Doctrines Zen in Japan corresponds more or less to Ch'an in China (see CHINESE BUDDHISM). Zen means meditation and the central doctrine of Zen is that an individual experience of enlightenment (satori) equivalent to that of the Buddha can be transmitted from master to disciple by meditation or by other means 'outside the scriptures' - i.e. not through intellectual understanding of doctrine. All Japanese Zen schools reflect the 'sudden enlightenment' Zen philosophy prevalent in China. 'Sudden enlightenment' means an innate, complete enlightenment which can be realised 'right now', as opposed to 'gradual enlightenment' allegedly achieved only at the end of a long period of practice. Techniques of realising this innate enlightenment are many and various, and the differences between 'schools' of Zen are differences of lineage rather than differences of doctrine or practice. In Japan the most 'Chinese' form of Zen is Obaku, but the better-known traditions are Rinzai and Soto, both founded by Tendai-trained monks. All three are monastic traditions employing standard Zen techniques including strict monastic discipline, sitting meditation, koan study and the personal spiritual guidance of a Zen Master. In Japan martial 'ways' developed for the samurai (warrior class) combining one-pointed Zen meditation with active military skills such as archery and fencing.

History Zen, like the other 'New Buddhisms' of the Kamakura period (Pure Land and Nichiren) was firmly rooted in traditional Chinese Buddhism. With its emphasis on disciplined monastic training Zen appealed particularly to the elite bushi or samurai warrior class. It was introduced in three main forms. Following visits to China Eisai (1141-1215) introduced Rinzai (Chinese Lin-Ch'i) and Dogen (1200-1253) was the founder of the Soto (T'sao-Tung) sect in Japan. A Chinese monk Yin-yuan (Japanese: Ingen) introduced the Obaku school in 1654. The first 13 masters of the Obaku school were Chinese.
In the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) Zen was one of the Buddhist sects 'tamed' by incorporation into a nationwide Buddhist parish system designed to ensure religious peace and eradicate the common enemy, Christianity. Because of its patronage by the elite samurai class and incorporation of Chinese Confucian ideas, Zen was relatively highly regarded in this period. The prolific teacher Hakuin (1685-1768) stimulated a major reform in Rinzai with his emphasis on koan (riddle) meditation. After the Meiji restoration in1868 Buddhism, including Zen was disestablished. 'Beat Zen' ideas gained a following in the West after World War II largely as a result of the writings in English of D T Suzuki and Alan Watts. Despite the popular image of Zen as a tradition devoted exclusively to meditation, few followers of Zen in Japan meditate on a regular basis. Apart from a few training monasteries memorial rituals for the dead are the major preoccupation of priests and followers in Zen as in all Buddhist denominations in Japan.

Symbols Japanese Zen shares the symbolism of this austere meditational tradition with its parent schools in China and Korea. Monochrome brush paintings of empty circles, enigmatic Zen phrases and the resolute countenances of great Zen masters of the past; elegant simplicity in architecture; tranquil gardens and austere forms of ritual are characteristic of this type of Buddhism. The influence of Zen is also found within traditional forms of samurai culture such as the tea ceremony, swordsmanship and archery.

Adherents About 80% of today's approximately 120 million Japanese are Buddhist by birth or by choice, and Zen is the fourth-largest denomination (12.5%) slightly below Shingon (13.7%). Zen adherents in Japan therefore number approximately 12 million people. (Extrapolated from Hori (ed.) Japanese Religion, Kodansha 1972)

Main Centres
  Rinzai sect:
Rinzai Myoshinji-ha: Myoshinji, Kyoto
Rinzai Kenninji-ha: Kenninji, Kyoto
Soto sect:
Eiheiji, Fukui prefecture and Sojiji, Yokohama are the joint head temples of the sect.
Obaku sect:
Manpukuji, Kyoto