Meditation Practices in Chinese Buddhism

Subject code ABS943
Lecturer TBD
Delivery mode TBD
Duration TBD
Next start date Visit timetable

Subject Overview

This subject offers students an intellectually-engaged study of the tradition and practices of Chinese Chan (later Japanese Zen) Buddhism, strongly based in direct experience of the practices examined. The subject will proceed by interweaving direct meditation experience with historically-informed critical reflection upon Chan and its underlying tenets and philosophy, in a way that will both build on and enrich studies in Buddhist meditative thought and practice encountered in other NTI offerings.

The subject will provide an overview of the historical and cultural circumstances that shaped the Mahayana tradition of Chan (‘Zen’) Buddhism in China, from 6th century CE through the Tang and Song dynasties, while offering students direct experience of the two primary streams of Chan meditation practice – ‘Silent Illumination’, and ‘Koan Introspection’ – that emerged in the classical period, and were carried into Japan as Soto and Rinzai streams of practice. Some significant aspects of the different cultural expressions of Chan (Zen) that have formed as Zen moved into a Western context will also be explored.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Understand the floweing of Chan Buddhist practice within its cultural and historical Chinese context.
  2. Directly explore the uniquely Chan practice of meditating with koans, and come to reflect with clarity on the process and convey insights arising from the process, by encountering and meditating with the words of a number of the most influential masters of Chan (Chinese Zen) Buddhism.
  3. Explore the practice of Zongzhi’s ‘Silent illumination’, and come to reflect with clarity on the demands of ‘just sitting’.
  4. Develop the ability to formulate and assess critical questions about the meditation practices and underlying philosophies of Chan explored and examined in the course, from a basis of a degree of direct experience of those practices.
  5. Understand what took place in the spread of Chan to Japan and later Western contexts, where it has encountered markedly different cultural contexts, and assess continuity and change within this tradition of meditation practice.
  6. Critically examine what Chan/Zen practice may be able to bring to the aid of a planet and world in a state of multi-layered crisis.


  • Assessment 1: Continuous reflection journal (25%)
  • Assessment 2: Critical literature review (25%)
  • Assessment 3: Critical research essay (50%)


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