushion. This becomes your sitting space and should be protected from disturbance. You may create an altar, as well. On it place an incense burner in the center, a candle to the right, a water dish behind the incense burner, and a plant or flower to the left. You may also place a statue or photograph that offers a degree of inspiration.

Begin your day with a short gatha:

"This morning I vow with all beings to see the world clearly as it is, to reduce violence, and bring compassion to all being." Then begin sitting.

In the morning and evening, sit zazen for a predetermined amount of time, then:

As you lie down in bed, recite to yourself, "This evening, as I go to sleep, may all beings rest and be renewed through peace and love."

A program for daily living

Most religions separate the sacred from the profane. They see a certain place or activity as either being something special or being invested with something sacred. Not so, in Zen. In Zen, we live our entire lives, from moment to moment, as a sacred activity. There are no separations between the sacred and the profane. In fact, concepts such as those are understood to be marks of a deluded mind.


Please try to do at least thirty minutes of exercise per day. This can be done through running, walking, biking, swimming, weight training, or through individual or team sports. Make notes of your training efforts and the thoughts and feelings that arise. Use these notes, they can be wonderful enhancements to your practice.


Please prepare your meals thoughtfully and mindfully. By thoughtfully, prepare them with your good health and joy of living in mind. Good food is clean, fresh, and filled with nutrients. Thoughtful preparation requires planning as to both amounts and balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as attention to vitamins and minerals. Mindful preparation includes taking care to prepare food with a compassionate heart. We acknowledge through the process by which this food has come to us, beings have offered their lives, or had them taken, in order to nourish and sustain us. We should be thankful and respectful of this. We show reverence through our gentle and mindful behavior in the kitchen and while eating.


Each of us must go through a day supporting our lives. Some go to work in offices. Some in factories. Some work at home. Some build things, make things, or think about things. Some study things. Work is essential to our well-being. It is what grounds us and connects us to the larger environment. Through the activities of work, we make ourselves a part of the universe. When we see our work in this light, we realize just how important it is to make that work the best possible work. Work that brings benefit to everyone and harms no one.

Caring for others

This is the core of your daily experience. When we begin to see our lives as a vehicle for the caring and nurturing of others, we begin to see ourselves more clearly, and at the same time, live lives that are much more fulfilling and wonderful. Every moment of social life offers us an opportunity to act for the sake of what is there in front of us. How hard is that?

Recommended Readings

Beginner–San Bo

Crooked Cucumber: The life and times of Shunryo Suzuki by David Chadwick

Dropping Ashes on the Buddha by Seung Sahn

Each Moment is the Universe by Dainin Katagiri

Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck

Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner

Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aitken

The Heart Of Revolution by Noah Levine

The Kyosaku, selected essays by Soyu Matsuoka

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau

Zen in Your Pocket by Harvey Daiho Hilbert

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Training by Katsuki Sekida


At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace by Claude Anshin Thomas

Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts by Reb Anderson

Buddha by Karen Armstrong

Living By Vow by Shohaku Okumura

Moon in a Dewdrop by Kaz Tanahashi

Taking Our Places - The buddhist Path To Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer

The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism by John Daido Loori

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics by Robert Aitken

Waking Up To What You Do: A Zen practice for meeting every situation with intelligence and compassion by Diane Eshin Rizzetto

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula


Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace by Bernie Glassman

Buddhist Wisdom: The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra by Edward Conze

Eloquent Silence: Nyogen Senzaki’s Gateless Gate and Other Previously Unpublished by Nyogen Senzaki

How to Cook Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Zen Master Dogen and Uchiyama

Infinite Circle: Teachings in Zen by Bernie Glassman

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters by Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields

Old Path, White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh

Opening the Hand of Thought by Uchiyama

Shobogenzo, volumes 1-4, translated and edited by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross

Teachings and Letters by Nyogen Senzaki and Roko Sherry Chayat

The Compass of Zen by Seung Sahn & Hyon Gak

The Diamond Sutra, translation and commentary by Red Pine

The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, translated and commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Eight Gates of Zen: A Program of Zen Training by John Daido Loori

The Heart Sutra, translation and commentary by Red Pine

The Platform Sutra, translation and commentary by Red Pine

The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch by Phillip Yampolsky

The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma, translation by Red Pine

Zen is Eternal Life by Jiyu Kennett-roshi

Recommended Readings Related to Women In Zen

Being Bodies: Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment by Lenore Friedman and Susan Moon

Being Time: A Practitioner’s Guide to Dogen’s Shobogenzo by Shinshu Roberts and Norman Fischer

Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis and Reconstruction of Buddhism by Rita M. Gross

Buddhist Women On the Edge: Contemporary Perspectives from the Western Frontier by

Marianne Dresser

Daughters Of Emptiness: Poems of Chinese Buddhist Nuns by Beata Grant

Feminism and Religion by Rita M. Gross

First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening by Susan Murcott

Meetings With Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America by Lenore Friedman

No River to Cross: Trusting The Enlightenment That’s Always Right Here by Zen Master Daehaeng and Chong Go Shunim

Nothing Special by Charlotte J Beck and Steve Smith

Seeds for a Boundless Life: Zen Teachings from the Heart by Zenkei Blanche Hartman and Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart by Sherry Chayat

The Eightfold Path by Jikyo Cheryl Wolfer and Byakuren Judith Ragir

The Hidden Lamp: Stories From Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women by Zenshin Florence Caplow and Reigetsu Susan Moon

The Way Of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality and Gender by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

Walking On Lotus Flowers: Buddhist Women Living, Loving and Meditating by Martine Batchelor

Women Awake: Women Practicing Buddhism by Christina Feldman

Women In Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in the Mahayana Tradition by Diane Y. Paul

Women Living Zen: Japanese Soto Zen Nuns by Paula Kane Robinson Arai

Women Of The Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom by Sallie Tisdale

Women On The Buddhist Path by Martine Batchelor

Zen Seeds: Reflections of a Female Priest by Shundo Aoyama and Patricia Daien Bennage

Zen Women: Beyond Tea Ladies, Iron Maidens and Macho Masters by Grace Schireson and Miriam Levering

Meaning and Symbolism of Things in the Zendo


The bells/gong are used to help focus the mind and remind us of the constant coming and going of life. Gongs and bells are also used as forms of nonverbal communication for practitioners (e.g. signaling the end of zazen, when to bow, transitioning to kinhin, etc.).


Placing our hands in gassho symbolizes the unity of ourselves, the Buddha, and the universe. Bowing is an act of selflessness and of letting go of the ego. While bowing has been seen as an act of submission in western culture, bowing in eastern culture, and in Buddhism, is seen as an act of gratitude and humility. When we bow we recognize the ever-changing, interconnectedness of all things.


The Buddha statue is commonly that of the historical Buddha—Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama)—seated in meditation. The statue reminds us that we all possess buddha-nature and are capable of waking up.


Candles symbolize the light of the Dharma, as Matsuoka Roshi wrote, “shining through the darkness and ignorance of the world”.


Chanting is another form of mindfulness practice. Unlike other religious traditions, chanting is not prayer in that it is not seeking intervention from a higher power or being. Sutras are sources for teaching but chanting is not the same as studying the sutras. When chanting, our focus should be on wholeheartedly putting our effort into chanting. We are not concerned with the meaning of the words but being fully present in the experience of chanting, letting go of the self and experiencing the intimacy and connectedness of the group.


Common flowers found on altars are those of the lotus. As the lotus that grows in murky, muddy water later blooming into a beautiful flower, so it is with our practice. Through our practice in the murkiness of ignorance we can tap into our buddha-nature to see the beauty of absolute reality, and to experience life clearly and fully. Flowers also represent the ever-changing, fleeting nature of life.


As with flowers, incense represents the transience of life. Unlit incense serves little purpose, but when lit gives off fragrant smoke. Humans are much the same. Those who have not awakened are merely “component forms” full of potential.

“In Zen, the offering of incense at the Temple altar is of the highest significance. Offering incense is an unselfish act in which we express our conviction of the Oneness of all things and the transient nature of all existence,” Matsuoka Roshi.


Jizo (Kshitgarbha in Sanskrit, Dizang in Chinese) This Bodhisattva statue is often depicted as a Buddhist monk with a shaved head in robes, carrying a walking staff, and a “Dharma jewel” that banishes fear. He is often regarded as the Bodhisattva for children and the patron of deceased children, women, travelers, and those suffering after death.

Kannon Bodhisattva

Kannon Bodhisattva (Guan-Yin in Chinese, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit) symbolizes mercy and compassion and is the “hearer of the cries of the world.” Like other Bodhisattvas, Kannon renounces attaining higher levels of enlightenment until all beings have first been liberated.

Manjushri Bodhisattva

The Manjushri Bodhisattva statue symbolizes wisdom and is often depicted holding a sword in his right hand, which cuts through delusion, and a blooming lotus flower supporting the Prajnaparamita sutra in its middle. Some statues can also depict Manjushri riding a tiger symbolizing using wisdom to tame the wild mind.


Juzu or mala beads are a symbol of Zen tradition worn ceremonially, to count chants, and to inspire mindfulness in daily life. Typically made as a necklace containing 108 wooden beads representing different types of “earthly desires” or “evil passions.” Wrist mala with 18 beads are also commonly used.


The fact that we have statues of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the zendo or temple does not mean that we worship these historic figures. Instead they serve as visual and tactile representations of complex ideals that reside within us. Our practice involves the process of uncovering and then manifesting what has been there all along.

Water offering

The water offering symbolizes mental clarity, self-reflection, calmness, and purity of mind. We aim to achieve this through an array of contemplative practices such as sitting zazen and practicing everyday mindfulness. A powerful source of life and tranquility, water can also be a powerful source of destruction. Human potential is like that of water—a source of great positivity or of great negativity. Our practice helps guide our potential in the positive direction of awakening.


The combination of each element on the altar and in the zendo itself reflects the oneness of all things and engages multiple senses. The mind is the obstacle that holds us back from experiencing reality directly. Therefore, much of our practice focuses on the experiential rather than on the cerebral. As is written in the first line in the Opening of the Sutras verse, “The Dharma is incomparably profound and minutely subtle.” While reading about and discussing the Dharma is certainly helpful for our understanding, if all of our focus is turned toward intellectualizing the Dharma its profound subtlety will be missed. Hearing, smelling, seeing, touching and opening the heart to these objects associated with our practice can help us allow body and mind to drop away in order to fully experience this moment—right here and now.

Glossary of Basic Zen Terms

abbot – Administrator of a temple, monastery or order.

aggregates – “Skandas;” the five ever-changing aspects that constitute a sentient being. How we experience the world: form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness.

bodhisattva – enlightened being who foregoes nirvana until all others have been liberated.

Buddha – the historical Buddha, Shakiyamuni; Siddhartha Gautama. A man who lived 2,600 years ago during the Axial Age in the northern region of South Asia. Born a prince, he later left his royal life to find an end to human suffering as a mendicant monk until his enlightenment. After which he spent his life teaching what became known as The Dharma.

buddha – awakening, enlightenment manifested

cosmic mudra – hand position, used in zazen, in which left hand is cradled in right, thumbs lightly touching, forming an oval.

dana – the expression of generosity with no expectation of return. Donations from the heart given to support one’s zendo, priest, teachers.

Dharma – the teachings of the historical Buddha.

dharma – absolute reality, truth, phenomena.

dokusan – a formal, private interview between a teacher and a student.

Doshi – an ordained person who leads the liturgical service.

Enlightenment – seeing reality as it is; seeing through one’s dualistic perceptions based on conditioning; being awake and present in the moment; realizing one’s True Nature. The experience of oneness, manifested.

gassho – hand position (mudra) - palms pressed together with fingers pointing upward, held at the level of the tip of the nose and about a fist’s width from the nose to the fingertips. The position expresses oneness with all things, and an attitude of gratitude, reverence and respect.

gassho bow – a ten degree bow from the hips with hands in gassho position as above.

han – a solid wooden board with a mallet used to announce various events occurring within the zendo or temple. Generally struck by the Ino.

inkan – small bell with striker used to begin and end zazen periods.

Ino – the person who maintains the discipline of the zendo during liturgical services. The Ino strikes the han, leads the chanting, invites bells, gongs and mokugyo to sound, leads kinhin, keeps time during meditation, may appoint a jikido to help with specific tasks, and sits facing the group during zazen.

Jikido – a zendo role that is appointed by the Ino. The jikido may keep time during zazen periods, lead kinhin, tend to the tasks of the altar as needed, as well as other duties requested by the Ino.

Jukai – ceremony in which one sews a rakusu and accepts the 10 Grave Precepts.

kalpa – a really long time. Described as the time it takes the wings of one butterfly grazing a mountain top once a year to wear the mountain down to nothing.

Kannon – Kwan-Yin in Chinese, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit - the Bodhisattva who symbolizes mercy and compassion and “hears the cries of the world.” Like all other Bodhisattvas, Kannon renounces attaining higher levels of enlightenment until all beings have attained enlightenment first.

kesa – Okesa; a large, rectangular vestment hung on the left shoulder, worn by monks and priests. Modeled after the Buddha’s robe, the kesa is made of panels of cloth patterned after rice fields and represents the teachings of the Buddha. As Buddhism spread to China and Japan, it became more ceremonial in nature while smaller, more compact versions such as the rakusu or wagessa were favored.

Kie Sanbo – ceremony in which one takes the Three Refuges and vows to do good, stop doing evil and dedicates oneself to doing good for all beings.

kinhin – walking meditation done between periods of zazen. The same meditative heart/mind is carried seamlessly into kinhin. It is both an individual practice and one that is performed with the group.

koan – a paradoxical phrase, question or story that forces transcendence of logic. Used minimally in Soto Zen practice, but has a much larger focus in Rinzai Zen sects.

kyosaku – awakening stick; long wooden stick employed by a priest, when needed, to improve practitioner’s posture, refocus attention, and relieve tense muscles during zazen.

mahasattva – a great being; a bodhisattva who has reached a high level of awakening.

Manjushri – a Bodhisattva whose statue is often seen in a zendo that symbolizes wisdom and is depicted as a man holding a sword in his right hand which cuts through delusion and a blooming lotus flower supporting the Prajnaparamita sutra in the middle. Some statues may depict Manjushri riding a tiger symbolizing using wisdom to tame the wild mind.

mokugyo – a wooden drum in the shape of a fish head used to keep the rhythm while chanting.

Nirvana – a permanent awakened state of complete peace; relief from all suffering.

oryoki – taking “just enough” to nourish the body with food as medicine. A form of highly ritualized ceremonial eating meditation that emphasizes mindfulness. Typically done during intensive practice retreats.

Paramita – a perfection of virtues as manifested by a Bodhisattva: generosity, moral discipline, patience/forbearance, diligence, focus/concentration, meditation.

Prajna – wisdom that embodies the realization of the Dharma. The ultimate essence of manifestation of emptiness (the ever-changing and interconnected nature of everything).

precept – a moral guideline for practitioners of the Way.

priest – a practitioner who has taken the 16 great vows of Shukke Tokudo, has been authorized to teach others, and perform ceremonies and rituals associated with the role (house blessings, weddings, funerals, etc… ). By taking Shukke Tokudo a priest commits their life to the service of others.

rakusu – small, rectangular patchwork bib symbolizing the Buddha’s robe.

Roshi – old teacher, zen master.

Sangha – our spiritual community.

sangha – the community of all sentient beings.

sanpai – “three prostrations” performed at the beginning of a liturgical service.

seiza bench – a small kneeling bench sometimes used in zazen to aid sitting in seiza (kneeling position with shins on the floor and weight resting on the heels) position.

Sensei – teacher.

sesshin – intensive practice retreat incorporating multiple contemplative practices, usually lasting several days. Generally held around the four major Zen Buddhist holidays.

shashu – hand position (mudra) used in kinhin and when walking in the zendo. The left hand forms a fist around the thumb and the right palm covers the top of the fist, forearms horizontal to the floor with fist at heart level.

Sotoshu – the main governing body organization for the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Its main temples are Shojiji and Eiheiji. Soto Zen was founded by Dogen-zenji and Kaizen-zenji and consists of over fourteen thousand affiliated temples worldwide. Much of the ritual and temple structure follows that set forth by the Sotoshu.

Soto Zen– a Japanese Zen tradition employing great reverence for form and emphasizing shikantaza-“wholeheartedly just sitting,” as opposed to the Rinzai sect whose emphasis is on koan practice.

taku – wooden clappers used to signal the beginning and end of kinhin periods during the service.

tan – wooden platform topped by zabuton and zafu in the zendo. Used during zazen and oryoki.

Tathagata – “one who comes thusly.” In the Pali Canon the Buddha refers to himself as the Tathagata. Someone who has transcended the human condition.

Three Refuges/Jewels/Treasures – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha.

wagessa – Japanese-inspired abbreviated, mini version of the okesa, sewn by a practitioner, in our Order, for presentation at Kie Sanbo ceremony.

zabuton – cushioned mat placed under a zafu.

zagu – a rectangular cloth used by monks and priests while performing prostrations.

zazen – seated meditation.

zazenkai – intensive practice period, usually lasting most of a day or two.

Zen – meditation; awakening as life itself.

Zen Buddhism – a Japanese sect of Mahayana Buddhism that aims at enlightenment by direct experience using seated meditation as its primary practice.

zendo – room used for practicing zazen, and more commonly for providing Zen liturgical services and other ceremonies for practitioners.