Zen (Chinese: 禪; pinyin: Chán; Japanese: 禅, romanized: zen; Korean: 선,
romanized: Seon; Vietnamese: Thiền) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, known as the Chan School
(Chánzong 禪宗), and later developed into various sub-schools and
branches. From China, Chán spread south to Vietnam and became Vietnamese
Thiền, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism and east to Japan,
becoming Japanese Zen.
The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle
Chinese word 禪 (chán), an abbreviation of 禪那 (chánnà), which is a
Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word ध्यान dhyāna (“meditation”).
Zen emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation practice, insight into
the nature of mind (見性, Ch. jiànxìng, Jp. kensho, “perceiving the true
nature”) and nature of things (without arrogance or egotism), and the
personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the
benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes knowledge alone of sutras
and doctrine and favours direct understanding through spiritual practice
and interaction with an accomplished teacher or Master.
Zen teaching draws from numerous sources of Mahāyāna thought, especially
Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and the
Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha’s nature, totality, and the
Bodhisattva-ideal. The Prajñāpāramitā literature as well as Madhyamaka
thought has also been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and
sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetoric.
Furthermore, the Chan School was also influenced by Taoist philosophy,
especially Neo-Daoist thought.