Although the term "Zen" is commonly used, many may not be aware of its significance. In fact, the word has multiple meanings, which for convenience can be divided to:

  • Meditation
  • Zen Buddhism
  • “A Zen-experience”

zen chan 2The most common use of the word means meditation. It is also used as an abbreviation in reference to Zen Buddhism, which is a widespread branch of Buddhist practices. Some also use it in expressions such as "Zen-experience" when referring to for example a deeply meditative experience of transcending the self. However, due to the popularity of the term, it is also not uncommon to see it used in misleading ways.

It bears mentioning that only one of the above meanings has religious connotations - generally speaking "Zen" refers to practical benefits, or the training meant to provide them. Even Zen Buddhism is not a religion in the traditional sense of the word; worship or declarations of faith are not requirements in Zen. Therefore, both religious or non-religious people can be Zen practitioners.

Practically all existing schools and branches of Zen can be traced back to China's Shaolin monasteries. Although the popularized term "Zen" is a Japanese word, it is derived from the Chinese word "Chan", originating from "Dhyana", the Sanskrit word for meditation. This development also mirrors the spreading of Zen from India to China, Korea, Japan and all over the world, in which the Shaolin monasteries were instrumental. With the Shaolin practitioners of dynastic China, Zen or "Chan" became a uniquely Chinese art.