5 thoughts on “How is Zen Buddhism different then other forms of Buddhism?

  1. Zen is a form of Buddhism. There are lots, you can’t compare Buddhism with Zen. You can only compare another form of Buddhism with the Zen form.

    There are a few other questions on Zen and comparisons with other forms of Buddhism.

    Further read:

  2. Zen Buddhism is very Japanese in its feel and has a major emphasis on meditation and koans. Its also more about understanding and living the Buddha’s teachings instead of merely trying to verbalize them. I think its also related to the martial arts and has that very cool look you see all around you in Japanese anime and even Mac products.

    Other forms of Buddhism include Theravada which is more monkish and rigid and Tibetan which is more theistic and religion-like. I think there is also something called Western Buddhism but no one takes it seriously lol

  3. Zen is said to have started when the Buddha, instead of preaching, held up a flower. Mahakassyapa smiled, and the Buddha said he was the only one who understood. See

    After the Buddha died, his cousin Ananda, who had been the Buddha’s personal attendant, awakened, and Mahakassyapa certified that his awakening was genuine. This guarantee of authenticity has been passed down from master to pupil ever since. A Zen (or Ch’an in Chinese) master is one whose perception of the truth has been approved by an unbroken chain all the way back to the Buddha.

    Since their approved understanding is their authority, they don’t feel compelled to depend on the Sutras. So they use any method of breaking their students loose from their attachments and preconceptions, including meditation, shouting, hitting them with a stick, or silence. The most famous method is koan. The best-known koan is “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”.

    Making sense is a function of the physical brain, conditioned by our experiences. Enlightenment, experiencing the Buddha-nature, seeing your “original face”, can’t be reached by making sense alone, any more than the taste of pickles can be reached by algebra. So Zen masters often don’t make sense.

    That’s when you should pay the closest attention.

  4. When Buddha reached enlightenment, he realized that what he learned is so simple yet so complicated to teach to the normal person. What he learned through enlightenment is Zen and unfortunately, that experience itself is hard to explain in words because an experience is an experience and words are words. You might get a word (theoretical understanding) enlightenment but not an enlightenment experience. However, everything is one so as long as you have one type of enlightenment, you will eventually have a full enlightenment experience. Buddha intelligently realize this and thus, devised a system consisting of rituals, theory and ultimately, Zen.

    This religious system is a way of passing on his knowledge and it can be metaphorically compared to the question, “What is a watermelon?”. The first answer is, “A watermelon is what you get when you plant a watermelon seed, water it, fertilize it, wait for it to grow into a watermelon plant and produce a fruit, called a watermelon”. This is what rituals do for us. They give us something to do to keep our mind focused.

    The second answer is, “A watermelon is a fruit that is light green in color with darker green colored stripes”. This is what theory does for us. It allows us to understand why we planted the watermelon seed in the first place. It is usually in the form of the written or spoken word. The followers of Buddhism, and most other religions for that matter, usually end up stuck at this level. From following a religion, we know how to grow a watermelon and what a watermelon is – how to worship God and what God is.

    The major difference with Buddhism compared to other popular religions is that it does not portray God as a person. Instead, we are all one with the Universe, which is the concept of God in Buddhism. In other words, we are all part of God. This is known as Pantheism. Buddha found this to be an extremely complicated concept to get across to the layperson. The general layperson would rather believe in a separate God whom he or she can rely on. Thus, Buddha taught the first two steps above to his disciples but many came to worship him as God. Fortunately, unlike other religions, he still manage to get the message across that he is not God. Buddha had one notable follower, Mahakasyapa, learned how to transcend the first two stages to understand Zen.

    So, what exactly is Zen Buddhism? It is the highest and lowest level of Buddhism. Simply put, it’s a paradox so it cannot be explained in words. Metaphorically speaking, it’s tantamount to the third answer, “To know what a watermelon is, you simply have to eat it!” The experience of eating a watermelon is what Zen is. It’s very simple really – we forget all the theory and rituals. We just have to appreciate every single moment as it is. After all, everything around us is God. We respect and accept every single thing without our mind pre-judging it and giving it a name, considering it right or wrong, good or bad, hot or cold, something or nothing. How can we perceive one without the other? Everything is one so no matter what happens to us, we just accept without having to suffer mentally. We do not fight with nature and with the current moment but we blend in harmony with them.

    Strangely enough, this is the original philosophy of martial arts. If anybody fights with us, we do not fight them back but we neutralize the attack, never letting our emotions sway us to get angry with our opponent but just reacting to the moment, which is the attack that we are facing. After the fight, our opponent deserves respect for he is also part of God.

    Reaching the highest attainment in Zen means that we are no longer attached to the human world – we accept our death any moment thus martial artists practice Zen. One is then able to blend in with society without suffering mentally. All followers of religions should strive to attain this level but many don’t, preferring instead to get caught up in the pettiness of life and suffering because of it. It is important to note that being detached here does not mean that one is cold and emotionless. It simply means that one is not controlled by emotions and our noisy monkey mind. Our emotions would come and go but we will not be suffering because of them. Everything in this world is perfect as it is.

    In order to unite mankind, there needs something to be united against. Buddhism does see things as separate so there is nothing to unite against. In other words, the world is perfect as it is. That’s why true Buddhists do not actively go out and try to convert people or impose their views on others. Some people even see Buddhism as selfish because it is about controlling our self through our mind, and thus Buddhism does not promote “multilevel marketing” like schemes to help people. By helping our self first, we are then able to help others. If people were to ask for help from Buddhism, they are taught how to help themselves. Why? Because teaching a person to fish is better than giving him or her a fish. Unfortunately, most people would rather be given a fish. They do not see how changing their perspective to see the world as perfect would do them any good. One of the major reasons for this is that they cannot see their self being extended to cover more than their body alone but to those of all others. We see this in a limited fashion when we fall in love with someone and see him or her as being part of us. We should extend this love to all so it becomes compassion for all.

    For political purpose, most people in the higher hierarchy of society would not agree with this. How would you get anyone to do what you want them to do if the world is already perfect? This is also the reason why concepts like Zen is not mainstream. Many people have come up with their own interpretation of Zen because it cannot be explained in words. One easy way to know if we are on the right path is to have Great Doubt and to be always willing to accept the viewpoint of others. There are many paths but all lead to the top of the mountain. However, some are just less efficient at getting there. Have a beginner’s mind that is always willing to learn and never shut out the impossible so that we would always be on a more efficient path sooner.

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