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Mountains and taking the path of Zen

Please take some time to read our Zen FAQ (Zen Frequently Asked Questions) that answers the most common questions related to Zen Buddhism.



Is Buddha a God?


When the Buddha was asked, Are you a god or are you a man? He answered, "I am awake."

He was just a man, He was a human being like you and me, but perfected himself to a state of enlightenment and taught that if we follow his example, we can also perfect ourselves and be freed from our pain and suffering that we create in our life by our thinking.


What Is Zen?


Zen is short for Zen Buddhism. It is sometimes called a religion and sometimes called a philosophy. Choose whichever term you prefer; it simply doesn't matter, people who practice Zen simply call it just that = Zen practice, nothing more.

Historically, Zen Buddhism originates in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Around 500 B.C. he was a prince in what is now Nepal India. At the age of 29, deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he renounced his privileged life to seek understanding. After 6 years of struggling as an ascetic he finally achieved Enlightenment at age 35. After this he was known as the Buddha (meaning roughly "one who is awake"). In a nutshell, he realized that everything is subject to change and that suffering and discontentment are the result of attachment to circumstances and things which, by their nature, are impermanent. By ridding oneself of these attachments, including attachment to the false notion of self or "I", one can be freed of our pain and suffering that we create in our everyday life by our attachment to our thoughts.

The teachings of the Buddha have, to this day, been passed down from teacher to student. Around 475 A.D. one of these teachers, Bodhidharma, traveled from India to China and introduced the teachings of the Buddha there. In China Buddhism mingled with Taoism. The result of this mingling was the Chan School of Buddhism brought about by Bodhidharma the 28th in succession from the Buddha and is consider the 1st patriarch of Zen in China. Around 780 A.D. Chan Buddhism spread from China to Korea where it is called Seon and around 1200 A.D. to Japan where it is called (at least in translation) Zen Buddhism. 

The Zen philosophy is based on ‘The Four Noble Truths’ as formulated by Buddha:

  1. Life is suffering

  2. Suffering is caused by desire

  3. We must stop the desires

  4. Desires can be stopped by following the ‘Eight fold Path’

So what do these ‘Noble Truths’ of Zen mean?

The First Noble Truth is about our discontent with our lives. We are not happy about ourselves, want something we do not have, are irritated by others or lose things we want to keep. Often we even complain about the fact we are complaining: “Why aren’t I happy? Why am I jealous of others? What do I really want?” Some people find the idea that ‘life is suffering’ very depressing but what it means is that life does contain suffering, whether we like it or not. It is our unwillingness to accept this that causes the most suffering.

The Second Noble Truth tells us the reason why we are suffering: desire! We want things, we want things to be different, and we want something to happen (or not). A large part of the day we are thinking about our wishes. And more often than not we get carried away with them into a never-ending spiral of ‘if only….’.

The solution to our suffering is offered by the Third Noble Truth: to stop the suffering we must lose our desires. No desires mean no suffering. To give up your desires does not mean you have to stop loving people or have emotions about the things you do. Just let go of the pain in your heart about the things you think you need. Live your life with what it brings you. It is enough. The Fourth Noble Truth is what Zen is all about. It shows us the way to give up our desires. By following the Eight fold Path we will learn to see things clearly and live our life the right way. Desires will easy away and so will the suffering.

Zen is something that needs to be experienced more than it is to be learned. Zen is about focusing on the here and now. The best way to get a grasp on this complete awareness is through sitting  meditation or zen practice as it is called in the Zen tradition.


Eight Fold Path


  1. Right View

    Understand the self and the world; be aware of your own actions and the reasons behind them. Know the Four Noble Truths and see the world as it really is. It is the realization that everything (even the self) changes and that clinging to the idea of a permanent self is an illusion and gives rise to unhappiness.

  2. Right Intention

    Be sure about what controls your actions. Are they for the good of all or just yourself? Resist to acting upon feelings of desire, prejudgment or aggression.

  3. Right Speech

    Remember that words are never ‘just words’. Words can make or break lives. You must be careful with the things you say. Don’t tell deliberate lies or speak deceitfully. Avoid using harsh words that offend or hurt others. Speak friendly and only if you have something positive to contribute.

  4. Right Action

    This one is simple: Don’t do wrong! It is to keep from harming or even killing people (or animals). Do not steal or (sexually) misuse others.

    The Dharma wheel is often used to represent the Noble Eight fold Path.

  5. Right Livelihood

    Live an honest life by doing a job that will help mankind instead of being harmful or just for the purpose of getting rich. These jobs should be avoided:


    1. – dealing in weapons,

    2. – trade in living beings for meat production, slavery or prostitution

    3. – dealing in alcohol or drugs

    4. – any occupation that violates the principles of right speech and right action

  6. Right Effort

    The effort is the driving force for the other aspects of the Eight fold path of Zen. Without the right effort, nothing can be accomplished. It means to refrain from helping or starting things that can cause harm. And to actively help where good can be done.

  7. Right Mindfulness

    Is the ability to have a look at yourself from a distance. Observe your body, feelings, and mind without attraction or diversion. Keep an open mind in the present, quiet and alert. Focus on present events. Do not judge or interpret.

  8. Right Concentration

The way to reach a complete concentration in Zen is through zen practice  (sitting meditation). But this is not the only the exercise to learn how to achieve one-pointedness of mind. It is something that the Zen practitioners must try to maintain in everything he or she does or says.

Remember these are guidelines. They are not carved out in stone and to be followed by the letter with the threat of a punishment of hell. The nice thing about Zen-Buddhism is its faith in the human mind. We know what is right and what is wrong. We just have to learn to see clearly. And the best (but not the only way) way to learn to see more clearly is through sitting meditation or zen practice as it is called by Zen Buddhist


Why is the Buddha so fat?


He is not. This is a western case of mistaken identity. The fat and smiling guy often depicted on statues are actually called Budai (not Buddha!) and Hotei in Japanese. He is the God of contentment and happiness, guardian of children.


Do Zen Buddhists believe in God?


Zen Buddhists do not believe in a personal God or in a Divine being that reign over the Universe. Zen Buddhism does not have any worshiping, praying, or praising of a divine being.


Do Zen Buddhists worship Idols?


In Zen, followers, and monks pay respect to images of the Buddha but do not worship or pray to him. Bowing to a statue representing Buddha is simply an expression of respect towards the teaching (Dharma) and the teacher (Buddha).



Do Zen Buddhists pray?


Since Buddhists do not believe in a personal God, they don't pray. In Zen, nothing in the Universe exists independently, separated from the rest. There is no separation between the Universe and me, therefore to whom could I address my prayers to?


Is Zen a Religion?


Zen goes beyond religion; it is free from all religious and dogmatic encumbrances that you may find in a religion. Zen masters from old times called Zen the ‘Natural Religion’ as it includes everything. Call it ‘religion’, call it ‘philosophy’, it doesn't matter, Zen is the practice of just being right here right now.



Whats the difference between Zen and Buddhism?


Around five centuries after the Buddha passed away, Buddhism traveled to various Asian countries where it got transformed into a dogmatic religion with rituals and ceremony, departing from its true origins. Though Bodhi Dharma Zen stayed true to the original teaching of the Buddha which lays emphasis on zen practice (sitting meditation), and not on rituals and theoretical concepts.


Why are there many Buddhist traditions? 


Around five centuries after the Buddha passed away, Buddhism traveled to various Asian countries where it got transformed into a dogmatic religion with rituals and ceremony, departing from its true origins. Bodhi Dharma Zen stayed true to the original teaching of the Buddha which lays emphasis on zen practice (sitting meditation), and not on rituals and theoretical concepts.


Why do Buddhist Bow?


As previously mentioned, bowing is simply a sign of gratefulness and respect towards the teaching of Buddha and the Buddha himself. In our school, it is used as a practice for those who have an aggressive energy that is needed to be redirected into better path


Do I have to quit my religion?


Zen is beyond religion, so the choice is entirely up to you. Some Christian’s priests and nuns practice zen sitting meditation on a daily basis.


How do I become a Zen Buddhist?


Practice zen (sitting meditation), is the practice of being here and now. And ideally, find a Zen centre where you can practice with others and a Zen teacher that will guide you in your practice, particularly in the beginning.


What is the Zen point of view on sexuality?


Sexuality is a part of life. Denying sexuality is denying humanity. Avoiding sexual misconduct and attachment to sex will lead you to develop a strong sexual ethic, automatically, and naturally.


What is the Zen point of view on ambition?


Desires, like sexuality, are an integral part of human nature, we could not live without desires. People without ambition, desire, aspiration or goals are like wandering ghosts. The Buddha never said we must suppress or eradicate desires, but stated that we must suppress attachment to desires. Desires and ambition should not become a prison, and we should not become its slave.


What is the relationship Buddhism and money?


The problem is not money; the problem is you and your thinking and attachment to money. Money is just a tool meant to be used in your life, and not to be a slave to it and be used by it.


What can I do to live in accordance with Zen?


You live your life normally, you work, you eat, you kiss your children before bed, and you do whatever you like, but do it mindfully. You don't have to change for Zen; Zen will change you, unconsciously, automatically, naturally. zen practice (sitting meditation) will help you concentrate on each act of everyday life, so when you are in bed with your wife, you will concentrate on her, not on work. You will harmonize with the people around you and in return, naturally, they will harmonize with you! Zen practice (sitting meditation) will help make you calm and unshakable.


What does Zen Buddhism think about rebirth and the after life?


Zen Buddhism accepts Karma and Samsara or rebirth but does not care too much about the afterlife, as what matters is the present moment, here and now because if you have anything at all this is it this very moment.



What is Zens view point on other religions?


Zen Buddhism has no fixed opinion for or against any other Religions and generally agrees with their moral teachings. When a person practices zen (sitting meditation) it will help them to cut away any of the decorations and look at what is at the core of your own spiritual practice whatever faith you may have.


What does Zen think about the law of attraction?


The law of attraction is actually a Buddhist concept that we call Karma or action. Karma is not a reward nor a punishment system; it is simply a universal law that says that whatever action you send out in the Universe, you will receive back in some form or another. If you send out love, you may receive love in some way of shape or form. If you send out hate, you will probably receive the same in some way shape or form, so be aware of your actions. Putting it simply.


How can Zen Practice help me?


Kwan Um school of Zen uses three kinds of practice one is bowing the others are chanting and sitting meditation these are the tools that help us see and reveal to us, what’s going on in our mind and that helps us understand the source of our suffering and a way to get rid of it by learning to let go of whatever is arising within our mind this is what our practice is.


Why should I join a group I can meditate on my own?

Yes, I agree, and you should practice on your own, but having said that,

when you’re just beginning your meditation practice, attending a group or a centre with a teacher can help you to become disciplined in your practice, so you can have a clear focus and direction in your practice, because there is a structure within a group that must be maintained for the group to function properly as a group, a group practice can bring about a greater self-awareness about your liking and disliking that arises within you, and what you need to let go of, as a Zen student, and as you mature in your practice you are able to help others. 

In our school at the end of a meditation day or evening practice we recite the,


Four Great Vows

1. Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all.
2. Delusions are endless. We vow to cut through them all.
3. The teachings are infinite. We vow to learn them all.
4. The Buddha Way is inconceivable. We vow to attain it.

The four great vows are an encapsulation of our practice and when we sit in correct meditation, that is with a don’t know mind, then the I, me, mine, drops away, now that is inconceivable, no self and when you realize this non-self, that is when you understand the true meaning of the four vows, and you can then truly begin to function in harmony with others in your life, by not holding onto anything moment, to moment, to moment.

                                                             The Four Pillars of Zen

                                                                     Great Faith

                                                                    Great Doubt

                                                               Great Determination

                                                                Great Responsibility

                     The lack of any one of these attributes and you will leave the practice,

                                          No matter how long you have been practicing.


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