Buddhism is a deeply held and widely practiced Religion unfolding from The Teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and expressed through a variety of traditions, activities and spiritual practices traced directly to the life and Teaching of Buddha Himself some 2,500 years ago.
While differing widely in approach and style the various Schools and Sects that unfolded from Buddha’s life work, all lead to awakening and liberation from suffering, caused by fundamental ignorance end craving that is common to all humans. Similarly, all disciplines formed from Buddha’s original teaching value above all the three treasures: The Buddha, both the historical figure and the awakened truth in our own life, The Dharma, the Universal Teaching of Buddha and the Sangha, the community of practitioners.
From the seat of Buddha’s teaching in 6th century BC India near what is now Nepal, to the Modern world, Buddha’s Teaching manifests itself in two great streams of Practice, Theravada or the “School of the Elders”, and Mahayana or “Great Vehicle” of which the Zen School belongs.
While Buddhism as a religion is replete is with faith and belief, the Buddha’s Teaching when manifested in one’s own life is itself closer to a skill-set, the art of well-being and the unfolding of our own Awakening than a requirement for salvation. The various forms and practices associated with Buddhism are often characterized as a Path or Way with Nirvana as an ultimate goal; however, this doesn’t diminish the importance of focusing on the activities of ones’ own life; in general, the Teaching emphasizes this and for Zen Practice it is paramount.
Zen as a distinct practice traces its beginning to 5th Century China where an Indian monk named Bodhidharma brought teachings and practice that emphasized seated mediation as the paramount gateway to Awakening. He is identified as the 28th Patriarch of Zen Buddhism continuing an unbroken line of Master to Disciple Teaching extending back to the Buddha himself
The Zen tradition as such developed over time in China and by the Tang Dynasty, which some consider the zenith of Zen Practice five “schools” of Zen were recognized; Guiyang, Linji, Caodong, Fayan, and the Yunmen.
Today two of the schools remain Linji or Rinzai and Caodong or Soto in Japanese. Soto Zen takes its name from two Chinese Monks named Tozan (Ch. Dongshan) and Sozan (Ch. Caoshan) who developed the school in the ninth century.
Zen Center vs Temple
Buddhist Temples can trace their beginnings to ancient Stupas that housed Buddhas relics and to the often adjunct Monastery compounds where monks lived and practiced. Today’s Buddhist Temples operate much the same way.
Zen Centers as such are modern constructs and take as their model the original American Zen Temples that served primarily the congregation of Japanese-American immigrants. For this population the Temple also served as a meeting place for education and community support programs for the lay Sangha
American Zen Centers grew this model to include with temple life, monastic experience and training for both lay and clergy adherents; as well as broad based education and well-being programs open to all; many paths one Dharma.
Pittsburgh Zen Center, Deep Spring Temple is a Soto School Temple.