In a wit like Zen Buddhism, there is not much to talk about in Zen except its history which is a long and complex one. Much of Zen is arguably a well constructed myth emerging from the Song dynasty as was the idea of a Zen lineage 禪宗. Modern Zen scholarship has come a long way since D.T. Suzuki and Dr. Hu Shih. At this point, the picture of Zen is sufficiently clear that its popularity was not a grass roots phenomenon but came from the literati. They had the leisure to indulge in the amusing conundrums of Zen. Still, there was a small hardcore of Zennists who kept the faith alive; who did have profound insights and tried to help people see the light, so to speak.
Today most Zen centers rely on the Song dynasty myth of Zen with its Zen transmission from teacher to student, although the transmission was never called “Zen transmission.” It is a Mind to Mind transmission or the same, a spiritual transmission by which the adept awakens, suddenly, to the spiritual light that moves his hands and feet to use Bodhidharma’s words. This is not a subjective experience although I am sure some would argue that it is who are trying to minimize the importance of sudden awakening. Zen centers today are not so much interested in awakening to pure Mind as they are in teaching seated meditation or zazen. This is why people come to Zen. They are hoping to learn how to meditate as a way of dealing with their worldly, psychological problems.
The Zen center experience seldom if ever speaks to the question of what Zen really is, which should be quite easy which also, I hasten to add, explains meditation. Zen is about seeing our true nature according to Bodhidharma. This also means that meditation is a penetration through the rind of mental constructs to see, first hand, that which is unconstructed; which is immaculate and luminous. This last part is not for the average person who joins a Zen center because most of these kinds of people are looking to use meditation as a tool to deal with their personal problems. They don’t believe in an absolute such as pure Mind or Buddha Mind.
The most important part of Zen is not its history but reaching kensho whereby we see our true nature, suddenly and spiritually. But not all Zen teachers agree with this certainly not some of those like Brad Warner who practice Soto Zen. Others in the newer Zen tradition of Sanbô Kyôdan put much greater emphasis on kensho. It is a kind of contrast to the Western Soto tradition of just sitting believing this act alone is sufficient. I would argue that Sanbô Kyôdan seems more on track than Soto Zen.