What to Expect

The Bright Sea Zen Sangha is open to the public. All who are interested in Zen meditation are welcome to visit. Activities are all free, with suggested donations encouraged. We are currently meeting only online via Zoom. Below are the protocols for in-person meetings, which we follow as best we can online. Please contact us for an orientation if you have not sat with us before.

Wednesday night orientations offer brief introductions to zazen (the Zen style of meditation), to postures that will help you sit comfortably and in stillness, to meditation hall etiquette, and to Zen liturgy.  If any of that is new to you, please consider coming to an orientation! Email to let us know you are coming and to arrange for an orientation. The evening typically follows the following pattern:

  • A few minutes before the scheduled starting time, everyone will begin sitting quietly, on either a meditation cushion or in a chair.
  • At exactly the scheduled starting time, the service will begin. The practice leader will light incense. Then everyone will join in three bows. These are standing bows or full bows (where one kneels and touches the forehead to the floor). Individuals uncomfortable with or unable to do full bows may do standing bows, or simply stand.
  • The service itself consists of about 20 minutes of chanting selections from our liturgy, followed by one or more 25-minute periods of sitting meditation. Newcomers generally just listen to the chanting until they get the sense of each chant’s rhythm.
  • Between the chanting and each period of sitting meditation is a brief period of walking meditation. Individuals needing to go to the restroom or to leave are encouraged to do so during the walking meditation period so as to minimize disturbances during the other parts of the service.
  • Some sittings feature an opportunity to have a private interview with a Zen teacher. These are opportunities to ask questions about Zen practice, most particularly focusing on your own experiences. On other evenings, a teacher will give a talk on Dharma topics, with time for Q&A afterwards.
  • The sittings ends with a short chant and 3 standing or full bows and one more chant.

In your orientation you will be shown how to do seated and walking meditation, and how to follow along with the service including full or standing bows.

In addition to the introduction of the sitting postures (on a chair, on a bench, cross-legged), newcomers will notice that there seems to be numerous rules for how to do everything – don’t worry about this at all! It is true; there are a lot of rituals. The purpose of the rituals is to eventually free you from having to think about what to do – another way to help still the mind. As a newcomer there is no need to worry about them. Everything is done slowly. Just imitate the people who seem to know what they are doing.