Is Zen a Religion?
The short answer is no.
Zen and other branches of Buddhism have ceremonies which sometimes give the appearance of a religion. These ceremonies are not to worship the Buddha but rather to honor him for his contributions to humanity, and to send out wishes of health, wisdom and compassion to all living things in the world. The rituals and robes we've all seen, though, are cultural in origin and are reflective of the old styles of the countries through which Buddhism has evolved for 2500 years, like India, China, Tibet, Japan, and many others.
In the West, these things are now almost exclusively part of the monastic and seminary systems, where people go to become teachers or priests, just like in western seminaries. And just like in western seminaries, monks sometimes wear religious looking attire.
At our meetings, we don't wear religious attire and we don't conduct services or have an altar. We simply learn about Zen Buddhist teachings and discuss ways to apply these lessons to our everyday lives here in the United States.
It should also be pointed out that the Buddha was not a God or deity. That's why Zen teachings are compatible with any religion and can fit easily into our lives as Christians, Muslims, Jews or Atheists.
While we never ask, we assume that most of our members have been brought up in and still consider themselves members of these various faiths. While some comparisons may come up in discussion we never disparage anyone's faith.
Think of All Rivers Zen Study Group as an interest group, like a book club, where we study, learn, and discuss (lots of discussion!) the principles and practices that lead to living a Zen life in peace, calm, and harmony with our families, our communities, and the world at large.
We all just want to be our best selves and live our best lives!