One day, in ancient India, the Buddha was giving a teaching to his followers. On this day however, instead of a verbal teaching, he simply held up a flower. One of his disciples, Mahakasyapa, smiled. The Buddha said: Today, I gave a silent teaching and Mahakasyapa alone understood it.

– This was the Birth of Zen –

Since that time, the Buddha’s message has been transmitted from person to person right up to today’s modern masters.

The word Zen comes from the Chinese word Ch’an. This in turn comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, which means meditation. So, Zen is a kind of mental process that sometimes goes on amongst practitioners. The Zen School’s word for meditation it made of two characters, seated and Zen. The implication is that Zen is possible in other positions. Practitioners are encouraged to learn from their physical work and interaction with the community.

The teachings are important to Zen Buddhists, but they are the finger pointing to the moon. We should rather look at the moon itself. This true Zen story illustrates the Zen attitude to the texts:

For several years, a monk was collecting donations to make a copy of the sutras when a flood destroyed many homes and crops. He spent the sutra money he had collected on food and clothes to help the survivors. Later, he started collecting money again. He had almost enough when another flood hit. Again he spent the money on aid for the needy. Finally, years later he collected enough to transcribe the sutras. The calligraphy was excellent, but learner observers often commented the first two sutras were even more beautiful.

About work: A Zen Master was quite old and the monks felt sorry for him as they watched him hoeing the garden. He would not stop physical work in spite of their many requests so they hid his tools. The next day, he was unable to work. Later, he refused to eat at mealtime. The monks asked why and he replied: A day without work is a day without food. This became a famous Zen maxim.

When the word garden is mentioned, one would think of green scenery, which includes plants, trees, bushes, grass, flowers, a pond, and so on. Zen gardens however, are created with little plant material, and have neither pond nor river. This garden has only rock, gravel, sand, and perhaps a few pieces of moss. The dry garden dates back to the Muromachi period, the fifteenth century. Its physical form represents Zen Buddhist philosophy, Zen self-examination, spiritual refinement, and enlightenment. The Zen garden originally was created as an aid to meditation and to teach the principles of the religion.


Spring comes with its flowers, autumn with the moon,
summer with breezes, winter with snow;
when useless things don’t stick in the mind,
that is your best season.


12 Responses to “Zen”

  1. Kirby

    I love your description of Zen; brief and to the point in an elegant fashion. I love the short stories about the life of Buddha and the illustrations he used to teach his disciples. It is true that the fewer words used to make a point tend to make that point stronger. Reading this page reminded me of one of my favorite books, Zen in the Art of Archery.

  2. jonahkruvant

    Great description! And just a great blog in general! I lived in Japan and must say this is a thorough examination of what goes on there. Looks nice too, man. I’m a follower!


    Did you think to make to connection between Dhyana and Diana? The mithological Artemisa, the Mother God of Earth.

  4. jeanw5

    I totally love Taste of Japan, and I totally love Japan. I have family, there and have visited several times and have seen some of the beautiful things you display and have attended some of the festivities you describe. How would I share this site with my Japanese family? Even if that is not possible, I thank you for letting the world know more about Japan and about Zen.

  5. matthewcromwell

    Very well written and an interesting read. I wonder if you will possibly do a blog on the origins of karate and Funakoshi at some point? Please let me know 🙂

  6. youwilldrool

    I have always wanted to visit Japan, and you descriptions only heighten that. More about the food would be great.


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