How do the different national traditions of Zen (Chan, Seon and Thien) differ? What about Zen in the West?

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KiwiNFLFan
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How do the different national traditions of Zen (Chan, Seon and Thien) differ? What about Zen in the West?

Post by KiwiNFLFan » Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:31 am

How do the different traditions of what is called "Zen" differ? I know that it started in China under the name 禪 (pronounced "Chan") and then spread to Japan where the same character is pronounced 'Zen', Korea ('Seon) and Vietnam ('Thien'). I'm guessing it developed kind of independently in each of those countries, and then each of them it seems came West in the last couple of hundred years.

So today, in 2019, what are the main differences between the different national traditions of Zen? I've visited several Seon temples in South Korea, Kinkaku-ji in Japan (which is technically a Zen temple but doesn't have a main hall and or zendo and is different to the other temples I visited in Japan) and currently attend a Chinese Linji temple here in New Zealand. The Chinese and Korean temple services are very ceremonial, with lots of chanting and are beautiful. One temple in Seoul (Hwagye-sa) runs Sunday meditation sessions with explanation in English that consist of three roughly half-hour periods of seated meditation facing the wall, interspersed with walking meditation. This is followed by a Dharma talk in English. I don't know if Korean Buddhists have similar meditation sessions or if this is intended mostly for Western tourists/expats.

I've also attended a Zen group in my current city. It meets in the basement of an Anglican church and when I went, it consisted of two sessions of sitting meditation and one session in-between of walking meditation. There was some brief chanting at the end.

What are the main differences between "Western Zen" and its original Asian counterparts? Is zazen/zuochan practiced mostly by monks and nuns in East Asia? When "Zen" was brought to the West, were a lot of the chanting and other rituals thrown out, leaving only the meditation?

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Astus
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Re: How do the different national traditions of Zen (Chan, Seon and Thien) differ? What about Zen in the West?

Post by Astus » Mon Dec 02, 2019 9:24 am

KiwiNFLFan wrote:
Mon Dec 02, 2019 7:31 am
what are the main differences between the different national traditions of Zen?
Zen is not a centralised set of beliefs, individuals have free hand in selecting what methods and doctrines they follow, therefore trying to define Zen as if there were something generally valid all over hundreds of communities is meaningless, as the characteristics that one can find in an entire country are usually those that are there not only in Zen groups but the entirety of "national" Buddhism. For instance, one could say that the Surangama Sutra is a somewhat unique element of Chinese Chan, however, it is also used by Chinese Pure Land teachers as well, furthermore, putting groups and teachers into seemingly distinct categories like Chan, Pure Land, Tiantai, etc. in Chinese Buddhism is often the wrong approach.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: How do the different national traditions of Zen (Chan, Seon and Thien) differ? What about Zen in the West?

Post by Sentient Light » Mon Dec 02, 2019 8:36 pm

Agreed with Astus for the most part here. Outside of Japan, what distinguishes a school of zen from the others typically has more to do with what distinguishes that national culture of Buddhism from others overall.

My practice is zen, pure land, and quite a bit of esoteric 'Mantrayana', and we might all qualify that as Thien, or as Pure Land, or as Esoteric, or just as Vietnamese Buddhism. From what I can tell, Vietnamese Buddhism places a greater sense of import on the Yogacarabhumisastra, incorporates Theravadin practices as a preliminary and emphasizes an education in the Agamas--all of this seems fairly unique to East Asian Buddhism. But it's hard to discern something that makes Thien stand out on its own, in large part because it's difficult to really distinguish what is Thien from what is Vietnamese Buddhism, and this seems to also be the case for Chinese and Korean schools of Buddhism as well.
:buddha1: Nam mô A di đà Phật :buddha1:
:bow: Nam mô Quan Thế Âm Bồ tát :bow:
:bow: Nam mô Đại Thế Chi Bồ Tát :bow:

:buddha1: Nam mô Bổn sư Thích ca mâu ni Phật :buddha1:
:bow: Nam mô Di lặc Bồ tát :bow:
:bow: Nam mô Địa tạng vương Bồ tát :bow:

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