India : The Zen Connection

Today both Dhyana and its English equivalent Meditation are used in mutually exclusive dual senses. In spiritual context, or in the context of reaching higher state of consciousness, meditation means a state of pure awareness devoid of any thought or judgement. In ancient times Dhyana was used in that context only. But today the popular use of Dhyana is in the context of focus or paying attention. Yatrigan kripaya dhyana de …

The Latin word Meditatio, which means to think or ponder, is the root of the English word Meditation. The diaries of Marcus Aurelius that became the Bible for the Stoics are known by the name ‘Meditations’. The diaries contain his thoughts on a number of things most of which are not spiritual. So, with time the meaning of a word changes. Today both Dhyana and Meditation are used in the sense of their old and new meanings and mean different things in different contexts.

But the word that has not undergone any change in meaning or is not used in multiple contexts is the Japanese word Zen which is today considered as the ultimate of all meditation techniques.

The root of Zen is the Sanskrit word Dhyana. It is said that Buddha preferred to use Pali words over Sanskrit. The Pali word of Dhyana is Jhan. The disciples of Buddha first took it to China where it became Chan and finally when it reached Japan it became Zen.

Boddhidharma was the founder of the Chan School of Buddhism that became the precursor to Zen. Boddhidharma was supposedly a South Indian Prince. According to some he was a Brahmin of South India. After getting initiated into Buddhism he went to China to spread the message of Buddha. In China he came across a Shaolin monastery and after criticizing their practices wanted to reform them. The Shaolin monks did not listen to him and drove him away. But he persisted and the Shaolin masters gave in. He infused meditative elements to their practices and their movements became so graceful.

If Chan infused meditation into movements, when it reached Japan it flowered as Zen, making meditation a way of life. Today there are many schools of Zen in Japan, each with their own unique methods. Some Zen masters use various texts as aids. But, the basic emphasis in Zen is the direct experience and not making one a pundit of memorised knowledge. The ultimate Zen preaching is a preaching in silence, a preaching of silence.

Haiku master Basho was heavily influenced by Zen even though he did not become an ordained monk. It is not only Haiku, Zen has influenced many other philosophical and aesthetic concepts of Japan. If today Japan is known as a land of aesthetics, Zen has a lot to do with it.

Basho’s haikus give you a taste of meditation. They do not trigger your mind to go on a thought trip. Rather the opposite happens. Today many are trying their hands in haiku. They try to be technically correct in following the syllable pattern. Technically they may be correct, but they neglect one element – Meditation. That is the reason their haikus feel so hollow even though they are technically correct.

Today Zen quotes are equally popular and are widely used. These are so popular that many other things are also peddled as Zen by the Internet intellectuals. I was amused to find this under the Zen quotes in a site:

By the way, Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher and he had nothing to do with Zen except sharing a common alphabet.

Zen stories which are dialogues between masters and disciples or masters and wannabe disciples are also popular. The following one, which makes us realise the importance of unlearning, is my favourite:

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”   

Chan also travelled to other South Asian countries. But nowhere did it flower so much as in Japan. It was as if Dhyana completed its journey after reaching Japan, the boundary of the East. After reaching Japan Dhyana found its ultimate flowering and culmination.

Coincidentally, my AprilAtoZ journey finds its culmination here. I thank all my fellow travellers and readers who provided valuable feed back. Your encouragement kept me going. Thank you all.

PS : This is the last post (alphabet Z post) of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with. All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.

41 thoughts on “India : The Zen Connection

  1. The journey from Dhyana to Zen is quite interesting. The contribution of Bodhidharma in this journey looks very significant. Any special reasons you could find for Bodhidharma to leave India? Was it because he was a disciple of Budha?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The story of unlearning is very thoughtful. It’s a nice way to end the series with zen. Thank you for an enriching journey about our country and its heritage. It’s been a wonderful month. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a beautiful way to conclude the challenge! It was a pleasure knowing you through your posts in the series. Congratulations on the successful completion of the A2Z challenge. Thank you for being a part of my April journey.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Science says that when a bottle of scent is opened in one corner of the room, it propagates in all directions and makes the entire room aromatic. The journey of Dhyan from Inida to China to Japan brought that thought to me. Good things take time but to light up different corners soon!
    Thank you for visiting my blog regularly and sharing your views.
    Heartiest congratulations to you on the successful completion of the A to Z Challenge 2020.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Learning is easier than unlearning! This journey of unlearning and the passage through Dhyana to Zen is very interesting! Thank you for yet another enlightening post.
    It was an honor having known you and your brilliant collection of enriching and informational writeups on the vast topics related to our culture, heritage, epics, history, world, and politics. We keep looking forward to many more such interesting topics from you. Thank you for the constant support and encouragement in the challenge. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have Zoomed to your destination in style what with the last post on Meditation and Zen like icing on the cake.

    What you have said about haikus is true about most creative writings people have taken a fancy to. Truth be told, we have managed to reduce most formats of expression and excellence to SEO optimization and TRP ratings.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Its quite interesting to know how Dhyana traveled from Indian to China to Japan. Didn’t know much about Boddhidharma but his contributions seems valuable. Congratulations on successfully completing A2Z challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations on successfully completing the A to Z Challenge!
    I really liked the way you connected Zen to its Indian origins. I learnt a lot from this post. I didn’t visit you much during the series but will go through your posts at leisure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful way to complete this challenge…! It has been great to read all your posts throughout the A2Z journey and especially those related to mera gaon mera desh :)! Hoping to keep the interactions on and continuing ahead.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Very interesting post and I admire your knowledge on so many diverse topics. Got to know a few new things if not learn. Thank you so much for writing such informative and interesting blog posts Durga Prasad Dash Ji 🙏🙏🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I liked the story of are right -now Dhyan and meditation is about focus and concentration …just the opp of what it meant to be- let go
    I enjoyed reading your post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I wouldn’t have ever imagined Zen having roots in Pali. This was an incredible post to mark the end of this challenge. I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts, getting alternate views and abundant information on cultural aspects. I hope to come back for more amazing posts in the future. My best wishes to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dhyana to Zen has been a great journey & still practiced even after so many centuries.
    Many have written about “Zen” as their Z post.
    However, many have focused on Japan, and some on the Chinese connection.
    But, this has actually started from India.
    Depends on the sources that we refer.
    Wonderfully researched.

    Liked by 1 person

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