Zen school ［禅宗］ ( Zen-shū): A Buddhist school that teaches that enlightenment is to be gained not through doctrinal studies, but rather through direct perception of one’s mind through the practice of meditation. Known in China as the Ch’an school, its founder is regarded as Bodhidharma (sixth century). The Zen teaching was summarized in these phrases attributed to Bodhidharma: “A separate transmission outside the sutras,” “independent of words or writing,” “directly pointing to the human mind,” and “perceiving one’s true nature and attaining Buddhahood.” According to this school, the Buddha’s supreme enlightenment has been transmitted wordlessly through the ages from mind to mind through the lineage of its patriarchs. This process began when Shakyamuni Buddha transferred his enlightenment to his disciple Mahākāshyapa, who is regarded as the first patriarch of Zen. According to Zen tradition, one day when Shakyamuni was with his disciples on Eagle Peak, he silently picked a flower and held it up in his hand. At that time only Mahākāshyapa grasped the Buddha’s meaning, and smiled. Thus, it is said, the Zen teaching was transferred to Mahākāshyapa with a smile. The lineage is said to have passed to the second patriarch, Ānanda, the third, Shānavāsa, and finally to the twenty-eighth patriarch, Bodhidharma, who brought the “wordless tradition” to China. Thereafter the teaching of Zen was transmitted to the second Chinese patriarch, Hui-k’o, the third, Seng-ts’an, the fourth, Tao-hsin, the fifth, Hung-jen, and the sixth, Hui-neng.
In the time of Hui-neng (638–713), the school split into the Southern school of Zen, which Hui-neng led, and the Northern school, led by Shen-hsiu. The Northern school rapidly declined, and the Southern school became the mainstream of Chinese Zen. Hui-neng’s major disciples were Hsing-ssu, Huai-jang, and Shen-hui. Liang-chieh, in the lineage of Hsing-ssu, founded the Ts’ao-tung ( Sōtō) school, and Pen-chi became its second patriarch. Two other schools, the Yün-men (Ummon) and Fa-yen (Hōgen), were founded in the same lineage by Wen-yen and Wen-i, respectively. In the lineage of Huai-jang, Ling-yu founded the Kuei-yang (Igyō) school and his disciple Hui-chi further solidified it, while Lin-chi I-hsüan founded the Lin-chi (Rinzai) school. Among these five schools, the Lin-chi school enjoyed the greatest prosperity, and two branches emerged from it—the Yang-ch’i (Yōgi) school, established by Fang-hui, and the Huang-lung (Ōryū) school, founded by Hui-nan. Together, these schools constitute the so-called “five schools and seven schools” of Southern Zen.
Noted among the first Zen masters in Japan is Dainichi Nōnin, who introduced the Zen teaching to that country in the twelfth century; he called his school the Nihon Daruma, or the Japanese Bodhidharma, school. After his death, his disciples became followers of Dōgen (1200–1253), the founder of the Sōtō school of Japanese Zen, and Nōnin’s school perished. In 1187 Eisai brought the teachings of the Lin-chi school of Zen from China after his second visit there, and founded the Japanese Rinzai school. In 1223 Dōgen also went to China and brought back the teachings of the Ts’ao-tung school, based upon which he established the Sōtō school. During the Kamakura (1185–1333) and Muromachi (1336–1573) periods, the Zen teachings became popular among the samurai class and prospered greatly. In 1654 the Chinese priest Yin-yüan, known in Japan as Ingen, came to Japan and later founded the Ōbaku school of Zen.