You may not be aware that Sanskrit has never been a living language; it was only a language for scholars. They kept a separate system of communication amongst themselves. Buddha was the first man in India who revolted against this ugliness. Everything should be said in the people’s language. It should not become the monopoly of scholars, it should not give the scholar a great ego. He used the lowest language that is used in the marketplace, where things change. Words may not be accurate grammatically, but become more rounded, more usable, more simple. Dhyan became zan.
In India, for example, in the villages, station – railway station – is not called “station.” It is called only “tation.” Why bother about “railway station”? That is too big a word for poor people. They simply use “tation.” And the same is true about many words. Sanskrit is very polished – perhaps the most polished language – because only scholars used it and they were very fussy about its accuracy, grammar. Buddha simply dropped that.
Zan became a new stream, flowing from Gautam Buddha to Mahakashyapa. You will know what was transferred when between your master and you something happens in silence, because Buddha said, “What could be said I have said to you, and what could not be said, I have given it to Mahakashyapa. This roseflower is only a symbol of recognition that Mahakashyapa will represent the unsayable.”
After Mahakashyapa it was bound to be a very small stream of seekers, because of its mysteriousness.
The next great name is Bodhidharma. His master told him to go to China, not to convert China to Buddhism…. “But in China there is already a fragrance existing, created by Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Lieh Tzu. Truth is nobody’s monopoly. It will be good if you take the treasure that Mahakashyapa has given, from generation to generation, to China. And let these two beautiful streams of mystics meet.” Just as in cross-breeding the child is more strong, the same happens when two streams of thought, or of no-thought, meet, merge. Something new, far deeper than either arises, far greater than either arises.
It took Bodhidharma three years to reach China. But when the master had said it, there was no question. The relationship between the master and the disciple is of such deep love that it is always yes – in capital letters. He did not even ask why; the master must know. He went to China and the cross-breeding happened. What was zan in Buddhism was made even more simple, so that the Chinese could understand and use it. It became chan. It flourished in China, and great masters arose out of the mystic experience.
From China it was taken to Japan. Again a new cross-breeding…. The word from chan became zen. And in Japan it is manifested in many dimensions.
Your question is very fundamental. There are two ways to disappear as a personality: one we can call “grounding” and one we can call “centering.”