Zen is a Japanese form of Mahayana Buddhism. It prioritizes silent meditation (Zazen) and work in service to others as means to “wake up” to the oneness of all things. Whereas other forms of Buddhism may highlight rebirth and the many lives it will take to awaken, Zen demands that we practice with the intensity to wake up now!
An essential aspect of Zen is the Bodhisattva Vow. While some forms of Buddhism see personal enlightenment (an individual’s freedom from delusion) as the primary objective, Zen Buddhists make the vow to remain engaged in the world of delusion for the sake of others. They vow to forgo total freedom until all others are free first. In Zen, this ongoing practice of selflessness is enlightened activity.
One defining feature of Zen Buddhism is the emphasis on form, or choreography involved in the practice. Entrances, exits, how to get seated in meditation, how to move around in the meditation hall etc. all have very specific movements, gestures, sound cues and sequences that all practitioners strive to adhere to. This ancient and austere practice of moving together as one body can be awkward for many. But practicing these strict forms is very powerful—it elucidates our pride and resistance, it helps to maintain mindfulness and awareness, and it offers a deep sense of solidarity as everyone moves together as one.