Buddhism first entered Japan from Korea in the 6th century AD
- about 1,000 years after the death of the Buddha. Confucian ideas
from Han China had been current in the Japanese court since the
5th century AD. By the time Buddhism took root in Japan, an often
mutually tolerant presence of three systems - Shinto, Buddhism and
Confucianism - existed.
and Korean missionaries who introduced Buddhism brought with them
rituals and texts from both the Theravadin and Mahayana schools
which had been most successful in China. Of particular influence
in Japan were three texts: the Lotus Sutra, the Sutra of
Golden Light and the Benevolent Kings Sutra. These were sometimes
called the Three Scriptures Protecting the State. And in this respect
it has often been said that the aim of the government's support
for Buddhism was less to achieve the salvation of the people than
to make use of religion as an instrument of power and imperial consolidation.
"Zen" is Japanese for Cha'n which itself derives from
the Sanskrit dhyana (meditation). Two main schools of Cha'n
Buddhism thrived in Sung dynasty China, both emphasizing meditation
and a non-ritualistic direct form of contemplation. Eliminating
traditional Buddhist learning, Cha'n aimed at pointing to the mind
and perceiving one's true nature. At the basis of Cha'n and Zen
philosophy is the Mahayana theory of universal Buddhahood. "Mind
and one's true nature" are expressions of the idea that all
beings are Buddhas, and that "Buddha mind" is the shared
medium on which people live. It is considered the most direct way
Sand and moss gardens like this one
in a monastery have been made in Japan to express the tranquil spirit
of Zen. The meaning of the gardens lies in their simplicity. Zen
monks (see below) in zazen. Like the first patriarch, Bodhidharma,
they sit with lowered eyes before a blank wall. Dogen, founder of
the Soto school of Zen wrote detailed instructions for Zen practitioners.
Some of these, such as the prohibition against fault-finding in
others, are moral, others are in the form of simple rules. Perhaps
most enduring are Dogen's guidelines for meditation:
Meditation should be
practiced in a quiet room, in the lotus posture, with open eyes.
loose clothing, an upright back and the breath regulated quietly.
Then Dogen instructs, "Thinking of non-thinking ... by thinking
beyond thinking and non-thinking. This is the basis of zanzen."
So Zen is self-reliant
and does not advise living by anything other than a person's own
authority. There is a verse which describes Zen clearly:
A special understanding
outside the scriptures,
No dependence on words and letters,
Direct pointing to the heart of man,
Seeing into one's own nature.
A Zen master, who is teacher
and guide, is not the supreme authority and even the Buddha is not.
"If you come across the Buddha in your path, kill him,"
a Zen Master said. He meant that no idea about the Buddha, however
wonderful and wise, should come between a person and his own direct
experience of truth. This makes Zen Buddhism a deeply spiritual
path. It also tells people how to go about living in the world:
When walking just
When Sitting just sit,
Above all, don't wobble!
master's writing would show the standard of his insight. Space is
seen as the basis of all Zen art - objects exist in space, words
come out of the air, the feeling of satori is that of infinite
This 17th century Japanese brush and
ink handwriting, with its relaxed Zen spontaneity, is one of the
exercises practiced by Zen monks.