Zen, the Japanese translation for the Chinese Chan, is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. Zen emphasizes strict, regular meditation practices and experiential wisdom — particularly as realized in the form of meditation known as zazen —in the attainment of enlightenment. It has a reputation for de-emphasizing both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct, experiential realization.
The establishment of Chan (Zen) is traditionally credited to the Indian prince turned monk Bodhidharma who is recorded as having come to China to teach a “special transmission outside scriptures” which “did not stand upon words”. The emergence of Chan as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century AD. It is thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahayaha Buddhist thought — such as the Yogacara and Madhyamaka philosophies and the Prajnaparamita literature — and of local traditions in China, particularly Taoism and Huáyán Buddhism. From China, Chan subsequently spread southwards to Vietnam and eastwards to Korea and Japan. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Zen also began to establish a notable presence in North America and Europe. Read more