Zen Buddhism

1937 Words8 Pages
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 13th, 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 f...

... middle of paper ...

... 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.

More about Zen Buddhism

Open Document