A First Zen Reader

A First Zen Reader

A First Zen Reader

A First Zen Reader

Excerpt

The Zen sect of Buddhism claims to transmit the special realization attained by Shakyamuni Buddha in the meditation posture under the bodhi tree at Gaya, after six years of austere spiritual practices and at the end of a long meditation (six days and nights, in one tradition). This realization freed him from all sufferings and limitations for ever. It was handed on by him to his disciple Kashyapa, and thereafter in unbroken lines through patriarchs and teachers in India, China, Korea, and Japan, transmitted "from heart to heart" as might be passed on a bowl of water without a drop being spilled. In China the sect split into a number of different lines. After dominating Buddhism for centuries it is now in decay in China but still influential in Japan. The two main surviving transmissions there are the Rinzai, which is divided into a number of subsects, and the Soto, to which about two-thirds of the Japanese temples belong.

The Rinzai and Soto agree on the main points; they differ in the stress given to certain elements in Zen, notably what is called koan. This is a sort of riddle, not completely solvable by the intellect, which is an artificial method of concentrating the energies of a spiritual student. The koan method was devised quite late in Zen history. The Rinzai emphasizes concentration on koan, especially those in the anthologies Hekiganroku and Mumonkan. The Soto, though it has its own collection, the Shoyoroku, does not make so much of them, pointing out that the masters of the golden age of Zen in the T'ang dynasty did not rely on artificial koan. Mostly the koan are stories about these masters, though Hakuin (1685-1768) in 18th-century Japan devised . . .

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