Japanese meditation is more famously known around the world as Zen meditation.
The word zen is a Japanese derivation of the Chinese Chan, which in turn came from the Sanskrit Dhyana, meaning meditation.
Bodhidharma, who came to China from India in the 5th century CE, founded Chan as a school of Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism.
From there, it traveled south to Vietnam (Thien), and east to Korea (Seon) and Japan (Zen).
While Buddhism arrived in Japan during the eight century, Zen was introduced as a separate school only around 1185 during the Kamakura period.
The zen meditation practices can be broadly classified into three popular sects:
Founded by Dogen Zenji, it emphasized shikantaza or silent illumination.
The meditation is characterized by the complete absence of any objects, anchors or content. You are to simply the observe the stream of thoughts, allowing them to rise and fall without interference.
This sect stressed upon zazen to the exclusion of everything else and firmly believed that zazen was the best practice for both monks and laypeople.
It held mass appeal in Japan due to its simple approach and was sometimes derogatorily referred to as 'farmer zen.'
Myoan Eisai, a contemporary of Dogen Zenji, founded a separate school focusing on koans for achieving kensho (seeing one's true nature).
The followers of Rinzai believed that without kensho spiritual progress was not possible.
The sect was characterized by a rigorous and exhaustive regimen stressing discipline. This found many takers amongst the rising samurai class in Japan and Rinzai became the zen of the ruling class.Obaku zen
Established in 1661 by a small group of Chinese monks and their Japanese students, the focus of the practice was on rituals, chanting of sutras and other esoteric aspects of Pure Land Buddhism in addition to seated meditation and koans.
Today, zen is the most popular form of Buddhism in the West, largely due to the efforts of pioneers like Alan Watts and Reginald Horace Blyth in early twentieth century and due to the later writings of the likes of Philip Kapleau, D.T. Suzuki and Eugen Herrigel.
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