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[zen] /zɛn/
Chinese Ch'an. Buddhism. a Mahayana movement, introduced into China in the 6th century a.d. and into Japan in the 12th century, that emphasizes enlightenment for the student by the most direct possible means, accepting formal studies and observances only when they form part of such means.
Compare koan, mondo1 .
the discipline and practice of this sect.
Also called Zen Buddhism.
Origin of Zen
< Japanese < Middle Chinese, equivalent to Chinese chán, transliteration of Pali jhāna < Sanskrit dhyāna
Related forms
Zenic, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for Zen
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Her mother arose as Zen entered the room and took her hands in a warm, tender grip.

    Dennison Grant Robert Stead
  • He put in, "Well, what in Zen motivates you if it isn't the stock we offer?"

    Mercenary Dallas McCord Reynolds
  • Possibly, also, he recalled at that moment the obligation under which Zen's accident had placed him.

    Dennison Grant Robert Stead
  • Keep this in mind, by the way: I barely knew the language, and the Zen could barely remember it.

    Zen Jerome Bixby
  • In Japan, on the other hand, Zen has remained absolutely distinct and is now the favourite creed of the educated classes.

    Zen Buddhism Arthur Waley
British Dictionary definitions for Zen


a Japanese school, of 12th-century Chinese origin, teaching that contemplation of one's essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only way of achieving pure enlightenment
(modifier) of or relating to this school: Zen Buddhism
Derived Forms
Zenic, adjective
Zenist, noun
Word Origin
from Japanese, from Chinese ch'an religious meditation, from Pali jhāna, from Sanskrit dhyāna
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for Zen

school of Mahayana Buddhism, 1727, from Japanese, from Chinese ch'an, ultimately from Sanskrit dhyana "thought, meditation," from PIE root *dhya "to see, contemplate."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Zen in Culture

Zen definition

An approach to religion, arising from Buddhism, that seeks religious enlightenment by meditation in which there is no consciousness of self.

Note: Deliberately irrational statements are sometimes used in Zen to jar persons into realizing the limits of the common uses of the intellect. One well-known example is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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