Zen is one of the most famous schools of Buddhism in the Western World.
It it one of the first have been popularized in the 60’s by such people
as Alan Watts, Taisen Deshimaru and Roshi Suzuki. Its history dates
back to 1227 in Japan and even before that in China, though.
Japan, there are two main schools of Zen now in Japan: the Soto Zen,
and the Rinzai Zen. A third one called Obaku also exists but is much
smaller (420 temples in Japan). Soto is the biggest with 14,000 temples
in Japan alone.
Zen is a word coming from the
Chinese Chán, which comes from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which means
“meditation” or “meditative state”. It explains easily the emphasis of
the school on meditation to achieve personal enlightment in this life
as opposite to other schools that promise Nirvana after death.
Soto was brought to Japan by Zenji Dogen,
co-patriarch along with Keizan Jōkin (Who, interestingly was actually 4
generations younger than Dogen and was never patriach of Eihei-ji).
traveled to China to find true Buddhism and found it in the form of
Zen. In 1227, he moved back to Japan and established a dojo at Kenninji
in Kyoto upon his arrival but was driven away by the Tendai warrior
monks as they deemed Dogen’s doctrine of sitting in meditation to
attain illumination blasphemous.
After a while, he settled in the modern-day prefecture of Fukui, and founded Eihei-ji.
here led a reclusive monastic life with his followers. He taught them a
strict way of life and a form of Buddhism devoid of complicated rituals
but after his early death, the disciples split and some prayers and
incantations were introduced in the daily rituals.
Keizan Jōkin (1286—1325) started
to spread Soto Zen to the rest of Japan and established another head
temple in Kanagawa prefecture, called Sōji-ji. By the 1700s Soto
counted more than 16,000 temples.
like every schools of Zen, uses as its main text the Heart Sutra. They
also use the Lotus sutra (The “Avalokiteshvara Boshisattava Universal
Gateway” Chapter of the Lotus Sutra (Kannongyo) and the “Life Span of
the Tathagata Chapter” of the Lotus Sutra (Juryohon). They also use the
bonmōkyō or Brahma Net Sutra.
They also rely heavily on
the texts written by Dogen called Meaning of Practice and Verification
(Shushogi), Fukanzazengi (Universally Recommended Instructions for
Zazen). Dogen’s teaching is speaks of the practice itseld being part of
enlightenment. This is to be found in the Shobogenzon.
The main image
temples almost all have an image of Shakyamuni Buddha , the historical
Buddha at their main object of worship (Honzon) as he is the one who
taught the world to meditate to gain illumination.
They also recite Namu-Shakyamuni-Butsu
(Homage to Shakyamuni Buddha) as the main chant to praise him.
According to the official website of SotoShu, the main doctrine is:
We are all children of the Buddha and come into this world endowed with
the Buddha-Mind (busshin). However, failing to realize this, we live
selfish, willful lives, causing much suffering.
If we make
repentance to the Buddha and take refuge in him, our minds will come to
rest, our lives will experience harmony and light, and we will rejoice
in being of service to society. We will also experience the deep faith
that will allow us to stand up under any hardship. To discover
happiness and a life worth living is the teaching of the Soto Zen
Many Zendo or meditation centers offer Zen teachings around the world. Most of them are grouped under the name Soto Zen Buddhist Association and most non-Japanese teachers are found under this banner.
If you would like to study it in Japan, a few temples accept foreigners. The list can be found here with links to the temples and contact information.
You could also try this Zen training in Oita prefecture at a temple called Tetsugyuji.
note that most of them are a temple lodge (Shokubo) and will consider
you as guests. You will be expected to pay for your accomodation.
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