Understanding the Concepts Behind Zen Buddhism

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Zen Buddhism originated in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Around 500 B.C. he was a prince in what is India. When he was in 20s, he was finally exposed to the laypeople outside the castle walls. Deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he renounced his privileged life to seek enlightenment. After 6 years of struggling as an ascetic he finally achieved Enlightenment as he meditated under the Bodhi tree (wisdom tree). After this he was known as the Buddha (meaning "one who is awake"). Buddha realized that everything is subject to change and that suffering and discontentment are the result of attachment to circumstances and things that, by their nature, are impermanent. By getting rid of these things, including attachment to the false notion of self or "I", one can be free of suffering. The teachings of the Buddha have 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 combination was Zen Buddhism.

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Many people, including our author Janwillem van de Wetering, go to monasterys to study the religion of Zen Buddhism. The basic practice of Zen Buddhism is that of meditation. Bodhidharma used call this practice "just sitting" (zazen). Another form of practice also became popular, however. Stories or questions that had arisen in the tradition could themselves become the objects of meditation. These were called kan, a term that originally meant a judge's table and which came to mean court cases. So in meditation one can consider "cases." To begin meditation, one might be asked a question by the master. The student may give several simple answers back. All the answers given, however reasonable, will only earn a beating from the Zen master. The point of all such kans is that there is no answer. The negation applies to the question itself: It is a self-contradictory question. What is the point of asking meaningless questions? Entirely to stop rational thought and make the mind go out of the boundaries that normally confine it. Another part of life taken by Van de Wetering in his journey into life at a Zen Monastery is eating very little along the lines of simple meals of just stew. He wants to empty himself of his ego. He believes emptiness is the great goal only reached by losing everything there is to lose.

I find this life in the Monastery to be both rewarding and challenging. If I were to live my life like Van de Wetering I would find it hard to just live on simple meals of stew and have no social life. Since I am a very social person, that would definitely be the most difficult part, living in silence for days at a time. In contrast, however, I find the meditation to be very rewarding if you want to find true enlightenment or Nirvana. If I put myself in Van de Weterings shoes the meditation would have been the most rewarding thing I could do to clear and empty my mind. I find this process truly amazing, however, I dont think I could handle the masters hitting me while I was in meditation. I dont have enough self-control to not flinch or move whenever something like that takes place.

In conclusion, Zen Buddhism is a very complex but intriguing religion. The religion centers itself around meditation and emptying the mind. The main state of enlightenment reached is called Nirvana.

If I were to partake in such a religion as Zen Buddhism I would not be able to live on the simple meals or the meditation because I am a very social and outgoing person. However, I find it an incredibly good religion for someone with extrodinary self-control and perseverance to reach enlightenment.

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