“”Remember one thing, boy. Zen is not a philosophy. Zen is not a religion. Zen is just a damn attitude.
|—Alf the Poet, or one of his minions|
Zen (Japanese, from Sanskrit dhyana by way of Chinese chan) is a form of Buddhism developed in China with influences from Taoism. It is best known in its Japanese form. Central to Zen practice is the heightening of personal awareness through regular sessions of zazen, a form of quiet, seated meditation, as well as other practices. Some schools of Zen Buddhism put a strong emphasis on bettering oneself through meditating on riddles known as koans (a famous example is: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Though actually rendered closer to "Clap. Now only listen to one of those hands."), which helped it to become strongly influential on geek culture due to its love of mind puzzles and high-context communication. Especially popular in these groups is coming up with snarky answers to questions that, on purpose, are impossible to answer.
A somewhat faddish westernized version of Zen became trendy during the 1970s in such places as the Esalen Institute and the Human Potential Movement, primarily due to the influence of writers Alan Watts, and D.T. Suzuki.
The main form of westernized Buddhism in the 1950s and 60s was Zen, but today there are many popular Buddhist teachers in the West who derive from other Buddhist traditions. In 2000, the term Shambhala Buddhism was coined- a Western form of Buddhism largely derived from Tibetan traditions which predate the Zen traditions of China and Japan. The Western teacher Pema Chödrön largely identifies with the Shambala tradition rather than Zen. The Dalai Lama is not in the Zen tradition of Buddhism.
As Zen Buddhism has no "god", it's viewed as an atheistic religion in the west. In many parts of the Western World afflicted with fundamentalist theology (e.g. the USA) practitioners often refer to it as "nontheistic" instead, to avoid negative connotations. By many accounts, it is not even a religion; if one described it as an attitude or a practice, that would not be too far wrong. Seen in this light, zen has nothing to do with taking Christmas away, nor is there any sensible reason to keep Christians away from it.
However, in eastern countries it is often viewed as a religion in the same way Christianity is, and many followers do believe in gods in some form. However, belief in deities is regarded as a personal choice and is irrelevant to the path of enlightenment. Zen followers who do believe in gods often derive them from native folk religion. This is most notable in Japan, where both Buddhism and Shintoism often intermixed.
Zen teacher Gudo Wafu Nishijima (b. 1919) argues that Zen is a method for practicing humanism and is not a "religion" in the traditional sense of the word. Brad Warner made this the central theme in his book on the intersection of punk rock and Zen, Hardcore Zen.
 Further reading
- Reps, Paul, and Nyogen Senzaki, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. A 20th-century collection of Zen lore, including the Mumonkan and some influential Taoist writings.
- Suzuki, Shunryu, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. A series of transcribed and edited dharma talks (sermons) originally delivered in English. Careful reading reveals a brief verbal description of the secret of zen practice.
- Aitken, Robert, Taking the Path of Zen. A practical description of how to follow the Zen movement, including specific instructions regarding meditation, life style and applying Zen to everyday life.
- Kapleau, Philip, The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. One of the very few texts that contains actual, concrete descriptions of an enlightenment experience.
- Van de Wetering, Janwillem, The Empty Mirror: Experiences in a Japanese Zen Monastery, 1971
- Van de Wetering, Janwillem, A Glimpse of Nothingness: Experiences in an American Zen Community, 1975
- Anything by Charlotte Joko Beck
- Anything by Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Wikipedia on Zen Buddhism
- The Gateless Gate (Jap. Mumonkan, Ch. Wu-wen Kuan), a collection of Chinese Zen koans
- Dogen's Instructions for the Cook (Jap. Tenzo Kyokun)
- ↑ 
- ↑ "The editing is further complicated by the fact that English is profoundly dualistic in its basic assumptions and has not had the opportunity over centuries to develop a way of expressing non-dualistic Buddhist ideas, as has Japanese. Suzuki-roshi uses these different cultural vocabularies quite freely, expressing himself in a combination of the Japanese feeling-attributive way of thinking and the Western idea-specific way that to his listeners makes perfect sense poetically and philosophically." from the introduction by Richard Baker