Zen Buddhism is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that focuses on meditation as a means to attain Enlightenment. The word Zen is from the Japanese language and refers to the process of “meditating directly upon what one experiences at any given moment”. This spontaneous way of thinking and acting evolved out of Buddhist philosophy over two thousand years ago; it became known as Zen after the name of Bodhidharma’s school, which emphasized meditation rather than scripture reading.
Since its origin, it has manifested itself in various forms such as Teaism, Sung architecture and gardens, Haiku poetry, Kyudo archery and flower arranging. Yet, the most memorable manifestation of Zen is evident in Karate-do (empty-handed way) and Aikido (way of harmony/love). Both karate and aikido were formulated more than seven hundred years later than the origin of Zen.
It is said, “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine”. As it was mentioned above, one can find traces of Buddhism throughout Japanese art forms. However, there are two more traditional Japanese arts that would reveal many more aspects to this way of thinking; these are calligraphy and flower arranging.
The first writing system for expressing ideas instead of thoughts was developed in China approximately four thousand years ago. It evolved into three forms, seal script used by the nobility and priests; official writing for government and business use; and clerical script (grass-script) widely used in daily life.
The oldest form of Japanese calligraphy is Shodo which means “the way of writing or calligraphy”. It was developed between 757 A.D. to 764 A.D. when an imperial edict called for talented scholars to create a new system of writing that would aid in teaching Buddhist scriptures to people who were illiterate at that time. Sekino Washi became the first style of Japanese calligraphy in the world. It came from China as a style of writing known as “seal script” developed by the noble class and Buddhist priests.
In this case, it is not hard to realize how Zen was brought to Japan as Wabi-sabi elements were introduced with Buddhism. Sekino’s calligraphy should be viewed in terms of wabi-sabi because he wrote his name like a poem rather than a signature; he used an ancient form that can hardly be read today, yet it has a mystical quality that reflects the art form of the tea ceremony. Therefore, there is a strong connection between Japanese calligraphy and tea ceremony even though they are independent events.
Zen influence is also evident in the architecture of Kyudo (Japanese archery), which is a perfect example of how the Zen mind can be practical for everyday life. Unlike Shodo, Kyudo has kept its original form since it came to Japan more than one thousand years ago. For instance, unlike other martial arts where students learn through repetition and rigid discipline, the essential aspect of learning Kyudo is similar to a Zen koan or meditation – in order to hit the target, one must forget all his knowledge and technique. One must let go of his ego in order to find freedom within himself and use his intuition instead of thinking about what he should do next.