Sentient Beings Are Numberless, I Vow to Liberate Them

Desires are Inexhaustible, I Vow to Put an End to Them

The Dharmas Are Boundless, I Vow to Master Them

The Buddha’s Way is Unsurpassable, I Vow to Become It

“I have done my best.” That is about all the philosophy of living that one needs….Lin-yutang.

In the various Bodhisattva vows (sometimes called the Bodhisattva Precepts) of Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattvas take vows stating that they will strive for as long as samsara endures to liberate all sentient beings from samsara and deliver them into Nirvana. The Bodhisattva does not seek bodhi (Awakening) solely for him/herself, but chiefly for the sake of freeing all other beings and aiding them into the bliss of Nirvana. This can be done by venerating all Buddhas and by cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. Bodhisattvas vow to amass inconceivable amounts of merit (punya), which they will dedicate to all other sentient beings, so as to help them attain Nirvana and Awakening. Such great vows are made out of compassion and the bodhisattva devotes his/her powers to helping others attain Nirvana. A fine example of a Bodhisattva vow is found at the very end of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Samantabhadra. Buddhist lay persons may take the bodhisattva vows in order to initiate their spiritual journey.

Chán (Zen) in China:
In the centuries following the introduction of Buddhism to China, Chán grew to become the largest sect in Chinese Buddhism and, despite its “transmission beyond the scriptures”, produced the largest body of literature in Chinese history of any sect or tradition. The teachers claiming Huineng’s posterity began to branch off into numerous different schools, each with their own special emphasis, but all of which kept the same basic focus on meditational practice, personal instruction and personal experience. During the late Tang and the Song periods, the tradition continued, as a wide number of eminent teachers, such as Mazu (Wade-Giles: Ma-tsu; Japanese: Baso), Shitou (Shih-t’ou; Japanese: Sekito), Baizhang (Pai-chang; Japanese: Hyakujo), Huangbo (Huang-po; Jap.: Obaku), Linji (Lin-chi; Jap.: Rinzai), and Yunmen (Jap.: Ummon) developed specialized teaching methods, which would variously become characteristic of the five houses of Chán. The traditional five houses were Caodong, Linji, Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunme). This list does not include earlier schools such as the Hongzhou of Mazu. Over the course of Song Dynasty (960-1279), the Guiyang, Fayan, and Yunmen schools were gradually absorbed into the Linji. During the same period, the various developments of Chán teaching methods crystallized into the gong-an (koan) practice which is unique to this school of Buddhism. According to Miura and Sasaki, “it was during the lifetime of Yüan-wu’s successor, Ta-hui Tsung-kao (Daie Soko, 1089-1163) that Koan Zen entered its determinative stage.” Gong-an practice was prevalent in the Linji school, to which Yuanwu and Ta-hui (pinyin: Dahui) belonged, but it was also employed on a more limited basis by the Caodong school. The teaching styles and words of the classical masters were collected in such important texts as the Blue Cliff Record (1125) of Yuanwu, The Gateless Gate (1228) of Wumen, both of the Linji lineage, and the Book of Equanimity (1223) of Wansong, of the Caodong lineage. These texts record classic gong-an cases, together with verse and prose commentaries, which would be studied by later generations of students down to the present. Chán continued to be influential as a religious force in China, and thrived in the post-Song period; with a vast body of texts being produced up and through the modern period. While traditionally distinct, Chán was taught alongside Pure Land Buddhism in many Chinese Buddhist monasteries. In time much of the distinction between them was lost, and many masters taught both Chán and Pure Land. Chán Buddhism enjoyed something of a revival in the Ming Dynasty with teachers such as Hanshan Deqing, who wrote and taught extensively on both Chán and Pure Land Buddhism; Miyun Yuanwu, who came to be seen posthumously as the first patriarch of the Obaku Zen school; as well as Yunqi Zhuhong and Ouyi Zhixu. After further centuries of decline, Chán was revived again in the early 20th century by Hsu Yun, a well-known figure of 20th century Chinese Buddhism. Many Chán teachers today trace their lineage back to Hsu Yun, including Sheng-yen and Hsuan Hua, who have propagated Chán in the West where it has grown steadily through the 20th and 21st century. It was severely repressed in China during the recent modern era with the appearance of the People’s Republic, but has more recently been re-asserting itself on the mainland, and has a significant following in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as among Overseas Chinese.

Zen in Japan:
The schools of Zen that currently exist in Japan are the Soto, Rinzai, and Obaku. Of these, Soto is the largest and Obaku the smallest. Rinzai is itself divided into several subschools based on temple affiliation, including Myoshin-ji, Nanzen-ji, Tenryu-ji, Daitoku-ji, and Tofuku-ji. Athough the Japanese had known Zen-like practices for centuries (Taoism and Shinto), it was not introduced as a separate school until the 12th century, when Myoan Eisai traveled to China and returned to establish a Linji lineage, which is known in Japan as Rinzai. Decades later, Nanpo Jomyo also studied Linji teachings in China before founding the Japanese Otokan lineage, the most influential branch of Rinzai. In 1215, Dogen, a younger contemporary of Eisai’s, journeyed to China himself, where he became a disciple of the Caodong master Tiantong Rujing. After his return, Dogen established the Soto school, the Japanese branch of Caodong. The Obaku lineage was introduced in the 17th century by Ingen, a Chinese monk. Ingen had been a member of the Linji school, the Chinese equivalent of Rinzai, which had developed separately from the Japanese branch for hundreds of years. Thus, when Ingen journeyed to Japan following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchus, his teachings were seen as a separate school. The Obaku school was named for Mount Obaku (Chinese: Huangboshan), which had been Ingen’s home in China. Some contemporary Japanese Zen teachers, such as Daiun Harada and Shunryu Suzuki, have criticized Japanese Zen as being a formalized system of empty rituals in which very few Zen practitioners ever actually attain realization. They assert that almost all Japanese temples have become family businesses handed down from father to son, and the Zen priest’s function has largely been reduced to officiating at funerals. The Japanese Zen establishment including the Soto sect, the major branches of Rinzai, and several renowned teachers has been criticized for its involvement in Japanese militarism and nationalism during World War II and the preceding period. A notable work on this subject was Zen at War (1998) by Brian Victoria, an American-born Soto priest. At the same time, however, one must be aware that this involvement was by no means limited to the Zen school: all orthodox Japanese schools of Buddhism supported the militarist state. What may be most striking, though, as Victoria has argued, is that many Zen masters known for their post-war internationalism and promotion of “world peace” were open nationalists in the inter-war years.[30] And some of them, like Haku’un Yasutani, the founder of the Sanbo Kyodan School, even voiced their anti-semitic and nationalistic opinions after World War II. This openness has allowed non-Buddhists to practice Zen, especially outside of Asia, and even for the curious phenomenon of an emerging Christian Zen lineage, as well as one or two lines that call themselves “nonsectarian.” With no official governing body, it’s perhaps impossible to declare any authentic lineage “heretical”: which would allow one to argue that there is no “orthodoxy,” something that most Asian Zen masters would readily dismiss. Some schools emphasize lineage and trace their line of teachers back to China, Japan, Korea, or Vietnam; other schools do not[citation needed].

Zen in Vietnam:
Thien Buddhism is the Vietnamese name for the school of Zen Buddhism. Thien is ultimately derived from Chan Zong, itself a derivative of the Sanskrit “Dhyana”. According to traditional accounts of Vietnam, in 580, an Indian monk named Vinitaruci travelled to Vietnam after completing his studies with Sengcan, the third patriarch of Chinese Zen. This, then, would be the first appearance of Vietnamese Zen, or Thien Buddhism. The sect that Vinitaruci and his lone Vietnamese disciple founded would become known as the oldest branch of Thien. After a period of obscurity, the Vinitaruci School became one of the most influential Buddhist groups in Vietnam by the 10th century, particularly so under the patriarch. Other early Vietnamese Zen schools included the Vo Ngon Thong, which was associated with the teaching of Mazu, and the Thao Duong, which incorporated nianfo chanting techniques; both were founded by Chinese monks. A new school was founded by one of Vietnam’s religious kings; this was the Truc Lam school, which evinced a deep influence from Confucian and Taoist philosophy. Nevertheless, Truc Lam’s prestige waned over the following centuries as Confucianism became dominant in the royal court. In the 17th century, a group of Chinese monks led by Nguyen Thieu established a vigorous new school, the Lam Te, which is the Vietnamese pronunciation of Linji. A more domesticated offshoot of Lam Te, the Lieu Quan school, was founded in the 18th century and has since been the predominant branch of Vietnamese Zen.

Seon (Zen) in Korea:
Seon was gradually transmitted into Korea during the late Silla period (7th through 9th centuries) as Korean monks of predominantly Hwaeom and Consciousness-only background began to travel to China to learn the newly developing tradition. During his lifetime, Mazu had begun to attract students from Korea; by tradition, the first Korean to study Seon was named Peomnang. Mazu’s successors had numerous Korean students, some of whom returned to Korea and established the nine mountain schools. This was the beginning of Chan in Korea which is called Seon. Seon received its most significant impetus and consolidation from the Goryeo monk Jinul (1158-1210), who established a reform movement and introduced koan practice to Korea. Jinul established the Songgwangsa as a new center of pure practice. It was during the time of Jinul the Jogye Order, a primarily Seon sect, became the predominant form of Korean Buddhism, a status it still holds. which survives down to the present in basically the same status. Toward the end of the Goryeo and during the Joseon period the Jogye Order would first be combined with the scholarly schools, and then be relegated to lesser influence in ruling class circles by Confucian influenced polity, even as it retained strength outside the cities, among the rural populations and ascetic monks in mountain refuges. Nevertheless, there would be a series of important Seon teachers during the next several centuries, such as Hyegeun, Taego, Gihwa and Hyujeong, who continued to develop the basic mold of Korean meditational Buddhism established by Jinul. Seon continues to be practiced in Korea today at a number of major monastic centers, as well as being taught at Dongguk University, which has a major of studies in this religion. Taego Bou (1301-1382) studied in China with Linji teacher and returned to unite the Nine Mountain Schools. In modern Korea, by far the largest Buddhist denomination is the Jogye Order, which is essentially a Zen sect; the name Jogye is the Korean equivalent of Caoxi, another name for Huineng. Seon is known for its stress on meditation, monasticism, and asceticism. Many Korean monks have few personal possessions and sometimes cut off all relations with the outside world. Several are near mendicants traveling from temple to temple practicing meditation. The hermit-recluse life is prevalent among monks to whom meditation practice is considered of paramount importance. Currently, Korean Buddhism is in a state of slow transition. While the reigning theory behind Korean Buddhism was based on Jinul’s “sudden enlightenment, gradual cultivation,” the modern Korean Seon master, Seongcheol’s revival of Hui Neng’s “sudden enlightenment, sudden cultivation” has had a strong impact on Korean Buddhism. Although there is resistance to change within the ranks of the Jogye order, with the last three Supreme Patriarchs’ stance that is in accordance with Seongcheol, there has been a gradual change in the atmosphere of Korean Buddhism. Also, the Kwan Um School of Zen, one of the largest Zen schools in the West, teaches a form of Seon Buddhism. Soeng Hyang Soen Sa Nim (b. 1948), birth name Barbara Trexler (later Barbara Rhodes), is Guiding Dharma Teacher of the international Kwan Um School of Zen and successor of the late Seung Sahn Soen Sa Nim.

Zen in the Western world:
Although it is difficult to trace when the West first became aware of Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism, the visit of Soyen Shaku, a Japanese Zen monk, to Chicago during the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is often pointed to as an event that enhanced its profile in the Western world. It was during the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the number of Westerners, other than the descendants of Asian immigrants, pursuing a serious interest in Zen reached a significant level.


To really practise Zen one must sit like a great pine with a sense of dignity and grandeur.

One sits in the Lotus position traditionally.

The legs are crossed with left foot on right thigh, rightfootonleft thigh.

Hands are placed in the lap in the form of a cosmic mudra.

The Lotus position expresses the oneness of duality.

Not two, not one.

Our body and mind are both two and one.


  • Dojo : A Zen monastery; a place to clarify the Buddha nature.
  • Kensho : Enlightenment; the awakening to one’s true nature, prior to ego. Ego is like the transient waves on the water’s surface; one’sBuddha nature is the entire body of water.
  • Ki : A universal force that constitutes, binds, and moves all things. In the human body it manifests as vitality. This vitality may be enhanced by good nutrition and breath work, through tanden breathing and other exercises.
  • Osesshin : One week of continuous zazen with breaks only for sutras, eating, and sleeping. Its purpose is to intensely clarify one’s true nature.
  • Sussokan : This excerpt offers a detailed description of this method of zazen of counting one’s breath.
  • Tanden : A point in the body, approximately one and a half inches below the navel and one and a half inches deep, considered the physiological,psychic,and spiritual center. Tanden cultivation is closely related to breath and mind-intent for the development of ki.
  • Zendo : The meditation hall in which monks live and people practice zazen.
  • Jiriki : One’s own power.
  • Bodhisattva : Enlightened being.
  • Mushin : Detachment of mind.
  • Samadhi : Collected concentration in which subject is no different from object.
  • Shikantaza : Meditation with no techniques.
  • Makyo : A mysterious apparition.
  • Zendo : Meditation hall.
  • Dokusan : Private meeting between student and master.
  • Roshi : Venerable teacher.
  • Mondo : A dialogue about Buddhism.
  • Inka : A Master`s official confirmation that a student has completed training.
  • Karma : Buddhist universal law of cause and effect.
  • Nirvana : The goal of Buddhism.
  • Tao : The way, the truth, the source of reality.
  • Prajna : Insight into emptiness.


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