Zen Buddhism

By George Garza
Info Guru, Catalogs.com

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Buddha statue
Zen Buddhism places an emphasis on the inner self
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What are the elements of Zen Buddhism?

The practice of getting in touch with your inner self is better known as Zen. Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism which places an emphasis on practice and experiential wisdom; this is accomplished through the practice of meditation, known as Zazen with the attainment of awakening. It deemphasizes theoretical knowledge and the study of religious text. It places an emphasis, instead, on direct individual experience of one's own true nature.

The Beginning of Zen Buddhism

The emergence of Zen as a distinct school of Buddhism was first documented in China in the 7th century. It is thought to have developed as an amalgam of various currents in Mahāyāna Buddhist thought, including Yogacara and Madnyamaka philosophies.


Yogacara is a form of subjective realism or consciousness only, which states that individual factors including karma contribute to an experience of reality that must be different for every being. According to them, only consciousness is true, and all objects of this world external to the mind are false.


Meanwhile, according to Madnyamaka all phenomena are empty of essence, meaning that it has no intrinsic, independent reality apart from the causes and conditions from which they arise. Madhyamaka is the rejection of extreme philosophies, and represents the middle way between eternalism, the view that something is eternal and unchanging, and nihilism, which is the assertion that all things are intrinsically already destroyed or rendered nonexistent.

Elements of Zen

All of the Buddha's fundamental teachings, which include the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the idea of dependent origination, the five precepts, the five aggregates, and the three marks of existence make up important elements of Zen.

The Eightfold path is a path of wisdom, moral conduct, and mental discipline:
  • Wisdom: 1. The right view 2. Right intention
  • Ethical conduct: 3. Right speech 4. Right action 5. Right livelihood
  • Mental discipline: 6. Right effort 7. Right mindfulness 8. Right concentration
The four noble truths are: Suffering exists in life. Suffering is caused by craving. To eliminate suffering, eliminate craving. To eliminate craving follow the Eightfold Path. These steps are supplemented by the doctrine of dependent origination which states that all phenomena (the appearance of reality) arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. 

The five precepts are similar to the Ten Commandments. The following are the five precepts constitute the basic Buddhist code of ethics. 
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from taking the life (killing) of living beings.
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from stealing.
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct (adultery, rape, exploitation, etc).
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from false speech (lying).
  • I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicants which lead to heedlessness.
The five aggregates categorize all individual experience according to Buddhist phenomenology. An important corollary in Buddhism is that a person is made up of these five aggregates, beyond which there is no self.
  • Form or matter is external and internal matter. The external is the physical world. The internal includes the material body and the physical sense organs.
  • Sensation or feeling is sensing an object as being pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  • Perception or cognition is used to register whether an object is seen and understood or not (for instance, the sound of a bell or the shape of a tree).
  • Mental formations are all types of mental habits, thoughts, ideas, opinions, compulsions, and decisions triggered by an object.
  • Consciousness is a series of rapidly changing interconnected discrete acts of cognizance.
And the final parts of the Zen philosophy include the three marks of existence. These are that all phenomena other than Nirvana are marked by three characteristics, suffering, impermanence, and non-Self.

So what is Zen Buddhism? It is a philosophy of life that puts an emphasis on the inner self and how a person will relate to others and to the world. 

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