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How did Zen originate?

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Zen originated in India with the laughter of Maha Kasyapa, one of Gautama Buddha's close disciple.

One morning all the disciples watched with incredulously as Buddha walked in with a rose flower in his hand. For about half an hour he just sat and looked at the rose flower, all were silent and fidgeting when suddenly Maha Kasyapa laughed. Gautama Buddha called Maha Kasyapa to him and gave him the flower.

Addressing the 10,000 strong gathering Gautama Buddha said, "All what I had to say in words I have said to you. Whatever cannot be said through words, I have transferred to Maha Kasyapa.

In 2,500 years of Buddhist literature over this is the only mention of Maha Kasyapa, and no one could fathom why Maha Kasyapa laughed and why Buddha gave the flower to Maha Kasyapa. Since then Zen has become the highest form of mysticism ever.

Maha Kasyapa it is believed went so deep into meditation that, when he reached the core of his being, he discovered that there was nothing there, just a beautiful silent awareness. The only way to express oneself is to laugh. That is why Gautama Buddha chose him. The Buddha said,

A fool laughs at others, but wisdom laughs at itself.

Buddha spoke in Pali, the language spoken by the masses, so that people could understand what he said. Therefore he used the Pali word 'Zan' rather than use the Sanskrit word 'Dhyan' or meditation.

Following in the footsteps of Buddha and Maha Kasyapa, the master of the great Bodhidharma told him to take the treasure of 'Zan' to China.

There 'Zan' got blended with the fragrance and wisdom of mystic and masters like Lao Tzu, and other great masters into a still simpler but more beautiful form called 'Chan'.

From China the new teachings went to Japan, where it took the name and form of Zen. And in Japan and over a 1000 year journey from its origin in India the teachings of Gautama Buddha took root and manifested in numerous beautiful and mystical forms of Zen.

The 'Samurai' in Japan adopted Zen not to merely sit and meditate, but to adopt it for all aspects of their life and the highest being the art of archery and swordsmanship.

The masters were able to achieve such control over their breath, mind and body that they were able to stop the mind and time to be still. Thus allowing relaxation to take place and therefor life and existence to take possession of their beings and become one with it.

The leaders and captains of Japanese industry also adopted Zen. This allowed them to develop world class technologies and solutions to challenges which propelled Japan from a devastated country to a world leader.

The learning from this long refinement is that meditation is not different from life.

Zen teaches us that whatever we do should be done with complete awareness, every action can be done in a meditative way and excellence is the end result.


Based on the talks and writings of the great philosopher and master 'Osho'

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