Zen | Teachings


1. Zen | Teachings

Zen (Chinese: Chan; Sanskrit: dhyāna; Japanese: Zen; Korean: Seon; Vietnamese: Thien) is the Japanese term (and often used term in English) for the principle of dhyāna in Buddhism,

and for Zen Buddhism, a tradition in Mahāyāna Buddhism which originated in China during the Tang dynasty (as Chan Buddhism, Chinese: Chanzōng).

Chinese Chan Buddhism developed into various other schools, including many Japanese Zen schools, to which the term "Zen" in English sometimes refers.

The Chan School was strongly influenced by Daoist philosophy, especially Neo-Daoist thought, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism.

Chan Buddhism spread from China south to Vietnam to become Vietnamese Thien, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism, and east to Japan to become Japanese Zen.

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Chan, an abbreviation of channa, which is a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word of dhyāna ("meditation").

Zen emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of mind (Ch. jianxing, Jp. Kensho, "perceiving the true nature") and nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.

As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of Sūtras and doctrine and favours direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher or Master.

The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, especially Yogācāra, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal.

The Prajñāpāramitā literature as well as Mādhyamika thought has been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetoric.

2. Etymology

Zen Teachings

The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Chan, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "absorption" or "meditative state".

The actual Chinese term for the "Zen school" is Chanzōng, while "Chan" just refers to the practice of meditation itself (xíchán) or the study of meditation (chánxué) though it is often used as an abbreviated form of Chanzōng.

The practice of Dhyāna or meditation, especially sitting meditation (Chinese: zuochan, Japanese: Zazen) is a central part of Zen Buddhism.


3. Chinese Buddhism

The practice of Buddhist meditation first entered China through the translations of An Shigao (fl. c. 148–180 CE), and Kumārajīva (334–413 CE), who both translated Dhyāna Sūtras, which were influential early meditation texts mostly based on the Yogācāra (yoga praxis) teachings of the Kashmiri Sarvāstivāda circa 1-4th centuries CE.

Among the most influential early Chinese meditation texts include the Anban Shouyi Jing (Sūtra on Ānāpānasmṛti), the Zuochan Sanmei Jing (Sūtra of sitting dhyāna Samādhi) and the Damoduoluo Chan Jing (Dharmatrāta dhyāna Sūtra):

These early Chinese meditation works continued to exert influence on Zen practice well into the modern era:

For example, the 18th century Rinzai Zen Master Tōrei Enji wrote a commentary on the Damoduoluo Chan Jing and used the Zuochan Sanmei Jing as source in the writing of this commentary. Tōrei believed that the Damoduoluo Chan Jing had been authored by Bodhidharma.

While dhyāna in a strict sense refers to the 4 Dhyānas, in Chinese Buddhism, dhyāna may refer to various kinds of meditation techniques and their preparatory practices, which are necessary to practice dhyāna.

The 5 main types of meditation in the Dhyāna Sūtras are:

1. Ānāpānasmṛti (mindfulness of breathing)
2. Paṭikūlamanasikāra meditation (mindfulness of the impurities of the body)
3. Maitrī meditation (loving-kindness)
4. Contemplation on the 12 links of Pratītyasamutpāda
5. Contemplation on the Buddha

According to the modern Chan master Sheng Yen, these practices are termed the "5 methods for stilling or pacifying the mind" and serve to focus and purify the mind, and support the development of the stages of Dhyāna.

Chan also shares the practice of the 4 foundations of mindfulness and the 3 Gates of Liberation (Śūnyatā, signlessness or animitta and wishlessness or apraṇihita) with early Buddhism and classic Mahāyāna.

4. Observing the mind

Thich Nhat Hanh,
Vietnamesse Zen teacher

The first explicit statement of the sudden and direct approach that was to become the hallmark of Chan religious practice is associated with the East Mountain School:

It was a method named "Maintaining the one without wavering", the one being the nature of mind, which is equated with Buddha-nature:

In this practice, one turned the attention from the objects of experience, to the nature of mind, the perceiving subject itself, which is equated with Buddha-nature.

This type of meditation resembles the methods of virtually all schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but differs in that "no preparatory requirements, no moral prerequisites or preliminary exercises are given," and is "without steps or gradations. One concentrates, understands, and is Enlightened, all in one undifferentiated practice."

The notion of "Mind" came to be criticised by radical subitists, and was replaced by "No Mind," to avoid any reifications.

5. Mindfulness of breathing

During sitting meditation (Ch. zuochan, 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 10, 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 centre (Dantian) below the navel.

Zen teachers often promote diaphragmatic breathing, stating that the breath must come from the lower abdomen, 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.

6. Silent Illumination and Shikantaza

A common form of sitting meditation is called "Silent illumination":

This practice was traditionally promoted by the Caodong school of Chinese Chan and is associated with Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091—1157) who wrote various works on the practice:

This method derives from the Indian Buddhist practice of the union of Śamatha and Vipaśyanā.

In Hongzhi's practice of "non-dual 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 Soto, where it is more widely known as Shikantaza ("Just sitting").

Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of the practice can be found throughout the work of the Japanese Soto Zen thinker Dōgen:

- especially in his Shōbōgenzō ("Treasury of the True Dharma Eye"), 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.

7. Hua Tou and Koan contemplation

During the Tang dynasty, Koan 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. Koans are meant to illustrate the non-conceptual insight (Prajñā) that the Buddhist teachings point to.

During the Song dynasty, a new meditation method was popularized by figures such as Dahui, which was called kanhua chan ("introspection meditation), which referred to contemplation on a single word or phrase (called the huatou, "critical phrase") of a Koan.

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 Jinul (1158–1210), and modern Chinese masters like Sheng Yen and Xuyun.

Yet, while Dahui famously criticised "silent illumination," he nevertheless "did not completely condemn quiet-sitting; in fact, he seems to have recommended it, at least to his monastic disciples."

In the Japanese Rinzai School, Koan introspection developed its own formalized style, with a standardized curriculum of Koans, which must be studied and "passed" in sequence:

This process includes standardized "checking questions" and common sets of "capping phrases" or poetry citations that are memorized by students as answers.

The Zen student's mastery of a given Koan 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 Koan, 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.

Koan-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), and is to be followed by further practice to attain a natural, effortless, down-to-earth state of being, the "ultimate liberation", "knowing without any kind of defilement".

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

8. 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 Amitābha.

In Chinese Chan, the Pure Land practice of Nianfo based on the phrase Namo Āmituofo (Homage to Amitābha) 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 (1286–1354).

During the late Ming, the harmonization of Pure Land practices with Chan meditation was continued by figures such as Yunqi Zhu Hong and Hānshān Deqīng.

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

9. Bodhisattva virtues and vows

Since Zen is a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism, it is grounded on the schema of the Bodhisattva Path, which is based on the practice of the "transcendent virtues" or "perfections" (Skt. Pāramitā) as well as the taking of the Bodhisattva Vows.

The most widely used list of 6 virtues is:

1. Generosity
2. Moral training (incl. 5 precepts)
3. Patient endurance
4. Energy or effort
5. Meditation (dhyāna)
6. Wisdom.

An important source for these teachings is the Avataṁsaka Sūtra, which also outlines the grounds (bhūmi) or levels of the Bodhisattva Path.

Pāramitās are mentioned in early Chan works such as Bodhidharma's 2 entrances and 4 practices and are seen as an important part of gradual cultivation by later Chan figures like Zongmi.

An important element of this practice is the formal and ceremonial taking of Refuge in the 3 Jewels, Bodhisattva Vows and Precepts.

Various sets of precepts are taken in Zen including the 5 precepts, "10 essential precepts", and the 16 Bodhisattva precepts.

This is commonly done in an Initiation Ritual ("receiving the precepts"), which is also undertaken by lay followers and marks a layperson as a formal Buddhist.

The Chinese Buddhist practice of fasting, especially during the Uposatha days ("days of fasting") can also be an element of Chan training:

Chan masters may go on extended absolute fasts, as exemplified by Master Hsuan Hua's 35 day fast, which he undertook during the Cuban missile crisis for the generation of merit.

10. Physical cultivation

Traditional martial arts, like Japanese archery, other forms of Japanese Budo and Chinese martial arts (Kung Fu) have also been seen as forms of Zen praxis:

This tradition goes back to the influential Shaolin Monastery in Henan, which developed the first institutionalized form of Kung Fu.

By the late Ming, Shaolin Kung Fu was very popular and widespread, as evidenced by mentions in various forms of Ming literature:

- featuring staff wielding fighting monks like Sun Wukong - Monkey King and historical sources, which also speak of Shaolin's impressive monastic army that rendered military service to the state in return for patronage.

These Shaolin practices, which began to develop around the 12th century, were also traditionally seen as a form of Chan Buddhist inner cultivation (today called wuchan, "martial Chan").

The Shaolin arts also made use of Daoist physical exercises (Tao yin) breathing and energy cultivation (Qigong) practices:

They were seen as therapeutic practices, which improved "internal strength" (neili), health and longevity (lit. "nourishing life" yangsheng), as well as means to spiritual liberation.

The influence of these Daoist practices can be seen in the work of Wang Zuyuan (ca. 1820–after 1882), a scholar and minor bureaucrat who studied at Shaolin:

Wang's Illustrated Exposition of Internal Techniques shows how Shaolin exercises were drawn from Daoist methods like those of the Yijin Jing and 8 pieces of brocade, possibly influenced by the Ming dynasty's spirit of religious syncretism.

According to the modern Chan master Sheng Yen, Chinese Buddhism has adopted internal cultivation exercises from the Shaolin tradition as ways to "harmonize the body and develop concentration in the midst of activity."

This is because, "techniques for harmonizing the vital energy are powerful assistants to the cultivation of Samādhi and spiritual insight."

Korean Seon also has developed a similar form of active physical training, termed Sunmudo.

In Japan, the classic combat arts (Budo) and Zen practice have been in contact since the embrace of Rinzai Zen by the Hojo clan in the 13th century, who applied Zen discipline to their martial practice.

One influential figure in this relationship was the Rinzai priest Takuan Soho (1573-1645) who was well known for his writings on Zen and Budo addressed to the samurai class (especially his The Unfettered Mind).

The Rinzai School also adopted certain Daoist energy practices:

They were introduced by Hakuin Ekaku (1686–1769) who learned various techniques from a hermit named Hakuyu who helped Hakuin cure his "Zen sickness" (a condition of physical and mental exhaustion).

These energetic practices, known as Naikan, are based on focusing the mind and one's vital energy (ki) on the tanden (a spot slightly below the navel).

11. The arts

Certain arts such as painting, calligraphy, poetry, gardening, flower arrangement, tea ceremony and others have also been used as part of Zen training and practice.

Classical Chinese arts like brush painting and calligraphy were used by Chan monk painters such as Guanxiu (832-912) and Muqi Fachang (1210-1269) to communicate their spiritual understanding in unique ways to their students.

Zen paintings are sometimes termed Zenga in Japanese.

Hakuin is one Japanese Zen master who was known to create a large corpus of unique Sumi-E (ink and wash paintings) and Japanese calligraphy to communicate Zen in a visual way. His work and that of his disciples were widely influential in Japanese Zen.

Another example of Zen Arts can be seen in the short lived Fuke sect of Japanese Zen, which practiced a unique form of "blowing Zen" (Suizen) by playing the Shakuhachi bamboo flute.

12. Intensive group practice

Intensive group meditation may be practiced occasionally in some temples. In the Japanese language, this practice is called Sesshin.

While the daily routine may require monks to meditate for several hours each day, during the intensive period they devote themselves almost exclusively to Zen practice.

The numerous 30–50 minute long sitting meditation (Zazen) periods are interwoven with rest breaks, ritualized formal meals, and short periods of work that are to be performed with the same state of mindfulness.

In modern Buddhist practice in Japan, Taiwan, and the West, lay students often attend these intensive practice sessions or retreats. These are held at many Zen centres or temples.

13. Zen chanting and rituals

Most Zen monasteries, temples and centres perform various rituals, services and ceremonies (such as initiation ceremonies and funerals), which are always accompanied by the chanting of verses, poems or Sūtras.

There are also ceremonies that are specifically for the purpose of Sūtra recitation itself. Zen schools may have an official Sūtra book that collects these writings.

Practitioners may chant major Mahāyāna Sūtras such as the Heart Sūtra and chapter 25 of the Lotus Sūtra (often called the "Avalokiteśvara Sūtra").

Dhāraṇīs and Zen poems may also be part of a Zen temple liturgy, including texts like the Song of the Precious Mirror Samādhi, the Sandokai, the Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī, and the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra.

The Butsudan is the altar in a monastery, temple or a lay person's home, where offerings are made to the images of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas and deceased family members and ancestors.

Rituals usually centre on major Buddhas or Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin), Kṣitigarbha and Mañjuśrī.

An important element in Zen ritual practice is the performance of ritual prostrations (Jp. raihai) or bows.

One popular form of ritual in Japanese Zen is Mizuko kuyo (Water child) ceremonies, which are performed for those who have had a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. These ceremonies are also performed in American Zen Buddhism.

A widely practiced ritual in Chinese Chan is variously called the "Rite for releasing the Hungry Ghosts" or the "Releasing flaming mouth".

The ritual might date back to the Tang dynasty, and was very popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties, when Chinese Esoteric Buddhist practices became diffused throughout Chinese Buddhism.

The Chinese holiday of the Ghost Festival might also be celebrated with similar rituals for the dead. These ghost rituals are a source of contention in modern Chinese Chan, and masters such as Sheng Yen criticize the practice for not having "any basis in Buddhist teachings".

Another important type of ritual practiced in Zen are various repentance or confession rituals (Jp. zange) that were widely practiced in all forms of Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhism:

One popular Chan text on this is known as the Emperor Liang Repentance Ritual, composed by Chan master Baozhi (418-514 C.E.). Dōgen also wrote a treatise on repentance, the Shushogi (Treatise on Practice and Enlightenment).

Other rituals could include rites dealing with local deities (kami in Japan), and ceremonies on Buddhist holidays such as Buddha's Birthday.

Funerals are also an important ritual and are a common point of contact between Zen monastics and the laity:

Statistics published by the Soto school state that 80% of Soto laymen visit their temple only for reasons having to do with funerals and death.

17% visit for spiritual reasons and 3% visit a Zen priest at a time of personal trouble or crisis.

14. Esoteric practices

Depending on the tradition, esoteric methods such as mantra and Dhāraṇī are also used for different purposes including meditation practice, protection from evil, invoking great compassion, invoking the power of certain Bodhisattvas, and are chanted during ceremonies and rituals.

In the Kwan Um school of Zen for example, a mantra of Guanyin ("Kwan Seum Bosal") is used during sitting meditation. The Heart Sūtra Mantra is also another mantra that is used in Zen during various rituals.

Another example is the Mantra of Light (komyo shingon), which is common in Japanese Soto Zen and was derived from the Shingon sect.

The usage of esoteric mantras in Zen goes back to the Tang dynasty. There is evidence that Chan Buddhists adopted practices from Esoteric Buddhism in findings from Dunhuang:

Several successors of Shenxiu (such as Jingxian and Yi Xing) were also students of the Zhēnyan (Mantra) school.

Influential esoteric Dhāraṇī, such as the Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra, also begin to be cited in the literature of the Baotang School during the Tang dynasty.

There is also documentation that monks living at Shaolin temple during the 8th century performed esoteric practices there such as Mantra and Dhāraṇī, and that these also influenced Korean Seon Buddhism.

During the Joseon dynasty, the Seon School was not only the dominant tradition in Korea, but it was also highly inclusive and ecumenical in its doctrine and practices, and this included Esoteric Buddhist lore and rituals (that appear in Seon literature from the 15th century onwards).

The writings of several Seon masters (such as Hyujeong) reveal they were esoteric adepts.

In Japanese Zen, the use of esoteric practices within Zen is sometimes termed "mixed Zen" (kenshū Zen), and the figure of Keizan Jōkin (1264–1325) is seen as introducing this into the Soto school.

The Japanese founder of the Rinzai School, Myōan Eisai (1141–1215) was also a well-known practitioner of Esoteric Buddhism and wrote various works on the subject.

A very common Dhāraṇī in Japanese Zen is the Śūraṅgama spell, which is repeatedly chanted during summer training retreats as well as at every important monastic ceremony throughout the year in Zen monasteries.

Some Zen temples also perform Esoteric Rituals, such as the Homa ritual, feeding hungry ghosts, ancestor memorial rites and the ghost festival.

The formal Zen rituals of Dharma transmission often involve esoteric initiations.

15. Buddhist Mahāyāna influences

Though Zen-narrative states that it is a "special transmission outside scriptures", which "did not stand upon words", Zen does have a rich doctrinal background that is firmly grounded in the Buddhist tradition.

It was thoroughly influenced by Mahāyāna teachings on the Bodhisattva Path, Chinese Mādhyamika (Sānlun), Yogācāra (Weishi), Prajñaparamita, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and other Buddha nature texts.

The influence of Mādhyamika and Prajñaparamita can be discerned in the stress on non-conceptual wisdom (Prajñā) and the apophatic language of Zen literature.

The philosophy of the Huayan School also had an influence on Chinese Chan:

One example is the Huayan doctrine of the interpenetration of phenomena, which also makes use of native Chinese philosophical concepts such as principle (li) and phenomena (shi).

The Huayan theory of the 4-fold Dharmadhātu also influenced the Five Ranks of Dongshan Liangjie (806–869), the founder of the Caodong Chan lineage.

16. Buddha-nature and subitism

Central in the doctrinal development of Chan Buddhism was the notion of Buddha-nature, the idea that the awakened mind of a Buddha is already present in each sentient being (Hongaku in Japanese Zen):

This Buddha-nature was initially equated with the Nature of Mind, while later Chan-teachings evaded any reification by rejecting any positivist terminology.

The idea of the imminent character of the Buddha-nature took shape in a characteristic emphasis on direct insight into, and expression of this Buddha-nature.

It led to a reinterpretation and Sinification of Indian meditation terminology, and an emphasis on subitism:

the idea that the Buddhist teachings and practices are comprehended and expressed "sudden," c.q. "in one glance," "uncovered all together," or "together, completely, simultaneously," in contrast to gradualism, "successively or being uncovered one after the other."

The emphasis on Subitism led to the idea that "Enlightenment occurs in a single transformation that is both total and instantaneous".

While the attribution of gradualism, attributed by Shenhui to a concurring faction, was a rhetoric device, it lead to a conceptual dominance in the Chan-tradition of subitism, in which any charge of gradualism was to be avoided.

This "rhetorical purity" was hard to reconcile conceptually with the actual practice of meditation, and left little place in Zen texts for the description of actual meditation practices, apparently rejecting any form of practice.

Instead, those texts directly pointed to and expressed this awakened nature, giving way to the paradoxically nature of encounter dialogue and Koans.

17. Caodong/Soto

Soto is the Japanese line of the Chinese Caodong School, which was founded during the Tang Dynasty by Dongshan Liangjie.

The Soto-school has de-emphasized Koans since Gentō Sokuchū (circa 1800), and instead emphasized on Shikantaza (just sitting in awareness):

Dōgen, the founder of Soto in Japan, emphasized that practice and awakening cannot be separated. By practicing Shikantaza, attainment and Buddhahood are already being expressed.

For Dōgen, Zazen, or Shikantaza, is the essence of Buddhist practice.
Gradual cultivation was also recognized by Dongshan Liangjie.

18. Linji/Rinzai

The Rinzai School is the Japanese lineage of the Chinese Linji School, which was founded during the Tang dynasty by Linji Yixuan (died 866):

The Rinzai School emphasizes Kensho, insight into one's True Nature. This is followed by so-called post-satori practice, further practice to attain Buddhahood.

Other Zen-teachers have also expressed sudden insight followed by gradual cultivation:

Jinul, a 12th century Korean Seon master, followed Zongmi, and also emphasized that insight into our True Nature is sudden, but is to be followed by practice to ripen the insight and attain full Buddhahood.

This is also the standpoint of the contemporary Sanbo Kyodan, according to whom Kensho is at the start of the path to Full Enlightenment.

To attain this primary insight and to deepen it, Zazen and Koan-study is deemed essential.

This trajectory of initial insight followed by a gradual deepening and ripening is expressed by Linji in his Three Mysterious Gates and Hakuin Ekaku’s Four Ways of Knowing.

Another example of depiction of stages on the path are the Ten Bulls (poems), which detail the steps on the path.

Zen scripture

19. The role of scripture in Zen

Contrary to the popular image, literature does play a role in the Zen training. Zen is deeply rooted in the teachings and doctrines of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

Classic Zen texts, such as the Platform Sūtra, contain numerous references to Buddhist canonical Sūtras. Unsui (Zen-monks) are expected to become familiar with the classics of the Zen canon.

A review of the early historical documents and literature of early Zen Masters clearly reveals that they were well versed in numerous Mahāyāna sūtras, as well as Mahāyāna Buddhist philosophy such as Mādhyamika.

Nevertheless, Zen is often pictured as anti-intellectual:

This picture of Zen emerged during the Song Dynasty (960–1297), when Chan became the dominant form of Buddhism in China, and gained great popularity among the educated and literary classes of Chinese society:

The famous saying "do not establish words and letters", attributed to Bodhidharma, was taken not as a denial of the recorded words of the Buddha or the doctrinal elaborations by learned monks,

but as a warning to those who had become confused about the relationship between Buddhist teaching as a guide to the truth and mistook it for the truth itself.

What the Zen tradition emphasizes is that the Enlightenment of the Buddha came not through conceptualization but rather through direct insight. But direct insight has to be supported by study and understanding of the Buddhist teachings and texts:

Intellectual understanding without practice is called wild fox Zen,
but "one who has only experience without intellectual understanding is a Zen devil.

20. Grounding Chan in scripture

The early Buddhist schools in China were each based on a specific Sūtra.

At the beginning of the Tang Dynasty, by the time of the 5th Patriarch Hongren (601–674), the Zen school became established as a separate school of Buddhism. It had to develop a doctrinal tradition of its own to ascertain its position and to ground its teachings in a specific Sūtra.

Various Sūtras were used for this even before the time of Hongren:

- the Śrīmālādevī Sūtra (Huike), Awakening of Faith (Daoxin), the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (East Mountain School), the Diamond Sūtra (Shenhui), and the Platform Sūtra:

None of these Sūtras were decisive though, since the school drew inspiration from a variety of sources.

Subsequently, the Zen tradition produced a rich corpus of written literature, which has become a part of its practice and teaching.

Other influential Sūtras are the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, Avataṁsaka Sūtra, the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, and the Mahā Parinirvāṇa Sūtra.

21. Zen literature

The Zen-tradition developed a rich textual tradition, based on the interpretation of the Buddhist teachings and the recorded sayings of Zen-masters:

Important texts are the Platform Sūtra (8th century), attributed to Huineng; the Chan transmission records, such as The Records of the Transmission of the Lamp, compiled by Tao-yün and published in 1004;

the "yü-lü" genre consisting of the recorded sayings of the masters, and the encounter dialogues; the Koan-collections, such as the "Gateless Gate" and the "Blue Cliff Record".