Zen Buddhism

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Related to Zen Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism

Zen Buddhism,

Buddhist sect of China and Japan. The name of the sect (Chin. Ch'an, Jap. Zen) derives from the Sanskrit dhyana [meditation]. In China the school early became known for making its central tenet the practice of meditation, rather than adherence to a particular scripture or doctrine.

The founder of Zen in China was the legendary Bodhidharma, who came to China from India in the late 5th cent. A.D. He taught the practice of "wall-gazing" and espoused the teachings of the Lanka-Vatara Sutra (whose chief doctrine is that of "consciousness-only"; see YogacaraYogacara
[Skt.,=yoga practice], philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism, also known as the Vijnanavada or Consciousness School. The founders of this school in India were Maitreya (270–350), his disciple Asanga (c.
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), which he passed on to his successor Hui-k'o (487–593).

According to tradition, Hui-neng (638–713) became the sixth patriarch of Chinese Zen by superseding his rival in the intuitive grasp of the truth of enlightenment, even though he was illiterate. The Platform Sutra, attributed to Hui-neng, defines enlightenment as the direct seeing of one's "original Mind" or "original Nature," which is Buddha, and this teaching has remained characteristic of Zen. A number of teaching lineages arose after Hui-neng, all claiming descent from him, and teaching the method of "sudden enlightenment" best known in the West by the term satori. In its formative period Zen was influenced by both Taoism and elements of Prajna-Paramita Buddhism (see sunyatasunyata
[Skt.,=emptiness], one of the main tenets of Mahayana Buddhism, first presented by the Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna-paramita) scriptures (1st cent. B.C. on) and later systematized by the Madhyamika school.
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The 8th and 9th cent. were the "golden age" of Zen, producing such great masters as Ma-tsu, Nan-chuan, Huang-po, Lin-chi, and Chao-chou. The unique Zen teaching style developed, stressing oral instruction and using nonrational forms of dialogue, from which the later koankoan
[Jap.,=public question; Chin. kung-an], a subject for meditation in Ch'an or Zen Buddhism, usually one of the sayings of a great Zen master of the past. In the formative period of Ch'an in China, masters tested the enlightenment of their students and of each other
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 was derived. In some cases physical violence was used to jolt the student out of dependence on ordinary forms of thought and into the enlightened consciousness. Scholarly knowledge, ritual, and performing good deeds were considered of comparatively little spiritual value.

After the great persecution of Buddhism in 845, Zen emerged as the dominant Chinese sect, due partly to its innate vitality and partly to its isolation in mountain monasteries away from centers of political power. Two main schools of Zen, the Lin-chi (Jap. Rinzai) and the Ts'ao-tung (Jap. Soto), flourished and were transmitted to Japan in the 14th cent. The Rinzai sect placed greater emphasis on the use of the koan and effort to attain sudden enlightenment, while the Soto patriarch DōgenDōgen
, 1200–1253, Zen master (see Zen Buddhism) and founder of the Sōtō Zen school in Japan. After studying in China, he received the seal of enlightenment and succession to the Ts'ao-tung (Sōtō) school.
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 (1200–1253) emphasized sitting in meditation (zazen) without expectation and with faith in one's own intrinsic state of enlightenment or Buddha-nature.

The austere discipline and practical approach of Zen made it the Buddhism of the medieval Japanese military class. Zen monks occupied positions of political influence and became active in literary and artistic life. Zen monasteries, especially the main temples of Kyoto and Kamakura, were educational as well as religious centers.

The Zen influence on Japanese aesthetics ranges from poetry, calligraphy, and painting to tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and landscape gardening, particularly the distinctive rock-and-sand temple gardens. Japanese Zen declined in the 16th and 17th cent., but its traditional forms were revived by the great Hakuin (1686–1769), from whom all present-day Rinzai masters trace their descent. Zen thought was introduced to the West by the writings of D. T. SuzukiSuzuki, Daisetz Teitaro
, 1870–1966, Japanese Buddhist scholar, educated at Tokyo Univ. After studying (1897–1909) in the United States, he became a lecturer at Tokyo Univ.; he later taught at leading universities in Japan, Europe, and the United States.
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, and interest in the practice of Zen meditation blossomed after World War II, resulting in the establishment of Zen centers in many parts of the United States.


A vast popular literature has grown up around this movement; important works include E. Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery (1971) and R. M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1984). See also E. Fromm, ed., Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960, repr. 1970); D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism (new ed., 3 vol., 1971), A Manual of Zen Buddhism (1950, repr. 1960), An Introduction to Zen Buddhism (2d ed. 1957), and Essentials of Zen Buddhism (1962, repr. 1973); H. Dumoulin, A History of Zen Buddhism (1963), and Zen Enlightenment (1979); P. Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (1967); R. F. Sasaki, tr., The Record of Lin-Chi (1975); P. Haskel, tr., Bankei Zen (1984); J. R. Mcrae, The Northern School and the Formation of Early Ch'an Buddhism (1986).

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