Zen places importance on the unbroken transmission of
Buddha's teachings from teacher to student. In this way it
has been continuouslypassed down for the last 25 centuries
from the Historical Buddha Sakyamuni to now.
Zen traces all the way back to Sakyamuni who taught that
ultimately all things end and all things have Buddha nature,
and even this ends,
According to tradition the 28th
generation Indian Ancestor
of Zen known as Bodhidharma introduced Zen from India to China in the early 6th century C.E.
Other Indian forms of Buddhism had arrived in China
earlier, but the Zen teachings of Bodhidharma were
unknown, and only Zen placed emphasis on Zazen - a
form of Yogic meditation. The name Zen comes from the Indian word Dyanna, this was pronounced Ch'anna by to Chinese, and shortened to Ch'an and written in Chinese this word is now commonly pronounced all over the world as Zen, it's Japanese pronunciation.
In China Zen developed further mixing with Chinese T'ao. The 6th Chinese Ancestor Huineng marks the beginning of this Chinese Zen. Especially emphasizing the concept of Emptiness - Sunyata.
In a Poem the 6th Ancestor, Huineng, writes;
The body is not like a Bodhi tree,
and there is no mirror bright,
since everything is empty in the beginning,
where can dust rest?
This contrasted with Indian philosophy that the mind is a
mirror and needs therefore to be cleaned. If there is no
lasting Mind as Buddhism teaches, then how can it become
dirty? There is no distinction therefore between your
thoughts, emotions, body, all are here and not-here.
This in it's self therefore cannot be reached by just thinking, it must be combined. All things are Enlightenment but Seeing is not a reflection of life. Zen training is not towards cleaning away sins and distractions but towards breaking through to true Seeing. Seeing or Prajna and being or Prana as one.
Three generations after Huineng, the master Baizhang
Huaihai 百丈懷海 (J., Hyakujo Ekai; 749–814) laid the
foundations of the Zen monastic life, with manual labor as a
central part of the daily schedule (he is known for his famous
dictum, “A day of no work—a day of no eating”). This marks
a further move away from the Indian model, of philosophical
Buddhism towards experiential practice Awakening.
From then on eventually Zen split into 5 schools or mountains
using different methods to reach this. Eventually these Five
mountains would combine into just two. Rinzai and Soto.
Although the Five Houses taught essentially the same
Dharma as that transmitted through the generations of
meditation masters from the time of Shakyamuni Buddha,
their respective teaching styles differed according to the personalities of their founders. To summarize:
1. The Linji (Rinzai) school was known for its emphasis on sudden awakening, its occasionally dynamic teaching techniques (such as use of the sudden shout ), and, from Song-dynasty times, its extensive use of the koans.
2. The Guiyang school was known for its combination of Guishan Lingyou’s teaching on the unity of principle and function with Yangshan Huiji’s use of esoteric symbols like the circle-figure 圓相. The school later declined, and disappeared after about 150 years.
3. The Caodong (Soto)school was known for its aversion to worldly involvement and its emphasis on long sitting in “silent illumination” zazen (though koans were also used). The Five Ranks doctrine compiled by Tozan, was an important aspect of its teaching. In Japan there is a particular stress on ritual practice and the activities of everyday life. In China the school declined and disappeared in Ming times (1368–1644); the school remains active in Japan.
4. The Yunmen (Mumon) school flourished greatly for several centuries after the time of its founder, Yunmen Wenyan, especially among the educated elite. After several centuries it declined, however, and disappeared during the Yuan era (1280–1368). It was known for its terse, penetrating use of words, as exemplified by the so-called “one-word barriers” of Yunmen.
5. The Fayan school was known for its literary efforts, whitch gave rise to the classical Zen biographies and helped lay the foundations of koan Zen. Fayan-school masters were active in the development of the koans, and in attempts to combine zazen training with nenbutsu practice and Tiantai doctrine. In part because of its syncretistic tendencies, it disappeared as a distinct school after several generations, but its methods of koan work were assimilated into Linji Zen.
The school of Linji Yixuan 臨濟義玄 (J., Rinzai Gigen, d. 866),
came to epitomize the teachings of the five schools, Rinzai's
personal dynamic teaching using Koans and incorporating
elements from others.
These Zen traditions during the Chinese Song dynasty
made their way into Korea, Vietnam, and Japan.
from China to Japan
In Japan the Rinzai school was spread first by Esai zenji,
a Japanese monk of Tendai Buddhism who went to China
to search for Zen teaching. He and others like him in
Japanese Buddhism felt that other schools of Buddhism
had reached their limit, but they heard about Zen and the
'Teaching beyond teaching'. Eventually in Japan Rinzai
would spread and become popular with Samurai and middle classes, while Soto spread by Dogen zenji would become popular with farmers.
It is worth mentioning that all schools of Zen, past and present (incl. Soto, Obaku, Fuke), are in fact variations of the Rinzai school.
The transmission of the Zen school to Japan continued after the time of Eisai through Japanese monks who practiced Zen in China and Chinese masters who settled in Japan. Zen tradition has it that the teachings were conveyed by a total of forty-six masters, of whom twenty-four established lineages lasting at least a few generations. Among these, the sole Rinzai lineage to flourish to the present day is the so-called Otokan lineage of Nanpo Jomyo 南浦紹明 (1235ｰ1308), usually known as Daio Kokushi 大應國師; his student Shuho Myocho 宗峰妙超 (1282-1337), usually known as Daito Kokushi 大燈國師; and Shuho’s student Kanzan Egen 關山慧玄 (1277–1360). The term Otokan comes from the “o” of Daio, the “to” of Daito, and the “kan” of Kanzan). This lineage has largely shaped Rinzai Zen practice in Japan, and, through the eighteenth-century master Hakuin Ekaku, includes every Rinzai Zen master in Japan today.
The most important reviver of the Rinzai tradition, and in some respects the greatest figure in Japanese Rinzai Zen, was Hakuin Ekaku 白隱慧鶴 (1686–1769). Hakuin was a native of the village of Hara in present Shizuoka Prefecture. As a young boy he displayed a remarkable memory and strong character, but is said to have been terrified by images of hell. At the age of fifteen he became a monk at the nearby temple Shoin-ji 松蔭寺. At the age of nineteen he had a crisis that caused him to leave meditation training for several years and devote himself to the study of literature, but later, upon reading how the Chinese master Shishuang Chuyuan 石霜楚圓 (J., Sekiso Soen; 986–1039) kept himself awake during his meditation at night by sticking his thigh with an awl, he returned to his zazen practice with renewed determination. At twenty-four he had an awakening upon hearing the sound of a temple bell, an experience he deeped through training under the master Dokyo Etan 道鏡慧端 (1642–1721) of Shoju-an 正受庵 in what is now Nagano Prefecture. Further training and experiences followed, even after he returned to Suruga as abbot of Shoin-ji. His decisive spiritual breakthrough occurred when he was forty-two years old.
Hakuin was tirelessly active in teaching the dharma. He travelled widely, lectured on many of the basic Zen texts, and produced a large body of writings, both in vernacular Japanese and classical Chinese. He stressed the importance of bodhicitta, in both its aspects of personal enlightenment (kensho) and the saving of all sentient beings. His lineage now includes all masters of Rinzai Zen in Japan.
The two monks in Hakuin’s lineage most influential in completing the koan reform begun by Hakuin were Inzan Ien 隱山惟琰 (1751–1814) and Takuju Kosen 卓洲胡僊 (1760–1833). Inzan was a native of Echizen, present-day Fukui Prefecture. He became a monk at the age of nine, and at sixteen began his study of Zen under the Bankei-line master Bankoku 萬國(n.d.). After three years he went to Gessen Zen’e 月船禪慧 (1702–1781), under whom he studied for seven years. In 1789 he went for further study under Gasan Jito 峨山慈棹 (1727–1797), Gessen’s former student and an eminent successor of Hakuin Ekaku. After two years he received recognition from Gasan, and went on to teach in various temples, including Myoshin-ji and Zuiryo-ji 瑞龍寺. His vigorous, dynamic style of Zen became one of the two streams of Hakuin Zen, along with that of Takuju Kosen.
Takuju was born in Tajima, near the present-day city of Nagoya. He became a monk at the age of fifteen at the temple Soken-ji 總見寺, and set out on pilgrimage at nineteen. The following year he became a disciple of Gasan Jito after hearing him lecture near Edo. He received transmission from the master after fourteen years. Returning to Soken-ji, he devoted the rest of his life to teaching the detailed style of Zen that came to characterize his lineage, the Takuju school
Over time Japanese Zen would change, and spread with modernization in the 1890's to America and Europe. The West gave Japan the train and Aeroplane, and Japan gave Zen.
back to the West
Zen has now spread to just about every country in the world, everywhere has just about one Zen group. And along the way serious thinkers have been influenced by Zen, it's emphasis on modesty, moderation, arts, and culture and experiential awakening, leading to creativity. Influencing writers, musicians, designers, even Apple.
More Zen centres? Zen is slow to spread, not everyone who sits 20 years for example wants to be a teacher. It's a huge responsibility, and the more you 'want to be' a teacher the less you should be. It's not like taking a Yoga course. If you're in a hurry you might try Yoga.
While there are Zen monks and Nuns in the West, by and large Western Zen is more lay focussed, and in fact more zazen focussed.Asian monks for example spend more time holding memorials for deceased than leading meditaion groups.
There are places in the West you can go, this website is about that. You can find sitting, even in some places like Jizoan Perth Zen Centre you can find all day retreats and more.