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Important school of Buddhism that claims to transmit the experience of enlightenment achieved by the Buddha Gautama. Arising as Chan in China in the 6th century (introduced by Bodhidharma), it divided into two schools, the Southern school, which believed in sudden enlightenment, and the Northern school, which believed in gradual enlightenment. By the 8th century only the Northern school survived. Zen developed fully in Japan by the 12th century and had a significant following in the West by the later 20th century. Zen teaches that the potential to achieve enlightenment is inherent in everyone but lies dormant because of ignorance. It is best awakened not by the study of scripture, the practice of good deeds, rites and ceremonies, or worship of images, but by breaking through the boundaries of mundane logical thought. Methods employed vary among different schools and may emphasize the practice of zazen (in the Soto school), the use of koans (in the Rinzai school), or the continual invocation of Amida (in the Obaku school; seeAmitabha).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Zen, visit Britannica.com.