Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that emerged around 6th century into China by Indian Monk Bodhidhamma and that introduced into Japan around 12 Century. Zen Buddhism is emphasis on sitting meditation for the realizing of truths, no-self, emptiness and mind. The differences between Zen and other Buddhist sects is that Zen Buddhism exists as illogical and anti-intellectual which made students confused about how can Zen Buddhism be illogical and anti-intellectual? Today Zen Buddhist teaching becomes one of the most popular in the west and westerners are more likely to follow Zen teaching.All about Zen Buddhism is practice and experience it, not just idea, concept, theory, and dogma. We can assume that Zen may be the most non-verbal of the Buddhist teaching, supporting self-discipline as a way going on self-discovery.
In fact, Zen is inner or spiritual tradition that support simplicity the way of life and Zen teach people simply to observe the thought and feeling passing through the mind. Zen masters have found that enlightenment cannot be achieved by just following scripture, concepts and ideas but by practical action which is meditation.
There are the three main schools in Zen Buddhism which are Rinzai school, Soto school and Obaku school. Each school has its own methods of mediation.
Rinzai school takes the Koan method for meditation which focus on question. Koan literally means “a public document”. It now denotes some anecdote of an ancient master, or a dialogue between a master and monks or statement or questions put forward by a teacher, all of which are used as the means for opening one’s mind to the truth of Zen.
By following Koan method of meditation, Zen practitioners can eradicate the selfishness, ego consciousness, achieve the higher level and attain enlightenment.
And Soto school emphasis on sitting meditation for the attainment of enlightenment. Generally, there are three steps in Zen meditation which are the adaption of body, the adaption of breathing and adaption of mind. If somebody wants to practice Zen meditation, the master suggests them to observe and follow three-steps of meditation procedure and acquire these three steps in order to attain enlightenment.
Adaption of body
Adaption of body is important and necessary for those who practice Zen meditation in order to experience practical benefit of doing meditation. Zen Buddhism has two postures in doing meditation which are the lotus posture and the half-lotus postures. Zen Buddhism takes them to be successful for stilling the mind.
Adaption of breathing
In doing meditation, breathing exercising is one of the most important one in Zen meditation, it is unlike yoga. It is observation of breath count and the practitioners are supposed to count breathing in and breathing out in order to be stilling the mind.
Adaption of mind
And the third step is to try to adjust the mind, this is the difficult one that practitioners are supposed to train the mind till achieve the enlightenment. At beginning, the practitioners can hear the sound of breathing in and out. And the practitioners can notice and feel the way of breathing in and out. Then they aware of that breathing become subtle, so that the practitioners cannot be hear the sound of breathing in and out due to deep concentration. Once practitioners sink into deepen concentration, there is no more feeling of breathing in and out.
When Zen wants you to taste the sweetness of sugar, it will put required article right into your mouth and no further words are said.
It is true that if we want to know the taste of durian, we have to eat it, we cannot know the real taste of durian by explanation of somebody or description. We ourselves have to experience it to know. Likewise in Zen Buddhism, one can achieve the goal by practicing himself, not by reading and studying the scripture.
Zen Buddhism has become popularity in the west because the teaching methods emphasis on the right here and right now. The goal of Zen Buddhism is to achieve personal enlightenment through meditating. Zen Buddhism more emphasis on self-effort, experience, and self-discovery which we cannot learn from books, or concepts or ideas but we are able to achieve only by experience it ourselves.
Zen purposes to discipline the mind itself, to make it its own master, through an insight into its proper nature. This getting into the real nature of one’s own mind or soul is the fundamental object of Zen Buddhism.
Everyone has the Buddha-nature that can be achieved by practicing meditation and through a realization of self. So the most important thing is to discover the truth by ourselves. For the searching of ultimate truth, we have to look inside of us, we cannot find the true answer by searching outside ourselves, and we cannot find this truth by rational thought. There are no any cardinal doctrines or sacred books or dogmatic principles in Zen Buddhism to teach people. Therefore whatever teachings there are in Zen, the teachings are from their own mind. So that we can know that Zen Buddhism is something that not rely on ideas, concept, words even books but it has to be experienced in order to understand it and practice it to know the essence of Zen teaching. Zen Buddhism does not emphasis much on scripture than they practice with various ways. The most common and popular practice in Zen Buddhism is that direct communication between master and pupil in order to achieve enlightenment. According to Bodhidhamma, Zan is a special transmission outside of the scripture, not based on words or letters, a direct pointing to the heart of reality so that we might see into our own nature and wake up.
There are many Buddhist scriptures exist in Buddhism but not in Zen Buddhism because Zen teaching cannot be found in scripture the cause of Zen is not based on words or books. Zen teaching is transmitting from master to followers, mind to mind directly by teaching face to face or practicing ourselves. It is always practical and directly go to the point, and never recognize the circumlocutory way in Zen.
Zen deals with facts and not with their logical, verbal, prejudiced, and lame representations. Direct simplicity is the soul of Zen; hence its vitality, freedom, and originality.
It means that Zen accepts trues as trues, facts as facts, and to understand the words as words, there is nothing else. If we rely on much of logic and words, we are still far from liberation and go through much suffering. Mahavaipulyapurnabuddha sutra (The Perfect Awakening Sutra said that all the Buddha’s teaching are a finger pointing to the moon.
In order to understand the true nature of reality, we must experience it to know. Words description never gives the true nature of reality. To see the moon above, we use our finger for pointing it but we should know clearly that finger is not the moon. We used the finger is to guide people toward awakening. For example, one can describe many ways the delicious of food on menu but menu is not the food. In order to experience the real taste of food, you must eat it and chew it to experience delicious food with your own mouths and tongues. Likewise, Meditation practitioners rely on their masters and teaching for the right direction but they will not achieve just by relying on teaching but by realizing themselves and practicing themselves, they could be able to achieve the final goal.
Buddhist scripture often described the term ‘Not Self’ nature of all phenomena. We must consider the most important thing that everything is in the process of changing instantly or gradually into something else, everything is impermanence in order to aware of non-self and the concept of impermanence. People have the concept that A is A, A cannot be B or B cannot be A, but Not-Self describe that A is not A, B is not B, A can be B or B can be A. It is because A is no longer the A, nothing remains for the same. All things are perpetual change time to time. Impermanence is refer to not only physical phenomena but also psychological phenomena.
Emptiness in Zen
Zen Buddhism accept the doctrine of emptiness, and according to Bodhidharma, emptiness is the holiest and ultimate doctrine of Zen Buddhism which means that everything is emptiness including merits, knowing, nobility are empty. And Hui Neng, the sixth patriarch of the Zen sect in China, wrote this stanza.
The Bodhi (True Wisdom) is not like the tree; The mirror bright is nowhere shining: As there is nothing from the first, Where does the dust itself collect?
The stanza indicated that the doctrine of emptiness is the essence of Zen Buddhism and it also describe that physical objects, passions, religious teaching to eradicate delusion are empty.
There is distinction between Zen Buddhist teaching and other Buddhist school basically. Other Buddhist school more emphasis on studying Buddhist scripture and trying to understand the teaching of the Buddha but Zen Buddhist emphasize practice and direct experience rather than learning from scripture. Zen believes that meditation is only the way out of darkness into glorious light or to attain higher state of mind. In order to get understanding of reality, Zen practitioner depend their own experience. Zen Buddhism has a concept that everyone has a Buddha nature and there is only one way for the Zen practitioners to aware fully Buddha nature is to experience directly through meditation practice.
D.T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press, New York, 1964.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys, Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York 1974.
Dogen, A Primer of Soto Zen, (tran. Reiho Masunaga) University of Hawaii press, USA, 1995.
Robert Aitken, Taking the Path of Zen, North Point Press, New York, 1980.
Jean Smith, Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism, Crown Publishing Group, New York, 1999.
 Suzuki, D.T. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, New York: Grove Press, 1964, P.102
 ibid P.74
 Ibid P.40
 Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Keys, New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1974, P.34
 Suzuki, D.T., An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, New York: Grove Press, 1964, P.61
 Thich Nhat Hant, Zen Keys, New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1974, P.51
 Suzuki, D.T, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, New York: Grove Press, 1964, P.48