Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, known as the Chan School, and later developed into various schools. The Chan School was strongly influenced by Taoist philosophy, especially Neo-Daoist thought, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism. From China, Chán spread south to Vietnam and became Vietnamese Thiền, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism, and east to Japan, becoming Japanese Zen.
The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Chán, an abbreviation of chánnà, which is a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word of dhyāna (“meditation”). Zen emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of mind, or “perceiving the true nature” of things, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes knowledge alone of sutras and doctrine, and favors direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher or master.
The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras, the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal. The Prajñāpāramitā literature as well as Madhyamaka thought have also been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetoric.
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