From Buddha World
The four main differences of Thien (Zen)
- It de-emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts in favor of direct, experiential realization through meditation and dharma practice.
- It de-emphasizes an undoubted belief in words and characters. Thien (Zen) is a "special transmission outside scriptures" which "did not stand upon words".
- Thien (Zen) is taught in the way of direct indication of reality - a unique transmission from heart to heart.
- It emphasizes the importance of enlightment through the realisation of one's true nature.
The origins of Thien (Zen) Buddhism are ascribed to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century. It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up a flower and several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha's disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and is said to have gained a special insight directly from the Buddha's mind, beyond words. Mahākāśyapa somehow understood the true inexpressible meaning of the flower, smiled and the Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa's insight by saying the following:
- I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvana, the true form of the formless, the subtle dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.
Thus, through Zen there developed a way which concentrated on direct experience rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Wisdom was passed, not through words, but through a lineage of one-to-one direct transmission of thought from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage continued all the way from the Buddha's time to the present. Historically, this claim is disputed, due to lack of evidence to support it. According to D.T. Suzuki, the idea that there exists in the history of Zen a line of descent from Gautama Buddha that resulted in the distinctive institution of Zen was invented by hagiographers to grant Zen legitimacy and prestige.