Sōtō Zen Buddhism is a Japanese school of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition that emphasizes seated meditation and non-conceptual thinking. Popularized by Dogen in the 11th Century, the Soto Zen tradition has since grown to attract people practitioners from across the world. Today, Soto Zen represents one of the largest unified Buddhist sect, with over 14,000 temples worldwide. In the US, Sōtō meditation centers can be found in most major metropolitan areas.
Like the rest of Zen Buddhism, Sōtō Zen emphasizes seated meditation, or zazen. The intent of this seated meditation practice is to distance the ego from the external world, relieving the practitioner of distracting stimuli and emotions, and ultimately culminating in a moment of samadhi, a full dissipation of the ego. In this enlightened state, Zen teachers suggest that the practitioner’s conventional frames of dualistic thinking melt away, and mature practitioners can apply this state of mind beyond the act of zazen to their everyday lives, prompting a consistent sense of serenity and purpose in every moment. In most gatherings, some form of zazen will take place. A typical sitting can range from 30 minutes to an entire day or even several days in more intensive settings.
Sōtō is distinguished from the other major Zen schools, Rinzai and Obaku, by its focus on just-sitting, or shikan taza. Essentially, this approach emphasizes zazen as the key act of samadhi (enlightenment), as opposed to the other schools, which offer supplementary methods like koans as potential routes to the dissipation of the ego.
Zen originated with the teachings of the Guatama Buddha over 2500 years ago. Following the creation of the Chan school of Mahayana in China, the Chan school was brought to Japan and popularized as Zen Buddhism by Dogen in the 11th century. As Zen developed in Japan, numerous schools took shape, eventually coalescing into the three key veins of Zen that are still active today: Sōtō, Obaku, and Rinzai. These days, Zen continues to be one of the most popular Buddhist paths worldwide, bearing close resemblance to its Chinese and Korean cousins, Chan and Son.
Keeping with the broader Buddhist tradition, Zen practitioners emphasize the primacy of oneness. As such, Zen practitioners often seek to participate in this oneness to achieve experiences of samadhi (or moksha), the dissolution of the barrier between the self and all else.
In other words, Zen practitioners perceive the world as a conglomeration of false binaries. There is the “self vs. the other”, “good versus evil”, “love versus hate” and so on. Such artificial divisions give rise to unnecessary suffering and divisiveness, and can be overcome through zazen. The earnest Zen practitioner, thus practices meditation for the sake of realizing a consistent state of “not-two”, or an understanding that there is no self and no other, nor good nor evil. Everything simply is.