Zen Reflections From Our Sangha

Zen Is . . . What?

Writers have attempted to define Zen in a myriad of ways. A quick Internet search for definitional statements regarding Zen turns up the following:

  • Zen is a Buddhist school notable for its emphasis on practice and experiential wisdom.
  • Zen is Zazen. Zen doesn't exist without the personal experience of Zazen, the sitting meditation.
  • Zen is the realization of the Buddha's enlightenment itself in one's own life and time.
  • Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character chan, which is in turn the Chinese translation from the Indian Sanskrit term dhyana, which means meditation.
  • Zen is a way of liberation.
  • Zen is boring.
  • Zen is all about losing yourself.
  • Zen is all about finding yourself.

It would be difficult to judge or reconcile these statements. As with the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, all of these descriptions hold truth, and yet all fall short of the complete truth. Not that profound things cannot be said of Zen. According to Dr. Alan Watts,"Zen is a method of rediscovering the experience of being alive." Zen scholar Dr. D.T. Suzuki said that “Zen is life”. Trappist monk Thomas Merton opined that "Zen is consciousness unstructured by particular form or particular system, a trans-cultural, trans-religious, transformed consciousness". Other Zen teachers, when faced with the question of defining Zen, say “Zen is very simple. What are you?”

Buddha altar in main sitting hall

Thoughts From Our Sangha

Our sangha members have also had many thoughts about Zen and what it means to them. Here are some reflections graciously shared by various members:

I'm drawn to the silent, ego-less dignity of the Clear Mountain community. Carl's darma talks are inspiring and I carry what is said (as well as what is not said) with me through the week. I have only been able to attend sporadically, but I am always welcomed.

Diane Klein


Zen practice at Clear Mountain has given me the opportunity to tune into my own thoughts and find out for myself on how to sit with them when they come up and sometimes go astray. It is teaching me that it is okay to learn to be calm and centered. It is teaching me patience and how to be in relationship with all people without , hopefully, the judgement and the evaluation. I hope to get to a point where I can show deep appreciation for the lives of other meditators and compassion for their path that led them to Clear Mountain Zen Center.

On another hand, I come from a Christian background and I have a Christian friend who has quietly told me that empyting one's mind is not a true path to God. It has been suggested that i meditate on the Word of God rather than emptiness. I am split on the suggestion. Jesus proclaimed that "the Kingdom lies within". He gave an example of prayer,healings and service to be included into God's kingdom. I personally believe that it is about loving oneself properly so that one has the capability of truly loving another person, be it of the other sex or Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Cousin, or even Boss. Getting past one's guilt and self judgement to a place of creativity and the open expression of gratitude and love. And forgiving those who have caused great harm in one's past, knowingly and or unknowingly.Easier said then done.

So that is why I sit.

Frank Penotti

  Cushions, main sitting hall

Zen is never having to say you’re sorry [ OK, maybe that's a stretch ]. Nevertheless, at the start of the Tao Te Ching it is said that the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. And so with Zen. Perhaps the best definition of Zen is “I don’t know”. In our technical-scientific culture, ‘not knowing’ is a very bad thing. But the ancient Zen teachers remind us in a koan, case 20 of the Book of Serenity, that “not knowing” can also be a state of honest wonder and direct encounter. In a nutshell:

Jizo asked Hogen, "Where are you going?" Hogen said, "I am on pilgrimage." Jizo said, "What is the purpose of your pilgrimage?" Hogen said, "I don't know." Jizo said, "Not knowing is most intimate".  

Jim Gerofsky

Next Page: Zen, An Ancient and Living Heritage

Script for Mountain and Clarity

Clear Mountain Zen Center
7 Oak Place
Montclair, NJ 07042

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