Daniel Shakhmundes, Zain Dinath, Derek Pritchett, Rachel Tiano - Chinese Philosophy (PHIL 2P17) - 2005-03-28

Zen Buddhism

History of Zen

The name Zen (Ch’an in Chinese) was derived from the attempt to render the Sanskrit term dhyana meaning “meditation” into Japanese and Chinese. Ch’an Buddhism is a derivative of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism and stresses meditation over adherence to scriptures or doctrine.

According to legend, an Indian monk Bodhidharma, who arrived in China in about 520, founded the school. He taught the Lankavatara Sutra which taught “conscience only”. His insight was then transmitted through a series of Chinese patriarchs; the most famous was the Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng.

Hui Neng stressed the Platform Sutra, which defines enlightenment as the direct seeing of ones original nature, which is the Buddha nature. The 8th and 9th centuries produced many great Ch’an masters such as Ma-tsu, Huang Po, and Lin-chi. Later, Korean monks studying in China learned of Zen and spread it to Japan in the seventh century.

Purpose of Zen

"Awakening - or satori - is the fundamental aim of Zen. It is seeing into your nature, realizing your own Buddhahood, freeing yourself from the cycle of birth and death."

When Buddhism first came to China Taoism and Confucianism heavily influenced it. This resulted in meditation being understood not as concentration as in India, but as things such as conserving energy, reducing desires, living in the here and now etc. Therefore, the Ch’an School put meditation at the center of its practice. Followers gave up the study of traditional Buddhist scriptures to pursue a more intuitive way of enlightenment through meditation, physical training and the study of illogical puzzles known as koans. Koans force one’s intellect to consider impossible scenarios until it becomes exhausted, realizes the futility in searching for an answer and gives up. Once the intellect is out of the way, enlightenment (satori) is more readily attained.

It is a common tenet of Buddhism that the direct perception of reality (enlightenment or satori) is necessary to liberate oneself from the cycle of death and rebirth. Satori attained from Zen is not an understanding obtained through intellectual analysis, but rather it is an awareness obtained through a direct experience. The ultimate purpose of Zen practice is to reach the same enlightened state of mind as the Buddha did. Zen meditation is designed to prevent the mind from distractions and achieve wisdom and ultimately reach enlightenment.

Similarities between the Northern and Southern Schools

Both schools started out with the major premise that Nirvana is identical with the original substance of the Buddha-mind, which is the same as Buddha-nature, and the Buddha-nature is in all men so that all men can become Buddha’s.

Both schools remain within the Buddhist traditions of idealism and universal salvation.

Differences between the Northern and Southern Schools

The Northern school taught that the pure mind arises from absolute quietude and does so only after erroneous thoughts are eliminated

The Southern school insists that the mind cannot be split into parts and that all of its activities are functions of Thus-ness (True Reality).

Northern school considers the mind in its undisturbed state as calmness (Samadhi) and the senses in their undisturbed state as wisdom (Prajna).

Southern school refuses to accept the distinction, regarding both as of one substance and not two. It affirms the unity of the mind and everything else.

Various Methods of Realization

Absence of thought; Forgetting our feelings; Letting the mind take its own course; Travel; Never tell too plainly; Koan; Shouting and Beating

Mundane Mysteries and Super Mundane Mysteries

When a commoner suddenly becomes a sovereign it is called a mundane mystery.

If in the 1st stage of one’s spiritual progress (10 stages)

The initial resolve to perfect wisdom has a correspondence with truth

They will immediately achieve Buddha hood.

These types of mysteries are in accord with the Buddha principle of sudden enlightenment.

Sudden Enlightenment VS. Gradual Enlightenment

Gradual enlightenment comes from the other teachings of Buddhism, which emphasizes on gradual steps towards enlightenment. This means loading the mind of knowledge to understand.

Sudden enlightenment is the belief of Zen Buddhism. It follows the Buddhist principle having no attachment to the self.

Zen Buddhism attempts to achieve nirvana without renouncing life and death (different from other Buddhist teachings)

Why is ignorance the same as spontaneity (Tzu-Jan)”

“Because ignorance and Buddha-nature come into existence spontaneously” (pg.443)

One is the basis for the other, therefore when one exists, the other exists and without one there cannot be the other

An example: It is like gold and minerals; they both come into existence at the same time. After a master has smelted and refined the material, gold and the minerals will be differentiated and further smelting the residual mineral will become dust.

Gold is an analogy of the Buddha-nature and minerals an analogy of afflictions resulting from passions.

Therefore the afflictions and Buddha-nature exist simultaneously. If only one exists the other cannot, until all is rid and the purity shows through (gold)

The Recorded Conversation of Zen-Master I-Hsuan

Physical Abuse of His Students

This conversation, Zen-Master would beat the monk for asking questions.

Reason being, Seekers of enlightenment in Buddhism do neither need effort, nor questions answered for them. Buddha hood is not to be searched for. Nothing needs to be done to achieve it.

Enlightenment is a sudden event with no effort needed.

The Platform Scripture

There are five versions of the Liu-tsu t'an-ching that followed the initial, the latest being dated 1291. It was included in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) editions of the Buddhist Canon of 1420-1440, which goes to show how significant to Buddhism this scripture became.

Concluding The Zen

Enlightenment cannot happen in steps, one split second of truth empties the mind. No questions need to be asked, No questions need answers.

The Zen emphasizes the spirit of revolt but also determination and removes anything in the way of the mind’s direct and immediate intuition of truth”(Pg.449)

Not only is there not much in Hsung-po’s Buddhism; there is not much in Buddhism itself” (pg. 449) *This saying has been repeated time and again by Zen Buddhists. *Also one of the top five most important Buddhist points.

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