Image from What’s the Deal with Zen Ceremonies blog post by Brad Warner

I am happy to announce that we will be having a3rd floor, Suite 331, 217 Princess Anne Street, Fredericksburg, VA across from Carl’s Ice Cream. There is an elevator. formal Zen service on Sunday, September 11th at 2pm at our George Washington Executive Center location. This is an auspicious time because it comes at the time of a major Buddhist holiday in Japan, Ohigan (到彼岸).

This Zen service will be an annotated one meaning that I will pause the service at a number of points to explain the significance of what we are doing. It consists of chanting both in English and Sino-Japanese, zazen (seated meditation), tea and a dharma talk. It should last a little over an hour.

Introduction to Zen Buddhism (public library)

If you read any of the popular books about Zen you may be surprised that Zen has any formal ceremonies. For example, a classic book on Zen, Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki says:

Zen … is not a religion in the sense that the term is popularly understood; for Zen has no God to worship, no ceremonial rites to observe, … Zen is free from all these dogmatic and ‘religious’ encumbrances.

Zen is viewed as one of the most austere forms of from The Teacup and the Skullcup: Chögyam Trungpa on Zen and Tantra (public library)Buddhism devoid of ceremony. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpohe writes:

[Zen] is the accuracy of black and white. In the Zen tradition there is no gray, nor is there yellow, red, green, or blue: it is black and white. That is the paramita of meditation: dhyana practice, Zen practice, Ch’an. Dhyana, Zen, and Ch’an all mean meditation.

But Zen has plenty of ritual and ceremony. However, there is a What’s the Deal with Zen Ceremonies blog post by Brad Warnerdifference between a Zen ceremony and one from another faith. Brad Warner writes:

Although the ceremonies at Zen temples might look like the ones you see at houses of worship in other faiths, the approach we take is a little different. No one ever insists you must believe in any of the rituals and chants and suchlike in Zen. You’re not worshipping anyone. You’re not pledging your allegiance to the temple or to Buddha. You’re not heaping praise upon unseen entities.

The chanting is just chanting. The bowing is just bowing. The bells are just bells.The statues are just statues. The priests are just people. The combined activities engaged in at these ceremonies have a genuine effect that you can feel. But there is nothing supernatural about any of it.

There is a story that Peter Levitt, poet and Zen priest tells. Peter Levett is a beat poet and he tells the story of going to a 7 day meditation retreat lead by the Dalai Lama (the Dalai Lama was 27 at the time). So it was Peter and a bunch of other poets including Alan Ginsberg. One day of the retreat The Dalai Lama was teaching them to chant in Tibet with various hand motions. One of the poets goes up to Peter and says “go over to Alan and listen to him chant.”” So he goes up to Alan, and hears him intoning “Eenie Meenie Miny moe…” And Peter says “Alan, what are you doing?” To which Alan replies “Hey, it works”.