top of page
seal_hinotori an zen



Firebird Hermitage


seal_doka tathagata

Search within yourself

教外別傳. 不立文字. 直指人心. 見性成佛.

"A special transmission outside the teachings, do not depend on written words, directly point to the human mind, see one‘s nature and become Buddha." Bodhidharma







Hinotori An is located within an apartment block in the middle of Zurich. The simple and modest space is fully dedicated to the practice of the Way, but it is not a typical zen center as it combines the seclusion of a hermitage and the austerity of a traditional zen monastery.


Everything inside the hermitage is designed to help maintain the zen spirit, to intensify the practice of pāramitā (the highest virtue) and the eradication of bonnō 煩悩 or klesha (impurities).

Much like in a regular zen monastery, the senses are engaged, triggered or silenced to maximize the effect of the practice. The smell of incense permeates all spaces, and the urban zen garden that stretches on the back side of the hermitage opens up a view on the seasonal changes. The sounds of urban life mingle with the chirping of birds and the gurgling of a small fountain.


Except for a hanging thangka depicting the Buddha and a painting of ensō representing mu 無 (the void), all the walls are bare to deepen the sense of emptiness. The wooden han ( 板 ) hanging at the entrance is struck in a specific rhythm, inviting students to enter zendō, in which zen practice is conducted (zazen 坐禅, kinhin 經行, dokusan 獨參 and chadō 茶道). Informal meetings are held in the library.


A typical daily routine is quite structured and ritualized in order to maintain a state of continuous awareness. All activities, from washing one's face in the morning to preparing the monk's futon for a night's rest, are carried out with the utmost attantion. The day at the hermitage always starts early, although it will depend on the time of sunrise and the planned daily program. 

Between intense periods of zazen practice ( sesshin 攝心 ) and retreats ( ango 安居 ), a typical day at the hermitage includes body-mind practice, writing, studying spiritual, scientific or medical literature, teaching, office work, but also fulfilling the obligations associated with secular life. 

The day is spent in silence, except when verbal communication is absolutely necessary.  Therefore, the hermitage does not have the function of social gatherings, but rather focuses on genuine zen training.


It is open only to those who are seriously interested in self-discovery through the zen practice and this only during scheduled times. Unannounced visits are not possible.




In ancient times, those who wanted to fully devote their life to spiritual Path would retreat to the mountains, forests, or deserts. The so-called hermits and sages would live in caves or shelters made of branches, soil and grass. Thus, the name for the hermitage, soan 草庵 (“thatched hut”) remained in the Japanese language even though such a way of conducting spiritual practice is no longer common in Japanese Zen Buddhism. 

However, the aloof approach to practice can still be found in both Asia and Western countries. Only that, nowadays it adapts its form to a modern life style and cultural background, and can be either connected to a religious institution or be independent from it. Hermitages that emerge within the urban agglomerations often remain unnoticed because they differ from the surroundings only in the way of life that is led behind closed doors. Such urbanized spaces are mostly just simple residences that are only adapted to the needs of religious or spiritual practices.




Zendō is a simple five-tatami-mats room dedicated to zazen practice. It should be perceived as a place where one can meet own Buddha nature. 

In a niche in the south wall is standing an altar and the remaining space is used for zazen, kinhin, mondo, dokusan and dharma teaching. Thus, this space serves the purposes of three traditional zen temple buildings: sōdō 僧堂 (monastic training hall), butsuden 佛殿 (buddha hall) and hattō 法堂 (dharma hall).

The Buddha altar ( butsudan 仏壇 ) is simple, humble and set up in the manner that through symbolism attempts to break the dualistic mindset, prevent deification of Siddhartha Guatama, or worshiping of any manifested form.


Altar enshrines the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha which shows a hand gesture in the form of abhaya mudra ( j. semui-in 施無畏印 ), symbolising the pacification of fear and spreading of peace, and love. To the left of Shakyamuni Buddha, is placed Guānyīn, the female manifestation of Avalokiteśvara ( j. Kannon 觀音 ), who represents the Bodhisattva of compassion. 

Zabuton 座布団, thick square cushions 80x80 cm and zafu 座蒲 round zazen cushions are available to visiting students, although regular students can also bring their own zafu if they wish.


Communication during zen practice takes place with the help of instruments that are typical of Sōtō Zen monasteries. The kyosaku 教策  "encouraging stick" commonly used in sōtōshū 曹洞宗  to help overcome fatigue and physical tensions, is used only occasionally and  during longer sesshins. If used, it is always handled with extreme respect and in a ritualised manner.

hinotori an_2024




There are some simple manners to follow while visiting Hinotori An. Upon entering, leave the hustle of ordinary life and prepare for self-reflection and complete presence. Put your hands together in gasshō ( 合掌 ), calm your mind and follow the defined guidelines.


The hermitage rules that are applied to practitioners and students do not differ much from the usual rules applied in monasteries dedicated to the zen training. There is a defined way to enter the zendō (zen meditation room), a way to approach the Buddha altar, the teacher or other practitioners, a way to prepare and consume food or serve and drink tea.


The purpose of rules, ritualisation and symbolism lies solely in maintaining undiminished awareness and contemplation, even when performing the most profane activities such as using the toilet or blowing one's nose.


Therefore, rules are not only mean to create a harmonious and supportive atmosphere but should be seen as practice too.




Punctuality: the doors are locked ten minutes before the start of the training, and latecomers would not be able to enter thereafter. Spontaneous visits are not accepted. 

Communication: sensei places value on non-verbal communication. During practice, silence is broken only for lectures, instructions, mondō and personal meetings with the teacher. More relaxed conversations are held only during tea breaks, but even then students are expected to avoid unnecessary chatter and to communicate with kindness, and respect.

Dress code: it is recommended to wear relaxed and comfortable attire of neutral colour; anything that could distract attention should be avoided - short pants and skirts, tank tops, loud jewellery, tight jeans and leather pants, strong smells. Shoes should be removed at the front door, and the zendō can be entered only with clean socks to protect the tatami floor. 

Mobile phone: Mobile phones should be completely switched off or set to airplane mode. 

Medical issues: students with a common cold are asked to practice with a face mask, and those with more serious infectious diseases of the respiratory tract (covid, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc.) are directed to attend the online practice. For all other health problems or ambiguities, it is necessary to contact the teacher.



The inscription on han reads:


生死事大. 無常迅速. 各宜醒覺. 愼勿放逸

“Birth and death are great events. The messenger of death is quick. Let all heed the warning. Regain consciousness and wake up. Don't waste time on trivialities.”

(Translation Doka Sensei)

Practitioners are invited into zendō by sound of the wooden han 板, a solid wooden board hunging by the front door. In traditional sōtō shū monasteries, when the sound of the han is heard, the monks know it is time for zazen practice or dharma talk, and they head to the zendō.

The size and style of Hinotori A makes the practice more personal and thus allows easier access to the individual needs of students or visitors. The practice seeks to maximise personal experience and minimise verbal communication, but its intensity will depend on the symbolic Gate through which the practice is accessed.

seal_hinotori an zen
temple gates_japan

Regardless of the Gate, the practice focuses on building a healthy foundation and has the same ultimate destination – awakening one's true nature. 

bottom of page