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ZEN . [This article treats the development of the Zen sect in Japan. The historical antecedents of this school, the practices and institutions of Chinese Chan Buddhism, are discussed in Chan.]

The Zen Buddhist sect in Japan consists of three main schools and several additional smaller movements. The largest denomination is the Sōtō school, founded by Dōgen Kigen (12001253), which has two head temples, Eiheiji in Fukui prefecture and Sōjiji in Kanagawa prefecture, and claims nearly fifteen thousand temples, over thirty monasteries and (six) nunneries, and more than eight million adherents, making it one of the largest of the traditional Japanese Buddhist schools. The second largest Zen denomination is the Rinzai school, founded by Myōan Eisai (11411215), which is divided into fifteen streams associated with different head temples and claims about six thousand temples, forty monasteries and (one) nunnery, and two million adherents. The largest of the streams is Myōshinji temple in Kyoto, which claims about half of the total Rinzai temples and monasteries and over one-third of the adherents. The third Zen school is the Ōbaku school, founded by Yinyuan Longqi (Jpn., Ingen Ryūki, 15921673), which has a head temple of Manpukuji in the town of Uji outside Kyoto and claims nearly five hundred temples, two monasteries, and under half a million adherents. In addition, there are several modern movements or "brotherhoods" (kyōdan ) based on Zen meditation or other training techniques that all together claim about one hundred temples and 200,000 adherents.

The Zen sect was first established in the early medieval period as a controversial form of "New Kamakura Buddhism," along with the fledgling Pure Land and Nichiren cults. Zen was proscribed in the 1190s for a few years, and for several decades thereafter it was vigorously opposed by the dominant Tendai sect at Enryakuji temple located on Mount Hiei to the northeast of Kyoto. During the 1240s and 1250s, major Rinzai and Sōtō Zen temples were built in Kyoto, Kamakura, and Echizen province, and by the beginning of the fourteenth century, Zen had become the leading religious institution in Japan with an ever-expanding network of temples and a wide-ranging, nearly all-pervasive influence on many different levels of society and culture.

During the late medieval and early modern eras, Zen underwent various periods of apparent decline and renewal, especially when it stood in competition with diverse forms of Japanese religiosity in other Buddhist, as well as Shintō and Confucian, movements during the Tokugawa era (16001868). In the modern period, Zen has spread to become a worldwide phenomenon greatly admired for its unique features of spiritual practice, including strict monastic discipline and contemplation of pedagogical riddles, or kōans, that have a resonance with contemporary spiritual and intellectual trends in psychotherapy, phenomenology, and environmentalism. At the same time, the Zen sect has received criticism both from within and outside of Japan for contributing to social ills ranging from nationalism and nativism to discrimination against women and outcastes.

Formative Period (Late Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries)

The origins of Zen in Japan stem from the Nara and early Heian eras, when sitting meditation and some representative early Chan texts were introduced by monks who had traveled to China, including Saichō (767822), and were practiced or studied for several centuries under the auspices of the Tendai sect as one of several styles of training available to novices. Zen began to be established as a separate, autonomous sect by the end of the twelfth century (corresponding to the beginning of the Kamakura era) when several prominent Tendai monks made pilgrimages to the mainland in search of authentic Buddhism after a hiatus in exchange with China that lasted nearly two hundred years. These monks, including Eisai and Dōgen, returned with the newly fashioned Song dynasty (9601279) approach to Chan. The style of Song Chan that was brought to Japan included an emphasis on monastic institutional structure and rules of conduct, as well as voluminous texts containing biographies of eminent monks and records of their sayings and dialogues, in addition to extensive poetic and prose commentaries on kōan cases.

The earliest Zen schools were created either by Japanese monks who went to China and returned to establish important temples and lineages or by Chinese monks who came to Japan and played a crucial role in the rapid development of Zen. Monks in the first category, in addition to Eisai and Dōgen, include: Enni Ben'en (12021280), who studied at Mount Jing, the leading temple of the Chinese Chan Five Mountains (Chin., Wushan ; Jpn., Gozan ) system and became abbot of Tōfukuji temple in Kyoto; Shinchi Kakushin (12071298), who introduced to Japan the most prominent kōan collection, the Wumen guan (Jpn., Mumonkan ); and Nampo Jōmin (also known as Daiō Kokushi, 12351308), who received transmission from the Chinese master Xutang (11851269) and created the lineage that founded Daitokuji temple in Kyoto.

Notable among Chinese monks who came to Japan are: Lanxi Daolong (Jpn., Rankei Dōryū, 12131278), who was the founding abbot of Kenchōji temple in Kamakura in 1253 with the support of regent Hōjō Tokiyori (12261263); Wuan Puning (Jpn., Gottan Run'ei, 11971276), who came at the request of Tokiyori but spent only four years in Japan trying to introduce authentic Chinese-style Zen, serving for a time as abbot of Kenninji temple, which Eisai had founded in Kyoto in 1202 as the first major Zen monastery in Japan; Daxiu Chengnian (Jpn., Daikyū Shōnen, 12141289), who founded Jōchiji temple in Kamakura; and Wuxu Zuyuan (Jpn., Mugaku Sogen, 12261286), who was the founding abbot of Engakuji temple in Kamakura with the support of regent Hōjō Tokimune (12511284).

Even before Eisai spent four years studying Chan during his second trip to China, which lasted from 1187 to 1191, a monk named Kakua (b. 1142) reached the Chinese mainland in 1171 and, on his return, had an audience with Emperor Takakura (11611181). In response to a question about the meaning of Zen, Kakua responded by simply playing his flute, while the emperor and his retainers looked on in puzzlement. This anecdote is contained in the valuable historical record of Buddhism in Japan, the Genkō shakusho, produced by the Zen monk, Kokan Shiren (12781345).

Around the time of Kakua's and Eisai's travels, an anomalous monk not mentioned in Kokan's record, Dainichi Nōnin (d. 1196?), started the first organized Zen movement, known as the Daruma school. Nōnin was not considered legitimate because he never traveled to China, but instead sent two of his disciples to receive transmission from Zhuan Deguang (11211203) of the Dahui Zonggao lineage. His movement was prohibited by imperial decree in 1194, and its temples were destroyed, although some followers persisted at Hajakuji, a Tendai temple in remote Echizen province (currently Fukui prefecture) until 1241 when they all joined Dōgen's upstart Sōtō school. Nōnin sought to create a pure Zen school free of Tendai esoteric ritualism, but by abandoning requirements to follow the precepts or practice meditation, his approach was accused of antinomian tendencies by both Eisai and Dōgen, as well as by Tendai leaders.

Early Rinzai school

Eisai, who is probably best known for introducing tea to Japan, received transmission in the Huanglong (Jpn., Ōryū) lineage of the Linji (Jpn., Rinzai) school of Chan and, like Nōnin, tried to create a pure Zen approach in Japan. However, to distinguish his role from Nōnin's and gain acceptance from the mainstream Buddhist institution, in the Kōzen gokokuron that was composed in 1198 Eisai repudiated the Daruma school's antinomianism and argued for the consistency of Zen meditation with established Tendai practices. Eisai also emphasized the importance of following the Chinese Chan way of administering the mixed precepts (that is, the 250 Hīnayāna and forty-eight Mahāyāna precepts), after several centuries in Japan during which only the bodhisattva vows were followed. In the two main temples Eisai established with the support of Hōjō Masako (11571225)Kenninji and Jufukuji in Kamakurathere was an eclectic training known as Enmitsuzenkai that combined Tendai perfect practice (engyō) and esotericism (mitsu or mikkyō) with Zen-style sitting meditation (zazen ) and disciplinary rules (jukai).

The next major development in the spread of Rinzai Zen involved Enni Ben'en, who like Eisai and Dōgen started out studying Tendai Buddhism in Japan and traveled to China from 1235 to 1241 to gain transmission from the Five Mountains temple system. On his return, Enni was awarded the abbacy of Tōfukuji temple, constructed along the lines of a grand Song Chan compound. For the first time in the three-quarters of a century since Kakua, a major temple was built exclusively for Zen training with the support of Buddhist and imperial authorities. However, in the end, Tōfukuji also provided facilities for the observance of Shingon and Tendai rituals, in accord with the wishes of its patron, Fujiwara Michiie (11921252). Since it was located near Kenninji, Enni often made daily visits and tried to restore the authentic Zen practice that had declined somewhat following the death of Eisai. Tōfukuji was also situated near Dōgen's first temple, Kōshōji, in southeast Kyoto. In the following years, Shinchi, who traveled to China from 1249 to 1254, was frequently summoned to lecture on kōans and related Zen topics before the imperial court, which further legitimated the Rinzai school.

Based on the intense interest of Hōjō Tokiyori in promulgating Zen by building Song-style temples and lending other forms of patronage and support, Zen became firmly ensconced in Kamakura, which was the temporary capital for several decades in the thirteenth century. For Tokiyori, Zen was the ideal ideology for the emerging samurai class because of its focus on self-control and creative self-expression in a highly disciplined communal environment. Lanxi and the other monks who arrived from China tended to emphasize the importance of monastic discipline governing every aspect of the daily behavior of monks. Because of their Chinese provenance, the Kamakura temples became the most prominent ones in the Japanese version of the Five Mountains system, outranking Kyoto temples, with the exception of Nanzenji.

Early Sōtō school

Whereas numerous prominent Japanese and Chinese monks were involved in the establishment of the Rinzai school, the development of the Sōtō school was primarily based on the efforts of Dōgen, who traveled to China from 1223 to 1227 with one of Eisai's disciples, Myōzen (11841225). After an itinerant phase during which he traveled around several of the Five Mountains Chan temples in search of an authentic teacher, in the summer retreat of 1225 Dōgen gained enlightenment under the tutelage of Caodong (Jpn., Sōtō) school master Ju-ching through the experience of "casting off body-mind" (shinjin datsuraku ). On returning to Japan, Dōgen stayed for a few years at Kenninji before opening Kōshōji, which was the first Zen temple in Japan to have a Chan style monks' hall for zazen training, where Dōgen began delivering sermons and indoctrinating disciples in Chinese discipline. He preached a message of the universality of enlightenment for all those who practice "just sitting" (shikan taza), including women and laypersons.

At the peak of his career in the summer of 1243, Dōgen departed from his temple in Kyoto with a small, dedicated band of disciples and moved to Echizen province, where he established Eiheiji temple. The reasons for the move are obscure, but it seems to be connected with several factors that occurred in the couple of years previous. These include the rapid ascendancy to the Tōfukuji abbacy of Enni after his return from China, which may have intimidated Dōgen since the massive Rinzai temple dwarfed Kōshōji, and the conversion of former Daruma school monks at Hajakuji to Dōgen's movement, which may have given him an incentive to take up residence in Echizen. Dōgen's patron Hatano Yoshishige also owned land in the Echizen region, which was the vicinity of the sacred mountain Mount Hakusan, long a center of yamabushi activity affiliated with a branch of the Tendai sect centered at Onjōji (also known as Miidera) temple, east of Kyoto and near Lake Biwa.

During a transitional year, until he settled in the summer of 1244 in his new temple, Dōgen was extremely creative in producing over a third of the fascicles included in his major text, the Shōbōgenzō, which consists of informal sermons delivered in the vernacular (kana ) in the abbot's quarters. At Eiheiji, Dōgen turned to another style of literature that was included in the Eihei kōroku, which consists of formal sermons delivered in the dharma hall in Sino-Japanese (kanbun ), as prescribed by Chinese Chan monastic rules texts. During the Echizen/Eiheiji period, Dōgen stressed that enlightenment is available only for male monastics, but he also developed methods for evangelizing and administering precepts to the lay community. According to some reports, Dōgen visited Hōjō Tokiyori in Kamakura for half a year in 1247 to 1248, but he turned down an invitation to head a temple there due to misgivings about the mixing of Zen and the new samurai lifestyle. This would have occurred just a few years before Kenchōji was constructed and became a leading Rinzai center under Lanxi.

Zen Practice and Training

Much of the difference in the styles of theory and practice that has evolved between the Rinzai and Sōtō schools, such as the Rinzai emphasis on kōan training and the Sōtō emphasis on just-sitting meditation without a focus on kōan cases, reflects historical developments subsequent to the formative period of Zen in Japan. The differences tend to stem especially from the Tokugawa and early Meiji eras, periods when all forms of Buddhism had to define themselves in distinctive ways in a competitive religious environment strictly supervised by civil authorities. Discrepancies in style should not be imposed retrospectively, which might obscure the fact that the two schools are linked by fundamental similarities in approach.

On the level of doctrine, both schools stress the importance of post-enlightenment cultivation, as found in Dōgen's teaching of shushū ittō (oneness of practice and realization) and the doctrine proclaimed by Daitō Kokushi (Shūhō Myōchō, 12821337) of shōtaichōyō (sustained nurturing of the seed of truth). Genuine practice must not end at the time of realization, but should continue after the initial experience of enlightenment and be integrated with each aspect of daily life. This practice can take the form of meditation, performing daily chores on the monastic compound, collecting alms from the lay community (takuhatsu ), participating in the way (dō or michi ) of the arts, communing with nature during a mountain retreat (yamazato ), or residing in a secluded hermitage on or off the temple grounds.

Monastic regulations

For both schools, all aspects of monastery life are governed by the codes of discipline and ethics, as covered in detail in an extensive body of texts dealing with monastic regulations (shingi ). These codes were originally imported from China, most notably the 1103 text, Chanyuan qinggui (Jpn., Zen'en shingi ), which was derivative of early Buddhist Vinaya rules and supposedly based on a much shorter source text attributed to the Tang dynasty master Baizhang (749814), known for his injunction, "a day without work is a day without food." The Chanyuan qinggui was adapted in Japanese texts and required for all monks by numerous thirteenth-century Rinzai and Sōtō leaders, including Eisai in 1195, Dōgen with several texts beginning in 1237, Lanxi in 1278, and Enni in 1280. The seminal source of Chan rules was also referenced in shingi texts by Sōtō master Keizan Jōkin (12641325) in 1325, Rinzai master Musō Sōseki (12751351) in 1339, and the Ōbaku shingi in 1672.

Whether or not it was literally followed, the spirit of "no work, no food" pervades the shingi collections, which include rules on the observance of precepts and ethical conduct, as well as on daily activities and annual ceremonies. These works depict a communal life of meditation, frugality, manual labor, and active debate between master and disciple, with regularly scheduled public assemblies and impromptu lectures and instruction. They also describe the functions of abbot, officers, stewards, rank-and-file monks, and novices, in addition to the management of kitchens, the dharma hall, and the larger monastery estate. The shingi rules provide requirements for the dharma transmission and awarding of seals (inka ), as well as commissioning portraits of masters (chinsō ) and selecting successors to the abbot. Topics such as quarreling and discipline, wandering, and the role of women are given careful consideration. Furthermore, the relation between a school's head temple (honji ) and branch temples (matsuji ) is delineated in both the shingi records and the laws of the civil society.

Zen monasteries in Japan follow the style of the "seven-hall compound" (shichi-dō garan ) originally developed in China. The schema below bears anthropomorphic symbolism in that each of the seven buildings is associated with a part of the Buddha's body, so that entering the temple grounds is considered the equivalent of communing directly with the Buddha. The halls include on the main axis: the mountain gate or entrance associated with the groin, the Buddha hall for displaying icons and hosting banquets associated with the heart, and the dharma hall for sermons before the assembly associated with the head. The right leg is associated with the bathhouse and the right arm with the kitchen, whereas the left leg is associated with the latrine and the left arm with the monks' hall.

Four additional mainstays of the structure of Zen temples are: the abbot's quarters, known as the "ten-foot square hut" (hōjō), following a passage in the Vimalakīrti Sūtra in which an informed layman holds forth in a humble abode with the ability to outsmart bodhisattvas; the hall to commemorate the local earth deity (dōjishin ) associated with protection of the temple grounds; a bell tower that houses a large Buddhist bronze bell rung at the New Year and other festivals, as well as purification ceremonies; and a reading room for the study of sūtras and related Buddhist and literary works. The abbot's quarters is usually located above the dharma hall, with the earth deity hall and bell tower to the right, and reading room to the left.

Zazen and kōan practice

Life in Zen monasteries is centered on zazen meditation, which is conducted at least four times daily, as well as for longer, more intensive weeklong sessions known as sesshin, especially on special occasions such as Rohatsu (December 8 celebration of the anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment). During these special occasions, meditation may be prolonged for up to twenty hours a day, leaving time only for minimal sleeping and eating. In addition to the traditional seated posture, there is a form of meditation known as kinhin, which is a walking exercise developed in Japanese Zen.

Another main ingredient of Zen practice is the use of kōans as both a literary device and a tool for contemplative training. Diverse styles of commentary were developed during the medieval period (discussed below), involving the use of prose, poetic, and sometimes diagrammatic remarks on the inner meaning of case narratives found in a handful of collections preserved from China, such as the Wumen guan, Biyan lu (Jpn., Hekiganroku ), and Zongrong lu (Jpn., Shōyōroku ). A new kōan exercise developed in Japan is the brief face-to-face interview of the disciple by the master. This is known in the Rinzai school as dokusan (literally "individual study"), which is similar to the Sōtō school practice of nyūshitsu (literally "entering the room [of the abbot]"). Both terms refer to private instruction in which the teacher evaluates and motivates the aspiring student to attain a higher level of understanding.

Furthermore, nearly all Japanese Zen monasteries and temples have performed a myriad of functions related to the spirits of the dead, including funerary rites that bestow a posthumous ordination name (kaimyō ) to ensure that the deceased attains nirvāa (nehan ) in the afterlife. Zen temples are also involved in memorial services, as well as the annual Obon or Ghost Festival, held either on July 15 or August 15 (the ceremony was originally held at the time of the full moon of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar). It is believed that during this period the spirits of deceased ancestors visit the living, and Buddhist rituals play an important purification function. Despite an apparent emphasis on uniformity and ritualism, several of the most prominent masters of the medieval period were known for a rugged individuality and eccentricity in their commitment to a life of poverty and reclusion, as well as the creative expression of self-awareness.

Medieval Period (to 1600)

Beginning with the rise of the new political leadership of the Ashikaga government in 1338, which consolidated its power through alliances with Zen clergy and consciously emulated the Song way of propagating the religion, Zen became a dominant force affecting both the aristocratic elite in the urban centers and the rural population. Zen contributed to the fine, literary, applied, performing, and martial arts, ranging from calligraphy, poetry, gardening, tea ceremony, theater, and sword fighting, among numerous other forms, and also assimilated and domesticated many aspects of popular religion and folklore, including autochthonic gods, demons, and exorcistic rites. Furthermore, Zen began its involvement in constructing the bushidō code of honor and loyalty to the warlord by integrating and adapting traditional art of war strategies to monastic training. Nō theater, which is often based on plays dealing with ghosts of defeated samurai wrestling with demons in the afterlife, and which is written and performed with an uncannily studied contemplative simplicity, represents a realm of the arts where many of these cultural elements have converged.

The developments that took place in establishing Zen in the thirteenth century ensured that the Rinzai school would grow mainly in the Kyoto and Kamakura areas with the support of the shogunate, whereas the Sōtō school would spread in the northwestern region, as well as other outlying territories, based on proselytizing to an agrarian population. The two schools were separated by other factors in addition to geography and patterns of patronage and participation, yet there were underlying points of connection both institutionally and in terms of styles of religious practice disseminated through a network of temples known as the Rinka mon-asteries.

Five Mountains system

The Rinzai school formed the main hierarchical institutional structure known as the Five Mountains system, which was patterned after the Chinese Chan monastery system At its peak it claimed a network of over three hundred temples centered at Nanzenji in Kyoto under the protection of the military regime (bakufu ). The third Ashikaga shogun, Yoshimitsu (13581408), established in 1386 a definitive ranking of five temples each in Kyoto (Tenryūji, Shōkokuji, Kenninji, Tōfukuji, Majuji) and Kamakura (Kenchōji, Engakuji, Jufukuji, Jōchiji, Jōmyōji). A head administrative monk (sōroku ) was appointed superintendent or the supreme official ruling over the system.

The hallmark of the Five Mountains system was the creation of multiple artistic forms referred to collectively as Gozan bunka, with special emphasis on literature, especially kanbun poetry, known as the tradition of Gozan bungaku. Gozan poetry, which usually consists of four-line verses containing seven characters (kanji ) in each line, deals with Buddhist doctrines and practice, as well as themes that are more general and are used to articulate indirectly an understanding of Zen awareness. One of the main topoi is the contemplation of nature as perceived in secluded landscapes or mountain retreats, as in the following verse by one of the luminaries of the movement, Musō Sōseki (12751351):

Autumn's colors dropping from branches in masses of falling leaves, Cold clouds bringing rain into the crannies of the mountains: Everyone was born with the same sort of eyesWhy do mine keep seeing things as Zen kōans ? (Pollack, 1985, p. 37).

Musō, founder of Tenryūji temple in Kyoto, was immensely successful and popular with all factions as an abbot who gained the attention of Emperor Hanazono and political leaders, monks in training, and the general populace. His book Muchū mondō (Dialogues in a dream) explains Zen in everyday language in response to questions raised by the warrior Ashikaga Tadayoshi. He was said to have left ten thousand followers at the time of his death. However, Musō was also criticized by rivals such as Daitokuji master Daitō for not rising above a doctrinal understanding of Zenthat is, for failing to embody a genuinely creative Zen approach that was evident in some of the leading Rinka temple masters.

Rinka monasteries

In addition to the Five Mountains temples of the Rinzai school, which were considered the leading rank in the Zen network, another series of temples that included representatives from both the Rinzai and Sōtō schools was known as Rinka or Sanrin temples; both designations refer to "forests" (rin ) of Zen monks. The term, which implies the legions of monasteries in the countryside or hinterlands that were outside, and probably resentful of, the domain of the shogun, is perhaps applied most accurately to Eiheiji and other Sōtō temples. But the term is at least in part a misnomer because this group also included prominent Rinzai temples in Kyoto that enjoyed imperial patronage, especially Daitokuji of the Daiō-Daitō line and Myōshinji temple. Myōshinji was impressively developed by Daitō's disciple, Kanzan Egen (12771360), and eventually it broke off to become an independent head temple that surpassed Daitokuji in the size and scope of its network.

Whereas the Five Mountains temples were known for their poetry, one of the main features of the Rinka temples was the formation of a curriculum of kōan studies that took on many different dimensions. Daitō is particularly notable for writing two commentaries on the Biyan lu collection of 100 kōan cases by using the style of capping phrases (jakugo ), originally developed by Chinese Chan commentators as ironic remarks that illuminate each line of the case narrative. In Sōtō Zen, there were various styles of commentary known as shōmono, which included formal/public and informal/private styles. One of the main examples of shōmono literature was the subgenre of kirigami (literally "strips of paper") commentaries, in which a master would write down quickly an esoteric comment, usually accompanied by a drawing or illustration, that was handed to a disciple as a training tool or an emblem of attaining transmission. Given the transitory quality and secretive nature of this style, the kirigami were left uncollected and were lost until recent scholarship rediscovered and interpreted numerous examples.

A prominent example of medieval Zen art is the famed rock garden at Ryōanji temple in Kyoto, which was perhaps designed by the painter Sōami (14721525). A classic of the kare-sansui (dry mountains-rivers) style that contains only rocks and sand constructed in patterns but no living form except moss, the Ryōanji garden is surrounded by earthen walls in three directions and faced with the corridor of the hōjō (abbot's quarters) building. In the rectangular space measuring thirty meters from east to west and ten meters from north to south, fifteen rocks of various sizes are arranged on white sand in five groups, each comprising five, two, three, two, and three rocks. The most popular explanation of this garden is that the rocks represent a mother tiger and her cubs, swimming in the river of the white sand toward a fearful dragon. The asymmetric composition achieves a certain balance and harmony that creates energy and rhythm in the midst of subtlety and simplicity.

Another important development of the Rinka period was the way creative Rinzai masters sought to recapture the iconoclasm and eccentricity of early Chinese Chan figures, as epitomized by Ikkyū (13941481), who was said to have destroyed his transmission seal for being an empty symbol devoid of significance and to have refused to award such a symbol to any of his disciples. Ikkyū became an acolyte at the age of five and excelled at Chinese poetry and calligraphy as well as painting. Throughout his life he railed against the corruption of priests and the meaningless formalities of Zen monastic life, yet he succeeded to the abbacy of Daitokuji and also won widespread acceptance by the common folk for his inventiveness and independence.

One of Ikkyū's noted calligraphies contains the saying, "Entering the realm of Buddha is easy, entering the realm of the demon [ma ] is difficult." On one level, this expression, along with Ikkyū's lifestyle, which included the celebration of visits to brothels and the "red thread" of passion, could be interpreted as endorsing the kind of antinomianism that was consistently rejected by Zen monastic leaders. However, another implication of the saying is that, for Ikkyū, asserting the priority of purity while occupying a state of transcendence is a relatively simple task that is not necessarily as demanding as maintaining a genuinely authentic state of mind while being tempted and tested in the midst of impurity. An underlying theme is that Buddha and demon are not distinct, but symbolize interior forces of wisdom and delusion that are inextricably and dialectically linked as complementary opposites embraced by a deeper level of nondual awareness.

Sōtō school assimilationism

Within the Sōtō school, the fourth generation patriarch Keizan maintained Dōgen's twin emphasis on continuing a commitment to rigorous meditation and adhering to monastic regulations, but he also assimilated many elements of Tendai esotericism, as well as folklore religiosity in his approach to Zen. Before joining Sōtō, Keizan had been a follower of the remnants of the Daruma school. Through Keizan's efforts, Sōtō Zen spread primarily northward from Echizen to the Noto peninsula, where Sōjiji temple was established. Long a rival with Eiheiji for the designation of the school's head templeEiheiji enjoyed the prestige of the founder's legacy, but Keizan's temple could claim more than nine times as many branch sitesSōjiji was moved at the end of the nineteenth century. It was relocated in a neighborhood outside Yokohama in the Kanto region, which had become over the centuries a major center of Sōtō school activity.

A key to the success of this lineage was Keizan's evangelical disciple Gasan Jōseki (12751365), who was abbot of Sōjiji for forty years. Along with his followers, such as Tsūgen Jakurei (13221391), Gasan helped the rapid spread of Sōtō Zen in the countryside areas by taking over many abandoned Tendai and Shingon temples and assimilating folklore divinities, which were called upon to protect the welfare of the sacred sites. While greatly concerned with construction projects for bridges, dams, and irrigation canals to help win popular support, Gasan was also a scholastic monk who promulgated the dialectical doctrine of the "five ranks" (go-i) rooted in Chinese texts.

One of the legacies of the popularization campaign is that some of the most prominent Sōtō temples are associated with shamanistic and esoteric practices. They are best known to their congregations of lay followers for espousing a syncretic approach to attaining worldly benefits (genze riyaku ), such as prosperity, fertility, or safety during travels, rather than for traditional Zen practices of meditation and monastic discipline. A prime example is Saijōji temple near the town of Odawara, which was founded by Ryōan Emyō (13371411), who was said to have transformed into a winged tengu (the mountain goblin of Japanese lore) to enhance his powers for protection of the temple grounds.

Another such example is Myōgonji temple in the town of Toyokawa in Aichi prefecture, anomalously affiliated with Eiheiji rather than Sōjiji, which is also called Toyakawa Inari because the main icons on the compound are not images of Buddha but rather the fox deity (Inari), originally a Shintō fertility symbol that became a force spiritually protecting the Buddhist teachings. Followers who flood these prayer temples (kitō jiin ) for New Year's Day or other annual festivals may not even be aware that rituals and chants are being performed by monks trained at head temples or monasteries, where the primary training is in meditation with the aim of overcoming worldly attachments.

One of the features of medieval Sōtō Zen was the role played by female monastics at several nunneries who sought to keep alive the integrity of the tradition of clerical discipline espoused by Dōgen, and who also developed unique rituals for healing and purification. It is unclear, however, whether and to what extent Dōgen himself endorsed the equality of women, as there are several seemingly contradictory passages in his writings on this topic.

Early Modern Period (16001868)

Zen Buddhism during the Tokugawa era was affected by several trends that influenced all Buddhist schools, including the rise of Confucianism and the return to prominence of Shintō under the banner of National Learning (kokugaku ) thought. Both ideologies were taught at academies that helped support the rule of the shogunate. The danka (loosely "parish") system in which all families were assigned to a Buddhist temple strengthened the numbers of Buddhist affiliates but tended to weaken the spirituality and integrity of Zen monastic life. It has long been said that Zen apparently entered a prolonged period of decline (daraku ), but the early modern period was actually characterized by many important luminary figures and elements of revitalization.

Ōbaku school

One of the new developments was the formation of a third movement, the Ōbaku school, which was based on the teachings of Chan masters of the Ming dynasty (13681644). The reintroduction of Chinese religion and culture was an anomalous event, since the Tokugawa regime restricted all foreign travel, but Yinyuan and his followers were able to enter Japan after receiving an invitation from Sōfukuji in Kyushu and exert great influence. This school emphasizes the preservation of the sūtras, as well as the combination of zazen meditation with Pure Land, other-power (tariki ) practices for the veneration of Amida (Skt., Amitābha) Buddha, and the recitation of the nembutsu chant, which is generally thought to stand in contrast with the Zen self-power (jiriki ) approach.

Rinzai monks

The Rinzai school of this period featured several prominent monks, including Takuan Sōhō (15731645), whose writings synthesize Zen principles of mental cultivation and swordsmanship. This is a form of training in which a warrior must be able to respond to a rival or threat spontaneously and with an unclouded and imperturbable mind that can be attained through meditation. According to Takuan, controlling the battleground and the sense of winning and losing is a matter of mastering the impulses of the mind and casting off fetters and delusions. While Takuan found the Zen mind in the highly specialized world of the warrior, another key monk of the day, Bankei Yōtaku (16221693), stressed the role of the mind manifested in ordinary activity, such as walking, standing, sitting, and lying down, which are all exemplary of the imperishable "unborn" Zen state of awareness.

The most important monk of the Tokugawa era was Hakuin Ekaku (16861768), who single-handedly reformed Rinzai school practice in a way that has persisted for over three centuries. Hakuin was known for both his appropriation of the strict training style of the Chinese masters of the Tang and Song periods and his appeal to the common folk, who found him a charismatic spiritual leader. Hakuin perfected a new system of kōan study by cataloging and rating the challenging quality of several hundred cases available in the primary collections, as well as creating one of the most famous riddles, "We know the sound of two hands clapping, what is the sound of one hand?" Hakuin gave form to a training method that integrates the techniques of practice sessions (sesshin ) and master-disciple pedagogy (dokusan ), along with public sermons (teishō) and capping phrase (jakugo ) commentary provided by the master.

Hakuin also emphasized the role of intense mystical experience in developing Zen awareness. The experience begins with the Great Doubt, in which all perceptions are called into question and stripped away of conventional attitudes. The Great Doubt may seem to lead to a nihilistic state of perpetual anxiety, and this condition is identified by Hakuin as the Zen Sickness, which can affect enlightened and unenlightened alike. However, the goal of the spiritual path is to move beyond debilitating anxiety and attain a more advanced level of insight through experiences that are sudden and dramatic. Hakuin had several instances of subitaneous awakening; for example, it is recorded in his biography, "One night, he sat up in complete absorption until dawn. Suddenly, he heard the bell from a far off temple. As soon as this distant sound entered his ears, it penetrated to the core and made all perceptions of the external world fall away. It was like the ringing of a magnificent bell resounding in his ears."

Sōtō scholasticism

The Sōtō school underwent a significant revival of scholastic studies, producing many new editions and interpretations of the seminal works by and about Dōgen's life and thought. Manzan Dōhaku (16361714) was the originator of this movement and was responsible for acquiring a new rule of transmission and succession for the post of temple superior from the shogun government. Tenkei Denson (16481735) developed a novel, if idiosyncratic, view of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō by favoring the controversial 60-fascicle edition, and Menzan Zuihō (16831769) was the premier cataloger and revisionist of the writings and biographies of Dōgen. The Sōtō school also published a comprehensive 95-fascicle edition of the Shōbōgenzō in 1690, which was reissued in the early nineteenth century, although the authenticity of this version has been questioned by modern scholars.

The Tokugawa era also saw several highly creative Zen spirits, including the lay practitioner and humanist thinker Suzuki Shōsan (15791655), who practiced an unorthodox style of meditation that owed to both samurai culture and Buddhist chanting rituals; the great haiku poet Bashō (16441694), who followed a Zen lifestyle as a lay disciple that influenced the inspiration and manner of his verse; and Ryōkan (17581831), a Sōtō monk affectionately called the Great Fool (Daigu) for the childlike innocence expressed in deceptively simple poems that celebrated the Zen values of poverty and nonattachment. Like other early modern Zen leaders who paid obeisance to Chan and early medieval Zen heroes and icons, Ryōkan expressed his gratitude for Dōgen in some of his poetry.

Modern Period (1868Present)

Zen Buddhism in the Meiji era (18681912) was greatly affected by the response of Japanese society to modernization and westernization that resulted in the emerging of a nationalistic, pro-Shintō stance and the suppression or modification of traditional Buddhist institutions in several campaigns. These included the persecution of haibustu kishaku, which led to the destruction of Buddhist iconography, the new regulations of shinbutsu bunri, or the separation of Buddhist temples from Shintō shrines that had long been amalgamated; and the legislation of nikujiki saitai, forcing marriages and meat-eating upon Buddhist clergy and nearly ending centuries of celibacy and pacifism.

Reactions to modernity

One reaction to the disturbing trends was embodied by Ōtori Sessō (18141904), a Sōtō monk who worked for the Ministry of Doctrine to modernize Buddhism and eliminate the dissonance between traditional monasticism and secularized, industrialized society. Ōtori was also active in creating linkages between monks and laypersons, and in 1891, the Sōtō sect produced an abbreviated version of Dōgen's Shōbōgenzō as a source of guidance for lay practitioners. This very short text, the Shushōgi, does not even mention the need for zazen but instead emphasizes a life of gratitude and penitence. Several lay or kyōdan organizations became established as autonomous movements.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Zen had begun to emerge out of the cocoon of the Asia/Pacific cultural context to become a religious phenomenon that was spreading worldwide. Several factors influenced this development. One factor was that immigrant communities in Hawaiʻi, the American West Coast, and Brazil were serviced by missionaries and international outreach components of Zen temple institutions, especially for funerals and memorials.

Another factor was that non-Japanese were introduced to and became fascinated with the philosophy and practice of Zen. A key turning point was the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, an interreligious congress that was attended by the widely traveled Shaku Sōen (18591919), a disciple of the eminent Rinzai monk, Imakita Kōsen (18161892), who was abbot of Engakuji temple in Kamakura. The parliament was also attended by the young D. T. Suzuki (18701966), who served as Sōen's interpreter. Suzuki went on to stay for long periods in the United States and have a lengthy career as the main exponent of Zen Buddhism in the West. He published dozens of books in English on various dimensions of Zen in relation to Japanese culture as seen from comparative theoretical perspectives. He also greatly influenced the famous 1956 essay by Alan Watts (19151973) on different styles of the appropriation of Zen practice in the West, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen." Famous American Beat poets were indebted to Suzuki, whose role was inherited by Masao Abe (b. 1915), who specialized in interfaith dialogue involving various Western religious traditions.

In the postWorld War II period, historical accounts of Chan and Zen were significantly improved through the scholarship of Yanagida Seizan (b. 1922), a professor of Kyoto University, who was associated with scholars at Komazawa University in Tokyo, which specialized in Sōtō studies. Yanagida established an institute for international studies of Zen, as well as mentoring a number of influential Western scholars.

In addition to the efforts of Suzuki, Yanagida, and Abe, among others the spread of international interest in Zen was enhanced by the comparative philosophy of the Kyoto school led by Nishida Kitarō (18701945) and his main follower, Nishitani Keiji (19001990). Their works explicating the notion of "absolute nothingness" (zettai mu ) as the key to understanding the Zen experience of enlightenment have been analyzed in relation to leading Western philosophers from ancient to modern times. The significance of Zen thought is now frequently examined in conjunction with the main trends of Western thought.

Social Criticisms of Zen

At the same time, since the 1970s a social criticism of Zen's role in relation to political and cultural affairs has been taken up by commentators in Japan and the West. Ichikawa Hakugen (19021986) was a Rinzai monk writing during the Vietnam War era. Ichikawa reflected on the role of Japan as an aggressor against China in World War II and argued that leaders of Zen, including Kyoto school thinkers who treated the theme of national polity in their works during the 1930s, when they were under considerable political pressure, needed to accept responsibility for contributing to prewar nationalism and imperialism. A movement that began within the Sōtō school in 1985 known as Critical Buddhism (Hihan Bukkyō ) has demanded that Zen temples reform the practice of distributing posthumous ordination names because it discriminates against the outcaste (burakumin ) community. In a related development, Sōtō nuns have criticized the misogynist aspect of Zen rules and customs as part of a broader gender criticism of Japanese Buddhism.

A wave of books published in the West beginning in the 1990s, including Brian Victoria's Zen at War (1997), James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo's Rude Awakenings (1995), Jamie Hubbard and Paul L. Swanson's Pruning the Bodhi Tree (1997), Christopher Ives's Zen Awakening and Society (1992), and Bernard Faure's Chan Insights and Oversights (1993), has called attention to apparent limitations in the Zen view of transcendence. In striving to rise above the pettiness of worldly strife and conflict, Zen may overlookand therefore implicitly sanctionproblematic issues in everyday society. Some elements of this critique were anticipated in the famous novel Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji, 1956) by Yukio Mishima (19251970), which is based on the true story of an acolyte who burned down the most elegant temple in Kyoto. In that sense, the charge of antinomianism leveled at the fledgling Zen movements at the end of the twelfth century has resurfaced in a contemporary context.

See Also

Buddhism, articles on Buddhism in Japan, Buddhism in the West; Bushidō; Dōgen; Eisai; Gozan Zen; Ikkyū Sōjun; Musō Sōseki; Suzuki, D. T.


To cite some representative examples of the voluminous literature on Zen in Japanese, important reference works include Zengaku daijiten (Tokyo, 1978); Ōbaku bunka jinmei jiten, edited by Ōtsuki Mikio, Katō Shōshun, and Hayashi Yukimitsu (Kyoto, 1988); and Zengo jiten, compiled by Koga Hidehiko (Kyoto, 1991). Also, Kōza Zen, edited by Nishitani Keiji (Tokyo, 1974) is an important collection of essays, and two historical studies by Tekenuki Genshō are Nihon shushūshi (Tokyo, 1989) and Nihon Zenshūshi no kenkyū (Tokyo, 1993). Collections of original sources include Nihon no Zen goroku, 20 vols. (Tokyo, 1977), and two collections edited by Yanagida Seizan, Zengaku sōsho, 13 vols. (Kyoto, 19731980), and Zen no goroku, 17 vols. (Tokyo, 19691981).

Information on Zen demographics is included in T. Griffith Foulk, "The Zen Institution in Modern Japan," and in Kenneth Kraft, ed., Zen Tradition and Transition: A Sourcebook by Contemporary Zen Masters and Scholars (New York, 1988), pp. 157177. Standard historical studies in English include Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History, Vol. 2: Japan, translated by James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter (New York, 1989), and Daigan Matsunaga and Alicia Matsunaga, Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol. 2: The Mass Movement (Los Angeles, 1978). Cultural criticism of Zen is explored in Bernard Faure, The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism (Princeton, 1991).

Illustrated materials on the early history of the Rinzai school are contained in a partially bilingual catalogue prepared for an exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum of Art on Kamakura Zen no genryū (The Art of Zen Buddhism ; Tokyo, 2003). An analysis of the interactions among early Zen movements is discussed in Bernard Faure, "The Daruma-shū, Dōgen, and Sōtō Zen," Monumenta Nipponica 42, no. 1 (1987): 2555. Works on Dōgen include Hee-Jin Kim, Dōgen KigenMystical Realist (Tucson, Ariz., 1975); Carl Bielefeldt, Dōgen's Manuals of Zen Meditation (Berkeley, 1988); and Steven Heine, Dōgen and the Kōan Tradition: A Tale of Two Shōbōgenzō Texts (Albany, N.Y., 1994). A selection of Dōgen's writings in translation is found in Kazuaki Tanahashi, ed., Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dōgen, translated by Robert Aitken et al. (San Francisco, 1985).

Institutional practices are discussed in Martin Collcutt, Five Mountains: The Rinzai Zen Monastic Institution in Medieval Japan (Cambridge, Mass., 1981). Intellectual practices of Zen are discussed in T. P. Kasulis, Zen Action/Zen Person (Honolulu, 1980); Miura Isshū and Ruth Fuller Sasaki, Zen Dust: The History of Kōan Study in Rinzai (Lin-chi) Zen (New York, 1966); Robert Aitken, trans. and ed., The Gateless Barrier: The Wu-men kuan (Mumonkan) (New York, 1991); and Ishikawa Rikizan, "Transmission of Kirigami (Secret Initiation Documents): A Sōtō Practice in Medieval Japan," in The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, edited by Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright (New York, 2000), pp. 233243. Syncretic practices are discussed in a book dedicated to the 500th anniversary of Saijōji, a Sōtō temple, Daiyūzan: Saijōji kaisō roppyakunen hōzan (Kanagawa-ken, Japan, 1994), and Karen Smyers, The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship (Honolulu, 1998).

The poem by Musō is cited from David Pollack, Zen Poems of the Five Mountains (New York, 1985). Muchū mondō is translated by Thomas Cleary in Dream Conversations (New York, 1994). Other works on this period of Rinzai Zen include Joseph Parker, Zen Buddhist Landscape Arts of Early Muromachi Japan (13361573) (Albany, N.Y., 1999); Kenneth Kraft, Eloquent Zen: Daitō and Early Japanese Zen (Honolulu, 1993); and Sonja Arntzen, Ikkyū and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan (Tokyo, 1987). For an examination of the Sōtō school, see William M. Bodiford, Sōtō Zen in Medieval Japan (Honolulu, 1993).

An analysis of the development of the Ōbaku school is in Helen Baroni, Ōbaku Zen: The Emergence of the Third Sect of Zen in Tokugawa Japan (Honolulu, 1998). Zen's relation to samurai culture is discussed in Takuan Sōhō, The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to the Sword Master, translated by William Scott Wilson (New York, 1988), and Winston L. King, Zen and The Way of the Sword: Arming the Samurai Psyche (New York, 1993). Translations of Hakuin's writings are contained in Philip B. Yampolsky, Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings (New York, 1971), and Norman Waddell, Essential Teachings of Zen Master Hakuin (New York, 1994). William M. Bodiford's article treats changes in the transmission process in the Sōtō school, "Dharma Transmission in Sōtō Zen: Manzan Dōhaku's Reform Movement," Monumenta Nipponica 46, no. 4 (1991): 423451. A translation of Ryōkan is found in Great Fool: Zen Master Ryōkan: Poems, Letters, and Other Writings, translated by Ryūichi Abe and Peter Haskel (Honolulu, 1999).

On changes in Meiji era Zen, see Richard Jaffe, Neither Monk Nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism (Princeton, 2001), and Steven Heine, "Abbreviation or Aberration? The Role of the Shushōgi in Modern Sōtō Zen Buddhism," in Buddhism and the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition (New York, 2003). The advent of Zen in the West is discussed in Rick Fields, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America, rev. ed. (New York, 1986). The outlook of modern Zen in a comparative religious context is expressed in Masao Abe, Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue: Part One of a Two-Volume Sequel to Zen and Western Thought (Honolulu, 1995). For Kyoto school philosophy, see James W. Heisig, Philosophers of Nothingness: An Essay on the Kyoto School (Honolulu, 2002), and Michiko Yusa, Zen and Philosophy: An Intellectual Biography of Nishida Kitarō (Honolulu, 2002).

On social criticism, see Ichikawa Hakugen, Bukkyōsha no sensō-sekinin (Tokyo, 1970), and a special (tokushō ) issue of the journal Bukkyō 14, no. 5 (1994). Some of the recent works on a social criticism of Zen in English include Brian A. Victoria, Zen at War (New York, 1997); James W. Heisig and John C. Maraldo, eds., Rude Awakenings: Zen, the Kyoto School, and the Question of Nationalism (Honolulu, 1995); Jamie Hubbard and Paul L. Swanson, eds., Pruning the Bodhi Tree: The Storm over Critical Buddhism (Honolulu, 1997); Christopher Ives, Zen Awakening and Society (Honolulu, 1992); and Bernard Faure, Chan Insights and Oversights: An Epistemological Critique of the Chan Tradition (Princeton, 1993). Also, a translation of Mishima's novel Kinkakuji (Tokyo, 1956) is by Ivan Morris, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (New York, 1959; reprint, 1994).

Steven Heine (2005)


views updated May 14 2018


One of the most important scholars of Zen Buddhism, Daisetz Suzuki, cogently explained the origins of Zen Buddhism in 1959:

Zen is one of the products of the Chinese mind after its contact with Indian thought, which was introduced into China in the first century c.e. through the medium of Buddhist teachings. There were some aspects of Buddhism in the form in which it came to China that the people of the Middle Kingdom did not quite cherish: for instance, its advocacy of a homeless life, its transcendentalism or world-fleeing and life-denying tendency, and so on. At the same time, its profound philosophy, its subtle dialectics and penetrating analyses and speculations, stirred Chinese thinkers, especially Taoists. (p. 3)

For several centuries in China, it was thought that Buddhism was a form of Daoism returning from India along the Silk Roads. Bernard Faure relates: "At the end of his life Laozi, in the guise of the Buddha, was said to have departed to the west to convert the barbarians. To punish them for their initial lack of faith, he condemned them to celibacy" (p. 39). Conversely, the Buddhists claimed that Laozi and Confucius were sent to China to pave the way for Buddhism. In any event, many forms of Buddhism arrived in China from India.

Between the sixth and tenth centuries, Buddhism reached its apex in China with the appearance of four schools: Tiantai (Celestial Platform), Huayan (Flower Garland), Jingtu (Pure Land), and Chan (Meditation). The Sanskrit word dhyana is transcribed as Chan in Chinese and Zen in Japanese, meaning "collectiveness of mind or meditative absorption in which all dualistic distinctions like I/you, subject/object, and true/false are eliminated" (Schuhmacher and Woerner, p. 441). Chan is a melding of Dhyana Buddhism with its emphasis on the stillness of meditation toward enlightenment or awakening (wu, satori) and Daoism with its emphasis on nonaction (wuwei ) as the way of the water. Bodhidharma (470543), the twenty-eighth patriarch after Shakyamuni Buddha, arrived from India at the Shaolin temple in China, where he practiced seated meditation (zuochan, zazen ) for nine years in front of a wall. This meditation aimed to clear the mind of daily desires while allowing the sitter to connect his or her true nature with the universe through the achieving of śūnyata (kong, ku, emptiness). Ninian Smart states that Bodhidharma, the first patriarch, is reputed to have summarized his teaching as follows: "A special transmission outside the scriptures; No basis in words or writing; Direct pointing to the mind of people; Insight into one's nature and attainment of Buddhahood" (p. 126).

The sixth patriarch, Huineng (638713), refined Bodhidharma's teachings by emphasizing master-student relationships in monasteries and meditation upon what later would become "public documents" (gongan, koan) or unsolvable riddles. One day Huineng encountered two monks arguing about a flag waving in the breeze. One monk said that the flag was inanimate and that only the wind made it flutter. The other monk said there was no flapping at all because only the wind moved. Huineng intervened. He said that neither the flag nor the wind moved, only their minds.

Huineng debated with Shenxiu (606706) regarding immediate or gradual enlightenment. He relates:

"Good friends, in the Dharma there is no sudden or gradual, but among people some are keen and others dull. The deluded commend the gradual method; the enlightened practice the sudden teaching. To understand the original mind of yourself is to see into your own original nature. Once enlightened, there is from the outset no distinction between these two methods; those who are not enlightened will for long kalpas be caught in the cycle of transmigration" (Yampolsky, p. 137).

Shenxiu's northern school of gradual enlightenment soon gave way to Huineng's southern school of immediate enlightenment. Willard Oxtoby observes that Huineng's school "became known for freedom of expression and respect for the natural. Similar characteristics are associated with Daoism" (p. 270). At this time, China was ripe for Chan Buddhism. Kenneth Ch'en writes: "For over one hundred and thirty years, from 625 to 755, the T'ang Dynasty had enjoyed tranquility, security, and prosperity without any internal rebellion or external invasion to mar the orderly march of events. During this era all phases of Chinese culture, religion, art, and literature enjoyed a long period of free growth and development" (p. 360).

In the ninth century, the Caodong zong (Caodong school) and Linji zong (Linji school) sects of Chan Buddhism carried on the rivalry of gradual and sudden enlightenment. Caodong favored gradual, silent enlightenment through seated meditation. The gradual stillness of mind is like "the bird hatching the egg" (Oxtoby, p. 272). Linji favored immediate awakening through the practice of shouting, beating, and paradoxical sayings that were later compiled as gongan. Unanticipated shouting and blows between master and pupil could result in enlightenment. Similarly, reflection on riddles could end in a sudden awakening, like "the blossoming of a lotus or the sun emerging from behind the clouds" (Oxtoby, p. 272). The Linji master might answer a student's query "Who is the Buddha?" with the quip "three pounds of flax." Alternatively, the master might propose the riddle "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The purpose was to encourage the student to abandon all logic and reasoning while searching for peace in the quietude of meditation.

During the Southern Song dynasty of the twelfth century, the interaction of Chinese and Japanese monks stimulated the migration to Japan of Linji (Rinzai Zen) and Caodong (Soto Zen). Eisai (11411215) brought Rinzai and Dogen (12001253) brought Soto. The Kamakura period (11851333) was a watershed for Zen Buddhism. Rinzai's emphasis on the controlled discipline of seated meditation and the contemplation of koan became popular among the ruling samurai clans at Kamakura. Soto's more exclusive focus on seated meditation appealed to the peasantry. Zen's influence in the arts included painting, literature, and calligraphy and carried on well into the modern era. Zen and the sword, Zen and archery, Zen and tea were intimately connected to samurai culture.

The juxtaposition of Zen's humanity and samurai warfare is difficult for Westerners to understand. At Shaolin, the Chan monks practiced martial arts (gongfu ) to keep themselves physically fit while defeating their worst enemy: their own desire. In a world of suffering, desire is the root of misery. To do away with desire is to clear a way to the "extinction" of suffering (nirvana). In Japan the samurai were intimately linked to Zen. If Buddhism is the pure negation of the will as the extinguishing of desire, then Bushido (the warrior's way) is the pure will as the negation of the negation or the annihilation of nirvana. The juxtaposition of Zen and the warrior spirit is the essence of samurai culture. This alluring paradox is one reason that Suzuki's style of Rinzai Zen became popular in the Western world after World War II.

See also Buddhism ; Religion: East and Southeast Asia .


Ch'en, Kenneth K. S. Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964.

Faure, Bernard. Buddhism. Translated by Sean Konecky. New York: Konecky and Konecky, 1998.

Oxtoby, Willard G., ed. World Religions: Eastern Traditions. 2nd ed. Don Mills, Ontario, and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Schuhmacher, Stephan, and Gert Woerner, eds. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Zen. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.

Smart, Ninian. The World's Religions. 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Suzuki, Daisetz T. Zen and Japanese Culture. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Yampolsky, Philip, trans. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

Jay Goulding


views updated May 18 2018


The Sanskrit word dhyana (generally referring to an emptying or stilling form of meditation) was transliterated into Chinese as chan-na and abbreviated to chan; zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character chan. Dhyana, chan, and zen, however, need to be considered separately. As an Indian word, dhyana refers to a meditation practice, not a sect of Buddhism. The practice of dhyana in America may or may not have any connection with the Chinese or Japanese sects known as Chan and Zen. Conversely, the American assimilation of Asian cultural elements associated with Chan and Zen may have nothing to do with any systematic meditation practice. Furthermore, despite the scholarly use of the terms chan and zen as if they were interchangeable, Chan and Zen in America need to be considered as distinct because China and Japan have distinct positions in American culture. Because of differences in the political histories of China and Japan in the last two hundred years, Zen has been much better known in America than Chan, and even Chan has been seen through the lens of Japanese sectarian scholarship. Chan is sometimes described as Chinese Zen, whereas historically it would be slightly more accurate to say that Zen is Japanese Chan.

Dhyana has been practiced at least since the beginning of Buddhism in India, and some monks were famous for their meditation skills, but the term identified no particular group. Buddhist ideas and practices began filtering into China in the first century c.e., but the "Chan lineage" emerged as a sectarian category much later. Efforts to date the birth of Chan have produced widely varying answers, ranging from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries c.e., depending on what is meant by "Chan." Its mythical lineage identifies the obscure figure of Bodhidharma as bringing Chan to China in the fifth century, but the full articulation of Chan was a very gradual process. Most scholars locate the birth of the Chan lineage in debates during the eighth century c.e., followed by significant elaboration and the creation of lineage records in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In China, Chan became more or less identified with mainstream monastic Buddhism, but Zen in Japan became a sect among sects, continuing to compete with other monastic forms of Buddhism, such as Shingon and Tendai. Actually, two main subsects developed within Zen itself: Rinzai and Soto, dating from the thirteenth century.

Because of severe anti-Buddhist persecution in the early Meiji period (1868–1872) in Japan, and as a response to westernization, Japanese Buddhist leaders made efforts to redefine Buddhism as scientific and modern (in more or less Western terms). Because of the prestige of Western recognition, Zen leaders were much more oriented toward missionary work than were their Chinese counterparts. The contours of this newly redefined Zen owe much to the increasing nationalism and militarization of Japan from the late nineteenth century through to 1945. Zen in Japan was redefined as useful to the imperialist ideology, and identical to Japanese identity itself. This "Japanese exceptionalism" was the background to the early dissemination of Zen in America, starting with the Japanese delegation to the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago, through the teaching and writing of D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) and others. Suzuki, for example, claimed late in his life that he had never met a single Caucasian American who truly understood Zen. Even Westerners who had some inkling, such as Henry David Thoreau, had glimpsed only a reflection of Asian wisdom. These rather provocative claims are understandable when one sees that for a whole generation of Japanese Zen scholars, Zen was inseparable from Japaneseness. Furthermore, Japanese Zen leaders promoted the widespread perception of the association (or even identity) of Zen and the elite arts, especially calligraphy, martial arts, painting, landscaping, and poetry, arts that were by no means monopolized by Zen monks in Asia.

In the mid-nineteenth century Chinese immigrants to California established temples, usually blending Chan Buddhist elements with popular religion, Taoism, and Confucianism. Chinese communities in California have supported a number of Chan monasteries, such as the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (Wan Fo Cheng) founded by Hsan-Hua (1918–1995), and the Hsi-lai Temple led by Hsing-Yun. Japanese immigration, around the turn of the century, introduced other sectarian forms of Buddhism. The Pure Land sect Jodo Shinshu was especially active, establishing the Buddhist Church of America in 1899. Though Zen is the best known, there have certainly been many other forms of Buddhism in America. Zen in America has been marked by a tension (sometimes fruitful) between Japanese traditional orthodoxy and American nativization.

The 1893 World's Parliament of Religions was a pivotal event in connecting Japanese Zen monks (such as the Rinzai monk Shaku Soen, who made later visits as well) with American Transcendentalists and Theosophists. Paul Carus attended the Parliament and became instrumental in keeping open lines of communication between Zen and American culture. Other Japanese Zen teachers, disciples of Shaku Soen, arrived in America: Daisetsu Teitaro (D. T.) Suzuki in 1899, Shaku Sokatsu in 1906, and Senzaki Nyogen in 1905. A number of meditation halls were founded in California in the 1920s and after. In 1931, one of Shaku Sokatsu's disciples, Sasaki Shigetsu (also known as Sokei-an) founded the Buddhist Society of America in New York. D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) worked at Paul Carus's Open Court Publishing Company from 1897 to 1909. He visited again in the 1930s and 1950s. One of Suzuki's enduring legacies is the widespread assertion that Zen in not a "religion." He steadfastly refused to reduce Zen to any particular form, organization, historical movement, or set of dogmas. Rather, Zen was the indefinable quality of enlightened experience itself, the pure basis of all other religions.

World War II undoubtedly stifled the development of Zen in America, with Japan a military enemy and Japanese-Americans subjected to discrimination and forced confinement in internment camps. However, in the 1950s Zen (and in particular D. T. Suzuki's work) enjoyed a revived interest and numerous Zen centers were established. These Zen centers were headed by Japanese Zen monks, but in the 1970s a generation of white American monks received full initiation and leadership, including Richard Baker, Philip Kapleau, and Robert Aitken.

Soto Zen developed in America after World War II, with, for example, the founding of the Chicago Buddhist Temple by Soyu Matsuoka Roshi, and the founding of the San Francisco Zen Center in 1961 by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi had arrived in America in 1959. After his death the Zen Center was administered by his successor, Richard Baker. Attached to this center are the Zen Mountain Center (Tassajara) and the farm Green Gulch. Another Causasian Zen leader was Jiyu Kennett, who founded the Mount Shasta Zen monastery in 1969.

A form of Zen that claimed to embrace both Rinzai and Soto was founded in Japan by Sogaku Harada. Taizan Maezumi Roshi established the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1956. Another disciple, Hakuun Yasutani Roshi, visited in 1962 to promote his master's version of Zen. An American-born disciple, Philip Kapleau, founded the Zen Meditation Center in Rochester, New York, after thirteen years of training in Japan. Kapleau's best-known book, The Three Pillars of Zen (1966), remains popular and authoritative, though his willingness to nativize Zen in America led to a break with Harada.

Popular awareness of Buddhism after World War II benefited from the development of Asian studies and Buddhist studies programs in universities nationwide, and from the popularization of some elements of Buddhism by the "Beat generation." The literary work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and others produced a Buddhism that was aesthetic, experiential, ecstatic, and philosophically antinomian. It was also largely their own invention.

Picked up later by the counterculture and various consciousness-expanding movements in the 1960s, and still perennially popular, this romantic "Beat Zen" had little to do with Zen in Japan. Whereas Zen in Japan emphasized monasticism, American Zen remains predominantly lay-oriented. Whereas Zen monks in Asia do not necessarily meditate on any regular basis, American Zen has emphasized meditation as the sine qua non of legitimate Buddhism. A whole series of stereotypes of Zen and Zen monks have been thoroughly deconstructed by scholars such as Bernard Faure and Robert Buswell, Jr., and serious practitioners today are usually realistic about Asian Zen mythology and its American twists. Still, in popular usage the word Zen can still mean almost anything: a carefree sentiment, an experience of intense focus, a label for Chinese landscape painting, empty-headedness, or a brand name on T-shirts and tea. The popular imagination of Zen owes much to the best-selling book by Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the works of Alan Watts (e.g., The Way of Zen). Given the individualistic voluntarism of the American Zen community, it is impossible to number American Zen Buddhists with any precision. American Zen Buddhists of non-Asian ancestry tend to be white, middle-class, urban, and often well-educated, though not necessarily: Zen meditation has become popular, for example, in prisons as well.

See alsoBuddha; Buddhism; Chinese-American Religions; Japanese-American Religions.


Buswell, Robert E., Jr. The Zen Monastic Experience. 1992.

Chadwick, David. Crooked Cucumber: The Life and ZenTeaching of Shunryu Suzuki. 1999.

Faure, Bernard. The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A CulturalCritique of Chan/Zen Buddhism. 1991.

Fields, Rick. How the Swans Came to the Lake: A NarrativeHistory of Buddhism in America. 1992.

Kapleau, Philip. The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. 1966.

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. 1974.

Suzuki, Daisetz T. Zen and Japanese Culture. 1959.

Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. 1957.

Eric Reinders


views updated May 14 2018


The Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word dhyāna (Chinese, ch'an ), Zen designates the School of Meditation. It arose probably in the 6th century a.d. in China in Mahāyāna Buddhism, but with an influx of the native Taoism. In the 13th century it was transplanted to Japan; and down to the present in Japan, and recently also in America and Europe, it has exhibited a notable activity. Meditation is widespread among Buddhists, but the Zen School teaches a special and very effective manner of meditation, which is regarded by many (even by representatives of depth psychology) as the high point of Buddhist meditation.

Special Character of Zen Meditation. Zen is characterized by its radical orientation toward the experience of enlightenment (in Japanese, satori ). Enlightenment is a super-clear experience of the reality or intuitive vision of the original unity of being. Experience is suddenly attained in the breakthrough of the stages of consciousness of the empirical "Ego." Basically, this inner realization can result spontaneously. However, the Zen School has developed a methodical way to enlightenment, a kind of psychic technique, which if practiced with intensity of purpose and perseverance, leads necessarily, according to most masters of Zen, to the experience intended.

Zen Technique: Zazen and Kōan. The most important elements in Zen technique are meditation in an upright sitting position with legs crossed (Japanese, zazen ) and the practice of the kōan. The lotus sitting posture (padmāsana ), which came from primitive Indian tradition and is employed in zazen, is regarded as superior to all other sitting positions taught in yoga. The many hours spent in continued meditation in this sitting position produces, in addition to physical and psychic relaxation, an emptying of the mind of all conscious content. It is combined frequently with the kōan practice. For kōan (assembled in Kōan collections), dialogues between master and disciple (called mondō in Japanese) are employed; paradoxical words and deeds, and all possible anecdotes from lives of the Zen masters of the ancient period are used also. These elements, one and all, contain the rationally insoluble factor of a logical contradiction. The disciple is requested to concentrate his mind completely on the kōan story in order that through the greatest possible application he may find the solution. However, all intellectual effort is in vain. The solution can be experienced only in the sudden flash of enlightenment.

History. The Indian monk Bodhidharma, who according to legend came from India to China in order to be the first to teach a new way of enlightenment, is regarded by the Zen School as its founder and the first Chinese Zen patriarch. Bodhidharma's biography is historically questionable in all details. Even the life story of the sixth Chinese Zen patriarch, Hui-neng (a.d. 638713), is not fully certain historically; but the history proper of the Zen School in China begins with him. A large number of significant Zen masters marks the high point of Chinese Zen during the late T'ang Period (8th and 9th centuries). In the Sung Period that followed, five "houses" or schools assumed definite form in Chinese Zen. Of these, the Lin-chi (Japanese, Rinzai ) and Ts'aotung (Japanese, Sōtō ) schools were transplanted to Japan, where together with the Ōbaku School, which also was introduced at a later date from China (in the 17th century), they have continued to represent Japanese Zen Buddhism down to the present time.

One can hardly speak of doctrinal differences between the schools of Zen Buddhism, but Zen practice differs according to each school and monastery. The Sōtō School (founded in Japan by Dōgen, 120053) puts emphasis on meditation in the sitting position, the so-called zazen, which according to Dōgen's teaching on the unity of enlightenment and practice of Zen, demonstrates the original enlightenment of the Buddha nature. In the Japanese Rinzai School, Hakuin (16851768), the outstanding representative, is famous for his psychological insight and many ecstasies, and also for his educational influence on the people.

Effects in Art and Culture. Zen Buddhism, especially in Japan, has exercised a significant influence on culture. Of the arts or "ways" (Japanese, dō ) inspired by the spirit of Zen, those of a warlike nature, as swordfighting, wrestling, and archery, and others of a domestic character, as flower arrangement, the tea ceremony, and gardening, and some also as arts in the Western sense, as poetic compositions, calligraphy, and painting, all have had the widest dissemination and often have reached high perfection. Even today the gardens near the Zen temples of the old capital Kyoto bear witness to the unique and strongly symbolic artistic sense of their creators. Zen art reached its zenith in painting, in which the ink drawings and watercolor pictures of Sesshū (14211506) are masterpieces of world art. The lyrical poetry of the greatest Japanese poet, Bashō (164494), whose immortal epigrams in 17 syllables (called haiku in Japanese) cannot be translated adequately, is deeply impressed with the spirit of Zen.

Zen and Christianity. A distinction must be made between the metaphysical background and the specific manner of meditation in Zen Buddhism. The Zen School possesses no special teaching, but since it arose in Mahāyāna Buddhism, it is impressed with the spirit of the Mahāyāna religion. The disciples of Zen, as believing Buddhists, are bound by Buddhist scripture and piety. The monastic discipline and cult of Buddhism play an important role in the Zen monasteries. All Zen Buddhists explain the enlightenment experience on the basis of the monistic or cosmotheistic metaphysics of Mahāyāna Buddhism, which is in manifest opposition to Christian theism.

On the other hand, the practice of specific Zen meditation (including the satori experience) could perhaps be compatible with Christian belief, but with a limitation as regards the kōan practice insofar as the kōan exercises, at least in the Zen understanding of them, express the monistic Mahāyāna Weltanschauung. Meditation in the required sitting position can produce entirely beneficial effects among Christians also. Enlightenment, as a natural experience of reality independent of all ideological interpretation, possesses a spiritual value. The endeavors to introduce Eastern forms of meditation into Christian spirituality, when proposed by experienced persons, deserve sympathetic attention and encouragement.

Bibliography: j. l. broughton, The Bodhidharma Anthology: the Earliest Records of Zen (Berkeley 1999). h. dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History, 2 vols. rev. ed. (New York 1988). h. dumoulin, Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meaning (New York 1979). n. foster and j. shoemaker, The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader (Hopewell, N. J. 1996). p. kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen, rev. ed (New York 1980). k. kraft, ed. Zen: Tradition and Transition (New York 1988).

[h. dumoulin/eds.]

Zen and the body

views updated May 14 2018

Zen and the body Zen (Chinese: Ch'an) Buddhism flourished in China and Japan during the formative period in Tang-era China in the seventh and eighth centuries; during the Sung era from the eleventh to the thirteenth century; and during Kamakura-era Japan in the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. Zen does not appear to put an emphasis on the body, as it is generally referred to as the ‘mind’ school of traditional East Asian philosophy. In its early development in Tang China Zen was closely associated with textual studies of the works of the Yogacara Buddhist school of idealism imported from India, particularly the Lankavatara Sutra, which asserted the inseparability of mind and reality, or of subjective response and external phenomena. Later Zen thought, especially in medieval Japan, developed the doctrine of the One Mind (isshin), which encompasses all aspects of existence, including humans and nature, being and time, and truth and illusion, by drawing on Mahayana Buddhist conceptions of the universal, primordial Buddha-nature.

However, the very emphasis on the unity or nonduality of mind and reality indicates a focus on the role of the body. In that regard, Zen can be considered a ‘body’ school — or a ‘mind/body’ school — because it maintains that mind and body do not exist in opposition but are interrelated on every level. The Zen view of body is articulated in several key doctrines, including the oneness of body-mind (shinjin ichinyo), just-sitting in zazen or meditation-only (shikan taza), and the casting off of body-mind (shinjin datsuraku). These doctrines concerning the body exerted a strong influence on many other aspects of East Asian culture, including the literary, martial and fine arts.

Zen maintains the inseparability, identity, and equalization of mind and body, which invariably and inextricably interact and interpenetrate one another. To some extent, the Zen view derives from the early Buddhist notion of the unity of cognition and bodily sensations (nama-rupa), which stresses that thought formation in the mind is inseparable from the reception of corporeal sense impressions; thus the attachment and ignorance of unenlightenment (samsara) stem from the polarity of pleasant or unpleasant sensations, and the freedom and compassion of enlightenment (nirvana) are based on neutralizing the extreme response that the sense impressions ordinarily undergo. Zen also builds, however, on the East Asian, especially the Taoist, naturalist view that ultimate reality is manifested in each and every concrete phenomenon, including animate and inanimate beings. It is said that there is no difference between the mind/body of oneself and that of all other aspects of existence. The cycles and images of nature are a macrocosm incorporated in the microcosm of the individual body and reflective of either a disturbed or composed mind.

The Zen doctrine of identity is not merely, or even primarily, intended as an abstract ideological argument. Rather it is firmly rooted in a life of religious praxis in which a specific bodily posture — sitting in zazen — takes priority over and serves as the basis of philosophical reflection. The word zazen refers to ‘sitting meditation’ with an emphasis on the somatic component or on composure of the body that fosters the ability to discipline and concentrate the mind. According to the Zen approach, zazen is the fundamental, all-encompassing spiritual activity that vitiates the need for following precepts, prayers, ritual, iconography, and so forth, although many of these elements of religious life are incorporated into the monastic routine. Zazen is not merely the act of sitting but is associated with the practice of gyôjû zaga (walking, standing, sitting, lying) whereby all gestures and postures of the body throughout the 24-hour daily cycle are considered a form of meditation. Eating is an opportunity for contemplation and the hours of sleep are referred to as ‘reclining meditation’. The discipline of zazen serves as the basis for the composition of poetry (according to poet and literary critic Fujiwara Teika), the actor's performance in Noh theatre (according to playwright and theorist Zeami), the training of the samurai warrior (according to bushidô master Takuan Soho), or the ceremonial etiquette of the tea ritual (according to master Rikyu).

Zen also emphasizes the subitaneous experience of spiritual realization or enlightenment. From this standpoint, the body as well as the mind is a domain that may be inauthentic prior to spiritual pursuit, but is eminently correctible by virtue of partaking of the universal Buddha-nature, and is perfectable through meditative discipline. The sudden enlightenment experience is known as the casting off of (the very distinction) of body and mind, as expressed in the fascicle of the Shôbôgenzô on the topic of Genjôkôan (Spontaneous Realization) by Japanese Zen master Dôgen (1200–53):
To study the Buddhist Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the myriad phenomena of the universe. To be enlightened by the myriad phenomena of the universe is to cast off the body-mind of self and the body-mind of others. With this experience, the traces of enlightenment are eliminated and a life of traceless enlightenment is limitlessly renewed.

Steven Heine


Kim, H. J. (1975). Dôgen Kigen–mystical realist. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Yuasa, Y. (1987). The body: toward an Eastern mind–body theory. SUNY Press, Albany.

See also mind-body problem.

Zen Buddhism

views updated May 18 2018

Zen Buddhism (Jap., zenna or zenno, from reading Chin., ch'an-na or ch'an, a Chin. version of dhyāna). A coalition of related ways for attaining realization, even beyond enlightenment, of the true nature underlying all appearance including one's own—and above all, that there is no duality within appearances, but only the one buddha-nature (buddhatā, busshō).

Chʾan emerged as part of the Mahāyāna development, though naturally it traces its lineage back to the Buddha Śākyamuni. Bodhidharma is recognized as the key figure in the transition to China. Conflict set in over the sixth patriarch, leading to the division into Southern and Northern schools, with the difference of emphasis summarized in the saying, ‘Suddenness of South, gradualness of North’. The Southern school developed into many independent schools, often in relation to other forms of Chinese Buddhism. Tsung-mi lists seven schools (though he includes the Northern school as one), but of these, only two developed important and continuing lines, those established by Ma-tsu Tao-i and by Shihtou Hsi-ch'ien, in the third generation after Hui-neng. Ma-tsu was dynamic and kōan-based); Shih-tou was quieter and more reflective. From these two derive the ‘Five Houses and Seven Schools’ (goke-shichishū), replicating these differences of emphasis: from Shih-tou, Tsao-tung (Jap., Sōtō), Yün-men (Ummon) and Fa-yen (Hogen); and from Ma-tsu, Kueiyang (Igyo) and Lin-chi (Rinzai); Lin-chi produced two further divisions (hence the ‘seven schools’), Yang-chi (Yōgī) and Hüang-lung (Ōryu).

As Chʾan faded in China, the different schools and emphases flowed into Korea and into Japan, as indicated in the equivalent names above, but the two which have been of the greatest importance are Rinzai and Sōtō. Foundation figures for Rinzai were Eisai and Enni Benʾen; the dominant figure is that of Hakuin who led the revival of the 18th cent. Sōtō adherents regard Dōgen as the key figure. The general truth to be realized is that there is only the buddha-nature underlying all appearance; when one realizes that this also is what one is, all differentiation ceases and one rests in that nature. To know this intellectually is very different from realizing it as experienced truth; and Zen developed many ways of seeking and seeing that unity—hence the immense cultural consequences of Zen. See also ZAZEN; ART.

Zen (or Ch'an)

views updated May 14 2018

Zen (or Ch'an)

One of the few traditional forms of instant enlightenment in Oriental religions. However, Zen normally demands a long preliminary period of monastic life and spiritual discipline culminating in the somewhat surrealist techniques that give instant satori, or enlightenment.

Zen is a special branch of Mahayana Buddhist school (which dominates Buddhism in China, Korea, and Japan), dating from 520 C.E. when Bodhi-Dharma (d. 534 C.E.) went from India to China with a mission later codified in the maxims: "a special transmission outside the scriptures; no dependence upon words and letters; direct pointing at the soul of man; seeing into one's nature; and the attainment of Buddhahood." Zen was later divided into two main schools, called Rinzai and Soto in Japan.

Rinzai Zen depends very much upon sudden or startling paradoxes, embodied in koans, mystical riddles such as "Empty-handed I come, carrying a spade." Modern interest in Zen often misunderstands the nature of such riddles, where the verbal factor is merely a trigger to intensify stress in the pupil, and as a result many Westerners tend to treat Zen as a kind of intellectual exercise. In practice, however, such paradoxes were the culmination of a more formal monastic training emphasizing traditional spiritual values. The disciple would be fully extended on all levels of his naturephysically, in the everyday hard work of the monastery; mentally, in the assimilation of spiritual teaching; and emotionally, in the sudden clash of unconventional techniques used in Zen.

The koans merely accentuated an intolerable pressure at all levels, culminating in the sudden flash of enlightenment by transcendence on a higher, spiritual plane.

(See also ZCLA Journal ; Zazen ; Zen Studies Society )


Humphreys, Christmas. Zen Buddhism. London: Heine-mann, 1949. Reprint, New York: Macmillan, 1967.

Suzuki, D. T. Manual of Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press, 1960.

. Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings of D. T. Suzuki. Edited by William Barrett. New York: Doubleday/Anchor, 1956.


views updated May 23 2018

Zen Japanese school of Buddhism, initially developed in China, where it is known as Ch'an. Instead of doctrines and scriptures, Zen stresses mind-to-mind instruction from master to disciple in order to achieve satori (awakening of Buddha-nature). There are two major Zen sects. Rinzai (introduced to Japan from China in 1191) emphasizes sudden enlightenment and meditation on paradoxical statements. The Soto sect (also brought from China, in 1227) advocates quiet meditation. In its secondary emphasis on mental tranquillity, fearlessness, and spontaneity, Zen had a great influence on Japanese art and architecture. Zen priests also inspired Japanese literature, the tea ceremony, and the No drama. In recent decades, a number of Zen groups emerged in Europe and the USA.


views updated May 21 2018

Zen a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures. Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China in the 12th century, and has had a profound cultural influence. The aim of Zen is to achieve sudden enlightenment (satori) through meditation in a seated posture (zazen), usually under the guidance of a teacher and often using paradoxical statements (koans) to transcend rational thought.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Zen / zen/ (also Zen Bud·dhism) • n. a Japanese school of Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition.DERIVATIVES: Zen Bud·dhist n.