Zen Buddhism in a nutshell
2500 BCE ago Siddhartha Gautama aka “the Buddha =the awakened one” taught in the North East of India during 50 years following 6 years intensive mindfulness meditation practice trying to understand human suffering. Suffering, its causes and how to end it form became the core of his verbal teaching. Explaining how to control our ego-driven mind as our main source of suffering, he could be considered to be one of the first psychotherapists. He was just a human being without any divine power, w/o being neither a messiah nor a prophet. Also, he did not want to set up a new religion from Hinduism and was always asking to be challenged. Like for many religions, Buddhism became, later, a religion but, still, remained w/o hierarchy except few branches such as Tibetan. There are 3 Buddhist schools. Zen (Japanese word for meditation) is a school of Buddhism born in China in ~ 500CE following the influence of Confucianism and Taoism. Zen is aiming more at day-to-day mindful-based daily life and formal meditation practice rather than the rigid studies of the Buddhist scriptures / canons called Sutra (over 5,000!). Because of its simplicity and down-to earth approach, Zen is one of the worldwide spiritual activities with the fastest growth. Especially in developing countries.
Is Buddhism a religion?
Yes. Since ~ 500 millions are “followers”. Stable in Asia, growing in Western countries especially Zen practice.
No. It is not a religion since there is no worship to any gods or to anybody including the Buddha himself.
There is no faith, no savior, no dogmas, no original sin, no miracles and no well-defined hierarchy. It is more a spiritual & existential practice w/o religious orthodoxy. Salvation can be achieved during life by our own practice. However, Buddhism believes in “Cosmic/Streaming consciousness/ ” as source of creation, love, compassion, etc…. Buddhism considers that believing in God or not is personal matter and never turns down anyone since there are many ways to interpret the word “God”.
1st Noble Truth/ Reality: Dukkha or Suffering. Hard to define properly. Anything in life that is perceived or is affecting us negatively (physically or emotionally) can be considered as suffering. Or ”Bad stuff happens”
2nd Noble Truth: Causes of suffering. External but mostly self-generated by our ego-driven mind such as: ongoing desires, hatred, negative emotions (anger, fear, jealousy, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, delusions, illusions, wrong beliefs, wrong understandings such as the belief of permanency (everything is transient).
Causes of suffering cannot be prevented but can be controlled thru the practice of mindfulness meditation.
3rd Noble Truth: End of suffering = Nirvana (literally: “extinction/ blowing out of the flame”) = state of mental serenity (No bliss, no paradise, no euphoria, no ecstasy. Life is what it is with its ups and downs)
4th Noble Truth: How to achieve end of suffering? Ethical/ Moral /behavior: Tolerance, Generosity, Compassion, Patience, Discipline, Wisdom that is being able to differentiate what is reality and what is a mind-made illusion/delusion source of suffering.
Practice of mindfulness and meditation to learn how to be aware of our thoughts and emotions in order to control them and therefore minimizing suffering. Right understanding that is elimination, among others of our ego-generated illusions. Salvation is achieved by us from inside and not from an outside source.
Buddha means “ the awakened one” To be awake mean to be conscious of 1) the difference between Reality and our mind-made illusions, 2) the self-generating causes of suffering.
Awareness: Means applying our consciousness on something without mind interference. Somewhat identical to mindfulness. Awareness of our thoughts and emotions is a fundamental step in order to control them. This is the base of meditation: being aware of our incoming thoughts while meditating.
Belief/Faith: Zen Buddhism is based on facts. There is no faith per se, no miracles, no third party savior or Messiah. This is why the concept of rebirth remains controversial among many Zen Buddhist practitioners.
Body and mind function as a single unit and each of them is affecting the other.
Buddhist Precepts: Are very similar to the 10 Commandments and must be taken to become a Buddhist. Among them, respecting all forms of life is absolutely fundamental unless self-defense.
Consciousness: Immaterial entity incarnated in the Mind/Body of all living beings and allowing them to experience life and reality via physical, mental and emotional actions. For many, consciousness does not die when the body does but moves to another living being (see Life).
Day sleep walking / Awaking sleep/ Thinking zombies: Zen expressions used to define our behavior during the day when we are totally under the control of our mind without being truly “awake” that is in control of our mind, thoughts and emotions.
Enlightenment: See awakening. very similar.
Interbeings: Adjective describing that all living beings are interconnected and interdependent and that survival is impossible without it. We are unique only at the level of our DNA that is only at the material form.
Karma: Means “action”. Good/bad intention è Action è Positive/Negative effect. “We reap what we sow”. Positive/ Negative effects can occur during or current life or in the next ones if one believes in successive rebirths. Karma can be individual (one to one ) or collective (one on many ). It is not a fatalistic belief since we, in fact, control our intentions and actions. There is no original sin in Zen Buddhism.
Life: Most Buddhist branches consider that our current life that is from birth to death is just a transient material manifestation of a spiritual life that is universal, endless in time and common to all living beings. Many consider that universal consciousness is incarnated in each living being in order to express itself in various ways such as material (body/mind) and immaterial (consciousness).
Little self: This is the ego Latin word for “I, me, myself and mine”. Our acquired, conditional, superficial and mundane self. Critical for survival, protection, enhancement, pleasure, interactions and many more, the ego is also the main driver of our mind and, therefore, the main source of our “suffering” (see 2nd Noble Truth/Reality). Being aware of our mind is controlling it. Controlling it is controlling our ego.
Living beings: No living being is a permanent, independent, unique, separate self-entity with a self-intrinsic existence. We are all interconnected and interdependent (See Interbeings).
Meditation: Mindfulness-base mental workout based on the practice of awareness of our body/mind in order to tame and controls our ego-based mind sources of unhappiness, dissatisfaction & other negative emotions to achieve serenity. Serenity is different from happiness, which is a transient emotional state from outside sources.
Mindfulness: Means to be aware, to pay attention, to observe intensively something without any analysis, judgment and actions. This fundamental practice of neutral observation —like a mirror—is helping us to experience reality without having, as usual, our deceiving mind in permanent control.
Mindful = Not to be fool by the mind = Thoughtless awareness.
Monkey mind: This is our unstoppable restless mind producing over 80,000 thoughts/day.
Nirvana: Laterally “blowing out the flame of suffering”. It is not a state of bliss, ecstasy, miracle or ongoing pleasure. It is an inner state where self-induced suffering is controlled or eliminated.
Rebirth/Reincarnation/ Resurrection. Most Buddhist branches and especially Tibetans believe in successive rebirths (that is after physical death). A new living entity is created, mostly from Karma law, until death occurs and so on endlessly. There is no resurrection per se that is coming from the same person.
Respecting life: Absolutely critical in Zen Buddhism. This is the only religion which does not kill to impose its views.
Salvation: Exists in each of us. It is up to us to discover it. No need to look for a third party to achieve it. When you discover it, our duty is to help others to find their.
Spiritual tolerance: Zen Buddhism recognizes, accepts and welcomes any religious faiths and beliefs since it does have any faith, dogmas, doctrines to defend, to promote .
Time: Only the present moment that is now exists and is real. Past and future are useful for planning but don’t exist per se. You are alive only just now, not before and not after. Past you and future you are virtual entities one from memory, the other from expectation. Past you is “dead”, future you is not born,
True Self: This is our perfect, genuine, inner self, different from our “little conditioned self”. Maybe our True Self is common to all living beings and part of this “streaming or global consciousness.” (See consciousness)
Zen: Means “meditation in Japanese. School of Buddhism created in ~500 CE in China from the influence of Confucianism and Taoism. The fastest growing branch of Buddhism in Western World because of its down to earth simplicity and common sense.
Zen Master: In order to teach Zen, the student, layperson or Monck, must receive “ Spiritual Transmission” from her/own his teacher. There is no intellectual, academic or examination requirements before. It is, somehow, a mind-to mind trust following long practice.
arnaud Zen Master