Zen, a school of Japanese Buddhism   禅

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Zazen, sitting meditation characterizes the road on the way Soto Zen.

Zazen, sitting meditation characterizes the road on the way Soto Zen.

A typical Zen garden: simple aesthetic and harmonious.

A typical Zen garden: simple aesthetic and harmonious.

Print Zen Dharma representative and mushotoku without profit motive, the rule of Zen.

Print Zen Dharma representative and mushotoku without profit motive, the rule of Zen.

Zen Buddhism or the praise of simplicity

Originally from India, Zen meditation and school (dhyana in Sanskrit, chan in Chinese, son in Korean) is only one of the many branches of Japanese Buddhism. The most known is: Rinzai and Soto. Learn more about zen, it's origins and practices and where to visit during your stay. 

History of Zen in Japan

Buddhism in Japan appeared in the middle of the sixth century. This was the Mahayana, or Great Vehicle, practiced in large parts of East Asia. It put an emphasis on compassion, and was based on the ideal of the bodhisattva (a belief that work done for the good of others can lead to nirvana, the ultimate liberation).

Much later, at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Zen was introduced from China via the kingdoms of Korea by Eisai monks (1141-1215), founders of the Rinzai sect, and Dogen monks (1200-1253), founder of the Soto sect.

Koans, or seemingly illogical questions, are part of the training that Rinzai followers try to master. For example: "A buffalo passes through a latticed window. It’s head, horns, and four legs all pass through. Why can’t the tail pass through as well?" Zazen, seated meditation, and dokusan, a private, heart-to-heart meeting of pupil and master, characterize the path of Soto.  The youngest Zen sect in Japan, called Obaku, started in the 17th century and is close to the Rinzai school.

Zen the School of Life

The purpose of Zen is to achieve sudden enlightenment (satori). How? Physical and mental discipline, a drive for mastery of time and a sense of space. Why? To combat the enemy within, the ignorant self with fears and illusions. The techniques and exercises of monks have strongly influenced Japanese civilization and the arts, well beyond the spiritual realm.

Practice upon practice leads to a personal spiritual journey. The followers of Zen reject intellectual fireworks and worldly frivolities. They prefer the experience of reality, here and now without hope or fear. 

Participate in a real zen meditation in Tokyo with Voyagin.

Koya san

Zen garden in Koya san

ZEN TEMPLES AND PLACES IN JAPAN

In Japan, the Zen temples of the Rinzai school have beautiful gardens, often including a pond or a lake, and the famous stone garden - which we call "Zen gardens". Also called "dry gardens" (枯 山水, karesansui in Japanese), these areas of brushed gravel where stones are placed illustrate one of significant the aspects of Zen: the desire to eliminate unnecessary elements.

Visiting Zen temples while in Japan is a great way to approach the Zen movement. They are particularly numerous in Kyoto, ancestral city which shelters among the most beautiful Zen Buddhist complexes of the country, but also in Kamakura.

Zen Temples to Visit in Kyoto

  • Kennin-ji

It is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, located in the historic district of Higashiyama. It was founded in 1202 by the monk Yousai. Kennin-ji is the main temple of the Rinzai School and it is within its walls that Zen was first taught. It has two splendid gardens, a dry garden all in length as well as a small interior garden, the Chouontei, covered with moss, whose maples are admired during the koyo in the fall.

Address: 584 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Entrance fee: 500 yen (US $4.64)
Opening hours: Open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m from March to October and from 10 a.m to 4.30 p.m from November to February

Kennin-ji

Kennin-ji Temple

Kodai ji

The dry garden of Kodai-ji

Kodai-ji

The garden at Kodai-ji

  • Kodai-ji

The very pretty Kodai-ji is located not far from Kiyomizu-dera, to the east of the city. Founded in 1606 by a widow to honor her late husband, the temple gardens are exceptional and are listed as Cultural Heritage of Japan. These include a small stone garden, a pond and its wooden bridge, but also a tea house and a bamboo grove. A small Zen temple, nevertheless unmissable!

Address: 526 Shimokawara-cho, Kodai-ji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Entrance fee: 600 yen (US $5.57)
Opening hours: Open from 9 a.m to 5.30 p.m

Zen Temples to Visit in Kamakura

Kamakura, a seaside town easily accessible from Tokyo, is also a great center of Zen Buddhism.

Kencho-ji temple in Kita-Kamakura, the oldest Zen temple in Japan.

Kencho-ji temple in Kita-Kamakura, the oldest Zen temple in Japan.

Engakuji

Engakuji

  • Kencho-ji

Founded in 1249, this temple is the most important of the five great temples of Kamakura. Its Sanmon gate, as well as its bonsho bell dating from 1255, are unmissable.

Address: 8 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Entrance fee: 300 yen (US $2.78)
Opening hours:Open daily from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m

  • Engaku-ji

This temple was built to commemorate the memory of Japanese warriors who died during the 13th century Mongol invasion. It is very popular with the Japanese during koyo.

Address: 409 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Entrance fee: 300 yen (US $2.78)
Opening hours: Open daily from 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m

Finally, to experience Zen participate in a tea ceremony, the latter being largely inspired by the practices of Zen Buddhism.

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