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Books on Zen Buddhism

The Kamakura era (1185-1333) witnessed the emergence of Zen—the branch of Japanese Buddhism that is best known outside Japan. Its founders were Eisai (1141— 1215) and Dogen (1200—53), both of whom trained at the Tendai “seminary” on Mount Hiei (Hieizan).

Eisai became disillusioned with what he considered the lax monastic discipline on Hiei and set our on a five- month pilgrimage to China, visiting the major temples of the Tiantai sect (from which Tendai had sprung) and collecting sacred texts as yet untranslated into Japanese. On a longer pilgrimage (1187— 91), he became acquainted with Xu’an Huaichang, master of the Linji sect of Chan, a school of Buddhism centered on intensive meditation (the word “Chan” derives from Sanskrit dhyana).

Inspired by Xu’an’s teachings, Eisai returned to Japan to preach the doctrines of Linji Chan, or “Rinzai Zen” in the Japanese articulation. He left Hieizan and went to Kamakura, where he gained the patronage of the shogunate and produced several important writings, including Shukke Taiko (“Essentials of the Monastic Life”), Kozen Gokku ron (“The Promulgation of Zen as a Defense of the Nation”), and Nihon Buppo Chuko gammon (“A Plea for the Revival of Japanese Buddhism”).

Dogen, the founder of the Soto Zen sect, also studied on Hieizan, and like Eisai he became disenchanted with what he saw as its spiritual laxity. His doubts led Dogen to leave for nearby Kenninji, a Rinzai Zen monastery. Six years later, Dogen also made a pilgrimage to China, where he studied under a master of the Cuotong sect of Chan.

Dogen returned home to establish a Japanese sect of Cuotong Chan (“Soto Zen” in Japanese). Soto Zen is characterized by its emphasis on sitting zazen, that is, cross-legged in the “lotus position,” as a prerequisite for attaining satori, or enlightenment. Unlike Eisai, who advocated the study and contemplation of koans, Dogen felt that the key to spiritual enlightenment lay in individual discipline focused on an intense understanding of one’s own “buddha-nature.” He elaborated this idea in Fukan Zazengi (“A Universal Promotion of Zazen Principles”), one of his many influential treatises.


Q1. What is the holy book of Zen Buddhism?


The essential texts of the Zen school were often considered to be the Lakāvatāra Sūtra and the Diamond Sutra. The former recounts a teaching primarily between Gautama Buddha and a bodhisattva named Mahamati, "Great Wisdom". The sūtra is set in Lanka, the island fortress capital of Ravaa, the king of the Rakhasas .The latter is a Mahāyāna sutra from the genre of Prajñāpāramitā sutras.


Q2. How do I start Zen Buddhism?


To begin practicing Zen meditation, find a comfortable place and position. Try short sessions where you focus on your breath. With time, develop a routine that works for you. Meditation can be difficult at first, as it takes practice to clear the mind, but you'll eventually find a meditation routine that works for you.


Q3. What are the 3 main ideas of Zen Buddhism?


Zen practitioners believe that these 3 concepts are the most important things in life: the awakened one (Buddha), the teachings of Buddha (Dharma), and the community built by the practitioners of his beliefs (Sangha). Zen puts less emphasis on ancient religious practices and focuses on meditation, selflessness, and unity in the universe. Some main principles of Zen philosophy are the denial of the ego, the focus on interconnectedness in the universe, the recognition of attachment as a source of suffering, and the realization that human perception is faulty.


Q4. What are the 5 types of Zen?


There are five different kinds of Zen, which are bompu zen or "usual zen," gedo zen or "Outside Way zen," shojo zen or "Hinayana practice," daijo zen or "Great Practice zen" and saijojo zen or "Easy and perfect" zen. In this sense, we could say that zen with a small "z" means simply a form of practising.