Practice Period

What Is Practice Period?

Practice period is a time to deepen one’s commitment to practice by taking on a bit or a lot more formal practice. It can also be characterized by an intention to practice with a precept such as not praising self at the expense of others or a paramita such as generosity or patience. Practice Period is deeply nourishing.

In the Buddha’s time, the monks would wander and teach during the dry seasons. During the rainy season they would gather together to practice and study as a group. This time of reflection continued in monastic practice in China and Japan. It has traditionally been 90 days long. This is the length of a practice period at Tassajara. At San Francisco Zen Center, Berkeley Zen Center and here practice periods often last 6-8 weeks and end with a five or seven day sesshin. Often, a “shuso” or head student helps the person leading the practice period and deepens their own training.

Accompanying this explanation is a calendar with the practice events for the practice period. Please review it and then fill out the statement of intention if you would like to participate in some way. Before filling out the intention statement, please think about what is realistic for you. It is useful for practice period to be a stretch but not if it is unrealistic. So, do not to commit to more than you can do. Better to commit to a bit less and do extra than to commit to too much and then feel bad.

The Practice Period is a good time for you to commit to a bit more zazen for yourself, mornings or evenings. On Saturday mornings, we will offer a longer early period of zazen, an hour, with a five minute interval in the middle. That means you can sit through or stand or change position during the interval. We will have informal breakfast on Saturday mornings, but it will be silent and buffet-style. On Wednesday evening November 1 for the check-in before the Full Moon Ceremony, we will use a Council format, with a “talking stone” held by the person talking.

The Practice Period will end with a five-day sesshin, November 15-19. If you cannot come during the days you work, please consider coming morning and/or evening to encourage those sitting and to deepen your own practice during those days. Then, sit the days you can. On Sunday, November 19, the Practice Period and sesshin will end with a Shosan Ceremony, in which students ask the teacher dharma questions that reflect their practice. Please try to come to this ceremony if you are in the Practice Period whether or not you are in the sesshin. It will begin at 3:30 p.m.

The class, on Wednesday evenings, will be on Chinese Ancestor Xiqian Shitou’s poem, “Song of the Grass Roof Hermitage.” The poem is included below. It begins:

I’ve built a grass hut where there’s nothing of value.

After eating, I relax and enjoy a nap.

When it was completed, fresh weeds appeared.

Now it’s been lived in—covered by weeds.

The person in the hut lives here calmly,

Not stuck to inside, outside or in between.

We will use Ben Connelly’s commentary, Inside the Grass Hut: Living Shitou’s Classic Zen Poem.

On October 21, we will have a Sangha Samu Day to take deep care of our temple. We may have a special basement project and we will work in the garden. Don’t forget our wonderful Sejiki, November 8, honoring the Hungry Ghosts, along with the party that follows. The party is also Practice Period Skit Night so come prepared to share your talent. More about this later.

At the beginning of the statement of intention, regarding your general intent, you might want to think about a theme for yourself, such as “right speech” or something in your daily life. It is also fine to simply stay with your breath and body. At the end of the statement, there is a question about any other commitment you may wish to make. Some of you might want to commit to sitting at home because of commute difficulties etc. Or you may need to use Zoom. We will explore a system of “practice buddies” during this Practice Period. This means you could have someone with whom to be accountable for sitting each day and/or for study. We will have a brief orientation meeting to discuss oryoki and buddies on Wednesday October 4 after the Full Moon Ceremony is over around 7. Oryoki ironing training will follow oryoki training on the 4th.

Please see me or call if you have any questions or you want some support in deciding about what commitment to make during the Practice Period.

Practice Period Calendar 2017

Regular schedule:

Tuesday:  6:20 a.m. (formal)

Wednesday: 6:20 a.m. and 5:40 p.m. (both formal)*

Thursday: 6:20 a.m. (formal)and 5:40 p.m.(informal)

Friday:  5:40 p.m. (informal)

Saturday: 7:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m: one hour zazen, with interval, service and silent buffet breakfast; continuing with 9:30 zazen and Saturday program

Special Schedule:


4 After Full Moon Ceremony: Orientation, drawing Practice Buddy, Oryoki training and ironing.

8  One Day Sit (6:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m.), Open Practice Period Ceremony at 8 p.m.

11 Class     After service at 6:10 p.m., and a short break, classes will last from 6:30-7:30 p.m

18 Class     After service at 6:10 p.m., and a short break, classes will last from 6:30-7:30 p.m

21 Sangha Samu Day 9:30a.m.-3 p.m.

25 Way-seeking Mind talk/Class: Zazen 5:40-6p.m., Talk 6-6:30p.m., Class 6:30-7:30 p.m. 


1       Full Moon Ceremony/Class: Zazen 5:40-6:00, Council/check-in 6-6:20, Ceremony 6:20-6:45. Class 6:55-7:45

4   Soji a.m.

8   Sejiki/Skit Night    4:45 p.m. altar prep/5:40 zazen/6:20ceremony/6:45 skit night

15-19  Sesshin  (6:30 a.m.-8:45 p.m. except Sunday ends with Shosan Ceremony at 3:30 p.m.)

19 Shosan Ceremony 3:30 p.m. Followed by Closing Ceremony (All in Practice Period are welcome)

*Formal sitting means more formal clothing and service, usually 40 minute period. Informal means less formal clothing and no service, usually 30 minute period.

Statement of intention 2017