Zendo is a Japanese term translating roughly as meditation hall. In Zen Buddhism, the zendo is a spiritual dojo where zazen, or sitting meditation, is practiced. A full sized Buddhist temple will typically be divided into at least one zendo as well as a hondo, literally base hall, sometimes translated as Buddha hall, which is used for ceremonial purposes, and a variety of other buildings with different functions. However, any place where people go to practice zen can be referred to as a zendo.

The first meal of the day in the Zendo will often be taken in the early morning, before dawn. It normally consists of rice gruel and pickled vegetables. The monks are summoned to meals by a gong that is struck. The five meditations are recited, after which monks will be served with the gruel and vegetables. Often monks will offer some of their meal to the pretas or hungry ghosts. Two meals are taken later, in the late morning and late afternoon. These meals usually consist of rice, vegetable soup and pickled vegetables. The monks remain silent during mealtimes and communicate via hand and arm gestures.

The following are recommendations on zendo etiquette, along with explanations of some Japanese terms. Etiquette varies in different temples, so the following rules may or may not apply in part or in full at any given zendo:

  • Enter the zendo on the left side of the entry, left foot first.
  • Gassho (place the hands palms together) and bow to the altar.
  • Walk forward across the room past the altar and go to a seat turning corners squarely. Cross in front of the altar only during kinhin (walking meditation).
  • Gassho and bow toward the seat, greeting the people to both sides.
  • The people on both sides respond to greeting.
  • Turn clockwise and face front.
  • Gassho and bow to those directly across room, greeting them.
  • They respond with a gassho-bow in greeting.
  • Sit down on the zafu (round cushion).
  • Turn clockwise toward the wall. (If in a Soto-style zendo, Rinzai style is to sit facing in from the wall.)
  • Always turn or move clockwise as viewed from above the zendo.

In some Buddhist sects there are as many as 348 precepts, or Patimoksha Rules, some of which serve as guidelines for the many details of monastic living, such as taking off your shoes before entering the zendo, and being sure your feet and clothes are clean. Fully ordained women are given about fifty more precepts than men. The precepts were created individually as situations arose that put monks and nuns in danger, or that were counterproductive to practice.

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