About Zen

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty (7th – 10th century). Mahayana, meaning ‘Great Vehicle’ in Sanskrit, refers to the path of seeking complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Tibetan Buddhism as well as the various schools of Zen, teaches that enlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and can be accomplished even by a layperson. In this way it contrasts with the earlier Theravadan Buddhism of South East Asia which is more associated with monastic practice using the Buddha’s teaching preserved in the Pāli Canon as its doctrinal core.

Zen emphasises meditation-practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others – the so called Bodhisattva ideal. As such, it favours direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher as well as the study of sutras and doctrine.

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chan which in turn is derived from Dhyana, the Sanskrit word for meditation. Zen was strongly influenced by Taoism and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chan Buddhism spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan in the 12th century, where it became known as Japanese Zen.

Zen quickly established itself in Japan where its austerity, appreciation of Nature and emphasis on intuition appealed especially to Japan’s ruling samurai warriors. Zen has had a profound impact on Japanese society, and its influence can be seen in every aspect of culture and aesthetics from literature to the martial arts, interior and garden design, flower arranging, and the tea ceremony.

For many modern Japanese Zen is now mostly associated with the heritage business and the preservation of beautiful old temples. But the same cannot be said for Zen in the West. Here, since the sixties, Zen has spread to numerous small centres and groups and, freed from its cultural baggage, Zen has returned to its roots as a personal spiritual practice with new forms of organisation.

Stonewater Zen is part of this new Zen movement made up of ordinary people with jobs and families. We are part of an authentic, traditional lineage and we maintain many of the traditional forms and ceremonies. Zen in daily life within a supportive sangha is the emphasis in our practice.