Religious schools and traditions

Zen is the Japanese word for meditation (Chin. Chan). A branch of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism evolved in China in the sixth century, and is said to trace its roots back to the legendary Indian monk and missionary Bodhidharma. The first Zen monasteries were founded in Japan during the twelfth century.

Meditation is central to Zen religious practice. It is believed that only through an individual’s own efforts can spiritual awakening be achieved and that this awakening is a sudden, intuitive experience. A teacher can, and indeed should, guide a pupil in the process. Since the greatest insight resides beyond words and concepts, the teaching is largely conveyed on a personal level. So-called ‘koans’ are a much-used element in this process; they are concise riddles to which logical reasoning offers no solution, and they serve to demonstrate to pupils the limitations of logical reasoning.


«A special transmission outside the scriptures, 

Not founded upon words and letters.

By pointing directly to [one’s] mind,

It lets one see into [one’s own true] nature and

[thus] attain Buddhahood.»1

Muan Shangqing, Zuting Shiyan, 1108


1 Muan Shangqing, Zuting Shiyan, 1108, cited after Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History. Volume 1: India and China, World Wisdom Books 2005, p. 85.