One can talk about Zen only in antonyms. This is due to the fact that truth cannot be told in its raw form, as it is. Absolute truth is beyond interpretation, so it can only be inferred. It cannot be interpreted.
Bodhi Dharma, the first Guru to introduce Zen to China spoke following words about Zen.
This path directly leads to buddhahood (self-realization) without the need of scriptures.
It points all fingers towards a man’s mind.
By learning about one’s nature, one will attain buddhahood (self-realization).
Through meditation, Buddha attained a state called anuttarā-samyak-saṃbodhi or highest perfect awakening. He did not attain this through reading scriptures or through following some rituals. Hence, one who follows Buddha will become Buddha only when he drowns himself in meditation and attains knowledge by experiencing the true nature of mind and the world. This is not possible through reading scriptures and following certain rituals. This is the doctrine of Zen.
That is why, Zen is compared to the lighting of a lamp. One lamp lights up another lamp. Second lamp will light up by experiencing the light of first lamp. Similarly, when a good seeker of truth finds an able Guru, then the effulgence of Guru’s knowledge will flow into the disciple. Then there is no need of preaching, scriptures and rituals.
Buddha’s teachings were present in China even before Bodhi Dharma reached there. Buddha’s teachings reached China before Christ, but degenerated in course of time. Buddha’s main teaching is meditation. Instead of meditation, reciting percepts and researching scriptures were being followed. There was a wrong notion that scriptural knowledge was real Buddhism. Bodhi Dharma went to China to correct this wrong idea and to teach the real Buddhism.
He stayed at the famous Shaolin monastery and spent nine years meditating by continuously gazing at a wall. He waited for a good disciple and at last found Huyike. Just like how Buddha gave his light to Maha Kasyapa, Bodhi Dharma gave his knowledge to Huyike. Huyike has become the second Guru of Zen tradition.
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