Ch " an and Zen Buddhism Throughout the early years in many East Asian countries, there were many people who were looking for answers to this world's, and otherworldly, questions. When Gotama became enlightened, and began preaching the practices of Buddhism, it came at such a time when the Han dynasty was collapsing, citizens were tired of Confucianism and looking for a new ideology that they could put there hearts and souls into. Over the years, Buddhism proved to be much more than just a religion; it became a way of life. But over time, the powerful orthodoxy transformed, and many different Buddhist sects emerged.
One of the more popular sects, Ch " an, or Zen, Buddhism, has become one of the most influential religions in China and Japan, and is still flourishing today. In the year 220 AD, as the Han dynasty was collapsing, Confucianism, then the state ideology, began to lose its popularity. This, along with the demise of the Han order, set up a situation in which the people of China were hungry for new ideas. There were also many dignitaries within the Chinese government that were looking to gain good political footing in order to ensure staying power. These factors all opened up the gate for Buddhism to enter Chinese society and gain popularity with the Chinese culture. At first, Buddhism was transmitted to the different East Asian countries via the Silk Road, but as its domination grew, many people began to interpret their own meaning of the Buddhist doctrines that had been translated from Indian to Chinese.
"By the fourth century AD a much greater number of sutras were available in both north and south China, and the Chinese were beginning to realize the immensity of Buddhist literature." Buddhism did not reach Japan, however, until October 13 th, 538, from the Korean kingdom of Paekche. At this point in time, there were two major schools of Buddhism in China. The first form to emerge was known as Hinayana, or Theravada Buddhism. This loosely translated means, "The Lesser Vehicle." Theravada Buddhism was mainly concerned with reaching individual enlightenment; how one could rise above the cycle of samsara and reach nirvana. Mahayana Buddhism, or, "The Great Vehicle," became the popular form practiced in most of China, Japan and Korea. The followers of Mahayana believed that the entire world could reach salvation, and that those who follow Theravada were selfish for only fulfilling personal enlightenment.
The bodhisattva, someone who has become enlightened but prolongs his / her entry to nirvana in order to save others, became the ideal, for it was the bodhisattva that was in search of universal salvation. A few years before Buddhism gained a following in Japan, Bodhidharma took early Ch " an thoughts to China from India in 520 AD. When Bodhidharma arrived in China, it was not known as Ch " an yet, simply a school of meditation. This idea was further built on by another Chinese ideology at the time: Taoism. Taoists exalted intuition over reason, a tradition easily absorbed into the Chinese meditation school of the Ch " an. "There is a legend the Buddha was once handed a flower and asked to preach on the law.
The story says he received the blossom without a sound and silently wheeled it in his hand. Then amid the hush his most perceptive follower, Kashyapa, suddenly burst into a smile... and thus was born the wordless wisdom of Zen." Within two centuries, the meditation school had divided into two factions: Northern Ch " an and Southern Ch " an. The northern school, a short-lived affair, insisted on a doctrine of gradual enlightenment. The southern school, which became the more dominant of the two, held to a doctrine of instantaneous enlightenment. The southern school evolved under the powerful influence of Hui-n eng (638-713), who is recognized as the sixth great patriarch of Ch " an and the founder of its modern interpretation.
In fact, the forms of Ch " an and Zen still practiced today originate from his teachings. Hui-n eng is the most well known of all the patriarchs, and receives the most, if not all, credit for Ch " an and Zen Buddhism. In a sermon recorded as the "Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch," which has since been shortened to The Platform Sutra, Hui-n eng taught that all people possess the Buddha nature and that one's nature (before and after being born) is originally pure. Instead of undertaking a variety of religious obligations to seek salvation, one should discover one's own nature. The traditional way to do this, sitting in meditation, is useless. If one perceives one's own nature, enlightenment will suddenly follow.
Hui-n eng was preaching on a form of Buddhism that the people of China had never heard of before, and they liked it. The goal of adherents to the southern Ch " an is to gain transcendental, or highest, wisdom from the depths of one's unconscious, where it lies dormant. Ch " an tries to attain enlightenment without the aid of uncommon religious observances: study, scriptures, ceremonies, or good deeds, all things that the people of East Asia had been used to doing in order to reach the salvation that they desired. Reaching the highest wisdom comes as a breakthrough in one's everyday logical thought. Followers are urged to find, within themselves, the answer to any question raised within because the answer is believed to be found where the question originates.
Training in the methods of meditation leading to such enlightenment is best transmitted from master to disciple. Ch " an flourished in China during the T'ang and Sung dynasties (960-1279), a time known as the Golden Age, and its influences were strongly felt in literature and painting. Ch " an declined during the Ming era (1141-1215), when Ch " an masters took up the practice of trying to harmonize meditation with the study of traditional scriptures. When Buddhism was introduced to Japan, the ruler of Paekche presented the Japanese imperial court with a bronze image of Sakyamuni (The Buddha), banners, and several manuscripts of Buddhist scriptures. The Paekche ruler told emperor Kimmei how Buddhism came to China and Korea from India, and that it was always looked at with the highest respect and regard wherever it went.
Within the next century, the Buddhist faith was quickly established as the state orthodoxy. The successor of Kimmei, Bidatsu, was not a supporter of Buddhism. Yomei, the successor of Bidatsu, became the first emperor to believe in Buddhism. After becoming ill, he desired to have an image of Bhaisajya guru Tathag ata or Yak ushi-Nyo rai made. His will was carried out by his younger sister, empress Seiko, who placed the image at Horyuji Temple after his death. Her reign (592-628) marks a high point in the development of Buddhism in the pre-Nara period in Japan.
Prince Shotoku, the son of Emperor Yomei, soon gained power within the state, and it was during this time, the Shotoku Era, in which Buddhism flourished. Temples were built and a sixteen-foot bronze image of the Buddha was built. There were about 46 Buddhist temples, 816 priests, and 569 nuns by the year 623. He built the temples Shitennoji, Horyuji, Chuguniji, and many others. Horyuji was the center of Buddhist studies in Nara and Shitennoji, in Osaka, was the center of social welfare activities.
These temples are renowned not just because they are some of the oldest in the world, but also because of the impact that they had on Japanese society and culture. Prince Shotoku did not found a school of Buddhism, nor was he ever a priest of any kind. He did, however, establish and spread Japanese Buddhism through his devotion of the ideology. Because of this, he is considered the real founder of Japanese Buddhism, and opened the door for Zen Buddhism to appear later in Japanese history. It was during this later time in Japan's history that sects of Zen, Ch " an's Japanese counterpart, had been transplanted into the country.
The Rinzai school was taken there in 1191 by the Buddhist priest Eisai (1145-1215), and the Soto tradition arrived in 1227, taken there by Do gen (1200-1253), the most revered figure in Japanese Zen. These schools had their origin in China during the 9 th century, when Ch " an divided into five sects that differed from each other in minor ways. Eisai was not only instrumental in the creation of the Rinzai school, but also in introducing tea drinking ceremonies to the people of Japan. First popular in China, the tea drinking ceremony was elevated quickly within Japanese society; during the ninth century, when the tea ceremonies were introduced to Japan, the Japanese had fine tastes for all things Chinese, and were very excited to find this new Chinese tradition. Eisai made tea a staple in most Buddhist temples during the twelfth century, reveling in its medicinal value and even hailing it as a stimulant that should be used in order to stay awake while meditating. The Rinzai sect evolved from the work of Lin-chi (? -866), who was an exponent of sudden enlightenment.
The Soto was founded by Liang-chief (? -869) and Pen-chi (? -901). The Soto stressed quiet sitting in meditation to await enlightenment. A third group, the Obaku, was established in 1654. The Obaku school is closer to the Rinzai tradition except for its emphasis on invoking the name of Buddha. Zen gained an enthusiastic following among the Samurai warrior class and became, in effect, the state religion in the 14 th and 15 th centuries. In the 16 th century, Zen priests were diplomats and administrators, and they enhanced cultural life as well.
Under their influence literature, art, the cult of the tea ceremony, and the No drama developed. The focal point of Zen Buddhism is the monastery, where masters and pupils interact in the search for enlightenment. A newcomer arrives at a monastery with a certificate showing that he is a regularly ordained people of a priest. He is at first refused entry. Finally being admitted, he spends a few days of probation being interviewed by his master. When he is accepted he is initiated into the community life of humility, labor, service, prayer and gratitude, and meditation.
Modern day Zen Buddhism has been spreading to parts of Europe and North America during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The next generation of Zen teachers are setting up centers all over this country, and accepting new students on their own authority. Members of these Zen centers are beginning to stress the importance of open communication, talking more with each other and other representatives of other religions. Many of the new centers are combinations of Soto and Rinzai from Japan, Ch " an from China, and Son from Korea. It is still too soon to tell if these new factions throughout our country and Europe will be as much of a success as those of the Eastern Asian countries proved to be; as one Japanese Zen master recently stated, "The first hundred years are the hardest." This statement seems to be true so far, with modern Zen's popularity growing and subsiding. There is an old Zen adage that offers some of the new Zen teachers encouragement: Though the bamboo forest is dense, Water flows through it freely.
Many people believe that the water is beginning to make its way through the forest, opening people's eyes and hearts to the reality of Zen. Japan and China have always remained very similar in most everything that is done within the countries. Borrowing from each other, the two countries have shared quite a lot in common. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Ch " an and Zen Buddhism are very similar. While many people were not sure if these two factions of Buddhism would remain strong in both countries, followers of the two religions have proved the skeptics wrong.