|What is Zen?
Zen does not teach the answers. Rather it teaches a path for self-discovery and enlightenment.
The story of Buddhism goes back to Shakyamuni Buddha, the first Teacher. Tradition has it he was born about 2500 years ago as Siddharta Gautama, a prince in the Shakya tribe, as the heir to a small kingdom just below the Himalayan foothills.
In his late 20's the prince renounced his life and set out, in rags, to discover truth. Initially he endured many years of extreme self-denial and penance, meditating constantly until his body was so weak he could no longer meditate properly. After accepting nourishment, he resolved to find an answer to life and suffering. As he then meditated he gained enlightenment and became the Buddha: The Enlightened One. His own suffering over, he resolved to share the path with others.
He described a true path, one that was neither the pleasure he had as a prince, nor the severe asceticism that he had practised; a middle path:
To satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom and keep our mind strong and clear.
Buddha taught the Dharma, which consisted of the Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths:
- the Cause of Suffering,
- the End of Suffering,
- and the Path of Morality, Meditation, and Wisdom that leads to the End of Suffering.
Slowly Buddhism spread from India, north-west into Central Asia, and then into China by the first century CE, where
Ch'an, as one school was known, spread into Japan in the 12th century, where Ch'an became Zen.
Zen in the West
At the start of the 20th century, a few dedicated Japanese Zen teachers started teaching in the USA. Zen texts began to circulate. American Zen students then went to study in Japan, amongst them Richard Kapleau and Robert Aitken, who later went on to be one of the first western Zen masters.
Zen training prepares a ground for the grace of awakening. It is a way of transformation with many different facets:
- listening to talks
- entering into retreats
- participating in workshops
- experiencing a Teacher face-to-face in Dokusan
- studying texts