Etiquette - Manners in the Zendô

> Soto Zen Etiquette in Manga-style

This is a brief guide to etiquette in the zendô. Through experience we develop familiarity with the forms of practice. Don't get caught up in worrying about what happens next or what you should do. When in doubt, go with the flow of other students

On entering the zendô have hands in gassho, step in left foot first, bow into the zendô, and with hands still in gasshô, proceed to a seat. Turn facing into the room, bow, remove shoes (placing them on the floor directly under the tan) and sit. When entering the zendo as part of a group, such as returning from kinhin, the Jikijitsu bows for the group.

ZAZEN starts on the striking of three bells. Refrain from voluntary movement or sounds during zazen. Zazen ends with a single bell. Kinhin or rest kinhin is signaled by striking the wooden clappers either once or twice.

Kinhin is the interval between zazen periods. At the sound of a single clapper strike, bow, put on your shoes, and stand with hands in gassho. At the sound of the next clapper strike, bow, and with hands in sassho leave the zendô. Walk as a group and in step. At the sound of the single clapper strike, place hands in gasshô. With hands in gasshô, enter the zendô without bowing, proceed to your seat, and at the sound of the single bell, bow and sit. During walking kinhin students may use the rest rooms or leave the Zen center. On leaving the kinhin line, step out of line and bow towards the person behind you. On returning to the kinhin line, enter at your "place" in the line, bowing towards the person you step in front of as you re-enter the line.

Rest Kinhin is signaled by two strikes of the clapper. Rest kinhin occurs as a brief interlude to formal zazen and as an alternative to walking kinhin.

A rest kinhin preparatory to zazen or chanting may be used to adjust posture. During a rest kinhin between periods, continue sitting in zazen posture, stand with hands in sassho, or sit on the edge of the tan, hands forming a mudra.

Rest kinhin ends with a single clap. If standing or sitting on the edge of the tan, stand with hands in gasshô at the single strike of the clapper, bow at the single bell, and be seated. If seated in zazen posture, no motion is required.

Chanting in the mornings starts with the striking of the large gong, during which the sutra book is retrieved from under the zabutan. The regular morning chanting begins with the Heart Sutra and goes to the end of the sutra book. For closing services in the evenings, retrieve the sutra book when the Jikijitsu begins striking the small bell after offering incense. Only the Kozen Daito is chanted in the evenings.

Great Bows occur after chanting. On the striking of one bell followed by two bells in quick succession, bow with hands in gasshô. As the roll-down sound of the bell progresses, place a support cushion on the floor in front of you and stand in gasshô. After the roll-down, at the striking of the single bell, perform a full prostration, forehead touching the support cushion on the floor, and hands, palms upturned, raised above the ears, parallel to the ground. Hands are held elevated while the bell sound reverberates. At the silencing of the bell, stand quickly, hands in gasshô. Two bells signal the third and last prostration. Upon standing, retrieve the support cushion, arrange the seating area, and stand in gasshô as the bell is slowly struck three times. Bow with the group on the third bell.

Tea (sarei) is served morning and evening. At morning service, when the bell is struck once in response to two clapper strikes, bow and retrieve a tea cup and napkin, placing the napkin on the front of the zabutan. For the evening period, retrieve a tea cup and napkin when the Jikijitsu announces “sarei.” Hold the tea cup in one hand and signal by raising the other hand when sufficient tea has been poured. Take some tea at the first serving; on the second serving tea may be declined by bowing. Do not put the cup and napkin away until the second serving has been offered.

On leaving the zendô at the end of a sitting, neaten your zabutan and fluff the zafu. Bow into the room and leave directly, hands in sassho. Leave no traces. The sitting area should be ready for the next student. If tea was served, take your tea cup and napkin to the shoji room to be washed.

On entering or leaving during rest kinhins, or before a zazen period starts, bow to the shoji.

Questions? Feel free to ask any of the zendo officers or more experienced students about etiquette and practice before or after formal practice periods. During formal practice, you can consult the Shoji during kinhin periods.


PDF: Brands of Zen: Kitō jiin in Contemporary Japanese Sōtō Zen Buddhism
by Tim Graf
Inauguraldissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Heidelberg, 2017.
This dissertation examines contemporary Japanese prayer monasteries (kitō jiin 祈祷寺院 ) as sites of religious branding and priestly training. It also explores ways Sōtō Zen prayer monasteries shed light on the broader topic of interplay between training and branding in the making of this-worldly benefits (genze riyaku 現世利益 ).


Sôtô-shu's Constitution

Sôtô-shu is the Japanese Sôtô Zen School.

Chapter 1
General Provisions

Art. 3: Doctrine

Abiding by the right law of Bussotanden, the Sôtô Shu doctrine is transmission of Shikantaza and Sokushinzebutsu.

Chapter VII
Priests and religious teachers:

Article 32 Freedom of expression

Unless restricted by the Sôtô Shu Statutes, a priest's freedom of publication and speech shall not be impaired.


Chapter II - Section II

Article 27
Tokudo [ordination] may be performed for a person who believes the tenets of the Sôtôshu. At the time of tokudo, the person's name shall be registered in the shiso's temple.

Article 29
A shiso shall be a religious teacher in the Sôtôshu whith a monastic rank of Osho [maître] or niosho [maitresse] or higher.

Article 32
After tokudo is performed, the shiso shall submit an application for certification of entry of the name in the register of priests ; the application shall be accompanied by an extract of the totei [ordained]'s family register and evidence derived from the ceremony of tokudo, and shall be submitted to the Shumucho whithin 3 months of the tokudo. If the recipient of tokudo in question is still a minor, the application mentioned above shall also require the signature of the parent or guardian.

What is an Osho

[According to the Sôtôshu regulations for a person to be ordained the ordaining monk must be an osho and the ordination must happen in his temple.]

Chapter II - Section I
Article 26
Osho: he whose name has been enrolled in the register of priests who have performed zuise [la confirmation] at the two head temples.

[ Zuise is the confirmation (dempo/shiho) ]

What is a temple?


Article 1
Temples shall be classified by rank as head temples, kakuchi, hochi and junhochi.

Article 2
The head temples are the following two temples Eiheiji, Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukuiken Sojiji, Tsurumi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kangawa-ken

Article 3
A kakuchi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of daiosho [grand-maître], and which is allowed to practice kessei-ango [la retraite de trois mois] once a year or more

Article 4
A hochi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of at least osho or niosho

Article 5
A junhochi is a temple the chief priest of which has the monastic rank of at least dempo [la transmission].


Article 7
[...] Any temple located outside Japan shall be called a tokubetsu temple.


Article 7-3
A tokubetsu temple is regarded as a hochi temple.

Chapter II
Article 8
One who intends to found a temple shall obtain the approval of the Sôtôshu Executive Officer by providing the following documents Statement of temples rules, written application for the appointment of a chief priest , personnal history of the candidate chief priest ; names, adresses, qualifications, and seal registration certificates of the candidate temple executive board members ; and other required documents.


Article 10
each temple shall maintain the following documents:

- the Sôtôshu statutes, temples rules, and other relevants rules ;

- detailed plans of ground and buildings

- Property ledger

- register of past chief priests

- register of deaths of temple supporters and devotees

- register of temple executive board members

- register of supporters and register of devotees

- register of honji and horui

- register of advisors

- minutes of temple excutive board meeetings

- correspondence whith governmental and public agencies, Shumucho and district office, etc

- rules of graveyard mangement (...)

- documents relevant to the temple supporters and devottees commitee,

- other necessary documents

Article 11
The honji [the temple from which a new temple depends] of a newly founded shall be the temple to which the candidate chief priest belongs or in which the candidate chief priest serves as chief priest.


Executive Board

Chapter V

Article 17
The executive board members shall include one or more persons in each of three categories religious teachers who are chiefs priests, delegate of supporters, and delegates of devotees.

Article 18
The chief priest shall select executive board members and avisors. The executive board members'names, qualifications, addresses, and seal registration shall be submitted to the head of the district office having juridiction and to the Shumucho. The names, addresses, and qualifications of advisors also shall be submitted.


Article 22
The chief priest shall select three or more delegates from among the supporters and devotees, and nominate them as advisors.

Chapter VI

Article 24
The chief priest shall make three copies each of the register of supporters and register of devotees. One copy shall be preserved in the temple in question and the other two copies shall be submitted to the district office having juridiction and the Shumucho.


Article 26
A person who is within any one of the following categories shall be enrolled in the register of supporters or register of devotees:

- one who has become a supporter by establishing a household
- one who is a supporter or a devotee of another temple but has moved to the temple in question with the approval of the new temple's chief priest,
- or one who has been converted from a different religious school and moved to the temple in question (...)
- one who requests to become one.

Addresses :

Sôtôshu Shumucho

Administration Headquarters of Sôtô Zen Buddhism
5-2 Shiba 2 Chome Minato-ku Tokyo 105
Phone 03 : 3454-5411 Fax 03 : 3454-5423

Sôtôshu shumuchô (International division)
5-2, shiba 2-chome, Minato-ku Tokyo 105


Rev. Shinyetsu Fukushima
Rev. Senryo Asai
Rev. Tetsuya Kameno



Going straight like the vertical thread in a piece of cloth

Reverend Issho Fujita, was born April 18, 1954 in Niihama City, Ehima, Japan. After becoming inspired by the practice of Shikantaza, in the tradition of Kodo Sawaki and Kosho Uchiyama, he left his graduate school studies in child psychology, and entered Antaiji Temple, where at age 29, he became ordained into zen priesthood. Eleven years ago he came to America, to assume responsibilities at Valley Zendo , in Charlemont Massachusetts, where he resides, with his wife, Naomi, and their two daughters, Saki and Masumi. In the following pictorial essay, Reverend Fujita explains some of the important aspects of walking meditation in relation to his sitting practice of Shikantaza.

According to the Soto tradition, we do Kinhin practice between sitting sessions as taught by Zen master Dogen, as he learned from his Chinese teacher Ju-Ching. "Ju-Ching often walked back and forth between the east and the west in the Ta-kuang-ming-tsang Hall to demonstrate this to Dogen." (Hokyo-ki annotated translation) It's always done as a continuation of sitting meditation. It gives you a way to refresh the mind and body, without interrupting the stillness of sitting practice. We sit for fifty minutes, then do Kinhin for ten minutes-sitting walking, sitting. People who practice this, believe that the Buddha walked this way. In some of the scriptures there's a description of the Buddha walking slowly, and mindfully, in the woods after sitting. What we cultivate in sitting, we apply in walking, through motion. The sitting meditation continues, in another form. Sometimes it's said that zazen is walking. We can also apply this to more complicated practices such as cooking, sweeping, or cleaning. Whatever it is that we are doing, it's done with the quality of zazen. "Just" (Shikan) is a key word, as in Shikantaza, we "'just sit", in Kinhin we "'just walk." Being one with what we are doing, we walk for the sake of walking. We don't focus on any particular object.

The walking includes many things, such as the sensation of your feet touching the floor, spatial orientation, along with awareness of your posture. We cannot sit forever. It's a bridge between sitting still, and moving in daily activity, and helps bring meditation into everyday life. Kinhin looks like it's between walking, and standing still. We walk very, very slow, within the speed of the breath. In breath, out breath. We listen to the breathing, and move the body according to this rhythm, breathing naturally.
Ju-ching taught with compassion: when you get up from the sitting posture and walk, you must practice the method of one breath per half a step. This means: as you move your foot, let it not exceed half a step, and be sure to pace yourself to the length of one breath. (Hokyo-ki annotated)

Ju-Ching said: 'If you wish to rise from the sitting posture and walk (in meditation) do not walk in circles, but in a straight line. If you wish to turn around after twenty or thirty steps make sure to turn right not left. When you move your feet, move the right foot first, then the left.' (Hokyo-ki annotated translation)

The hand position has a similar value as in sitting. You need to remain alert so you can maintain this form with the hands. The left hand is a soft fist with the right hand open on top. When sitting, the left is on top of the right, the as you come up, you turn over with the hands up, softly your chest. Some people have a small space, but it's very close to the body. So you don't have to change the relation between your right and left hand. As in sitting the thumbs are very softly touching. The eye position is also similar as when sitting, with the eye half open and looking down, at a forty-five degree angle. The upright position is key for both sitting and walking. The eyes are with the shoulders, and the nose with the navel. The lower body slowly moves forward.

As in sitting, when you walk there is no boundary. You open up, and are not trapped in your own body or agenda. You are walking together with the air, the floor, the room, and the whole world. As you walk you are naturally discovering this. It is not a result of your effort, but a natural bi- product of just walking. It's not something you try to create or manufacture, it's a gift from the Dharma. If it's to have meaning, it needs to be a gift from the practice, rather than trying to manufacture it. According to Dogen when people sit everybody sits, when people do Kinhin, everybody does Kinhin.

When arising from the cushion you bow twice, turning clockwise, to the right, with the right shoulder toward the center of the room. It's a ninety degree turn from the wall position. We make the hand position, take a couple of breaths, and then start with one breath, with one step, because the breath is slow. If you are standing still, your breath is relaxed and slow. We breathe and move as if the air is reaching the soles of our feet. The body is empty, like bamboo. We walk slow with grace and a dignity. Lifting the foot slightly, we touch the heel first, and then shift the weight to the tip of the foot while breathing out. The foot gradually touches the floor, and then pushes into the floor firmly. For a short moment you are standing still, because the out breath is continuous for a short while. When the inhale begins, you then move the other foot. With ringing of the bell, the feet are brought to a parallel position, we then bow. We keep walking back to the cushion, bow twice, and sit. This bow is known as gassho.


The Soto Zen School

Name of the School (shumei)

Sotoshu - The Soto Zen School

Tradition (dento)

The Soto Zen School transmits the true (Buddhist) dharma from Shakyamuni Buddha and the Patriarchs.

The Establishment of the School in Japan (Nihon Kaishu)

The essence of the Soto Zen School was transmitted during the Kamakura Period, some eight hundred years ago by Koso Dogen Zenji. The fourth patriarch Taiso Keizan Zenji further enhanced the School and both patriarchs are the two founding patriarchs of the School.

Daihonzan (The Two Head Temples/Monasteries)

Eiheiji of Fukui Prefecture, venerable founder Koso Dogen Zenji Sama
Sojiji of Kanagawa Prefecture, venerable founder Taiso Keizan Zenji Sama

The Main Image of Worship (Honzon)

The main image of worship of the Soto Zen School is Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Main Chant / Formula as means of offering devotion to the main image of worship (Honzon Shomyo)

Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha

Buddhist Doctrine (kyogi)

We are all children of the Buddha and come into this world endowed with the Buddha-Mind (busshin). However, failing to realize this, we live selfish, willful lives, causing ourselves much suffering.

If we make repentance to the Buddha and take refuge in him, our spirits will come to rest, our lives will experience harmony and light, and we will rejoice in being of service to society. We will also experience the deep faith that will allow us to stand up under any hardship. To discover happiness and a life worth living here is the teaching of the Soto Zen School.

Buddhist Sutras (okyo)

We recite various Buddhist sutras, including the Shushogi (Meaning of Practice and Enlightenment), the Hannyashingyo (Prajna-Paramita Heart Sutra), Kannongyo (The Lotus Sutra) and the Juryohon (Revelation of the Eternal Life of the Tathagata).

History of the Soto Zen School

It was during the period of the Southern Sung that Dogen Zenji travelled to China to study there. After visiting many temples in China, in the spring of his 26th year he encountered Ju-ching (Nyojo Zenji), the monk who had inherited the tradition Ts'ao-tung (Soto) lineage and who was the abbot of T'ien-t'ung Chung-tessu (Tendosan Keitokuji) Monastery. Dogen Zenji was thus able to inherit the Buddha Dharma which had been authentically transmitted since Shakyamuni Buddha.

Immediately after returning to Japan at the age of 28, Dogen Zenji authored the Fukanzazengi (Universal Recommendation of Zazen) to proclaim the authentically transmitted Buddha-Dharma. At that time there was pressure from the sides of traditional Buddhism in Japan, especially from the monks on Mt. Hiei. Dogen Zenji felt it to be an urgent task to raise up true seekers of the way in order to proclaim the truly transmitted teachings. With this in mind he first settled at Koshoji Temple in Uji and then at Eiheiji Temple in Echizen. Faithful to his pledge that even one person or even half a person would be enough, he dedicated himself wholeheartedly to raising up true followers of the Buddha Way.

This mind of Dogen Zenji was then passed on to his successors: Koun Ejo Zenji, the second patriarch of Daihonzan Eiheji, and Tettsu Gikai Zenji who founded Daijoji Temple in Kaga. Tettsu's disciple Keizan Zenji then inherited that Dharma. Among Keizan Zenji's disciples was Meiho Sotesu Zenji who later inherited Yokoji Temple, and Gasan Joseki Zenji who inherited Daihonzan Sojiji. These masters also produced many outstanding students who spread the teachings of the Soto Zen School around Japan.

Although the Rinzai Zen School, which also inherited one stream of Chinese Zen, had the support and belief of powerful persons at that time, including the bakufu and the nobility, the Soto Zen School counted adherents among wealthy families in the localities as well as the general masses so that it could popularize its teachings mainly to the countryside.

During the end of the Kamakura Period to the Muromachi Period, the Rinzai Zen School established five temples in Kyoto and Kamakura which had the highest temple status, thus inaugurating the system of the "Five Mountains-Ten Temples" (Gozan-Jissetsu). This greatly encouraged the development of culture influenced by the Zen mind, especially in the literary movement known as Gozan-Bungaku (Literature of the Five Mountains). In contrast, the Soto Zen School avoided such connections with central power, preferring to melt among the masses and respond to the simpler needs of commoners while continuing a slow but steady course of teaching activities. Nevertheless, in the flow of history the Soto Zen School also experienced periods of confusion and change.

The establishment of the jidan seido (temple lay parishioner's aystem) by the shogunate in the Tokugawa Period led to organization and control of the temples. Meanwhile many outstanding students teaching in the Soto Zen School made their appearance. They included Gesshu Soko, Manzan Dohaku and Menzan Zuiho. These persons were instrumental in correcting vices in Dharma transmission while emphasizing the need to return to Dogen Zenji's original mindfulness of Authentic Transmission Face-to-Face (menju-shiho). This was part of movements to revive the original mindfulness of the Soto Zen School. It also led to copious research on classics of the Soto Zen School, beginning with Dogen Zenji's magnum opus Shobogenzo (The Eye Treasury of the True Dharma), not to mention corrections and editing.

With the Meiji Restoration, the new government moved to locate the traditional Shinto religion in the center, separating Shinto and Buddhism while attempting to stamp out Buddhism. The government went so far as to proclaim the need to "throw out Buddha and overthrow Shakyamuni" (haibutsu-kishaku). This proved to be a major blow to the Buddhist world. But the various schools of Buddhist were able to override those troubles. The Soto Zen School saw the appearance of Ouchi Seiran Koji, who edited the original version of the Shushogi (Meaning of Practice and Enlightenment). Following this, Azegami Baisen Zenji of Daihonzan Sojiji Temple and Takiya Takushu Zenji of Daihonzan Eiheiji Temple made revisions and promulgated this text as the standard for popularization of the teaching of the Soto Zen School. The Shushogi has played a major role in popularization of the teaching among laypeople. As this shows, the Soto Zen School has developed into a major religious movement which includes about 15,000 temples and some eight million adherents throughout Japan. We now pledge ourselves to even greater efforts as we prepare for the 21st century.