Glossary, Special Words

Zen practice at Clear Mountain owes much to the development and practice of Zen in Japan over the past 800 years, and we highly honor this heritage. In keeping, we make use of certain words used by Japanese Zen practicioners for various aspects of our practice. Some of these words may be unfamiliar to many Americans, and therefore we offer brief and approximate definitions of our more commonly used terms, which are used on this web site. This list is intended to be introductive, and NOT comprehensive or authoritative.


Daisan is an ancient Zen tradition of direct, frequent contact between teacher and student; it must be brief, but can occur regularly as to help each student in her or his spiritual growth. Other Zen communities (sanghas) use different terms for this, including "dokusan" or "sanzen".



A gesture of respect and deference, with hands facing upward in front of the chest and heart, in a prayer-like position.



Legitimate seal of clearly furnished proof, aka seal of approval. Teachers known as Roshi or Senesi "take inka" from their master teacher, when they are announced as legitimate teachers holding the "dharma seal".



Walking meditation, usually performed as a group during zazen. The sangha lines up behind a leader, who guides the group during the kinhin. Kinhin usually ends with re-entry into the sitting hall.



"Wooden fish", a hollow ritual percussion instrument (typically made of wood) used to keep the rhythm during periods of chanting, typically used while reciting sutras, mantras and other holy texts. They are sometimes referred to as a “wooden fish” due to their shape, which is much like a fish or pumpkin.



Small city in southwestern Japan along the Sea of Japan, home to the Hosshinji Zen monastery. "Obama" means "small beach" in Japanese. Zen temples and monasteries were often located at interesting and inspirational natural sites such as mountains, valleys, beaches and river junctions. One such site is the Eihei-ji temple and monastery, located in the valley of the Nine Headed Dragon River and founded in 1246 by the famous Zen priest Dogen.



A senior sangha member, noted for their devotion to Zen practice, their virtuous manner, and for their teaching ability. Also called "practice leader".



A senior teacher of Zen, a teacher especially respected and revered for his or her many years of studying and teaching Zen; in some ways, a teacher of teachers.



Work practice, work as meditation; usually to clean and maintain the zendo.



A community of Zen practicioners and seekers under the formal guidence of a teacher, usually a "sensei" or a "roshi".



Holding the hands folded over the lower chest or stomach.



A senior sangha member who leads chanting and ceremony, takes care of administrative matters regarding the zendo, and who extends hospitality to all who enter. Also known as "head monk".



A well respected teacher who has studied under other teachers for many years, and who devotes much of her or his life to passing on the teachings and heritage of Zen.



Longer times of especially intense Zen group practice; e.g. week-long retreats or week-end retreats, generally held at retreat centers.



Wooden blocks used as clappers, mostly used to signal the start and finish of kinhin, i.e. walking meditation.



The sangha teacher's lecture, often regarding a koan, a Zen text, or a sutra. These are usually brief, approximately 10 minutes in length.



Generally, a person practicing Zen with a sangha, who is receiving on-going training and guidence from a Zen teacher.



Floor cushion (zafu) and mat (zabuton) used in zendo for meditation sitting.



A formal time of sitting meditation, intermixed at Clear Mountain with teisho (teacher's instruction), kinhin (walking meditation), and chanting. Zazen can be considered the sangha's main and most regular form of group practice.



A longer zazen session, usually lasting from early morning to later afternoon or early evening.



A Zen meditation hall, where Zazen and other Zen practice ceremonies are regularly held.



A period of sitting somewhat more informal than Zazen, when participants may enter and leave at their discretion (but with utmost consideration for others who remain).

Script for Mountain and Clarity

Clear Mountain Zen Center
7 Oak Place
Montclair, NJ 07042

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