Buddhism in China developed in a unique way.
Influenced by the Chinese emphasis on the Tao (the "way"), Buddhism
in China began to focus on intuition and direct experience more than on
the scriptures and bodhisattvas. The individual who is often credited with
being the founder of this unique form of Buddhism is Bodhidharma.
Bodhidharma is said to have arrived in China from India during the
fifth century C.E. By this time, Buddhism was well-established in
China. Bodhidharma's teachings were apparently meant to counter the
popular conception of Buddhism as simply a means for acquiring merit
in order to obtain a favorable rebirth. For Bodhidharma, the purpose
of Buddhism was enlightenment, and enlightenment could only be
realized through direct experience - especially direct experience of
emptiness through meditation.
The idea evolved that all persons have a
Buddha nature - an enlightened self. One needs to find a way to
realize this nature and to experience directly. In other words, Zen
Buddhism emphasized experience over concepts. Concepts are bound by our
limited logic and language. The concept is not the experience – just as
the menu is not the food! To experience the Buddha nature two practices
are employed. Some schools of Zen believe that enlightenment can
happen immediately; others believe it is a more gradual process.
Two of the unique features of Zen Buddhism are
"sitting meditation" and the use of the koan.
Zazen (" sitting meditation") is a
type of meditation that is meant to calm mind until
enlightenment comes with realization of the nature of reality (emptiness
or "unconditioned reality")
and the realization of the unity of all existence – nothing is separate
from one’s self.
Combined with meditation is the use of koan.
A koan is a riddle that cannot be solved
through rational thought. Its purpose
is to shatter the logical thought processes and thus move to direct intuition of
nature of reality. “What
is your face before your parents’ birth?”
The enlightenment or insight that is attained through these practices
is known as satori. The experience of the unity of all things,
the "All aspects of life become at the same time utterly precious,
and utterly empty." This cannot be grasped intellectually.