Zen evolved from the teachings of the historical Buddha who lived 2500 years ago in India. These teachings spread to China some six hundred years later. Zen (called Ch’an in China) developed in Mahayana Buddhist monasteries in the 7th Century. Inspired in part by the Chinese practice of the Tao, Ch’an was characterized by a spontaneity and naturalness. Japan periodically sent Buddhist monks to study different schools of Chinese Buddhism. In the 12th Century two monks, Myoan Eisai and Eihei Dogen, separately brought Zen Buddhism west to Japan. Dogen returned to Japan to transmit the lineage of the Soto Zen Buddhism. Introduced in North America after the Second World War, it has flourished, and Soto Zen centers and sitting groups are active in most major cities.
What is Soto Zen? Soto Zen was developed in the ninth century by the Chinese Monks Tozan (Ch. Dongshan) and Sozan (Ch. Caoshan), the first syllables of their names making up the subsequent name of the school. It stressed doing meditation without a goal, as everyone is already inherently enlightened. Seated, silent meditation is an expression of this.
Soto Zen Buddhism is distinguished by its focus on the down-to-earth practice of “everyday zen.” It encourages awareness of the workings of one’s own mind as a means of living mindfully in all areas of daily life – at home, at work and in the community.
In his “Instructions for the Cook,” Dogen taught that cooking and caring for other people were as important as sitting zazen and chanting sutras.
Soto Zen is for those who want to practice Zen in everything they do. In coming face to face with their life in all its aspects, they come to know themselves and find their relationship to all other things. They learn to be truly here and to serve in all ways.