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Japanese Zen

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Submitted By yucatan47
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Japanese Zen is a distinct form of Buddhism from the Pure Land and Lotus movements, but it is arguably similar as well. Nembutsu Buddhism is, in fact, the most different of the three. It argued that all other practices were useless and that this path was the only one that led to salvation. Since they were in the mappoo period, or the beginning of the end of times, one could only chant “Namu Amida Butsu” to get into the Pure Land. The Pure Land was the only way because enlightenment couldn’t be achieved during the mappoo period. Honen’s one-page testament, Selecting the Nembutsu of the Original Vow Collection, basically claimed that one didn’t have to understand the teachings of Amida but merely recite them to be accepted into the Pure Land. Nichiren and Zen Buddhism are a lot more similar to each other in that they believe enlightenment can still be reached. They believe in sutras, Nichiren in particular claimed the Lotus sutra to be of highest regard, and bodily being able to become a Buddha. Nichiren Buddhists and Zen Buddhists both believe that afflictions and sufferings in birth and death are a form of liberation and that Buddhahood must be expressed in one’s daily life. The biggest difference between the two is that Zen Buddhism values silent meditation and Nichiren Buddhists chant. Japanese Zen would not exist without its Chinese roots. Zen originated in China, and even the name Zen itself is derived from a Chinese word that was derived a Sanskrit word meaning “absorption”. Many original sutras and doctrines from famous Buddhists are written in ancient Chinese. While Japan has come up with modern names and translations for ancient texts, they will always be referenced as having been derived from the original, many of which were in Chinese. In modern times, the concept of Zen is popular. However, it is not understood for what it truly means in the context of Buddhism. Magazines and newspapers and ads boast about the “Zen” way to do things without at all referring to “true” Zen. The Zen of today is a superficial way to aid people with stress in their daily lives, helping them with everything from golf to cooking. It has become such an overused word that it would be of no surprise for an average American to not even know that Zen is derived from Buddhism. In this way, Zen can be said to be popular. If it wasn’t, how would it still be around today? It has had such a great influence on people since it was introduced that it has grown in popularity, and in fact still hasn’t stopped growing, to the point of being used in mainstream media. Though it isn’t being used how Buddhists would most likely prefer, most people are familiar with its most basic concept. In the same way that its popularity has thinly spread the meaning of Zen, the Five Mountain Zen system was a degeneration of it. It became more about the power than the “true” Zen. The temple network of Five-Mountains Zen and shoguns legitimized each other by promoting each other. The people trusted the shoguns because they trusted the Five-Mountains Zen temples and vice versa. Eventually, there were about three hundred Zen monasteries of the Five Mountain system that provided crucial income to the wealthy and the military elite. It was said that one of the temples held lively debates that included clapping. This, in no way, is something that is expected at Buddhist temples, even in modern times. However, it could be argued that those who reported seeing the Five-Mountains Zen temples holding events with an inappropriate air to them like that were the very same who embarrassed themselves at said debates. Eisai and Dogen did little for Zen in their own time period; however, they planted the roots for it to become something greater. They left Tendai for Zen, Dogen following after Eisai. Eisai attempted to improve Tendai among the ruling elite by restoring the importance of Buddhist precepts but ended up banned from teaching in Kyoto. Dogen, unlike Eisai, concentrated on spreading his word elsewhere. In the countryside of Kyoto, he established a small temple and gained a following. Eventually, long after the deaths of both Eisai and Dogen, Zen is said to have developed along two paths. Elitism, in terms of medieval Japanese Zen, can easily be argued both ways, due to the two main branches Zen split into during the 11th century. On one hand, there was the Five Mountain Zen system in Kamakura and Kyoto, as discussed above, which established itself by using the wealthy and the military elite for political gain. It also introduced and taught sophisticated arts, such as poetry, calligraphy, and ceramics, imported from China at the Five Mountain system temples. Naturally, the Five Mountain system attracted those of a higher class. Many of the cultural practices are still considered to be elite by the modern Chinese, especially those of which became popular under the teachings of Ta-hui Tsung-kao, who was influential in the 14th century. On the other hand, Rinka, literally “forest”, monasteries were mostly found in the countryside. Instead of Chinese poetry, they concentrated on teaching the essentials of Zen, such as meditation and koan, a practice that influences Buddhists to think deeper. Peasants, warriors, and merchants flocked to these monasteries because they would perform tasks for them such as funerals and exorcising evil spirits. The visitors of Rinka temples were anything but elite. The earliest-known independent sect of Japanese Zen was the Daruma Sect. It was established by Dainichi Noonin in the 12th century. Because of this, he is considered the first pioneer of Japanese Zen. He was a self-enlightened Zen master, who established the Samboo Monastery, which taught a fusion of Zen, Mikkyo, and faith in sacred relics. It prospered at the same time as Hoonen’s Nembutsu. The Samboo Monastery showed strong influences of the secret teaching rituals of the Tendai and Shingon schools, though it only lasted until the late 13th century and was destroyed sometime after that. After the passing of Dainichi Noonin, disciple after disciple kept the Daruma Sect going until one named Gikai fell under Dogen’s influence. After that, many members of the Daruma Sect were absorbed into Dogen’s Soto School.

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