Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. 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 self-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 South Indian Pallava prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, who came to China to teach a "special transmission outside scriptures, not founded on words or letters". 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.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.
|Liveleak on Facebook|