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Home > Types of Meditation > Zen Meditation > Types of Zen
Types of Zen

Among the many types of Zen there are some, which are profound and some shallow, some that lead to enlightenment and some that do not. It is said that during the time of the Buddha there were ninety or ninety-five schools of philosophy or religion in existence. Each school had its particular mode of Zen, and each was slightly different from the others. All great religions embrace some measure of Zen, since religion needs prayer and prayer needs concentration of mind. In Japan, starting with the Meiji Restoration, less than a hundred years ago, and continuing up to the present, there have sprung up a number of teachings and disciplines with elements of Zen in them. All these different methods of concentration, almost limitless in number, come under the broad heading of Zen. Rather than try to specify all of them, the five main divisions of Zen as classified by Keiho-zenji, one of the early Zen masters in China, whose categories are still valid and useful. Outwardly these five kinds of Zen scarcely differ, however beginners need to bear in mind that in the substance and purpose of these various types there are distinct differences.

The first of these types is called bompu, or "ordinary," Zen as opposed to the other four, each of which can be thought of as a special kind of Zen suitable for the particular aims of different individuals. Bompu Zen, being free from any philosophic or religious content, is for anybody and everybody. It is a Zen practiced purely in the belief that it can improve both physical and mental health. Since it can almost certainly have no ill effects, anyone can undertake it, whatever religious beliefs he happens to hold or if he holds none at all. Bompu Zen is bound to eliminate sickness of a psychosomatic nature and to improve the health in general.

Through the practice of Bompu Zen one can concentrate and control the mind. It never occurs to most people to try to control their minds, and unfortunately this basic training is left out of contemporary education, not being part of what is called the acquisition of knowledge. Yet without it what we learn is difficult to retain because we learn it improperly, wasting much energy in the process. Indeed, we are virtually crippled unless we know how to restrain our thoughts and concentrate our minds. Furthermore, by practicing this very excellent mode of mind training you will find yourself increasingly able to resist temptations to which you had previously succumbed, and to sever attachments which had long held you in bondage. Enrichment in personality and a strengthening of character inevitably follow since the three basic elements of mind - that is, intellect, feeling, and will - develop harmoniously. The quietist sitting practiced in Confucianism seems to have stressed mainly these effects of mind concentration. However, the fact remains that Bompu Zen, although far more beneficial for the cultivation of the mind than the reading of countless books on ethics and philosophy, is unable to resolve the fundamental problem of man and his relation to the universe as it cannot pierce the ordinary man`s basic delusion of himself as distinctly other than the universe.

The second of the five kinds of Zen is called Gedo. Gedo means literally "an outside way" and so implies, from the Buddhist point of view, teachings other than Buddhist. Here we have a Zen related to religion and philosophy but yet not a Buddhist Zen. Hindu yoga, the quietist sitting of Confucianism, contemplation practices in Christianity, all these belong to the category of Gedo Zen.

Another feature of Gedo Zen is that it is often practiced in order to cultivate various super-normal powers or skills, or to master certain arts beyond the reach of the ordinary man. It has been reported that some who have practiced this Zen have attained the ability to make people act without them having to say a word or move a muscle. There is something called the Emma Method which aims to accomplish such feats as walking barefooted on sharp sword blades or staring at sparrows so that they become paralyzed. All these miraculous exploits are brought about through the cultivation of joriki, the particular strength or power, which comes with the strenuous practice of mind concentration. A Zen that aims solely at the cultivation of joriki for such ends is not a Buddhist Zen.

Another object for which Gedo Zen is practiced is rebirth in various heavens. Certain sects practice Zen in order to be reborn in heaven. This is not the object of Zen Buddhism. While the Zen Buddhist does not quarrel with the idea of various strata of heaven and the belief that one may be reborn into them through the performance of ten kinds of meritorious deeds, he himself does not crave rebirth in heaven. Conditions there are altogether too pleasant and comfortable and he can all to easily be lured from Zazen. Besides, when his merit in heaven expires he can very well land in hell. Zen Buddhists therefore believe it preferable to be born into the human world and to practice Zazen with the aim of ultimately becoming Buddha.

The third type of Zen is Shojo, literally meaning "Small Vehicle." This is the vehicle or teaching that is to take you from one state of mind (delusion) to another (enlightenment). This small vehicle is so named because it is designed to accommodate only one`s self. You can perhaps compare it to a bicycle. The large vehicle [Mahayana], on the other hand, is more like a car or bus: it takes on others as well. Hence Shojo is a Zen, which looks only to ones own peace of mind.

Here we have a Zen, which is Buddhist but a Zen not in accord with the Buddhas highest teaching. It is rather an expedient Zen for those unable to grasp the innermost meaning of the Buddha`s enlightenment, i.e., that existence is an inseparable whole, each one of us embracing the cosmos in its totality. This being true, it follows that we cannot attain genuine peace of mind merely by seeking our own salvation while remaining indifferent to the welfare of others.

There are those, however, who simply cannot bring themselves to believe in the reality of such a world. No matter how often they are taught that the relative world of distinctions and opposites to which they cling is illusory, the product of their mistaken views, they cannot but believe otherwise. To such people the world can only seem inherently evil, full of sin and strife and suffering, of killing and being killed, and in their despair they long to escape from it.

The fourth classification is called Daijo, Great Vehicle [Mahayana] Zen, and this is a truly Buddhist Zen, for it has as its central purpose kensho-godo, that is, seeing into your essential nature and realizing the way in your daily life. For those able to comprehend the import of the Buddha`s own enlightenment experience and with a desire to break through their illusory view of the universe and experience absolute, undifferentiated reality, the Buddha taught this mode of Zen. Buddhism is essentially a religion of enlightenment. The Buddha after his own supreme awakening spent some fifty years teaching people how they might themselves realize their Self-nature. His methods have been transmitted from master to disciple right down to the present day. So it can be said that a Zen that ignores, denies, or belittles enlightenment is not true Daijo Buddhist Zen.

In the practice of Daijo Zen your aim in the beginning is to awaken your true-nature, but upon enlightenment you realize that Zazen is more than a means to enlightenment - it is the actualization of your true-nature. In this type of Zen, which has as its object Satori-awakening, it is easy to mistakenly regard Zazen as but a means. A wise teacher, however, will point out from the onset that Zazen is in fact the actualization of the innate Buddha-nature and not merely a technique for achieving enlightenment. If Zazen were no more than such a technique, it would follow that after Satori Zazen would be unnecessary. But as Dogen-zenji himself pointed out, precisely the reverse is true; the more deeply you experience Satori, the more you perceive the need for practice.

Saijojo Zen
Saijojo Zen, the last of the five types, is the highest vehicle, the culmination and crown of Buddhist Zen. This Zen was practiced by all the Buddhas of the past - namely Shakyamuni and Amida - and is the expression of Absolute Life, life in its purest form. It is the Zazen, which Dogen-zenji chiefly advocated and it involves no struggle for Satori or any other object. It is called shikan-taza.

In this highest practice, means and end coalesce. Daijo Zen and Saijojo Zen are, in point of fact, complementary. The Rinzai sect places Daijo uppermost and b beneath, whereas the Soto sect does the reverse. In Saijojo, when rightly practiced, you sit in the firm conviction that Zazen is the actualization of your undefiled true-nature, and at the same time you sit in complete faith that the day will come when, exclaiming, "Oh, this is it!" you will unmistakably realize this true-nature. Therefore you need not self-consciously strive for enlightenment.

Today many in the Soto sect hold that since we are all innately Buddhas, Satori is unnecessary. Such an egregious error reduces shikan-taza, which properly is the highest form of sitting, to nothing more than Bompu Zen, the first of the five types. 

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