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The Origin of Zen

There was a congregation of monks when Gautam Buddha was residing on the mountain of Grudhra Kuta. As per the custom, the attendees expected Buddha to address the gathering. But, in contrast to it, a strange incident happened that day. Buddha held a lotus flower in his hand and remained silent.

Thousands of monks who were present there could not understand this subtle gesture of Buddha. Only Maha Kasyapa could decipher the meaning and accepted it with a smile. Buddha gave the lotus flower he was holding, to Maha Kasyapa and said "I have the perception of Dharma. I have the mind of Nirvana. I am beyond all physical dimensions. I have a unique Dharma which is beyond all scriptures and can be passed on without the ritual of words. Today, I am passing this knowledge to Maha Kasyapa”.

In the lineage of Zen, Maha Kasyapa thus became the first Guru, Ananda - the second guru, Nagarjuna - the fourteenth guru, Prajnatara or Prajnadhara - the twenty-seventh followed by Bodhidharma who was the twenty-eighth. Thereafter due to lack of eligible seekers in India, Bodhidharma shifted to China and silently transmitted Zen to seekers over there.

The knowledge of Zen thus left India and reached China. It is called as ‘Chan' and five new masters were found after Bodhidharma in China. It further split into several sub-sects and spread to Japan under the name of ‘Zen’.

Dhyana-Buddhism (Meditation oriented Buddhism) is a convergence of Mahayana Buddhism and Yogic practises. The word ‘Dhyana’ (intense concentration or meditation) got translated into Chinese as ‘Chan’ and into Japanese as ‘Zen’. These sub-sects of Chan and Zen are prevailing till date in countries like China, Japan, Hong-Kong, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Cambodia. Even today, there exist many seekers following these footsteps and experiencing the ultimate state of 'Nirvana'.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Gayatri K, which was originally posted in on April 25, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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