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Zen in 20 Minutes a Day

Here is a Zen practice you can do in 20 minutes. First thing in the morning is considered best. Try setting your alarm 20 minutes earlier and see what opens up in your day when you begin it with this quick routine. If that doesn’t work for you (the kids, the dog, the job, etc.) then practice as you can. Any meditation is better than none.

There are five parts to the practice. The only difference from this short, daily version and the practice we do on Wednesday evenings at Open Door is that when we gather as a group, I give a dharma talk instead of the reading you do on your own.

  1. Bowing: A single bow, performed with mindfulness, humility, and gratitude, goes a long way toward purifying our karma.
  2. Chanting: Chanting focuses our energy and gets our cells oxygenated, preparing our minds and bodies for seated meditation.
  3. Sitting: Sitting meditation tames the mind and strengthens our focus.
  4. Reading: Reading Zen teachings sharpens our understanding.
  5. Reciting Vows: The Four Great Vows keep our intention clear.

Bowing Practice (1 minute):

If you are familiar with how to perform a full prostration, wonderful. If not, also wonderful. Just bow. The form is not as important as what’s in your heart. Take this moment to be grateful. For what? For everything! The dharma. The fact that the Buddha decided to teach. For every teacher in the lineage between the Buddha and you. For the fact that you have 20 minutes to practice. And anything else that comes to mind as you surrender your “Big I” in the bow.

Chanting (6 minutes):

Don’t know the Heart Sutra? Then just read it aloud, paying attention to the sound and rhythm of the words, along with your breath. The meaning will sink in over time.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, listen to this online recording from the Kwan Um School of Zen and follow along:

The Maha Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva

when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita

perceives that all five skandhas are empty

and is saved from all suffering and distress.



form does not differ from emptiness,

emptiness does not differ from form.

That which is form is emptiness,

that which is emptiness form.


The same is true of feelings,

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.



all dharmas are marked with emptiness;

they do not appear or disappear,

are not tainted or pure,

do not increase or decrease.


Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,

perceptions, impulses, consciousness.


No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;

no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,

no object of mind;

no realm of eyes

and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.


No ignorance and also no extinction of it,

and so forth until no old age and death

and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,

no stopping, no path, no cognition,

also no attainment with nothing to attain.


The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita

and the mind is no hindrance;

without any hindrance no fears exist.

Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.


In the three worlds

all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita

and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.


Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita

is the great transcendent mantra

is the great bright mantra,

is the utmost mantra,

is the supreme mantra,

which is able to relieve all suffering

and is true, not false.

So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,

proclaim the mantra which says:


gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha

gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.

Sitting (10 minutes):

Now that you’ve purified some karma and gotten your breathing up, it’s time to sit. Find a comfortable and stable seat, and sit quietly for 10 minutes. Pay attention to your breathing. When your mind wanders – and it will! – gently return your attention to your breath. Don’t force it, and don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if thoughts come up. Notice that you’re thinking, and return again to the breath. That’s it. You can count your breaths up to ten and start over. Or you can ask yourself “What is this?” as you inhale and answer with “Don’t know” as you exhale.

Reading (2-3 minutes):

Read a short passage from a book of Zen teaching. I use “365 Zen,” edited by Jean Smith. You may prefer to read a book by one teacher, and read a few pages each day. There are a number of excellent books available at Open Door.

Reciting Vows (30 seconds):

The Four Great Vows

Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.

Delusions are endless; we vow to cut through them all.

The teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all.

The Buddha way is inconceivable; we vow to attain it.

Congratulations! You’re on your way to developing a strong practice. May all beings benefit!

~Rev. Jabo

Chop Small


Ven. Dr. Myodo Jabo (Sandy Gougis) is a Zen Master and Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order. She began studying Theravâdin Buddhism in 1998, adding Zen in 2003, and Vajrayana Buddhism in 2008. She currently practices in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Her Zen teacher is Most Ven. Wonji Dharma of the Five Mountain Zen Order, and her Tibetan guru is Lama Tsultrim Allione of Tara Mandala. In her free time, Myodo enjoys painting, jewelry making, and other creative endeavors.

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