Seagulls, photo by NCDunham

What is Zen?

Zen evolved from the teachings of the historical Buddha who lived in India, some 2500 years ago. In the 7th Century, Zen (Ch’an in Chinese) developed in Buddhist monasteries in China. Inspired in part by the practice of the Tao, Zen was characterized by a spontaneity and naturalness. In the 12th Century a monk by the name of Eihei Dogen, brought Buddhism from China to Japan, transmitting the lineage of the Soto Zen school of Buddhism (the largest of the three traditional sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism).

In the mid-20th Century, Soto Zen Priest Shunryu Suzuki moved from Japan to San Francisco, and would go on to create the San Francisco Zen Center and its eventual network of Zen centers across the country, including the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, the first Buddhist monastery in the Western world. Today, Soto Zen centers and sitting groups (or sanghas) are active in most major cities in the United States.

Zen practice emphasizes wholehearted engagement in upright sitting without a particular goal or “gaining idea.” This view reflects the understanding that everyone is, by their nature, an expression of Buddha Nature, so we do not sit in order to attempt to cultivate personal enlightenment. Instead, we practice for the benefit of all beings. Silent, seated meditation (zazen) is an expression of our awakened nature and our commitment to the freedoms of all beings. In zazen, we endeavor to appreciate our lives rather than change them.

Off the cushion, Zen Buddhism is distinguished by its emphasis on the down-to-earth practice of everyday zen. It encourages us to live mindfully in all areas of daily life – at home, at work and in the community – by becoming aware of the workings of our own hearts and minds. Zen practice at Open Door is for anyone who wants to extend their practice in everything they do. By intimately facing our own life in all its many aspects, we have the opportunity to know ourselves more fully, to find our true relationship to others, and to realize our place among all things. Through this practice, we learn to “wake up and grow up.”