What is Zen? A branch of Chinese Buddhism
Quatr.us answers questions

What is Zen?

Buddha from Tumshuk
Bodhidharma (as drawn by a
Ming Dynasty painter,
Song Xu, about 1400 AD)

In Zen Buddhist traditions (but nobody really knows), the first Zen Buddhist was a Brahman man called Bodhidharma. According to these stories, Bodhidharma came to China from India about 425 AD. Possibly Bodhidharma was fleeing the Guptan kings, who were Hindus and not Buddhists.

The main point of Zen Buddhism was that people should learn from direct experience and not from being told facts or having ideas explained to them. The best way to find out why you should meditate was to meditate. The best way to appreciate a flower was to look at a flower, not to study about flowers.

In one story about Bodhidharma, Bodhidharma met with Emperor Wu of the kingdom of Liang. Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma what he had gotten out of all the money Emperor Wu had given to the Buddhists. Bodhidharma replied "Nothing at all." The Emperor asked "Then what is the truth of the teachings?" Bodhidharma replied, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." So the emperor asked "Then who are you standing in front of me?" Bodhidharma replied "I don't know," and walked out. This story shows how Zen masters refused to explain their ideas in words.

More Zen koans
More about Buddhism in China
Learn by Doing - Buddhism Projects


Bibliography and further reading about Zen:

Buddhism in China
Buddhism in India
Bodhisatvas
Ancient China
Quatr.us home


Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

With the Presidential inauguration this weekend, it's a good time to review the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all the Constitutional amendments since the Bill of Rights. Also check out our articles on people who have been excluded from power in the United States - Native Americans, people of color, Mormons, Quakers, women...