Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Zen (禅 in Japanese, ch'an in Chinese, 禪, 선 "Seon" or "Sŏn" in Korean) Buddhism is a fusion of Mahayana Buddhist beliefs with Taoism.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Zen Terms
3 External Links
4 Recommended Reading


Zen especially emphasizes the practice of meditation. It developed when teachers from India, the original homeland of Buddhism, founded schools in China, where it was known as ch'an (ch'an is the Wade-Giles transliteration of the Sanskrit word dhyana). The canonical exemplar of these teachers is Bodhidharma, the Indian monk who traditionally founded Zen Buddhism at the Shaolin Temple in the fifth century CE. Later, Japanese monks studying in China learned of Zen and brought it back to Japan, where several divergent schools of thought emerged.

Influenced by Taoism, Zen de-emphasizes study and worldly deeds, and concentrates instead on meditation and a non-rational awareness of the world and the way the mind reacts to it.

Zen tradition holds that the highest form of spiritual practice is zazen meditation. Zazen translates approximately to sitting meditation. During zazen, practitioners assume a lotus, half-lotus, burmese, or seiza position. Rinzai practitioners typically sit facing the center of the room, while Soto practitioners sit facing a wall. Awareness is directed towards complete cognizance of one's posture and breathing. In this way, practictioners seek to transcend thought and be directly aware of the universe.

Later schools (especially Rinzai) developed the famous koans, paradoxical "riddles" or "puzzles" designed to shock the mind out of its rationalistic rut and into a non-discriminatory awareness.

The following Zen traditions still exist in Japan: Soto Zen, Rinzai Zen and Obaku. Founder of the Soto Zen school in Japan was the famous Zen master Dogen Zenji (1200 - 1253). Lin-Chi (Rinzai in Japanese) founded Rinzai Zen and Obaku founded the Obaku school.

Many modern students have made the mistake of thinking that since much of Zen sounds like nonsense, then any clever nonsense is also Zen. This is not the case, but see Discordianism and the Church of the SubGenius for modern semiserious religions influenced by this idea.

Esoteric meaning of Zen

From this point of view, Zen is, instead of a religion, rather an undefinable origin, beyond all words and concepts, which can only be experienced on an individual level. All religions originated from more concrete expressions of this, and as such Zen is not bound to any religion at all, even not Buddhism. Zen is then the fundamental perfection of everything existing, and is known by all the great saints and sages of all times. Zazen is then, rather than a method to bring people to liberation, an expression and realization of the perfection already present in every person.

Zen Terms

See also: Eastern philosophy, Buddhism in China, Ryoju Kikuchi(Tamo Samma)

External Links

Recommended Reading