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Three Schools of  Buddhism

Three Schools of  Buddhism2 imageOf the three schools of Buddhism, Zen features the practice of mysticism.  A large part of the Zen way is focused on meditation. Zen was born in China as a synergistic union between Buddhism and Taoism, and some Confucianism, probably about 800 AD.  It was called Chan in China.  Ehei Dogen is largely credited with bringing Chan to Japan, about 1235 AD, where it came to be called Zen.

What is Zazen?

Zazen means “practice” in Zen.  Zazen doesn’t just refer to meditation, according to Dogen.  More comprehensively, in Zen monasteries, Zazen is group meditation practiced in a meditation hall, known as a zendo. The community that meditates together is called a sangha (somewhat similar to a Christian congregation) 

Schools of Zen

Of the three schools of Zen, two major schools remain today, the Soto and Rinzai.  Soto is characterized by the phrase “just sit” (meditate), while Rinzai encourages students toward enlightenment through meditation. It employs the contemplation of koans, riddles that cannot be solved with the discursive mind.  In the United States, some Zen groups use the approach of both the Soto and Rinzai schools.

History of Zen in America

Zen first attracted notice in the United States in the fifties thanks to D.T.Suzuki from Japan, and to Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk who experimented with it, and to Alan Watts, an Anglicized  American who practiced and taught Zen.

In the sixties several Japanese Zen Roshis (enlightened teachers) brought Zen to the United States, among them Shunryu Suzuki, who founded San Francisco Zen Center, which today is an umbrella organization for three Zen monasteries, including Tassajara, the Soto Zen training monastery which I usually visit annually to renew my practice.

Three Schools of  Buddhism3 imageTassajara is unusual in that it’s a Zen Buddhist monastery all year, but also a public resort for five months of the year