Sojiji monStill Center Zen Order matsu mon


Silent Thunder Order, Matsuoka lineage, Atlanta Georgia








































What is Zen?

Put simply, Zen ()is a practice, or series of practices, with a single goal: to wake up. To wake up to the realization of your true self, your "Buddha Nature." The practices, particuarly meditation, were central to the teachings of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, 562BCE or 480BCE) and the name "Buddha" means "the awakened one."

These practices include meditation (which we call Zazen), Dharma Talks, Dharma Reflection (reading texts), and Koan Introspection. While Soto Zen does not traditionally include Koan Instrospection -- which is more usually associated with Rinzai Zen, a separate Zen school in Japan (see below)-- at StillCenter we incorporate all of these practices as well as integrating elements of Western Psychology. Zen is thus not a "religion" in the usual sense as used for, say , Christianity, Islam, etc., nor is it simply a "philosophy" since it is far more than merely a school of thought. Indeed, it would be more accurate to call it a school of no thought. For a more detailed introduction to Zen Buddhism, please consider Roshi Ryuko's book "Beginner's Mind: An Introduction to Zen Buddhism."

According to tradition, a Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, who lived in about the 5th or 6th century CE, brought the meditation form of Buddhism from India to China. We have no idea if he really existed or not, but there are writings attributed to him. His Indian word for meditation was dhyana and this was transliterated in Chinese as channa which then got abbreviated to Chan. Thus was born the various schools of Chan Buddhism which had its early phase in China around 600-900 CE. Two of the main Chinese schools of Chan were the Caodong School founded by Dongshan Liangjie (807-869, Jp Tozan Ryokai) and Caoshan Benji (840-901, Jp Sozan Honjaku). Another major Chan school was that formed by Linji Yixuan (died 866 CE, Jp Rinzai Gigen). The Caodong School became associated with sitting mediation as a way to enlightenment whereas Linji's school favored gong-an work (Jp. koans) and using Hua Tou ('word head' - mini koans). The Linji School of Zen was brought to Japan by the monk Myoan Eisai in around 1168 where it became known as "Rinzai" Zen (Rinzai being the Japanese pronounciation of the Chinese word Linji). And the Caodong School was brought to Japan by Dogen Zenji (1200-1253) and became known as Soto Zen -- the first two letters of the founders names in Japanese Sozan and Tozan). Keizan Zenji (1268-1325; aka Taiso Josai Daishi ) is also considered a co-founder of Japanese Soto Zen and we trace our lineage back particularly to both Keizan and Dogen, as well as to the roots of Chan in China with Donshan Liangjie and Linji, along with other key teachers of that era such as Dahui Zonggaoe (1089-1163) who introduced the idea of Hua Tou and Hongzhi Zhengjue who emphasized Shikantaza ("just sitting") which Dogen went on to particularly emphasize in his teachings. Historically, there has been much disagreement among Zen teachers, some saying meditation is the only way to enlightenment, others saying that koan work is the only way. At StillCenter we teach that there are many dharma gates, many paths by which a person may wake up to who they truly are and we thus embrace both traditional practice forms.

坐禅 Zazen

The central practice in Soto Zen is meditation, so called Zazen (坐禅, literally, sitting meditation). Please see the separate page for a more detailed introduction to Zazen, how to sit Zazen, and so on.


公案 Koan Introspection

Literally, "koan" means a public case and in practice koans can be short stories, dialogues, questions or statements that are used to provoke "great doubt" -- to promote "don't know mind" or a state of non-knowing, free from the restraints and limitations of conceptual thought. To the casual eye, they may seem like riddles or puzzles, but they are not intellectual puzzles to be "solved." Indeed, a key purpose of koan introspection is to go beyond the intellectual mind and encourage the student to just be, here, in the now moment. For more information about studying koans with Roshi Ryuko or one of our other teachers, please click here. For information about training to become a Lay Zen Teacher, authorized to teacher koans to others, click here.










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