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Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The Japanese word Zen is derived from the Chinese word Chán, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which means "meditation" or "meditative state."
Zen emphasizes experiential prajñā in the attainment of enlightenment. As such, it de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge in favor of direct realization through meditation and dharma practice. The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, including the Prajñāpāramitā literature and the teachings of the Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha schools.
The emergence of Zen as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century CE. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, and east to Korea and Japan. As a matter of tradition, the establishment of Zen is credited to the South Indian prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, who came to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" that "did not stand upon words".
In China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, the local name of the tradition is always cognate to "dhyāna". (Japanese: Romaji: Zen, Hiragana: ぜん, Kanji: 禅/禪; Chinese: Traditional: 禪, Simplified: 禅, Pinyin: Chán, Wade-Giles: Ch'an; Cantonese Jyutping: Sim4, Shanghainese (Wu): Zeu [zø], Nanchang Gan: Cen; Korean: Revised Romanization: Seon, McCune-Reischauer: Sŏn, Hangul: 선, Hanja: 禪; Vietnamese: Quốc ngữ: Thiền, Hán tự: 禪)
- 1 Zen origins (pre-700 CE)
- 2 Zen History (post-700 CE)
- 3 Zen teachings and practices
- 4 Zen and Western culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Zen origins (pre-700 CE)
The historical records required for a complete, accurate account of early Chán history no longer exist. Theories about the influence of other schools in the evolution of Chán are widely variable and rely heavily on speculative correlation rather than on written records or histories. Some scholars have argued that Chán developed from the interaction between Mahāyāna Buddhism and Taoism. Some scholars instead argue that Chán has roots in yogic practices, specifically kammaṭṭhāna, the consideration of objects, and kasiṇa, total fixation of the mind.. A number of other conflicting accounts exist.
Tradition and legend
The Flower Sermon
The origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century. It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up and twirled a flower and twinkled his eyes; several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha's disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and broke into a broad smile. The Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa's insight by saying the following:
I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.
Thus, through Zen there developed a way which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Wisdom was passed, not through words, but through a lineage of one-to-one direct transmission of thought from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage continued all the way from the Buddha's time to the present.
The establishment of Chán is traditionally credited to the Indian prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma (formerly dated ca. 500 CE, but now ca. early 5th century), who is recorded as having come to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words". Bodhidharma settled in the kingdom of Wei where he took among his disciples Daoyu and Huike. Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese born patriarch and the second patriarch of Chán in China. Bodhidharma is said to have passed three items to Huike as a sign of transmission of the Dharma: a robe, a bowl, and a copy of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. The transmission then passed to the second patriarch (Huike), the third (Sengcan), the fourth patriarch (Daoxin) and the fifth patriarch (Hongren).
Originally known by the name Bodhitara, he was given the name Bodhidharma by his teacher known variously as Panyatara, Prajnatara, or Prajñādhara. He is said to have been the son of a southern Indian king, though there is some controversy regarding his origins.
Several scholars have suggested that Bodhidharma as a person never actually existed, but was a combination of various historical figures over several centuries.
In the Song of Enlightenment (證道歌 Zhèngdào gē) of Yǒngjiā Xuánjué (665–713)—one of the chief disciples of Huìnéng, the 6th patriarch of Chán Buddhism—it is written that Bodhidharma was the 28th patriarch in a line of descent from Mahākāśyapa, a disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha, and the first patriarch of Chán Buddhism:
Mahākāśyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission; Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West; The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country; And Bodhidharma became the First Father here: His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers, And by them many minds came to see the Light.
Bodhidharma arrived in China in around 520 CE, visiting Canton and Luoyang. In Luoyang, he is reputed to have engaged in nine years of silent meditation, coming to be known as "the wall-gazing Brahman" (The term "Brahman" means one who had got "Bramhagyan"). He died around the year 529 CE.
Often attributed to Bodhidharma is the Bloodstream Sermon, which was actually composed quite some time after his death.
Buddhas don't save Buddhas. If you use your mind to look for a Buddha, you won't see the Buddha. As long as you look for a Buddha somewhere else, you'll never see that your own mind is the Buddha. Don't use a Buddha to worship a Buddha. And don't use the mind to invoke a Buddha. Buddhas don't recite sutras. Buddhas don't keep precepts. And Buddhas don't break precepts. Buddhas don't keep or break anything. Buddhas don't do good or evil. To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature.
Another famous legend involving Bodhidharma is his meeting with Emperor Wu of Liang. Emperor Wu took an interest in Buddhism and spent a great deal of public wealth on funding Buddhist monasteries in China. When he had heard that a great Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma, had come to China, he sought an audience with him. When they met, Emperor Wu had asked how much karmic merit he had gained from his noble support of Buddhism. Bodhidharma replied, "None at all." The Emperor asked, "Then what is the truth of the teachings?" Bodhidharma replied, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." So the emperor asked, "Then who are you standing in front of me?" Bodhidharma replied, "I do not know," and walked out.
Another legend involving Bodhidharma is that he visited the Shaolin Temple in the kingdom of Wei, at some point, and taught them a series of exercises which became the basis for the Shaolin martial arts.
Patriarchs and Lineage
Bodhidharma settled in the kingdom of Wei. Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed a disciplee named Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese-born patriarch and the second patriarch of Chán in China. Bodhidharma is said to have passed three items to Huike as a sign of transmission of the Dharma: a robe, a bowl, and a copy of the Lankavatara Sutra. The transmission then passed to the second patriarch (Huike), the third (Sengcan), the fourth patriarch (Daoxin) and the fifth patriarch (Hongren).
The sixth and last patriarch, Huineng (638–713), was one of the giants of Chán history, and all surviving schools regard him as their ancestor. However, the dramatic story of Huineng's life tells that there was a controversy over his claim to the title of patriarch. After being chosen by Hongren, the fifth patriarch, Huineng had to flee by night to Nanhua Temple in the south to avoid the wrath of Hongren's jealous senior disciples. Later, in the middle of the 8th century, monks claiming to be among the successors to Huineng, calling themselves the Southern school, cast themselves in opposition to those claiming to succeed Hongren's then publicly recognized student Shenxiu (神秀). It is commonly held that it is at this point—the debates between these rival factions—that Chán enters the realm of fully documented history. Aside from disagreements over the valid lineage, doctrinally the Southern school is associated with the teaching that enlightenment is sudden, while the Northern School is associated with the teaching that enlightenment is gradual. The Southern school eventually became predominant and their Northern school rivals died out. Modern scholarship, however, has questioned this narrative, since the only surviving records of this account were authored by members of the Southern school.
The following are the six Patriarchs of Chán in China as listed in traditional sources:
- Bodhidharma (達摩) ca. 440 – ca. 528
- Huike (慧可) 487–593
- Sengcan (僧燦) ?–606
- Daoxin (道信) 580–651
- Hongren (弘忍) 601–674
- Huineng (慧能) 638–713
Zen History (post-700 CE)
The Five Houses of Zen
Developing primarily in the Tang dynasty in China, Classic Zen is traditionally divided historically into the Five Houses of Zen or five "schools". These were not originally regarded as "schools" or "sects", but historically, they have come to be understood that way. In their early history, the schools were not institutionalized, they were without dogma, and the teachers who founded them were not idolized.
The Five Houses of Zen are :
- Guiyang school (Japn., Igyo), named after masters Guishan Lingyou (Japn., Isan Reiy, 771–854) and Yangshan Huiji (Japn., Kyozan Ejaku, 813–890)
- Linji (Japn., Rinzai), named after master Linji Yixuan (Japn., Rinzai Gigen, died 866)
- Caodong (Japn., Soto), named after masters Dongshan Liangjie (Japn., Tozan Ryokai, 807–869) and Caoshan Benji (Japn., Sozan Honjaku, 840–901)
- Yunmen (Japn., Unmon), named after master Yunmen Wenyan (Japn., Unmon Bun’en, died 949)
- Fayan (Japn., Hogen, named after master Fayan Wenyi (also Fa-yen Wen-i) (Japn., Hogen Mon’eki, 885–958)
Most Zen lineages throughout Asia and the rest of the world originally grew from or were heavily influenced by the original five houses of Zen.
Chán in China
In the centuries following the introduction of Buddhism to China, Chán (禪) grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism and, despite its "transmission beyond the scriptures", produced the largest body of literature in Chinese history of any sect or tradition. The teachers claiming Huineng's posterity began to branch off into numerous different schools, each with their own special emphasis, but all of which kept the same basic focus on meditational practice, personal instruction and personal experience.
During the late Tang and the Song periods, the tradition continued, as a wide number of eminent teachers, such as Mazu (Wade-Giles: Ma-tsu; Japanese: Baso), Shitou (Shih-t'ou; Japanese: Sekito), Baizhang (Pai-chang; Japanese: Hyakujo), Huangbo (Huang-po; Jap.: Obaku), Linji (Lin-chi; Jap.: Rinzai), and Yunmen (Jap.: Ummon) developed specialized teaching methods, which would variously become characteristic of the five houses (五家) of Chán. The traditional five houses were Caodong (曹洞宗), Linji (臨濟宗), Guiyang (潙仰宗), Fayan (法眼宗), and Yunmen (雲門宗). This list does not include earlier schools such as the Hongzhou (洪州宗) of Mazu.
Over the course of Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen schools were gradually absorbed into the Linji. During the same period, the various developments of Chán teaching methods crystallized into the gong-an (koan) practice which is unique to this school of Buddhism. According to Miura and Sasaki, "[I]t was during the lifetime of Yüan-wu's successor, Ta-hui Tsung-kao 大慧宗杲 (Daie Sōkō, 1089–1163) that Koan Zen entered its determinative stage." Gong-an practice was prevalent in the Linji school, to which Yuanwu and Ta-hui (pinyin: Dahui) belonged, but it was also employed on a more limited basis by the Caodong school. The teaching styles and words of the classical masters were collected in such important texts as the Blue Cliff Record (1125) of Yuanwu, The Gateless Gate (1228) of Wumen, both of the Linji lineage, and the Book of Equanimity (1223) of Wansong, of the Caodong lineage. These texts record classic gong-an cases, together with verse and prose commentaries, which would be studied by later generations of students down to the present.
Chán continued to be influential as a religious force in China, and thrived in the post-Song period; with a vast body of texts being produced up and through the modern period. While traditionally distinct, Chán was taught alongside Pure Land Buddhism in many Chinese Buddhist monasteries. In time much of the distinction between them was lost, and many masters taught both Chán and Pure Land. Chán Buddhism enjoyed something of a revival in the Ming Dynasty with teachers such as Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清), who wrote and taught extensively on both Chán and Pure Land Buddhism; Miyun Yuanwu (密雲圓悟), who came to be seen posthumously as the first patriarch of the Obaku Zen school; as well as Yunqi Zhuhong (雲棲株宏) and Ouyi Zhixu (藕溢智旭).
After further centuries of decline, Chán was revived again in the early 20th century by Hsu Yun, a well-known figure of 20th century Chinese Buddhism. Many Chán teachers today trace their lineage back to Hsu Yun, including Sheng-yen and Hsuan Hua, who have propagated Chán in the West where it has grown steadily through the 20th and 21st century.
It was severely repressed in China during the recent modern era with the appearance of the People's Republic, but has more recently been re-asserting itself on the mainland, and has a significant following in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as among Overseas Chinese. 
Zen in Japan
The schools of Zen that currently exist in Japan are the Sōtō (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Obaku (黃檗). Of these, Sōtō is the largest and Obaku the smallest. Rinzai is itself divided into several subschools based on temple affiliation, including Myoshin-ji, Nanzen-ji, Tenryū-ji, Daitoku-ji, and Tofuku-ji.
In the year 1410 a Zen Buddhist monk from Nanzen-ji, a large temple complex in the Japanese capital of Kyoto, wrote out a landscape poem and had a painting done of the scene described by the poem. Then, following the prevailing custom of his day, he gathered responses to the images by asking prominent fellow monks and government officials to inscribe it, thereby creating a shigajiku poem and painting scroll. Such scrolls emerged as a preeminent form of elite Japanese culture in the last two decades of the fourteenth century, a golden age in the phenomenon now known as Japanese Zen culture.
Zen was not introduced as a separate school until the 12th century, when Myōan Eisai traveled to China and returned to establish a Linji lineage, which is known in Japan as Rinzai. Decades later, Nanpo Shōmyō (南浦紹明?) (1235–1308) also studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan lineage, the most influential branch of Rinzai. In 1215, Dōgen, a younger contemporary of Eisai's, journeyed to China himself, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dōgen established the Sōtō school, the Japanese branch of Caodong. The Obaku lineage was introduced in the 17th century by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen had been a member of the Linji school, the Chinese equivalent of Rinzai, which had developed separately from the Japanese branch for hundreds of years. Thus, when Ingen journeyed to Japan following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchus, his teachings were seen as a separate school. The Obaku school was named for Mount Obaku (Ch. 黄檗山; Huángbò Shān), which had been Ingen's home in China.
Some contemporary Japanese Zen teachers, such as Daiun Harada and Shunryu Suzuki, have criticized Japanese Zen as being a formalized system of empty rituals in which very few Zen practitioners ever actually attain realization. They assert that almost all Japanese temples have become family businesses handed down from father to son, and the Zen priest's function has largely been reduced to officiating at funerals.
The Japanese Zen establishment—including the Sōtō sect, the major branches of Rinzai, and several renowned teachers— has been criticized for its involvement in Japanese militarism and nationalism during World War II and the preceding period. A notable work on this subject was Zen at War (1998) by Brian Victoria, an American-born Sōtō priest. At the same time, however, one must be aware that this involvement was by no means limited to the Zen school: all orthodox Japanese schools of Buddhism supported the militarist state. What may be most striking, though, as Victoria has argued, is that many Zen masters known for their post-war internationalism and promotion of "world peace" were open nationalists in the inter-war years. And some of them, like Haku'un Yasutani, the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan School, even voiced their anti-semitic and nationalistic opinions after World War II.
This openness has allowed non-Buddhists to practice Japanese-style Zen, especially outside of Asia, and even for the curious phenomenon of an emerging Christian Zen lineage, as well as one or two lines that call themselves "nonsectarian". With no official governing body, it's perhaps impossible to declare any authentic lineage "heretical," which would allow one to argue that there is no "orthodoxy"—something that most Asian Zen masters would readily dismiss.
Thiền in Vietnam
According to traditional accounts of Vietnam, in 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci (Vietnamese: Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi) travelled to Vietnam after completing his studies with Sengcan, the third patriarch of Chinese Zen. This, then, would be the first appearance of Vietnamese Zen, or Thien (thiền) Buddhism. The sect that Vinitaruci and his lone Vietnamese disciple founded would become known as the oldest branch of Thien. After a period of obscurity, the Vinitaruci School became one of the most influential Buddhist groups in Vietnam by the 10th century, particularly so under the patriarch Vạn-Hạnh (died 1018). Other early Vietnamese Zen schools included the Vo Ngon Thong (Vô Ngôn Thông), which was associated with the teaching of Mazu, and the Thao Duong (Thảo Đường), which incorporated nianfo chanting techniques; both were founded by Chinese monks. A new school was founded by one of Vietnam's religious kings; this was the Truc Lam (Trúc Lâm) school, which evinced a deep influence from Confucian and Taoist philosophy. Nevertheless, Truc Lam's prestige waned over the following centuries as Confucianism became dominant in the royal court. In the 17th century, a group of Chinese monks led by Nguyen Thieu (Nguyên Thiều) established a vigorous new school, the Lam Te (Lâm Tế), which is the Vietnamese pronunciation of Linji. A more domesticated offshoot of Lam Te, the Lieu Quan (Liễu Quán) school, was founded in the 18th century and has since been the predominant branch of Vietnamese Zen.
The most famous practitioner of synchronized Thiền Buddhism in the West is Thích Nhất Hạnh who has authored dozens of books and founded Dharma center Plum Village in France together with his colleague Chan Khong, Bhikkhuni and Zen Master.
Seon in Korea
Seon was gradually transmitted into Korea during the late Silla period (7th through 9th centuries) as Korean monks of predominantly Hwaeom (華嚴) and Consciousness-only (唯識) background began to travel to China to learn the newly developing tradition. During his lifetime, Mazu had begun to attract students from Korea; by tradition, the first Korean to study Seon was named Peomnang (法朗). Mazu's successors had numerous Korean students, some of whom returned to Korea and established the nine mountain (九山) schools. This was the beginning of Chán in Korea which is called Seon.
Seon received its most significant impetus and consolidation from the Goryeo monk Jinul (知訥) (1158–1210), who established a reform movement and introduced koan practice to Korea. Jinul established the Songgwangsa (松廣寺) as a new center of pure practice. It was during the time of Jinul the Jogye Order, a primarily Seon sect, became the predominant form of Korean Buddhism, a status it still holds. which survives down to the present in basically the same status. Toward the end of the Goryeo and during the Joseon period the Jogye Order would first be combined with the scholarly 教 schools, and then be relegated to lesser influence in ruling class circles by Confucian influenced polity, even as it retained strength outside the cities, among the rural populations and ascetic monks in mountain refuges.
Nevertheless, there would be a series of important Seon teachers during the next several centuries, such as Hyegeun (慧勤), Taego (太古), Gihwa (己和) and Hyujeong (休靜), who continued to develop the basic mold of Korean meditational Buddhism established by Jinul. Seon continues to be practiced in Korea today at a number of major monastic centers, as well as being taught at Dongguk University, which has a major of studies in this religion. Taego Bou (1301–1382) studied in China with Linji teacher and returned to unite the Nine Mountain Schools. In modern Korea, by far the largest Buddhist denomination is the Jogye Order, which is essentially a Zen sect; the name Jogye is the Korean equivalent of Caoxi (曹溪), another name for Huineng.
Seon is known for its stress on meditation, monasticism, and asceticism. Many Korean monks have few personal possessions and sometimes cut off all relations with the outside world. Several are near mendicants traveling from temple to temple practicing meditation. The hermit-recluse life is prevalent among monks to whom meditation practice is considered of paramount importance.
Currently, Korean Buddhism is in a state of slow transition. While the reigning theory behind Korean Buddhism was based on Jinul's "sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation", the modern Korean Seon master, Seongcheol's revival of Hui Neng's "sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation" has had a strong impact on Korean Buddhism. Although there is resistance to change within the ranks of the Jogye order, with the last three Supreme Patriarchs' stance that is in accordance with Seongcheol, there has been a gradual change in the atmosphere of Korean Buddhism.
The Kwan Um School of Zen, one of the largest Zen schools in the West, teaches a form of Seon Buddhism. Soeng Hyang Soen Sa Nim (b. 1948), birth name Barbara Trexler (later Barbara Rhodes), is Guiding Dharma Teacher of the international Kwan Um School of Zen and a successor of the late Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.
Zen in the Western world
Although it is difficult to trace when the West first became aware of Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism, the visit of Soyen Shaku, a Japanese Zen monk, to Chicago during the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is often pointed to as an event that enhanced its profile in the Western world. It was during the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the number of Westerners, other than the descendants of Asian immigrants, pursuing a serious interest in Zen reached a significant level.
Zen teachings and practices
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Principles and doctrine
Zen asserts, as do other schools in Mahāyāna Buddhism, that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature (Skt. Buddhadhātu, Tathāgatagarbha), the universal nature of transcendent wisdom (Skt. prajñā), and emphasizes that Buddha-nature is nothing other than the essential nature of the mind itself. The aim of Zen practice is to discover this Buddha-nature within each person, through meditation and practice of the Buddha's teachings. The ultimate goal of this is to become a Completely Enlightened Buddha (Skt. Samyaksaṃbuddha). As a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Zen draws many of its basic driving concepts from that tradition, such as the bodhisattva ideal. Buddhas and bodhisattvas such as Amitābha, Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and Kṣitigarbha are also venerated alongside Gautama Buddha.
The Zen tradition holds that in meditation practice, notions of doctrine and teachings necessitate the create of various notions and appearances (Skt. saṃjñā; Ch. 相, xiāng) that obscure the transcendent wisdom of each being's Buddha-nature. This process of rediscovery goes under various terms such as "introspection," "a backward step," "turning-about," or "turning the eye inward." The importance of Zen's non-reliance on written words is often misunderstood as being against the study of Buddhist texts. However, Zen is deeply rooted in the teachings and doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism. What the Zen tradition emphasizes is that enlightenment of the Buddha came not through intellectual reasoning, but rather through self-realization in Dharma practice and meditation. Therefore, it is held that it is primarily through Dharma practice and meditation that others may attain enlightenment and become buddhas as well.
In its beginnings in China, Zen primarily referred to the Mahāyāna sūtras and especially to the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. As a result, early masters of the Zen tradition were referred to as "Laṅkāvatāra masters." Accounts recording the history of this early period are to be found in Records of the Laṅkāvatāra Masters (Ch. 楞伽師資記, Léngqié Shīzī Jì). Since the theoretical reference for the Zen was primarily the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, the Zen school had strong associations with this text. As the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra teaches the doctrine of the "One Vehicle" (Skt. Ekayāna), the early Zen school was sometimes referred to as the "One Vehicle School." In other early texts, the school that would later become known as Zen is sometimes even referred to as simply the "Laṅkāvatāra school" (Ch. 楞伽宗, Léngqié Zōng).
During the Tang Dynasty, the Zen school's central text shifted to the Diamond Sūtra (Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra). Thereafter, the essential texts of the Zen school were often considered to be the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra. However, a review of the early historical documents and literature of early Zen masters clearly reveals that they were all well-versed in numerous Mahāyāna Buddhist sūtras. For example, in the Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch, Huineng cites and explains the Diamond Sūtra, the Lotus Sūtra (Saddharma Puṇḍarīka Sūtra), the Vimalakīrti Nirdeśa Sūtra, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra.
When Buddhism came to China, there were three three divisions of training: the training in virtue and discipline in the precepts (Skt. śīla), the training in mind through meditation (Skt. dhyāna) to attain deep states of meditation (Skt. samādhi), and the training in the recorded teachings (Skt. Dharma). It was in this context that Buddhism entered into Chinese culture. Three types of teachers with expertise in each training practice developed: Vinaya masters specialized in all the rules of discipline for monks and nuns, Dhyāna masters specialized in the practice of meditation, and Dharma masters specialized in mastery of the Buddhist texts. Monasteries and practice centers were created that tended to focus on either the vinaya and training of monks or the teachings focused on one scripture or a small group of texts. Dhyāna (Ch. Chán) masters tended to practice in solitary hermitages, or to be associated with Vinaya training monasteries or the Dharma teaching centers. The later naming of the Zen school has its origins in this view of the three-fold division of training.
At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, by the time of the Fifth Patriarch Hongren (601–674), the Zen school had become well established as a separate school of Buddhism. Subsequently, the Zen tradition produced a rich corpus of written literature which has become a part of its practice and teaching. Among the earliest and most widely studied of the specifically Zen texts, dating back to at least the 9th century CE, is the Platform Sūtra of the Sixth Patriarch, attributed to Huineng. Others include the various collections of kōans and the Shōbōgenzō of Dōgen Zenji.
As the Zen school grew in China, the monastic discipline also became distinct, focusing on practice through all aspects of life. Temples began emphasizing labor and humility, expanding the training of Zen to include the mundane tasks of daily life. D.T. Suzuki wrote that aspects of this life are: a life of humility; a life of labor; a life of service; a life of prayer and gratitude; and a life of meditation. The Chinese Chán master Baizhang (720–814 CE) left behind a famous saying which had been the guiding principle of his life, "A day without work is a day without food."
As the name Zen implies, sitting meditation is a core aspect of Zen practice. In Japanese this is called zazen, and in Chinese it is called zuòchán (坐禅), both simply meaning "sitting dhyāna." During this sitting meditation, practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza postures. To regulate the mind, awareness is directed towards counting or watching the breath or put in the energy center below the navel. Often, a square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used.
In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference. Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found throughout Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō, as for example in the "Principles of Zazen" and the "Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen".
Intensive group practice
Some Zen traditions[which?] include periods of intensive group meditation in a monastery. While the daily routine in the monastery may require monks to meditate for several hours each day, during this intensive period they devote themselves almost exclusively to the practice of sitting meditation. The numerous 30–50 minute long meditation periods are interleaved with short rest breaks, meals, and sometimes, short periods of work should be performed with the same mindfulness; nightly sleep is kept to a minimum, 7 hours or less. In modern Buddhist practice in Japan, Taiwan, and the West, these intensive practice sessions are often attended by lay students, and are typically 1, 3, 5, or 7 days in length. These are held at many Zen centers, especially in commemoration of the Buddha's attainment of Anuttarā Samyaksaṃbodhi. One distinctive aspect of Zen meditation in groups is the use of a flat wooden slat used to keep meditators focused and awake.
The Zen teacher
Because the Zen tradition emphasizes direct communication over scriptural study, the Zen teacher has traditionally played a central role. Generally speaking, a Zen teacher is a person ordained in any tradition of Zen to teach the Dharma, guide students in meditation, and perform rituals. An important concept for all Zen sects is the notion of dharma transmission: the claim of a line of authority that goes back to Śākyamuni Buddha via the teachings of each successive master to each successive student. This concept relates to the ideas expressed in a description of Zen attributed to Bodhidharma:
教外別傳 A special transmission outside the scriptures;
不立文字 No dependence upon words and letters;
直指人心 Direct pointing to the human mind;
見性成佛 Seeing into one's own nature and attaining Buddhahood.
John McRae's Seeing Through Zen explores this assertion of lineage as a distinctive and central aspect of Zen Buddhism. He writes of the "genealogical" approach so central to Zen's self-understanding, that while not without precedent, has unique features. It is:
[R]elational (involving interaction between individuals rather than being based solely on individual effort), generational (in that it is organized according to parent–child, or rather teacher–student, generations) and reiterative (i.e., intended for emulation and repetition in the lives of present and future teachers and students.
McRae offers a detailed criticism of lineage, but he also notes it is central to Zen, so much so that it is hard to envision any claim to Zen that discards claims of lineage. Therefore, for example, in Japanese Soto, lineage charts become a central part of the Sanmatsu, the documents of Dharma transmission. And it is common for daily chanting in Zen temples and monasteries to include the lineage of the school.
In Japan during the Tokugawa period (1603–1868), some came to question the lineage system and its legitimacy. The Zen master Dokuan Genko (1630–1698), for example, openly questioned the necessity of written acknowledgment from a teacher, which he dismissed as "paper Zen", Quite a number of teachers in Japan during the Tokugawa period did not adhere to the lineage system; these were termed mushi dokugo (無師獨悟, "independently enlightened without a teacher") or jigo jisho (自悟自証, "self-enlightened and self-certified"). Modern Zen Buddhists also consider questions about the dynamics of the lineage system, inspired in part by academic research into the history of Zen.
Honorific titles used when talking to or about a Zen teacher include, in Chinese: Shīfu (師父; "Master"), Lǎoshī (老師, "Teacher"), Fǎshī (法師, "Dharma Master"), Chánshī (禪師, "Chán Master"), and Chánzōng Dàshī (禪宗大師, "Great Master of the Chán School"); in Korean: Sŭnim (스님, "Monk"), Sŏn Sa (선사, "Seon Master"); in Japanese: 和尚 (おしょう) Oshō, 老師 (ろうし) Rōshi, 先生 (せんせい) Sensei; in Vietnamese: Thầy. Many titles are not specific to Zen but are used generally for Buddhist monks; some, such as sensei are not even specific to Buddhism. The English term Zen master is often used to refer to important teachers, especially ancient and medieval ones. However, there is no specific criterion by which one may be called a Zen master.
Zen Buddhists may practice koan inquiry during sitting meditation (zazen), walking meditation, and throughout all the activities of daily life. Koan practice is particularly emphasized by the Japanese Rinzai school, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the teaching line.
A koan (literally "public case") is a story or dialogue, generally related to Zen or other Buddhist history; the most typical form is an anecdote involving early Chinese Zen masters. These anecdotes involving famous Zen teachers are a practical demonstration of their wisdom, and can be used to test a student's progress in Zen practice. Koans often appear to be paradoxical or linguistically meaningless dialogues or questions. But to Zen Buddhists the koan is "the place and the time and the event where truth reveals itself" unobstructed by the oppositions and differentiations of language. Answering a koan requires a student to let go of conceptual thinking and of the logical way we order the world, so that like creativity in art, the appropriate insight and response arises naturally and spontaneously in the mind.
Koans and their study developed in China within the context of the open questions and answers of teaching sessions conducted by the Chinese Zen masters. Today, the Zen student's mastery of a given koan is presented to the teacher in a private interview (referred to in Japanese as dokusan (独参), daisan (代参), or sanzen (参禅)). Zen teachers advise that the problem posed by a koan is to be taken quite seriously, and to be approached as literally a matter of life and death. While there is no unique answer to a koan, practitioners are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the koan and of Zen through their responses. The teacher may approve or disapprove of the answer and guide the student in the right direction. There are also various commentaries on koans, written by experienced teachers, that can serve as a guide. These commentaries are also of great value to modern scholarship on the subject.
Chanting and liturgy
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A practice in many Zen monasteries and centers is a daily liturgy service. Practitioners chant major sutras such as the Heart Sutra, chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra (often called the "Avalokiteshvara Sutra"), the Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness, the Great Compassionate Heart Dharani (Daihishin Dharani), and other minor mantras.
The Butsudan is the altar in a monastery where offerings are made to the images of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. The same term is also used in Japanese homes for the altar where one prays to and communicates with deceased family members. As such, reciting liturgy in Zen can be seen as a means to connect with the Bodhisattvas of the past. Liturgy is often used during funerals, memorials, and other special events as means to invoke the aid of supernatural powers.
Chanting usually centers on major Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteshvara (see also Guan Yin) and Manjusri. According to Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are celestial beings which have taken extraordinary vows to liberate all beings from Samsara (the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth), while remaining in Samsara themselves. Since the Zen practitioner’s aim is to walk the Bodhisattva path, chanting can be used as a means to connect with these beings and realize this ideal within oneself. By repeatedly chanting the Avalokiteshvara sutra (観世音菩薩普門品 Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonbon?), for example, one instills the Bodhisattva's ideals into ones mind. The ultimate goal is given in the end of the sutra, which states, "In the morning, be one with Avalokiteshvara; in the evening, be one with Avalokiteshvara". Through the realization of the Emptiness of oneself, and the Mahayanist ideal of Buddha-nature in all things, one understands that there is no difference between the cosmic bodhisattva and oneself. The wisdom and compassion of the Bodhisattva one is chanting to is seen to equal the inner wisdom and compassion of the practitioner. Thus, the duality between subject and object, practitioner and Bodhisattva, chanter and sutra is ended.
John Daido Loori Roshi justified the use of chanting sutras by referring to Zen master Dōgen. Dōgen is known to have refuted the statement "Painted rice cakes will not satisfy hunger". This means that sutras, which are just symbols like painted rice cakes, cannot truly satisfy one's spiritual hunger. Dōgen, however, saw that there is no separation between metaphor and reality. "There is no difference between paintings, rice cakes, or any thing at all". The symbol and the symbolized were inherently the same, and thus only the sutras could truly satisfy one's spiritual needs.
To understand this non-dual relationship experientially, one is told to practice liturgy intimately. In distinguishing between ceremony and liturgy, Dōgen states, "In ceremony there are forms and there are sounds, there is understanding and there is believing. In liturgy there is only intimacy." The practitioner is instructed to listen to and speak liturgy not just with one sense, but with one's "whole body-and-mind". By listening with one's entire being, one eliminates the space between the self and the liturgy. Thus, Dōgen's instructions are to "listen with the eye and see with the ear". By focusing all of one's being on one specific practice, duality is transcended. Dōgen says, "Let go of the eye, and the whole body-and-mind are nothing but the eye; let go of the ear, and the whole universe is nothing but the ear." Chanting intimately thus allows one to experience a non-dual reality. The liturgy used is a tool to allow the practitioner to transcend the old conceptions of self and other. In this way, intimate liturgy practice allows one to realize emptiness (sunyata), which is at the heart of Zen Buddhist teachings.
There are other techniques common in the Zen tradition which seem unconventional and whose purpose is said to be to shock a student in order to help him or her let go of habitual activities of the mind. Some of these are common today, while others are found mostly in anecdotes. These include the loud belly shout known as katsu. It is common in many Zen traditions today for Zen teachers to have a stick with them during formal ceremonies which is a symbol of authority and which can be also used to strike on the table during a talk. The now defunct Fuke Zen sect was also well-known for practicing suizen, meditation with the shakuhachi, which some Zen Buddhists today also practice.
Zen and Western culture
In Europe, the Expressionist and Dada movements in art tend to have much in common thematically with the study of koans and actual Zen. The early French surrealist René Daumal translated D.T. Suzuki as well as Sanskrit Buddhist texts.
Eugen Herrigel's book Zen in the Art of Archery (1953), describing his training in the Zen-influenced martial art of Kyūdō, inspired many of the Western world's early Zen practitioners. However, many scholars, such as Yamada Shoji, are quick to criticize this book.
The British philosopher Alan Watts took a close interest in Zen Buddhism and wrote and lectured extensively on it during the 1950s. He understood it as a vehicle for a mystical transformation of consciousness, and also as a historical example of a non-Western, non-Christian way of life that had fostered both the practical and fine arts.
The Dharma Bums, a novel written by Jack Kerouac and published in 1959, gave its readers a look at how a fascination with Buddhism and Zen was being absorbed into the bohemian lifestyles of a small group of American youths, primarily on the West Coast. Beside the narrator, the main character in this novel was "Japhy Ryder", a thinly-veiled depiction of Gary Snyder. The story was based on actual events taking place while Snyder prepared, in California, for the formal Zen studies that he would pursue in Japanese monasteries between 1956 and 1968.
Thomas Merton (1915–1968) the Trappist monk and priest was internationally recognized as having one of those rare Western minds that was entirely at home in Asian experience. Like his friend, the late D.T. Suzuki, Merton believed that there must be a little of Zen in all authentic creative and spiritual experience. The dialogue between Merton and Suzuki explores the many congruencies of Christian mysticism and Zen.
In 1989, the Vatican released a document which was sharply critical of Zen, Yoga and Transcendental Meditation saying it `can degenerate into a cult of the body and can lead surreptitiously to considering all bodily sensations as spiritual experiences. 
Reginald Horace Blyth (1898–1964) was an Englishman who went to Japan in 1940 to further his study of Zen. He was interned during World War II and started writing in prison. He was tutor to the Crown Prince after the war. His greatest work is the 5-volume "Zen and Zen Classics", published in the 1960s. In it, he discusses Zen themes from a philosophical standpoint, often in conjunction with Christian elements in a comparative spirit. His essays include titles such as "God, Buddha, and Buddhahood" or "Zen, Sin, and Death". He is an enthusiast of Zen, but not altogether uncritical of it. His writings can be characterized as unorthodox and quirky.[who?]
While Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, was a 1974 bestseller, it in fact has little to do with Zen as a religious practice or motorcycle maintenance. Rather it deals with the notion of the metaphysics of "quality" from the point of view of the main character. Pirsig was attending the Minnesota Zen Center at the time of writing the book. He has stated that, despite its title, the book "should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice". Though it may not deal with orthodox Zen Buddhist practice, Pirsig's book in fact deals with many of the more subtle facets of Zen living and Zen mentality without drawing attention to any religion or religious organization.
A number of contemporary authors have explored the relationship between Zen and a number of other disciplines, including parenting, teaching, and leadership. Leadership expert Timothy H. Warneka uses a number of Zen stories, such as "Understanding Harmony" to explain leadership strategies:
Once upon a time in ancient Japan, a young man was studying martial arts under a famous teacher. Every day the young man would practice in a courtyard along with the other students. One day, as the master watched, he could see that the other students were consistently interfering with the young man's technique. Sensing the student's frustration, the master approached the student and tapped him on the shoulder. "What is wrong?" inquired the teacher. "I cannot execute my technique and I do not understand why," replied the student. "This is because you do not understand harmony. Please follow me," said the master. Leaving the practice hall, the master and student walked a short distance into the woods until they came upon a stream. After standing silently beside the streambed for a few minutes, the master spoke. "Look at the water," he instructed. "It does not slam into the rocks and stop out of frustration, but instead flows around them and continues down the stream. Become like the water and you will understand harmony." Soon, the student learned to move and flow like the stream, and none of the other students could keep him from executing his techniques.
Western Zen lineages
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Over the last fifty years mainstream forms of Zen, led by teachers who trained in East Asia and their successors, have begun to take root in the West.
Derived from Japan
In North America, the Zen lineages derived from the Japanese Soto school are the most numerous. Among these are the lineages of the San Francisco Zen Center, established by Shunryu Suzuki and the White Plum Asanga, founded by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi. Suzuki's San Francisco Zen Center established the first Zen Monastery in America in 1967, called Tassajara in the mountains near Big Sur. Maezumi's successors have created schools including Great Plains Zen Center, founded by Susan Myoyu Andersen, Roshi, Zen Mountain Monastery, founded by John Daido Loori, Great Vow Zen Monastery founded by Chozen Bays, Roshi, the Zen Peacemaker Order, founded by Bernard Tetsugen Glassman and the Ordinary Mind school, founded by Charlotte Joko Beck. The Katagiri lineage, founded by Dainin Katagiri, has a significant presence in the Midwest. Note that both Taizan Maezumi and Dainin Katagiri served as priests at Zenshuji Soto Mission in the 1960s.
Taisen Deshimaru, a student of Kodo Sawaki, was a Soto Zen priest from Japan who taught in France. The International Zen Association, which he founded, remains influential. The American Zen Association, headquartered at the New Orleans Zen Temple, is one of the North American organizations practicing in the Deshimaru tradition.
Soyu Matsuoka served as superintendent and abbot of the Long Beach Zen Buddhist Temple and Zen Center. The Temple was headquarters to Zen Centers in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Everett, Washington. He established the Temple at Long Beach in 1971 where he resided until his passing in 1998. Matsuoka created several dharma heirs, three of whom are still alive and leading Zen Teachers within the lineage. These are: Hogaku ShoZen McGuire Roshi, Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston Roshi, and Kaiten JohnDennis Govert Roshi. Hogaku Roshi established Daibutsuji Zen Temple in Cloudcroft and the Zen Center of Las Cruces, in Las Cruces, NM. So Gozen is now the Abbot of Daibutsuji and the Zen Center of Las Cruces. So Daiho Hilbert Roshi left Daibutsuji to establish the Order of Clear Mind Zen, a socially engaged sangha in New Mexico. So Daiho also had a large Internet Sangha. He is now retired from Zen and is practicing in the Jewish contemplative tradition. Taiun Elliston Roshi established the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and has established the Silent Thunder Order (Mokurai) honoring Matsuoka Roshi. Existing Matsuoka lineage Temples and practice centers are located in: Atlanta, GA; Athens, GA; Falmouth, MA; Huntsville, AL; Nashville, TN; Wichita, KS; Las Cruces, NM; Cloudcroft, NM; Chicago, IL; Tucson, AZ; Trout Lake, WA; Sarasota, FL; Lucerne Valley, CA; and Phoenix, AZ.
The Sanbo Kyodan is a Japan-based reformist Zen group, founded in 1954 by Yasutani Hakuun, which has had a significant influence on Zen in the West. Sanbo Kyodan Zen is based primarily on the Soto tradition, but also incorporates Rinzai-style koan practice. Yasutani's approach to Zen first became prominent in the English-speaking world through Philip Kapleau's book The Three Pillars of Zen (1965), which was one of the first books to introduce Western audiences to Zen as a practice rather than simply a philosophy. Among the Zen groups in North America, Hawaii, Europe, and New Zealand which derive from Sanbo Kyodan are those associated with Kapleau—who was never recognized as being a zen master—, Robert Aitken, and John Tarrant.
In the UK, Throssel Hole Abbey was founded as a sister monastery to Shasta Abbey in California by Master Reverend Jiyu Kennett Roshi and has a number of dispersed Priories and centres. Jiyu Kennett, an English woman, was ordained as a priest and Zen master in Shoji-ji, one of the two main Soto Zen temples in Japan (her book The Wild White Goose describes her experiences in Japan). The Order is called the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. The lineage of Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi Roshi is represented by the White Plum Sangha UK, while Taisen Deshimaru Roshi's lineage is known in the UK as IZAUK (Intl Zen Assoc. UK). The Zen Centre in London is connected to the Buddhist Society. The Western Chán Fellowship is an association of lay Chán practitioners based in the UK. They are registered as a charity in England and Wales, but also have contacts in Europe, principally in Norway, Poland, Germany, Croatia, Switzerland and the USA.
There are also a number of Rinzai Zen centers in the West. In North America, some of the more prominent include Rinzai-ji founded by Kyozan Joshu Sasaki Roshi in California, Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji established by Eido Shimano Roshi and Soen Nakagawa Roshi in New York, Chozen-ji founded by Omori Sogen Roshi in Hawaii, Daiyuzenji founded by Dogen Hosokawa Roshi (a student of Omori Sogen Roshi) in Chicago, Illinois, and Chobo-Ji founded by Genki Takabayshi Roshi in Seattle, Washington. In Europe there is Egely Monastery established by a Dharma Heir of Eido Shimano, Denko Mortensen.
Derived from China
The first Chinese master to teach Westerners in North America was Hsuan Hua, who taught Chán and other traditions of Chinese Buddhism in San Francisco during the early 1960s. He went on to found the City Of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a monastery and retreat center located on a 237 acre (959,000 m²) property near Ukiah, California. Another Chinese Chán teacher with a Western following is Sheng-yen, a master trained in both the Caodong and Linji schools. He first visited the United States in 1978 under the sponsorship of the Buddhist Association of the United States, and, in 1980, founded the Chán Meditation Center in Queens, New York..
Derived from Korea
A prominent Korean Zen teacher in the West was Seung Sahn. Seung Sahn founded the Providence Zen Center in Providence, Rhode Island; this was to become the headquarters of the Kwan Um School of Zen, a large international network of affiliated Zen centers. Pohwa Sunim founded several Zen centers in the United States.
Derived from Vietnam
Two notable Vietnamese Zen teachers have been influential in Western countries: Thich Thien-An and Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Thien-An came to America in 1966 as a visiting professor at UCLA and taught traditional Thien meditation. Thich Nhat Hanh was a monk in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, during which he was a peace activist. In response to these activities, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, he left Vietnam in exile and now resides at Plum Village, a monastery in France. He has written more than one hundred books about Buddhism, which have made him one of the very few most prominent Buddhist authors among the general readership in the West. In his books and talks, Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes mindfulness (sati) as the most important practice in daily life.
In the United States, two pan-lineage organizations have formed in the last few years. The oldest is the American Zen Teachers Association which sponsors an annual conference. North American Soto teachers in North America, led by several of the heirs of Taizan Maezumi and Shunryu Suzuki, have also formed the Soto Zen Buddhist Association.
- Dialectical monism
- List of Zen teachers
- Satori and Kensho
- Timeline of Zen Buddhism in the United States
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- Zen Guide
- The Zen Site
- Sacred-text.com's collection of Zen texts
- Buddhanet's collection of Zen texts
- Booklets from Fo Guang Shan
- Zen Centers at DMOZ
- Zen Buddhism WWW Virtual Library
- The International Research Institute for Zen Buddhism
- Joint Council for Rinzai and Obaku Zen
- Website on Soto Zen
- Shambhala Sun Zen Articles
- A Study on the Origin of Chán Buddhism
- Be Zen, My Friend
- Buddhism and Confucianism in Chan Sudden Approach: A Cunning Cultural Paradigm