DIRECTIONS FOR SOKU (Head Server) for Tea Serving

See also: Zendo - Soku Oryoki Serving for instructions on how to serve oryoki meals. 

The job of the Soku is to to take care of others:
        The Buddha - food offering before breakfast and lunch (Samish and March sesshin in Bellingham)
        The Teacher -  cup of tea for lecture
        The Participants - tea served in the zendo each afternoon, receptions set up


 (Soku does at Samish, Tenzo does at Dharma Hall)
Go through meal line, serve self and put plate at one's place at the dining table. Light the altar and offer incense. Take small bowl to end of the meal line. Select food for Buddha.
After all retreatants have served themselves, make offering to the Buddha.


Leave the zendo ten minutes before the end of the zazen period before lecture (tenken can be asked to signal you)
Use covered cup for tea (part of retreat supplies).
At Samish Island, make the tea in the nurse's station as it takes too long to walk to and from the dining room. (Put water to heat in the urn at the previous break.)
For Norman Fischer, his preference is not to have teas with hibiscus – black or herbal mint.

Job 3: SERVING TEA: Overall you will need to:

1) train and orient the tea crew of 4 servers

2) make sure the cookies and fruit/nut alternatives are organized (check in with Laura, the cook)

3) make sure the Nurse's Cabin (Samish) or kitchen (Dharma Hall) is all set up for preparing the tea

4) leave a period of zazen early with some or all of your crew to prepare the tea each day.

5) signal the end of the period of zazen with the clackers

6) serve tea each day

7) have a servers' tea after serving in the Nurse's cabin (Samish) or practice discussion room (Dharma Hall)



 If the retreat will include a reception (usually after an ordination or other special ceremony) the Soku organizes and the tea crew sets up the reception. A layout of tea and cookies or other treats made as nice & festive as materials and time allow.

2011 Samish tea serving changes: 
Due to larger numbers use all 4 servers for serving tea and serving seconds.
New thermos to be filled with extra tea for seconds. After servers return from serving 1st's on tea, top up all 4 tea pots from the thermos.

Materials you will need for serving tea:

1) 4 tea pots (large stainless steel ones for serving) and a thermos with extra tea for seconds.

2) enough tea cups for everyone in the zendo

3) 4 large trays (2 for cups, 2 for treats) every time, 1 smaller tray after first service (additional cups)

4) servers napkins (black) for each server (used for cleaning up spills)

5) napkins, scissors, and muffin cups for setting up the tea trays

6) the samovar with hot water

7) a few boxes of herbal tea

8) treats – usually cookies with an alternate of fruit and/or nuts

Finding the materials: Almost all of these materials are packed in a single large “Tea” box. This box should be brought to the Nurse’s cabin as Samish or stored in the equipment closet at the Dharma Hall. Note also that at the Dharma Hall some tea stuff may be loose in the kitchen for serving tea on Thursday nights. Allow a little time to gather it back up again.

Obtaining the treats: At Samish we cannot bring in homemade outside food (health regulation), so we either ask the kitchen to make cookies and provide some fruit and nuts. Be sure to check in with the kitchen right away about this.

At the Dharma Hall the Soku is responsible for making or obtaining the treats and tea. Remember to request reimbursement from the Retreat Manager for any expenses.  If the soku  is from out of town the retreat manager will get all supplies.

Things to make sure you understand:

1) form for serving

2) serving pattern in the zendo (which was the servers walk, how they enter & exit, etc.)

3) how to signal the end of zazen / beginning of tea (roll down on the clappers then one clack)


Serving tea on the first day -

NEED: 4 tea pots, thermos, 2 trays of cups, 2 trays of sweets

·         following the clackers on the first day, soku provides a short introduction to the tea service. Outline for annoucement to sangha:

·         You will normally be served in pairs

·         When the server reaches you, put your hands in gassho and return the bow of the server.

·         Keep your hands in gassho while your partner is being served

·         When both of you have been served, return the bow of the server.

·         For the second person served, there will not be time to put down the item. Hold it in a safe place on your hip and bow with the upper part of your body.

·         When tea is being served indicate that you want less than a full cup by raising your hand palm up at the point when there is sufficient in the cup for you.


order for serving on the first day:

1) 2 servers with the tea cups on trays

2) 2 servers with the sweets on trays

3) first 2 servers return with tea pots

4) second 2 servers return with tea pots

5) when everyone is served 1sts for tea & a sweet, consolidate the tea into two teapots for seconds.

6) wait until an appropriate time for seconds (your discretion)

7) all 4 servers serve seconds - make sure they walk right in front of everyone so people can tell they are being offered seconds. Announce: "please put your hands in gassho when the server approaches if you would like seconds on tea"  [note if you just say "put your hands in gassho if you would like seconds" then they may sit there at the far end of the zendo for a long time waiting with their hands up]

8) leave (you do not signal the end of tea)


Serving tea in the middle days - order for serving

 NEED: 4 tea pots,  thermos, 1 small tray with a few cups, 2 trays of sweets

1) small tray makes a circuit if there is anyone without a cup (if you checked with the Ino and you know there isn't anyone - skip it) announce "please put your hands in gassho when the server approaches if you need a cup"

2) all 4 servers serve tea (enter in pairs)

3) 2 servers serve sweets (enter together)

4) top up tea pots form thermos and wait for time to start seconds

5) all 4 servers serve seconds on tea

6) leave (you do not signal the end of tea)


Serving tea on the last day - order for serving

 NEED: 4 tea pots, thermos, 2 empty trays for cups, 2 trays of sweets, 1 small tray with a few cups

1) small tray makes a circuit if there is anyone without a cup (if you checked with the Ino and you know there isn't anyone - skip it)

2) all 4 servers serve tea (enter in pairs)

3) 2 servers serve sweets (enter together)

4) top up tea pots form thermos and wait for time to start seconds

5) 4 servers serve seconds on tea

6) wait until everyone is done

7) 4 servers collect cups and bits of trash

8) leave (you do not signal the end of tea)


Notes on serving tea:

1) serving in the zendo is brisk and efficient, sometimes people think they are supposed to move very slowly, but actually servers should move quickly to attend to each task.

2) serving someone is an interaction with them, the servers you face each person or pair of people and bow to them with mindfulness and respect.

3) it is more intimate to kneel down onto one knee when serving someone who is sitting on the floor. For some servers this isn't practical, however, and serving from a standing position is fine.

4) that each pair of servers bows to each other immediately before entering the zendo is an important part of the form.

5) it's helpful to have one training/practice meeting with your servers before serving. Usually done during the first work period at Samish, or during the lunch break on the first day at the Dharma Hall - check with the Ino or Retreat Manager.

6) during the servers’ tea after serving it is appropriate to discuss problems or refinements in the serving, but please encourage yourself and your crew not to chat or discuss other topics. If the serving went smoothly, just compliment the crew on their mindfulness and have tea in silence.

7) some people cannot eat cookies – you will need fruit (you'll need a way to slice it up) or nuts available to you and put a few alternative treats on each cookie tray.

8) during longer sesshins (with more experienced practitioners present), announcement of seconds need not be made after the first day and no announcement regarding the collection of cups is required on the last day

9) do not fill the pots more than 4/5 full or they will drip when pouring

10) first pair of servers to enter the zendo go to the back; second pair start serving adjacent to the entry; when two are serving, start adjacent to the entry

11) when walking to and from the back of the zendo (moving across the zendo but not serving), walk 3-4 feet away from the meditation mats but maintain the rectangular outline of the zendo. Only walk right in front of people if you are serving them.

12) when bowing before and after serving, keep the tray or the pot at the same distance from the floor. That is, the tray remains stationery as the server inclines head and shoulders;

13) start serving seconds of tea just before everyone has finished their first cup.

14) In some sanghas the abbot or teacher is always served alone and always served first. We do not do this, serve the teacher with his or her neighbor just like anyone else. The teacher’s end of the zendo should generally be served first but the other serve should not wait for the teacher to be served first.

15) each server should have a black napkin tucked into their belt or pocket - used to catch drips when serving tea and to handle small spills

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