Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Vietnamese name
Korean name
Japanese name
Sanskrit name
Sanskritध्यान (dhyāna)

Zen (Chinese: ; pinyin: Chán; Korean: , romanizedSeon) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the Tang dynasty, then known as the Chan School (Chánzong 禅宗) and later developed into various schools. It was strongly influenced by Taoist philosophy, especially Neo-Daoist thought, and developed as a distinct school of Chinese Buddhism.[1] From China, Chán spread south to Vietnam and became Vietnamese Thiền, northeast to Korea to become Seon Buddhism, and east to Japan, becoming Japanese Zen.[2]

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (Chán), which traces its roots to the Indian practice of dhyāna ("meditation").[note 1] Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of things (Ch. jianxing, Jp. kensho, "perceiving the true nature"), and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.[4][5] As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine[6][7] and favors direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher.[8]

The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogachara, the Tathāgatagarbha sūtras and the Huayan school, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal.[9][10] The Prajñāpāramitā literature[11] as well as Madhyamaka thought have also been influential in the shaping of the apophatic and sometimes iconoclastic nature of Zen rhetoric.[citation needed]


The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation (kana: ぜん) of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (IPA: dʑjen; pinyin: Chán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna (ध्यान),[3], which can be approximately translated as "absorption" or "meditative state".[12]

The actual Chinese term for the "Zen school" is 禪宗 Chánzong, while "Chan" just refers to the practice of meditation itself (習禪,xichan) or the study of meditation (禪學,chanxue) though it is often used as an abbreviated form of Chánzong.[13]