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The religion of Buddhism travelled from India to China before moving on to Japan.
In China the prevailing way of thinking was Taoist. Hence, the Chinese saw Buddhism in terms of Taoism and created 'chan'.
Somewhere along the line, chan would later be known as 'Zen'.
Zen adheres to the insights of Taoism, and represents an attempt to live in the spontaneous moment of the immediate.


It is not necessary to become a Buddhist in order to understand and appreciate Zen. The process of formalising Zen is a contradiction in terms, as it removes the natural simplicity of just being.
Zen is a sensibility not a religion. The Tao of Zen by Ray Grigg explores this question at length, as does Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.

Beyond words

Tao Te Ching begins with Lao Tzu proposing a discussion of 'the Tao'. He admits that the Tao is not a thing, an object or a subject, and that it cannot be verbalised or thought.
The inexpressible cannot be articulated with words. Yet he proceeds to chat anyway. 81 chapters follow.

The truth

Admitting the limitations of thought and language is a principle theme in Zen. Nothing is more immediate than the actual.
The word for car is not a car, and if you eat a menu it will not taste like the food it describes. Krishnamurti explored this same topic extensively in his teachings.


Zen is about seeing things as they really are. Seeing what is right in front of you. To accomplish this you need to clear your mind.
Adding clutter such as a special new name, a costume, a special place to meditate etc will not help you to accomplish this. In fact, the more you add, the further away you get from the truth.
Zen is about paring away the things that occlude reality, not substituting one thing for another.

Manifestations of Zen

Tao flourished in China but Zen reached its peak in Japan where sects and religious groups existed for centuries.
At some point in history the sensibilities of Zen attained a life independent of Buddhist religion. Examples of Zen influence could be seen in gardens, pottery, clothing, mannerisms and customs.
Common Zen themes: simplicity, essentials, depth, naturalness, composure, suggestion, asymmetry and transcendence. There is also an appreciation of that which endures and that which fades.
The cherry blossom is a classic Zen symbol, and was adopted by the samurai.

Zen in the martial arts

The raw immediacy advocated by Zen suits the martial arts. Superfluity has no place in combat, and Zen is an ideal way to trim your art down to the fundamentals.
A student who is absorbed in the doing is said to be in a condition of 'shen', where no division exists between the art and the individual.
We advocate a Zen approach to the study and practice of the internal martial arts. If you are not sure what this means, read Zen in the Art of Archery - it reflects our approach very well.

I can't get a handle on the tai chi fighting method

Why do you expect to? The syllabus is an introduces the internal martial arts incrementally. You are not expected to understand it straight away. Understanding takes time.
People often try to understand the internal martial arts in terms of something else: boxing, judo, karate, wing chun. This is like considering Tom in terms of Harry. A new starter initially lacks context.
As they practice, the pieces slowly come together and the art makes sense.


Although Zen is in name a Buddhist movement, the impact of Taoism was profound and far reaching; and the two ideologies are closer in nature than are Zen and other Buddhist teachings.

 (Andrew Juniper)

Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023