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Per the Wikipedia:

Zen (Chinese: ; pinyin: Chán; Korean: , romanizedSeon) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty as the Chan Buddhism (Chánzong 禅宗) and later developed into various schools. It was strongly influenced by Taoist philosophy, especially Neo-Daoist thought, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism. 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), which traces its roots to the Indian practice of dhyāna ("meditation"). Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of things (Ch. jianxing, Jp. kensho, "perceiving the true nature"), and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of othersAs such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal.The Prajñāpāramitā literature as well as Madhyamaka thought have also been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetori

Meditation

Common meditation forms

Mindfulness of breathing

Venerable Hsuan Huameditating in the Lotus Position. Hong Kong, 1953.
The 'meditation hall' (Jp. zendō, Ch. chántáng) of Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-Ji

During sitting meditation (坐禅, Ch. zuòchán, Jp. zazen, Ko. jwaseon), practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza, often using the dhyāna mudrā. Often, a square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used.

To regulate the mind, Zen students are often directed towards counting breaths. Either both exhalations and inhalations are counted, or one of them only. The count can be up to ten, and then this process is repeated until the mind is calmed. Zen teachers like Omori Sogen teach a series of long and deep exhalations and inhalations as a way to prepare for regular breath meditation. Attention is usually placed on the energy center (dantian) below the navel. Zen teachers often promote diaphragmatic breathing, stating that the breath must come from the lower abdomen (known as hara or tanden in Japanese), and that this part of the body should expand forward slightly as one breathes. Over time the breathing should become smoother, deeper and slower. When the counting becomes an encumbrance, the practice of simply following the natural rhythm of breathing with concentrated attention is recommended.

Silent Illumination and Just Sitting

Another common form of sitting meditation is called "Silent illumination" (Ch. mòzhào, Jp. mokushō). This practice was traditionally promoted by the Caodong school of Chinese Chan and is associated with Hongzhi Zhengjue  who wrote various works on the practice. This method derives from the Indian Buddhist practice of the union (Skt. yuganaddha) of śamatha and vipaśyanā.

In Hongzhi's practice of "nondual objectless meditation" the mediator strives to be aware of the totality of phenomena instead of focusing on a single object, without any interference, conceptualizing, grasping, goal seeking, or subject-object duality.

This practice is also popular in the major schools of Japanese Zen, but especially Sōtō, where it is more widely known as Shikantaza (Ch. zhǐguǎn dǎzuò, "Just sitting"). Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of the practice can be found throughout the work of the Japanese Sōtō Zen thinker Dōgen, especially in his Shōbōgenzō, for example in the "Principles of Zazen"] and the "Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen". While the Japanese and the Chinese forms are similar, they are distinct approaches.

Hua Tou and Kōan contemplation: Kōan

Calligraphy of "Mu" (Hanyu Pinyin: ) by Torei Enji. It figures in the famous Zhaozhou's dog kōan

During the Tang dynasty, gōng'àn (Jp. kōan) literature became popular. Literally meaning "public case", they were stories or dialogues, describing teachings and interactions between Zen masters and their students. These anecdotes give a demonstration of the master's insight. Kōan are meant to illustrate the non-conceptual insight (prajña) that the Buddhist teachings point to. During the Sòng dynasty, a new meditation method was popularized by figures such as Dahui, which was called kanhua chan ("observing the phrase" meditation), which referred to contemplation on a single word or phrase (called the huatou, "critical phrase") of a gōng'àn. In Chinese Chan and Korean Seon, this practice of "observing the huatou" (hwadu in Korean) is a widely practiced method.It was taught by the influential Seon master Chinul, and modern Chinese masters like Sheng Yen and Xuyun.

In the Japanese Rinzai school, kōan introspection developed its own formalized style, with a standardized curriculum of kōans, which must be studies and "passed" in sequence. This process includes standardized "checking questions" (sassho) and common sets of "capping phrases" (jakugo) or poetry citations that are memorized by students as answers. The Zen student's mastery of a given kōan is presented to the teacher in a private interview (referred to in Japanese as dokusan, daisan, or sanzen). While there is no unique answer to a kōan, practitioners are expected to demonstrate their spiritual understanding through their responses. The teacher may approve or disapprove of the answer and guide the student in the right direction. The interaction with a teacher is central in Zen, but makes Zen practice also vulnerable to misunderstanding and exploitation. Kōan-inquiry may be practiced during zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), and throughout all the activities of daily life. The goal of the practice is often termed kensho (seeing one's true nature).

Kōan practice is particularly emphasized in Rinzai, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the teaching line.

Nianfo chan

Nianfo (Jp. nembutsu, from Skt. buddhānusmṛti "recollection of the Buddha") refers to the recitation of the Buddha's name, in most cases the Buddha Amitabha. In Chinese Chan, the Pure Land practice of nianfo based on the phrase Nāmó Āmítuófó (Homage to Amitabha) is a widely practiced form of Zen meditation. This practice was adopted from Pure land Buddhism and syncretized with Chan meditation by Chinese figures such as Yongming Yanshou, Zhongfen Mingben, and Tianru Weize. During the late Ming, the harmonization of Pure land practices with Chan meditation was continued by figures such as Yunqi Zhuhong and Hanshan Deqing.

This practice, as well as its adaptation into the "nembutsu kōan" was also used by the Japanese Ōbaku school of Zen.

Pointing to the nature of the mind

According to Charles Luk, in the earliest traditions of Chán, there was no fixed method or formula for teaching meditation, and all instructions were simply heuristic methods, to point to the true nature of the mind, also known as Buddha-nature. According to Luk, this method is referred to as the "Mind Dharma", and exemplified in the story (in the Flower Sermon) of Śākyamuni Buddha holding up a flower silently, and Mahākāśyapa smiling as he understood. A traditional formula of this is, "Chán points directly to the human mind, to enable people to see their true nature and become buddhas.

Explained in my own way, I would say that Zen Buddhism considers the mind being an intermediary between the senses and the true Self.  

Therefore, in order to reach beyond the senses and get to the true Self, we need to pass over the mind, and the objective of Zen is to do just that, to put the mind at rest, it first shows to ourselves its inadequacies, through the use of Koans or unanswerable questions, questions that can not be answered by the mind. 

In frustration, the mind stops thinking and allows us to go beyond it. 

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Replies to This Discussion

Very beautiful this text.
A very good questioning.

Thanks, Margarida, I am glad you enjoyed it. 

Very Informative. I find counting the breaths to be the best, I today learned that it is easier to get to ten and repeat. Interesting that the practice traces back to India!  The Zen practice where you must have a master can be difficult to achieve. Overall, good info

I am glad that you found it useful, David. 

I have done a lot of different types of meditations, myself, each one of us needs to find what is best for us.

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