Zen emphasizes dharma practice and experiential wisdom—particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen—in the attainment of awakening. As such, it de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct, experiential realization.
The establishment of Zen is traditionally credited to the Indian prince turned monk Bodhidharma who is recorded as having come to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words". The emergence of Zen as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century CE. It is thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahāyāna Buddhist thought—among them the Yogācāra and Madhyamaka philosophies and the Prajñāpāramitā literature—and of local traditions in China, particularly Taoism and Huáyán Buddhism. From China, Zen subsequently spread southwards to Vietnam and eastwards to Korea and Japan.
|Romaji||Zen||Mandarin Hanyu Pinyin||Chán||Revised Romanization||Seon||Romanization||Dhyāna|
|Vietnamese||Shanghainese (Wu)||Zeu [zø]||Hanja||禪||Romanization||Jhāna|
|Quốc ngữ||Thiền||Traditional Chinese||禪||Devanāgarī||झान|
|Hán tự||禪||Simplified Chinese||禅||Sinhala||ඣාන|
"Zen", in Japanese, is the Sino-Japanese reading of the Chinese character 禅, which is pronounced [tʂʰán] in modern Standard Mandarin Chinese, but was likely pronounced [d͡ʑen] in Middle Chinese. The term "zen" is in fact a contraction of the seldom-used long form zenna (禅那; Mandarin: chánnà), a derivation from the Sanskrit term dhyāna (ध्यान) (pali: jhāna), which refers to a specific type or aspect of meditation. The Sanskrit word is derived from the Indo-European root *dheiə-, meaning "see, look". While "Zen" is the name most often used in the English-speaking world, it is also known as Chan in mainland China, Seon in Korea, and Thiền in Vietnam and dhyāna in India.
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 a flower and 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 is said to have gained a special insight directly from the Buddha's mind, beyond words. Mahākāśyapa somehow understood the true inexpressible meaning of the flower, smiled and 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. Historically, this claim is disputed, due to lack of evidence to support it. According to D.T. Suzuki, the idea that there exists in the history of Zen a line of descent from Gautama Buddha that resulted in the distinctive institution of Zen was invented by hagiographers to grant Zen legitimacy and prestige.
From Mahākāśyapa through various other teachers and students, the dharma was eventually transmitted to the Indian monk, Bodhidharma. 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 Chan 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 Chan 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 is said to have spent several decades living in a cave, staring at a cave wall, meditating. He left India in 517 C.E. and arrived in China in 520 C.E., to spread Buddhism to Asia. When he got there, he found that Buddhism, which had already been established, was perverted by superstitious devotionalism, devoid of true insight. Thus, Bodhidharma focused on direct insight about one's own experience, under the instruction of a Zen teacher, discouraging misguided veneration of Buddhas for the sake of superstition. Often attributed to Bodhidharma is the Bloodstream Sermon, which was actually composed quite some time after his apparent 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.
The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoic faiths, Taoism in particular. Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese with Taoist vocabulary, because it was originally seen as a kind of foreign Taoism. In the Tang period, Taoism incorporated such Buddhist elements as monasteries, vegetarianism, prohibition of alcohol, the doctrine of emptiness, and collecting scripture into tripartite organisation. During the same time, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism.
The establishment of Chan is traditionally credited to the Indian prince turned monk Bodhidharma (formerly dated ca 500 CE, but now ca early fifth 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. Early on in China Bodhidharma's teaching was referred to as the "One Vehicle sect of India". The One Vehicle (Sanskrit Ekayāna), also known as the Supreme Vehicle or the Buddha Vehicle, was taught in the Lankavatara Sutra which was closely associated with Bodhidharma. However, the label "One Vehicle sect" did not become widely used, and Bodhidharma's teaching became known as the Chan sect for its primary focus on chan training and practice. Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese born patriarch and the second patriarch of Chan 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 (Dao Xin) and the fifth patriarch (Hongren).
The sixth and last patriarch, Huineng (638–713), was one of the giants of Chan 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 Chan 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 Chan in China as listed in traditional sources:
The Five Houses of Zen are :
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.
Zen asserts, as do other schools in Mahayana Buddhism, that all sentient beings have Buddha-nature, the universal nature of inherent wisdom (Sanskrit prajna) and virtue, and emphasizes that Buddha-nature is nothing other than the nature of the mind itself. The aim of Zen practice is to discover this Buddha-nature within each person, through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences. Zen practitioners believe that this provides new perspectives and insights on existence, which ultimately lead to enlightenment.
In distinction to many other Buddhist sects, Zen de-emphasizes reliance on religious texts and verbal discourse on metaphysical questions. Zen holds that these things lead the practitioner to seek external answers, rather than searching within themselves for the direct intuitive apperception of Buddha-nature. This search within goes under various terms such as “introspection,” “a backward step,” “turning-about,” or “turning the eye inward.”
In this sense, Zen, as a means to deepen the practice and in contrast to many other religions, could be seen as fiercely anti-philosophical, iconoclastic, anti-prescriptive and anti-theoretical. The importance of Zen's non-reliance on written words is often misunderstood as being against the use of words. However, Zen is deeply rooted in both the scriptural teachings of the Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama and in Mahāyāna Buddhist thought and philosophy. What Zen emphasizes is that the awakening taught by the Buddha came through his meditation practice, not from any words that he read or discovered, and so it is primarily through meditation that others too may awaken to the same insights as the Buddha.
The teachings on the technique and practice of turning the eye inward are found in many suttas and sutras of Buddhist canons, but in its beginnings in China, Zen primarily referred to the Mahayana Sutras and especially to the Lankavatara Sutra. Since Bodhidharma taught the turning-about techniques of dhyana with reference to the Lankavatara Sutra, the Zen school was initially identified with that sutra. It was in part through reaction to such limiting identification with one text that Chinese Zen cultivated its famous non-reliance on written words and independence of any one scripture. However, a review of the teachings of the early Zen masters clearly reveals that they were all well versed in various scriptures. For example, in The Platform Sutra of the Sixth ancestor and founder Huineng, this famously "illiterate" Zen master cites and explains the Diamond Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Shurangama Sutra, and the Lankavatara Sutra.
When Buddhism came to China the doctrine of the three core practices or trainings, the training in virtue and discipline in the precepts (Sanskrit Śīla), the training in mind through meditation (dhyana or jhana) sometimes called concentration (samadhi), and the training in discernment and wisdom (prajna), was already established in the Pali canon. In this context, as Buddhism became adapted to Chinese culture, three types of teachers with expertise in each training practice developed. Vinaya masters were versed in all the rules of discipline for monks and nuns. Dhyana masters were versed in the practice of meditation. And Dharma, the teaching or sutra, masters were versed in 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. Dhyana or Chan masters tended to practice in solitary hermitages or to be associated with the Vinaya training monasteries or sutra teaching centers.
After Bodhidharma's arrival in the late fifth century, the subsequent dhyana-chan masters who were associated with his teaching line consolidated around the practice of meditation and the feeling that mere observance of the rules of discipline or the intellectual teachings of the scriptures did not emphasize enough the actual practice and personal experience of the Buddha's meditation that led to the Buddha's awakening. Awakening like the Buddha, and not merely following rules or memorizing texts became the watchword of the dhyana-chan practitioners. Within 200 years after Bodhidharma at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, by the time of the fifth generation Chan ancestor and founder Daman Hongren (601-674), the Zen of Bodhidharma's successors had become well established as a separate school of Buddhism and the true Zen school.
The core of Zen practice is seated meditation, widely known by its Japanese name zazen, and recalls both the posture in which the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, and the elements of mindfulness and concentration which are part of the Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha. All of the Buddha's fundamental teachings—among them the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the idea of dependent origination, the five precepts, the five aggregates, and the three marks of existence—also make up important elements of the perspective that Zen takes for its practice. While Buddhists generally revere certain places as a Bodhimandala (circle or place of enlightenment) in Zen wherever one sits in true meditation is said to be a Bodhimandala.
Additionally, as a development of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Zen draws many of its basic driving concepts, particularly the bodhisattva ideal, from that school. Uniquely Mahāyāna figures such as Guānyīn, Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and Amitābha are venerated alongside the historical Buddha. Despite Zen's emphasis on transmission independent of scriptures, it has drawn heavily on the Mahāyāna sūtras, particularly the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sūtra, Hredaya Pranyaparamita the Sūtra of the Perfection of Wisdom of the Diamond that Cuts through Illusion, The Vajrachedika Pranyaparamita the Lankavatara Sūtra, and the "Samantamukha Parivarta" section of the Lotus Sūtra.
Zen has also itself paradoxically 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 Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch, sometimes attributed to Huìnéng. Others include the various collections of kōans and the Shōbōgenzō of Dōgen Zenji.
Zen training emphasizes daily practice, along with intensive periods of meditation. Practicing with others is considered an important part of Zen practice. 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 Chan 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, Zen sitting meditation is the core of Zen practice and is called zazen in Japanese (坐禅; Chinese tso-chan [Wade-Giles] or zuòchán [Pinyin]). During zazen, practitioners usually assume a sitting position such as the lotus, 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 (Chinese dan tian, Japanese tanden or hara). Often, a square or round cushion (zafu, 座蒲) placed on a padded mat (zabuton, 座布団) is used to sit on; in some cases, a chair may be used. In Japanese Rinzai Zen tradition practitioners typically sit facing the center of the room; while Japanese Soto practitioners traditionally sit facing a wall.
In Soto Zen, shikantaza meditation ("just-sitting", 只管打坐) that is, a 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". Rinzai Zen, instead, emphasizes attention to the breath and koan practice (q.v.).
The amount of time spent daily in zazen by practitioners varies. Dōgen recommends that five minutes or more daily is beneficial for householders. The key is daily regularity, as Zen teaches that the ego will naturally resist, and the discipline of regularity is essential. Practicing Zen monks may perform four to six periods of zazen during a normal day, with each period lasting 30 to 40 minutes.
Meditation as a practice can be applied to any posture. Walking meditation is called kinhin. Successive periods of zazen are usually interwoven with brief periods of walking meditation to relieve the legs.
In modern Buddhist practice in Japan and the West, sesshins are often attended by lay students, and are typically 1, 3, 5, or 7 days in length. Seven day sesshins are several times a year at many Zen Centers, especially in commemoration of the Buddha's awakening to annuttara samyak sambodhi. At this Rohatsu sesshin, the practitioners typically strive to quiet the mind's chatter to the point of either Stopping thought, samadhi, kensho, or satori.
One distinctive aspect of Zen meditation in groups is the use of the keisaku, a flat wooden stick or slat used to keep meditators focused and awake.
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:
John McRae's Seeing Through Zen explores this assertion of lineage as a distinctive and central aspect of Zen Buddhism. He writes of this "genealogical" approach so central to Zen's self-understanding, that while not without precedent, has unique features. It is:
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 (1600–1868), 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 associated with teachers typically include, in Chinese, Fashi (法師) or Chanshi (禪師); in Korean, Sunim (an honorofic for a monk or nun) and Seon Sa (선사); in Japanese, Osho (和尚), Roshi (老師), or Sensei (先生); and in Vietnamese, Thầy. Note that many of these titles are not specific to Zen but are used generally for Buddhist priests; 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. The term is less common in reference to modern teachers. In the Open Mind Zen School, English terms have been substituted for the Japanese ones to avoid confusion of this issue. "Assistant Zen Teacher" is a person authorized to begin to teach, but still under the supervision of his teacher. "Zen Teacher" applies to one authorized to teach without further direction, and "Zen Master" refers to one who is a Zen Teacher and has founded his or her own teaching center.
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 differientiations 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.
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 , 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 Boddhisattva 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.
One modern-day Roshi justifies 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.
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; Baso), Shitou (Shih-t'ou; Sekito), Baizhang (Pai-chang; 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 Chan. 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 Chan 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.
Chan 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, Chan 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 Chan and Pure Land. Chan 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 Chan 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, Chan was revived again in the early 20th century by Hsu Yun, a well-known figure of 20th century Chinese Buddhism. Many Chan teachers today trace their lineage back to Hsu Yun, including Sheng-yen and Hsuan Hua, who have propagated Chan 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.
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.
Although the Japanese had known Zen-like practices for centuries (Taoism and Shinto), it 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 Jomyo (南浦紹明) 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 (Huangboshan), 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 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.
According to traditional accounts of Vietnam, in 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci (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 -Bhikkhuni and Zen Master- Chan Khong.
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.
Also, 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 successor of the late Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.
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-American 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.
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.
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. 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.
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, the Mountains and Rivers Order, founded by John Daido Loori, 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.
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 Chan Fellowship is an association of lay Chan 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 Kyudo 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.
Not all the successful Zen teachers in the West have been from Japanese traditions. There have also been teachers of Chan, Seon, and Thien Buddhism. In addition, there are a number of Zen teachers who studied in Asian traditions that because of corruption or political issues decided to strike out on their own. One organization of this type is Open Mind Zen in Melbourne, Florida.
The first Chinese master to teach Westerners in North America was Hsuan Hua, who taught Zen, Chinese Pure Land, Tiantai, Vinaya, and Vajrayana 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 Zen teacher with a Western following is Sheng-yen, a master trained in both the Caodong and Linji schools (equivalent to the Japanese Soto and Rinzai, respectively). He first visited the United States in 1978 under the sponsorship of the Buddhist Association of the United States, and, in 1980, founded the Chan Meditation Center in Queens, New York.
The most 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.
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.