the path of meditation

March 07, 2011

Zen is perhaps the most well-known school of Buddhism in America. Its concepts have been influential on western society since the latter half of the 20th century. There are about 9.6 million Zen Buddhists in Japan today, and numerous Zen groups have developed in North America and Europe within the last century.

So what are the practices and beliefs you ask?

Both the words "Zen" (Japanese) and "Ch'an" (Chinese) derive from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning "meditation." Zen Buddhism focuses on attaining enlightenment (bodhi) through meditation as Siddharta Gautama did. It teaches that all human beings have the Buddha-nature, or the potential to attain enlightenment, within them, but the Buddha-nature been clouded by ignorance. To overcome this ignorance, Zen rejects the study of scriptures, religious rites, devotional practices, and good works in favor of meditation leading to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality. Training in the Zen path is usually undertaken by a disciple under the guidance of a master. 

The key beliefs of Zen focus primarily on The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths are:
  • The first truth is the observation that suffering or unhappiness, referred to as dukkha, is pervasive in life. Dukka is explained to be suffering or unhappiness of any kind. (i.e. the desire for wealth or respect, the distaste for bad weather).
  • The second truth explains that the cause of dukkha is craving or clutching at life. Our unhappiness results from our desiring to make life fit our preconceptions of what should be or what we would like it to be.
  • The third truth explains that dukkha can be ended by ending the craving, which in turn, can be achieved by following the fourth truth.
  • The fourth truth reveals to follow The Noble Eightfold Path.
The Noble Path reveals the following:
  • The first and second relate to right views and right understanding of the mind. These proposals require proper understanding of Buddha's method (nature of dukkha).
  • The third, fourth, and fifth paths refer to right speech, right conduct, and right vocation. They offer simple suggestions of prudence. One should follow "the path" to achieve spiritual goodness.
  • The sixth, seventh and eighth paths apply to meditation. Right effort, right awareness(smiriti), and right contemplation (smadhi) are necessary to achieve complete meditation
In general, Zen is different from other religious groups. Zen is not a religion in the sense that religion is generally understood. Zen has no God to worship, no ceremonial rights to observe, no "future abode" to which the dead are destined. Zen is free of all dogmatic principles that Christianity and other religions are tied to. Zen has no set doctrines which are imposed on its followers for acceptance. Zen teachings come out of one's own mind. It is addressed to the human heart. It is a living experience, a "creative impulse."

My reason for this posting is to clarify for those who don't understand what Zen Buddhism is. I recently had a friend who "disapproved" of my beliefs and what I chose to believe in. I have found that in narrow minded ignorance, you can only disapprove of someone's way of life because you are insecure with your own. I am who I am. I believe differently than what I grew up believing and I am not ashamed. I don't disagree with any other religion or way of life. I study life day by day, and respect my environment and people around me. If you don't like the way I go about, than good luck to you in your trail of life. I am happy where I am.

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