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- Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism[a] and originated in China during the 6th century as ChÃƒÂ¡n. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, to Korea and east to Japan. The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Ã§Â¦Âª Dzyen (Modern Mandarin: ChÃƒÂ¡n), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyÃ„Âna, which can be approximately translated as "absorption" or "meditative state".