Zendo or Zen Dojo (meditation hall) is a specific room, house, institution or any given place in the world where zen or zazen (a form of seated meditation) is practiced with origins emerging from Japan.
Although the meditation centers in Japan are commonly known as Zendo, according to Zen Buddhism, any dōjō where zazen is practiced can be called a zen-dō – no matter where it is in the world.
Generally speaking, Dojo is a place for physical exercise, starting with professional wrestling. The word literally translates to “the place of the way” in Japanese.
Traditionally, a dojo was used for martial arts in the early days but in recent times, it is used in other fields for a variety of purposes including Zen meditation and even software development but in the western world, dojo as a single word refers to Japanese martial arts training ground such as judo, karate-do, aikido, etc.
On the other hand, when we say “Zen Dojo”, by adding the word “zen” before the word “dojo”, we refer to the place to practice zen or zazen. The use of the term dojo has also increased in other training fields. Examples include testing dojo, coding dojo, agile coaching dojo etc.
Dojo in Zen Buddhism
As far as Zen Buddhism is concerned, the word “Zendo” is more consistent in meaning than the word “Dojo” and so it seems to be used more.
However, European Soto Zen Group, in line with the opinion of their founding guru Taisen Deshimaru, prefers the word “Dojo” to “Zendo”.
An architecturally complete Zen Buddhist temple has at least one Zendo and one Hondō. The word, “Hondo” is a Japanese word which literally translates to “Main hall”.
Main Hall or “Buddha Hall” can also be referred to as butsu-dō, butsuden, konpon-chūdō or kondō. It is mainly used for ceremonial purposes.
Some Rituals of Zendo or Zen Dojo
There are many Zen temples where meals are served three times daily inside Zendo during Sesshin. Breakfast is served before sunrise in the morning, which usually consists of a simple dish made from rice gruel and pickled vegetables.
Then, the next two meals are served at noon and in the late afternoon of which the noon meal is the main course meal. Lunch usually consists of rice, vegetables soup and pickled vegetables.
Nothing new is cooked at night as the leftover of the lunch is eaten in the evening.
Mantra lessons are arranged in the morning and before lunch. Notable among the mantras are “The Heart or Hridaya Sutras” and other meditation mantras and chants.
While eating, the monks do not speak with their mouths, instead they communicate via hand gestures.
Other Rituals and Etiquette of Dojo in General
Traditionally, some rituals are observed in the dojo such as: not wearing shoes inside the dojo, cleaning the dojo thoroughly before and after each exercise, etc.
Although over time these practices have not been able to maintain their continuity in their original form as many of such rules are not followed properly in the case of various modern dojos.
Some of the notable dojos that are conducted following proper ritual include:
- Aikikai Hombu Dojo (Aikido)
- Nakazato Karate Weapons Gym (Shorin-ryu Shorinkan)
- Kodokan Judo Institute (Judo)
- Noma Dojo (Kendo)
Making Zen Dojo or Zendo at Home
It is possible to create a small zen dojo in your home by collecting a few necessary items. The first thing you need is zafu and zabuton. However, zazen training at home takes a few other materials besides zafu and zabuton.