How students should prepare for zazen 坐禅心得 ( zazen kokoroe)

How students should prepare for zazen

Shared by Kaz

In 2012, Rev Ito shared with students how students should be prepared to come to our zendo for zazen. “Rinzai hakone zendo zazen kokoroe”. I added explanations.

  1. 礼儀作法 (reigi saho): Etiquette & be courteous. Students should respect the zendo and other students. Students can clean and set up our zendo where we meditate. To be courteous to others, students can avoid disturbing others by arrive early and try move less during zazen.
  2. 坐してかんがえよ (za shite kangae yo): Just sit. Do not think anything. Don’t think about what you are going to do later today or what happened to you earlier, just sit to be yourself.
  3. 坐をきめよ (za wo kime yo)(座相)zasou: Find your center and sit. Students can move bodies from side to side and front and back to find their center.
  4. 背筋 頭 丹田 (sesuji atama tanden): Let your body to sit. Straighten your spine and align your head. Focus on tanden, 2.5 inches below your navel. Your mind and everything sit in tanden.
  5. 気息を坐らせよ (kisoku wo suwaraseyo):  Control your breath. 1/3 should be inhaling, and 2/3 should be exhaling. Try longer exhaling.
  6. 丹田を落ち着かせここが己の住処なり (tanden wo ochitsukase kokoga onoreno sumika nari):  Focus on tanden. Breathe slowly and abdominally.

Here is recording of teisho by Rev Ito from 7/22/2012.

Emptiness, through the ages

Shared by Dev

I wanted to talk briefly on the interpretation of emptiness, which is a central tenet. Buddhism is in its third millennia. What we practice here is transmitted through multiple countries and cultures. Things have been added, and also changed, may be removed. The original Scriptures in Pali (which is derived from Sanskrit) mentions shunyata, not emptiness. The word shunyata is hard to translate.  It’s derived from the digit zero, shunya- a mathematical concept. The word we use today – emptiness didn’t convey the same meaning IMO. It also doesn’t translate back to Shunyata. Maybe zeroness. This shows the limitations imposed by languages, translations and ultimately what a word can capture. 

Would like to mention a quote by Bodhidharma which is really captured the meaning of emptiness for me: “The mind that neither exists nor doesn’t exist is called the Middle Way.””

Ultimately every generation attempts to convey the meaning of emptiness and non-attachment. For our generation this is especially difficult due  to the complexities of this world, which grabs our attention at every turn. I feel the best way to express and understand emptiness is to feel it as we try to detach from our senses during zazen from the many attachments of the modern world. We try to observe our minds as it attaches to each of the sensations, understand it’s nature of it and detach from it once we realize.  Ultimately, as Buddha said everything in this world is empty but realizing it is requires peaceful effort. 

End with another quote by Bodhidharma, motivated by the koi pond outside:

“although the buddha comes from the mind, the mind doesn’t come from the buddha, just as fish come from water, but water doesn’t come from fish. Whoever wants to see a fish sees the water before he sees the fish./ And whoever wants to see a buddha sees the mind before he sees the buddha. Once you’ve seen the fish, you forget about the water. And once you’ve seen the buddha, you forget about the mind. If you don’t forget about the mind, the mind will confuse you, just as the water will confuse you if you don’t forget about it.”

Ref: The Zen teaching of Bodhidharma by Red pine :

The Freedom of the Heart and Mind 

Shared by Reni

  Stephen Batchelor introduces us to modern-day Buddhism in contemporary life. He published multiple books on Buddhism after he studied Tibetian, South Korean and European Buddhism he culminated his own way of Secular Buddhism. In his younger age he visited India where he was introduced to Tibetan Buddhism and he chose to take monastic ordination due to the strong personal connection to its fundamental ideas, later on he decided to move to South Korea, where he continued his studies in contemplative practices in Rinzai zen. 

     Stephen Batchelor, in his book, calls to mind the way of being in the construct of emptiness. Within the search of self, one can easily get confused by simply thinking “no-self” leads to a meaningful life. However, I think denying oneself takes away from everything that truly matters in this world. How can compassion, caring and universal love arise in someone’s heart without knowing the individual self? The very individual self that can recognize its shortcomings and take responsibility for its own existence while it’s harmoniously connected to the conscious universe.

       Understanding the dualistic nature of egoistic self where the mind creates conflicts, hatred, violence, divisions, beliefs and dogmas. The author states in his book: “The four ennobling truths become principal dogmas of the belief system known as “Buddhism”. The Buddha’s teachings lost its meaning once it was elevated into an unreachable moment for an everyday person without spiritual guidance.

      Buddha’s nature is attainable to everyone. Nevertheless, emptiness is a heartfelt personal moment. The Buddha found his own pathway and he encouraged us to find our own ways to reach the same central pathway. He was able to alleviate his own pain without any self destruction and find the way to authentic awakening. Emptiness is such an elusive word, it can mean freeing ourselves away from harmful negative attachments. I think emptiness is the infinite depth of oneself mirroring the universal consciousness. The freedom of the heart and mind can help us experience new life stories without the burden of preconceived notions and prejudice. 

Zazen-kai at Engakuji, Head Rinzai Temple in Kamakura

Shared by Kaz

During my recent business trip to Tokyo, I joined zazen-kai at Engakuji, a Rinzai temple in Kamakura located southwest of Tokyo. 

I have traveled to Tokyo for business several times a year for over a decade.  I tried to join Zazen-kai in Tokyo but couldn’t find any Zazen-kai that fit my schedule. So this time, I decided to stay in Yokohama, between Tokyo and Kamakura, to join Zazen-Kai at one of Rinzai’s head temples in Kamakura. Kamakura is a city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, known for its historical significance and numerous Zen temples. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), it served as the political center of Japan and witnessed the rise and influence of Zen Buddhism.


Rinzai Zen, one of the major Zen sects in Japan, originated in China and was introduced to Kamakura during the late 12th century. The founder of Rinzai Zen in Kamakura was a Chinese Zen master named Eisai, also known as Zen Master Daitō Kokushi. 

Zen Buddhism, also known as Chan Buddhism in China, was introduced to Japan from China during the 12th century. The Kamakura period was marked by social and political unrest, and the teachings of Zen Buddhism resonated with the samurai class and gained popularity among the ruling elite.

Engakuji was established in 1282 and is in front of Kita Kamakura station.  Engakuji was established by the eighth Kamakura regent Hojo Tokimune (1251–1284), who wished both to spread the Zen teachings and to bring peace to the spirits of all those, both Japanese and Mongol, who had perished during the Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281.

The teachings of Zen Buddhism resonated with the samurai ethos, as it emphasized discipline, mindfulness, and the ability to act decisively in the face of challenges. In addition, Zen meditation, known as zazen, offered the samurai a way to cultivate mental clarity, focus, and a sense of presence.

Engakuji’s association with the samurai class extended beyond spiritual practice. Engaku-ji also served as a place for the training and education of samurai warriors. In addition, the temple’s grounds included facilities for martial arts training, such as archery and swordsmanship, providing a holistic approach to developing the samurai’s mind and body.

Zazen-kai at Engakuji

Engakuji offers a daily morning zazen-kai starting at 6 am. People who wanted to join the Zazen-kai lined up by the Butsu den. I joined for two days during this trip, and we had about ten people each day. When I lined up, I vowed to the person in front of me and then vowed to the butsu-den. We waited for the monk’s arrival in silence.

Once the monk arrived, we said “good morning” and were then ushered into the butsudan silently. People who were not familiar with Zazen gathered for a quick tutorial while everyone else settled wherever they wanted to sit.

The monk hit the taku and bell, which echoed in the butsu-den, signaling the start of zazen. Soon, I started to hear birds chirping and the sound of motorcycles, very familiar sounds for me at Hakone Gardens. After 20 minutes, the monk hit the taku and bell, indicating the end of the first session. After a short silent break, the second session started. The monk began walking with the keisaku. People who wanted to receive the keisaku vowed when the monk was passing in front of them. I vowed and received the keisaku. Since there was no tatami, I was told to hold both elbows and keep my head down. As expected, the keisaku was given harder (not tapping) than what we offered at our Zendo. It was loud as it echoed in the butsu-den, but it didn’t hurt.

After the zazen-kai was over, I took the rush-hour train back and reflected on my experience. Over 750 years ago, samurai warriors meditated at this temple to quiet their minds. It is amazing that we practice the same meditation today in our zendo, located 5,000 miles away from the temple, and speaking a different language.

I am thankful to have joined the zazen-kai at Engakuji and will definitely come back.


Sharing by Peter

photo by Sondra

“Interbeing” is a new word and a new concept introduced by Thich Nhat Hanh.  He employs this new word to explain the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. 

A sheet of paper, for example, is an interbeing as it is connected with a cloud through a chain of relationships.

Without a cloud, there will be no rain;

without rain, the trees cannot grow;

and without trees, we cannot make paper. 

If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.

So we can say that the loud and the paper inter-are. 

According to this concept, everything in the universe exists in relation to everything else, and no single entity can be understood in isolation from the rest. 

In Buddhism, one of the core teachings is NON-SELF or NO SELF. The common understanding of SELF is INDIVIDUAL SELF (my SELF, Your SELF, her SELF, his SELF). It is largely based upon the principle of INDIVIDUALISM.  If we apply the concept of ‘Interbeing’, it might help us understand better what NON-SELF really means.  It simply means we should abandon INDIVIDUAL SELFs and adopt one universal INTERBEING  SELF instead. 

“Nothing happens until something moves. When something vibrates, the electrons of the entire universe resonate with it. Everything is connected.”

—- Albert Einstein

The Impossible Question J. Krishnamurti

Sharing by Reni.

In our everyday lives we tend to ask possible questions. Why? Is it difficult for us to ask impossible questions? What if the constant feeling of “something is missing” is beyond our thinking mind. What if we only find real answers within the unknown. What if we only find it in the unseen. Can you let yourself think outside of your projected self in the societal system? Can you embrace your true self? The unknown is out of our control, creating a sense of unease. We naturally want to stay in the “known”, which provides a sense of safety. The obsession with safety is embedded in control. However, not everything is in our control. Living with conformity of thought results in impediment to freedom. Krishnamurti explains his idea while he is having an open conversation with a crowd of listeners;

“A mind that is capable of learning is entirely different from a mind which is capable only of conforming. A mind that is learning, that is observing, seeing actually ‘What is’, is not interpreting “what is” according to its own desires, its own conditioning, its own particular pleasures.”

When I finally understood his words I could free myself from conformity. It led me to the realization that love was within me. The feeling of “something is missing” simply dissipated, and in that very moment, my soulful heart actualized.

“The mind that is actually free, has no inward authority whatsoever; it knows what it means to love and to meditate.”

One of my favorite discussions from the book is the flower’s pure existence;  

“You cannot be whole if you do not know what love is. If you are whole-in the sense we are talking about-then there is no question of loving another. Have you ever watched a flower by the roadside. It exists, it lives in the sun, in the wind, in the beauty of light and colour, it does not say to you: ‘Come and smell me, enjoy me, look at me’-it lives and its very action of living is love.”

Ann’s New Year Sharing

Image from

On New Year’s Eve, in many Buddhist temples, there is a ceremony of ringing the temple bell 108 times (Joya-no-kane). The bells are rung 108 times to symbolically represent the cleansing of 108 worldly imperfections or passions (defilements) from the year just ending.

Eihei Dogen, a Soto Zen priest, referred to these 108 defilements as 108 Dharma Gates which are viewed as opportunities to progress on the Path of spiritual maturity…..rather than only for purification.

Since we have our New Year’s zazenkai on this the first day of the new year, we changed up the tradition to focus on the Dharma Gates inherent in the 108 ringing of the bells….the positive toward which we strive.

Sitting in a camp fire type circle and using our big bowl, a student rang the bell with everyone else doing a sitting bow, and then scooted the bowl to the next student who rang the bowl, with pattern continuing until 108 strikes had been completed. While this was going on, Aaron would occasionally announce a Dharma Gate , which was the counter to a defilement…..kindness,gratitude, faithfulness, tolerance, respect, satisfaction, and ending with peace. It seemed a lovely experience.

The sky blue, the birds vocal, the air crisp, the sangha together.
New Year’s Day at Hakone.
Ichi-e is a link to view event in Japan. is a link to defilements is another link to defilements.