Zen origins from Shakyamuni Buddha’s experience, who realized his enlightened nature in the zazen posture, in India during the VI° century.
The legend says Buddha transmitted the essence of pure enlightenment to Mahakashyapa, his disciple, simply smiling and holding a flower. This experience, “From Heart to Heart “ is continuously transmitted from Master to disciple, ever since, forming the Zen lineage.
After about one thousand years of divulgation in India, Bodhidarma, a zen monk, brought this teaching in China, in V° century A.C. The story narrates that Bodhidarma visited many temples and finally rested at Shaolin, where he sat inside a cave, and meditated for nine years. His example is followed around the world, in many meditation rooms, where people sit still in front of a wall.
Zen, also called, “Ch’an “, spread in all China and quickly developed.
After Bodhidarma’s arrival in China, Buddhism flourished and started to develop its distinctive characteristics, only during the next generation after the sixth Patriarch Hui Neng. This is the time when the zen practice asserted its originality and purity. The new school created its monasteries in unfavorable places, survival was possible only by cultivating the earth, so work became the major factor of practice. Chinese outlook was quite the same, costumed to hard-work. “A day without work is a day without eating “ said the famous Master Paichang. Nowadays in every Zen monastery, all over the world, the practice of samu (work), is a fundamental component of spiritual growth in practitioners.
Hui Neng was the most famous Zen Master in China, he founded the school of sudden awakening, which emphasizes the possibility of sudden enlightenment, if there is the right teaching and method. The teachings of the sixth Patriarch underlines the non-duality and the unity of all things. He taught that meditation Ch’an should be practiced in every moment, not only during zazen.
In time Zen expanded in all Asia: Corea, Japan and Vietnam.
From Corea, the Dharma spread in Japan in 550°A.C. the two main branches are Rinzai (Lin-chi in Chinese) founded by Master Eisai (1141-1152), and Soto (Ts’ao-tung) founded by Master Dogen (1200-1253) were born.