“Zen” comes from the Chinese word ch’an, which is from the Sanskrit word dhyana: meditation. The Zen teachings arose within Buddhism and were transmitted from India to China in the 5th century. From there they have spread throughout Asia, and now to the world.
What am I? What is this life for? Why is there suffering? These are universal human questions. A person comes to Zen when such questions can no longer be ignored. Zen, however, is not a system of belief or dogma. It is simply the recognition of your own true nature, and a mind-body practice to integrate that recognition. In this way, universal questions are resolved within the insight arising from your own being: a natural wisdom which is not bound by any one religion, philosophy or culture.
The purpose of Zen is thus not to give you something new, or to help you do something new. It is to discover the true nature of your existence, and to manifest the boundless freedom which comes from that. To practice Zen is to discover what a human being truly is.
About Zen Practice
The essential point of Zen practice is to be awakened through a direct seeing of one's true nature: the "Buddha nature", or "true self". Open and undefiled, free of fabrication, grasping or fear, beyond effort and dualistic concept - this is the recognition of your own "original face".
Because Zen takes this seeing as its gate and the basis of practice, it is also called the "Buddha-Mind School" and the Ekayana ("One Vehicle"): a separate transmission encompassing the essence of all Buddhist teachings, not depending upon sutra or tantra, and leading to rapid attainment of the highest goal by "directly pointing at the human mind":
The fundamental task of the Zen teacher is thus to help the student to recognize the true nature, and to guide him or her along the path of clarifying and integrating that recognition. Practice methods characteristic of the Rinzai tradition include zazen (seated meditation), a highly developed use of koan meditation and practices training the breathing and subtle energetic systems. Rinzai Zen is also well known for adapting a range of complementary disciplines to refine the human being and manifest wisdom in activity: fine arts such as calligraphy and flower arrangement and physical culture like martial arts are traditional examples which facilitate Zen insight through the body.
Through devoted practice of this kind one swiftly gains unshakeable confidence in one's own natural mind as both path and fruit of the Way. Training ceaselessly, revealing this wisdom in the play of daily activities, freedom and liberation naturally unfold. Zen is extremely direct, and its methods can seem severe. But those who undertake its practice may attain deep realization within this very life. The authentic expression of such realization is compassion.
Through Zen, one's entire life becomes the dojo: a place of enlightenment. Zen shows us that the path of wisdom and compassion, our true path, has always been right here at our own feet:
At this moment, what is there you lack?
Nirvana presents itself before you!
This very place is the Pure Land,
This very body, the Buddha.
- Hakuin Ekaku Zenji (1685-1768)