Zen has become more popular since it spread to the western world in the early twentieth century by Japanese Zen masters. By then, it had been nearly more than 800 years since Zen was transmitted to Japan from China. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of Chinese character - Chan. To avoid misusing the name of Chan (Zen) or misunderstanding its meaning, we’d better know the following information…
The difference between Chan (Zen) and Dhyāna
Dhyāna is a Sanskrit, which was translated into Chinese as Chan Na. It was the name of the psychological forms on the way to Samādhi (deeper meditation), through which to find the “original inherent self”. In Buddha’s teaching, Samādhi can be used but it is not the ultimate goal, because the Samādhi itself cannot cease the arising of suffering and afflictions. So masters chose only the part of pronunciation “Chan” as the name of “practicing system” – precept, concentration and wisdom, and the outcome of the practice is the enlightening of “no inherent independent self”.
The content of Chan (Zen)
In a narrow sense, Chan means the “specific practicing system” in China. In a wider sense, Chan means the “general practicing system” taught by Buddha, including Southeast Asia Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and their handing on to Japan, Korea and western world. Chan can also be classified into two types according to the way of practice: thinking in the right view and keeping right concentration at any moment (not only in sitting meditation).
The core of Chan (Zen)
The Chan practice will finally lead to Four Dharma Seals: Impermanence, the essence of suffering, no inherent independent self, and Nirvana. We can say this Four Dharma Seals can be the standard to recognize the Buddha’s teaching. In other words, it is the way to distinguish Chan (Zen) from other meditations.
Chan (Zen) has no fixed form
Chan (Zen) can be practiced at any moment in any form of our daily life: when you are sitting in front of your computer, riding a bicycle, eating a hamburger, taking a shower, facing difficulties, feeling the pain … as a Chinese Zen master said: no where is there not Zen.
Zen is just the moment of waking up from the illusion of pleasure and displeasure : )