Zen is a culture of awakening. It doesn’t really match any of the categories we tend to want to put things into in western thought. It defies labels like religion and philosophy. It’s not something to believe. It’s not even something to be. It’s a practice. It’s a way of life.
Zen is like the flower of Buddhism. Beneath it lies the roots of developed doctrine and practice, which has been cultivated for over two thousand years. Beneath these roots are the basic principles that are the foundation of all of the myriad branches of Buddhism. In the case of Zen this flower was planted in China and some of it’s practice was clearly influenced by the spiritual traditions that already existed there. Now it has been planted here in the west.
Zen Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism founded in China in the 6th century. It aims at a simple and direct approach to enlightenment. Zen means deep meditation and in some early texts it was called The Meditation School. But it’s also more than that. It’s a mystical teaching that points to our true nature, to a flash of awareness beyond the limitations that we apply to ourselves and the world around us, beyond the dualistic delusion of separation. We can these flashes of awareness through practice and break through all of our conditioning and limitations. That’s what Zen is all about.
In Zen practice we’re trying to cultivate these flashes of awareness, like watering a flower. We want to expand and strengthen them. The mystic’s journey is what the Zen tradition is all about.