During Sauzen, or the interview with the Zen master, the student is examined based on the life and spiritual knowledge he has acquired through the educational process. The close relationship between the disciple and the teacher is one of the main elements of the cultural and spiritual transmission
The Zen rituals have a background and a history of thousands of years and have as main objective the enrichment of personal experiences. Due to their oriental origins, the ritual may be considered out-of-the-ordinary from the Occidental point-of-view. The ability of the ritual goes beyond the force of the words, and is something that is embraced by the whole community - they are widely accepted and used as a way of cultural experience, personal enlightenment and as social phenomena. A few aspects have to be settled first. These refer to the special terms denoting elements within the ritual and which transmit a particular sense: Zendo - is the place where the Zen ritual actually takes place; Gassho - is the bowing practice in showing of gratitude; Mudra - is the hand gesture of position; Kinhin - is the walking meditation, Dharma - relates to the teaching, Sangha - Community practicioners, showing the importance of the group, in the detriment of the individual, Zazen -sitting meditation, Jikki Jitsu - time keeper and Ino - Chant leader.
In the next paragraphs we shall discuss, in general terms, some rituals that actually take place during the Zen culture. When entering and exiting the Zendo, the place of the ritual, the participants bow with hands palm to palm in the direction of the altar. This is our sign of gratitude to Buddha, the one that is our model of personal enlightenment. Showing signs of gratitude is not a strange or unfamiliar gesture for Christians. They frequently show their gratitude for God or the Church institution in many forms - by saying prayers (which is ritual of the Christian community), performing good deeds, helping the persons in need, educating the children in the holly spirit of the Church and Divinity. As a conclusion to the first ritual, the idea - expressing gratitude is not a strange one, but the modality is different. The different methods of showing gratitude vary greatly according to the cultural dimension and background of individuals.
Another element of the ritual is silence, present throughout all Zen ceremonies. This fact is also normal, since we consider that Zen ceremony is just another way of meditation, as it was pointed out before, meditation being the central point in the Zen spirituality.
The second step in the ritual would be to hold hands in kinhin mudra (performing the walking meditation, and executing gestures with the right hand - making a fist with the thumbs inside, place it against your belly, and cover it with your left hand). In my opinion, this is a sign of group cohesion (holding hands) and continuing the meditation. Whether it is walking or sitting, the meditation enables the individual to become part of world-specific things and enter another dimension - the spiritual one.
Before the participants prepare to sit down, they bow to their cushion as a sign of respect to the teachings and gratitude to former, present or future teachers. This characteristic could be easily understood by Western societies which usually care for their ancestors or professors, people with great life experience that could offer them some useful advices on how to avoid and resolve mistakes or unwanted situations.
The actual meditation starts with a number of bell rings and occurs for a period ranging from twenty up to thirty minutes. The bell ring is a symbol of leaving the terrestrial world and entering the meditation dimension. The objective of the meditation can be obtained only in 20-30 minutes, on a daily basis, of concentration. Another bell ring tells the participants that the sitting meditation is over and the walking meditation starts. The walking meditation is accompanied by chanting from the heart, with the entire body and mind. The procession is ended with another bow. The followers usually clean up the place, so as to maintain its equilibrium.
The Zen Buddhism could be described as personal enlightenment, the individual advance through knowledge and meditation. There are some clear differences as compared to other religions and beliefs, since the Zen Buddhism does not imply the idea of divinity. It is up to the individual to evolve both from the cultural and spiritual points-of-view. By bonding with a teacher, the disciple learns to meditate, conduct a proper life - in accordance with the morality, kindness and openness principles. In time, the disciple will become a teacher himself, and in this way the cultural and spiritual heritage will be transmitted. A trend observed in the present days is that the Zen belief captures new followers even from the Western societies, meaning that people are able to cross over structural differences and get to the hidden and profound fundament.
1) John Daido. "Symbol and Symbolized." Mountain Record: The Zen Practitioner's Journal, XXV, No. 2 (2007);
2) Maspero, Henri. Translated by Frank a. Kierman, Jr. Taoism and Chinese Religion. pg 46. University of Massachusetts, 1981
3) Suzuki, Daisetz T. (2004). The Training of the Zen Budhist Monk. Tokyo: Cosimo, inc.