I. Introduction to Buddhism


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Zen Buddhism

    There are many Schools of Buddhism. They differ not in the final objective of reaching Buddhahood, but in their emphasis on different methods of practice.

    A particularly important and influential school is Zen (also called Chan/Ch'an in Chinese 2). Zen's origin goes back to the Buddha. One day, an assembly gathered to hear the Buddha's Dharma talk. However, on that day, instead of speaking, the Buddha simply held up a flower and gazed at the assembly. No one understood the meaning except for one of Buddha's disciples, Mahakasyapa, who broke into a smile. Thereupon the Buddha said, "I have the supreme teaching, inexpressible by words and speech, the true Eye of the Dharma, the profound Mind of Nirvana, the Reality transcending all forms; which I now pass on to Mahakasyapa." Thus was the first transmission of the "mind-seal", and Mahakasyapa became known as the first Patriarch of Zen.

    The Zen lineage continued in India until the time when the 28th Patriarch, Bodhidharma, sailed to China and passed on the teaching. Bodhidharma became known as the first Patriarch of Chinese Zen. Thereafter Zen flourished in China, especially after the great Sixth Patriarch, Hui-Neng. Throughout the ages there were many enlightened masters, as well as notable Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese masters. Today, all forms of Chan or Zen practice trace their root to Bodhidharma and Hui-Neng.

    What is Zen? Practically, we may say that it is a state of mind, a mind of calmness, stability, and clarity; a mind free of delusions and confusions; a mind in accord with true Reality. It is not a dull mind, but one full of infinite potentials. Such a mind is the source of wisdom; it is a state of true liberation and joy. To achieve the Zen state of mind, proper meditation practice is very important. Meditation helps us to focus, calm down, become aware, and begin to see things as they are. A properly trained mind is one ready for Awakening.

Principle of Causality

    The Principle of Causality is a basic teaching in Buddhism; it describes a fundamental aspect of nature. It states that every phenomenon comes into being due to various causes and conditions. When the right cause and conditions come together, the right result or phenomenon arises. However, when the conditions fall apart, things fall apart. This is the way of all life.

    Science, in fact, is based on causality. Things do not happen by accident but are related by causes. The task of the scientist is to discover the correct causal relationships. Buddhist causality, however, is wider in scope. It deals with both mental and physical phenomena.

    The scripture says, "To know what you've done in the past, observe what is happening to you in this life. To know what will happen in the future, observe what you are doing in this life." This verse contains the key to understanding our fate. As with all phenomena, our fate also follows the Principle of Causality.

    Whatever happens to us in this life is due to previous cause and conditions, due to actions we ourselves have performed. Whenever we perform certain actions , we create karma, which means our actions have some effects on the rest of the world. When the effects are beneficial, it is called good karma; when the effects are harmful, it is called bad karma. Actions lead to reactions. When we benefit others, we generate good karma and will receive blessings in the future. When we hurt others, we generate bad karma and will be hurt in the future. This is a natural law, the Law of Causality stated in the simplest way (its actual workings are much more complicated.)

2. From 9th century A.D. onward, Chinese Chan Buddhism spread to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It is called Zen in Japanese. In the 20th century, several Japanese masters came to America to teach Zen, and therefore most Westerners know Zen but not its original name Chan.


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