Patheos Watermark

You are running a very outdated version of Internet Explorer. Patheos and most other websites will not display properly on this version. To better enjoy Patheos and your overall web experience, consider upgrading to the current version of Internet Explorer. Find more information HERE.



Zen began in China, where it was called Chan. Legends define its beginnings, including many stories of the first six patriarchs. Historical information about these individuals is limited.


The development of Chan Buddhism was influenced by evolving Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and new Mahayana scriptures. Chinese Taoism was also a strong influence.


The legendary founders of Chan (in Japanese, Zen) are the Indian monk Bodhidharma, the "wall-gazing brahmin," and Huineng, an illiterate Chinese peasant from the far south.

Sacred Texts

The foremost Chan/Zen scripture is the Platform Sutra, which relates the story of the sixth patriarch, Huineng. Several Mahayana Buddhist sutras are also central, and gongan (koan) are a form unique to Chan/Zen.

Historical Perspectives

Western accounts of Chan/Zen are often quite romanticized. These accounts were shaped by Japanese who, in response to increased contact with the West, were creating a new national identity.