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A Taste of Zen

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The Diamond Sutra says that the Buddha does not come or go or sit or lie. The monks must till the field without tilling it, carry firewood without carrying it, just as I must write this without writing it, and the reader read it without reading it. - R. H. Blyth (1970, 7)

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 (1970), 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.

Soto and Rinzai teachings are combined in the Zen sect Sanbo Kyodan, a lay organisation founded in 1954. Among its fronted Zen goals is realisation of Zen in daily life.

The Ox-Herding Pictures tries to depict various phases on a Zen Way.

There are also the Zen monk Bodhidharma (Daruma) and other Zen guides in the picture. The first of them could have no or little historical basis.

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.

"Suchness/thatness" and "Buddha-nature / Buddha-principle" are basics, but how clear-cut are they? They are many-faceted.

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.

(WP, "Tathata", "Buddha-nature")

Dogo's Zen Answer

Isan said, "Where does fire come from?"

Dogo said, "I would like you to ask me something that has nothing to do with circumambulation or zazen or lying down."

Isan left off asking, and went off.

Reginald Blyth: Dogo wants Isan to stop asking his Zen questions and just ask ordinary ones, a very reasonable and healthy and indeed Zen request.

(Blyth 1970, 106)


Zen, doing soto zen, Dogen, Buddhism, Mahayana, extracts, Dogen on doing Zen, Zen Buddhism, Literature  

Blyth, Reginald H. 1970. Zen and Zen Classics: Volume Three History of Zen (Nangaku Branch). Tokyo: The Hokuseido Press.

Chang, Garma C. C. <1970. u>The Practice of Zen. New York: Perennial/Harper.

Masunaga, Reiho, tr. 1975. A Primer of Soto Zen. A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. Honolulu: University Press.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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