The everything Zen Book
By Jacky Sach and Jessica Faust


Top Ten Pearls of Wisdom

To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the Ten Thousand Things. –Dogen

Our practice should be based on the ideal of selflessness. If you try to be selfless, that is already a selfish idea. –Shunryu Suzuki

There are no doors to the hells, you yourself make the doors. –Zen master Hsuan Hua

There has never been an enlightened person. There are only enlightened activities. –Bodhin Kjolhede

Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them. Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them. The Dharmas are boundless. I vow to master them. The enlightened way is unattainable. I vow to attain it. –The Four Great Vows

In Zen practice, one cannot emphasize enough the vital role of the Zen teacher who has charted the paths of his arduous journey to the core of one’s being. –Ruben Habito, Healing Breath

Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the movement the wave realizes it is water. –Thich Nhat Hanh

Manifest plainness, embrace, simplicity, reduce, selfishness, have few desires. –Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching People say “I want peace”. If you remove I (ego), and you want (desire), you are left with peace. –The Dalai Lama

There is only one time that it is essential to awaken. That time is now. –Buddha

What is Zen?

Zen is a Japanese word that is actually derived from the Chinese word Ch’an, which in turn originated from the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning “meditation”, so, in essence, Zen means meditation. Meditation is an important aspect of all forms of Buddhism. It is considered a path to enlightenment, and it is highly emphasized in Zen practice. In fact, Dogen, the founder of the Soto lineage of Zen Buddhism in Japan, taught a way of meditation called shikantaza, which means that sitting (meditating) is enlightened mind. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of meditating isn’t to become enlightened, instead, the goal is to enjoy your enlightened mind.

Zen is a branch of Buddhism. It traces its way back to the Buddha, who lived 2,500 years ago on the border of northern India and southern Nepal. Buddhism started with the enlightenment of the Buddha as he sat under the bodhi tree. When Buddha became enlightened, he discovered the true nature of reality. He decided to teach others what he had realized and spent the next 40 years sharing his understanding with all who would listen.

It is said that one day the Buddha rose to address his followers. In his hand he held a beautiful lotus flower. Instead of speaking out loud to those who were congregated in front of him, he simply held up the flower for them to see. Mahakashyapa, one of Buddha’s disciples, smiled in understanding, and so be became the first person to receive dharma transmission from mind to mind, with no speech necessary.

In other words, he understood exactly what the Buddha was trying to teach because the Buddha was able to transmit his beliefs directly into his disciple’s mind, without any verbal explanation. This transmission of the Buddha’s teachings from mind to mind marks the beginning of Zen. What Mahakashyapa realized when the Buddha held up the lotus blossom was the interrelationship and true nature of all that is. He woke up.

Zen Arrives in Japan

Toward the end of the 12th century, Zen arrived in Japan. The samurai warrior spirit was running high, and the rigors of Zen practice were welcomed by the Japanese. The two houses of Rinzai and Soto made their way to Japan and thrived. The Japanese monk Eisai brought Rinzai back from China, and Eisai’s student Dogen introduced the Soto school. Both schools of Zen emphasized the importance if seated meditation. Over many years, the Soto school became larger than the Rinzai school in Japan (today, it might be as much as three times as large), though both schools are still very prominent. The strictness of practice in the monasteries historically kept many lay people from practicing Zen. But as Zen headed west in the 20th century, this would no longer be the case.

Pictorial Encyclopedia of Japanese Culture

By Gakken


The Land of the Rising Sun

Japanese mythology declares that the deities were born amidst the chaotic time when heaven and earth had just separated. Izanagi and Izanami were respectively the 7th male and female gods. Both of them trust a halberd from the Bridge of Heaven into the sea. As they withdrew it, droplets trickling off the halberd formed an island. Izanagi and Izanami descended to it and brought forth island after island. Japan was created.

Izanami gives birth to various gods, but it burned to death while delivering the god of fire. After seeing her dead body, Izanagi proceeds to a river to purify himself, where upon three more deities are born. One is Amaterasu-o-mikami, the sun goddess and queen of the divine country Takamagamara. Another is Tsukuyomi-no-mikoto, the moon god and the ruler of the kingdom of darkness, the third is the rogue Susanoo-no-mikoto, the tyrant of the seas.

Amaterasu-o-mikami sends her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto down from heaven to the mountain pass called Takachiho to rule over the islands of Japan. His progeny beget the first Japanese Emperor.

Japanese myths are recorded in two historic works of the 8th century, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), and Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan). Though written with the intent of furthering the cause of the Imperial Household, the myths also afford a good understanding how the people of the time saw the world and nature.

Shrines-Shinto-the way of the gods-is the name given to the simple faith possessed by the ancient Japanese. Whether it can also be termed a religion is a matter of debate, for shinto has no particular teachings or dogmas. It is just a belief in the power of spirits thought to be in man and in elements of nature. This spiritual power is what the Japanese call kami.

Kami could be all of one’s deceased relatives or all the dead. The sun, mountains, wind, rocks, trees, and other natural phenomena were also believed to be indwelt by kami. If worshiped, kami would benevolent towards people, but provoked to wrath and possible calamity when neglected. People therefore chose to worship kami. That, in belief, is the basis of the faith referred to as shinto.

Because the ancient Japanese deified and directly worshiped mountains, trees, even the sun as they were found in nature, religious edifices were unnecessary. Eventually, however, structures were built in places where kami could be worshiped. Each purpose, such as haiden for the building where worshipers offer prayers, or honden for the building that contains the symbol (often a mirror) of the enshrined deity. Collectively, these structures are called jinja (shrines).