Zen Buddhism

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Zen Buddhism Mean?

Zen Buddhism is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that is known for its focus on practice and direct experience over scholarship or the study of doctrine, although this does play a role. It originated in China and was strongly influenced by Taoism. It shares roots with yoga; and like yoga, it emphasizes a meditative practice as a means of seeking the truth.

The name, Zen, comes from the Japanese pronunciation of chan, which is the Middle Chinese word that has its roots in the Sanskrit, dhyana, which denotes a state of mind comparable to contemplation or meditation: the state of consciousness of a Buddha.


Yogapedia Explains Zen Buddhism

Traditionally, the teachings of Zen Buddhism were transmitted from master to disciple in a direct lineage dating back to Siddhārtha Gautama who became The Buddha. The direct understanding of zazen — the meditation practice favored by Zen Buddhists — would be taught by the teacher to the student.

In contrast with other schools of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism teaches that enlightenment is not achieved through gradual practice, but instead, will come in a sudden and direct insight. As such, the purpose of zazen is to prepare the student to be ready for and receptive to any answers that appear. It teaches that these answers are within everyone and, therefore, must be realized by turning the awareness inside.

One of the many so-called paradoxes of Zen Buddhism is that its aim is an experience of absolute spontaneity and freedom, but this is achieved through intense self-discipline.

Zen Buddhism is traditionally taught in semi-monastic communities that combine meditation with manual labor for the residents.

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