In the 6th century B.C. a prince named Siddhartha Gautama was born in what we now call Nepal. He lived a luxurious life in his father’s palace . His parents wanted to keep him away from all suffering. When he was 29 he finally persuaded his father to allow him to go outside the palace. In doing so, Siddhartha experienced for the first time the cruel reality of life. He was confronted with suffering by seeing an old man, a sick man and a dead man. From then on, he became obsessed with human suffering. Why did it exist, what causes it, and can it be stopped ?
Siddhartha left the palace and began a spiritual quest. In a forest he met a group of aesthetics and joined them. There he lived a life of thought, meditation and fasting. When he found that the lack of food kept him from thinking clear and started eating again, the aesthetics left him because of his unfaithfulness. He then decided to meditate until he had found an answer to his questions. He sat under a Bodhi tree for 49 days where he was visited by visions of great wealth, physical joy and pseudo enlightenment.
Finally he saw the real nature of all things and became enlightened. “Truly all things are one and pure. It is only the human mind that prevents us from seeing this.” From that moment on he was known as the Buddha (the Enlightened). The rest of his life he taught his insights to others all over India.
The successors of Buddha are called the patriarch’s. The 28th patriarch, Bodhidharma, traveled to China to spread the teachings of Buddha or ‘the Dharma’. Buddhism in China was highly influenced by Taoism and Confucianism and was called ‘Chan.’
Buddhism spread to Japan in the 12th century. This was mainly because of the high interest in Zen-Buddhism by
the local warlords or ‘Shogun’ and their Samurai warriors. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of ‘Chan’. The Samurai used the total focus idea of Zen to perfect their fighting skills.
Three men have been very important for the introduction of Zen in the West. Zenmasters Roshi Harada and Roshi Yasutani traveled to North America in the first half of the 19th. century. They taught the Dharma to people who freed themselves from religions which no longer seemed to have the right answers to the present outbursts of violence: WWI and WWII. Daisetz Suzuki was the first to translate Zen-texts into English and to write English books about Zen.
In the sixties the things that Zen promised; relaxation and a higher state of mind perfectly matched the search for freedom and ‘something more’ of a large part of the youth. Very important for the up-rise of Zen were Eugen Herrigel’s book: ‘Zen in the Art of Archery,’ about his Zen-based Kyudo training in Japan, and famous 60′s writer Jack Kerouac’s book ‘The Dharma Bums,’ about a group of American people and their interest in (their selection) of the Zen- philosophy.
After the gold rush of the last years of the 20th century, a new interest in spirituality has arisen. No longer is ‘more-more’ the ideology but the search for a more balanced and harmonious life has begun. For a lot of people the Zen-philosophy is the path they were looking for. Through meditation and trying to follow the Eightfold Path they experience a peace of mind that’s better for them (and their friends and family).