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a Japanese school, of 12th-century Chinese origin, teaching that contemplation of one's essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only way of achieving pure enlightenment



one of the currents of Far Eastern Buddhism. The word “zen” itself is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character transcribing the Sanskrit term dhyana (meditation, self-absorption); the Chinese pronunciation is ch’an. Zen developed in China during the sixth and seventh centuries under the strong influence of Taoism, from which Zen borrowed the disregard for knowledge and the conviction that the truth cannot be expressed in words but can only be attained by an internal leap, freeing the consciousness not only from the beaten paths of thought but from thought in general. Zen is characterized by a rejection of the established norms of intellect and morality and by a love of paradox, intuitivism, and spontaneity. The conceptual and artistic language of Zen is based on the laconic hint and rhythmic pause. Improvisation and intuitive action without any plan are of primary importance. These features of Zen can be understood as an expression of “freedom of the spirit” in a society where freedom is possible only as the unexpected, the unplanned, and the eccentric.

The first patriarch of Zen in China was the Indian prophet Bodhidharma (beginning of the sixth century), but the decisive role was played by the sixth patriarch Hui-neng (638-713) and Shen-hsiu (605-706). Zen flourished in China until the ninth century; in Japan it appeared in the 12th or 13th century. Zen has continued to exert an extensive influence on culture and ideology up to the present. In Zen the creative act is interpreted as a religious act, and this has had an enormous influence on Chinese painting, calligraphy, and poetry and on Japanese culture, especially since the Muromachi period (14th-16th centuries).

An idiosyncratic (vulgarized) variant of Zen flourishes among beatniks, who understand Zen as an ideology that rejects civilization.


Pomerants, G. “Dzen i ego nasledie.” Narody Azii i Afriki, 1964, no. 4.
Zavadskaia, E. V., and A. M. Piatigorskii. “Otzvuki kul’tury Vostoka v proizvedeniiakh Dzh. D. Selindzhera.” Narody Azii i Afriki, 1966, no. 3.
Suzuki, D. T. Essays in Zen Buddhism, series 1-3. London, 1953.
Watts, A. The Way of Zen. New York, 1957.
Blyth, R. H. Zen and Zen Classics, vols. 1-5. Tokyo, 1960-66.



Buddhist sect; truth found in contemplation and self-mastery. [Buddhism: Brewer Dictionary, 1174]


[Kehoe, B., "Zen and the Art of the Internet", February 1992.]


To figure out something by meditation or by a sudden flash of enlightenment. Originally applied to bugs, but occasionally applied to problems of life in general. "How'd you figure out the buffer allocation problem?" "Oh, I zenned it."

Contrast grok, which connotes a time-extended version of zenning a system. Compare hack mode. See also guru.


(1) A social collaboration platform. See blueKiwi ZEN.

(2) The code name for AMD's next-generation microarchitecture, expected in 2016. Using 14 nm process technology, Zen CPUs with up to eight cores will be released for servers first.

(3) An open source virtual machine hypervisor. See Xen.