Zen Buddhism

A Brief History

Someone below asked for a history of how ZenBuddhism came about, so I'll give new visitors a thumbnail sketch to start with, then you can delve into the mixed bag of Wiki discussions.

While reading this, try not to picture sweeping music, special effects, or CGI characters, and I'll try to stick to what's generally known and agreed upon. I think one of the most profound things we can learn from history is that our heroes and gurus were mere humans, and I hesitate to embellish this meager set of facts with metaphysics a la the Little Buddha movie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Buddha. (IMHO, there is one and only one good reason to watch it: Keanu Reeves http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keanu_Reeves, silent and shirtless ;-).


About 500 BC - The historical Buddha was an Indian prince named Siddhartha Gautama http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha. He was handsome, smart, and heir to a small but wealthy kingdom. His father loved him so much that he tried to shelter Siddhartha from all harm, ugliness, and despair. Bored with his wondrous, couch-potato existence, Siddhartha wandered out of the kingdom and thereby witnessed the daily forms of pain and suffering of life: It is said he came upon a sick person, an old person, and a dead person. (I doubt he had to travel far. Today, it's still so incredibly easy.) Not understanding what he was seeing, and getting evasive answers from dear old Dad, he left the palace grounds in search of the truth.

He studied with various spiritual teachers and tried a number of spiritual practices, including the strict rules of a group of wandering ascetics. Eventually, utterly frustrated and frighteningly emaciated, he left that group, got himself some chow, and sat down under a tree and vowed to sit there and meditate on his profound puzzles until he figured it all out.

Upon seeing the appearance of the Morning Star, he suddenly had the big "Aha!" or awakening ("Buddha" means "the awakened one").

It is said that he sat longer and thought about what he could possibly tell others. How could he teach a truth that cannot be expressed in words? Version 1.0 looked something like this (very roughly, and filled with my interpretations, of course):

  1. Unease, discomfort, and fear permeate our very lives. Often, Buddhism is said to be all about suffering. What a downer, and are we really suffering here on Ward's Wiki?! Allow me to put it another way: We all tend to feel a certain dissatisfaction. No matter how good things get, it's natural for us to want more. Okay, it still sounds like "life sucks and then you die". But this was just the first of the FourNobleTruths.

  2. The reason for this incessant dissatisfaction is our desire, our craving, our judgements. Our attachment to the outcome of our grasping behaviors leads us into a nasty feedback loop, starting at birth.

  3. Good news: You can dispel that clinging, without starving yourself or subsisting on ground pine needles.

  4. Function pointer to the EightfoldPath.

He taught others until his last breath. His disciples went in various directions across India, teaching what they had learned.

Zen Buddhism:

Zoom forward 1000 years, when a man known as Bodhidharma takes what he's learned in the temples of India and brings it to China. Buddhism has already spread to China, and he stops at some well-known temples, and finds that - like code maintained without tests or constant refactoring - things are getting a little stinky. He institutes a rigorous schedule, mostly consisting of simple meditation. I suppose the message was: What worked for Siddhartha will work for you. Thus began Ch'an (Meditation) Buddhism. (He's also given credit for starting the physical fitness curriculum - and defense against bandits - known today as KungFu?. This established the familiar relationship between Zen Buddhism and Eastern martial arts. Please, wave aside any KillBill training scenes that appear in your mind, and let's keep going.)

In 1191, EisaiZenji? (Zenji essentially means "Zen master"), a Japanese student of Ch'an Buddhism in China, returned to Japan and started the Rinzai school of ZenBuddhism. In 1244, another Japanese teacher, DogenZenji?, returned to Japan and founded what was later known as the Soto school of ZenBuddhism.

ZenBuddhism was inevitably influenced by Confucianism and Taoism while in China, and Shintoism in Japan. My sense is that Taoism had a much deeper effect on core Zen understanding than the other two.

American Zen Buddhism:

Like so many other things, Zen was introduced to America a number of times. Soyen Shaku spoke at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Most people are more familiar with D. T. Suzuki's talks and books from the 1930's, 40's and 50's, and how Zen influenced the counterculture during the Beat movement.

Zen in America is a very good book on the history of Zen in America. Most of the book is about four of the more well-known American Zen teachers, but the intro is a fascinating history: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568360304/102-0392927-0137756

I'm reluctant to suggest other books on Zen for a number of reasons: (1) There are so many, (2) they are so varied, (3) they can become a crutch (oh, can they ever!). Well, I'll suggest one that provides a gentle introduction, and also dispels numerous weird myths. Zen in the American Grain: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0882681583/102-0392927-0137756

What is this then?

Eating the whole bag of potato chips while watching reruns of Adam-12

Um, No. That's being a lazy bum. Zen is about finding your true self-nature, and it's not in the bottom of a potato chip bag.

Go to the back of the class.

Ahhh, but what if one's true nature is a couch potato?

Why talk about it? Why not find out?

One's true nature surfaces when one lets go of all ideas about what you have been and what you should be. What remains is a universal feeling, the so-called buddha nature, which is universal. Everyone including you, me and the dog has one, and it's all the same buddha nature.

A monk asked Chao-chou, "Has the dog Buddha nature or not?" Chao-chou said, "Mu." [MuAnswer] http://www.ibiblio.org/zen/gateless-gate/1.html

In other words: one's true nature can only be couch potato, if everybody is truly a couch potato.

Also see: SotoZen

Do you think that your meaning in life is being a couch potato? If not, why do you bother us? -- RaphaelWegmann?

No! You can't use logic here. You'll instantly fall into error. This thinking is beyond logic.

"beyond" is the wrong word here.

I can see this is rapidly going to deteriorate into a content-free nonsense parody, so I will attempt to introduce some content initially.

It is you and what you have added that is the content-free nonsense parody.

Exoteric answer: ZenBuddhism is a branch of Buddhism that grew out of Taoist and Confucian influences in the 6th and 5th centuries, CE. It emphasizes sitting meditation and, for some schools, koan study [WikiKoan, KoansMetaphorsAndParables]. The koan and words surrounding are the sources of the idea that Zen is nonsense.

From ZenConcepts (amended):

Some classic Buddhist concepts:

  1. Life is suffering (dukkha)
  2. Suffering is caused by selfish (rendered egoistic sometimes) craving
  3. There is a way out of suffering
  4. That way is the EightfoldPath

ThichNhatHanh gives an arguably more useful version of the FourNobleTruths in "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" (which is a very accessible introduction to Buddhism):
  1. Suffering Exists
  2. There is a cause to Suffering
  3. Well-Being (non-suffering) Exists
  4. There is a path to Well-Being (this is the EightfoldPath)

Zen (Japanese transliteration of Chinese Ch'an, transliteration of of Sanskrit dhyana, meaning meditation) focuses particularly on the following (non)concepts -

It would be better to say that the concept of an absolute self is delusion. There is a relative self, and it is writing this. universe is too small a term That's only one leg of the stool. Ethics and wisdom are also important. Zen emphasizes direct understanding through direct experience of reality, arising out of enlightenment. This is best accomplished by ZaZen according to the Zen school. Beginners practice ZaZen. Masters practice ZaZen. What's the difference? Sitting in ZaZen is not sufficient however, "If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out. " (This is a reference to "completion stage practices" which awaken Kundalini. If entered into with attachment this can cause insanity (East: Yogic illness. West: manic-depression, paranoia, even sensed UFO abduction. I've seen it! Do I hear Amen?). Kundalini is actually a Vedic/Indian ascetic practice that has been taken up by Buddhists & Western New-Agers.

  1. The many beings are numberless, I vow to save them
  2. Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them.
  3. Dharma gates are countless, I vow to wake to them
  4. Buddha's way is unsurpassed, I vow to embody it fully

Esoterically, Zen is about ordinary life. Just making breakfast, eating, washing the dishes. Action with no actor. The water flows but there is no flowing, no flow-er, no-one there to ask "What is flowing?" -- StevenNewton

So there are no people inhabiting the world? Wow.

The way I understand Zen (from HustonSmith? - TheWorldsReligions?), one of the basic ideas that sets it apart from other branches of buddhism is the concept that some ideas are impossible to communicate and/or reason about. The idea behind the apparently absurd koans is to practice breaking out of the prison of reason. I can see how many people feel this might apply to software development.... -- JohannesBrodwall

The emphasis on ZaZen (Sitting Zen) is a rather recent addition to Zen Buddism. Zen is also concerned with Sleeping Zen, Standing Zen, and Walking Zen. Alan Watts talks a lot about the contrast of Zen as practiced in its golden age, and Zen as it is practiced now. In fact, Alan Watts talks a lot, and is worth listening to. You can find some of his talks online at http://alanwatts.com; he really is quite comical at times!

Refactored ThreadMode to ZenBuddhismDiscussion -- StevenNewton
Ted (to Bill): "Ah, here it is, So-crates... 'The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.' That's us, dude!"

Don't See ZenoBuddhism...

Does anyone have references on zen before it was infected with buddhism? I have read small passages but would like more.

Huh? Zen has been Buddhist from day 1 along with Taoist influences. They have the same principle ideas. What part of Zen is it that you think is different from Buddhism?

Then where did zen come from? Why isn't it just buddhism? Clearly there must have been a separate zen movement for it to have been joined with buddhism.

Zen is a sub-branch of Mahayana Buddhism, in much the same manner that Methodist is a sub-branch of protestant Christianity. And in the same sense that you can't speak of Methodism having been a separate movement that joined with Christianity, you can't speak of Zen as being a separate movement that joined with Buddhism.

Buddhism is broadly speaking teachings based on Buddha's life. There are many different takes on what are the most important teachings, or best techniques to achieve enlightenment. There are 3 main schools Mahayana, Theraveda and Vajrayana (Tibetan/Tantric Buddhism). Zen is a sub school of the Mahayana school. It was influenced by Chinese thought when the Buddha's teachings were taken from India to China by Bodhidharma. In particular, there are strong influences of Taoism, which shares Buddhist thoughts on reality which comes from a parenting school called Yogacara. The Chinese name is Ch'an, which translates to Zen in Japanese. It is the name Zen that has come to be best known in the west. Also, many teachers are known by both Chinese and Japanese names.

See also DifferenceBetweenTaoismAndBuddhism.

Personally, I believe that the first Buddha or the person who is thought to be the first to find out about Buddha must have an experience of schizophrenia, at least from the recordings I read about that person whose name I just forgot, nah, I am rather unable to spell it. ;-)

Apart from that, having overcome schizophrenia myself, I have found the universal and obviously a pan-universal or transcendental state of mind, in that I find responsibility for all beings be it material, immaterial or rather anti-material.

As such, Buddhism is the lore of finding absolute responsibility for everything in existence: the being and non-being and finally non-existence, which in terms of modern particular physics is the additional dimensions that modern physics and meta physics is trying to find out about.

Quoting from above:

Suffering Exists

what I found out is that in all cultures religious persons have rather expressed their religious feelings by introducing self-suffering, be it either through hungering, abstinence of physical (sex) and mental pleasure (music, speech) and even physical pain, meaning that you will sit for hours afixed in a stoic position, enduring pain of muscles and bones, in order to finally overcome the self and associated with that the nature of oneself.

Being a computer scientist, I have been sitting in stoic positions myself for long hours before a screen, typing and thinking, overcoming physical pain and such all the while. As such, we have more and more people that finally found non-existence and draw their experience from that point. As with creativity, which is also heavily based on the non-existing part of our existence, in that we find the new where there was no old.

Yet, most of us do not recognize the responsibility they have, as they are too much afixed on the thought of making money from what they gained from all of us and our creative thought. Personally, I call them mind(less)-parasites in that they only apply their thought and nature to making money in the first place, yet leaving the quality of all structure behind.

Non-existence is the place to go for in Buddhism terms, yet they still do not know that they are headed towards there, in my belief.

As such, still quoting from above, there is no Well Being Exists, as it is only with the self that can be well being and not the communism, being a derived term from organism, the self.

Subsequently, well being can not exist in existence, be it the being or non-being, but can only exist in the non-existence, a place where we are all but one.

At least in my recognition, what is your opinion to that? -- CarstenKlein

Zen has nothing to do with this. Zen has nothing to do with zen either. -- EasternWuss

Still have one ;_)

Overcoming the self or rather the first incarnation of the ego, the I, is schizophrenia. A state of recognition of the wrong-doings of the world of humans or the self, in that we find the same hypothesis of and records on the first incarnation of the Buddha, or rather the human who found out about Buddha, what was his name again?

Now, overcoming the first incarnation of the I, the economic I nowadays and the days prior to that day far into the past where the first person overcame his schizophrenia and told of the lore of Buddhism at first, results in building up a new incarnation of the I, in my terms and thinking this is the We.

Next, we will have also to destroy the we, as we have destroyed the I. The next incarnation would be that of the Animal. Consider the post-hypnotic or post-alcoholic visions of John the Baptist, who saw the animal rising again, eventually throwing down Babylon and all what is considered to be part of it. As such we become the Deer or Animal again.

Next, we would have to become the organ, the cell and finally stone and gas or fluid and, perhaps, finally particle again. Destroying all of ourselves along the decline or rise to a more abstract yet even more responsible representation of the self.

However, quoting from the above, the goal of the eight-folded path is truly, from our non-animal any more position, the ninth path: non-existence, being one with everything, that is, finally reaching equilibrium or total turmoil whatever, in absolute undimensionality, at least in our comprehension.

I would like to hear your opinions on this one especially. -- CarstenKlein

Schizenphrenia: none of one, none of the other. -- EasternWuss


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