Residential Training Guidelines

Residential Training Guidelines and Agreements

(Version June, 2013)


Great Vow Zen Monastery is a training center established for the purpose of enabling students of Zen Buddhism to deepen their practice in a residential environment. In choosing to enter into this intensive training you are making a commitment to discover new levels of understanding and meaning in your life. You will also learn to use tools that will help you end your own suffering and the suffering of others. As a resident you will be continually encouraged to investigate your own heart, mind and intentions and, at the same time, to serve the sangha and local community. The monastery is not just a nice place to live with a supportive group of like-minded people; it is a place in which you are called upon to explore the great matter of your own life and death.


The essence of Zen practice is to respond appropriately with your whole being to whatever life brings you in each moment. Life is unpredictable. Residency at Great Vow Zen Monastery reflects this unpredictability. It gives you the opportunity to meet life's challenges by adapting to the varying schedules and expectations; often visitors come, spontaneous meetings are held, and public events are frequent. Since our schedule is already demanding and our sleep periods are shortened, it is important to use all the tools we have acquired through our practice in responding smoothly and fully to these occurrences. In life we never know what is coming next, either from others or ourselves, but we can do our best to be open, balanced and tranquil in whatever circumstances arise.


As a resident you will be expected to participate fully in the training program by attending all meditation periods, formal meals, sesshin, sanzen and other group events. Our schedule is intentionally meant to be personally demanding because learning to adapt ourselves to challenging situations matures our spiritual practice.


As your practice deepens you may bear witness to the first noble truth (we all encounter obstacles) as it manifests in community life.  The arising of internal and interpersonal dissatisfactions and conflicts is a normal part of life.   How we work with them is the difference between a practice center and an ordinary job.  Being willing to hold the tension between the practices of inner observation and letting go and sharing one’s doubts and views is important.  Developing tolerance for our internal experience and for others’ different ways of being is a cornerstone of practice.  All residents are asked to commit to using kind curiosity and active self-inquiry when problems and conflicts arise.  Please look at a copy of the tri-fold brochure entitled Sangha Harmony for the guidelines for conflict resolution.


Great Vow Zen Monastery and Zen Community of Oregon are under the spiritual direction of Chozen and Hogen Bays. By becoming a resident you agree to follow their spiritual guidance and the leadership of the sangha.


NOTE: Nothing will be asked of any resident that is not in keeping with high ethical standards and appropriate interpersonal behavior.



Some of the primary responsibilities of Residential Training


1.            To learn and apply tools to cut through fixed opinions, confusion and distraction.

2.            To encounter personal challenges and barriers, and to learn to master them.

3.            To help learn to relate with kindness and cooperation to community living.

3.            To explore the Great Mystery, Absolute Truth.




General Guidelines for Living at Great Vow Zen Monastery


Temple Work

Wholeheartedly participating in work such as, cooking, gardening, shopping and cleaning is a very important part of spiritual training. It is also the way the monastery is maintained for both residents and the community.  Work areas (such as ZenWorks, kitchen, office, garden) present wonderful opportunities for everyday practice.  It is critical that you participate fully and take responsibility for whatever task you are assigned.   If you have specific limitations please tell the head of training or the work leader.  Social visits, personal conversations and telephone calls should be limited to break periods. 


Meals and Food

As a resident you are required to attend all formal meals.  Meals are vegetarian. Grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables are emphasized. Special diets are generally not supported (although serious medical food allergies are taken into consideration).  Please do not cook or ask to cook special meals except on days off.  Our basic attitude toward food is to appreciate whatever we are given. Please make it part of your practice to adapt yourself to the monastery diet, rather than trying to change the monastery to adapt to you. We accept all donations of vegetarian food whether it be organic, fast, junk, canned or food straight from the garden. We will serve it all and be grateful that we have been offered these gifts.

The Zen rule of taking only as much as you need applies to all meals.  Therefore when something edible is on your plate, it should be eaten. (Make any medical reasons for avoiding or eating certain foods known to the monastery leaders and to those who do the cooking.)

Kitchen Use

The tenzo (head cook) is in charge of the kitchen. On days off residents may volunteer to bake or to cook meals. Sometimes on days off we are practicing open kitchen, where we eat primarily leftovers from the refrigerator and sometimes the kitchen is closed and meals are scheduled and provided for the days off.  Do not use any food or ingredients without first checking with the tenzo to make sure they are available.  Kitchen cleaning is shared among all residents. After clean-up there should be no dirty dishes, plastic bags, spilled food or kitchen appliances left on the counters. The floor should be swept and, if necessary, mopped. A general rule is to always clean up more than your share. Please do no fasting without first consulting with one of the Abbotts.

Personal Time

Personal time is generally from Sunday afternoon through lights out Monday night.  Please use your time appropriately in accordance with your intention on coming to the monastery.  Some suggestions for personal time activities are art, music, or other projects, going on a bike ride or doing other exercise (there are many bikes and helmets at the monastery), making use of our library or doing other reading, going on a monastery-sponsored trip, catching up on laundry, movie nights at the monastery, etcetera.  Short term residents are encouraged not to leave the container of the monastery even during time off.  However, this is ultimately your decision and doing other activities on time off is permitted.  If you choose this, please be back on the grounds by 10PM Monday night.

Activities after Evening Zazen

During zazen we are working on settling the waves of the mind. To support this continual process, reading after evening zazen is discouraged. The time after evening zazen and before lights out should be honored as a time of stillness and contemplation.  Activities such as drinking tea, taking a walk or continuing sitting or walking meditation, inside or out, are suggested.

Visitors and Personal Guests

An important practice at the monastery is hospitality.  This is both an offering to the community and part of our spiritual practice. Being gracious and welcoming to whomever comes is a test of our willingness to serve. Visitors may be given a tour of public rooms, served tea or invited for a meal (except during sesshin or workshops). Please let the tenzo (cook) and housekeeper know if a guest is coming. We generally ask for a $5 donation per meal, and a $35 donation for overnight stays.

Personal guests of residents are welcome except during sesshin. Inform the abbots and guest master if you have invited someone for an overnight stay. You must vouch for the person's willingness to be respectful of the monastery's policies of conduct and schedule. As host, you must take responsibility for providing and cleaning bedding, towels and other things your guest may need or use, and for making sure they are taken care of and kept informed of what is happening.   Do not expect other residents to entertain your guests for you.

Media Use

At the monastery we cultivate a still, clear and responsive mind.  Since the use of media such as television, radio, musical devices, videos, dvds, computer games, etc will inevitably stir up the mind, we minimize use of these while in training.  For instance, we have no TV reception, and limit our movie viewing to Sunday and/or Monday evenings.  The Sunday movie may be a recreational movie (themes or images of extreme violence, degradation or explicit sexuality are not permitted).  On Monday nights Chozen may offer a Dharma movie.  Music may be played on days off, but should not be heard by other residents; headphones are appropriate.  During days off, email may be checked and personal business attended to on designated computers. Playing computer games is not permitted. The telephone in the office may be used for personal calls with the permission of the office staff.  Personal cell phones use and texting may be done discreetly (in a way that does not disturb others) during break times.  

Abbots’ Teaching Library

The library in the center of the residents’ sleeping area is primarily for the abbots and those who are preparing teachings.  It is not primarily for residents’ use.  However, residents may use anything in the library as long as it is returned to the “return books here” shelf afterwards or returned to the precise location you found it.  Nothing may be removed from the room except with express advance permission from one of the abbots.


Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking

Alcohol and illegal drugs are not permitted at the monastery; smoking cigarettes is discouraged.  If you bring alcohol or drugs onto monastery grounds you will be asked to leave, period.  If you have ever suffered from substance abuse please discuss your situation with one of the abbots or the director of training.  If you must smoke, please bring this to the director of training for discussion.  

Gross Misconduct

Residents, whether on monastery grounds or elsewhere, are absolutely not to engage in any violence, pornography use or sexual misconduct.  Weapons of any kind are not permitted on the grounds.  Any case of gross misconduct as described here will result in your being asked to leave the monastery.


If you take prescription medicine for an on-going condition, or have any other medical issues, please inform the director of training before you enter training.  The monastery does not have medical insurance for residents. You will be responsible for any medical treatment you may need.


There are times in the monastery's rhythm when Noble Silence is primary. Generally, we are in silence from evening zazen until the clappers end silence during the next day’s breakfast.  This is true especially during sesshin, intensive training periods and after closing rounds at night.  Each morning we have quiet work periods. Very loud talking and unnecessary noise are not appropriate at any time.


The quiet and cleanliness of the zendo should be respected at all times. Please bear in mind that when the zendo is in use, activities that might be disruptive to meditation should be avoided or conducted very quietly. During zazen please be settled in your seat before the han (wooden block) to begin meditation finishes ringing. If you expect to find and try out seating supplies (bench, support cushions, blanket, etc.) come early so as not to cause undue disruptions at the last moment. Zendo clothing should be clean, simple and presentable. Solid, dark or muted colors are preferred. Please do not wear watches, hats, scarves, socks, shorts, shirts with writing on them, noisy pants or tank tops in the zendo. 


Sanzen - Private interview with a teacher


Sanzen with both Chozen and Hogen is an integral part of residency at Great Vow.  It is not optional.  Sanzen is a time to report in on your practice, to ask questions and to receive individual guidance and encouragement from the teacher.  The specific way you interact with the teacher may take many forms such as, a presentation of a koan, an update on insights gained through mindfulness exercises, or a demonstration of how you are breathing.


Sanzen is private but not confidential.  Your decision to discuss personal problems or history depends on your level of trust of yourself and the teacher.   Trust develops over time based on shared experience.  The teachers learn to trust students as they see how they behave and respond to difficult situations.  The same is true of students trusting the teachers.   When you feel that the teacher’s deepest motivation is to help you see the truth and to function in a healthy way in the world, then being completely open will allow you to make the best use of sanzen.


It is up to you to decide what you tell your teacher.  Realize that teachers are not omnipotent, and for them to give you the best teaching, they may need to consult from time to time with other ZCO seniors, teachers, with Zen teachers outside of ZCO (such as Kyogen or Gyokuko) or with other professionals such as therapists or medical doctors.  In general, the teachers do NOT talk about what they hear in sanzen (even with one another).  Don’t ever tell one teacher something important and assume that it has been shared with the other!


The teacher is specifically NOT bound to keep what has occurred in sanzen confidential in several circumstances. These include when child abuse or family violence is occurring, when there is serious intent to harm self or others, of if the student has complaints about what was said in sanzen.


Clothing in the Monastery


Please dress modestly while at the monastery, and consider how immodest dress may distract others from their practice. Shorts should be not shorter than just above the knee, unless you’re wearing running shorts for a run. Fine to wear shorts outside. Please don’t wear them in the zendo for zazen or service, or at community meals.

Tops should cover the chest and shoulders. They should be loose fitting, and opaque. Please don’t wear tops with words or pictures on them in the zendo.


Any resident who has been here for over six months is asked to wear a samu-e to the zendo for zazen and services, and to community meals




You will find that living at the monastery means living in a public environment. We try to maintain an uncluttered atmosphere conducive to meditation. Please keep your self and living quarters clean and neat.


Bathrooms are public spaces. "Leave no traces" is a good habit to cultivate in using the bathrooms. When you wash, wipe up all traces of water, soap or toothpaste around the sink. For the most part, personal toiletries (shampoo, razor, etc.) brought into the bathroom should be removed when you are finished. Replace rolls of toilet paper, paper towels or boxes of facial tissue as needed.

Relationships and Courtship

Your stay at the monastery is a time for intense practice. It is not the place or time to seek or develop a new romantic or sexual relationship or to solve relationship problems. If you find yourself attracted to someone physically or emotionally, please discuss the situation with an abbot or senior student so that together you can work out what would be best for your practice and the community. Exclusive friendships, consistently spending time alone with one person without inviting and including others, are also not permitted.


Becoming a resident means that you agree not to begin a romantic or sexual relationship until you and your potential partner have each been in residency for at least one year. If you feel you must enter into a sexual relationship during this time, you will be asked to leave the monastery. This may be a time to change your place of practice so that you can give your attention to developing a healthy relationship, which requires more time and attention than is available here. This rule is regarded as extremely important. 

Physical Touch

In a community in which we live and practice together physical contact can be misinterpreted or can be a catalyst for forming a sexual relationship. The standards for physical touch  here may be more limited than what you are used to.

Consider your motivation when the desire to touch arises in you, especially towards a person you’re attracted  to. Be aware that others may have a different  relationship to physical contact than you do. Know that your touch may be interpreted  in a way you did not intend, or may make the person you touch uncomfortable.

Please do not give massages.

Head Shaving

The only residents who are allowed to shave their heads are the ordained priests.  Please do not shave your head for any reason.


Leaving the Monastery


Each person who joins the monastery does so for a specific amount of time. We ask that you keep whatever time commitment you make for residential training and not to leave until you have completed that time period. We encourage everyone to be realistic in their commitment.



The Abbots' Greeting  and  Blessing


As a full-time resident, it is customary to formally inform the Abbots of your presence when you enter or leave the monastery.  For those entering residency for the first time or after a long break one of the Abbots will often invite you to join them in a brief tea.    Even if you make a trip of one day or longer it is customary to make a quick visit to one of the Abbots to tell them where you are going and when you expect to return.   Please go to their room or office, knock and say something like, "This is _________. I am leaving the monastery now to go to ____________. I will return in approximately _________ hours (days, weeks, months)." The abbot may just bow, say thanks or offer you a blessing.



The Ten Precepts


Residents agree to abide by ten Buddhist precepts at all times during the period of their stay. The

first five are especially important.  If you are concerned about unethical behavior on the part of

others, please follow the procedures as specified in the Sangha Harmony tri-fold which is

available in the front office, at the Portland Dharma Center or from any board member.


There is often a discussion of one of the first five precepts during or after lunch on Sunday which anyone is welcome to attend.   The 10 precepts are:

  1. Vowing not to kill, but to cherish all life.
  2. Vowing not to steal, but to respect the things of others.
  3. Vowing not to misuse sexual energy, but to be mindful and respectful.
  4. Vowing not to lie, but to speak truthfully.
  5. Vowing not to misuse drugs or alcohol, but to keep the mind clear.
  6. Vowing not to speak about others’ faults, but to be understanding and sympathetic.
  7. Vowing not to praise oneself by criticizing others, but to overcome one’s own shortcomings.
  8. Vowing not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give freely when needed.
  9. Vowing not to give vent to anger, but to seek its source.
  10. Vowing not to speak ill of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha), but to cherish and uphold them.




All of the above rules and guidelines arise from our long experience in residential training. It is important to follow all of them. If you have difficulties with these or any other rules, or if you find yourself not wanting to abide by them, please talk with the director of training. It may be that it is time for you to leave the monastery, or it may be there is some training obstacle that needs attention. If you do not follow the rules, forms, or schedules, even after discussing the problem and working on it with the director of training or an abbot, you must leave. Except for cases of gross misconduct, no one will be asked to leave without discussion of the situation and attempts to work things out.