Zen Origins

Throughout my research on the subject of Zen the one thing I learned is that there are apparently many different styles and forms. Although I have not investigated any particular style or form, it appears that you could learn Zen by engaging in a program of study. All programs about Zen do have a common thread and that is basically to learn more about you, who you are, and what type of person you want to be. Some programs focus on making your strengths stronger and working on your weaknesses. Some programs focus on helping you think in a whole new way and how you can feel good about who you are.

In Japan the school of Mahayana Buddhism teaches the philosophy of Zen by focusing on feelings and concentrating on the value of meditation and the school’s ultimate goal is achieving enlightenment. According to this school, to achieve enlightenment, the student must become completely involved and have direct experience with the teachings of Buddha. The philosophy of this school goes way beyond rules, laws, or doctrine. The student will generally have to dedicate his entire life to the pursuit of enlightenment and acquire an understanding through sitting meditation called Zazen and intense studying with a master.

To become a master of Zen to this degree requires the most serious of commitments and dedication and I feel quite sure that there a very few people in the world ready to pursue this type of lifestyle. Zen is a large part of everything I do and who I am but I am not ready, nor do I feel I will ever be ready to dedicate my life in pursuit of such a lofty quest. Through my own dedication to martial arts, meditation, and Yoga I feel that I am on a journey, or a mission if you will, to creating an increase in self awareness and the pursuit of a happier lifestyle leading to my own achievement of enlightenment. I would also like to add that Zen meditation is one of the most effective ways I have to found to reduce and avoid stress as well as a most effective way to relax.

Tao is a word that I have probably used before and loosely translated it means the way. Around 528 A.D. Bodhidharma said that Zen is much like Tao in that it really is difficult to explain if it can be explained at all. I’ll talk more about Bodhidharma later but I like what he said in that Zen really depends on your own personal intuition and your own personal view. He goes on to say that, “not dependent on the written word, transmission apart from the scriptures, directly point at one’s heart, seeing one’s nature, becoming Buddha.” So if you take into serious consideration the quote from this great teacher and master, you will start to realize that Zen is really an attitude and a philosophy on how you can live your life, and I very much like this point of view. One of the biggest reasons why I like this view point is because it allows you, me, and everyone else to achieve a calm, nonjudgmental, and peaceful life in relationship with a higher being.

Zen is about creating more awareness of everything around you including yourself and others. Zen is also about living in the moment and I will talk more about this shortly. Sometimes living in the moment is not an easy thing to do, but the more effort you put into it, the easier it will become. There is a paradox that is also very much a part of Zen. Actually that’s a good thing because sometimes a paradox can be so profound that your mind will begin to consider more than what goes on in your daily life. In some ways it picks up where the rational mind leaves off and increases your ability to become more intuitive. When your intuition takes over you may find truths that you had not discovered before because they had no place in logic or rationality.

I feel that Zen has a close association with Yin and Yang (balance.) I’ve said this before and at the risk of being redundant I will say it again because I feel it has great importance. Balance is the key to a happy and fulfilling life. Since Zen and balance share many of the same properties then you could say that Zen is everywhere and nowhere, it is everything and at the same time it is nothing, Zen is full and empty, and it is the beginning and the end. I do agree that is quite a narrow view and rudimentary, but that is a good thing also, because it will allow you to add your philosophical beliefs and psychic makeup to the mix. When this happens you will have created your ideal meaning of what Zen means to you.

There are some who would say that Zen, Tao, and Yin and Yang are baloney and they don’t really mean anything. That is absolutely fine because that’s what is right for them. Clearly this type of individual is not ready for deeper spiritual development and that’s okay too because some things cannot be rushed and truthfully, they shouldn’t be.

When you are aware of yourself and mindful regarding the way of Zen you begin to realize the rudimentary beginning of Zen is very simple; focus on being in the here and now, enjoy each moment of your life as much as you can, and meditate on this action often. Of course there are additional philosophies you may wish to incorporate into your daily Zen practice such as caring, forgiveness, and gratitude and those choices are purely up to you, however, I would encourage you to include all three and any others you feel necessary to help you along the path to Zen practice and enlightenment.

Zen Master Professor Masunaga Reiho explains in his book, “Zen for Daily Living,” that defining Zen is a difficult thing to do. To create a definition of Zen is to limit it in some way and when you try to turn it into a concept that can be explained, you basically create an abstract from all that Zen is and end up with a small part of the big picture, and not a true representation of what Zen really is. Master Reiho goes on to say that Zen is rooted in the deepest life flow. It is not bound by words, laws, sutras, and doctrine. It does not depend on the teachings of the Buddhist scriptures as it focuses and permeates to the very inherent nature of man, and this is called becoming the Buddha. Master Reiho says from the very beginning Zen emphasizes human dignity. The important aspect is the experience of Zen. A student asked the master, “what is Zen?” and the master replied, “Zen is Zen.”

Zen has very close ties and is deeply rooted in the martial arts and other Asian sports. I was privileged to live in Japan for a couple of years during my mid twenties. It was here I began my training in the martial arts and I found many influences of Zen in Judo, Karate, and Kendo. I studied and practiced Shotokan Karate, a very orthodox Japanese style. The development of Karate in Japan is called Shorinji Kempo and Bodhidharma is considered to be the creator. A close parallel to formal Zen training is a formal program of study in all styles of martial arts; there is always a master and a student.

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who introduced Zen in China and he began training monks of the Shaolin Temple. He lived in the early fifth century and is considered the father of Zen Buddhism. The history of Bodhidharma is infused with legend and it is somewhat sketchy. Indian history claims he is the third son of a Tamil Pallava King from Kanchipuram, however, the Japanese believe he came from Persia. There are a few historical accounts that over the centuries have become legend and are very popular in the Zen teachings to this day. According to the Anthology of the Patriarchal Hall, Bodhidharma has been identified as the twenty-eighth Patriarch of Buddhism in an unbroken linage that goes all the way back to the Buddha himself.

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