Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana

Zen is a Japanese approximation to the Sanskrit dhyana, which has in Yoga the technical meaning of stilling and focussing the mind. When after long practice all associations have dropped away and the mind is identified with the subtle constituents of the object, the state is called Samadhi of a particular kind. In that Samadhi there finally comes a flash of intuitive knowledge or Prajna, which reveals the truth of the object of meditation. Prajna is knowledge not coming by the routes of sense-perception, inference or authority: it is immediate and invariably correct.

Buddhism adopted Yoga methods, and dhyana discipline was the final step before realization. The Zen sect, founded in China by the Indian patriarch Bodhidharma, lays special emphasis on meditation practice, and claims a special tradition handed down ‘from heart to heart’ from the Buddha himself. The main tenets of Buddhism and of Zen be found in Abbot Obora’s Heart Sutra commentary in book, and they need not be summarized here.

in Zen as in other mystical schools there are spiritual crises, and the teacher has a very important role in resolving them. The teacher does not normally take on a student unless the latter displays great resolution and energy in his inquiry. This is technically called Great Faith. After some time the disciple’s hidden doubts and reservations appear in the form of a crisis, generally centring round some point of the teaching or some action of the teacher. When the problem fills all the waking hours without a moment’s forgetfulness the stage is called the Great Doubt. The working of the mind ceases. Finally there is a flash which is called in Japanese satori or Realization.

Classically satori was once for ever, but in later Zen, especially in the Rinzai transmission, special methods were used for bringing about the Great Doubt more quickly. The disciple was presented with a ready-made riddle, generally one which had formed in the mind of a disciple in the Tang dynasty, the golden age of Zen in China. The advantage of the ready-made riddle, or Koan as it is called, is that crystallization of the pupil’s doubts takes place more quickly; the disadvantage is that the crystallization, not being spontaneous, may be incomplete, and then in spite of a satori experience the process must be gone through again with another Koan. In the life of Hakuin (in the Yasenkanna section of this book) we see a number of crises, some centring on a Koan and others spontaneously arising on the classical pattern. Teachers of the Soto transmission of Zen do not make so much of Koan technique.