Zen Buddhism

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Zen Buddhism was first introduced to China by a South-

Indian man called Bodhidharma in around 520 CE. Bodhidharma, according to

tradition, was a man so epic that he removed his own eyelids in order to win a

staring contest with a rock wall (from his severed eyelids sprang tealeaves, and thus,

the connection between Zen Buddhism and tea-drinking). The main teaching of Zen

is that of zazen, or seated meditation, and that only through meditation and action,

rather than cogitation, can one achieve enlightenment (Elwood, 127-132).

There are two main sects of Zen Buddhism: Rinzai and Soto. Rinzai is the older

of the two schools, and was introduced to Japan by Eisai, a Tendai monk who

traveled to China and was disappointed to see that the Tiantai temple had fallen into

shambles. Soto Zen was brought to Japan by Dogen, the illegitimate son of two

aristocratic parents. Dogen was also a Tendai monk who became disillusioned with

the faith, so he turned instead to the teachings of Eisai. After realizing that he

wasn't fond of the emphasis Eisai placed on koans—Zen anti-riddles, meant to

propel one into enlightenment—he moved on to Caodong monasteries, where he

found himself to be quite impressed with the Caodong way of thinking. Upon

hearing the Zen master berating a novice for falling asleep while meditating, Dogen

became enlightened and returned to Japan to write a book and start his own temple

(Elwood, 132-135).

Both Rinzai and Soto Zen Buddhism emphasize the importance of meditation in

reaching satori, or enlightenment, over logic and careful consideration. This theory

of doing to learn, rather than learning to do is presented by Hori when he discusses

the responsibilities of incoming officers in Rinzai monasteries-...

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...eparate from the time spent sitting zazen. This differs from Rinzai in that Rinzai

monks are meant to spend much of their zazen time repeating their koans in their

heads, waiting for the answer to come to them (Fischer 6).

Remembering that most of a monk's monastic life is meant to be conducive to

practicing Zen, it is safe to say that every waking moment of a Rinzai practitioner's

day should be spent in repetition of his given koan. Because of this one small thing,

this koan, it would seem that the lives of Rinzai monks and Soto monks, despite their

many outward similarities, are, in essence, completely different from each other.

Rinzai monks seek a bright flare of enlightenment, so that they may further

themselves on the path to nirvana, while Soto monks quietly live their lives and wait

for enlightenment to come to them, perhaps while raking some rocks.

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