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"Lightning flashes,
Sparks shower,
In one blink of your eyes,
You have missed seeing."

A Hindu story tells of a fish who asked of another fish: "I have always heard
about the sea, but what is it? Where is it?"

The other fish replied: "You live, move and have your being the sea. The sea is
within you and without you, and you are made of sea, and you will end in sea.
The sea surrounds you as your own being."

So the only true answer to the question "What is Zen?" is the one that you find
for yourself.


There exists a great interest in the West about Zen, particularly since World War
II. Yet there seems to be a general haziness about the origin of Zen, what it
believes, and the disciplines of Zen. The fault is not entirely with the interested-
but-uninitiated. The fault lies also with Zen as a deliberately inscrutable teaching,
made even more enigmatic by its interpreters, who spend many years writing
innumerable books to explain what they insist is utterly inexplicable. Their
explanations are frequently interrupted to warn the reader that, in the words of
Lao Tzu, "they who tell do not know; they who know do not tell."

Many people think of Zen as a Japanese development, manifest in their Noh

plays, in their flower arrangements, in their dances, in their tea ceremonies, in
their art, in their archery. And if they think so, they are within the area of the truth.
Some think of Zen as a Chinese interpretation of the Buddhist concept of the
state of enlightenment, or of being "awakened," transported and adjusted to
Japanese culture. That, too, is within the area of truth. And then there are some
who think that Zen Buddhism goes back to the days of the Buddha in India, when
he began to expound Zen, wordlessly.

According to legend, when Buddha was growing old he convened his disciples
for an important discourse. And when they gathered and sat down silently,
reverently waiting to hear their aging Master speak, the Buddha arose, came
forward on the flower-decked platform, looked over his audience of disciples and
monks, then bent down and picked up a flower which he raised to the level of his
eyes. Then, without uttering a word, he returned to his seat. His followers looked
at each other in bewilderment, not understanding the meaning of his silence.
Only the venerable Mahakasyapa serenely smiled at the Master. And the Master
smiled back at him and wordlessly bequeathed to him the spiritual meaning of his
wordless sermon. And that, according to legend, was the moment Zen was

Nearly a thousand years passed from the legendary encounter of the Buddha
and the venerable Mahakasyapa until Zen, transmitted from generation to
generation, reached Bodhi-Dharma, who introduced it to China. And still another
century passed before a Chinese philosopher and theologian, Hui-neng, who
died in 713 A.D., established Zen as a sect of Buddhism.

In China, the mystic experience of the Buddha's enlightenment was influenced by

the teachings of Lao Tzu. While the seed of Zen came from India, it grew in
China and was transformed by Taoism. But it did not reach full flowering until it
came, with Chinese Buddhism, to Japan. In Japan, Zen was crystallized into a
system, although its adherents insisted that it could not be taught, and argued
that there could be no dependence on explanations, on sermonizing, or on any
formal creed or ritual.

Since Zen was adopted and adapted in Japan, it has gone through a number of
transformations. For historical reasons, and because of its presumable nihilistic
implications, Zen became popular with the intellectual classes in Japan, and its
following increased to nearly five million toward the end of the Second World

The name "Zen" is Japanese. It derives from the Chinese Chan'an-na, which is a
corruption from the Buddhist Dhyana, meaning Meditation.

Zen means waking up to the present moment. That is, perceiving this moment
exactly as it is, rather than through the filter of our ideas, opinions, etc. One way
to practice this is to ask yourself a Big Question, such as "What am I?" If you ask
such a question strongly and sincerely, what appears is "Don't Know." This don't-
know is before thinking. If you keep it moment to moment, then everything is
clear. Then, each moment, whatever you're doing, just do it. When you're sitting,
just sit; when you're eating, just eat; and so on. According to Zen, existence is
found in the silence of the mind (no-mind), beyond the chatter of our internal
dialog. Existence, from the Zen perspective is something that is only happening
spontaneously, and it is not just our thoughts. All of life that we perceive is
constantly in a state of change. Every atom in the universe is somewhere
different every millionth of a second.

What then is existence? Zen says that it is instantaneous. Since the earth is
constantly moving, and our thoughts and our bodies are constantly in a process
of fluctuation, then what we really are, can only be experienced in each moment.

Think of a view. Is it what it was a second ago, or what it is now? In fact the
moment we say the word “view", the view has already changed into something

In fact, anything that we can explain, according to this viewpoint, must be past-
tense. Even if it’s about our most immediate feelings and thoughts, it is not the
same experience the second after it passes through our minds. Researchers
estimate that our minds perceive 12,000 separate impressions every second.
This is in terms of everything that we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
So, what is our reality really? Isn’t it always a very limited view of what we are
even actually experiencing around us? And that which we are aware of, is only
our own minute impression of the world itself. Are any of our views then actually
true in the absolute sense of the word, or are they all just our subjective
impressions, based on an individual experience of what we are perceiving?

For example, a person may think that the Sun moves through their sky, and that
the earth is stationary. Is this actually true? It may seem true for a person at the
moment they make the observation, but how true is it from an absolute
perspective of the universe? Can we even know what is the absolute
perspective? In this example, from another perspective the earth appears to
travel around the Sun.

Obviously, with this in mind, there are an infinite number of viewpoints possible at
each moment, from an infinite number of perspectives; therefore there are an
infinite number of existences, and in any absolute sense, existence itself is
inexpressible. Can we actually experience existence then? Perhaps from the Zen
perspective the question is, "Why do we not experience it?"

Zen says that if we entertain no personal version of what we think existence is, in
other words, if we hold no subjective interpretation of what existence is, at the
moment we are free of any notion at all, we will experience existence
instantaneously, spontaneously.

Do you see this point? Zen says that we don’t really experience existence,
because we are too busy experiencing our own subjective, version of existence.

How then can we experience existence itself? If we don’t create existence, then
existence simply IS. The problem is, that we are usually trying to create our own
model of the world. Whatever existence we create, it will be an extremely limited
view, and that isn’t existence itself.

In Zen a less subjective awareness is cultivated through silent meditation, and

contemplating on certain sentences, known as Koans. A koan is defined in "The
Three Pillars Of Zen" as, "Formulation, in baffling language, pointing to ultimate
Truth. Koans cannot be solved by recourse to a logical reasoning, but only
awakening a deeper level of the mind beyond the discursive intellect."

An example of a Koan would be, “The sound of one hand clapping”, or perhaps
you remember this one from grade school, “Does a tree that falls in the forest
make a sound if there isn’t anyone there to hear it?," and so on.

Through these more abstract thoughts, the Zen student may find that they
gradually suspend with their reasoning altogether (this is called no-mind), and
this clears the way for an actual experience of existence itself.

Unanticipated, spontaneously, without warning, the student may suddenly

experience that 'Peace' beyond thought, words, or description. All that anyone
can really say who has experienced this is, “All is one, and one is all”. This is
what Zen calls the experience of Nirvana, or Enlightenment

When Tired

A student once asked his teacher,

"Master, what is enlightenment?"

The master replied,

"When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."

Empty Your Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master
quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the
visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring.

The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain

"It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted.

"You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your

Moving Mind

Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind.

"It's the wind that is really moving," stated the first one.

"No, it is the flag that is moving," contended the second.

A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and
interrupted them.

"Neither the flag nor the wind is moving," he said, "It is MIND that moves."

It Will Pass

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, "My meditation is horrible! I
feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I'm constantly falling asleep. It's just
horrible!" "It will pass," the teacher said matter-of-factly.
A week later, the student came back to his teacher. "My meditation is wonderful! I
feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It's just wonderful!'

"It will pass,"

the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

Holy Man

Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a
small house atop the mountain. A man from the village decided to make the long
and difficult journey to visit him.

When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeting him at
the door.

"I would like to see the wise Holy Man," he said to the servant.

The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the
man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter
with the Holy Man.

Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He
stopped and turned to the servant,

"But I want to see the Holy Man!"

"You already have," said the old man. "Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain
and insignificant... see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem
you brought here today will be solved."

I Don't Know

The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the
Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism.

"What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?" the emperor inquired.

"Vast emptiness... and not a trace of holiness," the master replied.

"If there is no holiness," the emperor said, "then who or what are you?"

"I do not know," the master replied.

Is That So?

A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know
who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed
girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered
for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with
their daughter's accusation, he simply replied "Is that so?"

When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was
viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the
child since it was his responsibility. "Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he
accepted the child.

For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand
the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she
had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby.
With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. "Is that so?" Hakuin said as he
handed them the child.

Nature's Beauty

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been
given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple
there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master.

One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care
in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the
moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all
the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest
from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. "Isn't it
beautiful," he called out to the old master. "Yes," replied the old man, "but there is
something missing. Help me over this wall and I'll put it right for you."

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked
to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered
down all over the garden. "There," said the old man, "you can put me back now."

We'll See...

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many
years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came
to visit.

"Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"We'll see," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

"How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"We'll see," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown,
and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his

"We'll see," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the
army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors
congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"We'll see" said the farmer.

The Nature of Things

Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion
that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the
bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again
the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.

The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion
when you know it's nature is to sting?"

"Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."

Working Very Hard

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to
studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it."

The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years."

Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will
work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How
long will it take then?"

The teacher thought for a moment,

"20 years."
The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain.
One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there
was nothing in it to steal.

The Zen Master returned and found him. "You have come a long way to visit
me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty handed. Please take
my clothes as a gift."

The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away.

The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this
beautiful moon."


A famous spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King's palace. None of
the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King
himself was sitting on his throne.

"What do you want?" asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor.

"I would like a place to sleep in this inn,"

replied the teacher.

"But this is not an inn," said the King,

"It is my palace."

"May I ask who owned this palace before you?"

"My father. He is dead."

"And who owned it before him?"

"My grandfather. He too is dead."

"And this place where people live for a short time and then move on - did I hear you say that it is
NOT an inn?"

Without Fear

During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into
a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the
army arrived - everyone except the Zen master.

Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself
what kind of man this master was.
When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was
accustomed, the general burst into anger.

"You fool," he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are
standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!"

But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.

"And do you realize," the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be
run through without blinking an eye?"

Surprising the Master

The students in the monastery were in total awe of the elder monk, not because
he was strict, but because nothing ever seemed to upset or ruffle him. So they
found him a bit unearthly and even frightening.

One day they decided to put him to a test. A bunch of them very quietly hid in a
dark corner of one of the hallways, and waited for the monk to walk by. Within
moments, the old man appeared, carrying a cup of hot tea. Just as he passed by,
the students all rushed out at him screaming as loud as they could.

But the monk showed no reaction whatsoever. He peacefully made his way to a small table at the
end of the hall, gently placed the cup down, and then, leaning against the wall, cried out with
shock, "Ohhhhh!"

Knowing Fish

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.

"Look at the fish swimming about," said Chuang Tzu, "They are really enjoying

"You are not a fish," replied the friend, "So you can't truly know that they are
enjoying themselves."

"You are not me," said Chuang Tzu. "So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are
enjoying themselves?"

koan #1

Water heats gradually

and boils suddenly.

We cannot force the natural course of events; everything happens in its 'right'
time. The process is gradual, and hence may appear slow to us as we are often
too impatient with expectations, but the change takes place within an instant.

Similarly, awakening can not be forced, but may be encouraged; just like a seed
which sprouts naturally when the right conditions prevail.

koan #2

Do what you will;

but not because you must.

Often our habits shape our decisions and choices in life. What we fail to realize is
that our habits link us to the past and prevent us from making the most of life's
offerings within the present moment.

But life is fresh in each moment and changes take place within the present
moment. So, in order to experience the mystery and the magic of "now", we must
break the habitual patterns of 'must's and 'must not's and live life as it comes
koan #3

When walking - walk.

When sitting - sit.
But don't wobble!

When asked how he disciplined himself in Zen, a master replied, "When hungry, I
eat. When tired, I sleep."

The questioner responded in a surprise, "But that is what everyone does!"

"Not at all," replied the master, "Most people are constantly distracted from what
they are doing."

We should try to live and appreciate every moment in complete awareness. Zen
is not 'trying' to follow a certain way, it is just being what you are and doing what
you do according to your true nature.

koan #4

Know who you are.

Be what you know.

We should seek to understand our intrinsic nature and then attempt to live with
what we know.

It is easy to have a momentary insight into our essential nature, but then only to
hold on to it as a philosophical idea. What we should do is to return to this insight
constantly to make it a living reality.
koan #5

The wise don't strive to arrive.

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki says, "What is more important, to make a million
dollars, or enjoy your effort, little by little, even though it is impossible to make
that million? To be successful, or to find some meaning in your efforts to

We should give up goal orientation and simply be. Life is not about getting
somewhere in a hurry, but enjoying the journey to the full.

koan #6

We stand in our own shadow

and wonder why it is dark!

When we think there is a problem in life, we should realize that the problem
actually lies within us. We may not be able to transform the situation, but we can
transform ourselves and how we perceive our lives.

When we look at things from the view point of our separate ego-self, we cast a
shadow which obscures the light of our essential self and everything seems dark.
If we turn and face the light, we rise above our limited self-interest and can see
the whole picture.
koan #7

You smile and

the world changes.

If we smile simply out of love, we bridge our separateness, which is the root of all
sufferings in the world.

Joy is infectious. When we are joyful, we create a field of goodness around us

which spreads out in ever-increasing circles, like a ripple in a pond.

And it all starts with a smile...

koan #8

To find yourself
is to lose yourself.

To know our true Self, we must cease to identify with the illusory identity which
feels separated from the whole under the survival instincts fed by the ego.

For the real to come, the false must leave..

koan #9

The wave and

the sea are One.

Our seemingly separate life is like an individual wave that rises and falls on the
great sea of existence. Like a wave, we are propelled forward by the powerfull
currents of life.

If we only experience the surface of things, we will live like a wave, pushed
around by invisible currents and regularly crashed down onto the rocky shore
line. But if we choose the depths where motion slows down and the silence sets
in, we will sense the connectedness and the Oneness of all beings.

Waves come and go, but the ocean remains...

koan #10

Everyday life is the path.

Joshu asked Nansen: "What is the path?'"

Nansen said: "Everyday life is the path.'"

Joshu asked: "Can it be studied?"

Nansen said: "If you try to study, you will be far away from it.'"

Joshu asked: "f I do not study, how can I know it is the path?'"

Nansen said: "The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it
belong to the nonperception world. Cognition is a delusion and noncognition is
senseless. If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the
same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good."

At these words Joshu was enlightened.

koan #11

Look and see with your own eyes.

If you hesitate,
you miss the mark forever.

If we know how to look and see into the nature of life, the present moment
provides all the signs and answers to help our journey. Hesitating means missing
the present moment and hence all it has to offer.

If we hold back from fully embracing life today, we will miss it forever; because
"now" is the only reality and life is experienced "now".

koan #12

Without anxious thought,

doing comes from being.

If the mind is full of irrelevant thoughts and anxieties, our natural decision-making
process is slowed down and we become painfully aware of each step in the

If we can still the mind through practices such as meditation, it frees up our
mental powers to respond quickly and efficiently, so that we spontaneously know
what we do.
koan #13

Gaze at the stars,

but walk on the earth.

The Zen teacher D.T. Suzuki writes, "With all our philosophy, with all our grand
and enhancing ideas, we cannot escape life as we live it. Star- gazers are still
walking on the solid earth."

Spiritual philosophies may sometimes lead us to the final frontiers of abstract

thought, but the "truth" sought actually lies in everyday life. The key word is
"balance", in the sense that we should live our lives with all the practical aspects,
yet keep the "big picture" in mind all along and feel the miracle of existence all
around us.

koan #14

The "Way" is not difficult

for someone
without preferences.

What makes the journey difficult is the intrinsic tendency of our duelist minds to
classify things, events, people as good and bad, desired and undesired, pleasant
and unpleasant, and so on. Classification leads to comparison, comparison leads
to dissatisfaction and hence results in unhappiness...

When we completely accept "what IS" as a reflection of a perfect mechanism, we

perceive the unity beyond all the dualities and hence preferences lose their
meanings and their importance in our lives.
koan #15


"Mu" is a traditional Zen koan which is supposed to have the power to fully
awaken those who meditate on it.

"Mu" literally means "not." When asked a question, Master Ekai would often
simply exclaim "Mu!" as a way of saying that both 'yes' and 'no' were too limited
to be the answer.

Mu is neither affirming something nor negating it. It is an illogical answer that

points to a profound, intuitive Zen understanding, beyond the limited rational

In a way, "Mu" is saying, "Unask that question!", as in the state of full

awareness, there are no questions.

koan #16

Immersed in water,
you stretch out
your hands for a drink.

We are surrounded by all that we need and we could ever wish for, but, that, we
are not conscious of. We are seeking continuously and desperately for
something or someone out of dissatisfaction with our so-called ordinary lives.

But if we cannot appreciate the wonder of simply being alive, we will never be
truly content in this transitory world.
koan #17

Merely stagnating in duality,

How can you recognize oneness?
If you fail to penetrate oneness,
Both places lose their function.

Whenever you make distinctions, your mind is in opposition. Opposition implies


Even seeking enlightenment or oneness in itself creates a state of opposition

between the searching mind and the "I" within. Just the very process of seeking
separates the seeker from the attainment, the object of his search.

So, how can we pass beyond the bounds of duality? We must have absolute faith
in the fundamental unity and really believe there is no separation. The progress
follows this sequence: scattered mind, simple mind, one mind and no mind. First
we gather our scattered thoughts into a more concentrated, or simple, state of
mind. From this concentrated state we can enter the mind of unity. Finally, we
leap from the unified mind to the state of no mind.

To go from one mind to no mind does not mean that anything is lost; rather, it
means that you are free of the unified state. Someone who dwells in one mind
would either be attached to the image of enlightenment, or else would feel
identified with a certain method. It is only after you are freed from this unity and
enter no mind that you return to your own nature. This in itself is close to a state
of unity. If you hold to it, eventually you will reach a point where the method
disappears and you will experience one mind.
koan #18

Banish existence and

you fall into existence;
Follow emptiness and
you turn your back on it.

In the Sung dynasty there was a famous prime minister by the name of Chang
Shang-Yin who was opposed to Buddhism. He wrote many essays purporting to
refute Buddhism, and he would spend every evening pondering over how he
could improve the essay he was then working on.

His wife, observing his obsessive involvement and struggle with his writing,
asked him, "What are you doing?" He said, "Buddhism is really hateful. I'm trying
to prove there is no Buddha."

His wife remarked, "How strange! If you say there is no Buddha, why bother to
refute the Buddha? It is as if you are throwing punches into empty space."

This comment turned his mind around. He reflected: There may be something to
Buddhism after all.

Thus if you try to destroy something, you are still bound up by it. For instance,
suppose you try to clear a blocked pipe by pushing another object into it.
Whatever was originally in the pipe is pushed out, but the new object is now
blocking the pipe. When you try to use existence to get rid of existence, you will
always end up with existence.

When you throw something away, it is gone. But does it cease to exist?
koan #19

Don't search for truth,

simply stop having opinions

Enlightenment is not an opinion, but a state achieved through the absence of all
opinions. It is not an idea, but an awareness of the consciousness that
experiences all ideas.

This consciousness is vast and limitless, like a clear blue sky, and ideas are
clouds that pass across the sky. When we focus on the clouds, we miss seeing
the base that holds them all.

koan #20

The fearless hero

is a loving child.

With the courage of a hero and the innocent, loving heart of a child, one can
meet the challenges of life fearlessly, yet not yield to cynicism or defensiveness.

We can be polished up by life, rather than being ground down by it. Often we
defend ourselves against life by projecting a hard exterior; but the true heroes'
strength lies in their compassion and sincerity, not in their armor.
koan #21

Great understanding
comes with great love.

Wisdom and compassion are inseparable qualities of our true nature. To be wise
is to love and to love is to be wise.

Wisdom is the quality of mind that sees beyond the limits of the ego-self and
knows the ultimate connectedness of life. Love is the quality of heart that unites
us with others and all of life, and frees us from our separateness.

The path to enlightenment is opening the mind to wisdom and the heart to
compassion and love.
All About ZEN
Zen is a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism notable for its emphasis on praxis and experiential
wisdom, particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen, in the
attainment of enlightenment as experienced by the Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama. As such,
it de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of
what it terms a "special transmission outside the scriptures" that points to each individual
practitioner's inherent Buddha-nature.
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 Daoism
and Huáyán Buddhism. From China, Zen subsequently spread southwards to Vietnam
and eastwards to Korea and Japan. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Zen also
began to establish a notable presence in North America and Europe.

Zen teachings and practices


In Zen, philosophical teachings and textual study are given less emphasis than in other
forms of Buddhism. Nonetheless, Zen is deeply rooted in both the teachings of the
Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama and Mahāyāna Buddhist thought.

The fundamental Zen practice of zazen, or seated meditation, 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 Zen. Certain other elements emerging from Theravāda Buddhist thought,
such as the perfections, also have a place in Zen.

Additionally, as a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, Zen draws many of its basic driving
concepts, particularly the bodhisattva ideal, from that branch. Uniquely Mahāyāna figures
such as Guānyīn, Mañjuśrī, Samantabhadra, and Amitābha are venerated alongside the
historical Buddha. Despite Zen's lack of emphasis on textual study, it has drawn heavily
on the Mahāyāna sūtras, particularly the Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sūtra, the Sūtra of the
Perfection of Wisdom of the Diamond that Cuts through Illusion, the Lankavatara Sūtra,
and the "Samantamukha Parivarta" section of the Lotus Sūtra.

Zen has also itself 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 life practice, along with intensive periods of meditation.
Practicing with others is an integral part of Zen practice. In explaining Zen Buddhism,
Japanese Zen teachers have made the point that Zen is a "way of 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 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.

D.T. Suzuki asserted that satori (awakening) has always been the goal of every school of
Buddhism, but that which distinguished the Zen tradition as it developed in China, Korea,
and Japan was a way of life radically different from that of Indian Buddhists. In India, the
tradition of the mendicant (bhikkhu) prevailed, but in China social circumstances led to
the development of a temple and training-center system in which the abbot and the monks
all performed mundane tasks. These included food gardening or farming, carpentry,
architecture, housekeeping, administration, and the practice of folk medicine.
Consequently, the enlightenment sought in Zen had to stand up well to the demands and
potential frustrations of everyday life.


Zen sitting meditation, the core of zen practice, is called zazen in Japanese (Chinese tso-
chan [Wade-Giles] or zuochan [Pinyin]). During zazen, practitioners usually assume a
sitting position such as the lotus, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza postures. Awareness is
directed towards one's posture and breathing. Often, a square or round cushion (zafu)
placed on a padded mat (zabuton) is used to sit on; in some cases, a chair may be used. In
Rinzai Zen, practitioners typically sit facing the center of the room; while Soto
practitioners traditionally sit facing a wall.

In Soto Zen, shikantaza meditation ("just-sitting") 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"[4]. Rinzai Zen,
instead, emphasizes attention to the breath and koan practice .

The amount of time spent daily in zazen by practitioners varies. Dogen 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. Normally, a monastery will hold a monthly retreat
period (sesshin), lasting between one and seven days. During this time, zazen is practiced
more intensively: monks may spend four to eight hours in meditation each day,
sometimes supplemented by further rounds of zazen late at night.

This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharma reads “Zen points directly to the human
heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”. It was created by Hakuin Ekaku (1685-

Meditation as a practice can be applied to any posture. Walking meditation is called

kinhin. Successive periods of zazen are usually interleaved with brief periods of walking
meditation to relieve the legs.

The teacher

Because the Zen tradition emphasizes direct communication over scriptural study, the
role of the Zen teacher has traditionally been central. Generally speaking, a Zen teacher is
a person ordained in any tradition of Zen to teach the dharma, guide students of
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:

A special transmission outside the scriptures;

No dependence upon words and letters;

Direct pointing to the human mind;

Seeing into one's own nature and attaining Buddhahood.

The idea of a line of descent from Śākyamuni Buddha is a distinctive institution of Zen
which D.T. Suzuki contends was invented by hagiographers to grant Zen legitimacy and

John McRae’s study “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 “relational (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 (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." An occasional teacher in Japan during the Tokugawa period
did not adhere to the lineage system; these were termed mushi dokugo ("independently
enlightened without a teacher") or jigo jisho ("self-enlightened and self-certified"). They
were generally dismissed and perhaps of necessity leave no independent transmission.
Nevertheless, 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 or Chanshi ;
in Korean, Sunim (an honorofic for a monk or nun) and Seon Sa ; in Japanese, Osho,
Roshi , or Sensei ; 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.

Koan practice

Chinese character for "no thing." Chinese: wú (Japanese: mu). It figures in the famous
Zhaozhou's dog koan

Zen Buddhists of the Rinzai school practice meditation on koans during zazen. 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. Koan
practice is particularly emphasized by the Japanese Rinzai school, but it also occurs in
other forms of Zen.

These anecdotes involving famous Zen teachers are a practical demonstration of their
wisdom, and can be be used to test a student's progress in Zen practice. Koans often
appear paradoxical or linguistically meaningless dialogues or questions. The 'answer' to
the koan involves a transformation of perspective or consciousness, which may be either
radical or subtle, but not to be confused with the experience of metanoia in Christianity.
They are a tool to allow the student to approach enlightenment by letting go of
conceptual thinking and of the logical way we order the world.
The Zen student's mastery of a given koan is presented to the teacher in a private
interview, referred to as dokusan , daisan , or sanzen. 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.

Other techniques

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.

Within Zen, and thus from an emic perspective, the origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed
to what is called the Flower Sermon, in which Śākyamuni Buddha is supposed to have
passed on special insight to the disciple Mahākāśyapa. The sermon itself was a wordless
one in which Śākyamuni merely held up a flower before the assembled disciples, among
whom there was no reaction apart from Mahākāśyapa, who smiled. The smile is said to
have signified Mahākāśyapa's understanding, and Śākyamuni acknowledged this by

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, a way within Buddhism developed which concentrated on direct experience rather
than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Zen is a method of meditative religion
which seeks to enlighten people in the manner that the Mahākāśyapa experienced.

In the Song of Enlightenment ( 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.

The idea of a line of descent from Śākyamuni Buddha is a distinctive institution of Zen
which D.T. Suzuki contends was invented by hagiographers to grant Zen legitimacy and
prestige. Some scholars also argue that the legend of the "Flower sermon" is not based on
actual historical events.

Historical roots of Zen

Buddhism was introduced into China through missionary efforts from India. From there
Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan. The earliest conceptual and practical beginnings of
Zen lie in India, its formation and evolution as an innovative religious movement lies in

The sutras of the Mahayana literature, which originated in India, have a historically clear
and certain influence on Zen. This transplanting of Buddhism from its native soil in India
into the culture and life of China continued with the task of translating the hundreds of
volumes of the Buddhist canon from Pali and Sanskrit into the Chinese language. The
collected sayings (Jpn., goroku) in Zen literature consist of stories, discourses, and
sayings, the heritage of India melded into the the common language of China.

The Mahayana school of Buddhism is noted for its proximity with Yoga. In the west, Zen
is often set alongside Yoga, the two schools of meditation display obvious family
resemblances. The melding of Yoga with Buddhism--a process that continued through the
centuries--represents a landmark on the path of Yoga through the history of India. This
phenomenon merits special attention since the Zen Buddhist school of meditation has its
roots in yogic practices. Certain essential elements of Yoga are important both for
Buddhism in general and for Zen in particular.

Buddhist monks brought sacred books, images and Buddhist meditation to China.
Buddhist monks taught methods of meditation found in the Pali Canon. These in turn
were soon mingled with Taoist meditational techniques. Most of the translations
attributed to An Shih Kao, deal with meditation (dhyana) and concentration (samadhi).
His translation of the Sutra on Concentration by Practicing Respiratory Exercises
explains the ancient yogic and early Buddhist practice of controlling the breath by
counting inhalation and exhalations.

Development of Chan Buddhism in China

Bodhidharma (c. 6th century CE) was the Buddhist monk traditionally credited as the
founder of Chán (Zen) Buddhism in China. Very little contemporary biographical
information on Bodhidharma is extant, and subsequent accounts became layered with
legend, but most accounts agree that he was a South Indian monk who journeyed to
southern China and subsequently relocated northwards. His arrival in China is variously
dated to the Liú Sòng Dynasty (420–479) in the Continued Biographies of Eminent
Monks (645) and to 527[23] during the Liáng Dynasty (502–557) in the Anthology of the
Patriarchal Hall (952). The accounts are, however, generally agreed that he was primarily
active in the lands of the Northern Wèi Dynasty (386–534).

Bodhidharma ultimately settled in the kingdom of Wei where he took as disciples Daoyu
and Huike. Bodhidharma is recorded as having come to China to teach a "special
transmission outside scriptures" which "did not rely upon words". Shortly before his
death, Bodhidharma appointed Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese
patriarch and the second patriarch of Zen in China. 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 Zen 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, he had to flee by
night to Nanhua Temple in the south to avoid the wrath of Hongren's jealous senior
disciples. In the middle of the 8th century, monks claiming to be the successors to
Huineng, calling themselves the Southern school, cast themselves in opposition to those
claiming to succeed Hongren's student Shenxiu . It is commonly held that at this point—
the debates between these rival factions—that Zen enters the realm of fully documented
history. The Southern school eventually became predominant and their rivals died out.
Modern scholarship, however, has questioned this narrative.

The following are the six Patriarchs of Zen in China as listed in traditional sources:

1. Bodhidharma ( Chinese: Damo, Japanese: Daruma) about 440 - about 528

2. Huike ( Japanese: Eka) 487 - 593
3. Sengcan (, Japanese: Sōsan) ? - 606
4. Daoxin ( Japanese: Dōshin) 580 - 651
5. Hongren (Japanese: Kōnin) 601 - 674
6. Huineng (Japanese: Enō) 638 - 713

Subsequent lineages

In the following centuries, Zen grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism.
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.

Because Zen developed as a distinct school in medieval China, it reflects the influence of
Chinese philosophy, including Taoism and, to a lesser extent, Confucianism. Taoism
played a pivotal role in the reception that China gave to Buddhism. The two religions
enjoyed close relationship during the early years of Chinese Buddhism. Taoist influence
on Buddhism was later visible in the teachings of the Zen school.
The entry of Buddhism into China was marked by interaction and syncretism with Taoic
faiths, Taoism in particular. Buddhism's 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.

Buddhism was not universally welcomed, particularly among the gentry. The Buddha
Dharma seemed alien and amoral to conservative and Confucian sensibilities.
Confucianism promoted social stability, order, strong families, and practical living.
Chinese officials questioned how a monk's monasticism and personal attainment of
nirvana benefited the empire. However, Buddhism and Confucianism eventually
reconciled after centuries of conflict and assimilation.

During the late Tang and the Song periods, the tradition truly flowered, 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 of mature Chinese Zen. The traditional five houses were Caodong , Linji ,
Guiyang , Fayan , and Yunmen . This list does not include earlier schools such as the
Hongzhou 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 Zen teaching methods crystallized into the koan practice which is unique to Zen
Buddhism. According to Miura and Sasaki, "it was during the lifetime of Yüan-wu's
successor, Ta-hui Tsung-kao (Daie Sōkō, 1089-1163) that Koan Zen entered its
determinative stage." Koan 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 Zen 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 koan cases,
together with verse and prose commentaries, which would be studied by later generations
of students down to the present.

Zen, which had developed into a distinctively Chinese school of Buddhism, became an
international phenomenon early in its history. This first occurred in Vietnam, according
to the traditional accounts of that country, and later in other countries including Korea,
Japan and Western countries.

Later developments in Chan Buddhism in China

During the Tang dynasty, Chan Buddhism grew to become the largest sect in Chinese
Buddhism and has over the years, and, despite its "transmission beyond the scriptures",
produced the largest body of literature in Chinese history of any sect or tradition.

Chan continued to be influential as a religious force in China, although some Japanese

scholars have argued that some energy was lost with the syncretist Neo-Confucian revival
of Confucianism starting in the Song period. The Zen school however thrived in the post-
Song; 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 this distinction was lost, and many masters taught
both Chan and Pure Land. Chan Buddhism enjoyed something of a revival in the Ming
Dynasty under luminaries such as Hanshan Deqing , who wrote and taught extensively on
both Chan and Pure Land Buddhism; Miyun Yuanwu , who came to be seen
posthumously as the first patriarch of the Obaku Zen school; as well as Yunqi Zhuhong
and Ouyi Zhixu .

After further centuries of decline, Chan was revived again in the early 20th century by
Hsu Yun, who stands out as the defining figure of 20th century Chinese Buddhism. Many
well known 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 and among Overseas Chinese.


Recent opinions concerning the Song Dynasty have questioned the common "Period in
Decline" belief. This is due to the Historiography of the Song Dynasty. Many important
texts that convey Tang Dynasty stories were written during the Song Dynasty. Because of
this, most scholars study Chan through the lens of Song Dynasty understandings. The
Song Dynasty also produced the most stable forms of Chan practice, which are still being
used today. It must also be noted that much of current scholarship, heavily influenced by
Japanese Buddhology, has tended to discount the history of Zen Buddhism after it was
transmitted to Japan in the Kamakura period. The study of post-Song Chan is in reality a
highly uncharted area.

Zen in Japan
The schools of Zen that currently exist in Japan are the Soto , Rinzai , and Obaku . Of
these, Soto 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, 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 also studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan
lineage, the most influential branch of Rinzai. In 1215, Dogen, a younger contemporary
of Eisai's, journeyed to China himself, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master
Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dogen established the Soto 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 (Chinese: 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 Soto 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 Soto
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.

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." Some schools emphasize
lineage and trace their line of teachers back to Japan, Korea, Vietnam or China; other
schools do not.

Zen in Vietnam (Thien Buddhism)

Thiền Buddhism ( Thiền Tông) is the Vietnamese name for the school of Zen Buddhism.
Thien is ultimately derived from Chan Zong (simplified), itself a derivative of the
Sanskrit "Dhyāna".

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.

Zen in Korea (Seon)

Chan was gradually transmitted into Korea during the late Silla period (8th and 9th
centuries) as Korean monks of predominantly Hwaeom and Consciousness-only
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 Zen was named Peomnang . Mazu's successors had numerous Korean students,
some of whom returned to Korea and established the nine mountain schools. This was
the beginning of Korean Zen, which is called Seon.

Seon received its most significant impetus and consolidation from the Goryeo monk Jinul
(1158–1210), who established a reform movement and introduced koan practice to
Korea. Jinul established the Songgwangsa 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 schools, and then be relegated to lesser
influence in ruling clas 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 , Taego , Gihwa and Hyujeong , 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 ,
another name for Huineng.

Korean Zen is known for its stress on meditation, monasticism, and asceticism. Korean
monks are strictly required to have no personal possessions and to cut off all relations
with the outside world. They are near mendicants traveling from temple to temple
practicing meditation. The hermit-recluse life is prevalent among monks and 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.

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 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 Kyudo, inspired many of the Western world's early Zen
practitioners. However, many scholars are quick to criticize this book. (eg see Yamada

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 which 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 (Wisdom in Emptiness" in: Zen and the Birds of Appetite, 1968)
explores the many congruencies of Christian mysticism and Zen. (Main publications: The
Way of Chuang Tzu, 1965; Mystics and Zen Masters, 1967; Zen and the Birds of
Appetite, 1968).

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 per se. 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".

Western Zen lineages

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. 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. The San Francisco Zen Center continues to be the most
influential zen organization in Northern California to this day. Maezumi's White Plum
Asanga on the other hand has come to dominate in southern California. Maezumi's
successors have created schools including Big Mind, founded by Dennis Genpo Merzel,
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

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. Matsuoka-Roshi was born in
Japan into a family that has a history of Zen priests dating back six hundred years.
Matsuoka attended Komazawa University in Tokyo, where he graduated with a
bachelor’s degree. He was sent to America to serve as a founder of temples both in Los
Angeles and San Francisco. He furthered his extensive graduate work at Columbia
University with Dr. D.T. Suzuki. He finally established the Temple at Long Beach in
1971 where he resided until his passing in 1998. Matsuoka-Roshi was a great dynamic
influence in both America and Japan, lecturing and providing true Zen training to all
people. He is registered in the book of national treasures of Japan.

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, Robert Aitken, and
John Tarrant.

In the UK, Throssel Hole Abbey was founded as a sister monastery to Shasta Abbey in
California by Houn 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. See www.throssel.org.uk. Her
book The Wild White Goose describes her experiences in Japan.

There are also a number of Rinzai Zen centers in the West, such as the Rinzaiji lineage of
Kyozan Joshu Sasaki and the Dai Bosatsu lineage established by Eido Shimano.

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.

Covering over 480 acres of land and located in Talmage, California, the City of Ten
Thousand Buddhas was founded by Hsuan Hua.

The first Chinese Buddhist priest 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.