Zen is a school of MahāyānaBuddhism. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán (禪), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state".
Zen emphasizes experiential Wisdom in the attainment of enlightenment. As such, it de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge in favor of direct realization through meditation and dharma practice. The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, including the Prajñāpāramitā literature and the teachings of the Yogācāra and Tathāgatagarbha schools.
The emergence of Zen as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century CE. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, and east to Korea and Japan. As a matter of tradition, the establishment of Zen is credited to the Persian or South IndianPallava prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, who came to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures, not founded on words or letters".
The historical records required for a complete, accurate account of early Chán history no longer exist. Theories about the influence of other schools in the evolution of Chán are widely variable and rely heavily on speculative correlation rather than on written records or histories. Some scholars have argued that Chán developed from the interaction between Mahāyāna Buddhism and Taoism. Some scholars instead argue that Chán has roots in yogic practices, specifically kammaṭṭhāna, the consideration of objects, and kasiṇa, total fixation of the mind. A number of other conflicting theories exist.
Tradition and legends
The Flower Sermon
The origins of Zen Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century. It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a Dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up and twirled a flower and twinkled his eyes; several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha's disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and broke into a broad smile. The Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa's insight by saying the following:
I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvāṇa, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.
Thus, through Zen there developed a way which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Wisdom was passed, not through words, but through a lineage of one-to-one direct transmission of thought from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage continued all the way from the Buddha's time to the present.
Main article: Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma. Woodcut print by Yoshitoshi, 1887.
Bodhidharma with Huike. Painting by Sesshū Tōyō, 15th century.
The establishment of Chán is traditionally credited to the Indian prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma (formerly dated ca. 500 CE, but now ca. early 5th century), who is recorded as having come to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words".
Bodhidharma is associated with several other names, and is also known by the name Bodhitara. He was given the name Bodhidharma by his teacher known variously as Panyatara, Prajnatara, or Prajñādhara. He is said to have been the son of a southern Indian king, though there is some controversy regarding his origins.
Bodhidharma arrived in China and visited Canton and Luoyang. In Luoyang, he is reputed to have engaged in nine years of silent meditation, coming to be known as "the wall-gazing Brahman" This epithet is referring to him as an Indian holy man.
Bodhidharma settled in the kingdom of Wei where he took among his disciples Daoyu and Huike (慧可). Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese born patriarch and the second patriarch of Chán in China. Bodhidharma is said to have passed three items to Huike as a sign of transmission of the Dharma: a robe, a bowl, and a copy of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. The transmission then passed to the second patriarch (Huike), the third (Sengcan), the fourth (Daoxin), and the fifth (Hongren).
Several scholars have suggested that Bodhidharma as a person never actually existed, but was a combination of various historical figures over several centuries.
In the Song of Enlightenment (證道歌 Zhèngdào gē) of Yǒngjiā Xuánjué (665–713)—one of the chief disciples of Huìnéng, the 6th patriarch of Chán Buddhism—it is written that Bodhidharma was the 28th patriarch in a line of descent from Mahākāśyapa, a disciple of Śākyamuni Buddha, and the first patriarch of Chán Buddhism:
Mahākāśyapa was the first, leading the line of transmission; Twenty-eight Fathers followed him in the West; The Lamp was then brought over the sea to this country; And Bodhidharma became the First Father here: His mantle, as we all know, passed over six Fathers, And by them many minds came to see the Light.
Often attributed to Bodhidharma is the Bloodstream Sermon, which was actually composed quite some time after his death.
Buddhas don't save buddhas. If you use your mind to look for a buddha, you won't see the Buddha. As long as you look for a buddha somewhere else, you'll never see that your own mind is the Buddha. Don't use a buddha to worship a buddha. And don't use the mind to invoke a buddha. Buddhas don't recite sutras. Buddhas don't keep precepts. And buddhas don't break precepts. Buddhas don't keep or break anything. Buddhas don't do good or evil. To find a buddha, you have to see your nature.
Another famous legend involving Bodhidharma is his meeting with Emperor Wu of Liang. Emperor Wu took an interest in Buddhism and spent a great deal of public wealth on funding Buddhist monasteries in China. When he had heard that a great Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma, had come to China, he sought an audience with him. When they met, Emperor Wu asked how much karmic merit he had gained from his noble support of Buddhism. Bodhidharma replied "None at all." The Emperor asked "Then what is the truth of the teachings?" Bodhidharma replied, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." So the emperor asked "Then who are you standing in front of me?" Bodhidharma replied "I do not know," and walked out.
Another legend involving Bodhidharma is that he visited the Shaolin Temple in the kingdom of Wei, at some point, and taught them a series of exercises which became the basis for the Shaolin martial arts.
Ancestral Founders and lineage
Main article: Lineage (Buddhism)
Sojiji Temple, of the Soto Zen school, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama, Japan
Bodhidharma settled in the kingdom of Wei. Shortly before his death, Bodhidharma appointed a disciplee named Huike to succeed him, making Huike the first Chinese-born ancestral founder and the second ancestral founder of Chán in China. Bodhidharma is said to have passed three items to Huike as a sign of transmission of the Dharma: a robe, a bowl, and a copy of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra. The transmission then passed to the second ancestral founder Huike, the third Sengcan, the fourth ancestral founder Daoxin, and the fifth ancestral founder Hongren.
The sixth and last ancestral founder, Huineng (惠能; 638–713), was one of the giants of Chán history, and all surviving schools regard him as their ancestor. However, the dramatic story of Huineng's life tells that there was a controversy over his claim to the title of patriarch. After being chosen by Hongren, the fifth ancestral founder, Huineng had to flee by night to Nanhua Temple in the south to avoid the wrath of Hongren's jealous senior disciples. Later, in the middle of the 8th century, monks claiming to be among the successors to Huineng, calling themselves the Southern school, cast themselves in opposition to those claiming to succeed Hongren's then publicly recognized student Shenxiu (神秀; ?-706). It is commonly held that it is at this point — that is, the debates between these rival factions — that Chán enters the realm of fully documented history.
Aside from disagreements over the valid lineage, doctrinally the Southern school is associated with the teaching that enlightenment is sudden, while the Northern School is associated with the teaching that enlightenment is gradual. The Southern school eventually became predominant and their Northern school rivals died out. Modern scholarship, however, has questioned this narrative, since the only surviving records of this account were authored by members of the Southern school.
The following are the six ancestral founder of Chán in China as listed in traditional sources:
Bodhidharma (達摩) ca. 440 – ca. 528
Huike (慧可) 487–593
Sengcan (僧燦) ?–606
Daoxin (道信) 580–651
Hongren (弘忍) 601–674
Huineng (慧能) 638–713
Zen history (post-700 CE)
The Five Houses of Zen
Developing primarily in the Tang dynasty in China, Classic Zen is traditionally divided historically into the Five Houses (Ch. 五家) of Zen or five "schools". These were not originally regarded as "schools" or "sects", but historically, they have come to be understood that way. In their early history, the schools were not institutionalized, they were without dogma, and the teachers who founded them were not idolized.
The Five Houses of Zen are:
Guiyang school (潙仰宗), named after masters Guishan Lingyou (771–854) and Yangshan Huiji (813–890)
Linji school (臨濟宗), named after master Linji Yixuan (died 866)
Caodong school (曹洞宗), named after masters Dongshan Liangjie (807–869) and Caoshan Benji (840–901)
Yunmen school (雲門宗), named after master Yunmen Wenyan (died 949)
Fayan school (法眼宗), named after master Fayan Wenyi (885–958)
Most Zen lineages throughout Asia and the rest of the world originally grew from or were heavily influenced by the original five houses of Zen.
Chán in China
A traditional Chinese Chán Buddhist master in Taiwan, sitting in meditation.
In the centuries following the introduction of Buddhism to China, Chán (禪) grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism, and produced the largest body of literature in Chinese history of any sect or tradition. The teachers claiming Huineng's posterity began to branch off into numerous different schools, each with their own special emphasis, but all of which kept the same basic focus on meditation practice, personal instruction, and personal experience. The proliferation of the Chán school during this time in the Tang Dynasty is described in a famous saying:
"Look at the territory of the house of Tang —
The whole of it is the realm of the Chán school."
During the late Tang and the Song periods, the tradition continued, as a wide number of eminent teachers, such as Mazu, Shitou, Baizhang, Huangbo, Linji, and Yunmen developed specialized teaching methods, which would variously become characteristic of the Five Houses of Chán. The traditional five houses were Caodong, Linji, Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen. This list does not include earlier schools such as the Hongzhou school (洪州宗) of Mazu.
It was scholar D.T. Suzuki's contention that a spiritual awakening was always the goal of Chán's training, but that part of what distinguished the tradition as it developed through the centuries in China was a way of life radically different from that of Indian Buddhists. In Indian Buddhism, the tradition of the mendicantprevailed, but Suzuki explained that in China social circumstances led to the development of a temple and training-center system in which the abbot and the monks all performed mundane tasks. These included food gardening or farming, carpentry, architecture, housekeeping, administration (or community direction), and the practice of folk medicine. Consequently, the enlightenment sought in Chán had to stand up well to the demands and potential frustrations of everyday life.
Over the course of Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen schools were gradually absorbed into the Linji. During the same period, the various developments of Chán teaching methods crystallized into the gōng'àn (koan) practice which is unique to this school of Buddhism. According to Miura and Sasaki, "[I]t was during the lifetime of Yüan-wu's successor, Dahui Zonggao (大慧宗杲; 1089–1163) that Koan Zen entered its determinative stage." Gōng'àn practice was prevalent in the Linji school, to which Yuanwu and Dahui belonged, but it was also employed on a more limited basis by the Caodong school. The teaching styles and words of the classical masters were collected in such important texts as the Blue Cliff Record (1125) of Yuanwu, The Gateless Gate (1228) of Wumen, both of the Linji lineage, and the Book of Equanimity (1223) of Wansong, of the Caodong lineage. These texts record classic gōng'àn cases, together with verse and prose commentaries, which would be studied by later generations of students down to the present.
Chán continued to be influential as a religious force in China, and thrived in the post-Song period, with a vast body of texts being produced up and through the modern period. While traditionally distinct, Chán was taught alongside Pure Land Buddhism in many Chinese Buddhist monasteries. In time much of the distinction between them was lost, and many masters taught both Chán and Pure Land.
Chán Buddhism enjoyed something of a revival in the Ming Dynasty with teachers such as Hanshan Deqing (憨山德清), who wrote and taught extensively on both Chán and Pure Land Buddhism; Miyun Yuanwu (密雲圓悟), who came to be seen posthumously as the first patriarch of the Ōbaku Zen school; as well as Yunqi Zhuhong (雲棲株宏) and Ouyi Zhixu (藕溢智旭).
After further centuries of decline, Chán was revived again in the early 20th century by Hsu Yun (虛雲), a well-known figure of 20th century Chinese Buddhism. Many Chán teachers today trace their lineage back to Hsu Yun, including Sheng-yen (聖嚴) and Hsuan Hua (宣化), who have propagated Chán in the West where it has grown steadily through the 20th and 21st century.
Chán was repressed in China during the recent modern era in the early periods of the People's Republic, but has more recently been re-asserting itself on the mainland, and has a significant following in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as among Overseas Chinese. 
Thiền in Vietnam
See also: Buddhism in Vietnam
Thiền monks performing a service in Huế.
Thiền Buddhism (禪宗 Thiền Tông) is the Vietnamese name for the school of Zen Buddhism. Thiền is ultimately derived from the Chinese Chán Zōng (禪宗), itself a derivative of the SanskritDhyāna.
According to traditional accounts of Vietnam, in 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci (Vietnamese: Tì-ni-đa-lưu-chi) traveled to Vietnam after completing his studies with Sengcan, the third patriarch of Chinese Chán. This, then, would be the first appearance of Vietnamese Thiền Buddhism. The sect that Vinitaruci and his lone Vietnamese disciple founded would become known as the oldest branch of Thiền. After a period of obscurity, the Vinitaruci School became one of the most influential Buddhist groups in Vietnam by the 10th century, particularly so under the patriarch Vạn-Hạnh (died 1018).
Other early Vietnamese Zen schools included the Vô Ngôn Thông, which was associated with the teaching of Mazu, and the Thảo Đường, which incorporated nianfo chanting techniques; both were founded by Chinese monks. A new school was founded by one of Vietnam's religious kings; this was the Trúc Lâm school, which evinced a deep influence from Confucian and Taoist philosophy. Nevertheless, Trúc Lâm's prestige waned over the following centuries as Confucianism became dominant in the royal court. In the 17th century, a group of Chinese monks led by Nguyên Thiều established a vigorous new school, the Lâm Tế, which is the Vietnamese pronunciation of Linji. A more domesticated offshoot of Lâm Tế, the Liễu Quán school, was founded in the 18th century and has since been the predominant branch of Vietnamese Thiền.
The most famous practitioner of syncretized Thiền Buddhism in the West is Thích Nhất Hạnh who has authored dozens of books and founded Dharma center Plum Village in France together with his colleague Chan Khong, Bhikkhuni and Zen Master.
Seon in Korea
See also: Buddhism in Korea
Seon monk in Seoul Korea
Seon was gradually transmitted into Korea during the late Silla period (7th through 9th centuries) as Korean monks of predominantly Hwaeom (華嚴) and Consciousness-only (唯識) background began to travel to China to learn the newly developing tradition. During his lifetime, Mazu had begun to attract students from Korea; by tradition, the first Korean to study Seon was named Peomnang (法朗). Mazu's successors had numerous Korean students, some of whom returned to Korea and established the nine mountain (九山) schools. This was the beginning of Chán in Korea which is called Seon.
Seon received its most significant impetus and consolidation from the Goryeo monk Jinul (知訥) (1158–1210), who established a reform movement and introduced koan practice to Korea. Jinul established the Songgwangsa (松廣寺) as a new center of pure practice. It was during the time of Jinul the Jogye Order, a primarily Seon sect, became the predominant form of Korean Buddhism, a status it still holds. which survives down to the present in basically the same status. Toward the end of the Goryeo and during the Joseon period the Jogye Order would first be combined with the scholarly 教 schools, and then be relegated to lesser influence in ruling class circles by Confucianinfluenced polity, even as it retained strength outside the cities, among the rural populations and ascetic monks in mountain refuges.
Nevertheless, there would be a series of important Seon teachers during the next several centuries, such as Hyegeun (慧勤), Taego (太古), Gihwa (己和) and Hyujeong (休靜), who continued to develop the basic mold of Korean meditational Buddhism established by Jinul. Seon continues to be practiced in Korea today at a number of major monastic centers, as well as being taught at Dongguk University, which has a major of studies in this religion. Taego Bou (1301–1382) studied in China with Linji teacher and returned to unite the Nine Mountain Schools. In modern Korea, by far the largest Buddhist denomination is the Jogye Order, which is essentially a Zen sect; the name Jogye is the Korean equivalent of Caoxi (曹溪), another name for Huineng.
Seon is known for its stress on meditation, monasticism, and asceticism. Many Korean monks have few personal possessions and sometimes cut off all relations with the outside world. Several are near mendicants traveling from temple to temple practicing meditation. The hermit-recluse life is prevalent among monks to whom meditation practice is considered of paramount importance.
Currently, Korean Buddhism is in a state of slow transition. While the reigning theory behind Korean Buddhism was based on Jinul's "sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation", the modern Korean Seon master, Seongcheol's revival of Hui Neng's "sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation" has had a strong impact on Korean Buddhism. Although there is resistance to change within the ranks of the Jogye order, with the last three Supreme Patriarchs' stance that is in accordance with Seongcheol, there has been a gradual change in the atmosphere of Korean Buddhism.
The Kwan Um School of Zen, one of the largest Zen schools in the West, teaches a form of Seon Buddhism. Soeng Hyang Soen Sa Nim (b. 1948), birth name Barbara Trexler (later Barbara Rhodes), is Guiding Dharma Teacher of the international Kwan Um School of Zen and a successor of the late Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.