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Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings


If there has been any puzzle that has disturbed the human mind, then it is the search for truth. Human kind has always put all their effort to get the real meaning of life. In addition, they have tried to know the origin of life and the probable destiny. This has led to different religions characterized by different beliefs and different forms of worship. Books have been written giving foundations of each form of beliefs. These religions include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, and one religion that is taking the world especially the West by storm and this is Buddhism. The principles and beliefs of Buddhism is what has given it popularity and a vast fellowship. These beliefs are founded on human experience unlike other religions whose basic foundations are derived from what are called Holy Scriptures.

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How was this religious belief founded? What are the historic factors that led to these set beliefs? In the 6th C B.C somewhere in the Present Nepal, there lived a prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha lived a wealthy life as a son of the king of the Shakya clan. Most of his life was under the shelter of his dad who never exposed him to the sufferings of the world. As a prince, he had to go for excursions. He therefore went for four excursions within which he met four different aspects of human life. He first met an old man, then he met a sick man, he later saw a dead man and finally he met a monk. These four encounters changed completely the life of Siddhartha who later came to be known as Buddha. Through them, he sought to meditate and get a solution to human suffering. To do this, he settled under a bodhi tree and true to his word, he got the great enlightenment (satori) forty nine days later. This is the ultimate desire for all Zenists.

Due to the wordless nature of enlightenment, Buddha thus learnt to make most of his sermons without words. Among them was the summoning of the flower. In this sermon of Buddha to his disciples, he held a flower in his hand before them. None of them responded except one Mahakashyapa who had a simple response and that was a smile. This marked the foundation of Zen. The action of the Buddha and the reaction of Mahakashyapa (Buddhist tourism).

Zen Buddhism has its roots in Mahayana Buddhism and is founded on the basics of Buddha’s teachings which are:

  • The four noble truths
  • The eightfold path
  • The five precepts
  • The three Dharma seals
  • And the five Skandhas

Apart from the basic teachings, it also draws some of its teachings like the concept of paramitas and bodhisattva from Mahayana teachings. In addition, deities like shakyamuni Buddha, amitabha Buddha, Manjuri, Samantabhadra and Kuan Yin all from Mahayana are held greatly by the Zenists (Buddhist tourism).

Basic teachings

Four noble truths was the first sermon of the Buddha held at the Deer Park near Varanasi. The four noble truths included the truth of suffering. Buddha’s sermon expressed that life was full of suffering, both mental and physical suffering. This was all around man’s life. These are pains at birth, pains of diseases, and pains in the old age etc. but despite this, one could get happiness. This could come from family and friends; he stressed that happiness was an impermanent aspect of human life. It came to an end and gave way to suffering. This could happen if the person that brought happiness separated through unavoidable circumstances like death. This could cause pain.

Buddha outlined the truth of the causes of suffering as the second noble truth. Desire, craving and ignorance are what Buddha states to be the ultimate causes of suffering. He taught that human beings always desire the best things in life. These things which are good food, pleasures of the earth, good company always drive people to limits that eventually lead them to suffering. The problem, according to Buddha, is that people always end up in this situation due to ignorance. Most people never see things as they are. They need more reading, studying and careful thinking and meditation to know the real truth that will save them from ignorance and desires. They will also understand the meaning of life and the noble truths.

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The third noble truth is the truth of the end of suffering. Buddha believed that there is an end to suffering. This is marked by the attainment of Nirvana which Buddha himself attained at age 35. He taught that through believing in his teachings, one could do away with ignorance and ill desires and eventually leave a happy life that that will eventually lead one to enlightenment.

The final truth is the truth of the path leading to the end of suffering. This he called the middle path. It entailed avoiding the extremes of life in terms of avoiding too much subjecting your body to suffering or the extreme of indulging into too much pleasures of the earth. By taking the middle path one is bound to attain enlightenment.

Zennist Buddha also teaches on the eightfold path. This is the path that leads to attainment of nirvana. The path includes right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. The final of this eightfold which is meditation teaches the body on how to concentrate and help the brain relax and be calm leading to attainment of enlightenment.

The practices of Zen Buddhists include Zazen. This is a sitting practice where more concentration is given on the sitting position and breathing. The duration of sitting varies from a monk to a house holder. The sitting positions include the Lotus, Burmese, Half lotus, and Seiza.

They also practice Kinhin. This is a walking meditation whose main aim is to relieve the legs. Another practice is called Koan practice. This comprises of a phrase or story from Zen teachings that a teacher gives to his students expecting a response. Giving a solution marks the progress of the student towards attaining enlightenment.


From my opinion, I concur with the above discussion that man has the power to determine his state of enjoyment and suffering. I have noted that most of man’s suffering is a product of his desire and greed to maximize his pleasure instead of adapting a balanced simple life that is comprised of optimum pleasures and happiness. If mankind observes this lifestyle, he will live a very happy and fulfilling life. This can be achieved from strong religious beliefs such as Buddish where he will learn and acquire such a belief, to enable him to live a selfless, enjoyable and fulfilling life.


Buddhist tourism. “Zen Buddhism.” 2009. Web.

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Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. “Son Buddhism-Korean Zen.” 2009. Web.

Korea tourism. “Anthology Teachings of Zen Buddhist Priests.” 2009. Web., “history, principles and practices.” 2009. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 20). Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings. Retrieved from


StudyCorgi. (2021, October 20). Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings.

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"Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings." StudyCorgi, 20 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings." October 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings." October 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings." October 20, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Zen Buddhism: Basic Teachings'. 20 October.

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