THE WORD ZEN refers to meditation itself. Its meaning has grown and now extends to include the way of life of a person who practices meditation and mindful living. Meditation is the central practice of the Zen school as it has been transmitted teacher–to–student through the centuries. It can be practiced while sitting on a cushion or in a chair. It can be practiced while standing, or while walking mindfully. Once it is experienced, it can be carried into daily activity and expressed in the way you move, speak, work, play — in all interactions.

The origin of Buddhism
The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, lived in India from roughly 566 to 486 BCE. Emphasizing liberation from delusion, the Buddha (which means Awakened One) taught various techniques to recognize and come to terms with obscurations. He emphasized meditation as the essence of practice. The central insight of the Buddha’s enlightenment experience was a deep understanding of no–separation. According to the traditional Zen texts, the Buddha, on the morning of his great awakening, said “I, together with all beings and the great earth, simultaneously achieve the Way.” Buddha’s awakening then, is your awakening, our awakening. Zen practice is concerned with freely expressing that awakening in all our daily activities, here and now, moment after moment.

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The Houston Zen Center was founded in 2003. The Houston Zen Community began in about 1988, when a meditation group, led by Unitarian minister Bob Schaibley, started in First Unitarian Church in Houston. Later the Houston Zen Community evolved into a Soto Zen group and, in 2003 opened its own Center in the Houston Heights neighborhood. It outgrew its first building and, in 2007, moved three blocks north to its current location in a large 1918 Craftsman–style building. The grounds now include two meditation halls, the hojo, or Abbot’s residence, an organic garden, monk’s residences and classrooms.

Buddhist meditation and its evolution
In the first century CE a great flowering known as the Mahayana, or “Great Vehicle,” occurred. The Mahayana elaborated on the earlier tradition, emphasizing the role of the bodhisattva, the being who practices with and for all others. Soto Zen is one of the many branches of the Mahayana.

Over many centuries, various practitioners brought Buddhist teachings and practices to China where they spread throughout the country. (See recommended readings for detailed accounts of this rich and dynamic time in Buddhist history ‐ a time with striking parallels to the present, as Buddhist teachings and Western culture come into contact with each other.)

Simply put, the Buddhist teachings in India were highly developed explorations of the human mind. After centuries of profound study, Indian Buddhists were sophisticated students of psychology and liberation.

Once Buddhist teachers arrived in China, the teachings began to adapt in the new environment, influencing and being influenced by Taoism and Confucianism to the lasting benefit of all three.

It was in China that the first Zen monasteries arose. Countless influential Zen Masters flourished in China for more than a thousand years before Zen was transmitted to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. One of the great Zen Masters, Tozan Ryokai (807–869 CE), is considered to be the co–founder of Soto Zen. (One explanation is that the “to” in “Soto” comes from the first syllable of Tozan’s name; the “So” comes from the first syllable of one of his disciples, Sozan Honjaku, 840–901 CE.)

It was also in China that the famous koan literature, the records of concise, powerful encounters between students and teachers, first developed. Koans continue to be read and studied in all schools of contemporary Zen, although with different emphases in different lineages.