Beliefs of Soto Zen Buddhism



Zen Buddhism evolved out of the Ch'an School, a Buddhist sect that was founded in China in the A.D. 8th century. Ch'an is pronounced Zen in Japanese. It means "contemplation" or "mediation."

Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China during the Chinese Sung Dynasty in the 10th century by a Chinese monk named Huineng. It had a relatively small following for two centuries and didn't take hold and flourish in Japan until the 12th century.

The Ch'an sect’s origins are obscure. It is it not clear whether its early patriarchs were legendary or real. Under the leadership of its sixth patriarch Hui-neng (A.D. 637-723) it grew from a cult with around 500 members to a distinct sect after Hui-neng spent 15 years meditating in the hills.

Once Zen Buddhism took hold in Japan had a profound influence on the Japanese. Its austere tone and the simplicity of the doctrine appealed to the military class and artists and was a focal point of samurai culture and art from the 12th century onward. Not only that, Zen Buddhists helped bring Chinese philosophy, especially Neo-Confucianism, to Japan and were involved in commercial endeavors, such as shipping lines, that controlled trade between Japan and China.

nullSamurai were trained by Zen Buddhist masters in meditation and the Zen concepts of impermanence and harmony with nature. The were also taught about painting, calligraphy, nature poetry, mythological literature, flower arranging, and the tea ceremony, which all had Zen overtones. Even swordsmanship and the martial arts were steeped in Zen and ascribed to philosophies that were very esoteric and hard to understand.

Zen Schools in Japan

In the early days there were who two competing schools of Zen Buddhism: Soto, which emphasized mediating in the seated position under strict guidelines, and Rinzai, which emphasized lengthy question-and-answer drills and the contemplation of koan (metaphysical riddles that have no logical answer) such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

The Rinzai sect, the oldest of the Japanese Zen sects, was founded in the 12th century by Myoan Eisai (See Below). The Soto Zen sect was founded by Dogen (1200-1253), a student of Eisai who also studied in China. It emphasizes shitan taza (literally "just sitting"). Sometimes trainees of the Soto Zen sect a make a vow of silence and spend their time meditating, studying and eating in silence. There are 15, 000 Sato Zen temples in Japan today.

Daruma (Bodhidharma)

Another image of Daruma The Ch’an school is said to have been founded by Bodhidharma, a south-Indian prince who became monk and traveled to China around A.D. 520. It is not clear whether he was a real person or not.

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