Zen and Buddhism

buddhaWhen we talk about zen, it may be helpful to have an overview of events in East Asia. Zen is a teaching and practice of Buddhism. Buddhism was founded by Shakyamuni Buddha in India around 2500 years ago. We wear Okesa which was designed referred to then common clothing, sari. We keep bowls which were allowed to own by Buddha. We observe precepts established by Buddha, dharma, and sangha. We practice begging which was the only method to obtain food for gurus in ancient India. Many traditions and knowledge in zen and Buddhism originated in a civilization of Hindustan.

Around Ghangis river Hindustan civilization was born and bloomed. We do not exactly know when it began. I guess it was formed as a civilization 10,000 years ago. There gurus or teachers who had certain knowledge and wisdom were respected. Those who wanted to become a guru publicly announced who he was and welcomed debate. Many challenged. As many debates went on, people eventually became aware what was important in life and in the world. The concept of dharma (truthfulness) grew with its clear definitions. Gurus tried to find the final dharma (absolute truth) for himself as well as for people. In the meantime great stories like Ramayan and Mahabharata came out. Dharma was talked about everywhere and yoga was a popular practice.

Hinduism had a concept of retreat. Gurus were not old and well known from the beginning. They had to study and practice in a certain way when they were young. Such practitioners were respected and left alone in the forests. Kings and queens who did not want to stay in their positions were allowed to retreat. They did not engage with political or business practices any longer, and enemies and rivals did not intervene them. Aged people who lost their vigor often selected retreat lives.

Emergence of Buddhism likely relied on the concepts of dharma and retreat in Hinduism.  Hinduism is a complicated civilization. We know little about the civilization. It  is worth studying on philosophy, language, logic, life style, matter of mind, nature, and more in the civilization. We do not know how much Buddhism owed to Hinduism.

Siddhartha, prince of Shakya tribe left home for looking for true dharma because Hindu society allowed a prince to go to retreat. He studied under a teacher and with friend practitioners because there were previous gurus and a retreat life style. He knew centuries of philosophical debates. Almost all matters were argued. Those truth seekers were pushed to the corner. They had only two choices, find the truth or not. That job was left for Shakyamuni.

After Shakyamuni found Buddha dharma and attained enlightenment, he explained what they were. They are now known the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Paths. He expressed these Truths and Paths through the logic of cause and effects, known as Twelve Links of Causality. Thus Buddhism was born.

The first Dharma transmission occurred at the historic Vulture Peak assembly where, upon raising a flower before his puzzled disciples, Buddha saw in the smile of his disciple Mahakasyapa the mark of understanding. Thus the legacy of Zen was set in motion. From Mahakasyapa the Dharma was transmitted from ancestor to ancestor in India until it reached Bodhidharma in early sixth century A.D. Bodhidharma, who reportedly sat before a wall for nine years earnestly practicing Zazen, is a landmark figure in the lineage of Zen. He is perhaps best known for his expression of the essence of Zen: “A special transmission outside the scriptures; not found upon words or letters; pointing directly to the human mind; seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood.” Bodhidharma was the first ancestor to transmit the Buddha Dharma in the east (i.e. China).

We are not separated from Shakyamuni Buddha consciously and in lineage chart because we are Buddhists. Historically, in fact, zen was established in China. Buddhism was imported to China and was gradually transformed into Chinese way. Zen is one of them. We wear robes, which were Chinese clothing. Order of sitting and standing positions was shown in Chinese palaces. Work (samu) was allowed in China. And Chinese style temples were built in Japan as well. We chant Chinese letter sutras.

Dogen zenji, who, unsatisfied with his understanding of Buddhism in Japan, traveled to China to seek out the Buddha dharma. After several years of search he met Nyojo zenji and found the complete dharma. Returned to Japan Dogen zenji established Eiheiji temple for zen practice and wrote Shobogenzo, collection of knowledge and guidance for zen life. “To study Buddhism is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by myriad dharmas,” is well known phrase.

From Dogen zenji Buddha  Dharma was passed from ancestor to ancestor in Sotoshu Japan. The late Kodo Sawaki Roshi and the late Kosho Uchiyama Roshi were two lineage holders in the Dharma line of Eihei Dogen zenji. Through their single minded efforts extending back to Shakyamuni Buddha, Buddha Dharma has been maintained over the ages. Today Eishin Ikeda carries on the Dharma legacy…………