Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Zen Mean?

Zen is a school of Buddhism that originated in China. It has strong links with Taoism and emphasizes rigorous meditation practice. As such, it shares many commonalities with the practice of yoga, and many who study in the Zen tradition also practice Zen yoga.

Zen is an experiential practice which aims to give direct understanding and insight into Buddha nature through meditation practice and learning with an expert teacher. The knowledge of sacred texts and doctrines is not enough – the learning must be practiced and experienced. Practitioners of Zen try to gain understanding of Buddha nature in order to be able to apply this insight into their daily lives in order that others may also benefit.


Yogapedia Explains Zen

Although Zen has its roots in China, its spread to Vietnam, Korea and Japan in a form now usually described as Japanese Zen. It is considered to be a simple and straightforward form of Buddhism, which may be why it has also now become popular in the West.

There are several common elements in Zen meditation:

  • Breath observation – The breath can be counted or simply watched, while the attention is brought to the area below the navel.
  • Mind observation – The intention is to become aware of the stream of thoughts without engaging with them and allowing them to pass.
  • Group practice – Meditation, as well as being a solo practice, may be practiced intensively in group settings, with long periods of meditation interwoven with breaks for rest, meals and sleep.

Zen teachings see the mind as being originally pure in nature. They are non-dualistic and state that the way we live “normally” is under an illusion of dualism. The teachings also emphasize the interconnectedness of body and mind. The body is seen as the vehicle for our self-realization in this life.

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