ZEN – a variety of Buddhism, seeking to attain an intuitive illumination of mind and spirit through meditation   Leave a comment

Through his popular book ‘The Way of Zen’ (1957), the British-born American philosopher Alan Watts introduced Americans to the Zen school of Buddhism, which has a long tradition of development in China and Japan. Zen (Ch’an in Chinese) is a Japanese term meaning “meditation.” It is a major school of Japanese Buddhism that claims to transmit the spirit of Buddhism, or the total enlightenment as achieved by the founder of the religion, the Buddha.

563 BC: Birth of Buddhism. One of the world’s great religions was founded in India in the 6th century BC by a man who rejected wealth and turned to meditation. He was born a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama, or Gotama. As a result of his meditations, he achieved a spiritual awakening and was considered by his followers to be the enlightened one, or the Buddha.

The Buddha taught a way of life that avoided both self-indulgence and self-mortification. A Buddhist’s life consists largely of meditation, which leads to the profound understanding of the impermanence of the physical world. This realization is the Buddhist path to enlightenment.

In the 3rd century BC, the Indian ruler Asoka helped unite the diverse schools of Buddhism into a coherent religion. In the 4th and 5th centuries AD Buddhism became the dominant religion of China and was introduced into Korea, where the Ch’an, or Zen, sect became dominant. In the 6th century AD Korean missionaries brought Zen Buddhism to Japan, spreading the view of meditation as a means of achieving enlightenment. The monk Nichiren, who lived in the 13th century AD, attempted to find the one true doctrine of Buddhism, and claimed he found it in the ancient scripture known as the ‘Lotus Sutra’.

Today Buddhism is practised in both Eastern and Western countries, including Japan, Europe, the United States, and many South-East Asian nations. New Buddhist communities have also formed in India again, where the religion had been virtually extinct for about 500 years.

China (or People’s Republic of China), country in e. Asia; area 3,692,000 sq mi (9,561,000 sq km); cap. Beijing; pop. 1,165,888,000. Circa 1995.

Zen has its basis in the conviction that the world and its components are not many things. They are, rather, one reality. The one is part of a larger wholeness to which some people assign the name of God. Reason, by analysing the diversity of the world, obscures this oneness. It can be apprehended by the non-rational part of the mind the intuition. Enlightenment about the nature of reality comes not by rational examination but through meditation.

Meditation has been an integral part of Buddhism from the beginning. Nevertheless, a school of meditation grew up in India and was taken to China by Bodhidharma about AD 520. When the meditation school arrived in China, it had a strong foundation on which to build: Taoism, the ancient Chinese religion. This religion is based on the idea that there is one underlying reality called the Tao. Taoists, like the followers of the meditation school, exalted intuition over reason. This Taoist tradition was easily absorbed by the Chinese meditation school, the Ch’an.

Within two centuries the meditation school had divided into two factions: Northern Ch’an and Southern Ch’an. The northern school, a short-lived affair, insisted on a doctrine of gradual enlightenment. The southern school, which became dominant, held to a doctrine of instantaneous enlightenment.

Hui-neng (638-713), sixth great patriarch of Zen Buddhism and founder of the Southern school, which became the dominant school of Zen, born in Guangdong Province, China.

The southern school evolved under the powerful influence of Hui-neng (638-713), who is recognized as the sixth great patriarch of Zen and the founder of its modern interpretation. In a sermon recorded as the “Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch,” he taught that all people possess the Buddha nature and that one’s nature (before and after being born) is originally pure. Instead of undertaking a variety of religious obligations to seek salvation, one should discover one’s own nature. The traditional way to do this, sitting in meditation, is useless. If one perceives one’s own nature, enlightenment will follow suddenly.

The goal of adherents of the southern Ch’an is to gain transcendental, or highest, wisdom from the depths of one’s unconscious, where it lies dormant. Ch’an tries to attain enlightenment without the aid of common religious observances: study, scriptures, ceremonies, or good deeds. Reaching the highest wisdom comes as a breakthrough in everyday logical thought. Followers are urged to find within themselves the answer to any question raised within because the answer is believed to be found where the question originates. Training in the methods of meditation leading to such an enlightenment is best transmitted from master to disciple.

Ch’an flourished in China during the T’ang and Sung dynasties (960-1279), and its influences were strongly felt in literature and painting. Ch’an declined during the Ming era (1141-1215), when Ch’an masters took up the practice of trying to harmonize meditation with the study of traditional scriptures.

Soto, largest of the Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; practices method of quiet meditation (zazen) as a means of obtaining enlightenment.

Meanwhile, sects of Zen had been transplanted to Japan. The Rinzai school was taken there in 1191 by the priest Enzai (1141-1215), and the Soto tradition arrived in 1227, taken there by Dogen (1200-53), the most revered figure in Japanese Zen. These schools had their origin in China during the 9th century, when Ch’an divided into five sects that differed from each other in minor ways.

Rinzai, one of two major Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; stresses the abrupt awakening of transcendental wisdom, or Enlightenment.

Obaku, one of three Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; close to the Rinzai tradition except for its emphasis on invoking the name of Buddha.

The Rinzai sect evolved from the work of Lin-chi (died 866), who was an exponent of sudden enlightenment. The Soto was founded by Liang-chieh (died 869) and Pen-chi (died 901). The Soto stressed quiet sitting in meditation to await enlightenment. A third group, the Obaku, was established in 1654. The Obaku school is closer to the Rinzai tradition except for its emphasis on invoking the name of Buddha.

Zen gained an enthusiastic following among the Samurai warrior class and became in effect the state religion in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th century Zen priests were diplomats and administrators, and they enhanced cultural life as well. Under their influence literature, art, the cult of the tea ceremony, and the No drama developed.

The focal point of Zen is the monastery, where masters and pupils interact in the search for enlightenment. A newcomer arrives at a monastery with a certificate showing that he is a regularly ordained disciple of a priest. He is at first refused entry. Finally being admitted, he spends a few days of probation being interviewed by his master. When he is accepted he is initiated into the community life of humility, labour, service, prayer and gratitude, and meditation.

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Posted 2011/12/29 by Stelios in Education

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