The Buddha Shakyamuni lived 2,500 years ago in India. He was a human being who possessed the same spiritual potential that is within us all. He realised enlightenment and spent His life helping others find what He had found. Enlightenment is the direct realisation of one’s true nature and the nature of all existence – it is the end of suffering and the awakening of compassion. Buddhism does not claim an exclusive truth, but it is a way that has led many to the deepest fulfilment.
All beings already have the same enlightened nature as the Buddha but we obscure it by believing that we are separate, isolated beings. This makes us very needy and we spend our lives trying to get what we believe we lack, through acquiring possessions, power or relationships. It is as though we are trying to fill a void inside but, however much we get, the void always seems to remain. From the Buddhist viewpoint this happens because we misunderstand our own nature.
Since the time of the Buddha many schools of Buddhism have developed. The aim of each has been to express the essence of the Buddha’s teaching in a manner appropriate to the time and culture. The form of Mahayana Buddhism that is known as Zen emerged as a distinct school in China in about the 8th century. Our school of Soto Zen was introduced to Japan in the 13th century by Great Master Dogen. Within the Soto Zen school there are many teaching lines (including the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition) and each has its own particular flavour.