We gather in ritual every Sunday at 9am, to sit together in zazen. Our ceremony lasts until about 11am. As we arrive and walk through the front door of the zendo, we remember that the zendo is a sacred space where we are focused, aware and considerate. In the tradition of the great temples, we remove our shoes and place them in the rack near the door. A coatroom is available on the left, next to the bathroom. It is advised that we participate in zazen in modest and comfortable clothing, and remember to turn off all cell phone ringers and prevent any unnecessary interruptions.
Upon entering the sitting hall, we perform a standing bow "in gassho" (with hands respectfully folded in front of us) and find an unoccupied cushion (zafu) or seat. It is a sign of respect to offer another bow to anyone sitting across from us as we prepare to occupy the cushion or chair.
We seek to be in place by 8:55 am, as to avoid a rushed atmosphere. However, those whose circumstances dictate a later arrival show their repect by waiting in the outer hall until a sitting period has concluded. Our four sittings last about 25 minutes each. After each of the first three sittings we rise and line up for kinhin, a 5 minute walking meditation.
If you need to use the bathroom, please do so during kinhin if possible, as not to disturb others
during a sitting period.
Breath: During our zazen sittings, we breath normally and naturally, allowing awareness of the breath as it enters the body, fills our lungs, and then leaves us as we exhale. We bring our awareness and concentration to it, leaving behind the "multi-tasking mind" of modern life. Those new to Zen often count their breath, as to hasten this simple state of awareness. One can count to ten and let go, beginning again whenever distracted by the "monkey mind" of daily matters and concerns.
The idea is not to "achieve" the tenth count, but to develop concentration. Please remember that this is not about "getting anywhere", but to develop a concentrated mind leading to a compassionate spirit.
Posture: Some have said that Zen and zazen are "all about posture". Perhaps this is an exaggeration. However, the development and maintenance of posture during Zen sitting is an important step in developing and maintaining a state of awareful meditation.
We avoid both slouching and stiff posing in our sitting, finding a balance where the muscles are engaged but not overwhelmed. The focus of Zen as a technique integrates body and mind. Body discipline is thus recruited to promote awakening and awareness. The Sensei is available to discuss sitting positions and posture techniques, both before and after zazen, or during daisan (see below).
Kinhin: After the bell rings twice marking the end of a sitting period, we stand "in gassho" (with hands in front of us in a prayer-like position) and when the leader strikes the wooden clappers (taku) together, we line up in the outer hall and stop. The leader then claps again, and we bow, place our hand in shasshu (holding our palms together at stomach level) and walk slowly in a circle around the hall. When the clappers are sounded again, we speed up slightly and continue. When the clappers sound again, we
prepare to re-enter the sitting hall and take our cushions for another sitting period, our hands once again in gassho.
Kinhin is the focusing of our minds and our attention on our feet and legs, almost as though we were
on a tightrope or dancing in front of a filled theater (think of the ancient masters described in Chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching, "watchful, like men crossing a winter stream"). We try to stay close to the person ahead of us, letting go of our calculating minds and allowing our collective awareness to work together, as if part of a winning sports team.
Attire: We rely on the good sense of the sangha in regard to attire at our gatherings. General guidelines are to wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing so as to facilitate one's meditation practice, and to honor the community and the practice of your sitting partners by avoiding flashy, distracting or unkempt styles. Usually on the fourth Sunday of each month, Sensei Bachman will don traditional Japanese teacher robes, in homage to the great Eastern traditions from whence American Zen practice evolved.
Chanting: Although the theme of our gathering focuses on silent meditation, we begin and end zazen with several chants, almost always including the Heart Sutra (during the final sitting). This reminds us that our practice is ultimately communal in nature, that true Zen is not a solitary exercise.
The Altar: A candle will be burning along side the Buddha image during zazen, reflecting in some way the eternal light of the Buddha's teaching. Incense will also burn, its fragrance rising just as the teachings rise to pervade the whole universe. Flowers are usually present,
representing the blossoming of The Way. A bowl of water reminds us of the stillness, clarity and purity of mind that we seek. The Buddha is the awakened one, just as all of us here and now are actually complete and lack nothing.
Work Practice (Samu): We arrange for zendo work sessions on a regular basis, requesting sangha members to contribute to the upkeep of our communal practice space.
Weekday Mornings: On most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the zendo is open from 6:30 am to 7:30 am for zuiza, a time of quiet sitting and kinhin. Although less formal than our Sunday zazen, this sitting offers an opportunity to take a few minutes for quiet recollection and refreshment of awareness before facing a hectic work day. You are welcome to arrive and leave at your convenience, respecting the silence of those who may stay longer.
Although the focus of zazen may appear silent and individualistic in nature, the ultimate goal of Zen is communal. As such, we usually take time during the second sitting to listen to a brief dharma talk ("teisho") offered by a teacher, usually Sensei Carl Bachmann. This reminds us once more that the practice of Zen is integral, involving equally -- and ultimately without distinction -- the body and the mind, the teacher and the student, the individual and the group.
Daisan: On most Sundays, Sensei Bachmann offers "daisan" during the sittings following his talk; this is a brief face-to-face interview held in private between teacher and student, regarding the student's practice and experiences in pursuing the Zen path.
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. We have a sign-up appointment sheet for daisan that students can sign during the first kinhin waking meditation.
The teacher and student can elect to discuss the koans, a series of stories from the ancient Zen leaders which often present logical paradoxes meant to provoke the mind, to challenge it to move "outside the box" (or just get out of the way). The ultimate importance of koan study is not in any "right answer", but in the student's mindful, honest response and interaction with the teacher.
Daisan at Clear Mountain is held in a studio area outside the zendo, accessed from a door facing the alleyway on the south side of the building (to the right, when walking out the door and facing the street).
Practice Circle: On two Sundays each month, a "practice circle" is offered to discuss a topic selected by the Sensei or Bill Nathan, Osho. Sensei Bachmann or Osho Nathan
usually facilitate an active, participatory discussion during the last 15 minutes of zazen. Topics include the koans, the precepts of Buddhism, and other topics from the tradition that help guide our journeys of life.
Osho Nathan usually sends notice by e-mail regarding upcoming discussion topics to sangha members who have signed up on the e-mail list.
Clear Mountain Zen Center
7 Oak Place
Montclair, NJ 07042