Chán and Zen Buddhism
Zen Buddhism has aspects of both a philosophy and a religion. More than any other school of Buddhism, Zen emphasizes the practice of meditation as a way to gain self-knowledge. It places much less importance on theoretical knowledge, philosophical discussions, and the study of Buddhist writings when compared to other Buddhist traditions.
Kōans are a common aid to meditation used particularly by the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. These are typically a short statement, question or dialogue that cannot be rationally understood. Perhaps the best known kōan is "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?"
The Frequently Asked Questions list from alt.zen states:
Zen originated as a separate tradition within Buddhism in China within the Chán school of Mahayana Buddhism. Legend states that the earliest appearance of Zen in China was when Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk from South India traveled to southern China in the 6th century CE. He is said to have "... faced a wall for nine years, not speaking for the entire time." 1 Another legend says that his legs atrophied during the nine years.
Establishment of the Chán school dates from the 7th century CE. It was exported to Japan as Zen circa 1200 CE, 2 to Korea as Son or Seon, to Tibet as "bsam gtan" (pronounced "Samten"), and as Thien to Vietnam. 3
The Japanese name "Zen" was derived from the Chinese term "Chán" which came from "jhãna in Pãli, and "dhyãna" in Sanskrit. It refers to mental concentration or meditative stability. Two schools of Zen arose in Japan: Rinzai and Soto. Both emphasize the importance of the practice of zazen -- meditating while seated as the path towards the achievement of enlightenment. 4 The Soto school teaches that one's awakening typically happens gradually. The Rinzai school teaches that it can happen in a sudden flash of insight.
The practitioner of zazen typically uses two cushions: a round meditation cushion called a zafus which sits on a rectangular cushion called a zabuton. The person sits upwards with their spine straight and with their legs crossed in either a lotus or half-lotus position. Their hands are placed in their lap with one hand supporting the other, palms upward with thumbs touching gently.
Periods of sitting meditation may be interspersed with kinhin -- walking meditation. The individual walks very slowly with each step synchronized to inhaling and exhaling.
A person's first meditative exercise often involves breath meditation. They breath from their diaphragm with their mouth closed. Each out-breath is counted. The mind will inevitably wander. They acknowledge the thought, release it, and return to concentrate on their breathing. This continues until a previously selected interval is completed -- sometimes measured with a timer.
This exercise teaches the individual to be present in the moment. 5
Zen Buddhist art:
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Recommended websites on Zen Buddhism:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Additional books on Zen Buddhism:
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