Inquiry Project Final!

Teachings of Zen Buddhism


Zen Buddhism was founded based on the Japanese word Zen, for it means “meditation”. The teachings of Zen is to achieve enlighten by an insightful realization that we are already an enlightened being (Noone 27). This awareness does not happen gradually, but an instant spark of insight. During meditation; you are still, focusing on your breath, and living in the present. In this way of life, deities and scriptures only offer limited help. Zen Buddhism focuses on simplicity and the importance of the real world created a unique appeal, which expressed depression, seclusion, and unnatural behavior (Noone 29). Although the Buddha’s teachings have been known in countries throughout Asia for 2,500 years, it was started to become popular during 1959 in the West. Zen Buddhism is not a religion, not a philosophy, not a belief system, but instead an awareness of the present moment. It instead contains a big body of teachings, which causes human beings, who follows these teachings to look into what is my mind and who we are. In Hindu philosophy, Brahma means “the absolute reality”, which is this higher level of consciousness/awareness. The purpose of this experience is to quite our shattering minds, and focus on the present, in this very moment, but not to give it any meaning. As we do this for a period of time, you will see a shift on your awareness, and your consciousness changes. You then experience this beautiful and blissful calming state of being. This can be described as experiencing this state of enlightenment, of pure happiness. Zen Buddhism had become a global interest due to the simplistic teachings, which required no belief system, and the experience itself is transcending the human experience.

Zen Buddhism is a way and a view of life which does not attach to any of the formal categories of modern Western thought. When Tibetan refugees fled from their country to the west during the Vietnam War, they settled all over Europe and brought their culture and Buddhism too (“Library”). The soldiers returning back from the Korean War also brought back some cultural history, which included Buddhism. This had attracted many of the intellectuals and philosophers in the 1960’s. The Zen Buddhist foreigners started to build temples all over America; their inspiring speeches on Buddhism had impressed the listeners and started to establish Buddhist tradition in America (“Library”). Many new departments of Buddhism started to grow among academic universities. During this time, many deep philosophers such as Ram Dass, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and many more have traveled to Asia in search of teachers and gurus to learn the practice of mediation. The reason why Zen, at first, seems such a puzzle to the Western mind is that we have taken a restricted view of human knowledge. In modern day, all our knowledge s what a Taoist would call conventional knowledge, because we don’t feel that we really know anything unless we can represent it to ourselves in words, concepts in mathematics, or music (Watts 41). It is called conventional because it is a matter of social agreement; just like people speaking the same language has implied agreements as to what words represent what (Watts 47). The citizens of every society and every culture are integrated by bonds of communication, relying on the agreement as to the meaning associated with the actions and things. The goal of education then becomes to make children fit to live in a society by persuading them to learn and accept its language, the rules and conventions of communication (Alan Watts 37).

The principle of Buddhist teachings is that one does not need to study sacred texts, worship deities, or practice complex religious rituals to attain enlightenment. Rather, one needs to break through the boundaries of conventional thought using meditation and experience the world as it truly is in the moment (Sheridan 64). The practice of Zen was the way the Buddha himself reached enlightenment. Zen teaches that all humans have the ability to reach enlightenment because we all are inborn with this Buddha-nature.  We are all indeed already enlightened beings, but our true potential has been clouded by ignorance. According to Zen, this ignorance is overcome through a sudden breakthrough, called satori (Sheridan 78). This happens during meditation in which the true nature of reality, and our experience of it, is revealed. Different Zen groups, of which Rinzai and Soto are the major two, have developed various approaches to achieve this enlightenment, including the practice of zazen, which means “just sitting” meditation (Watts 44). A Zen master once said that listening and thinking are like being outside the gate, and zazen is returning home and sitting in peace (Watts 45).

A respected British eastern philosopher by the name of Alan Watts, had open my eyes as I was on this quest of understanding my true real self. He wrote a book called The Way of Zen, which has open, my eyes and educated me on the eastern philosophies and view on life.  We often ask how we can get to our ultimate ground of being, the self, the ultimate reality, but this is a very abstract talk. Zen on the other hand, focuses on a more direct way. Zen consists of four statements: A direct transmission outside scriptures and traditions, no dependence on words or letters, direct pointing on the human minds, and becoming Buddha, awakened (Watts 32). People are intrigued in its humorous style in Zen art and writings, while traditional religions are very serious. Zen has no doctrines, there is nothing you have to believe, and doesn’t moralize anything (Watts 36). It’s a field of inquiry, more like physics; in such you don’t ask physicist to discuss authoritatively about morals, although he has moral interest in problems (Watts 18). The fascination of Zen is that it promises a sudden insight into something that is supposed to take years and years. The psychotherapist will say if you are disturbed, that all your problems that happened all those years can’t be undone in a year, but it will take you several years to get straighten out (Watts 26).

Zen is something a person does. It’s not a concept that can be described in words. But Zen does not depend on words; it has to be experienced in order to ‘understand’ (Watts 124). The essence of Zen Buddhism is that all human beings are Buddha, and that all they have to do is to discover that truth for them (Watts 24). Zen sends us looking inside us for enlightenment (Sheridan 63). There’s no need to search outside ourselves for the answers; we can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions (“Library”). Human beings can’t learn this truth by philosophizing or rational thought, or by studying scriptures, taking part in worship and rituals or many of the other things that people think religious people do. One of the most influential Zen Buddhist masters, by the name of Hakuin Ekaku, wrote: “All beings by nature are Buddhas, as ice by nature is water. Apart from water there is no ice; apart from beings, no Buddhas” (“Buddhist Beliefs”).

The key fundamental of Buddhism is that think you can think intellectually in a no think way. It doesn’t mean not to have any thought at all, but not to be fooled by thoughts and hypnotized by speech (Watts 101). As Alan Watts said, don’t let words limit the possibilities of life. People then ask, how if they implement the ways of Zen into their lives, how can they live their routine lives and still be awakened, but the Buddhist master’s explains is that Zen is right under your nose (Watts 14). Therefore, all beings are capable of becoming Buddha (awakened), even rocks and stones, and evil doers (“Buddhist Beliefs”). That awakening is to happen instantaneously, all or nothing experience. A famous Chinese Buddhist named Dano once said, “Don’t expect to reach Buddha hood by sitting down all day and keeping your mind blank”. A misconception people have with meditation, is that you’re supposed to keep your mind very still. But according to Zen, that would be a stone Buddha not a real Buddha (Watts 62). To be awakened also doesn’t mean to be heartless, to experience no emotions, no feelings, or never get angry. Instead, your real mind, while all those emotions are going on, is imperturbable (“Library”).

The criticisms that are toward Buddhism are generally the modern day Abrahamic religions and hard sciences. They are known to be limited by living in a world created by your ego and cannot get passed their thoughts. Science tries to understand the dynamic functions between the brain and body. As Neuroscience and modern day Psychology advances, we will still have no clue what the mind really is. That is because language cannot make you aware of this state of consciousness; therefore it’s limiting you from the experience of this higher self. In our society, we are constantly planning, worrying, anticipating, talking, thinking; always keeping the mind busy. When you decide to let go those thoughts, and just be aware of your surroundings, of this present moment; then you will be in this state of awareness, which has no words. What Zen Buddhism and modern day religion tries to teach you, is ultimately the same thing. Unfortunately the interpretations of the stories in textual holy books got confused and became attached to these teachings and we claimed it to be the right one. This caused killing and harming other people in the name of their religion, which is the opposite of its teachings. To an average person in the West, sitting mediation may seem to be an unpleasant discipline, because we do not seem to be able to sit “just to sit”, without having the feeling of doing something which is led by our thoughts (Watts 72). So then the only way to get someone to meditate is to regard it as an exercise, a discipline with an ulterior motive. Although that contradicts what meditation is supposed to be. In the Buddhist sense, when there is purpose; where you’re trying to seek something, is when it stops becoming meditation (Watts 45).

Since the beginning of time, man is searching for the truth. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors, sat under the stars, and around the campfire discussed and asked themselves the same questions we ask ourselves today. Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? Is there life after death? Are we alone in the Universe? Over human history, we tried to explain and answer those metaphysical question, but in the end of the day, they’re just belief systems, attained by faith. What attracts people around the world to the teachings of Zen Buddhism, is that it is straightforward and then you experience this state in an instant. It also correlates with modern science, unlike most religious faiths. With other forms of Buddhism, there is some cultural influences towards the teachings, but with Zen, it was the teachings Siddhartha Gautama used to reach enlightenment. This means that there are multiple ways of attaining this state of awareness, and no one is better than the other. During the 1990s, a book written by a German spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, called The Power of Now. His teachings of inner transformation and a state of deep bliss, goes back to the teachings of Zen Buddhism. He became known as the most popular spiritual author in the United States. Tolle’s teachings revolved around being in the present moment, and not getting trapped by our thoughts. Zen Buddhism can be summed up by this statement: that in this universe, there is one great energy, and we have no name for it (Watts 122). People have tried various names for it, like God, Brahmin, Tao, but in the West, the word God has got so many funny associations attached to it that most of us are bored with it. But you see, these are merely just words, and words are meaningless without the experience behind it. Which is why Buddhist don’t use the word God or Brahmin, but simply _______.




















Work Cited

Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. New York: Pantheon, 1957. Print.


Noone, Michael. Mediation. London: Cavendish Pub., 1996. Print.


“Tim Lott – Zen Buddhism and Alan Watts.” Aeon Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 July 2014.


“What Is Spiritual Enlightenment or Spiritual Awakening? – Endless Satsang.”Endless

Satsang. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 July 2014.


“Buddhist Beliefs.” ZEN BUDDHISM. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2014.

“Library.” Zen Origins, Zen History, Zen Beliefs. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 July 2014.

Sheridan, Tia. Buddha in Blue Jeans: An Extremely Short Simple Zen Guide to Sitting Quietly and Being Buddha. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.