Zen Buddhism in the WestIntroductionZen Buddhism, or as it more popularly known in the West, Zen, is a branch of Mahayana Buddhist belief that has gone through many changes since its origins in the ideas of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha in the 5th century B. C. Buddhism has been transplanted from its land of origin in India to become one of the predominant faiths of South East Asia, China, Japan and Sri Lanka. There are two major schools of Buddhist belief, the Theravada and Mahayana and many sects and variations and yet despite the divisions it has not been characterized by the violent strife of the schisms of many other religions.
Today the popularity of Buddhism is increasing in the West, in particular Zen Buddhism. There are many reasons for this surge in interest in Zen Buddhist philosophy and practice. This paper will outline the principles of Zen Buddhism concentrating in particular on the Japanese form of Zen Buddhism and explore the reasons for its increasing popularity in the Western world. Principles of Zen BuddhismThe principles of Zen Buddhism grew out of the original ideas of Buddha who laid down the central principles of Buddhism, of the 4 Noble Truths and the associated 8 Fold path to Enlightenment.
The first two Noble Truths essentially stated that all experience was suffering and the root of this suffering was lust or desire. The third Noble Truth was the quest to free oneself from desire and thus end suffering. The fourth Noble Truth was the following of the 8 Fold Path to enlightenment which were the right views, the right intentions, the right speech, the right action, the right livelihood, the right effort, right mindfulness and the right concentration.
Buddhism traces a path from the world as we know of it categorized as a group of so-called aggregates which were labelled Skandhas and include one physical component, form, composed of the body and 6 senses, and 4 mental: a sensation of feeling without a weight on emotion, perception of a cognitive form, habitual behaviours, and the sense of consciousness. These Skandhas or Aggregates as they were known defined the world as most saw it, and as it was defined as Samsara by Buddhists.
Buddhist practice as first outlined by Buddha outlined a path to negotiate from Samsara to enlightenment, to Nirvana, through the middle way of meditation. The middle referred to the balance asked of adherents with a neither an emphasis on pure asceticism or on the converse on excess. On the path to Nirvana, ideally, the adherent came to the realisation of the three seals of Dharma, of Dukkha or realisation of the essential lack of satisfaction in the world, of the impermanence of all things and of the absence of a true self.
With these three realisations would come wisdom and a closer step to enlightenment. Essentially Buddhism emphasized a relinquishing of the worldly aspects of the world and in this regard it borrowed its ideas from the Sanyassi tradition of Hinduism where the devotee would give up his worldly attachments but with the already mentioned proviso that it stressed balance and not the extreme asceticism of the Sanyassi; however, very much like Hinduism, Buddhism stressed the freedom from the endless cycle of rebirth through the achievement of Nirvana.