Zen is the school of Buddhism which emphasizes the religious practice of meditation. The Buddha taught that Ignorance, created by our greed, hate, and delusion, prevents us from realizing that we are all enlightened. Zen Buddhism teaches that the practice of sitting in meditation (Jap.: zazen) directly manifests our inborn enlightenment, our Buddha Nature. In Zen practice, seated meditation and enlightenment are one. No preliminary training or long preparation is necessary to realize the Way.
The Soto school of Japanese Zen practice was founded in the 13th century by the Zen Master Eihei Dogen. In his instructions on how to meditate, Dogen writes,
“You should…cease from practice based on intellectual understanding…and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest….The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the…gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality.”
Zen also stresses that the world of enlightenment is the everyday world we all know. “Carrying water and chopping wood are the activities of the Buddha,” and “The everyday mind is Buddha,” are two of the most well known Zen sayings. Zen realization shows us that we are directly connected to, and dependent on, all living beings and everything that exists. Compassionate concern for the welfare of others and for the environment flow naturally from this insight.