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Zen Buddhism: A Practice of learning from Masters

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism is a practice where disciple learns from their master through direct understanding of zazen

Zen Buddhism is the practice where disciples learn from their master through direct understanding of zazen rather than learning from sutras and doctrine. Zen Buddhism is widely spread from China to eastern Asia like Vietnam, Korea, and Japan etc. It is quite different from normal Buddhism since Zen Buddhism needs to be practiced and experienced. Zen Buddhism rejects the metaphorical theories or knowledge from theories, texts, or sutras , but it mainly focuses in on the practice of Zazen since human mind and wisdom is too limited, and can only grasp the meaning of Zen through meditation, observing the breadth or intensive group meditation.

Zen is not a theory, an idea or a piece of knowledge, or a religion; rather Zen is a practical experience.

To understand the Zen Buddhism , one must understand the Zen . Zen is the school that practices Mahayana Buddhism . It is said that Zen emerged in China about 15 Centuries ago. The word Zen is derived from Middle Chinese word dÊ‘jen but Zen is called “Cha’n”, “Thien” in Vietnam and “” Seon” in Korea. No matter what it is called, the translated word of Zen Buddhism is “ Meditation Buddhism ”. Defining Zen is like describing the taste of honey by someone who has never tasted honey. No matter how much you try to describe honey, you will never be able to describe it until you taste the honey. Zen Buddhism is somewhat like that. Here you practice the sutras, texts of Mahayana Buddhism through the help of master like understanding the Buddhism through watching your master or practicing the meditation by yourself.

Brief History

During 5th century, an Indian Sage came to China and taught about Mahayana Buddhism in the Shaolin Monastery in China. That was when Zen emerges as a distinctive school of Mahayana Buddhism . During that time, Taoism had already impacted the early Zen and with the teachings of Bodhidharma , Zen developed even more. And Bodhidharma became the First Patriarch of Zen and credited as the transmitter of Ch’an to China.

A special transmission outside the scriptures;

No dependence on words and letters;

Direct pointing to the mind of man;

Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood. ” – Definition of Zen by Bodhidharma

  • Japanese Zen Buddhism
  • Buddha eyes

But under the 6th Patriarch of Zen, Huineng, Zen became more and more Zennish, and quickly adapted the culture of Chinese shedding the vestigial Indian trappings. Zen before the time of Hiuneng, was called Golden Age of Zen but Zen flourished even more during the time of 6th Patriarch Huineng. So, many believed that Huineng was a true father of Zen.

In 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci, who studied with the 3rd Patriarch of Chinese Zen, travelled to Vietnam. And Zen was transmitted to Vietnam and was called Thien Buddhism. It is said that Zen was transferred to Korea as Seon, by series of Seon teachers during the Golden Age of Zen. Eihei Dogen, disciple of Chinese Zen teacher Tiantong Rujing and became the first to establish a lineage of Zen school by establishing Soto School. There are three traditional Zen school in Japan. They are:

  1. Soto (largest Zen school)
  2. Rinzai (middle)
  3. Obaku (smallest).

Now Zen had been established in the Western Europe, America too.

Zazen (Heart of Zen)

The meditation practice of Zen is called Zazen and is considered as the heart of Zen practices. Zazen is the very foundation of Zen practice. One of the many aspects of Buddhism, zazen can be understood through zazen itself. One of the most difficult aspects of zazen is most people practice zazen without no goals or expectation. There are many practices in Zen Buddhism and some of them are:

  • Zen Meditation (zazen)
  • Observing the breath
  • Practice through koan
  • Chanting and liturgy and so on