The study and practice of Zen Buddhism traces back to China in the seventh century. As a matter of tradition, the establishment of Zen is credited to the South Indian prince-turned-monk Bodhidharma, who came to China to teach a “special transmission outside scriptures, not founded on words or letters.”
The name Zen comes from the Chinese word Chan. And Chan is taken from the Sanskrit word Dhyana which means meditation. Zen emphasizes experiential wisdom in the attainment of enlightenment brought about through the meditation practices. As such, it de-emphasizes theoretical knowledge in favor of direct self-realization through meditation and dharma practice.
In addition to the Buddhist practices, Zen was shaped as well by the ideas of Confucius and Lao Tzu. The teachings of Confucius emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. Lao Tzu taught the importance of establishing harmony with the Tao, or the Way. The Way literally means “nature” as in the nature of all things as well as the natural world.
It will be fascinating to watch the development of Zen in the West over the next fifty years, especially because we are helping to shape it.