How are Buddhism and Zen Related? Eight Interesting Facts

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buddhism and zen

1. Origins of Buddhism

Buddhism spread from India where each culture translated it and in many cases wove it into existing belief systems and created ceremonies according to their needs and expectations.

2. Origins of Zen

Zen is a particular branch of Buddhism. It originated in China about 15 centuries ago. The full title is Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is not as austere as the oldest form of Buddhism, Theravada, although many of its ideas came from this branch. Zen also took some influences from Taoism.

3. Similarities Between Branches of Buddhism

Each branch of Buddhism follows the Four Noble Truths. These are firstly, that people suffer. Secondly, people suffer mainly because of seeking out pleasure. The body is not permanent and all feelings are transient. Thirdly, suffering can be ended. Lastly, a way to end suffering is found in the Eightfold Noble Path.

The Eightfold Noble Path concerns Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

Zen shares many common ideas with other branches of Buddhism.

4. Differences Between Zen and Other Forms of Buddhism

Zen defines itself as being outside of the scriptures with no reliance on the written word, but instead going into the mind and seeing inside one’s nature.

Zen Buddhism is more simplistic in its practice than other branches, for example Tibetan Buddhism.

5. Core Principles of Zen

A core concept of Zen is meditation, also known as zazen. Zazen is the study of the self through meditation. Zen practitioners try to understand the deeper meaning of life, outside of logical thought and rationalisation. Meditation is the way for Zen’s to understand the Buddhist truths. These truths emphasise the idea of there being no-self, no ego, but all people being part of the wider and universal construction. It strives to return the mind to a pure state and eradicate pollution and corruption of the mind.

Zen believes that all people have the potential to become enlightened, but that they must discover the truth. The truth lies inside, and must be found from asking questions within. One cannot attain enlightenment from external sources, but rather awareness is lying dormant inside every person waiting to be discovered.

It focuses on the present moment, the here and now, with no emphasis on what went before or what will come. Intuition is highly valued within Zen, hence a strict focus on meditation, to help develop this extra sense.

Additionally, one must look outside of the physical body and understand that the true essence of being is not in the physical shell, but all around.

Another key aspect of Zen is that it is taught in a teacher to student fashion. Basics can be learnt from books and other written sources, but true understanding comes from within, with guidance provided by a Zen mentor.

Zen is a complete way of life, rather than an activity that one chooses and discards at will. It requires complete devotion to living a certain lifestyle. This often makes it very difficult for most people to become a true Zen. There are, however, aspects that people can do easily in order to improve their lives and live a calmer and more peaceful existence.

6. How Zazen Differs From Other Types of Meditation

Some meditation practices use madalas, or visual aids, as a focus for concentration. Others use chants, or thoughts, known as mantras. In Zen, the central focus is on breathing. Also, one should breathe through the nose. The body should be relaxed and the eyes downcast, but not closed. Positioning is important for Zen meditation as it retains the traditional seated forms.

7. Different Forms of Zen

There are different schools within Zen, with some actively pursuing enlightenment, and others doing nothing to seek it but patiently believing it will occur at the right time.

8. Practice of Zen

Although Zen gained momentum in Asia, quickly spreading to Japan and Korea as well as other Asian countries, it has only really been in the past century that the western world has started to pay much attention. It now ranks in the most practiced Buddhist branches in the United States.


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