Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Buddhism 107-What is Zen?

This excellent article was written by Glenn Borken for the Fort Lauderdale Examiner


Let's continue our "Examination" of Buddhism and its relationship to the New Age. We began with Buddhism 101-who was the Buddha?, and explored the divergence of the Religion founded Siddhartha Gautama into two main branches, the Northern (Mahayana or "Higher Vehicle") and the Southern (Theravada or "Teachings of the Elders"). We discussed Kuan Yin, whose worship emerged from the Northern School. This article will discuss Zen Buddhism, a popular variant of the Mahayana School, especially in China and Japan.
The word Zen (abbreviation for “Zazen” in Japanese) or Chan (in Chinese) is a translation of the Sanskrit word Dhyana (meditation) It all began with a flower, or more specifically, the "Flower Sermon. According to Legend, Zen Buddhism began with the Flower Sermon, given silently by Siddhartha Gautauma, the Buddha, to the Arahants. Wordlessly, he lifted up a single flower and waited for an answer. Moments passed,but none responded save one. This was Mahakashyapa, who you may remember, later succeeded the Buddha as leader of the Sangha, after the Buddha passed into Paranirvana. The response was simple; he smiled. It is taught, that, through this simple interraction between the Buddha and Mahakashyapa, a special insight was shared.
Bodhidharma, the founder of Chan/Zen, a student of the lineage of Mahakashyapa, was a Bhikkhu (monk) from south India, who travelled to China around the fith century C.E.. He came to China to preach a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not rely upon words". Huike, a disciple of Bodhidharma, became his successor and the first Chinese patriarch of Zen in China. Huike was followed by Sengcan, Dao Xin, Hongren and Huineng.
Over the next thousand years, Zen grew to be the largest Buddhist Sect in China. Zen was introduced into Japan in the seventh century C.E., and was being taught throughout Japan by the eighth and ninth centuries C.E., Zen had to overcome many social hurdles in Japan since it was considered a "foreign religion". However, it began to prosper during the early Kamakura period (1185-1333 C,E,), because it had found its path to the Japanese nobility.
Meanwhile, during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 C.E.) in China, the Koan (anecdote) technique had been devised. Koans, a technique exclusive originally to Zen, are a type of baffling riddle, a teaching tool used to break down the barriers to enlightenment, in order to train the mind to achieve Satori(sudden awareness).
Koans and Satori are the central aspects of Zen, which also embraces the practice of Zazen, a type of mediation that involves sitting cross-legged in deep contemplation. Koan literarily means "A public document". It refers to a statement made by a Zen Master or a discussion between master and Student, the purpose of which is to open the mind and perception to the truth. These are questions or riddles used by the Zen Master to aid in finding the truth behind the everyday images of reality. These are not rational questions with linear conclusions.
“When your mind is not dwelling on the dualism of good and evil, what is your original face before you were born?"
“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
A monk asked, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the west?". Master Joshu answered, "The cypress tree in the courtyard".
Many American Teachers, who do not consider themself Buddhists, have made use of the Koan Technique to aid others to reach Enlightenment, whether you call it Nirvana, Satori, orthe Kingdom of Heaven within you.
We New Agers welcome any technique which may unite one with the Higher Self, which we call, simply, "Spirit", so Zen Koans, with their potential as a Metaphysical Technique, not to mention their sense of humor, hold a special place in our hearts.

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