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The Buddha Tree

    Another school that was to be particularly strongly influenced by Chinese thought was the Meditation School -- Dhyana, Ch'an, Son, or Zen. Tradition has the Indian monk Bodhidharma coming from the west to China around 520 ad. It was Bodhidharma, it is said, who carried the Silent Transmission to become the First Patriarch of the Ch'an School in China: 

    From the very beginning, Buddha had had reservations about his ability to communicate his message to the people. Words simply could not carry such a sublime message. So, on one occasion, while the monks around him waited for a sermon, he said absolutely nothing. He simply held up a flower. the monks, of course, were confused, except for Kashyapa, who understood and smiled. The Buddha smiled back, and thus the Silent Transmission began. 

    Zen Buddhism focuses on developing the immediate awareness of Buddha-mind through meditation on emptiness. It is notorious for its dismissal of the written and spoken word and occasionally for his rough-house antics. It should be understood, however, that there is great reverence for the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, even when they are ostensibly ignoring, poking fun, or even turning them upside-down. 

    Zen has contributed its own literature to the Buddhist melting-pot, including The Platform Sutra, written by Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch, around 700 ad., The Blue Cliff Record, written about 1000 ad., and The Gateless Gate, written about 1200 ad. And we shouldn't forget the famous Ten Ox-Herding Pictures that many see as containing the very essence of Zen's message. 

The Blossoming of Schools 
    During the Sui dynasty (581-618) and T'ang dynasty (618-907), Chinese Buddhism experienced what is referred to as the "blossoming of schools." The philosophical inspirations of the Madhyamaka and Yogachara, as well as the Pure Land and Ch'an Sutras, interacting with the already sophisticated philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism, led to a regular renaissance in religious and philosophical thought. 

    We find the Realistic School, based on the "all things exist" Hinayana School; the Three-Treatises School, based on Madhyamaka; the Idealist School, based on Yogachara; the Tantric School; the Flower Adornment School (Hua-Yen, J: Kegon), which attempted to consolidate the various forms; and the White Lotus School (T'ien-T'ai, J: Tendai), which focused on the Lotus Sutra. 

    All the Chinese Schools had their representatives in neighboring countries. Korea was to develop its own powerful form of Ch'an called Son. Vietnam developed a form of Ch'an that incorporated aspects of Pure Land and Hinayana. But it was Japan that would have a field day with Chinese Buddhism, and pass the Mahayana traditions on to the US and the west generally.


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