Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism, and deeply rooted in Mahayana teachings and doctrines. Zen evolved in China and spread from there to Vietnam, Korea and Japan.
The words Chan and Zen come from Sanskrit dhyana, deep meditation, which is a necessary step in higher yoga-meditation. Garma C. C. Chang, author of The Practice of Zen, informs that Zen is Mahamudra Buddhism at heart. Chinese translations of mostly Indian Yogacara meditation manuals were the basis for the meditation techniques of Chinese Chan. Taoist terminology was used to express Buddhist doctrines in the oldest translations of Buddhist texts. Chan got fixed its key features in China in the 600s CE.
From China, the school spread to Japan and other countries. Its key features include zazen, "Zen sitting", and some added training methods.
The main thing about Zen (dhyana, meditation) is doing it. Sitting meditation is very common.
In the Soto school of Zen, the meditator strives to allow thoughts to arise and pass away unhindered - this practice is called Shikantaza.
In the Rinzai school of Zen emphasizes kensho, insight into one's true nature. A very common means is focusing unswervingly on a riddle, a koan, is a much used method too. Koans can be used to provoke a "great doubt" too. The main aim is awakening as a Buddha - not through conceptualisation, but direct insight. [Mumon's Gateless Gate]
Soto and Rinzai teachings are combined in the Zen sect Sanbo Kyodan, a lay organisation founded in 1954. Among its fronted goals of Zen is realisation of Zen in daily life.
The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures signal so-called steps on the Way.
Western Zen gives priority to zen-meditation and on applying various Zen-teachings in daily life. Among the most respected Zen teachers (roshis) one may read of or hear of are Dogen (Soto Zen), Hakuin (Rinzai Zen), Bodhidharma (Daruma) and Hui-Neng. Chinese Zen teachers have other names in Japanese.
Zen emphasises zazen (Zen sitting, the meditative practice to ripen insight by), suchness, reality just-as-it-is, also by being matter-of-fact in daily life, and the Buddha-nature.
"Suchness/thatness" and "Buddha-nature / Buddha-principle" are basics, but how clear-cut are they? They are many-faceted. [Cf. WP, "Tathata", "Buddha-nature"]
Dog: Masunaga, Reiho, tr. A Primer of Soto Zen. A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. Honolulu: University Press, 1975.
Prz: Chang, Garma C. C. The Practice of Zen. New York: Perennial/Harper, 1970.
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