An interesting fact about Buddhism is its history.
Buddhism first developed in India through the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha about 2500 years ago. His teaching is carried on in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism or the Teaching of the Elders.
So the Theravada tradition is the Shakyamuni Buddha's original teaching. It is called the Path of the Elders. It is also called Hinayana Buddhism or the lesser vehicle. This is in comparison with Mahayana Buddhism - the Greater Vehicle.
An interesting fact about Buddhism is that it is a living seed and the Buddhist teaching has grown over the centuries under the influence of other enlightened masters. Shakyamuni Buddha - the original Siddharth Gautama - is only one of the many enlightened masters who form part of the Buddhist tradition. The Buddhist teaching grew under the influence of these other masters in North India, Tibet, China and Japan. In all these places Mahayana Buddhism took root. So an interesting fact about Buddhism is the variety of methods that developed over time.
Alan Watt's says that Buddhism is Hinduism stripped for export. The Buddhist teaching spread as I said earlier to Tibet, China, Japan and other East Asian countries. In each country it adapted itself to its culture and traditions. The teaching and tradition (of Buddhism) gave birth to many enlightened masters and they in turn enriched the teaching. The peculiar genius of these masters and of the people of these countries colored the way Buddhism took shape in each of these countries. In Tibet, Mahayana Buddhism took root and influenced by many masters permeated the lives of the common people. In addition there were many monasteries and the tradition of the Dalai Lama as the spiritual and temporal head of the country also took shape there. The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in India after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s. He is a highly respected figure and has won the Nobel peace prize. So an interesting fact about Buddhism is the way it changed to adapt itself to local customs in various countries.
In China, in addition to the Mahayana tradition, Zen Buddhism took root. The founder of Zen Buddhism in China is supposedly Bodhidharma who came to China from India. To Bodhidharma is attributed the saying, "This very mind is the Buddha." This one sentence has had a profound influence on my growth and maturity as a human being.
So this is another interesting fact about Buddhism - just one in fact of the many skillful means (upayas) that you will find in this tradition.
Zen Buddhism flourished in China in the first millennium after Christ and during part of the second. It influenced and was influenced by the peculiar Chinese genius - by the philosophy of Confucius and of Taoism. And from China Zen Buddhism spread to Japan.
And it is in Japan that we can now find Zen Buddhism practiced. The word Zen in fact is corruption of the Chinese word "Chan" which in turn is a corruption of the Sanskrit word "Dhyana" There are many schools of Zen Buddhism in Japan and in fact Mahayana Buddhism is also practiced over there.
Zen is unique in the sense that it has no doctrine or philosophy or teachings that can be learned from books. It stresses only experiential understanding. Zen is thought of as being the fastest way to enlightenment. Slower than it is the Mahayana teaching and slowest of all is the Theravada tradition.
In the Zen monasteries in Japan today we many skillful means to aid the student in his quest. Prominent amongst these methods are Zazen meditation and the Koan.
One interesting fact about Buddhism as regards Zazen is the attitude that the monk is expected to bring to it. Normally we do all tasks - including meditation - because we expect a certain result. We meditate because we want happiness peace, enlightenment and the like. This however is just grasping or craving in another form. Monks doing Zazen are for this reason instructed to do their sitting meditation practice for the sake of doing the practice. And not because they want to gain something from their practice - whether enlightenment or anything else.
It is just this attitude that monks are expected to bring to Zazen meditation. And should we apply this to our meditation practice and day to day life it is quite enough to transform our lives.
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