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Huineng tears up sutras
Chinese name
Long characters
Pinyin Chan
Wade-Giles ch'an
Jyutping Sim 4
Cantonese Sim
Japanese name
Kana ぜ ん
Hepburn Zen
Kana セ ン
Hepburn Sen
Korean name
MR Sŏn
RR Seon
Vietnamese name
Quốc Ngữ Thiền
Hán tự

Chan ( Chinese    /  , Pinyin Chán ) is a meditation school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in the Empire of China , which is paradoxical by practicing meditation in the lotus position and by loosening gongans ( 公案 , gōng'àn , Japanese kōan ) Riddle, as well as enlightenment experience is characterized. Chan is a form of Buddhism that emerged in China through the encounter with Daoism and Confucianism . He has had a great influence on Chinese philosophy , art and culture.

The Chinese name Chan comes from the Sanskrit word Dhyana , which was translated into Chinese as Chánnà ( 禪 那  /  禅 那 , chánnà ). Chan Buddhism was spread in East Asia and Southeast Asia by monks. A Korean ( Korean Seon ) and Vietnamese ( Vietnamese Thiền ) tradition emerged. Chan Buddhism was transferred to Japan in the 12th century , where it was known as Zen (and in the West as Zen Buddhism).


According to legend, the Chan Buddhism was founded by Bodhidharma between 480 and 520 AD. He is said to have relied entirely on meditation and rejected any written tradition. However, it is also reported that he was a follower of the Lankavatara Sutra , which emphasizes inner enlightenment. Accordingly, the transmission of the teaching is not found in Chan using fonts but from master to student and "heart to heart" instead, although there is some text collections of Chan masters gave and also the Prajnaparamita - which Lankavatara- and the Nirvana Sutra one Role played. The Diamond Sutra , however, always had the greatest importance .

The concept of wisdom of the sūtras is interpreted in the Chan as looking through the emptiness of the world of appearances, the properties and forms of things and the demarcated person in order to penetrate to nothing. Prajna and Shunyata , wisdom and emptiness, are seen as the same reality, so the Chan speaks of non-mind and non-thought. These are explained as simultaneously existing and nonexistent, incomprehensible and the incomprehensible itself. Outside and inside as well as being and non-being should be completely given up in the Chan in order to experience the original Buddha-nature and through it to grasp the true reality. Accordingly, Chan also rejects the conventional philosophical opinions on the sutras, since the teachings of the Chan are based on direct experience and refer to the own self. The correct point of view, according to the Chan, is the absence of points of view. In the history of Chan it has happened again and again that Chan masters ritually burned sutras and destroyed statues.

The goal of the Chan is enlightenment or awakening ( 開悟  /  开悟 , kāiwù , Japanese satori ), which could be achieved with different means. One of them were the Gong'ans ( 公案 , gōng'àn , Japanese Kōans ), sentences or cases that were not rationally solvable and served to transcend the mind , but the deepened meditation ( 坐禪  /  坐禅 , zuòchán , Japanese zazen ) played in all schools of Chan always the most important role. The influence of Daoism is shown in the tendency towards conceptual negation , the emphasis on emptiness and unity as the absolute and the high status of nature as self-nature, dharma-nature, wisdom-nature and Buddha-nature.

Negative terms as the non-existence (Wuyou) inaction ( 無為  /  无为 , Wuwei ) Not Thinking ( 無念  /  无念 , Wunian ) and non-confidence ( 無心  /  无心 , Wuxin ) were important for the Chan Buddhism, and drew the philosophy of Chan always emerges as a philosophy of the paradox and the path of radical freedom of spirit. Chan emphasizes the unity of the mind with the Buddha-nature, which can only be experienced in the present existence , or is always present, and presents itself as a way of practice and not of philosophical speculation , as characterized other schools of Buddhism in China . The metaphysical conception of Chan Buddhism shows parallels to the Huayan movement ( 華嚴  /  华严 , huāyán , Japanese Kegon ), with some Huayan patriarchs also practicing Chan.


Chan master Yunmen

The Indian monk Bodhidharma is regarded as the founder and first patriarch of Chan and later Zen Buddhism . He came to the northern Chinese province of Henan around AD 523 after traveling across the Himalayas and southern China . In the hitherto Taoist influenced Shaolin Monastery, he introduced his meditation and teaching practice, which was carried on from there. Some sources report that the martial art of Kung Fu , for which Shaolin monks became known in the west in the 20th century, was founded there by him.

A significant event stands out in the early history of Chan, the separation into a north school and a south school. The north school understood enlightenment as a gradual process that could be achieved through constant practice of meditation, while the south school emphasized that enlightenment was a sudden moment. In the course of history, the Huineng South School (638–713) prevailed. All schools still in existence today go back to Huineng as the sixth patriarch. Even today, satori is therefore still defined as a sudden awakening to true reality. The heyday of Chan in China was during the Tang and Song dynasties , when important collections of sayings and works emerged in dialogue form and also influenced Chinese culture and art. An important figure here is the poet Wang Wei , but also the theorist Zongmi .

In the Huineng Chan movement, Mazu Daoyi (Japanese Baso Dōitsu ), Baizhang Huaihai (Japanese Hyakujō Ekai ), Huangbo Xiyun (Japanese Obaku Kiun ) and Linji Yixuan (Japanese Rinzai Gigen ) stand out during the Tang period . They represent the Chan of the Patriarchs, that historically not guaranteed lineage that is said to have started with Buddha . They emphasize the tradition outside the written works and the way of sudden enlightenment to one's own Buddha nature to learn.

Baizhang is said to have introduced the fixed and strict rules of the temple monasteries, which still play a role in Chinese and Japanese Zen and Chan monasteries, and emphasized the value of work : "A day without work, a day without food". He too emphasized the value of self-nature when asked by a monk, "Who is Buddha?" He replied, "Who are you?"

Mazu represented a dynamic way of meditation and emphasized the unity of the original mind with the Buddha nature. In a Gong'an collection, he answers the question "What is Buddha?", Initially with "The mind is Buddha", and when asked again with "Neither mind nor Buddha."

In a kind of humanism, Linji emphasized the "true man" ( 真人 , zhēnrén ), a term of Daoist origin, without characteristics, who lives in complete freedom , and his existence as the Patriarch Buddha, i.e. H. the existence of every being as a Buddha. According to Linji, the real person is a person without qualities and without rank, lively as a fish and lively. In doing so, Linji rejects the directions of Chan, which elevated motionless purity and stillness to the ideal. The famous saying of Chan Buddhism comes from Linji: "If you meet a Buddha, kill the Buddha." He thereby rejects the view that the Buddha is a supernatural being and that there are authorities. According to Linji, it is the task of each individual to realize the true Buddha, not to "meet" him.

Huangbo emphasized the highest Reality as the universal mind that underlies everything and that is devoid of any attributes. The mind is the creator of all things and the source of true wisdom, and by not thinking one can return to it and experience the universal mind through direct intuition.

During the Tang period, five schools of Chan, the so-called " Five Houses ", had developed. These included the Guiyang house ( 潙 仰  /  沩 仰 , Wéiyǎng ; Japanese Igyō ), the Linji house ( 臨濟  /  临济 , Línjì ; Japanese Rinzai ), the Caodong house ( 曹洞 , Caódòng ; Japanese Sōtō ) and the Houses Yunmen ( 雲 門  /  云 门 , Yúnmén ; Japanese Ummon ) and Fayan ( 法眼 , Fǎyǎn ; Japanese Hōgen ). During the Northern Song the Linji and Yunmen Schools dominated, while the Caodong School gained influence during the Southern Song . The Caodong monk Hongzhi Zhengjue emphasized sitting in meditation as the main practice, which is known as the "Chan of Silent Enlightenment". Dahui Zonggao , a monk of the Linji School, sharply attacked this doctrine and conceptually contrasted it with the "chan of seeing the Gong'an", since in his opinion, enlightenment can only be achieved through the koan exercise .

The traces of the Caodong school in China are lost at the end of the Song era. However, in 1223 the Japanese monk Dōgen Kigen came into contact with the ideas of the school on a trip to China with the patriarch of a Caodong branch line. The school he founded on his return to Japan in 1227 is therefore also called Sōtō-Zen , although Dōgen is also part of the Rinzai tradition through his teacher Myōzen . As early as 1191, the monk Myōan Eisai brought the teaching of the Linji school to Japan and established it there as Rinzai Zen . The two schools in Japan retained their independence and are still the main representatives of Japanese Zen Buddhism today. The Rinzai School continues to focus on the Kōan exercise, while the Sōtō School emphasizes sitting in meditation ( Zazen ) and thus continues the Caodong tradition outside of the Chinese motherland.

The other schools of the Chinese Chan, Guiyang, Yunmen and Fayan, merged with the Linji school by the end of the Song dynasty at the latest, which became the dominant Chinese school during this time and the two main lines Yangqi ( 楊 岐  /  杨 岐 , Yángqí ; Japanese Yōgi ) and Huanglong ( 黃龍  /  黄龙 , Huánglóng ; Japanese Ōryō ). During the Ming and Qing dynasties , Chinese chan of the Linji school became increasingly syncretistic . It was mixed with other Buddhist currents such as the School of the Pure Land . So found about the nianfo ( 念佛 , nianfo ; Japanese Nembutsu ), so the roll call of the Buddha Amitabha , or tantric practices entrance to the Chan Buddhism. The recitation of the sutras also gained increasing importance, which meant a certain relativization of the special extra-written tradition of the Chan. In 1654 the Chinese Chan monk Yinyuan Longqi founded the Ōbaku school as the third school of Japanese Zen Buddhism with the intention of bringing contemporary Chinese Chan of the Ming dynasty to Japan . The tensions with the Japanese Rinzai school showed that since Zen was transplanted to Japan, it had developed independently of the Chinese Chan.

In the early 20th century, Chinese Buddhism and the Chan teachings were revived by Hsu Yun , who also turned his attention to the lost Chan directions.

In the People's Republic of China , Chan was suppressed for a long time; however, since the 1980s many temples and monasteries have been rebuilt and nuns and monks have been ordained. There are a growing number of practitioners. In Taiwan , in Hong Kong and among the overseas Chinese Chan after popular as before.

See also