We recognize that it is important that those very new to Zen take some time to explore the practice experientially and through study prior to taking the larger step of making a commitment to a formal relationship with a Zen teacher. This first stage might be called introductory practice or Zen 101…something along those lines. The amount of time this takes is individually determined, as are all phases of Zen study and practice, but we suggest no less than three months.

After that, there may come a time when a newcomer begins to notice a sense of unity or a feeling or being “at home” with Zen study and practice. For example, after several months of attending Liturgical Services, Study Group and Zazenkai with the Sangha, the student may wish to consider taking the first lay ordination ceremony called Kie San Bo. In this ceremony, the student takes vows in front of the local practice group stating that the Three Refuges of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are accepted and that there is an agreement to live by the Buddhist vows to stop doing evil, to do good, and to live in a way that brings about good for all beings.  At that time, the student “becomes” or acknowledges that he or she is, indeed, a Zen Buddhist practitioner. 

For some, that is an endpoint in and of itself. The practitioner may go on to practice independently at home, or find another group or another teacher to work with elsewhere. For others, there is a desire to continue study and practice with the same teacher and the Daibutsuji practice group. When further study in our Order is desired, a more “formal" teaching arrangement is established and these students go on to study for the second ordination called Jukai. This second ordination involves the students acceptance of the Bodhisattva Vows and the Ten Grave Precepts. This is the moral and ethical code that forms the basis and structure of the life of a Zen Buddhist. Jukai preparation may involve  3-5+ more years of self-paced study.  


The guidelines below have been written to help potential "formal" students decide if this is a role commensurate with current needs and interests.  It is expected that there will be many further questions to be addressed face to face in the future as this is a complex topic.

Following Kie San Bo (or if this has already been taken elsewhere, an appropriate length of time of general study with a teacher in our Order),  a student may decide to deepen both study and practice by formalizing the student-teacher relationship.  The point of becoming a Formal Zen Student is to accept the Bodhisattva Vows and the Ten Grave Precepts. This is the moral and ethical code that forms the basis and structure of the life of a Zen Buddhist. These precepts are taken in an ordination ceremony called Jukai which may involve about 3-5+ years of self-paced study.  

At this point of discernment, the student requests formal study with the Abbot, indicating an interest in becoming a Formal Student. A meeting is arranged where the parameters of becoming a private Zen student are discussed face to face.  If the teacher then accepts the student, the training begins. 

After Jukai, a very small percentage consider becoming Disciples and study for the priesthood over a much longer time period. 

In order to accomplish any of these goals, the Zen student-teacher relationship requires a commitment from both parties to respect the roles and boundaries set forth and to follow through with plans and agreements for Zen study and practice.  Zen studies and Zazen practice go hand-in-hand. There are no set-in-stone academic requirements, but there are several direct practice requests made of the student.  Each student and teacher work together to develop a cohesive, individualized study and practice plan meant to support and guide the student along a chosen spiritual path.  Additionally, a Zen student understands that the teaching relationship is meant to be kept "for life." Whatever hurdles or challenges the relationship faces, the two are meant to proceed together and come to a workable resolution. Unless there is overt abuse involved, there is no "running away" from this relationship. 

The primary mode of interaction between student and teacher is Sanzen. This is a private, or in some cases group, meeting where study and practice issues are addressed in detail.  As Zen Students we honor and respect the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Therefore, Sanzen meetings are dependent on participation in all three.  The remainder of this document describes the roles and basic expectations of a private, formal Zen student to the teacher and to the Sangha at large:


  1. Development of a home practice.
  2. Participation in private and/or group Sanzen.
  3. Participation in intensive practice opportunities, either with the local Sangha or in other locations.
  4. Wearing appropriate clothing in the Zendo: black or dark, muted colors are preferred-- martial arts wear-Gi, or black stretchy yoga/sport pants and a suitable top. Shorts, tank tops, tight or revealing clothing are not appropriate. Bright colors, and the color WHITE are seriously discouraged. Brights are a distraction and white is not worn for Zen practice except for funerals.  Jeans and regular pants are not recommended due to restricting circulation at the waist, hips and legs. 
  5. Learning the Zen liturgical service, understand it’s meaning, and becoming able to explain it to newcomers over time.
  6. Learning and performing multiple,  interchangeable roles in the Zendo such as Jikido, Ino, Tenzo, etc.
  7. Arriving at the Zendo well before the Service or event begins to help welcome and orient others who may be new or in need of some support or direction.
  8. Engaging with the Sangha—becoming active role models. Practicing with the Sangha, and attending intensive practice events as often as possible. Attending ceremonies of other students coming into the Order. Engaging one another—in and outside the Zendo.   Finding a direction for one’s practice. Manifesting one’s practice as “engaged Zen.”
  9. Remaining members “in good standing” of the Sangha: following through with mutually agreed upon commitments to the study/practice plan and Dana to the teacher.  Dana to the teacher is a long-standing Buddhist tradition and is the way we recognize and show appreciation for the time our teachers devote to us. 
  10. By definition then, formal Zen Students are leaders in the Sangha. Zen study and practice are central to everyday life, as is commitment to the student-teacher relationship and the Sangha in general. The formal student focuses on developing skills that help others, makes great efforts to satisfy the requests of the teacher, and aims to become a living model of the principles of Zen practice and study. All of this takes considerable time, energy and commitment.


Sanzen is a private interview with the teacher, with intense focus on the students Zen practice. In many Centers, students may only meet directly with a teacher 2-4 times a year during Sesshin. Perhaps for 15 minutes or less each time. Currently, the Abbot arranges to meet with formal students weekly, either in person or via Skype. 

Full priests who have received “Dharma Transmission” traditionally give Sanzen. This means that they have been authorized by their own teacher to teach the Dharma independently. Sometimes, senior students are permitted to teach, under the direct supervision of their teacher, much like any other professional training program. You will know who is available to teach at any given time by inquiring of the Abbot at  Rev. Shukke is currently accepting local students.  Daiho-roshi and Gozen-roshi are no longer taking on private teaching roles with students as they have retired to emeritus status.

Everything that is said within the Sanzen session is confidential between priest and practitioner/s. The exception is when the priest is in training and must disclose information to his/her own teacher for supervisory purposes. OR, if something comes up in the meeting that leads the priest to believe the student is in imminent danger of harm to self or others.  In this last situation, anything that can be done to keep all parties safe will be done.


Sanzen is essentially an investigation by the teacher of the student’s practice that aims to deepen the student’s understanding and realization. Zen students establish a schedule for private meetings with their teacher, and are dedicated to attending those meetings on a regular basis as a core aspect of their training. 

Teacher and student generally sit facing one another on zafus to hold the Sanzen meeting. They bow to one another at the beginning and at the end, as a sign of respect for the teaching that goes both ways. The teacher begins the meeting with a question, the student answers and the exchange proceeds from there in the same fashion. Question and answer.

Sanzen topics always have a Zen focus. So, it is very helpful to keep a Zazen Practice Journal/Study Journal between meetings to write down thoughts, questions, and general description and flow of your practice. This will provide you with a huge amount of material to draw from in Sanzen.

One way to view Sanzen interactions, for the beginning student, is to look at them as interactions that are focused around three broad areas of practice known as the Three Treasures: Buddha (awakening), Dharma (reality/teachings), and Sangha (community). Teachers may ask about students’ Zazen practice in detail (Awakening), various aspects of Zen teachings that may have been assigned (Dharma), and about any relational issues that may come about within the Sangha or the student’s life in general, including level of participation in Zendo activities (Sangha).

When it comes to Awakening we are looking for manifesting insight, with Dharma study it is the ability to move from intellectual understanding of the teachings to manifesting them in the world, and with Sangha practice, we are looking for ways that the student internalizes and manifests harmony within the community. The teacher’s role in Sanzen is to support the student’s practice at every level, and to gradually move the focus from discussions about “what happened last week” or "I said and then he said" to the student’s direct experience in practice, and questions related to the Great Matters. But this will take time, effort, and diligent practice on the part of the student, and skillful means on the part of the teacher.


  • Sanzen is not psychotherapy. If therapeutic issues arise, the teacher will refer the student to appropriate community resources to address those particular issues. 
  • Sanzen is not a place to get advice about how to solve life problems.Those questions are very important in  Zen, and are for the student to grapple with through practice and study. A Zen teacher does not “tell you what you should do.”
  • Sanzen is not a place for purely intellectual discussions about Zen Buddhism and the students’ opinions of it. Academic knowledge may be gained in a variety of ways and settings. Study with a Zen teacher focuses on Practice, which is also the focus of Sanzen. 


  • If  unable to attend Sanzen, students contact the teacher by text or by phone asap. 
  • Missed appointments are not rescheduled during the same week.  Meetings are resumed the following week. 
  • Questions for the teacher, or thoughts between meetings are emailed to the teacher unless there is another arrangement. 
  • As a rule,  teachers communicate with students during regular business hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm.

Please feel free to direct any questions to Rev. Kathryn Shukke Hilbert at

We are always trying to make things as clear as possible to our online readers as well as our local Sangha, so your input is very valuable. Please let us know if there are areas that need clarity.  

Example of a beginning student's reading list for Zen Training:

On Buddhism:

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula
1974, Grove Press
A profound explanation of the fundamental principles of Buddhism by a Theravadan Monk, referring to the most ancient texts in this tradition.

Buddhism without Beliefs: A contemporary guide to awakening by Stephen Batchelor
1998, Bloomsbury Publishing.
A modern presentation of the essential teachings of Buddhism.

Sôtô Zen Tradition:

The Ring of the Way, Taisen Deshimaru (Tr: Nancy Amphoux; Ed: Evelyn de Smedt & Dominique Dussaussoy)
1987, Penguin
The essentials of Master Deshimaru’s Zen teaching, at once traditional and radical, presented clearly and systematically.

Questions to a Zen Master, Taisen Deshimaru (Tr: Nancy Amphoux)
1985, Penguin
A collection of Deshimaru’s mondo – formal question/answer exchanges – giving insight into zen philosophy, practice and living.

Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo, Kosho Uchiyama
1990, Kyoto Soto Zen Centre.
Pithy sayings of Master Kodo Sawaki, and anecdotes from his life, illustrating his direct no-nonsense approach to Zen.

One Robe, One Bowl: Zen Poetry of Ryokan, Taigu Ryokan (tr/ed: John Stevens)
1987, Weatherhill
Beautiful, spartan, simple poetry from an 18th century Zen hermit-monk.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
1973, Weatherhill.
A collection of teachings from talks given by Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki transmitting the essence of Soto Zen in a modern language, accessible to all.

Not Always So, Shunryu Suzuki
2003, HarperOne.
A second collection of teaching-talks given by Suzuki, this time focused more on practical aspects of Zen practice.

Zen Seeds, Reflections of A Female Priest, by Shundo Aoyama
1991, Kosei Shuppan-Sha.
Through anecdotes and reflections, a modern female Zen master gives us teachings of simplicity and wisdom.

The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, Taisen Deshimaru (Tr: Nancy Amphoux)
1991, Penguin Compass
Master Deshimaru, also a skilled practitioner of kendo, skillfully applies his understanding of Zen to the practice of martial arts.

Diary of a Zen Nun, Nan Shin (Nancy Amphoux)
1987, Rider and Co.
Vivid, raw flashes of life from a disciple of Deshimaru as she deepens her practice of Zen while living with cancer.

Extended Reading:

The Sutra of Great Wisdom – Commentary by Master Deshimaru, Taisen Deshimaru (new edition revised and corrected by Philippe Coupey, Tr: Ilsa Fatt Priest)
2007, Association Zen Internationale
Deshimaru’s commentary on the Heart Sutra, one of the core texts of Mahayana Buddhism, bringing it to life for the modern world.

Dogen Zen (Dogen, Menzan, Uchiyama Tr. Okumura etc.)
2002, Sotoshu Shumucho
A selection of core Japanese Soto Zen texts allowing readers to understand the characteristics of zazen practice as taught by Dogen Zenji.

Living and Dying in Zazen, Arthur Braverman
2003, Weatherhill Inc.
The life stories and core teachings of five 20th century Japanese Zen Masters.

Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, Shunryu Suzuki
1999, University of California Press
Master Shunryu Suzuki gives a commentary on the San Do Kai of the Chinese Master Sekito Kisen. In a simple and living language, he expresses the essence of Zen in its depth and subtlety.

Returning to Silence: Zen Practice in Daily Life, Dainin Katagiri
1988, Shambhala Publications
Through his humanity, wisdom and depth of teaching, Dainin Katagiri speaks to the heart.

Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice, Kosho Uchiyama
2005, Wisdom publications.
Clear, conceptual presentation of many of the core ideas of Zen philosophy, together with guidance for practice.

Zen – Simply Sitting. Philippe Coupey
2006, Hohm Press
A fresh, sometimes irreverent, perspective on Dogen’s classic ‘Fukanzazengi’ – a short text on the essentials of Zen practice.

The Record of Transmitting the Light: Zen Master Keizan's Denkoroku, Keizan Jokin (Tr: Francis Cook),
2005, Wisdom Publications
An accessible and clear translation of Master Keizan’s Denkoroku.

Master Dogen’s Writings:

The Wholehearted Way, A Translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa - Eihei Dogen, (with commentary by Kosho Uchiyama, Tr. by Shohaku Okumura and Taigen Dan Leighton)
1997, Tuttle Publishing
This is an accessible and thorough translation of Master Dogen’s Bendowa, with useful and clarifying commentary by Kosho Uchiyama.

Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Books 1-4, Eihei Dogen - (Tr. : Gudo Nishijima and Chodo Cross)
1994-2006, Windbell Publications Ltd.
The most rigorous and complete of the translations of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo currently available (as of March 2011).

Moon in a Dewdrop, Eihei Dogen, (Tr. Kazuaki Tanahashi)
1986, North Point Press.
Selected chapters from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo and a selection of his poetry, translated in an accessible, dynamic and fluid fashion which does justice to Master Dogen’s use of paradoxical language and vivid imagery.

Enlightenment Unfolds: The Essential Teachings of Zen Master Dogen, Eihei Dogen, (Tr. Kazuaki Tanahashi)
1999, Shambhala Publications Inc.
A sequel to Moon in a Dewdrop, this book includes excerpts from Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo along with some of his other writings.

Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Eihei Dogen (Tr. Kazuaki Tanahashi)
To be released July 2011, Shambhala Publications Inc.
The latest complete translation of the Shobogenzo by the translator who brought us Moon in a Dewdrop and Enlightenment Unfolds.

Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, Eihei Dogen (Tr. Taigen Dan Leighton and Shohaku Okumura.)
2005, Wisdom Publications
Representing the first complete and scholarly translation of the Eihei Koroku, the other major body of writings by Master Dogen, containing extensive and detailed research and annotation.

Nothing is Hidden:Essays on Zen Master Dogen’s Instructions for the Cook (Tr. Griffith Foulk, Edited by Jisho Warner, Shohaku Okumura, John McRae and Taigen Dan Leighton.)
2001, Weatherhill Inc.
A translation of and collection of commenting essays on Master Dogen’s Tenzo Kyokun, his Instructions for the Cook, by leading Zen monks and scholars offering clear and instructive perspectives on this text.

Teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni:

In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon (Edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi)
2005, Wisdom
A manageable, well-chosen collection of texts from the Buddha himself, unexcelled in clarity and depth.

The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nigkaya (Teachings of the Buddha) (Tr. Waurice Walshe)
1995 Wisdom Books

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya (Teachings of the Buddha) (Tr. Bhikkhu Boshi)
1995 Wisdom Books

The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya (Tr. Bhikku Bodhi)
2003 Wisdom Books
Three collections comprising together a large part of the original teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Excellent translations of essential works.

Mahayana Sutras:

The Lotus Sutra (Tr. Burton Watson)
1993, Columbia University Press
Truly the crown of the Mahayana sutra tradition.

The Diamond Sutra (Tr. Red Pine)
2002, Counterpoint
The sutra known as the jewel that cuts through illusion.

The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti (Tr. Robert A. F. Thurman )
2009 Penn State Press
Teachings on emptiness to Buddha's disciples, given by the layman Vimalakirti.

The Flower Ornament Scripture: Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra (Tr. Thomas Cleary)
1994 Shambhala
A Mahayana classic of colossal importance, translated by one of the best.

The Lankavatara Sutra (Tr. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki)
1999 Motilal Banardsidass
An important text for the Zen school in China, which was sometimes even called the Lankavatara school for its devotion to this sutra. Thoroughly outlines Yogacara philosophy.

Surangama Sutra (Tr. Charles Luk)
2000 Munshiram Manoharial Publishers
One of the last of the great Mahayana Sutras. Like The Lankavatara Sutra it is especially important for the Zen school, also drawing heavily on the concepts of the Yogacara school.

Zen Masters in China:

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma (Tr. Red Pine)
1989 North Point Press
A collection of impressive texts attributed to the first ancestor of Zen in China.

Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi (Tr. Taigen Dan Leighton and Yi Wu)
2000, Tuttle
A beautiful collection of short talks from one of the most significant masters of Song China.

Book of Serenity (Tr. Thomas Cleary).
Of the classical Sung dynasty koan collections, this is this one with the greatest resonance within the Soto school, selected and with accompanying verses by the great Soto Master Hongzhi (Jp. Wanshi).

Dogen Zenji:

Soto Zen – An Introduction to Zazen (Ed. Shohaku Okumura)
2002, Shumucho
Perhaps the shortest introduction to Soto Zen practice, with clear instructions on practice and translations of classic teachings.

Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation (Tr. Kazuaki Tanahashi)
An excellent translation of a collection of texts by Master Dogen on the practice of zazen.

Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community (Tr. Taigen Daniel Leighton and Shohaku Okumura)
1995, SUNY Press
A collection of texts on the practice of monastic life at Eiheiji. Includes the Tenzo Kyokun (instructions to the cook), the Chiji Shinji (regulations for the temple administrators) as well as texts on the meals, comportment towards elders and rules for the study hall.

The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans (Tr. John Daido Loori and Kazuaki Tanahashi)
2005, Shambhala
Until recently a text of disputed authenticity, now recognized as Dogen's own collection of traditional Zen stories, an interesting complement to a study of the Shobogenzo.

How to Cook Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi
2005, Shambhala
An excellent translation with commentary on Master Dogen's Tenzo Kyokun, understood as a teaching on how to practice in daily life.

The Zen Poetry of Dogen – Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace (Tr. Steven Heine)
1997, Tuttle
A collection of Dogen's poetry with scholarly commentary, including translations from the Sanshodoei, a collection of poems in Japanese intended for laypeople.

Shobogenzo Zuimonki – Sayings of Eihei Dogen Zenji Recorded by Koun Ejo (Tr. Shohaku Okumura)
1988, Shumucho
A record of informal talks given by Master Dogen to his disciples at Kosho-ji in the early years of his teaching. Notable for its accessibility and relevance.

Zen Masters in the West:

Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki. (David Chadwick)
2000, Three Rivers Press
A fascinating biography of an important modern Zen master and an engaging history of his sangha's early development in America.



Zen Buddhism: A History (India and China)
Zen Buddhism: A History (Japan)

By Heinrich Dumoulin (two volumes)
2005, Wisdom
A classic and authoritative history of Zen, from its beginnings to the contemporary period.

Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra (Taigen Dan Leighton)
2007, Oxford University Press
An excellent introduction to the philosophical dimension of the Lotus Sutra for contemporary practitioners of Soto Zen already familiar with Master Dogen's teachings.

The Art of Just Sitting: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza (Various authors and translators; edited by John Daido Loori)
2002, Wisdom
An anthology of classical and modern texts on the practice of zazen.